Famously, the poet Juvenal wrote in his very first Satire that it was, for him, flat out difficult not to write satire. He qualified that statement by saying, “For who is so tolerant of an unjust city, who is so tough as nails, that he can hold himself back? Especially when you see Matho the lawyer driving (the ancient equivalent of) a brand new sports car!” In other words, the world in which Juvenal found himself during the late first/ early second century AD was so corrupt, so self-indulgent, so narcissistic that all Juvenal could find left for him to say—or at least for him to put to verse—was humorous, satirical commentary on that very society and its excesses.
What a different world we find ourselves in today! Or am I now being satirical? I think I most obviously am. Anyone who wants to defend the world as it is today as a serious place whose leaders are sober and staid, whose denizens are more concerned with the welfare of their fellow human beings and the environment, whose children have a bright future, whose seas are clean and air is clear, whose ozone layer is filtering out UV rays and whose technology will solve all other problems is either a card-carrying member of the Optimist Club or at such a remove from the real world (and likely sufficiently wealthy to be so removed) that he bobs along day by day without consulting a newspaper or even overhearing casual conversation at the local barber shop.
Not that the world’s going to Hell in a handbasket. No, its problems are far too large for a handbasket. For the sake of nothing really, since there’s no argument here, I’m going to divide the sources of the problems up into three principal categories, each to be meticulously avoided of course; admittedly, I do so simply because I like the idea of there being three of them. And I will try to do it in the vein and in honor of the ancient poet Juvenal. He would very much like to find me speaking broadly and unfairly in fell-swoop categories. Besides, this will come in very handy the next time you’re at the barbershop, especially if there’s a long wait or your barber likes to cut your hair slowly.
First, there are the Prudes. These folks like to point out the errors in society and sometimes even offer source criticism for the problems—“It all started when …”—but never propose any real solutions. Their recommended remedies are facile at best, normally unrealistic and ill-conceived. These folks are more often than not associated with churches or synagogues, but rarely talk about God except to complain that “Nobody believes in God any more, and that’s the problem,” or something condemning like that.
Second are the Gloomers. They are a bit like the first category, but they are less condemning and simply more depressed. They like simply to say, “The world is going to Hell in a handbasket,” and not add a lot more. They rarely see the good in any counterproposal or corrective measure that anyone could offer. They are sure that the world won’t last long. That the current generation is evil, narcissistic, bad. That all current cultural trends are corrupt. That everything causes cancer. And, like the Prudes, they like to find sources for the problem, e.g. it all started with vaccines, or the invasion of the continent by white conquistadors (itself a bit of an oxymoron), or even with venereal diseases (formerly known as STDs but now reclassified as STIs).
Such reclassification befits the folks of the third category. They are the Correctors. They honestly believe we can fix this. They are commendable, I suppose, for being basically optimistic in the face of a complex and seemingly overwhelming societal meltdown. Ah, but their solutions… Their solutions are rooted in making rules to change things, particularly rules about behavior. They are, of course, anti-bullying (do you know anyone who is “pro-bullying”?); but the way they want to “do away with” bullying is by outlawing it, not realizing that just making a rule about bullying won’t solve the problem. They also want stringent regulations for, well, everything else, too. The more rules, the better, and the rules need to be set by them and other sane people (for they regard those who don’t agree with them as “insane” or simply not in step with the new ethical reality). Oh, and one other interesting thing about the Correctors: they pretend certain problems don’t exist. They seem reasonable enough at first—until you actually talk to them—but they prove to be nuttier than either the Gloomers or the Prudes.
How can I live in such a world, a world of Prudes and Gloomers and Correctors, and not write satire? Thanks to Juvenal, I can’t. And now that we’re both thinking like Juvenal, in this world so self-indulgent, so narcissistic, and so full of excesses, perhaps you can’t either. It truly is difficult not to write satire, even on such a beautiful Saturday morning in May.