I’ve been thinking about the George Orwell novel “1984”, how the totalitarian regime in the book implemented catch phrases to secure the minds of the populace. ‘War is Peace’ is used to establish a permanent enemy, a scapegoat, that can be blamed for any and all ills that befall the citizenry. ‘Freedom is Slavery’ discourages individualism, promotes tribalism in order to keep everyone bound to the collective. ‘Ignorance is Strength’ encourages the subservient populace to forego intellectual reflection, follow the dictates of those in power, not think about things to hard and they will realize contented peace. The message is, I guess, that given such ideas along with sufficient deterrents a totalitarian regime turns people into sheep without them realizing it.
It does seem a bit familiar these days but I guess as long as a free exchange of ideas remains in place reasonable responses can happen.
I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to have a national identity: how we might imagine some sort of consensual, some unifying set of shared values in our diverse population, an identity, we might imagine, manifesting itself in the actions of our chosen leaders, our elected representatives who we see putting into motion actions we consider important to maintaining our moral visions. Of course, as the political winds blow, half of us will be upbeat knowing our chosen leaders are heading the country in the right direction while the other half will passionately believe the opposite.
This conundrum has me thinking about the British. The Royal Family, having a centuries old heritage, provides a national identity for a pretty fair number of British citizens judging from the crowds one sees in photographs of various state rites and national observances. No longer wielding political sway the Royals serve as a unifying symbol for a population whose politics has produced the divisive likes of Margret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.
So, maybe we need a King or a Queen, someone to focus on in these days of extreme partisan division, some apolitical demi-god (or goddess) who represents the values our diverse population can agree upon, someone to reign over our national holidays as a symbol of unity.
Personally I can’t think of anyone who might adequately fill the bill but I’m open to suggestion.
I’m finding the transformation of nature this time of year breathtaking. The vibrancy and variety of colors transforms the environment so dramatically my visual surroundings become something totally other, so changed, that, on a walk in the woods, I find myself someplace unrecognizable as if it were another world.
Nature though is dying, she is in the throes of death, breathing a last gasp as she fades into dormancy. In another month these woods will appear dead, reduced to subdued browns and grays. They will have been abandoned by songbirds and hibernating animals. There will be little to suggest there is any life existing here at all. The death of nature will, of course, eventually transition into a sort of rebirth or at least a regeneration of life as the seasons advance.
What makes nature’s metaphorical death so unique is the flair, the exuberant celebration of finality she displays. Such an enthusiastic embrace of physical demise doesn’t seem to follow for the animal world except, perhaps, for certain humans convinced they too will be reborn in the spring.
In the summer of his 12th year this boy and his friends were introduced to musical instruments. They were being groomed for eventual inclusion into the high school band. In his small-town competition wasn’t an issue. Bodies were needed, so by the time these kids reached 7th grade or so it was assumed most of them, if they stayed with it, would take their places beside the high schoolers in the concert band.
That same summer this boy’s best friend’s brother, on the very day he got his driver’s license was given the keys to the family ’52 Chevrolet and he (the boy) and his friend were invited to ride along, to share in the experience of new found freedom. The country roads near their hometown were wash board, loose gravel and narrow, under constant grading that pushed up gravel ridges that made the roads even narrower. Five miles or so into their ride the car began to swerve having edged into the gravel windrow on the side of the road, overcorrected, swerved again, jumped the gravel ridge, down into the ditch and struck a driveway abutment. For some reason beyond memory the boy was given the honor of riding ‘shotgun’ next to the driver while his friend sat in the back seat. The immediate interruption of forward momentum was unfortunately restricted only to the car. The boy, having struck the dashboard with his face was suddenly aware of no longer having any front teeth.
Anyway, the big deal that summer for the boy and his friends was getting a band instrument. Everyone wanted trumpets. The consensus was this was clearly a masculine choice, the girls opting for clarinets or flutes for reasons similarly relating to gender orientation. It soon became obvious that the lip strength it took to produce sound through a brass mouthpiece without supporting front teeth was a non-starter, as far as becoming a member of the brass section was concerned. After the months of anticipation, the letdown was significant. The boy envied his friends for awhile until he was introduced to an Instrument that didn’t require a strong embouchure. He became the proud possessor of an alto saxophone that he soon came to realize was, strictly from a physical standpoint an instrument quite superior, aesthetically speaking, to the trumpet.
Living in the northern climes, as I do, and spending a lot of time outdoors I’m reminded on nearly a daily basis of the passage of time. Early spring wildflowers bloom and fade within days giving way to slightly slower maturing vegetation which grows and goes to seed in anticipation of early fall flowers blooming and the lush greenery of the forest canopy turning to yellows and reds; all within a matter of weeks.
The process is beautiful, you know, and reasonably anticipated each year but living in the moment as I try to do is regularly interrupted by remembrances and anticipations imposed upon me by evolving nature.
I’m not complaining. Transitioning nature is a wonder to behold. I must admit, though, to a feeling of melancholy as summer wains. I find myself thinking of my inevitable mortal demise. The feeling will dissipate as it always has, the seasons change and I will find myself in a world of cold, ice and snow in a time that will pass much more slowly.
I found myself, the other day, unavoidably engaged, once again, in a conversation with a close acquaintance whose conspiratorial perspectives have expanded beyond a ‘deep state’ cabal controlling the mainstream media to revisionist history (deep sigh).
I granted him that a narrative account of historical events is vulnerable to the biases of the narrator and that specifics of time and place (within limits) and the underlying motives of the actors might be considered. After all, I went on, nothing is written in stone; new knowledge arises and accounts change, but the scholarship and peer reviews of generations of researchers has a legitimacy that defies any idea of ‘deep state’ agenda. I allowed that when it comes to narrative accounts hard facts and pure fictions will be reasonably seen as not so hard and not so pure. The sources of one’s information, though, must be determined to be free of deliberate distortion. Intuitively imagining the truth of unsupported premises really must be seen for what it is.
There’s a difference, after all, between questioning the accuracy of generally accepted accounts and undermining those accounts based on intuition, dubious sources and unsupported premises.
After following the political conventions these past days (recaps being the extent of my capacity to stomach the partisan drivel) it has occurred to me, once again, that our deep philosophical divisiveness has morphed into alternate realities. The spin has turned into, at least in some cases, ‘alternative facts’. The information we receive has become not simply differing versions or interpretations of events but actual counter-facts, egregious distortions that the fact checkers, who I tend to trust, have, I suspect, been working overtime to decipher truth from fiction. There are no excuses for those who deliberately misinform to suit their own agendas but I suspect many of us simply experience differently, which has me thinking about what exactly Truth is.
Even life versus death will have nuanced meaning for some I suppose (at least those of a spiritual bent), and like the half empty/ half full glass of water interpretation must be accounted for. As I sit here writing this, I can’t know the truth, when I finish, of where exactly I will be physically, the world turning as it is. I peer out the window at a beautiful blue sky and realize there are those whose truth upon viewing same will be something other.
So, I guess it’s only fair to assume that what I know to be truly the case will not necessarily be truth for others. I guess we’ll all just have to learn to co-exist in our alternative realities..
The unsettling events of recent months that have brought us to what we are led to believe is a ‘new normal’ have provided me glimpses into unfamiliar territory. It’s not, of course, that the basic lay of the land or its population of warm-blooded inhabitants are any different than they were last year, but I find myself drifting into uncharted psychological waters.
The restrictions that we have necessarily imposed upon ourselves, cautions about travel and social gatherings, seem to have spawned new realizations, subtle perspectives: not exactly epiphanies, I suppose, but unfamiliar mental states I find to be quite interesting and pleasant. These brief insights have led me to the thought that I have lived most of my life in a limited world, a fairly tightly bounded universe.
Well, while I find it unlikely I will have any great experiential happenings in my foreseeable future I do find these occasional brief glimpses into the unknown refreshing.
A few years ago, I made a hike into the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. The site contains fossils of pre-Cambrian life forms, many of which barely saw the light of day before fading into extinction. The most unusual of these early animals were asymmetrical, having three and sometimes five appendages, which, I suppose, might explain why these animals didn’t make it to the Cambrian era and beyond. It seems unlikely they’d have been able to compete well in a gravitational environment and it appears they were naturally de-selected in favor of the mobile superiority of bi- and quadrupedal life. I guess it will always be the case that some life forms will be naturally de-selected for an inability to adapt in a hostile and competitive world.
Given our difficulties dealing with our current dilemmas (i.e. dreaded virus, nuclear arms proliferation, political alienation, et. al.) I’m just wondering how close humanity may be getting to the top of the de-selection list.
So, here I am, driving down the road, seeking respite from oppressive reality. I headed off because I find I’m losing focus. The demons are arising, assuming identities of normally empathetic or at least innocuous friends and acquaintances. I’m traveling to a remote location without phone towers let alone wifi; no news for a few days can only be a good thing in my state of mind.
As I pass through unknown small towns and pastoral farmlands, I fantasize carefree and peaceful existences. Such distraction, I know, will only be momentary. What I need to do is reestablish my center of being, the stable base I know is there somewhere. I must find focus to embrace the eternal ‘Now’.
And now, here I sit before gently lapping waters. My surroundings are incredibly peaceful. The quiet is exhilarating. I find it amazing how a simple short getaway can be so immediately rejuvenating. I will try, in the future, to remember to seek out the healing powers of nature.