Wednesday, October 15, 2014

We Do Get Fooled Again

Lately, shared delusions of different types have been crossing my mind, both on the paths of my own tangential thoughts, and in things I’ve come across to read here and there.  Humans share ineffable bonds, and some of them we’d quite like to eff after all, probably.  We cling together in fear, in arrogance, and – above all – in ignorance.

We also forget and forget and forget, and therefore come to believe the silliest horsefeathers.  Such as, people were dumb and dirty in the past, as I’ve often gone on about.  Such as, we have evolved or changed or become anything new at all under the sun.  We’re very attached to this idea, that what today holds is ever better than yesterday … even as we yearn for yesterday with the sort of jealousy that can pervert itself nastily and become cancerous and violent.

I once sat in a church and listened to a long and angry sermon against evolution, actually, which … ended with a discussion of how we get flu shots because viruses grow and change and we have to conquer them with ever better drugs.  I’m not joking – evolution is wrong, but evolution totally happens.

We do this sort of thing a lot, and it is in sermons and on pulpits, in reaching out to each other and in quoting, being quoted, in rabidly nodding our heads together, that we gain some sense of self – this is someone I agree with, and therefore what I think, what I feel, must be RIGHT in some important way.

“It’s not just me.”

We seek that in almost every level in our lives.  Those studies that show negative posts on social media “infect” related users and breed more of the same, complaint spawning complaint, because it is empirically true that misery loves company to death.  The way almost the whole world finds ways to make major events – especially catastrophes – “about ourselves”, finding ways not just to relate to the imponderable or epochal, but to own it.  9/11 was so powerful in this effect it gave us the story of Tania Head (not even her real name), one of the most famous survivors of the World Trade Center attacks, who happened to live in Spain at the time and was graduating a professional program at the time that brutality happened.  Before that, locally to my world, the Washington sniper drew half the east coast into a noose of fear that occasionally almost smelled like anticipation; living anywhere near those events conferred a sense of almost belonging to that threat, and of its belonging to us.  Anthrax scares in the mail had people psychosomatically ill all over the country, and gave the opportunity for morons or the mentally ill to frighten the wits out of crowds in strange places.

Yet, in this oh-so-enlightened world in which we are susceptible to shared delusions physical, emotional, and in many ways political:  we deeply enjoy looking backward at phenomena like the tarantism or the dancing mania of the middle ages, perhaps born out of plague and upheaval, and play a bit of down-the-nose-peering, to assure ourselves we are superior.  We, who deny – well, evolution, for one; or climate change; or the moon landing; or the HIV virus’ influence and connection to AIDS – love nothing so much as to look upon those who denied Galileo’s toppling of the heliocentric universe as the basest, risible ignorance.

It is intensely reassuring, for a species perpetually under the THREAT of the great unknowns of our lives, to hope, at least, we’ve risen out of some sort of darkness, surpassed ignorance, become *better* than we used to be.  There is a deep cultural, and *perhaps* pan-human need to believe in progress that leads us to look back, not in anger, but in the kind of bigotry that leads us to name entire swaths of time “The Dark Ages” and to peer morbidly at lost ideas of beauty or obsolete heirarchies of worthwhile attainments (or, very sadly, to look across the globe even in the present, presuming other cultures are stuck in the past) to prove to ourselves we are not “barbarians.”

The barbarians, of course, merely made the mistake of toppling a few things of their own, which for some reason we enjoy enshrining (from time to time) as pinnacles of human achievement.  Also, they didn’t write a very great deal, so we don’t have Viking Shakespeares to enshrine instead.  The barbarians get their vogue from time to time as well, but by and large “visigoth” didn’t become an insult in a perfectly balanced vaccuum, just for instance.  Or the word barbarian itself, which is an onomotopoeic word making fun of the way a foreign language sounded to a great lot of dead Greeks and Romans who had a few funky habits of their own we occasionally stumble upon in order to make fun of.

We really are not better than ever before.

The consolation to that is:  we actually are not WORSE than ever before, either.  Our power to actually destroy ourselves probably skews the old bargain, to be sure.  But human nature is as a whole is full of the same greedy lot who don’t care about others … and the same breathtakingly beautiful, and the same generally decent, and the same petty individuals we’ve always had amongst ourselves.  The greedy ones regularly wreck the lives of others, the good ones give us hope, and the ones we know best sustain and madden and surround each other.

Stripped of all politics and consequence, human nature is a remarkably unchanging thing, for a dynamic so resilient and innovative and endlessly mercurial.  We fear together, and that makes us either dance together or believe we are sick together.  We are arrogant together, and that is born of fear too.  We are immensely capable and ingenious – remember how we all ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the HUMAN miracle and spectacle of the Chinese olympic opening ceremonies?  Both impressed at the show, and half-afraid of a nation so huge with such control over its people … and so many people to control … ?

WE only constant is change, in a way.  It defines and horrifies us, especially when the changes we have wrought and witnessed don’t go the way we expected, or would like.  It makes such a difference, and it makes none.

Only when we get to the deepest level – the individual – does the inevitability of change seem less a frightening unknown than a limitless potential.

I am still the meat and bones and voice my parents made … and I am nothing I was even just ten years ago, or five, or yesterday.  It’s a hell of a responsibility, and it’s both a swelling and a dangerous pride.  I need reassurance.  But not by dancing through a plague.  Just in the ones I know best.  In sustaining and maddening and being close to them.  And in finding they do the same in return.

What is it like along your evolutionary development?  Did you go from crouching to standing tall, a deep breath filling your chest … ?  With whom do you dance … ?

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