A Year End Rant
This is not a post about fantasy (as in a far away land). Nor is it about the past (as in a long time ago). Yet both past and fantasy influence me. Why? When stories are about things that happen elsewhere and/or from another time, they do not threaten us in the here and now. They evoke a feeling of being safe, which is why we often place important stories in these contexts.
That feeling of safety is critical. It gives us sufficient peace of mind that in turn allows us to open our minds to the new. Without it, we live perpetually in the wilderness, ever alert, and never transcending our fears. Perhaps peace of mind is the reward we expect for being human and civilized. A gift and a pre-condition for embracing new stories and for learning. For we learn nothing if we do not have an open mind.
So on this last day of 2011, I venture the question “how safe do we feel in our current “here and now”? BTW, if you have not guessed it, the corollary question is “how open are we to new stories and learning”? One measure of our sense of security is how much we obsess over the here and now. The more confident we feel, the more we allow our attention to roam. The less confident, the more we talk about and fret over what is immediately before us. The more we are imprisoned rather than free.
Having been around for some years, I am in a position to compare where we are with where we have been. My “seat of the pants” estimate is that our current obsession level is above normal. Why? I offer two observations which form the main subject of this post.
In part it is because we are waking up as a species to how little we understand of reality. In the bad old days, we believed mightily in who we were, and in turn, each moment connected us to eternity. It mattered not that the eternity was largely a construction of our imaginations. Our belief in it was sufficient to give us confidence. We see less now but more clearly. What has changed? Why do we see less of eternity? The gift of science allows us to deconstruct our presumptions. And with some exceptions, we live now as a scientific rather than mythic construct. It is a pleasure to see things more clearly and painful to give up what we now know to have been a dream. This reveals a great irony of our times. We want both the clarity and the certainty. And ooops, we cannot have both in the measure that we would like. So we fret.
There is another reason for us to fret. We accept that innovation is changing our world ever faster. Yet our institutional framework (as always) is founded on what we value from the past. Can we still afford those values? Will we do what we must in order to protect them? In other words, is our institutional framework sufficiently robust to support the communities that we need in order to thrive? Sadly, I think that the popular answer of the day is “no”. This unequivocal answer is reason to give us pause. We sense that something must change. But what? We cannot know until we agree on what to share. That implies, agreement on what we give up as well as what we take. And without that agreement, we are frozen in patterns that we fear cannot be sustained. We work harder but with less trust that we will be adequately compensated for giving up so much. And we fret.
But these are current and fleeting concerns, not universal ones. There are many stories around us even now that enchant. That free us from our obsessions. For example, Tara Clancy offers us a glimpse of life within a community of friends. These types of stories are the best gifts to share in these times. They offer peace of mind when peace of mind is sorely needed.
Enjoy! And all the best from Tartu for the new year!
FOLLOW - When I asserted that “(t)he more confident we feel, the more we allow our attention to roam”, I was thinking about the types of societies that produced great explorations and adventures. Like the race to the South Pole. or like Jules Verne’s fantastic character, Phileas Fogg. Poor old T.S. Eliot bemoaned a traumatic loss of confidence in his epic poem, The Wasteland. But have we really lost it? Well, perhaps that is the wrong question. Perhaps the more relevant question is, “what builds it in the first place”?
2d FOLLOW - BTW, Sir Kenneth Clark talks about living in perpetual wilderness (life in the 7th century Europe) as a most melancholy existence because there was no escape from it. I would like to think that the value of escape is twofold - in real terms (finding a better place) and in figurative terms (needing an exit even if we are secure at home)