It’s so hard to accept that it has been almost twenty years since I last spoke to one of your “human use of the earth” classes on this topic; but of course, it has. I appreciate your inviting me here to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte today to take stock of those years in light of what I said to your University of Texas-Dallas classes so very long ago. Was I right about the future that I predicted, in 1983, would come to pass—or was I off the mark, and if so, by how much?

To begin, since no one here except Dr. Jack Sommer and myself knows what I said back then, I must recapitulate for you my 1984 argument. My brief argument against our future had the following components:

  1. We would have both Aldous Huxley’s dystopia and George Orwell’s totalitarianism—simultaneously;

  2. Our continuing slide into material and personal decadence would never reach bottom, and no act, no matter how repugnant or depraved, would go without apologists and command a rapt, voyeuristic print or television audience;

  3. Individuals would become like machines, mere commodities, whose parts would be examined, admired, bought and sold; eventually, humans and machines would merge; that, and not the end of the cold war, would mark the end of history as it has always been known and recorded by humans.

How well have these predictions endured?

I began by suggesting that both Orwell and Huxley were right—that we would soon have the worst of both of their fictional societies. And I believe that we now do, although things can—and will—worsen in the future.

I guess I should explain what I mean by this contention. You should recall that Orwell’s future was a grim place indeed, where inhabitants of one of his fictional states—Oceania—were surveilled without relief—by an omnipresent, totalitarian state, determined solely to rule and remain in power—by whatever means necessary—including the purging of history, individuality, liberty, and finally, even love itself; a state, moreover, perpetually at war, and with its military allies—and enemies—in a state of continual flux.

Huxley’s dystopia was somewhat different, although the outcome was exactly the same: the death of humanity as we know it. But in Huxley’s future society, all pain is banished, inhabitants kept in a perpetual state of non-human euphoria through an angst-reducing drug called soma.

These two futures were often argued to be mutually exclusive, but I saw them twenty years ago as being jointly possible—if equally undesirable—and nothing I have since seen or learned in the intervening years, has in any way changed my mind. We already have them both.

Consider first the totalitarian vision of George Orwell. In his novel, 1984, no aspect of human life is exempt from the watchful eyes of the state, even one’s individual thoughts—which are subject to detection by the appropriately-named thought police; thought crimes are prosecutable which, for Orwell, meant imprisonment mixed with psychological reprogramming through physical and mental torture. I would contend that we are headed exactly for this reality, and are most of the way there already.

Today, in America—nostalgically still called the “land of the free” by older people—it is simply impermissible to speak one’s mind freely, or to live one’s life freely, without running afoul of an already out-of-control government—whether at the federal, state, or local level—or some combination thereof.

What can hate crime laws be except Orwell’s thought police dressed up as tolerance-enhancing reprogramming? Unless it is true that crime is caused by hate, then hate crime laws must fail to deter. But no matter—we already have them, and powerful interests clamor daily to extend their reach at both the state and federal levels.

New York’s former governor—George Pataki—actually said, while signing his state’s latest hate crime law that, had such laws been on the books 100 years ago, the holocaust would not have occurred. It is difficult to know how to respond to such an imbecilic pronouncement, the more so after his state’s primary city having been turned into a war zone, so I won’t try. (Not surprisingly, no one else has tried either.)

Of course, hate crime laws are only one more manifestation of thought crimes, as anyone who has undergone sensitivity-training by a corporation, or has endured residence on a college or university campus for any period of time can readily attest...but probably won’t, of course, if they learned the lesson such programs really transmit, which is: just shut up....speaking out is just too damn dangerous . . . leave all of that free speech stuff to others . . . let them get into trouble.

Returning to Orwell’s vision: are we surveiled as the citizens of Oceania are in his novel? Yes, we are; constantly, and everywhere. Strolling on a street in Tampa? Your face is being compared to crime databases for a possible match. Soon, we will no doubt catch deadbeat parents that way, and secure missing people, for the software can be programmed to compensate for all possible changes of physical features. This is coming to an airport near you soon, even if your flight isn’t. And of course, what reasonable person can object, given our obvious vulnerabilities?

Our mail is read, all our phones and computers are tapped by someone—our employer, or some company we don’t know, or the government, without any warrants being necessary; our internet activities are all saved, cataloged, and studied; all of our commercial and public activities are a matter of record, to be sold to the highest bidder even by governments, or shown to the nearest—or nosiest—interested government agency.

Hollywood’s very entertaining movie Enemy of the State is, of course—as most Hollywood films are—somewhat exaggerated; but by exactly how much, do you think? And for how long? What we used to call the right to privacy—that magical right that the supreme court found lurking in the penumbras surrounding the Ninth Amendment when it needed a legal rationale for its Roe v. Wade decision is today—a judicial joke.

Privacy is simply gone ... forget it ... you don’t have any and you won’t get any in the future, regardless of all the laws passed, such as that recent monstrosity titled the Health Insurance Privacy Protection Act. (God, I love Congress’s little jokes—and when it comes to jokes, as Will Rogers put it quite accurately) “When Congress makes a joke, it’s a law!”

But even though you won’t get any privacy, despite every website’s claim that you will by gum, by golly, you will still pay the bill for all of the current useless regulations, as usual.

It is, I think, no longer contestable that every government wants to control every facet of our lives, from what we can legally wear and consume, to what we spend our time doing and under what conditions, and with whom, to what we are allowed to say in certain situations, and finally, even, to what we are allowed to think.

We no longer are in F. A. Hayek’s famous journey book, The Road to Serfdom, for we have already arrived. We have traded what remained of our economic freedom for a leased Lexus. And it also is no longer contestable that so-called private companies are into the spying and behavior-surveiling business every bit as much as are our wonderful, benevolent masters in Washington, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, England, Brussels, and so many other government-centered cities. Almost fifty years ago, C.S. Lewis was lamenting his condition then, and our probable future, when he wrote:

The modern state exists not to protect our rights, but to do us good, or to make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence, the name leaders for those who were once rulers. We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them mind your own business. Our whole lives now are their business.[1]

Medieval serfs belonged to the land they worked; we belong to the corporate state; and there is no indignity nor constraint on our freedom of action they will not invent and pursue—usually to the applause of the majority of our fellow serf-citizens. And why is that? Well ... think about it ... where did most of our fellow serf-citizens acquire their rather badly misnamed educations? I think this is an example of what now is called a “no brainer,” which is, sadly, a very apt description of most of our nation’s schools.

But: as in Huxley, there are compensations for the surrender of our freedom and individuality. There are more and better drugs, and weekly advances in medicine that promise us ever-extended lifespans during which we may enjoy our Brave New World. When we die, and we are interred, it will appear—before much longer—as the burial of human machines; for many of our body parts will be plastic and metal, as micro-technology allows us to reconstruct the human body, beginning with genetic manipulations of embryos in—or even out—of some woman’s womb.

And since many of these parts will have residual value, they will be harvested prior to our corpse’s final destination and reused—sorry, I mean recycled—that’s the politically correct term, I guess. Imagine: being able to buy “pre-owned” body parts over the web on some future eBay. What bargains we might soon find! (Lest you think I exaggerate, I just read that end of history guru—Francis Fukuyama—has a book titled Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution.) Welcome to your’s probably well past time for a wake-up call.

While we remain alive—or at least, while we continue to pretend to be humanly alive, our android-appearing, technologically-enhanced bodies will serve us well in the pursuit of the one thing most modern androids crave: Huxleyan pleasure—endlessly, and for that very reason—quite meaningless ... all those silly diversions with which we kill time until—finally—it kills us. And as, for the first time, life expectancy in America is now falling, it is killing us faster than we think.

For daily doses of such pleasures, we will continue our slide into visual and aural depravity, as we have already been doing for many years now. Consider where we now are: utter perversity on television and in our movies and on tens of thousands of internet sites; perversity so pervasive that not an eyebrow is raised no matter what base, evil human impulses are depicted ... after all, no one today wants to be called “judgmental” ... most of us would sooner be called almost anything else. Our entertainment masters, who pontificate about not showing us the WTC blowing up anymore because it’s too upsetting, have no qualms about showing us things—on a daily basis—that perhaps tell us as much about ourselves as they do about the degenerates who create such things. Television and films are gross purveyors of sexual, violent, deviant behaviors that are endlessly rationalized, examined and made into consumable bon mots for androids who mistakenly believe that are clever enough to resist what such a daily intake of depravity ultimately does to their psyches. Every day, there is an endless collection of serial killers, rapists, mobsters and other antisocial characters appearing on our television screens until they almost seem a part of our family. “But we must examine them so we can ‘understand’ them and prevent such acts from occurring in the future,” our Sophisticated” android will reply seizing, he believes, the intellectual high ground. To which any random 12-year old might caustically reply “And so how is that working out for you?”

Any person among us who objects in the slightest way to these always degenerating trends will be slandered or ridiculed into silence by our so-very-tolerant society—tolerant of everything, that is, except politically incorrect dissent. Which is to say, tolerant of everything save what used to be known as simple human decency. When and if that anachronistic impulse shows itself, well then ... let the intolerance begin!

We already have a drug for every occasion ... tens of millions of our children are currently on course to be on drugs all their lives, starting with Ritalin. This pill is forced on them for no reason other than they act as children always have acted throughout human history. But today, this tends to interfere with their parents’ consumption-obsessed, double-income-driven “lifestyles.” So: drug the damn kids and let’s party and consume more stuff!

And of course, we “baby boomers” can consume forever because we will never die. Why? Because soon—we really believe this!—we will just take a pill for our cancers, heart attacks, whatever,
as we often now stupidly and resignedly say, and all will be made okay. And if the evil big pharmaceutical companies won’t make such a pill, there will always be natural herbs that will cure us of any disease—or prevent any disease from beginning in the first place—as so many ancient and wise societies realized long ago, before the advent of modern medicine. Yes—we believe all this. Or do we just pretend to?

No: we actually do believe this ... we have to believe it, because of the constant, nagging fear of death we harbor while we enjoy our perfect little dystopia. Death—the one thing we can’t abide and yet, strangely, worship—the thing that we will ban all risky human activity to prevent even as we deeply long for it.

But back to our so-called entertainments. In between clothes-stripping young men and women, or copulating couples of any other sexual persuasion, or the foul-mouthed excesses we call “sitcoms” or stand-up comedy acts—now a majority of our so-called entertainment programs—all are sponsored by large drug companies who use these forums to push their products directly to us in our living rooms, instead of silently to our doctors behind our backs—the way they used to do it in the good old days. Governments are concerned, of course, that we might self-medicate rather than allow our doctors to medicate us, but hell, what’s the difference? As long as we are informed—you know—stuff like taking ExoPure can result in brain shutdown, heart and/or liver failure, kidney function collapse, bad breath, and even diarrhea ... but hey—it’s still worth it! And if we hook you on something in the meantime, we have options for android repair available. We can spend a week in rehab in Malibu.

As I said, a drug for every problem ... it’s fast becoming a reality, and is mostly here already. And all the while, we continue to fight—so my government tells me—a so-called war on drugs. Preposterous? Of course it is. But such syntactic formulations would be well-known to any resident of Orwell’s Oceania ... where war was called peace, and slavery was called freedom.

In the meantime, drug marketing budgets will continue to rise, now already approaching $45 (2004 dollars) billion a year, while legal drug by-prescription consumption now totals over $225 billion (2004 dollars) annually, and is rising so fast that older people are demanding that government redistribute others’ wealth in order to pay for their ongoing drug consumption.

They claim, of course, that these drugs are indispensable to their welfare even though no other people in world history have ever taken—or even seen—such medications, and new ones emerge weekly with ever larger price tags!

In any such world as I am describing and as I claim we now inhabit, authenticity vanishes. And I happen to think that it will be missed, as people increasingly become self-obsessed while searching for any one thing that is “real.” Remember those old Coke commercials—Coke was, they claimed, “the real thing.” That commercial campaign anticipated, as many do, actual trends in societal evolution. In this case: the psychic loss that leaving reality behind brings. For what—if anything—can be real in a virtual world? I predicted that real human models would be replaced by synthetic ones. I read in the July 2, 2001, issue of The New Republic magazine the following about cyber-models and “synthespians,” that is, virtual actors and actresses:

Webby Tookay, the first virtual model, was dubbed the most valuable model in the world, with an estimated market value of $415 million last year, thanks in part to Sony and Nokia contracts. By contrast, Gisele Bündchen, the world’s highest paid human model, earns a mere $5 million a year.

Movies have now begin routinely using animated actors and actresses, a trend that the unions will resist but not be successful in stopping. It’s just too cost effective and such creations are flawless, while mere mortals are—as Playboy magazine long ago knew and airbrushed away—not perfect.

We used to laugh at Playboy’s air-brushing away imperfections in its centerfolds, but Playboy was years ahead of its time in this regard. No picture can today be believed ... in real life, one might not even recognize the person in any given photograph. It’s called computer imaging, and reality is once again the loser.

There can be nothing real in a world that is dominated by technology, drug addiction, and entertainment overload. Following Henry David Thoreau, you well might, of course, “go into the woods” but I predict that you will be unable to stay there for very long. In such a world, why are we surprised to find millions turning back to various religious fundamentalist variations, some of which haven’t been much seen in centuries?

I recall an episode of a television show—it was Hawaii 5-0—in which the evil super-villain, Wo Fat—tortures the hero, Steve McGarrett. He places McGarrett in a wet suit, and deprives him of all sensory input, floating the show’s hero in a tank of water warmed precisely to skin temperature ... 93.4 degrees Wo Fat claimed—creating a mind completely adrift, suddenly receiving no sensory input whatsoever for the first time in its entire existence.

That, I suggest, is what will happen to those reared in this new society who try the back-to-nature route ... it is simply too late for that, Edward Abbey and Bill McKibben notwithstanding. You will feel, in the wilderness, just like McGarrett in that tank of water, and I predict that you will crack and return ... 99 out of 100 of you will, anyway. Yes, you will return, but unlike General Douglas Macarthur, you will not return triumphant. [2] Perhaps your cabin, however, will be retained, but only as a 2nd—or perhaps even a third—vacation home. And to what, when you do come back, will you return?

You will return to the incessant stimulations of our new civilization as you pretend to be happy and fill your days with all the mindless drivel, semi-moronic human conversations, and forced interactions that your culture now demands from you, including uber-command #1 ... to have a nice day.

Your quest for reality will be limited to the hopelessly phony reality programming that television provides—you know, the endless “survivor” stuff where, due to potential lawsuits, no one really is in any danger and stunt doubles perform the really hard stuff. Big Brother, where every one of the people in the Orwellian-type house knows the camera is there, and this is their chance at 15 minutes of fame, so nothing they do or say can be taken as real; to Temptation Island and the Love Cruise and all the other juvenile, sex-obsessed spinoffs, where large numbers of young men and women demonstrate just how empty and degrading life can be for android prostitutes such as them-selves, while tens of millions of their fellow androids watch, fascinated by... by what? Well, when you think about it, by absolutely nothing ... nothing, that is, of any real significance. And every one of us—from the participants in these idiocies to all who view them—knows it.

Unless, of course you want to argue that whether vacuous, self-absorbed, insecure little narcissists stay together—or form new “relationships”—or prostitute themselves sufficient to win the pay-off, matters. But it doesn’t, and it never will. It is mindless nonsense capable of hypnotizing semi-humans into watching hundreds of thousands of commercials...and that’s all folks.

Maybe Cops is as close to reality as you will ever get. But, as one android critic put it in T.V. Guide, the great virtue of Survivor is that it allows people—and I promise that I am not making this up—to bond with their televisions. Yes! Machines bonding with other machines. That horrible possibility, enshrined in so many sci-fi works—the putative end of humanity—no longer seems to be just fiction. Humans naturally long to bond, and if they no longer can successfully do so with one another, then why not bond with our machines? What’s the harm?

Ten years ago when I wrote the first edition of this lecture, I predicted that we would move ever more closely toward a throw-away culture in which—to move to its logical conclusion—even people would become disposable. That lecture, which many former students have requested copies of over the years, cannot today be reproduced. It was written in what might as well be called an ancient and unknown language ... WordStar 2.0 ... and it was stored on a now-useless technological medium—a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk.

Soon, a new field will emerge—if it hasn’t already: techno-archeology, as future generations—now telescoped to about every ten years apart in time instead of the more traditional twenty—seek to try and understand what their predecessors had said in ancient software languages that will no longer be comprehended. Eventually, technological change will further shorten generations to five—or perhaps even two or three years. (There is little doubt that today’s ten-year olds are markedly different from fifteen-year olds.)

I remember another prediction I made in my earlier lecture (and it too is coming true today): while we babble about recycling to save paper and bottles and claim to be saving other endangered things, we toss unwanted people away without a quiver ... we kill the unborn—sometimes even after they are born—by the tens of millions; we kill the elderly, who are often simply depressed, and who are always vulnerable to the callousness and greed of the young, and we call such acts as these “death with dignity” or “a woman’s right to choose.” Many such deaths are rationalized by the emerging, and I would argue quite sinister, discipline called bioethics. Beware pronouncements from its silver-tongued practitioners. Dr. Kervokian has many fans in this pseudo-academic discipline.

“Societies” devoted to suicide—oxymoronically—flourish, while bestselling books telling people how to—and why they must—kill themselves no longer shock us.

In The Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal for some time, over half the people put to death oppose that decision—but it’s not really being done for their benefit—is it? And so the wishes of the murdered are ignored, and they are legally killed by doctors acting as agents of the state, the modern Dr. Josef Mengeles of their age. After all, the murdered have a duty to die according to their destroyers, but they just keep hanging on! We have to kill them so the rest of us can consume even more resources, and not have to deal with them and their pesky human needs any longer.

As I have mentioned, we worship death even as we seek to live forever, probably the single strangest historical example of societal inversion and cognitive dissonance I have seen. Our entertainment media celebrate death, usually by guns even as the people who make the shows and films lobby for more “gun control.” Totally bizarre. Death is in our video games and our popular music, when they aren’t busy selling us crime, drugs, Satanism, and recreational sex—all despite America’s ongoing STD epidemic—1/5 of the American population already has an STD—other than AIDS—as unbelievable as that seems to one, like myself, who grew up in the dark, sexually repressed days of the horrible 1950’s. But it is a medical fact, and something each of you should keep in mind before doing your own “recreating.”

Thank God we have been liberated from all those ancient, quaint, artificial sexual restraints by following the compelling arguments for our new state of perpetual happiness offered up to us by the “post-modern,” philosophical giants—gurus such as Hugh Hefner, Alfred Kinsey, and Alex Comfort. Or, for those of you with an academic bent for truly incomprehensible enlightenment, Derrida and Foucault, or their shock troop followers, now securely encamped on our university campuses, passing on to you—daily—their great, insight-filled sexual wisdom, gender, and class analyses. Just don’t delve too deeply into their own miserable, personal lives. Like child molesters, they hold out their hands filled with sweet, proffered candy, and we gorge on it, telling ourselves how sophisticated and mature we are. We revel in its textures and oxymoronic, politically correct, terminologies ... “Recreational sex” ... “Safe sex” ... performed, of course, in “healthy relationships” with our “partners” of the moment, our condoms never out of reach, those ubiquitous, pathetic, sad reminders of our current social condition.

And really what, today, constitute healthy relationships? Decorum—or perhaps what little remains of it, at least in my mind—forbids me to adumbrate their characteristics, but I suspect you well know all the current cant formulations on this score, and have ever since elementary school. (And incidentally—no sex is ever “safe”—make of that statement what you can, given your age and background. Even if you don’t agree with it now, someday you will come to understand that, even
if it were true that condoms always protect you, sex isn’t about what you think it’s about, and nothing can protect the human mind from itself.)

Oh, Brave New World to have such people in it! We have arrived. And yet, as in the Book of Revelation, we long for death, even as death recedes before us!

Beneath all the shimmering glitter of our digital, virtual, technologically sophisticated age lies fear—primal fear—the fear of those who, having abolished god and all the supernatural trappings, remain afraid to die. And having forgotten Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous warning that “If God is dead, all is permitted,” gaze in stupefied horror at today’s—or yesterday’s—or tomorrow’s—typical, mind-numbingly sickening menu of depravity that we call “current events” or “news.” Another genocide here, some terror bombings there, a few serial killings up the street, the little girl next door abducted, raped, and murdered, twenty shot dead at a school but hey, it’s all just entertainment now anyway. Fodder for Court TV. Isn’t it?

To cope, we embrace every new off-shoot of mysticism, desperately searching for some meaning for our very existence. Anything will do ... and today, anything generally does. As G. K. Chesterton may—or may not—have said: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they’ll believe in anything.” (If you doubt this, tune into talk radio for a few hours. Or watch a few hours of “conspiracies” examined on several current television programs where, among other things, you can learn that George W. Bush was behind the 911 attack in New York.)

This is, of course, not a healthy situation, but we have more than enough counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists—not to mention drugs—to effectively cope with all eventualities.

And of course, there are the distractions that keep us from focusing on much of anything that’s truly important. The passing parade of sports—which is now America’s largest, practicing religion—and television—and music—and movies—and video games—and chat rooms—and, of course, the endlessly absurdist transient spectacle we call politics.

In the case of politics, as Simon and Garfunkle put it so aptly in their song Mrs. Robinson—“laugh about it, shout about it, when you get to choose—any way you look at it, you lose.” As I watch and listen to Americans seeking succor and reassurance from the government after the events of the 9/11, I can’t but smile sadly. This is, after all, the same entity that already has taken so much of their freedom, taxed them into serfdom, spent their futures, and failed to protect them in the first place as it is expressly charged with doing by our Constitution. But now, of course, all will be different! This time, the government will get it right. With ever-larger amounts of our wealth and larger bureaucracies, well—this time. As much as I want to believe that—and I do want to believe it as much as you do—I know they won’t get it right because they never do. Politics will prevent it.

It would be impossible for me to express to any of you planning a career in politics just how sorry I am for your choice. (As an economist, I would merely add—admittedly without Simon and Garfunkel’s poetics—that they were clearly singing about the long run.) In the short run, voters can—and do—steal from one another through the political process and, for those of you entering politics, that will be your job for as long as you choose to do it ...finding evermore creative ways to steal from Peter to buy Paul’s vote, all the while appearing to be virtuous and compassionate for having done it. This is, of course, the great flaw in democracy and precisely why the Founders were so anti-majoritarian, creating and forming not a democracy but a constitutional republic.

Although you probably won’t believe me at this point, it is not my intention to depress you today with these observations. But the first step to recovery, as the therapists and psycho-babblers always remind us, is to believe and—even more importantlyto accept—that you are, in fact, sick.

There is nothing new about people proclaiming their societies to be sick. It has even become a well-used—and probably overused—cliché. It is a complaint that echoes through the ages, across many cultures and societies, and has taken many rhetorical forms. As letters-to-the-editor writers never tire of pointing out—whenever someone has written in complaining about today’s societal decay—hey, lighten up, because Socrates felt the same way.

What is left unremarked in their letters—because these would-be Socrates refuters seem incapable of simple, straight-line reasoning—is that Socrates clearly was onto something. Greece declined quickly after his expressed complaints, and hasn’t been much heard from since. Which means, for the historically challenged among us—which means, in America, almost all of us—over two thousand, five hundred years now, and still counting! And should you ever bother to explore the question of what happened to Greece, you will find that—as terrible as this month’s events are for America—they pale historically against the canvass of the struggle for freedom that Greece had to fight for many long, dark centuries during their hugely oppressive rule by the Ottoman Empire ... the Osama bin Ladens of their day. When President George W. Bush speaks of a prolonged war, I wonder if he has any idea at all of just how prolonged this particular war has already been? For those who forget history are, of course, doomed to repeat it.

And what then of our future? Aren’t we all mature and sophisticated, including our young people, who are the smartest, hippest, and most mature generation ever? After all, TV tells me that “the kids are all right.”

Excuse me, but I demur. We are not progressing but regressing, not becoming more civilized, but less, not evolving into much that is worth envying. That could, of course, now change. Will it?

To all of this, I suspect, the skilled advocates for our age would reply if they were here now: we all know America is different ... our empire, unlike any other in human history, will go on forever, and we will always be at the top of the international food chain despite the spreading, daily rot in our existence. Our technology will guarantee it, saving us from ourselves as it always has.

But before we buy into this particular piece of Pollyannish optimism, perhaps we ought to ask ourselves what built the American empire in the first place. It was not super-models, rappers, rockers, movie stars, social critics, so-called “pundits,” academics, or television celebrities. No city has ever been built, contrary to the popular song, with ‘rock and roll.’ (Sorry Boomers for the reality check.)

We live now in the twilight years of an empire built on the exceptional hard work and moral philosophies of people now gone. People whose lives and attitudes we current inhabitants of their handiwork spend our days either criticizing or—often insincerely—denouncing and apologizing for.

We are the heirs of people we claim to detest for all of their historical crimes against current politically correct thinking; many prestigious colleges are named, after all, for slave-holders! We are the inheritors of an economic system whose core values we claim no longer to endorse—if we ever did; the new economy, dot-com entrepreneurs were going to transform capitalism and bend it to their alleged values. Well—they lost. Few Americans actually understand how capitalism works, in any case. Most are simply along for wherever the ride takes them—the international, globalization express is now boarding, so please arrive at the terminal three hours early to pass through security.

What the old communists merely dreamed about, a one-world, communist order—is being created by liberal markets for global capitalism—the ultimate, and finally most humiliating defeat of all, for Marxist ideology.

How much longer, given this current reality, can we reasonably expect to continue as we now seem to see ourselves—still sitting atop the international heap of ever-modernizing, ever-globalizing, nations?

I suggest to you my answer: not much longer. The simple reason is that humans need a purpose ... something that inspires them get out of bed every day, and dream, achieve, build, or even just maintain—on a daily basis—day after day after day—our little pleasure empire ... and pretty clearly, we just don’t have one. As the philosopher and geopolitical thinker James Burnham once put it in reference to a similar problem: asking people to die for one-man, one-vote, and larger social security checks won’t inspire anyone to any serious, dangerous action that is sometimes required of them.

We have no purpose. Unless, of course, making that next credit card payment somehow suffices to motivate us for the coming decades. And many of television’s more moronic pundits now proclaim that, as good, patriotic Americans, buying more stuff is now our civic duty. (God, if I hear one more blow-dried idiot say that consumers must save our nation I may make the pro-suicide people happy and just end it all myself! Of course, that is precisely what so-called “progressives” want—my generation to die off and get out of their way so criticism of their utopian total state will cease.)

Perhaps you can’t understand why we need motivation but then, at this point, I have had to rise and produce something a few thousand more mornings than you. You will come to understand the why of reality-based things soon enough.

I sometimes ask students why they want to live longer life spans. Or, for that matter, why they wish to continue to live at all? At first, they usually stare at me as though I have lost my mind— (which is, I’m sure, what some of you are thinking at this moment, much more than a remote possibility!)—but after some thought, a few try and formulate their answers. Those answers are far from encouraging and reduce, generally, to the following request: Well, hey man—consider the alternative!

In other words, fear of the unknown becomes the primary reason for continuing to strive and to remain alive.

But this won’t do for humans, only for androids. And—perhaps—not even for them. Remember the end of the movie Blade Runner? Even the androids wanted to know why they were here, from where they came, and what the point of their existence was.

And having achieved that level of self-awareness, it was only fitting that, at the movie’s end, a human and an android flew off into the sunset together, no casual observer any longer able to tell the difference between one of them and one of “us.”

None of us is smart enough to avoid, entirely, the inducements, temptations, and pressures of the android culture. You may believe yourself to be a complete individualist who believes things solely because you have investigated the alleged evidence; you might think—vainly and foolishly—that your tastes and preferences—as we economists call your valuations—are solely the product of your internal, subjective, individual evaluations and your own, isolated choices.

But if you are honest with yourself, you will have to admit that you either don’t know where your tastes come from, or you do—and which possibility is worse might just be a toss-up. Because if you do not, then your individualism rests on things over which you have no control, knowledge, or memory; and if you do, then chances are almost 100% that you adopted any particular taste or preference from someone else. And if it is from someone else, is it really a reflection of your real self—your essence—your soul? Or is it just a fad—whether material, esthetic, or intellectual—that you have hitched yourself to as it enticingly passed by? Then again, how is that possible eventuality part of anything that is unique to you—or even real for you?

Mass society has its costs, and the first to be paid is the sacrifice of genuine individuality, if not of individuals themselves. So, as our emerging mass, corporate-state culture makes its insistent and incessant demands on you, I recommend the following actions, in declining order of importance:

  1. Be at peace with yourself—this will require tuning out a good deal of your surrounding environment; remember that all passions subside and what seems so vitally relevant and important today will be hardly remembered tomorrow. Watch amusedly as your fellow humans embrace every fad, no matter how obviously stupid, wrong, or just plain superficial, and remember that they will eventually come to learn what you already know: there is no shortcut to happiness, or to anything else worth having on this earth.

  2. Read, always read—I don’t care if it’s fiction, as long as it’s quality fiction and there is quality in every topic category, even mysteries—Colin Dexter, P.D. James, John D. MacDonald, James Lee Burke ... plenty of good writers there, and everywhere else too; but in any event, please read, for that is the only way to learn anything; do not watch television or go to movies and think you are learning things ... for most of that stuff is wrong and you will, if you really want to learn about anything, have to begin by unlearning what those media have taught you.

    And when you do read, vary the time allowed for completing a work according to the complexity of digesting and understanding it. If you are devouring a page turner, go ahead and do so, for nothing very important will be missed. But if you are reading, say, Plato, then go very slowly and try to think things through carefully, digesting every line before proceeding. You owe every serious writer that much.

  3. Remember that what is popular might be good or useful or endure, but most often that will not be the case; appreciate quality, and prefer it when you can afford it, but do not become a snob. It’s better to buy used quality than new junk. And do one little calculation every time you compare money prices: assume that you are going to work 45 years before retirement and that, on average, any money you save in a mutual fund will pay the long run historic real return of 8% ... this means that $1 placed in the fund today will grow to $32 by retirement ... so: if you pay $10,000 for a car when in fact you don’t get “more” car but only a name, that choice costs you $320,000 of your retirement plus 32 times any dollar amount of interest you pay to float the car loan or lease. Americans overspend on their cars more than any other single thing—don’t do it ... don’t waste your money on something that does nothing but depreciate before your eyes ... it just isn’t worth it. Save instead for the future when you will really require an ever-larger store of wealth.

    Always multiply by (32) when considering whether to spend another dollar today. Next year, multiply by roughly 30, the year after by 28 etc.; for the first ten years; after 10 years, multiply by 16, then one less for each additional year for the next nine; after that, forget it because, if you are not saving during the first twenty years, you are a dead duck anyway. Remember: you are a member of a generation that will live, on average, longer than any before it, assuming we can reverse recent trends; consequently, your retirement needs will be correspondingly that much larger ... start today—if you haven’t begun already—and always pay yourself first ... save as much as you can. No!—save more than you think you can, because you are going to need it and the sooner you begin, the less you will have to save later in life. The reverse is also true: the less now, the greater later—and you will never catch up what you lost in the early years unless you are very lucky. Have it taken out of your pay automatically if you have to, but save!!!

  4. Be true to yourself, as William Shakespeare advised, but do not expect others to be, do not expect them to be true to you, and do not throw your own claimed integrity in their faces. If you do possess integrity, other people will know it immediately without your telling them—because everyone is capable of perceiving that which is quite rare without your assistance.

  5. Never sell yourself for any reason, let alone money, which is always the commonest—and silliest—sellout of all. In short: never prostitute yourself ... no job, or person, or remuneration is worth your doing that—just say—no. If you don’t then, in Sir Thomas More’s elegant phrase, “You shan’t hope to find yourself again.”

  6. Choose your friends and, should you marry, your spouse—with great care for there are no more valuable things than friends, and a good wife or husband, but there is little heartbreak and pain in the world like that associated with losing either, or after having badly chosen in either category.

  7. If you don’t know what "quality” is, then read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—one of the few enduring things that remains from the highly over-rated 1960’s—and reflect on the question of what quality is until you do understand what it is, or at the least come to appreciate why the question itself is important.

  8. Just as in Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which lays out his personal rules for writing that Orwell then cheerfully concedes he broke consistently throughout his own essay, I freely admit to you that I have sometimes/often failed to do the things that I am recommending that you do.

One way to look at this fact is simply to write me off as just another “Do as I say, not as I do” hypocrite. A different approach would be to consider that I am sharing with you some things that I have learned while traveling a long, sometimes difficult, life’s road. It is often said that free advice is worth what you pay for it, but my advice to you today, while close to free for you, is not free advice ... it has been well-paid for, and there is no good reason for you to have to pay for it all over again.

The best of luck to each of you. And thanks so much for your very kind attention.


[1] Lewis, C. S. 1972. “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” from [2] “Triumphant” from Macarthur’s point of view and all those military historians who agree. But it should be remembered, however, that the always controversial general’s dramatic “return” cost over 30,000 Americans killed and almost 50,000 wounded, and was, given later, with better information, probably unnecessary. (FDR made the final decision to invade the Philippines rather than bypass and isolate through a blockade.)