Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Teaching lessons revisited

"The English did to us what we did to the Indians, and the Americans did to the English what the English did to us. I demanded revenge for everyone. I saw cities burning, I saw movies falling into blackness. I saw the maize on fire. I saw the Jesuits punished. I saw the trees taking back the long-house roofs. I saw the shy deer murdering to get their dresses back. I saw the Indians punished. I saw chaos eat the gold roof of Parliament. I saw water dissolve the hoofs of drinking animals. I saw the bonfires covered with urine, and the gas stations swallowed up entire, highway after highway falling into the wild swamps."

--Cohen, Leonard, 1966. Beautiful Losers. Pg. 187

I did to my friend what my enemy did to me, and her best friend did it to her. We all wanted revenge, none of us deserved retribution, but we sought it because we were angry. We were angry because we were insecure, selfish, full of pride and envy. We were full of pride and envy because we were immature and didn't know any better, hadn't been taught any better. We weren't taught any better because the knowledge was lost in translation; our parents didn't listen, or had forgotten, or their parents didn't know.

We pass on the history we learn, the history we memorize, remember, care about. We ignore the rest. We pretend it doesn't pertain to us because culturally or religiously it cannot apply to our system of beliefs. We pretend it doesn't affect us because we weren't directly affected by the missing bits. We pretend we are wiser for forgetting or ignoring what we didn't care about. We lie, shuffling our feet, and try to excuse our ignorance as simply incomplete education, because we "haven't gotten around to learning that yet" or "didn't have very good teachers."

Poor us. Poor you; poor me. Full of excuses and bloated on ignorance, forgetful and feigning amnesia, we blunder through daily life, making up stories as to why we parent the way we do, why we keep the prejudices we have, why we like or dislike an ideology, a political platform, a geographical region. Do we even tell ourselves -- in our deepest darkest nights -- what our rawest truths are, or do we cling to our illusions like Linus to his blanket?

Monday, May 17, 2010

European mirrors

I just finished writing a research paper about the unification of Eastern and Western European countries since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I will not bore you with the 10 pages of quotes from 7 authoritative sources, but I will share some of my own observations by extrapolation.

For starters, the same obstacles that face the EU since its current configuration beginning in 1992 are the same obstacles that have faced all of us -- persons and countries alike -- since the beginning of time: money and power. In the case of the Eastern European countries, I mean the financial instability of their new post-soviet independence, and the political power that those fledgling countries strove to build out of the ashes of their former U.S.S.R.-military-backed selves.

In short, one of the largest problems was that the dream of having the democratic advantages of the Western European countries was far less complicated than transforming that dream into reality.

The Western European countries, for their part, were a bit skeptical to quickly admit the Eastern ones into the EU, and take responsibility for the financial ramifications of the fledgling nations. Can you blame them? Think about the current debate over Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state, if you need a current reference.

But back to Europe. Ideally, the fall of the Berlin Wall represented hope for all of Europe to be united as one continent, one smorgasbord of peoples, one allied group of nations. Realistically, there were not only financial obstacles to overcome with the Eastern countries disparity troubles, but also political corruption in the new countries, where emergent governments were still rising in their own yeast. Trust had to be built -- trust in one's own country, trust in neighboring countries, trust in the EU... trust everywhere! Trade had to be established, commerce had to begin and then begin making a profit. No longer was the statist government going to do it all for you, so there were even some bootstraps that had to be pulled up.

Nostalgia set in. "Oh, for the good ole days when the government just told us what to do and we did it." Now it's "work work work, and there's no guarantee at the end of the day."

Ah, capitalism, how comfortable you are to me. Risk and reward, ventures gained, ventures lost; opportunity abounds regardless. But not everyone thinks as I do, which is fortunate, because then the choir would be singing and I'd just sit down from my pulpit bored with the sound of my own voice.

So these fledgling countries finally got the chance to graze in that greener pasture of the Western European countries that they had so longed to graze in and found out that it takes work to move from one patch of grass to the next. They floundered, they scraped by, they fought with themselves, they argued with the EU, they whined, they picked themselves up, they cried blood and shed their own skin and they redefined themselves in spite of, if not because of themselves. Hoorah! Possibility can begin to become probability and even fact. History evolves before our very eyes, and fiercely we charge into the future.

So what? So what! You tell me. There is a mirror before you. Do you dare look at it?

Monday, May 03, 2010


Comments I've been privvy to recently: "the world would be a much better place if everyone was color blind," "it breaks my heart seeing all the innocent animals that are washing up dead or covered in oil along the gulf coast" (referring to the recent oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico), and "[she] has a low tolerance for scripted puns and allegedly witty repartee from news anchors." I'd like to comment on that last one only because I sympathize, and could have quite a bit of fun with that one, but it will have to wait.

Now, I've opined extensively on racial arguments, including an anthropological stance that all humans evolved from Africa and are all one race. And it is heart breaking to see man err so gravely that innocent duckies suffer. Forget the fact that 5,000 barrels of crude oil are pouring into the gulf because of complications in sealing off a broken pipeline, forget the economic implications of not only the loss of the crude, the loss of the rig, but also the side effect to the Obama administration and their approach to future drilling. For now, let's just forget that anything has any importance beyond how we feel about the devastation to the innocent wildlife.

Would we feel any better if it were man-eating tigers and killer grisly bears covered in oil? Would we sleep better at night if the destruction eradicated any of the millions of unwanted nutria rats in Louisiana?

I don't think so. I think it's nothing more than pseudo-political dribble meant to make people look far more compassionate than they are at their hearts. Honestly, how many of us want to load up our cars, drive to the coast, forgo our jobs, our families, our mortgage payments, and go volunteer all our efforts to bathe and save every single oil-soaked animal we can find? That's right, virtually none of us want to do that. Some of us soothe our wounded hearts by donating money to organizations that help out. Others bake cookies, let the kids sell them for 50 cents a piece, and mail the money to Red Cross. Some of us simply go about our lives while saying things like "poor innocent creatures... they didn't do anything to anybody."

I feel the same way about the race card. "It would be better if the world were color blind." Really? So if we just couldn't see the changes in pigmentation of the skin, then we'd all get along? Would monochromatic greyscale actually accomplish that? No, it wouldn't. The eye is too highly sensitive to see subtle changes in skin tone and shade for it to be that simple. And really, color blindness, per se, is not the problem. The problem is that once again, people need something to unite and divide them by. How do you know that you have friends if you have no enemies?, one might philosophize. We are naturally divided by family, by neighborhood, by city, state, country. We are divided by beliefs, cultural norms, by religious practices, celebrations, festivals, by burial traditions, wedding traditions. We are divided by child-rearing approaches, by the side of the street we drive on, and by the colors in our flags. We are divided by damned near everything you can mention, and we are united only by sharing interests in some of the aforementioned divisors.

It has nothing to do with color of the skin. It has to do with culture.

If we sit around the camp fire singing Kumbahyah and other such songs, then all we did was breathe carbon dioxide into the trees and pat ourselves on the back for giving a damn about something. Well, at least there's no accountability in feeling bad for innocent animals and wanting a colorblind world. There's only accountability in doing something about it.