And all the monkeys aren’t in the zoo
Every day you meet quite a few
So you see, it’s all up to you…
You could be better than you are
You could be swingin’ on a star
Via our blogfriend Morgan, musing on the Year of Review:
This paradigm shift of figuring out you need to re-evaluate the solution, that you’ve been chasing after the wrong one, is never a comfortable one. It is the scraping of the blade of theory getting shaped and sharpened against the stone of practice. And 2015 seems to have taken form as the year of the Great Sharpening.
The sharpening is not over. The blade is still dull. This year, after all, saw a man win the title of “Woman of the Year”. You can’t get much less-real than that, since men are not women. But on this I refer to a particularly inspiring sentence we heard from the audio book version of Glenn Beck’s The Christmas Sweater. Paraphrasing from my increasingly fallible memory, now loaded up beyond capacity with useless holiday details. The passage pointed out that the most challenging part of a journey is before the first step, wherein the traveler makes the decision that he is worthy of the journey.
I know nothing of Beck’s story, but for me, the important question isn’t whether we’re worthy of the journey. The simple answer is that we are not, and will never be – unless we take the journey. Therefore the question becomes, “Is the journey worth taking? Are we content to be always unworthy, or do we risk what little we have, do we invest the time and effort to be more?”
A lot of people don’t dare. They’re content to rub along. As long as enough other people are clearly on the move, these folks can sort of be carried by their surroundings, making small improvements here and there, and be quite decent folks. They take on the general tone of a society around them, in much the manner that tofu takes on the flavor of the surrounding spices and sauces and becomes sour or spice, sweet or savory. That’s not particularly awful, but you need a good dish to begin with, good flavors assembled by a skilled chef.
In a society such as our current one, however, there is an active, hostile cohort of people who resent the idea of betterment and, by extension, anything that reminds them that they’re fully-invested in going nowhere and doing nothing with themselves. Nearly every current strain of -ism and their strident acolytes is arrayed in open warfare against people wanting to be better selves.
I used to be quite confused about the methods often employed: the whole spectrum of nastiness, pettiness, and constant umbrage-taking; the grim thin pleasure of getting one’s own at all times, savoring every flinch and whimper of the victims. How could it possibly appeal to the average person? Here, be miserable like us! On top of that, they’re the ones accusing other people that their normalcy is really just hatred, their joys stultifying, and their happiness repression.
It’s impossible to miss that this is the direct opposite of reality. In society’s kitchen these would be people spiking the soup with paint thinner and using floor polish in the saute pan. Even if by some chance one could get unpoisoned food, one still couldn’t enjoy it because it would be intentionally left to wilt and spoil under the heat lamps, or else served raw. No kitchen would do this; why do they?
The sad truth is, they aren’t interested in making converts, really. One really doesn’t need too many people in such a movement. The true believers will self-select from the herd to carry on the work. The work itself is purely destructive – they just want to burn it down. After a certain point they don’t need that exhausting mask of pretense, the cover of “avante garde cookerie” or what-have-you. They want to put you off the idea of food entirely, and whether you starve yourself or let them poison you, you’re just as dead and they’re just as satisfied.
And if one should learn how to find and prepare actual meals, good ones, nourishing and refreshing? You’re the enemy, and be prepared to have them descend en masse, shrieking about imaginary health-code violations. That their own food is deadly makes no odds; did you know that guy didn’t wear gloves when he handed you the check?!?
The distinction between poison and nutrition, or the distinction between health and illness, have obvious and immediate differences. Moral differences take longer to tell, but as The Great Sharpening shows us, that time is reaching its fullness. Completely unremarkable statements have turned into cause for blackballing and social uproar. Real death and destruction are visited upon the innocent without a peep from the same fragile narcissists who will let slip the yappy dogs of flame war if their ego is crossed even mildly in a college course or on social media.
Even in the face of all this evidence I was stumped. “If that’s what you want, fine,” I used to think. “Leave me out of it. You do you and let other people live their way. You shout that in my face often enough, so follow your own advice.” Because it seemed to me – and still does – that unless the larger society is healthy, it can’t long endure such openly antisocial behavior from any subset. If it all went pear-shaped tomorrow, with no power grid, no supermarkets, no first responders, and no mass communications, then nobody would have leisure to obsess over the problematic othering of trans voices in the fishing industry.
A society that behaves this way can’t survive. What I had missed before, but now realize, is that it isn’t meant to. These poor deluded young’uns are cannon fodder in this conflict – their masters don’t mean for them to be the keystone to a new, better world, but as the kindling for the old. And when the pyre is built and ready to light, they intend to lay upon it themselves. For their rage against anyone trying to flee the torch is nothing next to their rage at themselves. Those who want to set out on this journey only reinforce that there is an escape available to them that they reject. They hate the reminder because it means that they need not perish so shabbily. They know, perhaps earlier than anyone else, that they are not fit to travel, but they despair and give up, and mock the very notion – but anyone who sets out robs them of the illusion that there is any place else worth going to. They dress up in high-sounding language and convoluted sophistry, but the plain truth is that they choose their fate; their desire for lots of fellow victims is no different than any other cult leader mixing up the fruit punch, to try to make grand and tragic what is nothing more than a garden-variety suicide.
Bing was right way back in 1944 when he sang the words I quoted at the outset. He sang to a generation sharpened by economic devastation sandwiched by two world wars, and yet the song is chipper, optimistic, and encouraging. We, who barely suffered any privation in our generation even while fighting two wars in the Gulf, can’t bear such advice and deride it as simple and foolish – yet we need it more than ever.
We will never be worthy of the journey, but we’d better set out anyway.