Sliding into Darkness

summer solsticeI didn’t realize it at the time, but by staying up reading until 5 AM this morning, I was awake for the ironically named “Beginning of Summer.” I say “ironically” because the Summer Solstice is the point when the days start to get shorter again. The beginning of summer is also the beginning of the darkness.

Which means that my pagan side mourns the Summer Solstice as much as it celebrates the Winter one. These days, it’s hard not to see a larger parallel in society. Many of us feel and fear society is sliding into darkness — inexorably spinning along a path towards a Winter of Disaster.

This Solstice, as food for thought, I want to introduce The Five E’s

Before that, this: Readers might wonder about the darker tone here recently. Why am I writing more aggressively about the ills of society as I see them? Why do I seem angry at — or disappointed with — the world? Can’t I see all the beauty there is and all the good people with good hearts?

stonehendge sunsetAll that is true in one way or another. A recent experience with another blogger has me despairing the way so many people behave these days. I sense a growing compartmentalization of society. We lock ourselves into boxes and defend those boxes tooth and nail. And we use them to close out parts of the world we don’t like.

Social problems — by definition — are about society. They are about people, about us. And the first step to solving any problem is admitting there is a problem.

This is the canonical First Step for addicts. It comes after the proverbial “hitting rock bottom” where one is forced to admit that the problem is real and is forced to take ownership of it.  Or die.

Society also may need to hit rock bottom before we admit how severe — how utterly real and destructive — our problems are. Global warming, the unholy trinity of money, business and government, the degree to which society is steeped in casual violence; these are severe problems for us and for our children.

Yet we seem to be doing little to address them. We can’t even seem to talk about them.  It’s easy to believe many can’t (or won’t) even think clearly about them.

Howard BealeSo, yes, absolutely, I am angry at people, and I am disappointed in them. The reality of social illness seems unmistakable to me — and to many others; I am hardly alone in this.

If we can admit to the reality of the illness, think clearly about it and talk rationally about it, then maybe — just maybe — we can find a way out of the darkness.

Here are five areas — The Five E’s — where I see so much need for change (I’ll be returning to these topics anon):

Economics

Unholy Trinity 180The Supreme Court, in all its vaulted supremeness, has ruled that corporations are (more or less) people. Or course, you can’t jail them, or execute them, like people,  but they now have magical people-like rights. The Court has also ruled that money is a form of free speech.

If the combination of those two things doesn’t scare you, you’re not paying attention. To make matters worse, the Court has also removed the cap that limits the number of contributions to separate parties. The amount to any one individual is still capped, but you can give that max to as many different candidates as you like.

Not many real people have the money for those rulings to change things. Not many real people are interested in local candidates outside their districts.

But ask yourself this: who does have (a) tons of money and (b) interests that span vast parts of the USA? Suddenly, Big Money interests — corporations — are players across the board. The death grip of money just grows in power constantly.

Environment

next 100 yearsBeing unclear that the Earth is warming up is like being unclear that the Earth is round. The evidence is — literally — everywhere. You don’t need to believe (or disbelieve) the scientists; you just need to look around.

Growing seasons have changed, glaciers have retreated, mountains have less snow, animals and insect habitats have shifted, forest fire season is year-round now, ice-packs have melted, droughts have wreaked havoc on farmers (and may have been root causes in the unrest in Egypt and Syria). The signs are unmistakable. The bell rings all over the globe.

You can try to argue it’s not our fault or that it’s impossible to change (so might as well live with it), but you can’t argue — or even disbelieve — that it’s real.

Education

languageRational thought, unlike emotional thought, is largely word-based. You need language to think rationally. You also need language to educate.

Yet in the media we use daily — everything from movies to TV to Facebook and Twitter — language takes a major beating. Communication between people is compressed into 140-character snippets. We talk in sound bites using simple language.

Worse, we think in sound bites. Some great bumper sticker or quote may sum up a background of thought on some matter, but it shouldn’t replace it. Increasingly we seem absorbed with the icons rather than what’s behind those icons.

I think the link between education and language is strong. To some extent, to be educated means having the language. These are crucial to understanding and solving complex problems.

Entertainment

Batman and BaneA fourth area where we seem to be missing the point involves our forms of entertainment. Movies, TV shows and video games are awash in casual violence — so much so that it seems to have jaded us and become the norm. We get a constant background signal in society these days: hitting people, shooting them, torturing them, these are viable ways to solve problems.

I’ve noticed a growing fascination with fisticuffs. I complained about it when I wrote about the most recent Batman movie and the most recent Superman movie. Not long ago, “Wolverine” starred in Real Steel, which is about boxing robots.

And then there’s Pacific Rim, where we learn that the way to fight giant monsters is to build giant robots that wade into the fray and punch the monsters! And these robots need operators inside them, never mind drone technology. Also never mind missiles, tanks, air strikes or any actually sensible way of dealing with giant monsters. (The same logic applies to all those Transformers movies.)

fisticuffsNo, now it’s all about punching. Recently there was the sort of “scientific paper” that gives real scientists a bad name. It postulated that human (male) jaws are thick because we evolved to take punches. Because punching each other was a common form of interaction way back then.

Never mind that a typical result of hitting someone in the jaw is a broken hand. Never mind that close infighting is a last resort for desperate circumstances (rocks, slings, arrows, spears, even knives are much smarter). Never mind that there are far more vulnerable places in which to strike an opponent.

Each Other

manimalsOkay, the final E is a bit of a cheat. W.G. Sebald wrote, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.” I wonder if, increasingly, we don’t view each other across just such a gulf.

It’s not unusual to cast humans as animals: jackals, magpies, chimps, snakes and insects have all stood for certain types of humans. Some have the pride of a lion or can soar like an eagle. (And what, exactly, is a “Congress Critter”?)

Do we go so far as to see each other as mutually incomprehensible? Have we begun to see each other as belonging to different species? Why are we so unable to think about, and talk about, or to even admit the truth of, the world that is crumbling all around us?

The desire to tune out a world that has become complex and insane is understandable. It’s brutal out there! And feeling futile is also understandable. The problems seem insurmountable.

But step one is admitting they exist. Let’s just hope we don’t need to hit rock bottom too badly before we do.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

10 responses to “Sliding into Darkness

  • dianasschwenk

    There are a lot of issues we need to face and deal with for sure! As for the environment, have you ever seen this youtube video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlpB3PKZ9pU It shows how clearly all life is important.
    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I have not seen that video (very pretty!), but I’ve certainly seen similar ones. I agree with what’s expressed there, and I hope it leads people to learning more about the specifics and also acts as a call to action!

  • Strawberryindigo

    I am afraid you are correct in thinking we will have to hit rock bottom before we are prompted to act. For many of us all this “unpleasantness” is neatly tucked away someplace else and all we have to do in tune it out. One day it will come knocking and then we will have to answer the door. Until then I have important cat videos to watch on Facebook… 😉

    Seriously, thanks for your thoughtful and very well put post. I have faith in us, we humans can be pretty incredible.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      (Hello, and welcome, and thank you!) Yes, that’s the thing about us humans: we have the power to do amazing things. Unlike any other creature on Earth, we have the ability to dream dreams and then to build those dreams. A classic example is how we dreamed about walking on the moon, and then we went out and did it. The problem is we also have the ability to do great harm and great evil, and therein lies the human tragedy.

      Some of us already hear the knocking, and it’s only going to get louder until we do finally answer it.

  • reocochran

    The Five E’s are also part of my concerns. I am sure that you notice that environment, education and communicating with “each other” are themes I like to write about, too. I am not as well educated or informed about the economy and I love too many movies (meaning I am not ‘too picky’) to be able to discuss intelligently, entertainment. I am a big fan of PBS and have several British shows I watch, like to find Sundance Film Festival award winning movies rather than all main stream ones… I am not a big fan of ‘fisticuffs’ either. I worry about my grandsons and the level of violence in movies that they may be exposed to. I am so glad you got me thinking and we (at least) are usually on the ‘same page’ about government. Wishing that the one we chose would be able to handle the position without so much interference and not always guided well either…You may rebut that last generalization, I would probably blame the heat in the warehouse that fried my brain today! Smiles, Robin
    Sorry about your Twins… hoping the Indians hang in there!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I think you present a good example of the “right” way to take entertainment: you enjoy a variety of different kinds. (And I’d guess there isn’t much violence on PBS, British shows and Sundance films!) I really think that’s the key: variety. It’s necessary in your food diet, and it’s necessary in your entertainment diet. (Plus, it’s the “spice of life.”)

      If someone has a constant diet of only violent video games and violent TV and movies, it can start to seem the norm. But if they have a varied diet of different things, then it’s much less of a problem, I think. The problem with youngsters is that it’s hard to insure they get a varied diet these days.

      And I agree about government. There’s a terrible lack of moral compass, let alone actually representing the will of their actual constituents. Some of those jokers vote in ways that are the opposite of what polls show the people of their district want.

      Twins and Indians are tied in third place right now, so who knows what will happen!

  • Lady from Manila

    Everything seems to be just about money and power…and (to my utter frustration) the latest gadgets nowadays. Your post says it quite well, Wyrd. I still wonder why people came to like Twitter, and I doubt if I’ll ever be really into Facebook (except for reading my foreign FB acquaintances’ opinions about certain issues).

    I’m a bit concerned, however, whenever I read about the anger you feel towards this world; simply because anger is a destructive emotion. I get angry, too, every now and then, yet maybe we need not remain harboring such an emotion – as it’s not good for our well-being – with regard to the world we live in. Just maybe, my dear pal.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      People like Twitter for the same reason they like bumper stickers and voyeurism. It’s shallow, immediate and peeks into the lives of others. That said, the basic idea is a useful one. There are situations where being able to send a quick message to a group of people is hugely useful. One could set up broadcast text messages, but Twitter offers a simple, easy, online tool.

      As a tool, it’s not a bad one. How most people use it… different story. I deleted my FB account many moons ago, and I’ve never ventured into Twitter. No interest, no need. 🙄

      Anger can be destructive, but it can also be useful. It’s the fuel that drives us sometimes. And it’s often healthy to vent anger (without hitting things or people). Trying to suppress or bottle up anger can also be harmful to your psyche.

      I’ll make you a deal: when people stop being fucking idiots, I’ll stop being angry at them! 😈

      • wakemenow

        “I’ll make you a deal: when people stop being fucking idiots, I’ll stop being angry at them!”

        Ha!

        Anyway, good post. Agreed with basically all you said there.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It certainly explains why I’ve been “an angry guy” since high school. Funny thing: I’m actually not that person. It’s just that people really piss me off when they act stupid.

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