Saturday, November 27, 2004

night time thoughts (with references)

It’s late, and I think (as I listen to Bob Dylan's gravelly voice sing about shooting stars and love) about the world, and I think about the prognosis (not good, by those who have nothing to lose by telling the truth). I wonder about where the universities will go, these monasteries for those dedicated to the examined life. I wonder about where our energy will come from, the energy we use to –(abridged list)—drive cars, use the phone, bake bread, grow food, make paper, make pens, make shoes, fuel airplanes, make elastic bands and photographs and batteries, mow lawns, pump water from the earth. I wonder about what the value of Latin will be, this ancient language I am learning, that is like dust to some, and alive to others.

Forgive me for sounding apocolyptic. But these days, it is hard not to feel like every event we witness is another major one to add to the Death Knell Tally for humankind. Global warming is the mother of all news stories, those that make us feel helpless in the face of the ‘advancing chaos’ that we have created, but that we haven’t (yet) mustered the courage to face. (I’m talking as a society here.) What the newsmen (or, the admen who pay their wage) don’t tell us as they report on so many seemingly random events is actually two things, but vital to maintaining sanity. Number one: nothing is as random as it seems, everything is caused by something else, in turn causes something else to happen, and no doubt has relationships to a number of other news stories in various sectors. Unfortunately it’s left up to most people, without training, to make those connections, and a lot of us choose not to. The places the US has influence, such as Colombia, the Middle East, and [fill in country here]; China rising as a global power; Wal-Mart eclipsing your local downtown businesses; the weird, new weather patterns; and the gasoline you plug into your car, all are related, much closer than most people think.

Number two: the crises on the global scale are, in fact, treatable on the local scale, where most of us live. The key to making a difference is to realize that you probably won’t see the effects of what you do in your own lifetime. Call it the Butterfly Effect of sociology: what you do to others is not something you can then go ahead and measure. If the mystifying co-existence of violence and peace in humankind can teach us at least one thing, let it be this: the depth and color of the human soul is immeasurable by we mortals.

I’m thinking about polarization, and how dangerous it is. Think about arguments: do you really win when you yell at your spouse and refuse to listen to them? Do they win when they cry or throw things and make fun of your mother? No, obviously not. The only way to really win an argument is to listen to what the other side has to say. Sit down, make a cup of tea, and see it from their side. Identify what it is you both want, and the ways you differ in how to get that. Strike a compromise, or if you’re feeling rather strong, give in. But do it with respect.

The way I see it, the United States is in dire need of some sitting down and some tea. The rest of the world, too—the anti-US activists who see it in black and white just as much as the President they love to hate. Here’s the truth: there is no absolute truth. There is no black and white. However, there is power, and money, and greed, and also a growing number of people who want true democracy. True democracy is messy, and that doesn’t mean covered in blood, torn apart by the strife of oppression, or cheated on international trade treaties. It means messy in the sense of untidy, as in it doesn’t fit anyone’s time schedule. True democracy means we all get a say, and the result should please us all.

The pundits who are looking at the politics and economies of the current nation-states, who are looking at the real-life workings of money, greed, oil, power, and the laws of physics, they tell us what we don’t want to hear. No doubt this is why you don’t find them on the New York Times’s editorial board. This kind of thing doesn’t sell papers. But all the signs point to a profound change, very soon. Because too many people are burying their heads in reality TV shows and the ennui of electronic existence, they are not making the connections between the news stories. This will be detrimental to how they absorb the shock of what’s to come. But it’s no different to how people have acted since millenia; not wanting to face up to a cold and hard truth. I can understand that much.

It’s a cold night here in Fredericton. The moon is a white soapy orb; and the sky is an indigo slate behind it. The St. John River flows like always to the sea. The university library is locked up by now, surely. The stacks and stacks of books sit silent, all the knowledge they hold also locked away by the printed word. I have access to some of the works: those in English. I don’t understand the Spanish section, and only a pitifully small part of the French one. I wonder about what the future holds for books, for languages, for the up-and-down, back-and-forth that has been the essential pattern of humanity since it began. (And how about all those stories of how it began? For every cultural enclave there is a different myth. Who’s to say who’s right? Maybe we were born from the sun. Maybe an old bearded man who sits in the sky created us. Maybe we changed slowly, like lichen growing, from one cell to an ape to what we are today. And why can’t they all be right?) Part of me wants to be in the library tonight, long after the librarians have gone home. The lights would all be turned off. I would find a place to lay a bedroll and a sleeping bag, somewhere where the moon shone through a tall window. I would wrap a blanket around me and stand between two ghostly stacks, and watch the sky and the moon and the little city nestled between the highway and the river.

This is what I want for my life: good food. Clean air. Children. To be close to my church, which is the raw and unspoiled wild outdoors. I want love, and tenderness, and anger when it needs to exist. I want discussion, lots of talk. I want to talk it all out. I want lots of song. I want to be able to create what I eat with my own hands, and I want to know the origin of most of the things around me. Call it what you will; maybe a respect for history. Some people call me crazy, out of a lack of understanding.

There are things that are inevitable for my life, things like war and discord, bad air and weather patterns I didn’t ask for. I hope there’s also more beauty than I ever could have wished for.

References for this late-night diatribe:

Soundtrack to The Wonder Boys.
My Latin textbook and studying.
The moon in the sky.
Photos of loved ones on my wall and memories in my mind.
This article titled: Bush: When Even the Good News is Bad and independant media everywhere.
The clear and innovative thinker Richard Heinberg and his writing.
The equally-needed thinker Naomi Klein.
Last but not least, the Harriet Irving Library.
Oh and--of course--food, as Jamie Oliver's books reminded me earlier.

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