I’m going to go out on a limb here and say if you’re reading this, you have read at least one book that changed the way you looked at the world. In essence, it changed the world. There was some point, maybe halfway through, or at the end, or maybe even in the first paragraph, when you realized the place you were when you picked up the book was not the place you found yourself in as you laid it down.
Or maybe it was a film with subtitles seen on lazy Saturday afternoon. Or maybe it was one intoxicating night in a strange land hanging out drinking with a few people who had been strangers on a train a few hours before.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
One of those moments for me was as a young lad was coming across James Burke’s PBS series The Day The Universe Changed which was about, well, that moment when culturally, collectively, we had some of the moments when the world when, well, the universe changed.
And with all the focus these days on Congress, the White House, and the beltway-wall street complex being corrupt and inept, I think we do need to put some focus on the people. And right now, I would say, that the nation of United States, as fragmented as it is, need to have its universe change. Until it does, we can’t expect much more than more of the same. Keeping in mind what Ellen Glasgow said: All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.
Here is Burke in the first part of the series
In this segment Burke says:
You see what your knowledge “tells you” you’re seeing…how, what you think the universe is and how you react to that, in everything you do, depends on what you know. And when that knowledge changes, for you, the universe changes. And that is as true for whole of society as it is for the individual. We all are what we all know, today. What we knew yesterday was different, and so were we. So that is why this series is going to look at the past, at the way we were, because of what we knew that was different from today. And at how, through history, every time our view of the universe changed, and us with it, something was created that would help to make us the way we are in the modern world. With a distinctive way of thinking that makes us, “us.” And not some other bunch with a different view. Not some other bunch, thinking and acting differently. Us.
Now I would interject at this point that as he says “Us,” he points to himself. And in a sense it is apt. For what Burke talks about is the culture of Western Civilization, dominated by the white patriarchy. And one finds little criticism of the constructs of this society that have oppressed so many. But what he has to say about the dynamics of culture are no less true, nor the insights into the unfolding that is Western Civilization.
He goes on to say:
The end product of centuries of change that thinks it’s the best there is. Just like all the others do. Every group, nation, tribe, cult, ideology, each one certain of its version of the truth. Prepared, if necessary, to defend that version to-the-death to keep it alive. And we’re no different.
So, why are we so attached to being the way we are? So attached that all these people are prepared to die for it? Well if you asked 9 out of 10 people in the west they’d probably use the word: Freedom. Wouldn’t they. Freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of self expression. Or maybe “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That, and the fact we think our version of things is the best version there is.
But what if we let in the idea that we don’t have the best version? Normally, we have our defenses up to the point where we are able to defend off any attack. That is where the great piece of art works or the unexpected moments with friends are so powerful. They have the power to take us unawares, to do an end around those defenses. Like technological and scientific advances, they can in a flash having us living in a different world than the one we woke up in.
And if we we’re going to move forward as a country, we can only hope that a lot of people have some of these kind of moments. The promise of art is that maybe they won’t have a choice.