Am I going to fail badly? Why can’t I die? I’m talking about my old self. I cling to my old self in hopes that he will perhaps be validated at the eleventh hour before he is put to death for good.
The old myth: that I was the remarkable apex of all of civilization. Yes, there were those born after me, but they would merely copy what I and others had created before them. That the thread of history was somehow building to this grand finale when the world would wake up one morning and realize it very badly needed me to be its king. It included American exceptionalism, Western exceptionalism, Caucasian exceptionalism, familial exceptionalism, gender exceptionalism, and most importantly, me exceptionalism. I was often irritated to great anger when my little brother proved he could do things that I couldn’t. However, I was also certain that the world would end some time around the year 2000, and so I was convinced that my generation was to be the last full flowering of a generation and those born after us would never reach peak maturation.
Of course, I never came out and expressed such absurd thinking in this manner, but it was surely the kind of thinking that went around in my head. It lay dormant until many years later when the first millennials started trickling into the workplace out of college, and appeared to have not gotten the message that I and those of my generation were the last fully flowering, mature generation, the apex of all humanity. That our music and movie heroes were the prime examples of Western music and cinematography taken to their finest, most golden years. That computing technology as I knew it to exist in 2002 was the ultimate, because Moore’s Law was certain to be reached soon, and no more faster or better computers would ever be made. In some ways I could never bear to admit, the death of my little brother and my staying at the translation company where I was almost the youngest person there even after five years were things that enabled my sense of being a member of the last and final generation. I’d read a few books about Mayan predictions and Terrance McKenna in college, and so I found it easy enough to accept that the world was actually more likely to end around the year 2012.
I am not so sure that I am the only person who has ever thought this way, or that my generation or any other generation are the only ones who believed themselves to be the ultimate expression and full flowering of a culture, with the dark descent into chaos and a thousand years of terror and evil reigning on earth to follow. I am almost of a mind that the Baby Boomers have convinced much of America that they are such a generation, and most of them, who were the first to watch themselves age on home videos and other cheap, consumer grade technologies, are incapable of believing that there are now at least three generations following them whose youngest members are in high school and whose oldest members are well into their fifties.
This is why we see Boomers continue to assert themselves in Presidential elections, past ages when possible candidates would have normally found it unseemly to run for office. We probably don’t need a president who will be over 70 when they take the oath, but we are getting one.
I would like to think that I don’t wallow in my own sense of exceptionalism anymore. I have lived a little, and read enough of history to know that there have been plenty of people of all genders, ages, cultures, races and times in history who have thought and done exceptional things. Someone taking the exceptionally long view of human culture might even say that art, music, poetry, fiction, philosophy and even film and digital art and music have already peaked and are in their decline. Even our own capabilities to reason scientifically and mathematically have seen their heyday. We are already living in a new dark ages, and simply enjoying the fruits of labor of much more exceptional human beings than we are. I am not sure I could disagree with a person who made that kind of argument. A thousand years from now, the Beatles and Taylor Swift will likely be lumped into one category of being mass-marketed saccharine sweet music of the simplest kind, and the great composers from two hundred years ago to be of an entirely different level of sophistication.
It is hard to continue to worry about failing at one’s next endeavor, once one sees that one has never really embarked upon anything that could be described as exceptional among what has come before it. My main style of writing has been taking place since at least the time of Montaigne, though you could probably argue Augustine wrote plenty of personal reflections in a quasi-philosophical tone, and he did it much better than I ever will. There have probably been thousands of others whose works have not been preserved, or they sit in various libraries around Europe, unnoticed and mostly unknown due to the fact that no one has bothered to hold them up in high regard the way we have with a few select thinkers.