WASHINGTON D.C., November 16, 2012 – If you haven’t read any other books this year, make sure to get your hands on a copy of D.M.J. Aurini’s post-apocalyptic thriller As I Walk These Broken Roads.
Famous among social networks for his sit-down conversational, cerebrally supercharged and highly controversial (yet inescapably enjoyable) YouTube video commentaries on pop culture, psychology and politics, Aurini weekly delivers powerful rebukes of the condition of modern day society and Western decline. From excoriating government over its failed social engineering policies to exposing the roots behind sociocultural paradigm shifts, Aurini’s bold and unapologetic critiques have made him a spokesperson for a generation desperately seeking reform and earned him an entourage of some of the most enthusiastic followers online.
It is therefore no surprise that Aurini’s first-ever novel is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve encountered this year. Taking readers into a not-too-distant future where a failed democratic “end of history” has left the world bereft by nuclear war, Aurini presents a story of civilized men turned wanderers in search of a place to call home – a once reality, now memory that no longer exists.
Aurini’s novel is a clever, thinly veiled allegory for those of us old and nostalgic enough to remember a time when Western civilization was at its peak, full of productive vigor, cultural salience, personal independence – now trapped in a dystopian world of increasing dysfunction, societal decline and economic collapse where younger generations go about life blissfully unaware that in ages past, life was better, people were stronger and things “just worked.”
I had the chance to interview Aurini for his thoughts on his new book and what it teaches us about the future direction of Western civilization. Always full of wit and dry humor, he shared with me some valuable words of wisdom you won’t want to miss. Here now is a transcript, with light edits.
Danny de Gracia: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what it was like writing your first novel. What inspired you to do As I Walk These Broken Roads and what were some of the things that you went through emotionally and intellectually in bringing it to print?
D.M.J. Aurini: Well, I was stuck up on an army base one summer with nothing to do. The year before I’d taught myself guitar, so this time around I decided to write a novel. That’s the short version. As for the long version: growing up, I was a voracious reader, and as far back as I can remember I always wanted to write stories myself. Only I could never come up with a plot.
Then, around the age of 24 or so, it all started to come together. So I wrote a short story. Nothing too profound, just an expression of angst and frustration about the world, this society of insane rules, manufactured reality and broken down social orders.
Post-apocalyptia ain’t the most comfortable life, but it’s a heck of a lot better than an H.R. course on workplace harassment.
So here I was with this amateurish short story and I forgot to stop writing it. It kept growing and growing and soon enough the characters in it had come to life. I needed to finish the bloody thing for their sake! Add in some brutal critiques, and half-a-dozen major rewrites, and you have As I Walk These Broken Roads.
DDG: As a political scientist, in the process of reading your novel I really enjoyed it because for me I felt as though there was almost an allegorical commentary below the surface about the condition of our modern day society. Your book is set in the future aftermath of a major war and there’s this one part that really stands out for me where one of your characters, a mechanic, goes on a rant where he complains about how people view technology as magic in that postwar world and says it’s “a matter of will, not education. People don’t have the will to understand things; they’ve only got the will to be ignorant.”
I don’t know if it was by accident or design but that moment really stood out to me about how today we are in effect living in a high-tech democratic apocalypse if you will where people worship their iPhones and tablet devices and their well refrigerated canned energy drinks but very few people actually have practical knowledge or produce anything in society.
Today we basically are a nation of consumers and in spite of having at our disposal a massive information revolution we have a lack of will to leverage it personally and socially. That was something about your book that made me just say, “wow.” In today’s world, anyone who is a solid guy is basically a wanderer among a world of liquids and almost a persecuted anachronism in the 21st century, drifting in search of a place to call home. Am I reaching here? What do you say?
Aurini: You nailed it, this book is a product of frustration and alienation. Fix an engine? That I can do. Detail strip a rifle blind-folded and reassemble? That I can do. Navigate some byzantine political establishment run by histrionics and incompetents? Not so good at that, I’m afraid. Why is everyone else okay with it?
In our culture, we don’t teach children how to think, we teach them conflict resolution. “All ideas are equal,” “We should agree to disagree,” and all that nonsense. Strong opinions and virility are verboten. As a consequence you have people wandering around with the most idiotic memes infesting their head – heck, in some circles simply saying that there’s an objectively correct answer to a problem is considered hostile behavior!
Objective reality – the truth – has always mattered to me. Beliefs aren’t outfits that you put on because they’re fashionable; they’re statements about the real world – and they have real world consequences! So many times, I’ve seen people who’ve been proven wrong, and they just brush it off. “All truth is relative, donchaknow?” They’re going to believe whatever suits their ego, no matter how disastrously it turns out for them; and we as a society will provide them a safety net.
Then you have those who are emotionally train wrecks. The people who start panicking because of a minor inconvenience. It brings to mind a line from Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel: “That attitude’s not going to get you very far in a POW camp.” Honestly, life would be so easy if most people would just give their heads a shake.
The technological ignorance is really just a symptom of their general mental rot.
DDG: Kurt Vonnegut once said “True terror is waking up one morning and realizing your high school classmates are running the country.” Hypothetically speaking, if a cosmic catastrophe or nuclear war were to leave our society ravaged and in the state we saw in As I Walk These Broken Roads which survivor generations do you think would do better in that world? Baby Boomers? Generation X? Millennials?
Aurini: Let me take these one by one.
Boomers: they destroyed our economy, our culture, our institutions, and our society, though if you look at who their parents were, you can start to understand why. They’ve been keeping themselves warm next to the funeral pyre of a civilization, and they’re going to be pretty lost when social security runs out of funding, but in the meantime expect them to hold onto power with their claws and their teeth, regardless of how much it hurts their children.
Gen-X can go either way; we’re the nomad, latch-key kids, lied to by our parents, and set adrift as they burned up the family finances on divorce lawyers. We’ve been staring into the abyss our whole lives, and it comes out in our music. In some cases this results in an adult who’s utterly Machiavellian, with no values beyond “Screw them before they screw you,” and “Live for the moment – it’s all we’ve got.”
Then you’ve got the ones like myself and Aaron Clarey who see how messed up the situation is and we’re figuring out a way to fix it. We’re trying to put together a program to help the young kids zig when everyone else zags, and make it through in one piece.
As for the Millennials: half of them are idiots, hopped up on Ritalin and Ecstasy, bobbling about with a glassy sheen on their eyes and guaranteeing an adulthood full of regret and misery. As for the other half? The other half just blows me away. Kids too young to drink, who are already reinventing the old institutions, disciplining themselves, taking full advantage of the Internet to learn everything they can – keep an eye on these ones. They’re going to change the world.
So in an apocalyptic scenario? Aside from the one percent outlier, the Boomers are gone. Roughly a third of Gen-X – those who didn’t succumb to full-blown narcissism – will take up leadership roles, and the good half of the Millennials will rebuild the world.
That’s if you’re going to be optimistic.
DDG: Do you think that the Western world is headed for the future portrayed in your book? Was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn right when he said “the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future, it has already started”?
Aurini: Oh, there’s a storm coming alright; it’s been eighty years since the last major conflict, and we’re due for another one. The question this time around, do we re-invigorate society to its former glory? Explore new worlds and other dimensions? Or do we vote-in Orwell’s boot stomping on our face for the rest of history? I expect 2018 to 2025 to be very interesting times.
If it comes down to global nuclear war, we’ll be lucky if Broken Roads is the worst that happens.
DDG: What’s the number one message or concept you’d like your readers to gain from reading your book?
Aurini: That every struggle is an internal struggle, and that there is an absolute Truth out there; pursue the Truth, and you’ll always get closer; run from it because it burns, and you not only damn yourself, but all of those around you.
DDG: Do you see yourself possibly writing a sequel to this book or are there other different worlds and stories on the way? What’s next for you as an author?
Aurini: The sequel’s halfway done already. I don’t want to name a date and then fail to deliver, but I promise it’ll be in stores before the bombs start falling.
DDG: Last but not least, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers in Washington D.C.?
When you live in a major city – especially a city that’s the seat of governance – it’s easy to get too wrapped up in thinking you live in the centre of the universe. This summer, take a vacation in flyover country; check out how the other half lives, and reflect on how distant and insignificant the D.C. political machinations are to the people who live there. They’re going to keep farming no matter who signs what on a piece of paper in Capitol Hill.
And buy a motorcycle; motorcycles are awesome.
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