Tuesday, February 01, 2011


January has been a month of false starts and stops. Since our return from the Christmas and New Year holiday, there has been a major snow or ice event every week that has led to days off—sometimes more than one day in a row. The first storm had 7 inches of snow by me (everyone else had 26-30 inches). Then it was another 6 inches. Then a foot. Then 4 inches. Then another foot. I think we have forgotten what winter is like. And I know now why I want to forget, and why Northeast winters drove my sister’s family to relocate to the California desert.

Such events are like driving in New York City—every ten feet or so there is a red light. And every light is red. Everything is so close, and yet so far. I remind myself that we are fortunate here—our towns are prepared for such events, and a major snowstorm could drop 18 inches overnight—and I’ll be driving on clear roads by noon. Still, it disrupts appointments, work schedules, social visits. Eventually you just give up, and vow to wait until Spring for anything important.

Whether the snow is to blame, or something else, this is a very disconnected time. I walk around my house feeling like I’m haunting it. Even the cat, who is usually super-affectionate, has let me know that he’s tired of my being at home. It’s clear that I’m interrupting a long nap.

I have a lot of time at home to see what’s going on in the world (one of the ironies of modern life). I look at Tunisia, then Egypt. It restores my faith to see revolutions that are not led by crazy people. A friend of mine speculated as to whether or not this represents a shift away from Islamic extremism in the Middle East. Yes, the uprisings are not about religion, but there have been big pushes for democracy, and not towards theocracy. I think all things that go on in the world touch each other, and as each event occurs, you wonder where the wildly oscillating pendulum will stop. You hope it is in a good place.

Two weekends ago, I visited with my friends Jeanette and Dan, and our varied conversation got around to events in the United States. Dan pointed out that liberals have always failed in this country because they believe they can win by presenting facts. They forget that the people they are opposing are driven by a narrative—what I would call a myth. We are all driven by narratives, but this is a special narrative, a set of assumptions about how things are supposed to be in this country, and why they are that way. It’s a mythology made up of the founding fathers, the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the didactic tales of dime novels. And, like most mythologies, it contains few ( if any) actual facts. This is also why scientists fail to convince Biblical literalists that evolution is not just “a theory”. Those who present facts are seen as elitist, intellectual snobs—hence, the deriding of education as meaningful.

This is mind-boggling to most folks, but the only way to win is to take the narrative seriously, even if it makes no sense. Dan mentioned FDR—he was able to sell a public with similar views on many aspects of his “socialist” New Deal by showing how his goals were not different from theirs—it was a question of semiotics, different meanings and words for the same thing.

And so it comes back to language. Babel. Lots of people talking, many cannot understand each other, even though linguistically they are speaking the same language. At the risk of oversimplifying, I would suggest it is the language of the “old” versus the language of the “young”. The demographics are not that strict, but one is certainly an old world view, and it is mostly embraced by the older people in our society. However, it is clear that younger generations have much different values. As the older generations pass on, the younger ones will put forward their new values. Let’s just hope we survive the rash of climate-change denial that is decidedly part of the “old” view.

We may have to wait until Spring to do anything important.

No comments: