Yesterday, I could have gone to the mob and told them that Nero burned Rome. I could have offered them a new emperor in General Galba, and so set my seal upon the times. But I did not … because out of force of long habit, I’ve become content only to be an amused cynic … leaving others to shape the world.
—Petronius, Quo Vadis (1951)
Here’s an article that resonated with me, at Cracked, titled “I Can’t Tell if the World Is Being Serious Anymore,” by Daniel O’Brien. O’Brien is a very talented humorist and a sharp observer, the kind of guy I’d love to have a beer with.
He observes that there are more and more cases where you can’t tell satirical stupidity from actual stupidity. More and more, the world is forcing us to choose between cynical, self-conscious irony, and incompetence. But like me, O’Brien is starving for things he can take seriously.
The article is from 2011, but it’s current for me because I’ve been painting similar themes in florid color here. We live in a cultural so barren that a lot of us don’t even know what originality and depth look like. Many would run from it if they ever had to face it.
O’Brien wants to face it: