Give me a minute. I’ll get to my point before long, but I have to set it up, first.
According to the app on my smartphone, it took me only a minute to fall asleep just over half an hour after midnight, after which I slept soundly until a little after 4:00 a.m. But after returning to bed following an early-morning pee break, I was restless. The app tells me I had four hours and fifty-eight minutes of restful sleep, thirty-five minutes of restless tossing and turning, and that three minute bathroom break. The late-to-bed experience led me to get up a few minutes after 6:00 a.m. When that happens, I feel like I’ve wasted an especially valuable part of the day. But not this morning. This morning, during that restless tossing and turning, I composed an essay in my head; one day, if I remember what I “wrote,” I will document it here. This blog post, I hope, will be a sufficient reminder to enable me to do that.
Unfortunately, the piece I composed in my head shares a title with a 2014 British-Irish horror film, “Let Us Prey.” My essay, though, is far-removed from the horror film genre. It addresses the manner in which humankind has collectively allowed the human condition to degrade, beginning with our abandonment of the core of our morality. Though the thinking behind the essay has been brewing in my head for a very long time, I think the spark that ignited my blaze of near-sleep creativity erupted from an excellent article that appeared online in Rolling Stone. The article, entitled The Unraveling of America, by British Columbian anthropologist Wade Davis, argues that COVID-19 ” has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism.” Though he supports his argument by pointing to a number of missteps the USA has taken over the years, I think he misses a key cause of its decline. He touches on it when he says “At the root of this transformation and decline lies an ever-widening chasm between Americans who have and those who have little or nothing.” But, in my view, he doesn’t address the core moral failing responsible for the end of not only an empire but, quite possibly, civilization as we know it. I recommend reading the article; it’s very long, but worth the read.
My unwritten essay ignores individual mistakes and missteps, instead focusing on the transformation of our human culture, worldwide, from one in which the collective community is more important than the individual to one in which selfish individualism is valued more highly than human life. I won’t write the essay here, but I will argue (as I have done many times over the life of this blog thus far) that community and collective action have always been at the root of human advancement. A couple of years ago, embedded in one of my rants on the subject, I wrote the following:
Agricultural co-ops. Buying groups. Condominium associations. Home-owner associations. Apartment dwellers, for god’s sake! Cooperative engagements are all around us. People recognize the fact that we’re stronger together. But the myth persists. Fear-mongering about communism and socialism persist, even in the shadow of grand socialist experiments like Medicare and Social Security and the tax code!
That was just a splinter from a larger log that finds itself attempting to resurrect a society that seems to have transformed from a familial model to a collection of self-sustaining hermitages. The working title of my essay, “let us prey,” suggests that the human family has devolved, becoming sociopathic predators instead of social creatures bound together by common concerns. I suppose it is possible that this massive swing from caring community to hard-nosed individualism may be reversed, but I see little evidence of it. Oh, it exists in little gatherings scattered all over the world, but self-centered greed and predatory lifestyles dwarf those tiny pockets of decency.
I suppose my longing for collectivism and community and compassion is based in part on a utopian vision that never truly existed. But humankind once was much, much closer to Utopian than we are today. Today, entire economies and societies thrive (though that’s not really the right word) on a framework of greed, selfishness, instant gratification, rejection of self-sacrifice, and predation.
I do so wish I could look at the world through a different prism, one in which all I see is rose-tinted. But that’s not happening this morning. Aside from the emotional wreckage scattered all around my head at the moment, this vision of social wreckage seems overwhelming. If I could snap my fingers and make the world a better place, I would. If I could entreat others to snap their fingers with me to accomplish that aim, I would. But those fingers have other, more miserly things to do.
Narrow self-interest at the expense of others is almost a religion. Let us prey.