A Place for Cafe Refugees and Others Like Them

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.

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Comments on: "plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. maybe." (18)

  1. For me, I was so wrapped up in my own upbringing and living in my own little world, that voting Republican because my family voted Republican made sense. I think it was 9/11 and the government’s reaction to it that made me start to question my beliefs, my politics, and our government. And when I started to question these things, I found that I didn’t like the answers.

    That’s how I started towards my epiphany and became a Dem.

    Since that time I have had to look back over years’ worth of beliefs I held dear, question each one, and change my mind accordingly. Not an easy process. But it’s a process I am glad I underwent. It has brought me to the point where I no longer wish to look at my country as the perfect country that all other civilizations should try to emulate. Instead, it has brought me to the realization that there is no perfect country. The only perfection on earth lies in the parts of it that we have no control over: i.e., nature. Others might call it by some religious name, but I prefer calling it nature. The web that holds this universe together is the only perfect thing there is. That is the epiphany I’ve reached, but how on earth to go about living (pardon the pun) while adhering only to that truth, is the puzzle I am now finding myself trying to unravel next.

    • another trope said:

      the “bad news” is that we can never stop looking over years’ worth of belief. We can never let ourselves believe we have found the Truth (with a capital T). Of the delusions we have about our country, the thing I thought we had in this country, living in my isolation, was that as a nation we held this belief as an ideal. It was the rise of Farwell’s religious right that shattered that delusion.

      Rollo May in his book Courage to Create said courage is to have the conviction of one’s beliefs (enough to go to the firing squad) but to at the same time hold the doubt that one might be wrong. The difference is the difference between the fanatic and us.

    • Good luck with this Lis. And I mean that in a positive sense. We have all these things of cosmic proportion and in many ways don’t even know the questions let alone the answers. And when we tease out an answer to one question it poses a new question. As a species, we’re only at the threshold of piecing together the secrets of the universe. Right now is an exciting time. Individually we can’t all be pioneers but we get to observe the efforts of the pioneers like never before in the history of mankind. What a treat. And we get to read about it, if you so choose, as you unravel your puzzle. An equal treat. Didn’t know you were a pioneer did you?

  2. Survival of the Bestest

  3. We don’t have the ‘best’ idea. Never have. We make the inevitable mistakes. Either individually or collectively, we make mistakes.

    The single most common one, the one we make over and over is we always break our vow to ourselves and to one another of achieving equality. The reasons vary but it always comes down to where one person or group is not treated the same as all others. But as humans we are in fact equal in every way.

    And here is the key. We are equal but different. In our thought, in the way we look and the way we feel. We are different. Equal but not the same. We have yet to reconcile this most confusing of puzzles.

    It would be good if those persons who good fortune has smiled upon were to have an appreciation that their condition is almost totally serendipitous and not in any particular way their doing or bestows upon them any particular rights different from the next person. The thing is there are a zillion human interactions which occur, for each of us, and each one modifies the path of each individual. Being born of a wealthy family, ending up extremely rich because of an invention, or as a senator or president is to have hit a lottery of astronomical proportion.

    • another trope said:

      Very well said. In first with the Civil Rights movement then the women’s liberation movement, our society has been confronted with the collective delusion that all are equal in our society. We are still fighting these battles, with people like Rush leading the charge against things like reverse discrimination and femi-nazis.

      I do have to say that my job in the nonprofit world puts me in the room with the likes of bank executives who do see their volunteerism and donations to charities as a responsibility for one of those who was smiled on by good fortune in order to help those less smiled upon. Of course there is the weird dynamic of people who will fight tooth and nail over every penny in taxes, then write a check for $10,000 to nonprofits to help those which the government cannot help (because we sure as hell don’t want to be socialists).

      I would say that this idea of equality historically speaking is a rather new idea. And we are still working it out. As the mosque in New York shows.

      • And as equal pay for equal work still shows. And many other inequities that exist as well, to this very day.

      • You can see how this plays out when you look at the Koch brothers and then look at Bill and Melinda Gates. Both have been smiled upon and understand the implications and responsibilities of that smile very differently. We have a terrible reality to face with this. Both perspectives and what they produce have to exist. What we know of universal law requires that condition.

        The one (only?) way to keep this from happening is to explicitly limit power, finacial, social, political etc, from becoming unified in a way that permits either perspective to control the lives of individuals.

        You know you’re on the wrong track when individuals are deprived of choices. We are very much in that state at present. A great deal of what people need or want by way of services, products etc have the terms of those services and products dictated to them and there are a limited and shrinking number of providers of those.

        Centralization of power is typically expressed as offering efficiencies as a benefit. That can be true or it can be false. As it turns out it has been mostly false because the power has been allowed to become abusive in nature. As is the typical case with power. This refutes the argument of less regulation and also offers a proof of why the top 2% have been the only or principal beneficiaries of the centralization of power. There are indices of this all over the place. The holders of power, government and business, have made an explicit choice to ignore those indices.

        • another trope said:

          In Europe and to very much lesser degree in the US there is a movement to describe those in the less fortunate realm through the prism of “social exclusion” rather than the simple economic scale of income level. In other words, what kind of access to basic necessities of life from transportation, housing, education, food, social interaction, etc does the individual have?

          The goal of the community is to break down the barriers to full access for every citizen so that they are able to reach their potential. No one expects a person with Down Syndrome to become a CEO of a corporation, but they can live a full productive life and be a wonderful member of the community if the supports are there, where they can contribute back so that the whole is stronger for it.

          • We have to get persons of full function being productive if we ever hope to be able to subsidize those not so blessed. I’m sure you can envision what’s in store for those not of full function in a resource limited environment. We sort of have this already. The range of quality of care in rest homes for the elderly is crazy. It ranges from fantastic to truly horrible.

  4. Oh I just love James Burke and have watched all his stuff. The Day The Universe Changed, Connections, Connections II, Time and the the one on Climate Change.

    Great stuff.

  5. everything is so entrenched, it’s gonna take a miracle.

    or something terribly terribly bad happening.

  6. Well let me just say this. I can perform my current job at home and quite often do. Or in NYC or Detroit or in New Delhi or even Kuala Lumpur. And with the vastly different costs of living in various places being what it is and companies being able to pay 1/2 to 1/3 for the samy job, they will have it done there.

    So until there is not only social equality but also economic equality and where 1000 bucks is the same the world over, jobs will move of shore and things here will get much worse. And until people in mass start making lots of noise and saying enough and show the mean it, not much will change.

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