Le Combat Antique (The Ancient Battle), is a two-man mime piece by the French master,
Etienne Decroux. It depicts a battle between an old warrior and a young one, which the young one wins. James Joyce, after the death of his father and birth of his grandson, wrote a short poem, Ecce Puer (It’s a Boy). Here it is:
Of the dark past / A child is born; With joy and grief / My heart is torn.
Calm in his cradle / The living lies. May love and mercy / Unclose his eyes!
Young life is breathed / On the glass; The world that was not / Comes to pass.
A child is sleeping: / An old man gone. O, father forsaken, / Forgive your son!
Both works spring from the same theme; each new generation displaces the one before. It
has a special meaning in the U.S.A. where each new generation expects to surpass the one
before, unlike countries where people can be born into a status or caste with no hope of escape. Immigrants to our shores learn with amazement and gladness that their kids can do better. It’s the core of the American Dream.
It bloomed after World War 2, with returning vets, then their kids, the Baby Boomers,
and theirs, Gen X, even Gen Y. But with Reaganomics came trickle-down theory and huge tax
breaks for the rich. But the theory was false; wealth trickled up instead of down. Fewer and
fewer grabbed more and more. Today, for the first time, children have less opportunity than
Economics, for good reason called “the dismal science,” offers no solid proof for or
against trickle-down, so theories grow from ideologies. One bunch blames it on too much
government, another on corrupt incompetent government. Nut cases get into the act, but they can be smoked out, especially after hurricanes.
As this is written, Hurricane Irene is sweeping New England after having given New
York City a brush. There’s flooding, trees down, power out, no subways. Yet people had been alerted, were stocked up on essentials, and shelters were open. The city and the state, ably captained by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo, supported by a ready federal
government, coped well.
In shocking contrast stands New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, when a drowned and
helpless city was abandoned by a care-nothing administration who dispatched troops not to
rescue and minister, but to look upon victims as potential terrorists. If there’s no lesson to be learned from these contrasting attitudes and what followed, then the American Dream has a dim future.