People notice the patterns they want to notice and ignore the others. If punk John Lydon a.k.a. Johnny Rotten had a young groupie for a wife, it’d be their latest piece of evidence that male rockers are all aging predators.
Since Nora Foster was instead 80 and long suffering from Alzheimer’s when she passed away last week, married to Lydon since back when the Sex Pistols were first active in the 1970s, she won’t be seen as part of the rock romance data set one way or the other—unless another older-woman rock spouse happens to die in the next few months, in which case some writer with a psych degree, possibly in her 30s, will write a piece wondering why rock stars might have mother fixations.
If you’ve dated people both younger and older than yourself and had anyone cast moral aspersions because of one but not the other, you must wonder sometimes why you can’t treat one as a sort of “moral offset” for the other, if people must weigh in about it at all.
There are little patterns of death and decay weaving their way into our lives all the time, mostly being dealt with by individuals and small circles of acquaintances, not whole societies simultaneously. As essayist Roger Rosenblatt (himself now in his 80s) put it, instead of living in anticipation of a single, unified Apocalypse sweeping the whole world, it might be more mature and realistic to think of the world as experiencing little bits of apocalypse—and renewal—all the time, as in the case of the Rwandan genocide to which he was reacting 29 years ago.
I’d guess that Johnny Rotten, who seems like a fundamentally decent person, feels more as if he’s experiencing something like an apocalypse right now than he did singing about violence and revolution in the 1970s (or about the urgent need to recycle on P.I.L.’s “Don’t Ask Me” in 1990, if for some reason you prefer that). Everyone should thus be very nice to him from now on, if they weren’t already.
It’s fair to wonder whether Donald Trump posting the succinct message “WORLD WAR III” (on Easter, when some are focused more on resurrection stories) told us more about his current state of mind than about the world. That’s one of the many frustrating things about Trump: Even when he says something you think might be important, you can’t help fearing he’s saying it for petty personal reasons. I’d hope many people are more worried about the current president, Joe Biden, potentially waging World War III than about the prior president merely posting the phrase, but one inevitably worries the posting should leave us puzzling over the prior president’s mental state instead of just foreign affairs.
Likewise, when Trump recently posted “REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS SHOULD DEFUND THE DOJ AND FBI,” even his most ardent fans should by now be able to detect the implied “UNLESS THEY LEAVE ME ALONE, THAT IS”—a sentiment preferable to blind faith in government agencies but not the soundest, most reliable basis for budget cuts and the administration of law. Two years from now, this man could be sending the military across the southern border to bomb Mexican drug cartels, given some of his recent statements, and his temperament doesn’t suggest he’d be open to calm discussion of legalization-based drug reforms once the shooting starts.
Yet it’s not obvious that the paranoid or even apocalyptic mindset is usually farther from the truth than the bland, institutional, pseudo-rational mindset of, for instance, the Department of Justice about which Trump posted. Few Americans want to be associated with the J6 rowdies and most still trust the police, for example, but as the popular Twitter account Amuse tweeted last week: “DOJ admits that of the 13 Proud Boys involved with J6, eight or more of them were paid by the FBI to provide the government information about the group. The FBI was the majority of Proud Boys—only 5 are being prosecuted.”
Amuse tweeted in addition later that day: “The DOJ now admits that another 40 undercover agents were with the Proud Boys on J6—from HSI—Homeland Security Investigations. The vast majority of the group was paid by the government as either W2 employees or CHS.” These agents were largely from agencies other than the FBI, apparently. And still you wonder why the paranoid think they’re thoroughly surrounded.
There won’t likely come one climactic day on which evil and good clash at the barricades and one side dies forever and ever, so we need to retain the sanity of people who are in it for the long haul—yet without becoming people who are merely resigned to let the powers that be do as they please. We can accept that political and cultural processes are usually gradual and ameliorative ones without thereby being logically obliged to kid ourselves that illness is health or that authoritarianism, surveillance, and constant war are the natural and best order of things.
There may not be one last day of resistance coming any more than there is a single, final blow-out rock concert to end all concerts—but we must constantly rebel.