Gaining Perspective

You may know the old saying, the darkest hour is just before dawn. While the saying isn’t literally true, it serves metaphorical purpose. First Light precedes astronomical dawn and provides the first proof that night is coming to an end. “Political night” has descended in the States, leading many to wonder whether “first light” is right around the corner. Many are hopeful. I’m not so sure. I think we (all of us) need to gain some perspective based on history. The history of humanity has been primarily wars and exploitation.

War, of course, is not new. Tribes went to war against other tribes when they encountered them. Tribes got bigger and became nation states sharing an economy and, typically, religious beliefs. The religious wars in Europe are a good example. Protestants and Catholics had a long, on-again, off-again war satirized by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, in which the waring factions are described as the “Big Enders” and the “Little Enders,” based on how they opened their soft-boiled eggs. The one thing ongoing war does is accelerate the development of weapons, and in the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries, European countries saw a rapid advance in technologies of war. So … when they (primarily but not only England and France) tired of killing each other, they explored the planet to see what they could find.

Not all the exploration was “bad,” of course. On his world tour, Charles Darwin developed our best early understanding of evolution. The part that was less than wonderful was that the European nations discovered that they had better weapons and could thus control people in a lot of other places and exploit their natural resources. Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain scrambled to see which could do the most to exploit areas not yet fully exploited by the indigenous populations. At this point it is relatively easy to forget that, before the Europeans arrived and started claiming the land for themselves, North America was reasonably well-populated by indigenous peoples. We now, of course, idealize the time before the Europeans arrived, but, on a smaller scale, the indigenous population had similar conflicts of interest, and the tribes best at warfare took members of weaker tribes as slaves. That seems to be, after all, a natural state of human evolution.

World War II probably set the stage for what has developed into our current situation. We ended up with three major power centers: The West (the U.S. and its allies, with Germany and Italy being added), Russia and the Communist Block countries in Europe, and China. WWII was essentially coincidental with the Chinese Communist Revolution. One thing led to another, and we had the Korean War and the War in Vietnam. As is almost always the case, the wars were fought to control territory and the resources assumed to be there, including precious metals and oil. War is most typically a matter of follow the money. In “olden times,” wars were fought to enhance the wealth of royalty. These days, wars are fought to enhance the wealth of corporations and those who own stock in them. Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” says it well:


 

The “masters,” are those who promote war for their own benefit. Another song from the Vietnam era, Pete Seeger’s “waist Deep in the Big Muddy” focuses more directly on those who pay the cost of failure in policy.


 

As has been true in the past, our current situation is also governed by those who profit from it. We are cautioned to stay woke, in the sense of being aware of the ways in which the many are being exploited for the benefit of the few. A quick look at the planned changes in health care provides a general view of current legislation and plans for the redistribution of wealth in the U.S. The history of elections in the U.S. shows that people can and do vote against their financial self-interests with regularity, so something else must be influencing their behavior. In Medieval times, people would fight and die to protect the king. In those days, of course, the king (or queen) was the organizing principle around which the society was structured. While we no longer have a king or queen in the States, we do have “royalty” that consists of the uberwealthy, who are typically treated like royalty.

Whether that can change remains to be seen. In spite of all the wars and revolutions in the past, the basic structure of the rich and powerful on top and everyone else on the bottom has remained the same. That may be saying something about the nature of humanity.

Dumbfounded, Discouraged, and Dismayed

I haven’t posted anything new in a while. I’ve been too busy reading the political news and wringing my hands. My sense is that the world situation is getting worse. We have, of course, had “dark days” in times past. I’m not sure there has ever been a time the planet was without at least one war going on. Most recently, in the States we experienced the World Wars (I and II), the Korean War, the “conflict” in Vietnam, and whatever is currently going on in the Mid-East. We’ve also had Civil Rights challenges, and various other conflicts and difficulties . . . → Read More: Dumbfounded, Discouraged, and Dismayed

Video or Text-Based Web Pages?

In previous blog entries, I have written about the way different communication channels influence the message received. We have known for a long time that the medium is the message. (See also Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage). One of the principal concepts behind the message inherent in the titles of books (including McLuhan’s) is that communication channels are themselves “messages.” The original discussion about this concept focused on the differences being communicated by print media and television. the movie, Medium Cool, was based on McLuhan’s concept that video was a “cool” medium, one that forced viewers to think . . . → Read More: Video or Text-Based Web Pages?

When the Mode of the Music Changes

You can tell a lot about people based on their musical preferences. I borrow my title from a radical group from the ’60s, the Fugs, and one of their old songs:

It would be pretty hard to know me well without knowing when and where I grew up and how I had been influenced by the music of my youth. I assume that the same is true for everyone. The concept has been most fully explored by Morris Massey, who wrote about the three main periods in a person’s maturation process:

The Imprint Period. From birth . . . → Read More: When the Mode of the Music Changes

Stuff That’s On My Mind

The original impetus for this article was the North Carolina Bathroom Bill. I am writing this from the perspective of a male who has been sharing bathrooms with women all my life—not always at the same time, of course, but most of the time, people use bathrooms one at a time. There are exceptions, of course. Public bathrooms (airports, highway rest stops, restaurants, and other public places). If you have ever flown anywhere with a woman, you know that when people exit the plane, men enter the men’s room, take care of business, and exit. In all likelihood, the female . . . → Read More: Stuff That’s On My Mind

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

The title of this blog comes from a Pete Seeger song:

The lyrics contain a number of metaphors that apply to the current political situation in the States: First, times and circumstances change. What was once safe doesn’t necessarily remain that way. Second, having a “big fool” set direction may not turn out well. Third (and one of my favorite quotations), “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” which was doubtless based on George Santayana’s original: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering history by itself isn’t sufficient. . . . → Read More: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

Content of Character

When Martin Luther King said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (in his I have a dream speech), he was, of course, referring specifically to racial disparities. Unfortunately, racial disparities haven’t disappeared, and perhaps even more unfortunately, our culture has added a variety of other disparities by which we judge people. Like skin color, they are all superficial in nature and say nothing about the content of their character.

The first thing that occurs to me is the bias many hold . . . → Read More: Content of Character

True Colors

One of the TV shows I watch with regularity is Austin City Limits, a PBS show featuring live music. A couple of weeks ago, the featured performer was Cindi Lauper. Although many years have passed since I first heard her sing, she still puts on a good show. One song in particular caught my attention for what it has to say today as we face a future less certain than we have typically known in the past. The song was . . . → Read More: True Colors

A Media Star Is Born

Given the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, everyone needs read Neil Postman’s 1982 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Reading it won’t change the outcome of the election, of course, but it will provide understanding for how and why it happened the way it did. Postman’s main point is that print encourages logic and reflection. Visual media, and television in particular, encourage the feelings of the moment. To be taken seriously and believed, written documents need to be logical and coherent. To be successful, visual media need to influence feelings. We . . . → Read More: A Media Star Is Born

Not with a Bang But a Whimper

T.S. Eliot ends his poem, . . . → Read More: Not with a Bang But a Whimper