Clearly there is not enough time, not enough brains, and not enough money to sustain the high technological civilization of America.
But the nation will not collapse and fall, it will simply rattle, roll and shake down into a lower plane.
The mere fact that some aspect of civilization seems marvelous and a great advance over the past is no guarantee that it is any improvement. The telephone, the automobile, the television are gadgets that seemed foolproof for any civilization, so great are their inherent merits.
The phone system, one of the few demonstrable triumphs of American technology, soon became (once it was perfected) subject to the classical pattern of decay and collapse. Four times recently I have had to cancel long-distance calls because of technical flaws on the line, and any number of abuses have crept in along the way, such as the infuriating use of phones by people soliciting money for every known thing under the sun.
The automobile, apart from being a major cause of American death, is a daily pollutant, and the general hassle of driving in any American city (or backwater crossroads, for that matter) probably accounts for the sharp decline in American civility before noon, as drivers recover from the trip to town. The aid to getting around is an obstacle to getting around.
Television, which primarily serves the interests of 10-year-old girls, still serves the general purpose of making them experts on luxury (as seen in the settings of shows) some years before they learn anything useful like boiling a potato. Even in sports programs (the one field in which television delivers on its original promises) the chief function of the machine is to provide fantasy material for ex-jocks and for wimps who know every score for the past l3 years but who could not cut down a tree without hazard to everyone within 200 feet or lift a lawn mower into a car without collapse.
The real result of our civilization is to staff the nation solid with clerks, to the extent that if anyone is to be found who can lay a brick wall or replace a rotted lintel, the price is beyond the means of ordinary people.
And the truth is that clerking is a job that requires sophisticated skills, possessed by few. Fourteen months ago (to give an example that any reader can match or surpass from his own experience) I sent in my check for real estate taxes. To this day I get notices of unpaid taxes, with penalties dutifully added, despite phone conversations with no fewer than 26 persons at City Hall and despite having twice sent photocopies of the canceled check, which in the first place showed on its face the lot number and so forth and indicated the period of time for which taxes were being paid. Every few months someone down there alleges it is all straightened out, but of course it never will be. Only last week a clerk suggested I come down there in person and, I suppose, spend a day or so.
Newspapers are not exempt from the distressing law that great things soon fall apart. This is not so apparent if you happen to read one of the small handful of reasonably good ones, but if you take 100 American newspapers of any particular day, and paw lightly through them you will see what they have come to. "Tot Rapes Nun" is an ideal headline, regrettably rare (as the pinnacle of any art is rare) but lesser approximations are standard.
Is there any answer to the universal progress from oak to plastic, from Washington to Reagan, from Cervantes to (and here I shall name no names)?
Some say education is an answer or the beginning of one. If so, and if education means schools, then forget it. Even educators have begun to say openly that a considerable proportion of teachers are, in a word, cretins.
What happens is both common and dangerous. People quickly learn there is no bucking the common progress downward in one field after another, and they turn inward, arranging lives for themselves as safe as possible from phones, cars, printed words, televised images, computerized merchants and so forth. In many cases they achieve great success and possibly even a life of some fairly high sanity. But they do this at the price of contributing little to the society at large, for they, too, have caught the slogan of Me First and Screw You Good Buddy.
The true solution is not withdrawal into an enclave but the development of a life less dependent on gadgets that promise help but end up hindrances. The chief consolation to be found is that if the civilization is blown to atoms, not all that much will have been lost.
We should pray, I guess, that those who hold the power of war and peace do not come to the same conclusion.