Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Plus ça change

“The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” ~ Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice was released this week in 1813. Two hundred years ago. A drop in the bucket when you look at the age of the cosmos, but to you and me it's easily three or four lifetimes. Or five or six less fortunate ones. Life in that two hundred years has changed quite a bit. Technology has enhanced our health, our communications and our efficiency. Some would say we're doing well. That we're making 'strides'. But it appears the basic state of humanity has remained unchanged, regardless of the wisdom shared from a multitude of sources over the years.

Two hundred years ago, when Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, the cultural movement called the Age of Enlightenment was just waning. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge by promoting science, skepticism and intellectual interchange. It was sparked by folks like physician John Locke, physicist Isaac Newton, and philosopher Voltaire. But by 1813 these new perspectives on nature and man's place within it were losing ground. Emphasis on reason was giving way to Romanticism's emphasis on emotion. And emotion, it seems, is exactly what the powerful needed for their purposes. Today, evidently, it is this still the act of playing on emotions that allows a few to rule while the general population believes it has a say in how they are governed. Some would say society really functions not by duly elected governments but by the rule of money lords and special interest groups. They would say that we are governed under tables that upon which we are tantalized with emotional red herrings: talk show hosts gaining notoriety by giving respectability to liars and cheats, snappy new apps that make life zippier, fear being spouted in short sound bites meant to enrage the uninformed and keep them in ignorance, and attentions drawn to trivial game shows, quicky payday loans, new treatments for bad breath and astounding antics delivered via reality television.

Because the evil masses have to be kept occupied, you see.

Modern society continues to send men off to be killed in the name of words like "honor", "justice" and "freedom" all for the control of things like resources that other nations want from them. And when they fall in the line of duty grieving families without fathers, brothers, sons and daughters are told they died as heroes to the cause. And, as is the case in Canada, when more soldiers die at their own hands after returning to society with PTSD than were killed in combat, why, that's a shame but let's just not talk about it for the sake of the families. We could easily feed all the people in the world but we continue to turn farmland into strip malls and light industrial complexes. In some places modern society still condones the taking of a life. Scientific research is sponsored by political and commercial interests spinning results tailored to conveniently fit purposes. We fight bullying with bullying disguised as reason and diplomacy instead of compassion and a good look at ourselves. We allow the possibility of assault weapons made for battlegrounds to be placed in the hands of the unstable and resist background checks and bans on the grounds of rights that were written during the time of muskets. We still take delight at figuratively burning people at the stake. Because rule by coercion, intimidation, fear and force is all "these people understand."

But all is not for the powerful. We, the minions, are given miracle cures, gurus spouting panaceas, experts telling us how to improve, how our dishes can come out of the dishwasher spotless, what rules to follow and in what order. What to drive in order to save the planet and still be cool. We're told what we should be worried about. How to get more social media followers. What we should be wearing. Whether our countertops should be granite or marble. All to keep us busy and on a direct route to happiness and self-fulfillment.

Individuals continue to be judged by their beauty, their wealth or the quality of their scoundrelousness rather than the substance of their thoughts and selfless deeds. We are told of the virtues of living with grace, about the value of our heart and love, about the special nature of our soul and how little money really means. More and more the news that is delivered to us is based on whether it will attract the most revenue rather than its intrinsic value. Morning newsreaders are now television personalities that report on news for three minutes and then entertain for the balance of the hour because people have to be "engaged" and because ratings mean revenue. Reporters have to put their pieces through the filter; making sure they're not stepping on the toes of advertisers/corporate owners or offending the politically correct.

We're suckers for all this, in a way. We're supposed to share and support and speak the truth as they take and subvert and shower us with cleverly disguised misinformation. If we complain they say, "Don't be so shallow, think of the war/recession/terrorists/assault weapon crisis/child labour/welfare bums/labor strikes/interest rates/global warming/jobs we're losing to China" when they may be the very people that allowed/caused the calamities in the first place. They perch so much of their considerable weight on our concern and good will, is it no wonder that so often it becomes buried in distrust and disillusionment?

Who are "they" you ask? They are us. Just people. Fallible.

Human.

Deep down we are still the animals we profess to be better than. We scrap at the watering hole of resources, fame, riches, importance, dominance and self-centered gain. It is in our basic nature to compete, to win and to survive at all costs, even if it is on the backs of others – losers all. It is not our fault we conquer. It is their fault they are weak. We profess to be something more than beasts while we tear into those who would threaten us.

If it were not so, surely the last two hundred years would have seen more progress in a humanity that is more humane. Maybe we're ready for a new Age of Enlightenment.

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." ("The more things change, the more they remain the same.") ~ Alphonse Karr, Les Guêpes 1849.

Off my soap box. Sorry for the long rant. I feel better now.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, Rand, I'm impressed. If you don't mind, I'm saving this one... I'll tuck it between my copies of "The Communist Manifesto" and John Ralston Saul's "On Equilibrium".
    Part way through, I was made to think of a quote by Oscar Wilde:
    "By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community."
    Good stuff, man!

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