The feature image is from a 1932 DeMille movie called The Sign of the Cross. For those of you familiar with Hollywood history that was in the days called “Pre-Code” Hollywood — before public censors began restricting cinema content. I chose it because it’s a reminder to me of a gradual march away from some things and towards others.
I suspect we’ve all seen these images of “The Ascent of Man”. Whether humankind is actually progressing in such an arc remains to be seen — now that we have the potential to extinct ourselves from the planet the degree to which we are “progressing” may be at dispute, but for the sake of discussion let’s look at man’s time on this planet as being something of a rising scale.
Our earliest ancestors (as a species, not as individuals) had little concept of social justice. They were far more challenged by simply staying alive in a very inhospitable world. Actually, it would appear that our earliest ancestors had very little concept of a LOT of things!
I have long reflected on the Old Testament name of God, and regardless of whether you’re a Christian believer or not I think there’s still something that bears considering. The English translation for that name given to Moses is variously read as “I will be come what I will become.” That seems a strange name for God but for those who see God as a continuing revelation the name is perfectly fitting: whatever you need me to be, is what I will be to you.What does all this have to do with Pre-Code Hollywood or change?
The common theme, I suggest, is also the common theme in human history: an arc of shared knowledge extending from mass ignorance to refined speech, advanced technology, and defined social interaction. We have gotten “smarter” as a species even though the average child can identify over 1000 corporate logos but probably can’t name 6 species of animals living in their area. Shared knowledge doesn’t always look like evidence of our advancement. 🙂
2017 has been a great year for discussions about ethics and lies and abuse of power; publicly we have struggled with sexual harassment and the continuing sad story of whites fighting to repress blacks in various and sundry ways. There are times when, perhaps, one wonders if we are making progress at all. After all, the young have their heads buried in smartphone screens, other nations are making a much better go of both democracy and freedom than we here in the U.S., and our own politicians are behaving as if they’ll never again have to stand in a free and fair election.
I guess I look at these things and I see a crossroad. As a nation (forget for a moment all thoughts about us as a species) we have allowed the country to get to the point that it’s at right now. We have done so by failing to take an interest in elections — our track record for turning out voters is terrible compared to other democratic countries. We have also put $$$$ above most everything else in this country. The idea that one person can amass wealth seems to have inspired a great many to amass more than they can ever use, and to hoard it — not putting it to work for the benefit of anyone but themselves. We have a choice to wake up to the threats we face and act upon them, or to continue along our happy way and face whatever consequences may come.
The thing is, no one is going to come along and shout from the housetops “WAKE UP, HUMANS!” And at the same time many are worried about the direction of mankind just as many or more don’t really seem to care. The multitudes who dont vote clearly don’t care about what’s happening. They are too busy doing something else. A few folk are talking about high ideals and principles, but the mass of humanity is more worried about who will win the Super Bowl, how much an athlete gets paid, and whether some celebrity is pregnant or dating. Popular culture is all most people need, it seems.
If you go to the mall, you’ll see store after store telling you that you are in need of articles that aren’t going to help you live a better life at all. The media will tell you all the horrible stories that get you to watch/listen, and when they have your attention they’ll bombard you with ideas that you aren’t pretty enough, or rich enough, or something-else-enough. Popular culture makes consumers; the economic machine needs consumers to buy all those things that robotic manufacturing can produce to put more money in the bank account of a very few, while millions wander the streets in drug induced stupor. It’s not a happy picture. Not happy at all.
The thing is, the only person who can change anything is you. If life isn’t fair, don’t complain about it; do something. If you don’t have the life you want, do something — change it. If you don’t have the tools, go out and get them; sacrifice and scrimp and concentrate until you’re equipped for the job, or the battle you see. Some things no one else can do if you don’t. Some battles will never be waged if you don’t sound the call to arms.
As a race we have increased our shared knowledge because we were challenged — hunger and death were powerful challenges in the past — today our challenges may be more along the lines of justice and equality, but they are challenges just the same. It’s sad that the creative minds of today, when tasked with looking into the future, all seem to see some sort of post-apocalyptic world. Gone it seems are the dreams of a desirable Utopia; they have been replaced by a negative, fatalistic, gloom. We are worried about so many things that we seem incapable of acting in favor of anything.
I am not, by nature, a negative person. But I’m also not blind. I can, and do, act and speak about things that concern me. But I also accept that any battle for fairness, for culture, for equity, for humanity is way bigger than me. I can do my part, but others have a part to play too. Whether you are still in school, recently graduated, in the workforce, or retired, the world doesn’t need passive observers: do something.
Discussion about Donald Trump’s immigration deterring wall has settled over recent time. With The Donald there are always emergencies and embarrassing events to be dealt with and they often keep out eyes busy while other sleights of hand or works of deception are being performed.
Still, I’m amazed that no one has made a comparison between the way in which the Iron Curtain fell — and in particular the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. No matter the intent of governments, a time came when governmental insistence on separation was forcibly overruled by the will of the people — no matter the obstructions, no matter the armed guards or their bullets, when the popular voice spoke with authority the Berlin Wall came down — and no long afterwards the terms East & West lost much of their meaning as trade and culture flowed freely across what had been solid barriers.
I well remember that night, November 9, 1989 when U.S. news broadcasts were interrupted to cover the events that began the removal of that wall. I was sitting in the home of friends in Sacramento California. I happened to have been on a religious speaking tour and we had ended our service for the night, returned to the house, and flicked on the news. For what must have been hours we watched in fascination as the story unfolded. The handful of people in that room — and many others around the world — knew that life would never be the same — and it has not been.
If you look at the faces in the crowd, what do you see but 20 & 30 somethings (for the most part). Revolutions aren’t fought by the old. It takes energy and zeal and passion and … yes, a little foolhardiness and ignorance of your own mortality to get out there and fight the unscripted battle that lay ahead — specially when the other actors in the cast have guns and bullets and aren’t afraid to use them.
I find it interesting that a President who seems to ignorant of events (even in his own lifetime) supposes that you can change history by erecting a wall. But arrogant men (and women) seldom pay attention to history; they always seem to think that they can do what no one else has done, or do it better, or faster, or … you get the idea.
but he is not the only one to comment in a similar vein. I think Erol Morris added a bit of whimsy and a bit of truth when he added the sense of ironic futility to the concept.
And isn’t that the truth? There are times when we know that we are on a collision course with hisotry but we seem unable to derail the train and prevent the catastrophe — and the irony of knowing but being unable to alter the outcome seems greater than one can bear.
Then again there was Mark Twain, in his view it’s not so much that we are repeating history, as that we are repeating something only too similar… in short history “rhymes.”
In a world where the only things politicians seem to care about is winning — even if they harm their own citizens in the process and weaken the nation by their greed I have no illusions that saner minds will arise and bring sanity to the insanity I see around me. No. We ARE going to repeat history — in too many ways to mention. And we can see the irony. And we can hear the rhyme.
I wonder, whether there are people 40 years younger than myself who are sitting around waiting for the evening that they too can say, the world will never be the same again…