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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Big Picture

An odd fact which often pops into my head is that Ralph Waldo Emerson, before writing his celebrated and still-quoted batch of essays (which Nietzsche loved, but still sits on my shelves unread), sat down and drew up a list of all the topics he was about to discuss.
   I doubt anyone could do anything like that today. Or could they? In the eight generations since Ralph's day, the world has speeded up, peopled up, teched up, grown entire branches of communication-media, belched up incomprehensible amounts of new and old knowledge (as universal education and science ramped up), while technology freed most of us from grunt-labor so we could poke our noses inquisitively into every corner of existence), while simultaneously our overarching "belief-systems" (as sociology glibly calls them) have sputtered, sparked and smoked dramatically in response. What does today's burgeoning band of intellectuals, sitting down to their computer keyboards, have to say about all THAT? Anyone here with a neat list of topics they wish to share?
   Speaking as one who is as overstuffed as the next egghead, how about a loud, dismayed and overwhelmed, "Where will it all end?" No one who is paying attention, I trust, is surprised by doomsday cults, or fails to chuckle ruefully at them (assuming they have a functioning brain), but really, isn't it just a question of when, where and how? Or will we humans just keep steadily multiplying and producing and consuming. and occasionally admitting (resignedly) that, well, crap happens, until the next generation of producer-consumers comes surging along, world without end, amen?
   Nope, I fail to see any GOOD scenarios, although admittedly we seem to be muddling along adequately, for the moment, Even making progress in some areas, like disease-control and media-coverage of political butcheries. Still, I'll bet I share the anxiety of just about everybody, especially thinking folks, in succumbing to occasional worried speculation about a societal collapse of some kind, where not all our wisdom nor all our piety will be sufficient to halt the tumble.
   Just for posterity to laugh at, my money is on a combined war/disease/crop failure trifecta of calamities. Any one of these we could stagger through, but three combined might well send us back to coolie labor and what a straight-faced pedant would call "local government." Add a Hollywood-sized asteroid to the mix and the end-result might be what some alarmists call "the Stone Age" (but isn't it odd that they never specify Paleolithic or Neolithic?)
   Mind you, mind you... if such an Armageddon did transpire, I suppose I would be too busy scrabbling to learn hunter-gathering, and beating away competitors with a club, to check whether my dead-accurate prophecy improved my Klout rating, before my carefully-tended laptop-battery died.
   And so I brush aside any larger unease, assuming that civlization will keep on trucking, or huffing, or chuffing, or whatever quasi-metaphor best describes the motion of the Great Techno Structure as it lurches along. Today there is so much food that vast human resources must be diverted to fight obesity, tomorrow there will be algorithms and apps available to select the online dating service that is best suited to a person of your particular neuroses.
   But where to apply my own somewhat obsolete and humanist talents? What does an aging but still spry western secularist, soaked in Mencken and Shakespeare, pop music and journalism, sulfur dioxide and materialism, what should a civilizational byproduct like myself do in this vast bustling beehive? Reiterate the Golden Rule? Join Bahai? Vote NDP?
   By training (and now near-reflex) I am a writer, but considering the absolute
giga-torrent of writing that gushes into our world, I frequently wonder why. Maybe it is just sheer orneriness that keeps me going. And maybe this too is why I am a critic, as, flummoxed and irritated, I automatically lash back at the civilizational juggernaut that jostles me.
   Hey, it's a theory. And last I checked, theory-stocks are up across the market.