Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Communications 101

Communications 101 seems to be changing.  We watch quite a few British mysteries. Many take place in or around villages scattered about the Islands of Great Britain.  I suppose it is but one of many reasons we love watching these shows. Partly, we love mysteries. But also, the British mysteries seem to be as much about the place and the interesting characters, as the whodunit. One of the shows we watched the other evening took place in a village. As one of the cops is interviewing one of many villagers, the fellow comments about the death at issue. He knows some of the details, and the copper asks, “how did you know that?” The fellow responds, “Oh, it’s all over the village. Everyone knows.” And that characterizes much of village life, as portrayed in these shows. And it isn’t that the shows are supposed to be taking place in 1840. No, they are relatively modern, say the 1990s.  Yet, it seems clear that a prime characteristic of village life is that folks talk with one another—men mostly at the village pub (and there is always a village pub) and the women sometimes there, but often at other social gatherings. But the main thing is that village folks talk with one another as the dominant means of communication.  Nothing much happens within the village that isn’t known throughout the village quickly.

Now this communications method could be a function of life in British small towns, but I rather think it is/was life in small towns everywhere, i.e., life before the Internet.  That is, people used to talk with one another about life in the neighborhood. As I said, people spoke often within their village pub, or at church coffees, sewing circles, or the farm markets.  Because everyone remained interested in things of and about the village, which was often the center of local conversations, as distinct from, say, whether the Labor party head had really said that Brexit was a fraud.

Then, enter social media.  And two things begin to occur within the context of social media. First, the conversations about village life stop being the center of conversation. Instead, what Nigel Farage said about how his previous comments about Brexit were obviously not meant to be taken seriously, or whether Donald Trump actually said that if he were to be impeached, the stock market would crash and everyone would become poor.

And then, the next thing that occurs is that folks begin to form little groups based on what they think/believe about what is being said somewhere else—the silos form. And even though folks may have held disparate views about life in the village, or who was shagging who, mainly then, they still talked with one another, and maybe even argued about various village life affairs. Now, they simply align themselves with other folks, most of whom they do not even know, and their views become hardened by the apparent support of these others whom they do not know.

Now, we do not really live in a little village in Great Britain, or even within these here now United States. Oh, we live in a village, Concord by name, but that village is no longer a real village. The former village is now but a cluster of homes, surrounded by as far as the eye can see by similar clusters of slightly newer homes, and occupied by people who look outside the village for employment and for entertainment.  The village is no longer the draw it used to be, and even the village pub is not quite what it once was.  Oh, some village folks still gather occasionally at the pubs, but the gatherings now differ in kind and population.  And the conversations are different now, with village life being but a minor aspect of the conversations.

The new forms of communication represent a kind of unraveling of village life.  Even if the villages still exist (at least here in the USA) the folks who occupy them seem different in outlook and background, with relatively fewer being stock of “the old guard”. Folks now drift in and out of these villages, and the communications no longer seem to be of and about the village.  The silos remain and, although villagers still say howdy when they encounter one another, the communication largely ends with the howdy.

Now, assuming my characterization is even remotely accurate, does it matter at all, in any important aspect? Well, I think we have begun losing something. It occurs to me that we used to have a body of personal issues that we shared as village neighbors, or perhaps just as neighbors. Growing up next to one another, we understood each other by shared history, and even shared likes and dislikes.  Now, the village is fading as a centerpiece of our culture, and it seems not to be replaced by anything. Social media does not substitute for a common understanding based on shared culture and history. Oh, we might identify with one another by our silo sharing, but the silos are often shallow places and limited in content and perspective.  We love or hate MAGA, or Donald Trump, or the NRA, or gays, or abortion, but those issues tend not to hold the same weight as what we have lost in terms of village life and culture.  And I wonder what we are losing in terms of being British, or American, or French, or Canadian?  Donald Trump seems to violate almost every value we hold as Americans. Yet his folks continue to love him. How can that be? Would the “villagers of old” have been better able to form opinions based on their village identity and their view of their village as a part of their country?  Actually, I think perhaps they might have. I like to hope it is still possible to retrieve these shared values communications, and that by crawling out of our respective silos, we might regain some of our humanity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The End of Forever

As I age, I think periodically about “The End”. I know that in religious parlance, that End merely means a new beginning, either coming back as a rattle snake, or a cockroach, or lounging about on some cloud, playing a harp and chatting it up with Grandpa Inglis, or Shakespeare. But the other day, I read a very long “article” in the New York Times Magazine Section in its Sunday edition. That section devoted its entire magazine section to our coming climate disaster. In it, the authors describe another END, or, in this case, the likely end of humanity, as the climate changes our planet to the point that it is no longer habitable and we all just disappear like the dinosaurs—I guess that could be described as a sort of “climate change” also.

The gist of the article is that we had a chance, briefly, during the 1970’s, when we could have acted so as to minimize the damage to our planet from our climate change actions, but that we stepped aside and failed to act.  The US is not alone in this course of madness, but, had we acted then, we might have convinced the other major actors to go along to minimize the damage.  But we didn’t.
And so the fairy tale of Forever is now ending.

What do I mean by the fairy tale of forever?

Well, we humans have, I assume, always hated the idea of “endings”. And to counter the fact of Endings, we devised fairy tales and sold the fairy tales as substitutes for reality.  We call the fairy tales, organized religion.  The first “ending” we dealt with of course is the end of life thing. We all know life ends. We see it on a daily basis. Every time we step on a cockroach, or slap a bee to death, we understand that we have ended a life—a tiny one to be sure, but still, a life.

We know, when we slice into a piece of steak, or fry a piece of bacon, that once, that slice was part of a living creature that grazed in the grass, and also looked up on the stars. That creature stopped existing, so that we could eat that steak, or piece of bacon.

As we peruse the daily newspaper, we come across obituaries, that section we all love to read, as it speaks to folks who once inhabited the earth, but now occupy space underground, or in some ash container.  And, of course, our family members keep popping off every now and again, as reminders that life seems not to continue forever. No, it ends, always, for everyone, and every living thing on our poor benighted planet.

But to counter this notion of endings, we devised the fairy tale of populated clouds, and a fiery hell for those poor folks who do not act the way we instruct them to act. And because that particular fairy tale sold so well, we continue to devise fairy tales to cover whatever unpleasantness we continue to see up ahead.  The fairy tale about human folks hanging around on clouds seem relatively benign. I mean, it does grant authority over us to those charlatans who continue to tell us they know what’s ahead, after we die.  But that seems almost harmless when compared with the fairy tale about the Forever nature of our planet. The fairy tale is that our planet and its brothers and sisters out there in EverLand have always existed and will continue to exist forever.  Note, I ignore the patent silliness of the 6000 year tale by that crowd of idiot-savants who do idiotic things like build fake Arcs to demonstrate when humans and dinosaurs occupied the same space till the God thingie threw a lot of water at the planet.  No, even though the God-Creatures continue to cling to all manner of fairy tales about the creation of Earth and humankind, they seem to also like perpetuating the fairy tale that God will not allow Earth to die and thereby kill off his glorious creations.  No, they seem to see our planet as going on forever also.

But the main purveyors of the forever tale are the very ones seeking to hasten its ending—the big money crowd and the industrialists who are causing the central problem. See, there’s “gold in them thar hills”, and when there’s gold at issue, the big money crowd has no moral principles at all.  I can almost understand it when we look at, say, coal mining companies. I mean, they would/will need to go out of business altogether, unless some brilliant human can devise a way to use coal for some purpose that does not involve destroying the planet. And that goes for, say, Exxon, et al. And I guess the bankers (not known for moral principles) have too much capital invested in these deadly industries to abandon them.

So, since the big money crowd controls all politics everywhere on the planet, they can disable, or keep marginal, all actions to Save Our Planet. As the New York Times Magazine section makes clear, the world’s political structures could have acted during the 1970’s, when it became clear that we faced a cataclysmic future if we failed to act. And, of course, we did not act.  Whether we now face a 3 degree rise in global temperatures, or worse (anything over 2 degrees is highly dangerous to the future of our planet), or a 4-5 degree rise is now under debate, but we must understand that such rises mean the drowning of many island states, the disappearance of many coastal cities, including such places as New York City, Boston, San Francisco, etc.  But, the changes in temperature may well also spell the ending to many agricultural systems, as drought and temperature rises produce more desert than arable land.  It is clear that we cannot be specific as to how it will all end, or what delaying tactics might arise.

What is clear is that the purveyors of fairy tales continue their work to preserve their own short term profitability at the expense of rational man’s ability to delay or forestall the total destruction of our planet. That they will die also seems irrelevant to the powers that be, because they assume they will live out their precious lives in luxury, at the expense of their heirs, and future mankind in general.
It remains unclear whether it is already too late. But with a Trump administration well ensconced with full denial as its mantra, it is clear that nothing will be done any time soon.