Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker:
People believe that the CIA is forever—that it’s an immovable fixture of American government, like Congress or the Supreme Court—but it was begun with an executive order by a president and it could be ended just as easily. It exists by presidential whim. Obama could shut it down tomorrow, but he doesn’t want to. People believe wars are inevitable, that human nature can’t change, but think of capital punishment. In England people were once disemboweled and castrated in front of a cheering crowd, with their heads put on spikes for viewing. In India they executed criminals by dragging them through the streets and having an elephant step on their heads. Now most countries have outlawed capital punishment. Or think of dueling. Ben Jonson killed a man in a duel. Manet dueled an art critic and wounded him with a sword. Pushkin, who fought dozens of duels, died of a bullet wound to the abdomen. Abraham Lincoln almost fought a duel. Nobody duels now. It’s inconceivable. It isn’t basic to anything. Centuries of patrician tradition, absurd rituals, faces slapped, gauntlets stiffly thrown, times appointed, companions holding out pistols in velvet cases in the park at dawn, the iron laws of honor—we know now it’s all hokum. Progress is possible. Drones on autopilot are not inevitable.