The Modern World is Going to Hell: A Continuing Series: The Whatever Vermin of the Apocalypse

 

The sixth in my series of posts in which I give rants against trends that have developed in society since the days of my youth, the halcyon days of the seventies, when leisure suits and disco were sure signs that society was ready to be engulfed in a tide of ignorance, bad taste and general buffoonery.

We have started off the series with a look at seven developments that I view as intensely annoying and proof that many people lack the sense that God granted a goose.  I like to refer to these as  The Seven Hamsters of the Apocalypse, minor evils that collectively illustrate a society that has entered a slough of extreme stupidity.  Each of the Seven Hamsters will have a separate post.  We have already discussed here the Tattooed Vermin,  here the Pierced Vermin , here the F-Bomb Vermin, here the Texting Vermin and here the Trashy Vermin.   The sixth of the Hamsters is the Whatever Vermin.

When I was growing up in the Sixties, I watched a lot of classic television from the Fifties that was rerun endlessly.  One of my favorites was I Love Lucy.  A comedic genius, Lucille Ball had a straight man of genius, although, alas, not a faithful husband, in Desi Arnaz.  Often the climax of the show would be the collapse into utter chaos of some scheme of Lucy’s with Desi Arnaz as the unforgettable Ricky Ricardo confronting her with the immortal line, “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!”, or words to that effect.  Lucy would eventually confess all, after feeble attempts at deception failed, and Ricky, after a period of explosion, exasperation or incredulity, would forgive all, and the couple would be reconciled in love.  Amusing, and not completely unlike the interactions that I witnessed  among adults, although the roles of Lucy and Ricky often were assumed by both sexes, depending upon the couples involved.

The lessons I drew away from all this were:  1.  Television was quite a bit more amusing than real life when the feathers hit the fan;  2.  In real life bad behavior did usually end up calling for explanation and contrition;  and 3.  When contrition was offered for bad behavior, forgiveness was usually called for.

My mother, the rules enforcer in my home (Dad being reserved for only the most extreme situations) of course would have taught me all about the virtues of confession and contrition without any help from television land.  Mom, who could have given many an attorney I know lessons on the art of cross-examination, had three rules:  1.  If you mess up, tell me about it quickly.  2.  Be sorry for what you have done, or I will make you sorry for what you have done.  3.  Mom can forgive almost anything except lying.  Good rules for raising two rather rambunctious boys, and Mom’s rules worked well.

Mom of course was not atypical at the time in regard to her view of the world.  She certainly would be now.  Today we live in a “Whatever World”.

“Whatever” of course is used today as an all purpose non-response in almost any conceivable situation.  It conveys indifference, apathy and, in many situations, contempt for the person the word is directed towards.

The neologism, at least in usage, “Whatever” as a response to a correct accusation of bad behavior, manages to combine the following in one word:  a complete indifference to one’s own poor conduct, a refusal to acknowledge one’s error or sin, total unwillingness to discuss one’s bad conduct and an insult to the offended party.  Not bad for one word!  According to a Marist College Poll, “whatever” topped the list of most annoying words, even edging out the grating, and ubiquitous, “you know”.  Perhaps the fact that it is annoying is one reason why so many people use it so frequently.

Indifference and apathy to one’s own evil conduct degrades us both as individuals and as a society.  Too many people today drift through life in a fog of self-obsession, apathetically satisfying appetites how they can, giving vent to every impulse no matter how low and base.  Little wonder that in our society a phrase as popular as “Whatever” is “Don’t judge me!”.  This attitude can prove especially difficult for defense attorneys as many clients have lost the capacity to even feign contrition for their crimes, not a good thing before sentencing.  Mr. Simpson, as an example, demonstrated the consequences of such an attitude when he was sentenced to 33 years in 2008.

Hmmm, perhaps I have been too rash in judging this attitude if it ends up causing people guilty of crime to do more time in the slammer!  However, most people guilty of crime are never prosecuted and the harm of the “Whatever” attitude is certainly not restricted to criminals.  The refusal to even accept that one has behaved badly deadens our moral sensibilities and leads to evil consequences in both our lives as individuals and for society at large.  CS Lewis, prescient as ever, in his Screwtape Proposes a Toast, saw all this coming as individuals became increasingly unconscious of the concept of sin:

Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.

Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it? Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t. They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in automatic response to sexy advertisements, or to make themselves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure themselves about their virility or their “normalcy,” or even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Cassanova, they were nauseating. The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-importance, and above all mere routine, were what really dominated his life.

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The great (and toothsome) sinners are made out of the very same material as those horrible phenomena the great Saints. The virtual disappearance of such material may mean insipid meals for us. But is it not utter frustration and famine for the Enemy? He did not create the humans — He did not become one of them and die among them by torture — in order to produce candidates for Limbo, “failed” humans. He wanted to make them Saints; gods; things like Himself. Is the dullness of your present fare not a very small price to pay for the delicious knowledge that His whole great experiment is petering out? But not only that. As the great sinners grow fewer, and the majority lose all individuality, the great sinners become far more effective agents for us. Every dictator or even demagogue — almost every film star — can now draw tens of thousands of the human sheep with him. They give themselves (what there is of them) to him; in him, to us. There may come a time when we shall have no need to bother about individual temptation at all, except for the few. Catch the bellwether, and his whole flock comes after him.

It is impossible to lead a decent life if one is apathetic to the whole concept of right and wrong, and simply engages in spur of the moment impulsive behavior that one does not even bother to feebly defend.  Such a life merely prolongs infancy throughout life, with predictable consequences.  O tempora, o mores!

However, perhaps I am being too harsh.  There are worse things than indifference to evil I suppose, and that brings us to the Ignorant Vermin.  However, it is time for me walk my elderly hound.  (She now merely stares longingly at the rabbits that she formerly chased, just as I look longingly at the ambulances I formerly chased.)  Until next time.

 

Hattip to my daughter, or, as we refer to her,  our Arguer-in-Chief, for rousing the Whatever Vermin from his apathetic den and taking his photograph.

10 Responses to The Modern World is Going to Hell: A Continuing Series: The Whatever Vermin of the Apocalypse

  • Well and truly said, O Donald, but don’t neglect that other Hamster of the Apocalypse, the one on Prince Harry’s head during the recent wedding — one suspects that Harry is channeling the hair of the False Donald, the Last Trump.

    Life is good.

  • My kids rarely would end the discussion/flip me off with that one.

    Methinks “whatever” might be the F-bomb aimed at whomever ye varmint realizes he/she can’t hurl an F-bomb.

    RE: F-bombs. Taking (outside of prayer) in vain the Lord’s Name is never licit. However, (my twisted world here) some have earned the right to prodigious strings of expletives (an art form in certain circles). That “some” would be combat veterans. Most are virtuous and don’t.

  • True Mack. The Donald (Trump) is the standard by which we judge all bad toupes. In my next series which will be rants on the Seven Modern Deadly Sins, I assure you that the Trump that Roared will be a featured player.

  • Love those strolls down memory lane, Don. Here’s a blog I did some months ago:
    ========================================
    I’m constantly reminded of the generation gap – make those gaps. I am somewhat surprised to learn that the teaching of penmanship, also known as cursive, is all but gone from the curricula of public schools and it saddens me, especially when I look at fine old hand-written letters. The art of the writing beautiful words is disappearing as the machines take over the world.

    Most of the kids today can talk, type or text on their thingamabobs, for want of an all-inclusive term for high-tech communication devices – who can keep up with iPods, iPhones, Blackberries and all the other names? – but many young people can barely write their names legibly. Well, some can, but most can’t emulate the beautiful scripts that our literate and expressive ancestors could create with fine writing instruments.

    Another reminder of the yawning chasm between today’s generation and mine (call it roughly 40 years) is exemplified in the following exchange I had with a young clerk at a store who was around 25 years old. (Do the math to figure my approximate age):

    “Say, would you have any dungaree patches?” I asked.

    A blank stare and silence, then a response: “What’s a dungaree?”

    “Dungarees, you know what dungarees are, don’t you?”

    “No, I don’t have a clue.”

    “Blue jeans,” I say, somewhat taken aback that she is unfamiliar with my original term.

    “Oh, no, we don’t have any of those.”

    It was quiet at the time in the store and inasmuch as I was her only customer and she wasn’t busy and appeared willing to indulge my curiosity as to knowledge of my generation; I said, “Tell me something. Have you ever heard of James Cagney?”

    “No,” she replied. “Who’s he?”

    “He was a famous actor, one of biggest stars in Hollywood. He was in Yankee Doodle Dandy and White Heat and Public Enemy. Ever heard of those movies?”

    “Nope,” she said. “I don’t watch any black-and-white movies. I heard of Cagney and Lacey. It was a TV show, I think.”

    I nodded, but then tried a few more names. “How about Gary Cooper? Ever heard of him?”

    “No,” she said.

    I pressed on with Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and kept getting a shake of the head until I got to Humphrey Bogart.

    “Yeah, I think I heard of him.”

    Then she turned the tables on me and asked me if I heard of a series of current pop singers, whom everyone under 30 seems to know, and I shook my head in ignorance.

    “How about Britney Spears?” she asked.

    “Yes, I’ve heard of her, along with Lindsay Lohan. They seem to be in the news practically every day.”

    “How about Lady Gaga?”

    “That’s an oxymoron, isn’t it” I joked lamely.

    She didn’t get it.

    A middle-aged woman, closer to me in years than the store clerk, overheard part of our conversation and jumped in with a remark directed at the youngster:

    “Don’t you remember Clark Gable from ‘Gone With The Wind’?” she asked. “He was the one that said, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’”

    “Oh, him!” the clerk said, her face lighting up with recognition. “Yeah, I kinda remember that.”

    I couldn’t resist pointing out the film was in color.

    We had some more fun, the three of us, batting around generational differences and laughing at our ignorance of the other’s, and I began to think of many of the terms we used a half-century ago that have just about disappeared: “going steady,” “juvenile delinquency” and “balderdash,” for example, to be replaced with the likes of “Bollywood, “ginormous,” and “DVD.”

    I arrived in this world before the post-World War II Baby boomers, and subsequent generations X and Y or whatever they’re called nowadays. Why is it that I feel such a cultural and social divide between the time I grew up and today? Why do I feel such a sense of alienation from today’s youth and perhaps them from me? J.B. Priestly, the English writer, who died in 1984 at the age of 89, wrote: “There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age – I missed it coming and going.”

    Lately, still in the throes of nostalgia and the “good old days,” I began to compile a list of things and people from my childhood years that few kids would know about today but could easily find out thanks to Google: “Howdy Doody,” “The Lone Ranger,” television sets that took 10 seconds to warm up and then you got only 3 channels, including the Dumont network, Admiral TV’s and Motorola radios, street games like hide ‘n seek, Johnny-ride-a-pony, I declare war, stick ball, ball tag, red light/green light and hopscotch; the Good Humor man, peashooters and Wham-O’s, Green Stamps, Barnum & Bailey, Alfred E. Neuman, Estes Kefauver, Hula hoops, poodle skirts, pegged pants, sideburns, egg creams.

    Amos and Andy, The Hit Parade, Oxydol, mahjong, carbon paper, sneakers (either P.F. Flyers or Keds), Laurel & Hardy, Bishop Sheen and Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, John Cameron Swayze, Huntley-Brinkley, I Like Ike, full-service gas stations that gave out free road maps, Sinclair, Flying A and Esso, the five-and-ten, Pez, when being sent to the principal’s office was the worst thing that could happen to you in school next to going home with a bad report card. And something was either “nifty” or “boss” instead of “cool,” and dude referred to a ranch and pot to something you cooked in.

    Speaking of school, 50 years ago the worst offenses you could commit were “talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, getting out of turn in line, wearing improper clothes, and not putting paper in wastebaskets.“

    Contrast to today’s main problems — “drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, assault and guns in the schools.”

    In those days, there was no Internet, no texting, no computer dating, no day care centers, no group therapy, no word processors, no credit cards, no ATM machines, no talking back to your parents or teachers, no TV talking heads and no reality shows.

    These trips down memory lane are enjoyable, but a sobering reminder comes from cartoonist Al Capp, who said, “Today’s younger generation is no worse than my own. We were just as ignorant and repulsive as they are, but nobody listened to us.”

    So while I may sound like an old fuddy-duddy lost in a wistful haze, I am going to cut the young folks a break and grant them the same number of years to repeat the same mistakes of the past and in 40 years complain about the new generation that they raised.

  • Three hundred years ago, the royal barber would be chained to the wall in the dungeon of the Tower of London . . .

    My wife and I each own a Hermes portable typewriter.

    I have a cell phone with an antenna. It doesn’t fold. My lawyer, our age: seasoned citizen, laughed when he saw it.

  • Dear Giuseppe Verdi,

    I too thought “gi-normous” was recent slang, but in William Shawcross’s excellent biography of The Queen Mother we find it used in a letter Prince Charles wrote to QM in 1966 (p. 816).

    Now I really feel old.

  • Mack, actually its first use is traceable to 1948 but it wasn’t until very recently that it made it into Webster’s.

    How perceptive you are. Verdi is my favorite composer.

  • Oh, I was an expert at the bored eye-roll and exasperated sigh when I was 16. If “whatever” had been in use at the time, I am certain I would have said “whatEVER, mom” 10 thousand times a day.

    I have very little patience with lippy adolescents, precisely because I was once a major pain myself. I knew absolutely everything when I was in high school, but I was amazed by how wise my parents had become by the time I turned 20 :-)

  • There is a play in Britain Donna written by John Osborne, one of the “angry young men” playwrights of the Fifties, called “Look Back in Anger”. When I recall some of my actions during my teen years and young adulthood, I “Look Back in Embarrassment.”

  • C.S. Lewis also wrote about how, when we’re confronted about our wrong actions, we try to explain them as legitimate exceptions to the standards; the one thing we don’t do is deny the truth of the standards. I wonder if we haven’t changed in that regard.

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