One Up, One Down

Jonathan C Vrska
6 min readJan 13, 2021

Two of the first books I got a hold of when I started to read, were ‘Twilight of American Culture’ by Morris Berman, and ‘Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism’ by Michelle Goldberg. They made a good pair then as they do now.

I’ve always thought it was amusing, seeing someone with a Stephan King novel as much as I find it amusing hearing talk about the brutality and craziness of the latest ‘Game of Thrones’ episode. Reality to me is much more scarier, and much more brutal. Around 1190AD, a Leader in current day Mongolia, after achieving a large but temporary victory over his enemies, boiled 70 prisoners alive in cauldrons. Jamukha would later request a death reserved for leaders of the time, to have no blood spilled, he had his back broken over a large block of wood. Pretty wild stuff, I wonder what would have come of Shakespeare getting a hold of an english copy of ‘The Secret History of the Mongols’ but obviously he had plenty of sources to pull from in Europe, like the feeding of an enemies’ children to said enemies in the form of a pie, revealing the truth to them after. I can remember reading Kingdom Coming outside, blown away by it, I stopped every few pages to look up and around wondering holy shit, does everyone know about this. I later came to know this feeling quite well the more books I read and the more I realized the larger world around me. It is the sentiment of the historical, the feeling in my bones that I like you sit in a period of time with what has come before, what will come after and ourselves in the middle. It is pervasive when the feeling comes on and is fundamentally encouraging and inspiring as it is terrifying. One of my favorite Chemical cocktails rolling through the synapses of our brains. Of course the well to pull from is infinite as there are infinite lessons to learn along the way. A common part of this operation is the humanizing as it were of the giants of history. Jefferson obsessed with french culutre, also played the violin, Napoleon wrote a short romance novella, Shaka Zulu’s empire fell just after the death of his mother drove him mad. A hipster, a lady’s man, and a momma’s boy. Though personally speaking this kind of thing isn’t of interest to me. It is just one of many tactics the authors of these books would use to get someone to become acquainted to that feeling, to be interested. Obviously this particular tactic is as cheap as a J-Lo performance at an inauguration in a pandemic. There are others, much more important, much more real and much more timely. Jamukha boiled those prisoners to death just as you seem to get your sibling the same thing for Christmas every year, just as you got a flat tire that one time driving through an alley. History is not a conspiracy theory, you can push historical ‘relativity’ and ‘points of view’ until you’re blue in the face, and you find yourself sitting in a movie theater eagerly awaiting the next Marvel Comics movie. The reality of your social existence, your historical place in time, that truth that laughs at your vampyric American individualism, is greatly amused by every twist and turn your mind makes to avoid it.

The Pandemic has exposed us, it is simply the receding ocean water that exposes the sea floor before a Tsunami. It exposed a failed public nation state, systems and institutions incapable of handling any sort of national problem of a collective nature. It exposed the fact that anything can happen to the lives of the working classes and their economy as long as the economy of the oligarchs, wall street is stable and gleaming clean. The RAND research corporation exposed that 50 trillion dollars had been stolen from the lower classes in America to the top 1 percent in the past 40 years. That's the funny thing about history, you don’t need a RAND publication to know what's going on in this country, you need only walk a few city blocks. Much has been exposed in America in the last 15 years, history will tell what we made of it as the tsunami is coming. There are now 9 major ‘tipping points’ of climate change, any one of which will send this global civilization hurling into chaos.

To finally get to the point the religious right wing elements of this society are being put in a corner. It is in point of fact everywhere in our society and we have to deal with it as such. This last statement has been made many times and unfortunately I think it leads to a symbolic interpretation, one that leaves people thinking of beliefs, feelings, and self reflections as it should but cannot end there. We who do not consider ourselves amongst their patronage need to quickly get to the understanding that the real world application of such things requires more physical, pragmatic work. You will find current institutions and social mechanisms meant to uphold those reflections, those beliefs, new hopes and new desires for the future, are desolate to say the least. Your goosebumps arising from the fervent speech coming from the senate floor will not save you from the violence that this particular group under the leadership of zealots and white collar criminals can bestow, systemic or physical. They have lost some major battles, but as ‘The Secret History of The Mongols’ would teach us, this is temporary. They will be solidifying themselves even more in the coming years and a great loss can quickly lead to a unequivocal victory. Jamukha beat his rival at the Battle of Dalan Balzhut crushing his enemies’ 30,000 men, a decisive victory. 15 years later he would request that noble death from the same rival the recently named Ghengis Khan. I’m not trying to give a history lesson with sinister factoids and entertain you with real life Shakespearian drama. I want to convince you of the reality of a massive, seething far right fundamentalist minority in America that will be taking a new shape. The NRA, bankrupt for now, Trump out of office, all of the hits the republicans and their cultural base has taken in the last two months, will not starve out their collective source in America. We are going to see the inability of our current collective structures, institutions and culture to stop what they are capable of doing in the midst of this faltering empire. We need massive systemic change, we Americans who have been culturally and collectively lost at sea need to come back to our historical senses.

One more larger than life issue to add to the many in the 21st century that are confronting us everyday. They are indeed larger than life that is to say larger than your life, larger than mine. Which leads me to another issue facing us. That is the American penchant for rabid individualism and ahistorical personalities. It seems to get stronger by the day no matter what comes our way be it a pandemic, refugees coming to our country from lands destroyed by NAFTA, the shelling out of trillions of the citizenries’ dollars to corporate thugs, or a half assed coup attempt. The society refuses at all levels to see the connections of oneself to the collective nor to strengthen those bonds. History will tell whether we end up getting this fundamental part of human society together or not. History only happens slowly when looked at through the rearview mirror. It is in fact full of life, absolutely dynamic, it is also full of responsibility. If we don’t, what awaits us will make you laugh at the idea of a clown that can turn into a giant spider. What I fear is a collapsed and shattered landscape filled with warring tribes, the rise of a despotic religious fundamentalist dictators and the looming climate collapse.

I’ve read countless books now in my life everything from Averroës to Samuel Beckett, to Antonio Negri, to Durkheim, to Thich Nhat Hanh, though two of the first I read many years ago, two of hundreds look at me from my bookshelf in their tattered binding and laugh. The historical clock is forever ticking.