I 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?
All 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.
So, 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):
The 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.
Being 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.
Rational 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.
A 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.)
No, 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.
Okay, 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.