I sometimes wonder if people, simple people, regular people thousands of years ago had the same sense of impending doom as we seem to have here and now. I know that sometimes disasters were foretold, and that people did a lot of things we find silly, even ridiculous nowadays, to ward them off — fasting, sacrificing their young, weird prayers and lamentations, curses, dolls.
The Bible is full of stories in which people did bad things and got terrible punishments – mass drownings, people being turned into salt pillars, loss of the ability to understand one another. But Final Reckonings, End Times, Armageddon were things that were relegated to an amorphous Future, not to the six o’clock news.
Now it seems like we are running through the Biblical plagues faster than a pothead with a bag of Cheetos: famine, drought, plague, brothers killing brothers, raping sisters, enslaving other humans, polluting the earth. Book burning alone is a big hint that this is not a path with ‘heart’. Book burning usually happens a bit further down the road to violently enforced dictatorship. Traditionally there is first the demonization of minority ethnic groups, the killing of the most helpless persons, the concentration of power into the hands of the few demented persons who are the least likely to be able to handle that, a mass, deliberate confusion resulting in an inability to tell the difference between a human being and a thing, or a bunch of things.
Book burning now, along with the educational admonition to NOT TEACH ANYONE ANYTHING outside of a narrow, enforced series of bullshit myths, seems like a jump ahead in the schedule of decrepit civilizations, of making human values seem freaky, of putting some people first so that others can be last instead of considering other people to be, like ourselves, equally valued members of a vast, sometimes foolish but ultimately worthwhile community.
Part of it, of course, is in the attention itself. If I spend nine-tenths of my waking hours plowing my fields, interacting with my friends, breaking bread with loved ones, my attention is not focused on a despot miles away whereas if I spend the same amount of time watching terrible things on the screen, any screen, my attention is fractured, anxious, sporadic. Attention, in that sense, is both the problem and the solution but only if I am the exact and only center of the Universe, which is also both problem and solution.
For better or worse, there is a real world, other people, plants and animals, lots of stuff that doesn’t have to do with how much news I watch. Just turning my head aside, as necessary and important as that is, won’t solve the problem. Making people afraid, especially of each other, won’t solve the problem.
So then, what will?
Using media as a teacher has produced mixed results, but one of the things that I do like best about best about disaster movies, for example, is that just at the a moment when all seems lost – the giant meteor is rapidly coming, the space ship has lost contact with whatever it’s supposed to not lose contact with, the mysterious disease is spreading faster than the Exxon Valdiz spill, all the Bad Guys have better weapons (and why is that?), the Earth is literally splitting into pieces beneath our feet and that alien who could have saved us in the first act now looks more like he wants lunch and it’s us – something happens, human wise, that fights for us and saves us.
Another thing I like is that that person who saves us has a helper, a coupla helpers, sometimes they are women, sometimes children, sometimes family, sometimes strangers but they are human and limited, as are we all, and yet, just when the gates for human existence are quickly closing BIG TIME, a person reaches out to another person and disaster, for that moment is averted.
The Earth, and we hapless ‘guardians’ of it are saved to put back together our fractured lives, to sow and reap again, to repair our homes or make new ones for each other, with each other and for a future, that, however uncertain, continues to exist..