“Civilization’s going to pieces.”

Lately, it has seemed books I’m reading or re-reading are passing me secret messages about today’s life. And the heart of those secret messages is that, in certain exclusive circles, nothing has changed.

What struck me particularly about the following excerpt from a novel published nearly 100 years ago is how the perception and expression of one very rich white American male, albeit fictional, are virtually identical to the expressed ideas of very rich white American males today.

It is appalling.

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be–will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we–“

“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun…

“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and–” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. “–And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization–oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”

–From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

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