Gravitational center of nineteenth-century mining booms, cattle drives, and railway expansions… contemporary continental military hub, global tourist Mecca, and universal sporting paradise… scene of Indian massacres (Sandy Creek is just down the road) and anti-colonialist leftwing zealotry (the next Democratic convention may well happen here); home to a Christian revival movement flourishing alongside the newly legal pot industry… Denver is in microcosm the soup of incoherence which is American society past, present, and future. But how long is our collective future to run, with so many strains pulling it in different directions?
As if in dramatization of all these worrisome paradoxes, the city’s international airport has for years been rumored to sit upon vast catacombs covertly and regally equipped to be a Dr. Strangelove kind of super-bunker. The bizarre murals sprawling fully above ground at the same venue are said to encode an apocalyptic vision of how evil imperial forces will exterminate common humanity.
The business climate here is explosive, for the moment. None of the city’s many skyscrapers dates beyond about half a century, and mega-engineering is ongoing to handle nightmarish traffic congestion. Small shops in various subdivisions reap a bonanza off of selling sugar-free doughnuts or beef-rich burgers, kale salads or over-caffeinated coffee, mountain bikes or noisy ATF’s, exotic bongs or leathery cowboy boots. Millionaire refugees from West Coast socialist republics converge upon the opportunities as fast as campesinos from Chihuahua; and both groups, in some perverse fatality, import the taste for paternalistic government whose consequences have driven them from their homes. The nearby utopianist haven of Boulder has just banned “assault rifles”, indifferent to the phrase’s vacuity as a definition and also to the fact that most gun crime is perpetrated with pistols.
You don’t do things in our progressive urban centers because they are undergirded by logic or have a promise of practical success: you do them because you’re smarter and better than ordinary people, and it’s important for you to produce evidence of that superiority in every legislative cycle.
The girl who serves you at Mad Greens may show exemplary patience with your struggles to choose between a “Poe” and a “Ty Cobb” and even tender useful advice politely; then the same girl, a few hours later, may flip you off if you dare to park a car along the scenic boulevard where she’s biking. There are rules that good people, the right people—the “better” people—all know, and you don’t belong here if you can’t divine them out of the thin, clean air. Oddly and superficially, they seem to encode a high regard for rulelessness; but if you do not shred expectation and inhibition in just the proper way, you’re likely to suffer the fate of the clueless yokel who dares to take a Sunday stroll in the Puritan New England dissected by Toqueville.
I’ve been hard on Denver in my remarks over the past weeks; but what I’m really chafing at is the incoherence of our entire contradictory and (I fear) suicidal society. Denver, like so many great cities, simply represents the vanguard of our rush to the abyss. The traffic is horrendous and insane, infinitely more dangerous than any Rifle from Hell—and I’m sure that Big Oil is much to blame for landing us in this outer circle of Inferno. But the “green” alternative is always to produce more mass transit, which invariably invites more waste and corruption as politicians and contractors feel each other out in the frontier whorehouse of “progress”.
An acceptable coping mechanism for the trauma of modern living is to get high in one of several ways—and this, too, is good for business. Not just pot-growing and selling, but Hollywood’s parallel universe, video games, the paraphernalia-cluttered option of sports fandom, the kaleidoscopic music scene in nightclubs… the gear-intensive hobbies of camping, hiking, and biking… let’s go anywhere, as long as it’s out of this world (in Baudelaire’s phrase); and, by the way, let’s be sure to bring our wallets. Don’t let us forget to take the checkbook to church, either. For even our contemporary version of Christianity (and I reiterate that I’m not just talking about Denver now) is marijuana without risk of lung disease: love everybody, peace everywhere, judge no one and nothing, fly and sing and swoon!… and even our churches, with their multiple ministries and high-tech delivery systems, are big business.
What we all need at the most basic spiritual level is stillness, quiet, and a welcome predictability that comes of benign routine… and I don’t know if Denverites find any of these or not as they bike up bare slopes in constant view of other trekkers (and their dogs). Whatever epiphany they access in their churches seems to me certainly more akin to last night’s multi-decibel nightclub adventure than this afternoon’s race to hike across the park before the next cloudburst brews up from nowhere.
What we all need at the most basic material level is food, water, and shelter; but the twenty-first century has decreed that these needs may be supplied only through wages or through highly centralized and impersonal delivery systems to which we have a “right”. Not only can we do nothing directly for ourselves: we’ve forgotten what it is that we need to do. Most of us can’t grow a potato, collect and filter rainwater, or repair a leaky roof. Instead, we clamor for jobs, jobs, jobs; and then, when the soul-numbing drudgery of racking up designer clothing or flipping burgers overpowers us, we demand a guaranteed minimum income. We wave in destitute Mexicans to perform the tasks that “Americans just won’t do”. Eventually, however, even mopping out toilets will be rendered obsolete by a robot named Hazel who sterilizes surfaces with a laser. Our “guest workers” are already insisting upon their shared human right to “live with dignity”—and we can scarcely counter that the work we ourselves disdained was dignified before Siri and Alexa and Hazel took it over. So…
So where do all these downward spirals end? If we do not recover the power individually to produce food and water from the earth and sky and to make clever adjustments to our living conditions with our own hands, what good will it do us to puff away and listen to some contemporary John Denver croon about his Rocky Mountain High?