I am a self-proclaimed news-junkie, spending likely 2-3 hours a day perusing various news outlets and often skimming through many of the comments left behind like so much detritus. The ubiquity of comments and their often contentious air is why I refuse to allow a comment section on my blog, figuring that anybody who wants to can take the time to send a personal email instead. However, news outlets do not have my lack of care concerning providing a simplistic forum to air one’s opinions as if they’ll make any difference in that format. Frankly leaving comments on articles seems to me close to yelling at a TV during a sports event, as if the mere expulsion of emotional content however vehement will translate through the electrical lines and out through the cameras to magically inform the referee “hey, you’re an idiot!” I am reminded of a quote from Mark Twain (?) who said “better to remain silent and be thought a fool then open your mouth and remove all doubt.” The incessant need to, often at length, propound in profundity one’s knee-jerk responses provides ample grounds for noticing the sheer unadulterated gall of the human organism that in the midst of what is almost always vast numbers of unknown variables and the nature of knowledge being at best tentative and when absolute, only in a particular small context, we would declare so strongly our limited and limiting perspectives. Lest anyone think I’m pronouncing judgment upon high, let me be very clear that I have and no doubt will continue to do the same, indeed these little essays being sent off into the blogosphere are likely a case in point though I do find myself offering an internal rationalization that I’m at least attempting to provide a nuanced and largely objective point of view (though of course I would think that of myself).
I’ve hardly started off painting a rosy picture and perhaps should consider changing the title of this entry. Not yet though. While certainly the often vapid and ignorant pontifications being broadcast all over the Internet can be an indication of humanity’s failings, I can with my capacity as a meaning-creating creature choose to look at it another way. People are engaging! Though I am not a parent, it is inconceivable of me to look upon a child struggling to tie their shoelaces for the first time and lament how they’ll never achieve interstellar flight. Or to see the swirls and splotches of the latest painting as it is placed on the fridge and look forlornly upon a child who isn’t’ a Picasso. Or condemn as foolish the attempt by anyone to master an instrument, a mode of thinking or academic study and find it utterly deplorable that they haven’t reached the level of complete lack of error. Seriously, we are children. If the evolution of our species were laid out over the space of day, modern civilization would take up all of about one minute. Just how much are we hoping to have accomplished in that minute? A baby pops out of the mother’s womb and we expect what, the creation of sonnets and explorations of physics?
This is not a cop-out, this is an acknowledgment of our fragile and puerile state. The fact that we’ve done so much in that minute should give us pause, not that we still often succumb to our baser impulses and instantiate in our behavior ways of thinking that could be far more healthy. It’s a matter of perspective. Yes we are an opinionated bunch but on the flip-side we haven’t given up screaming to the heavens our existence! In our constant flurry of short lives we do not go willing into that cold dark night, we shout and scream and scamper about with all the glee and fervor of a creature that does not know how to quit.
Before I go further, let me ask you to allow me for a moment to wallow deep into the marrow of my liberal and humanistic roots. There is a Facebook meme going around that notes people have at their disposal in the form of a smartphone the totality of the world’s knowledge at their fingertips and we use it to send pictures of cats in funny poses to people. This is meant to be a sad reflection upon humanity and certainly it is ruefully amusing. But sad? Really? We have at our disposal the ability to destroy so much and yet we send pictures of cute animals. Glorious! The issue here is not the smallness of our passions but that we find passion in the small things. We are beset by constant siren calls from the media and many pulpits that civilization is doomed, that society as we know it is crumbling, that the economy is in various states of near-destruction, wars and rumors of wars, vast conspiracy theories that shrivel up the gonads in paroxysms of fear and yet through it all we laugh and find joy in sending silly photoshopped pictures of frowning cats with ridiculous quotations.
10,000 years ago life was indeed nasty, brutish and short for the vast majority of humanity. Now even the most disenfranchised of us have access to untold riches in comparison. This is not to ignore or downplay the very real social inequalities that exist nor the moral difficulties of perpetuating such disparity, but we should take a moment to take stock of where we have come from. Living a life of plenty is not so much concerned with the quantity of goods at one’s disposal but the intentional quality we impose upon what is in front of us. We may lament and seek to address the deprivations of the starving person but never should we attempt to take away the sheer joy of that same person having a simple meal or a roof over their head for a night.
I am hardly a devotee of Ayn Rand, but she did make a point, among several, that still sticks with me: reason is not an inevitable quality of our existence, it must be trained and learned. The evolution of our frontal lobes is a new thing and they are constantly beset by the rationality offered by the amygdala and hypothalamus, formed as they were amongst tooth and claw. We are but babes held in the arms of a snarling fearful animal. There is so much to learn, so much to grow and we are doing it every day. We may inundate ourselves with fiction but this also means we are reading and expanding. We may get our history far too much from movies but we are still moved by the struggles of yesteryear. There is room here for growth and the mere fact that most of us no longer sell a bride-to-be for cattle means we have come a long way.
Jason Mraz’s song “I Won’t Give Up” is one of my favorites and while it still holds a great deal of emotional resonance at an individual level, there came a point where I started singing along to it as if I was singing to humanity at large. “Just like them old stars I see that you’ve come so far” is indeed a testament to the progress from cave-dwelling superstition to soar as we do amongst the birds of the sky. “I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily, I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make” should be a call that stirs the blood and lights up a desire for a revolution of the soul and the impartation of freedom to all, a freedom of broadening our awareness to ever greater vistas of our potential, looking back to see the blazing trails of stars who have come before us.
“I won’t give up on us, Even if the skies get rough, I’m giving you all my love, I’m still looking up, still looking up.” We need not give up even in the midst of struggle, we need not lose sight of our potential even in the midst of our foolishness and yes indeed we can still with hearts/minds filled with love, look up at what we can still do together.
© David Teachout