By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette — We have had massive coverage of and innumerable opinions proffered on the recent, riveting Boston Marathon tragedy; but it seems to me that the long historical view can provide added illumination concerning this horrendous drama of April 2013.
The background to this awful, sadistic act of terror did not begin yesterday, or even 20 years ago. One really has to go back to the late ‘60s and a “look ma, no hands” era of self-indulgence that continued through the Me Decade of the ‘70s, and in many ways, still persists in today’s America.
Certain people and institutions have attempted creditably to stem the decadent tide, much as Diocletian and Constantine did in a declining Rome besieged by barbarians. And today we have many people to thank for their efforts in that regard.
However, in certain sectors saying anything positive about the Bush presidency of the early 2000s and names like Rumsfeld or Ashcroft that to some, resemble cuss words, gets one automatically blackballed! Yet my hat is truly off to the extraordinary “Homeland Security” apparatus they launched in response to 9/11. The results through President Obama’s first term, and for some 11 years, have been extraordinary.
Unfortunately, the decadent backwash of the late ‘60s–from sartorial standards on down–never went away, and all this remains a fundamental problem during our own times. Among many other things, that decadence has allowed immigration, legal and worse, illegal, to flourish, and with risibly latitudinarian vetting. The bigger universities are not only full of be-doped homegrowns, but also foreigners drawn overwhelmingly from very tough countries. Both groups too often game the system, and in the latter case, too often overstay.
The malefactors of the recent tragedy were on the face of it, far from the worst of incomers–both had already had significant attainments in their young lives. However, both manifested the same kind of ambivalence that the age of imperialism used to produce in people like English-fluent Gandhi and French-educated Ho Chi Minh. Both New England-Chechan terrorists who created this marathon tragedy increasingly decried a lack of values in today’s America, and obviously felt superior to many indigenous young people laughing and swilling shots and too often, failing, it appeared, to grow up around them.
All this constituted a big difference from immigration of earlier eras, when many of our forbears came over and wanted badly to join an admired mainstream, changing names and so on.
According to Louis Halle (Out of Chaos) and in a biological take, Lewis Thomas (Lives of a Cell), the healthy periods of history are ones where outsiders pull to enriching centers–and thereby, pull together. Think of Periclean Athens, Elizabethan England, or for that matter, Churchill’s Britain of 1940.
But when too many live primarily for self-indulgence, we are in a frankly decadent time period. In sum, I believe these two horrid brothers did feel superior to today’s America and its culture, as do many other incomers today. Such people, hypocrites, if you will, manage to take the goodies which have come down to us from great innovators like Edison, Ford, and Gates; but they don’t really assimilate.
Of course the problem here was emphatically theirs–and both brothers, including the dead one, are to be loathed for what they thought, and much moreso, for what they did. But at the same time, one cannot and should not discount the problems in our culture, particularly, the way it has evolved since the all-important watershed of the late ‘60s. Failure to address these central historical trends, and failure really to call on the indigenous to pull up national/cultural socks now, not later, is a crucial, background part of this extremely sad tragedy.
One final, local note: certain Western New York politicians vigorously oppose the idea of charging those who cross into the States; but I believe that several bucks would be a very small price to pay, and should emphatically be levied, except perhaps on those who would suffer business-wise. The reason? Because America is a privilege, and should be treated as such, both by those who come here, and just as much, by its own denizens.
B. B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.