Centuries ago people didn’t think that the world was changing at all. Their grandparents had the same lives that they did, and they expected their grandchildren would do the same, and that expectation was largely fulfilled.
Today it’s an axiom that life is changing and that technology is affecting the nature of society. What’s not fully understood is that the pace of change is itself accelerating, and the last 20 years are not a good guide to the next 20 years. We’re doubling the paradigm shift rate, the rate of progress, every decade.
The whole 20th century was like 25 years of change at today’s rate of change. In the next 25 years we’ll make four times the progress you saw in the 20th century. And we’ll make 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century, which is almost a thousand times more technical change than we saw in the 20th century.
Sidney Hook, suggested rules for democratic discourse, from “The Ethics of Controversy,” Sidney Hook on Pragmatism, Democracy and Freedom: The Essential Essays:
- Nothing and no one is immune from criticism.
- Everyone involved in a controversy has an intellectual responsibility to inform himself of the available facts.
- Criticism should be directed first to policies, and against persons only when they are responsible for policies, and against their motives or purposes only when there is some independent evidence of their character.
- [Just] Because certain words are legally permissible, they are not therefore morally permissible.
- Before impugning an opponent’s motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments.
- Do not treat an opponent of a policy as if he were therefore a personal enemy of the country or a concealed enemy of democracy.
- Since a good cause may be defended by bad arguments, after answering the bad arguments for another’s position present positive evidence for your own.
- Do not hesitate to admit lack of knowledge or to suspend judgment if evidence is not decisive either way.
- Only in pure logic and mathematics, not in human affairs, can one demonstrate that something is strictly impossible. Because something is logically possible, it is not therefore probable. “It is not impossible” is a preface to an irrelevant statement about human affairs. The question is always one of the balance of probabilities. And the evidence for probabilities must include more than abstract possibilities.
- The cardinal sin, when we are looking for truth of fact or wisdom of policy, is refusal to discuss, or action which blocks discussion.
Take away a manâ€™s actual sense of manhood–which is conventionally based on the ability to work, to earn money, to be self-sufficient, to provide for children–and youâ€™ve got to give them something else. And they did.
This hideous religion thatâ€™s all over the country–these huge church-malls–thatâ€™s what substitutes for these lost towns. But thatâ€™s not a town. Thatâ€™s a cult. A town is diverse, in a real way, not in this fake way we have now. A community is a butcher and a doctor, a minister, a town troublemaker. A ‘community’ is not a bunch of people united by some grievance. Thatâ€™s just self-righteousness–incredibly dangerous and antidemocratic. People have become so rigid; their opinions seem to them like themselves. When that happens (and it has happened) people canâ€™t change their minds. If you are identified by your opinions–if that is the very basis of yourself–how can you change your mind?
Fran Lebowitz, Ruminator Magazine interview with Susannah McNeely (August/September 2005)
Doris Lessing, Introduction to The Golden Notebook
Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this:
“You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself–educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”
Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful molder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?
Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere.
Emma Goldman, “Marriage and Love,” Anarchism and Other Essays (1911)
Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling; not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being “drawn toward.” Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one’s friends and enemies. Love creates righteousness, or justice, here on earth. To make love is to make justice. As advocates and activists for justice know, loving involves struggle, resistance, risk. People working today on behalf of women, blacks, lesbians and gay men, the aging, the poor in this country and elsewhere know that making justice is not a warm, fuzzy experience. I think also that sexual lovers and good friends know that the most compelling relationships demand hard work, patience, and a willingness to endure tensions and anxiety in creating mutually empowering bonds.
For this reason loving involves commitment. We are not automatic lovers of self, others, world, or God. Love does not just happen. We are not love machines, puppets on the strings of a deity called “love.” Love is a choice–not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversion to humanity–a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. Love is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh.
This passage reminded me of Sam:
People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.
But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it … and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied … and it is all one.
From Perseus in the Wind by Freya Stark:
If loveliness is so engaged, as I believe, in the skein of our universe, it is sad that it should be little cared for in our schools. The whole of the industrial world proclaims its unimportance, and millions and millions of people spend their lives looking almost exclusively at ugly things. This surely will pass. What is more insidiously dangerous at the moment is a timid heresy which believes that the ignorant can be trained to beauty by the second-rate. The fallacy of our age maintains it better to do things badly than not at all. As a matter of fact there is very little harm in doing nothing: to do things badly is an active getting in the way of the few necessary people who might do good. To adapt beauty to “the man in the street” is to use the bed of Procrustes with a vengeance and to mutilate divinity: it is better to remember that the man in the street himself was made in the likeness of God. To him beauty is simple and easy, a natural hunger which all can assimilate in elementary or complicated form, provided they are not cluttered up with mediocrity already. Mediocrity will never lead to beauty: the two roads are not even parallel; they are divergent.
Religion and the jargon of the helping/hindering professions are comprised largely of literalized metaphors. That is why they are the perfect tools for legitimizing and illegitimizing ideas, behaviors, and persons.
Ordinary language combines all of these qualities. It can be used literally and precisely, to convey meaning; metaphorically or poetically, to move people; or ‘religiously,’ to blind and numb people, making them feel elevated or debased.
“In the natural sciences, language (mathematics) is a useful tool: like the microscope or telescope, it enables us to see what is otherwise invisible. In the social sciences, language (literalized metaphor) is an impediment: like a distorting mirror, it prevents us from seeing the obvious.
That is why in the natural sciences, knowledge can be gained only with the mastery of their special languages; whereas in human affairs, knowledge can be gained only by rejecting the pretentious jargons of the social sciences.
Thomas Szasz, The Untamed Tongue: A Dissenting Dictionary
I’d never heard of Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (or of the author, at all) until I was browsing through some of the quotations at Gaia1 a while back. This bit is too long for my quotations file, but I love it too much to just delete it.
“You’ll get over itâ€¦” It’s the clichÃ©s that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it’ is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it’s The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to? I’ve thought a lot about death recently, the finality of it, the argument ending in mid-air. One of us hadn’t finished, why did the other one go? And why without warning? Even death after long illness is without warning. The moment you had prepared for so carefully took you by storm. The troops broke through the window and snatched the body and the body is gone. The day before the Wednesday last, this time a year ago, you were here and now you’re not. Why not? Death reduces us to the baffled logic of a child. If yesterday why not today? And where are you? Fragile creatures of a small blue planet, surrounded by light years of silent space. Do the dead find peace beyond the rattle of the world? What peace is there for us whose best love cannot return them even for a day? I raise my head to the door and think I will see you in the frame. I know it is your voice in the corridor but when I run outside the corridor is empty. There is nothing I can do that will make any difference. The last word is yours. The fluttering in the stomach goes away and the dull waking pain. Sometimes I think of you and I feel giddy. Memory makes me lightheaded, drunk on champagne. All the things we did. And if anyone had said this was the price I would have agreed to pay it. That surprises me; that with the hurt and the mess comes a shaft of recognition. It was worth it. Love is worth it.
After reading about the book, I was surprised to find that it isn’t about the obvious sort of loss. The novel is described as an erotic homage to a lover’s body, but one of the intriguing aspect is that the author never gives the narrator a gender. I’m going to try to find it to give it a read.
1 Yes, I’m TechnoMom there, like most places.