Friday, May 17, 2013

Decadence As Its Own Reward

I sometimes wonder what America will look like in 100, or 200 years. We're still a young nation compared to Europe. Humans didn't arrive in the Western Hemisphere until long after they'd settled in Africa, Europe and Asia; they'd been living on earth for at least thirty thousand years before they came here. Ironically, the first cultural development peaked in the Western Hemisphere just as Europe was experiencing its first decline (in the Middle Ages). Things didn't start hopping, though, until the arrival of the Europeans four centuries ago.

Technology has overtaken civilization so quickly that it's over-run the existing styles of life: Today we're commuting in jets while many people around the earth are still living in caves or leafy huts. 

In our modern high-tech world, society has even begun to be nostalgic for its pre-modern paradigms--to "get back" to something more basic, more genuine, less insulated from direct experience of life. 

Will the human population keep on exploding? Will humans increasingly inhabit huger and huger architectural structures, like ant-hills? Or will there be some catastrophic plagues and die-offs due to over-exploitation and scarcities? Barring the unexpected, it would seem that we are still living in a time of unprecedented prosperity, even though, given the disparities in distribution around the globe, this wealth is not universally shared. 

For my part, I believe that the human population, and its exploitation of available resource, must be moderated. As a species, we've expanded well beyond the planet's holding capacity, and we're threatening to push the vast majority of plant and animal varieties into extinction. And this has all happened in the comparative blink of any eye, along the biologic (not to speak of geologic) time-line. 

Is mankind's success--our greedy confiscation of resource--something for which we must be ashamed, or is it the occasion for celebration? 

Within the narrow compass of a private life, the effect of personal decisions about behavior is clearly insignificant to the course of history. The hungers and desires of vast populations dictate the larger developments of civilization. These lunges and distractions of may seem accidental, or "inevitable"depending upon your interpretation; but they're usually unpredictable. No one can say for sure what influences will change the course of history. 

Who could have foretold that early adding machines and abacuses and typewriters and electricity would one day be transformed into the personal computer, and the hand-held devices we see today? Who can say with any certainty what the "next big thing" will be that changes all the rules of the game, making everything that went before appear primitive? Utopian and dystopian visions of the future are like elaborate dreams of an alternate reality. 

Mind-altering drugs, for instance, which Huxley thought would become increasingly important, appear to be advancing inexorably. Today, we're legalizing marijuana; there are pills to increase sexual potency and excitability. Tomorrow, people may well be "experiencing trips" which rival mere ordinary living. Tomorrow, chemistry and genetic engineering may permit humankind to design its own existence, to live creatively in the literal sense of the word. Many see this as the ultimate evil temptation, but each iteration of technical advance alters our ethical point of view. The unimaginable of today, may become the ho-hum quotidian of the future.

In any event, we must still eat and drink and work and play and dream and speculate. Get and spend. Strive and measure. In the meantime, here's a luscious new accompaniment to the process. Call it [the] Decadence. A delight for the body, a lyric to the mind. A little recess in the round of duty and prescription. A little celebration. A bridge to somewhere. Or a reward at the end of a day. 

Swirled vigorously in crushed ice, and poured out "up" in the usual way. Recommended unreservedly.

3 parts dry white vermouth
2 parts vodka
1 1/2 parts St. Germaine liqueur
1 part fresh lemon juice
3 squirts orange bitters

Perfect for tying up the day's cares into little bouquets of forgetfulness, or for solving the world's troubles, or for lubricating a good discussion on the future of the race. The human race. What is the race, and who's winning, and what is the prize? "We're alive today," as the Rolling Stones said. 

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