Archive for sociology

Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think – Scientific American

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2016 by jtoddring

The great divide between our beliefs, our ideals, and reality

Source: Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think – Scientific American

 

I don’t normally post anything on my blog other than my own original articles and essays, but sometimes a rare article or video is just too important to pass up, and needs to be highlighted. This is one of them.

And once you’ve finished that short, pithy piece, here are a few more I would urge everyone to read:

 

 

Davos’ Blind Eye: How the Rich Eat the Poor and the World

https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/the-davos-blind-eye-how-the-rich-eat-the-poor-and-the-world

 

“The pitchforks are coming . . . for us Plutocrats” – Nick Hanauer, Politico Magazine, 6/26/2014

 

Prospects For America: Sanders vs Civil War,
By J. Todd Ring, February 15, 2016

https://jtoddring.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/prospects-for-america-sanders-vs-civil-war/

 

Enlightened Democracy: Visions For A New Millennium – Volume One:

Introductory Essays in Political-Economy, Social Analysis and the State of the World

By J. Todd Ring

http://www.amazon.com/Enlightened-Democracy-Millennium-Introductory-Political-Economy/dp/1481074776/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455111715&sr=1-1&keywords=ring+enlightened+democracy

 

Lest We Forget: Reflections On Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, and the Current Corporate Assault on Freedom and Democracy Around the World

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2015 by jtoddring

The 21st century was the most violent and murderous period in human history to date. And with our current direction, the 21st century may well surpass it in violence and war. Have we forgotten the lessons of the past, or have we yet to learn them? Worse yet, not only has war not ended, but also, the threats to freedom have not ended, but only changed form, and grown stronger. Yet, the great majority of the people remain asleep, and live inside a bubble of illusion, or a dream.

I honour and respect those who fought to defend freedom against fascists and others who threatened it. But the irony is this. Not only have we continued the horrible tendency toward war, but we have also allowed fascism to arise again.

Although a great many still do not yet realize it, the corporate take-over of the economy, the financial system, the media, the political process and most governments of the world, and democracy itself, is nothing short of a fascist coup. It is the merger of business and the state: and that is corporatism, which as Mussolini himself said, is the proper term for fascism.

We are now faced with the duty to defend freedom once again. If we refuse this duty, this moral obligation, then our cowardliness and denial will result in the death of freedom, and the death of democracy, and a new and terrible era will begin.

The stakes could not be higher, nor the hour more late. What we do now, or what we refuse to do, will be decisive for the future of humanity.

What is needed, is a grassroots popular movement to reclaim democracy and freedom, and our human rights and civil liberties, all of which are being lost, and which are now under attack by a power-hungry business elite, and a political class which loyally serves them.

To be more direct, what we need is a second wave of democratic revolutions to sweep the planet, and to remove the power-mongers, the new tzars or pharaohs – the newly ensconced and presently ruling oligarchy of the global corporate elite – from power, and to restore power to the people.

The reality of our present situation is this. Either we will have a revolution, in which the people reclaim their power and reclaim their democracy and their freedom, and remove the presently reigning corporate elite from power; or we will see a new and more terrible dark age than the world has ever seen – and with it, not only a new form of fascism, and a new form of feudalism, with freedom and democracy destroyed and the great majority of the people reduced to serfs, or slaves, but also, a further acceleration of the rape and pillage mentality of this corporate-culture, with the result being a descent into the edge of extinction, and beyond, into self-annihilation. Surely these this latter trajectory, which we are now embarked upon, we cannot allow to come to pass in full fruition. Surely, the writing is on the wall, and we must stand now.

Lest we forget? The culture has already forgotten. Lest we remember, is more to the point. Unless we remember the dangers of any group of individuals becoming drunk with power or lost in an infantile grandiosity in which they seek to be rulers of the earth – as the presently ruling corporate elite have clearly become – then we shall be no more.

Amidst the parades and the honorariums, let us not forget our duty, not only to remember the past, but to respond to the present.

It is time to make a stand. Let the elders guide the young, or the young guide the elders, as the case may be, and whichever is needed, but let us stand now. We either stand now, and live in freedom, or we die slowly, and on our knees.

Stand.

J. Todd Ring,
November 11, 2015

No more war. Here is a musical playlist that I made for youtube on the subject.

For those who still have doubt as to the nature and urgency of the present situation, here is a short list of must-read works that will remove all doubt:

A Game As Old As Empire – John Perkins

When Corporations Rule the World – David C. Korten

The Corporation – Joel Bakan

The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein

The End of America – Naomi Wolf

Year 501: The Conquest Continues – Noam Chomsky

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies – Noam Chomsky

A Brief History of Progress – Ronald Wright

Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed – Jared Diamond

The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies – Richard Heinberg

When Technology Fails – Mathew Stein

World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy

Wisdom of the Elders – David Suzuki

Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

The Power Elite – C. Wright Mills

Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm

The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin

On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau

The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude – Etienne de la Boite

Enlightened Democracy: Visions For A New Millennium – J. Todd Ring

Will Ferrell does a mock music video of gangster rap – and it’s a scathingly hilarious critique of the genre

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by jtoddring

A musical commentary, followed by social and political analysis, followed by hilarious spoof rap videos, and more

This is scathingly funny. Will Ferrell does a mock music video of macho gangster rap.

Man, how I despise that music. As Rage Against the Machine said, “So-called rap’s a fraud.” Worse, most of it is disgustingly offensive, as well as hollow and noxious.

The majority of it is macho, sexist, hate-filled, poser pablum that screams insecure, status-seeking, pre-teen angst and a desire to be “big” – in all the wrong ways, and with nothing to say and nowhere to go but down.

Bob Marley would roll in his grave. Angry and misguided, emotionally disturbed twelve-year-olds with an attitude problem could be forgiven for liking this music, but that’s about all. Only new country and death metal can compete with such sleazy, aggressive, pretentious garbage for the “first into the sewer” rankings.

At least new country is simply vacant, vacuous and vapid, overly commercialized twaddle and wallpaper music, worthy only of playing in elevators, and for a maximum of fifteen seconds, but as unoffensive as it is bland and banal, like a harmless old shoe – death metal and gangster rap are psychologically disturbed and disturbing, and morally bankrupt.

Give me old-school R&B, jazz, blues, soul, reggae, classic rock or classic country, gospel, classical, funk, punk, scat, ska, swing, big band, folk, Latin, electronica, chant or even opera, but spare me that macho rap crap shite!

*

And for the more serious-minded, here is some social commentary to accompany the musical commentary.

Musical tastes aside, there is something to be said about the influence of music – and particularly, music that expresses and generates a violent, aggressive attitude – and how such messages are likely to affect human behaviour, with the result of increasing violence in society.

Violent crime has been declining for decades, but fear and hysteria are at record levels. The media has a great deal to do with this. But in any case, violence in society is still, of course, a very serious concern; and violence in the United States, in particular, is far above the level of other major nations, and needs to be addressed. And violent music, media and video games are likely to have far more to do with this than guns.

In the US there is great hew and cry about gun control, but the obvious facts, or what should be obvious facts, are either overlooked or simply ignored. The fact is that Switzerland and the US have the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, along with Yemen; but while the US has one of the highest rates of violent crime and murder, Switzerland, with similar levels of gun ownership, has one of the lowest rates of violent crime and murder. Clearly guns are not the cause of violence. Something in the culture of the United States is causing high levels of violence.

Getting rid of guns, even if that was possible, would not end the violence. The US government tried to ban and prohibit alcohol, but that did not stop the flow of alcohol – it simply caused organized crime explode, and caused violent crime to explode as a result.

The US government has tried for decades to eliminate drugs, with its infamous, “War On Drugs”. But that has not stopped the flow of drugs. All it has done is to repeat the patterns of prohibition, causing gang activity and organized crime to soar, and with it, the violence that comes in its wake.

A war on guns would be as utterly ineffective as the prohibition of alcohol or the war on drugs, in terms of stopping the flow of guns. And aside from that most critical point, guns are not the cause of the violence – a culture of violence is the cause of the violence.

Evidence links the decline in exposure to lead poisoning with the decline in violent crime in the United States, and this should give us a major clue: when people’s brains, bodies, hormonal systems and nervous systems are being disrupted and poisoned by toxic chemicals in our food, air, water and environment, serious psychological problems, from mild depression to violent, homicidal impulses, are one part of the result. So a war on pollution would be far more effective, more rational and more sane, from all the available evidence, than a war on guns.

More people are murdered with kitchen knives, blunt objects or bare hands than by guns – people will find ways to harm or to kill, whether or not guns are available. What must be addressed are the causes of violent impulses, not the manner or form of their expression. This should be obvious, but the obvious is routinely being missed at present.

What is causing violence in society, and high levels of violence in American society? Could soaring poverty and inequality, frustration, desperation, and a resulting and very understandable and predictable rage, be a large part of the answer? Of course it is.

“We are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity,
and it is about to explode.”

– Amnesty International

The problems are sociological, and cannot be fixed through technocratic means. The “law and order” ideology will not solve it. In fact, it is making things worse, as prison populations soar, repression and militarization of the culture becomes normalized, brutality becomes accepted as necessary, and the cycle of a culture of violence perpetuating itself, continues. The culture is severely out of balance, and it is causing a small minority of people to do desperate and terrible things. Repeating and intensifying the same failed methods and responses is a recipe for continued failure, and escalating social disaster.

But people are only now beginning to be willing to look at the underlying, deeper issues; and most are still focused on the mere surface of things, and are utterly distracted, beguiled and bewildered, propagandized and deeply indoctrinated. This has to change. Inequality must be addressed, or violence will rise beyond its already high levels. Band-aid solutions will not work, and will not do.

As Bob Marley said,

“Everyone is crying out for peace,
None are crying out for justice.
But there will be no peace,
‘Till there is equal rights, and justice.”

Senator Bernie Sanders and many others understand this. If we want peace, then we must sow justice and equality. And if we are to succeed in that effort, then we must make war on Wall Street; and peacefully, but boldly and firmly, transform the system which benefits the richest few, at the expense and tremendous suffering of the great majority; end the reign of the corporate oligarchy of the billionaire class, and restore and reclaim democracy, and return the power to the people.

And maybe while we are making war on poverty and inequality, we should also look at music, television, film and media which make it seem cool to be violently aggressive, narcissistic, egotistical and machismo.

I’m not saying censorship is the answer. Freedom of speech is essential to a free society. Censorship, like prohibition, is not only useless and ineffective, but also dangerous, and produces far more harm than good. But we do need to look at what kind of messages the media, and the music and film industries, are pushing out in mass production into the culture of modern society. And a great deal of it is simply toxic sludge.

We need to create a culture of peace, to replace the culture of violence which, to a large extent, exists now. Courage and strength are shown and measured by compassion: not selfish and narcissistic, puerile pretension, self-inflation, aggression, hate, and egotistical parading of infantile grandiosity – be it from Donald Trump or gangster rappers.

Who shows real strength, who deserves the greatest respect? Certainly not thugs or wanna-be thugs threatening to “cap your ass”, or baring their asses in some other adolescent show of macho bravado. It is people like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Rosa Parks and others, and musicians like Bob Marley, who show the courage of compassion and love, who deserve our greatest respect, and who show the greatest strength.

There is a time for ferocity, but if it does not come from compassion, and is not guided or channeled wisely, then it is hollow posturing at best, or worse, and far more common, a self-destructive flame that is blinding,  burns all it touches.

Music is powerful, as are films, TV, video games, the internet, and the media in general. We should think about what we subject our minds to, and our children’s minds as well.

And artists and media workers should think about what they are producing. Their role should be to inform, inspire, unite, uplift and empower; or if it is simply entertainment that is being produced, then it should at least not be mental poison. We would be infinitely better with silence, than with that.

But music is one thing – systemic injustice, violence, extreme and growing inequality, and clearly fascist tendencies among the presently ruling corporate elite, are quite another. And it is this second set of concerns that should trouble us. The music is more a symptom than a cause of the real problems we face, although it is sometimes a little of both. It may be of some concern, but the latter, second set of patterns, is simply disastrous and intolerable.

We can change the station, change the music. But far more importantly, we should be willing to change the system – because the system is broken, and it is corrupt, as everybody knows.

J. Todd Ring,
October 28, 2015

Warning: The following videos are not for little ears.

Will Ferrell: Step Brothers – Boats ‘N Hoes

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post/async/embed/dialog/?source=6&url=%2FWillFerrelll%2Fvideos%2Fvb.169242926568179%2F250702351755569%2F%3Ftype%3D3

And of course, Everyday Normal Crew – from the Live As Fuck Tour

And on a more serious note, here is some rap with a message – and a soul:

Wake Up – Rage Against the Machine: Lyrics

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rageagainstthemachine/wakeup.html

And the de-classified documents quoted in the song, Wake Up:

“Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to pin-point potential trouble-makers, and neutralize them” – National Security Archives

https://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/mlk-document-friday-through-counter-intelligence-it-should-be-possible-to-pinpoint-potential-trouble-makers-and-neutralize-them/

The Hollow Men – Poem and Commentary, for All Hallow’s Eve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by jtoddring

Want something spooky, even terrifying, for Halloween? Read this.

The Hollow Men: I think this truly epic poem (one place where the word is meaningfully used) should be read at least once a year, if not once a month, just to remind ourselves of what is actually going on. It speaks volumes, like few other pieces of writing have ever done, as to the nature of our modern society, and the challenges we face.

Life is what we make of it. But if we choose this path that T.S. Eliot so vividly describes, and which he like many others, have seen as the norm, that would surely be unwise, to say the least, and to make the greatest possible of understatements.

This poem is a masterpiece, like few others, and a great warning. The future is in our hands, as is our present. We should hope to not sleep through it. And if we do, tragedy will not be a strong enough word to describe it. But that is our choice, and the choice remains open.

JTR,
October 26, 2015

Here is the poem in full:

The Hollow Men

Mistah Kurtz-he dead
A penny for the Old Guy

I

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

II

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer-

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

IV

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

The Hollow Men, Read By Tom O’Bedlam

Marlon Brando Reads The Hollow Men

A sinking world, and sane responses to it

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2015 by jtoddring

My country is sinking like a rock (for reasons of corporate oligarchy, neoliberalism, corporate rights agreements, and an addiction to oil revenues and the politics of a resource extraction-based economy, and the thorough corporate domination of the political process), though the great majority of my fellow citizens do not realize it, lost in a stupor of denial as they are (I can think of twelve countries in the Western hemisphere which are either moving in a positive direction, or at least showing some fight – and Canada is not one of them); and so too is the greater part of the world descending, and rapidly so, into a morass of injustice and ecological suicide, to say nothing of concerns for freedom, human rights and democracy, (as well as a pervasive malady, and an epidemic, of economic fundamentalism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism being the primary, and reigning, quasi-religious orthodoxies, along with other forms of ideological and even “scientific” fundamentalism, which are widespread, and far more influential today than their mirror image, which is religious fundamentalism, and an even worse epidemic of illusions of powerlessness, as well as an epidemic of apathy, denial, conformity, and undue and excessive, and frequently mad obedience to power) with only a handful of countries as the exception. How am I not to be distressed, if not anguished, and even furious, or all of the above?

All of the greatest minds and greatest spirits have echoed the same thoughts about the modern world. As David Suzuki has recently said (paraphrasing from memory), “There has never been a better time for being scared and angry….. We should get mad as hell, and then fight like hell.”

Where is the fight in us? And why should we be ashamed of being distraught with a world that is on a collision course with both tyranny and collective ecological suicide, as well as being steeped in war, violence, rampant injustice, inequality, poverty and a culture of voyeurism, vicarious living, materialism, consumerism, and a pathological aversion to the real?

As the great sociologist Erich Fromm said (again, paraphrasing from memory), “Normal only exists in relation to a profoundly abnormal norm.” “The fact that there is neurosis [or psychological strain and distress] is a good sign. It is a sign of a healthy individual, an individual that is still struggling to be fully alive, and by necessity, is struggling against a society that wishes to turn him or her into an atomaton.”

As the saying goes, “If you can keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs – you’re not paying attention.”

Calm is good. Heart-break for the state of the world is natural. And action is vitally needed – and urgently so.

Let’s see more action, and the heart-break will fade into a memory of times past, and lessons learned.

JTR,
October 7, 2015

Essential reading:

(A few among many other great books that could be included in such a list)

A Brief History of Progress – Ronald Wright

The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies – Richard Heinberg

When Technology Fails – Matt Stein

Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein

A Game As Old As Empire – John Perkins

The End of America – Naomi Wolf

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies – Noam Chomsky

Year 501: The Conquest Continues – Noam Chomsky

Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm

The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin

The Chalice and the Blade – Rianne Eisler

World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy

Ancient Futures – Helena Norberg-Hodge

Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

Roads To Freedom – Bertrand Russell

Wisdom of the Elders – David Suzuki

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau

The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude – Etienne de la Boite

Mutual Aid – Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin Was No Crackpot – Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, June, 1997

The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell

A few thoughts on empathy in human beings, and other living creatures

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by jtoddring

Empathy is natural in human beings, as Jeremy Rifkin has pointed out – and with strong backing by recent scientific findings. Some human beings have more and some less; and some are sociopaths – roughly 1% (and usually, the ones who gravitate to positions of wealth and power, unsurprisingly) – who have a near total absence of natural empathy, or, more accurately, a learned callousness, which is always bred from fear. Most people are somewhere in the middle between saintly and sociopathic, and leaning strongly toward a basic good-heartedness, and, as Chomsky put it, having “basically decent impulses.” And most animals are also highly empathic by nature.

That doesn’t mean that carnivores won’t eat you for dinner if they’re hungry – if you’re not considered part of their kin – but they are naturally empathic. And as Kropotkin pointed out – the great Russian scientist who was at least the peer and equal of Darwin, and probably a more important evolutionary biologist – mutual aid and peaceful coexistence are more the norm in nature than are competition and aggression.

(Kropotkin’s great work, Mutual Aid, should, by the way, be read by everyone over the age of twelve, along with Bookchin’s, The Ecology of Freedom, in order to correct a pathological and highly disastrous, and wide-spread misunderstanding, of nature, human nature, and history. This point cannot be stressed enough.)

In any case, most animals clearly have empathy, and we can learn a great deal from them, and draw out our own natural empathy to further degrees by that experience of animal companionship.

Misanthropy is a disease of the mind, although it is widespread now, and, unfortunately, rising. Speciesism and anthropocentrism represent the opposite extreme, and are equally delusional. We should respect ourselves, and we should respect other animals and living creatures as well. We are all kin in the end.

To have empathy is to be truly alive, and to truly live. We should cherish this natural human trait, and nourish it in ourselves and others. To have empathy does not mean that we are weak – in fact, it is our greatest strength. Alone and isolated, we have limited powers – and alone in nature, few would survive at all – but joined together in solidarity and community, we are extraordinarily powerful, and there is little that we cannot do. And animals can help us to see and value that trait of natural empathy all the more, if we allow it.

As Einstein said, “widening the circle of compassion,” along with the search for truth, is, or should be, the central human project. This is what it means to live a meaningful life.

JTR,

October 2, 2015

Reflections on Chartres Cathedral, the death of civilization and the deification of the banal

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2014 by jtoddring

 

Thinking of Chartres Cathedral, I ask myself, what, if anything, have we built in the past eight centuries, that compares to this? The iPad, computers, cell phones, the internet? Are you kidding me? You must be joking. We have more ways to amuse ourselves, yes, but when has our capacity for entertainment, amusement and distraction ever been a sensible or even a sane measure of a society? And what good is an ocean of information if we have no context for it, no perspective on it, and no wisdom with which to make sense of it? It is lost on us. It may as well be the most indecipherable of hieroglyphs to us. Such an ocean of information is of no value to the deaf and the blind. It is all white noise, or dark noise, more commonly. And, to paraphrase Thoreau – and his remarks are as relevant and as piercing to our illusions today as they were one hundred and fifty years ago – what good is it that we can talk with someone on the other side of the planet if we have nothing of significance to say to one another? We are highly connected, so to speak, in digital, electronic ways, but highly alienated and divided in almost every way that matters, so even our presumed connectedness is more of a fiction than a reality.

We are hyper-connected and increasingly alienated. We are plugged in a tuned out. We are awash in an information overload – and are in fact drowning in it – yet we have lost all our wisdom, and even our common sense. We can speak to one another across the globe, in an instant, yet have nothing worth while to say, and neither any ears with which to hear. We have copious quantities of toys, and reams and volumes of data, but we have lost sight of what is most valuable, and what is most precious, and cannot see the forest for the trees. We are richer than any generation or civilization which has ever come before, yet we live as beggars, and blind beggars at that, obsessed and consumed with our mountains of dust.

We have the perspective of a gnat, and yet, we foolishly believe ourselves to be the culmination and pinnacle of human history and all evolution: as if nature delighted to reach a point where the trivial would be deified, and turned into yet another golden calf – a golden calf made of dust — as we worship at the feet of banality, and serve the idiocy of our time as smiling choir boys and giddy, unthinking, loyal servants.

No, we are not the culmination of natural evolution or of history. There is more day yet to dawn, to say the least. And if this wake up call be disturbing to some, we should remember that is is less disturbing to be awakened before the house burns down, than after. Be glad for the alarm bell. It is far better than the alternative.

We have electric light and indoor plumbing, yes, but all that says is that we can read more easily – if anyone still cared to do such an out-dated and archaic thing, which, it seems, fewer and fewer people are willing or wanting to do – and we can wipe our asses more easily and with a greater convenience. Hardly what we would call a measure of progress, by any sane or reasonable standard, I would suggest.

And that aside, are our lives really the richer and more noble because our powder rooms are more advanced in their puffery and comforts, or because we have a thousand and one electronic gadgets, with which to forget about the classics, the great works of literature, the greatest thoughts of the greatest minds and souls of all time – which require no such baubles or technological trinkets and toys, of course; that we can forget about the study of philosophy, the humanities or spirituality, the life of the larger community and the polis, the arts, or the deeper questions and realms of life and human existence? Were we not distracted enough, two thousand years ago? Few had ears to hear then. Fewer still now, or so it seems. Distraction is not progress – it is just distraction.

Yes, our personal hygiene is advanced in levels of convenience that would make our ancestors green with envy, should they ever place such a high stake on such minor concerns, or elevate them to such absurd heights; and moreover, our ability to distract ourselves from what is most important has soared, and absolutely skyrocketed. Some progress, that is, I would say. I stand in awe at the stunning sophistication and grandeur of the modern world. Let us bow down before the sublime majesty of it all.

When we measure a society or our path through history with a sense of perspective and depth, all that ultimately matters is whether we have learned to live with a greater wisdom or a greater love, or ideally, an increase in both; and from what I have seen, there is no reason to believe that we have made any great strides in either, since the Medieval era, and well before. We are lost in trivia and distractions, superfluities and superficialities, and the grand and glorious, all-pervasive worship of the mundane and the banal. Our society is obsessed with the mere surface of things: an appreciation of our depths has all but completely vanished from sight; and wisdom is a word we no longer even recognize, while the love of our fellow human beings is increasingly lost in a sea of alienation, narcissism, paranoia and fear.

This is progress? If so, you can keep it. It does not appeal to me. It is a bog, and we are lost, sunk to our knees, if not our necks, in quicksand, and sinking fast. And what or who do we reach out to in our desperate anxiety and bewilderment? Facebook and “social media?” Cell phone video games? Dial-up psychics or dial-up porn? Or Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Springer and “reality tv,” media presstitutes and talking heads on network TV, who are almost without exception either completely corrupt or completely inane.

(I like Oprah, by the way – don’t get me wrong. She seems to have a good soul and a good heart. But I don’t think she is necessarily qualified to tell us how and where our civilization went off the rails, or what we must do to get it back on track. And the rest of the mire, which the people routinely turn to for guidance, is not remotely as sensible as Oprah.)

We know not even where to turn to get ourselves out of this quicksand into which we have blindly stumbled. We are in a bad place, to say it mildly, and the ship of our “civilization” is sinking. All is not lost, but all is most certainly in danger. And it would be both foolish and irresponsible, as well as cowardly and unconscionable, to speak about the realities we are now facing, in less than fully frank and honest terms.

Ancient societies brought us Socrates, Plato, Jesus, the Buddha, Shankara and Lao Tzu, agriculture, the calendar, mathematics and written language, tools and aqueducts, sanitation, beautiful architecture, art and literature, the idea of democracy and freedom, great cities and hanging gardens, as well as wisdom. The medieval world brought us Da Vinci, Michelangelo, the Renaissance, flourishing democratic city-states, and the glory of the Alhambra, Mont St. Michel, Chartres Cathedral and the Magna Charta. Modern society has brought us prozac, porn, iPads and “social networking,” Donald Trump, Exxon, Monsanto, Walmart and Goldman Sachs – along with alienation, voyeurism, vicarious living, the cult of celebrity worship and reality TV. As E.F. Schumacher said, “We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam shovel, and are impressed by our yardage.” We have arguably regressed more than we have advanced, or have regressed at least as much as we have advanced. Our smugness is misplaced – and more to the point, it is simply dangerous.

We could speak of the glories and the triumphs of modern industrial civilization, and there are, and have been many, and there is a time and a place for such mutual congratulations – but that is not what we need most right now. What we need is a wake-up call. We have hit the snooze button too many times. Our world is burning, and the people remain asleep to the peril. We need a bucket of icy water over the head, or a stiff slap in the face, to bring us to our senses. Whatever it takes, humanity must be roused from what has become, by now, extremely perilous slumber. There is no time remaining for the mincing of words, or for pleasant euphemisms and niceties. Frankness is now a matter of survival.

*

Our progress has spotty and highly questionable at best, to say the least – not to mention the fact that we have not yet found the wisdom or the common sense, to refrain from systematically destroying ourselves and the planet on which we live. In such a context, reflections on the significance of Chartres, may be of some small help. Maybe it can bring some much needed perspective: it is certain that we are in a dread dearth and poverty of that most precious commodity, even while we are up to the gills in consumer goods and trinkets and other assorted trivia and trash – and so much so, that it covers over our eyes and obstructs our sight, so that we cannot even see what is before our very nose.

Joseph Campbell, one of history’s greatest scholars of mythology, world religions and human culture, speaks of his experience of Chartres:

“I’m back in the Middle Ages. I’m back in the world that I was brought up in as a child, the Roman Catholic spiritual-image world, and it is magnificent … That cathedral talks to me about the spiritual information of the world. It’s a place for meditation, just walking around, just sitting, just looking at those beautiful things.”

Orson Wells speaks of Chartres:

“Now this has been standing here for centuries. The premier work of man perhaps in the whole western world, and it’s without a signature: Chartres. A celebration to God’s glory and to the dignity of man. All that’s left, most artists seem to feel these days, is man. Naked, poor, forked, radish. There aren’t any celebrations. Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable. You know, it might be just this one anonymous glory of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose when all our cities are dust, to stand intact, to mark where we have been, to testify to what we had it in us, to accomplish.”

*

When this present civilization is no more, when it has been buried under the rubble and ashes of its own short-sighted vanity, hubris and illusions, when our cities are abandoned and fall to dust and ruin, certain works of literature, certain pieces of music, art and architecture, certain memories and stories and timeless truths, will be what we hold dear – the rest, will be forgotten, and will disappear like a puff of smoke on the wind, and will vanish like a passing dream.

(And yes, that means your X-Box, your PlayStation, your smart phone, your American Express card and your MTV as well, of course – and all of the corporate dinosaurs and juggernauts and behemoths who provide these trifles and feed upon our addiction to them, as they feed upon us.)

It would seem to make sense for us to re-evaluate our habits, our assumptions and our priorities now, before nature forces us to do so – as she soon will, we can be assured. Making changes freely and in relative peace, is always preferable to making changes in haste and under duress, to put it in the mildest and most understated terms possible. We need to make changes now. It is in our interest not to delay.

Let those who have ears hear.

(Ronald Wright’s, A Brief History of Progress, Jared Diamond’s, Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed, and Mathew Stein’s, When Technology Fails, should be required reading for every thoughtful person over the age of twelve – along with Shelly’s Ozymandias, Yeats’, The Second Coming, and T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men. Let those who have ears hear.)

Civilizations have fallen and collapsed many times before: the Egyptian, the Babylonian, the Roman and the Mayan, to name but a few. We are not immune to such a fate, and we are desperately racing ahead with all haste, and are on track and on schedule, for just such a fall. If our civilization does collapse, it will be because we have allowed ourselves to create an ecological cataclysm of our own making; because we stubbornly refused to question our unquestionable, long-standing assumptions and cherished beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence; because we refused to adapt or to make the changes necessary to survive – and above all, it will be because the people did not embrace their power soon enough to throw the money changers to the street, and to reclaim their future. We cannot let this happen. The people must stand now.

We do not have to go out with either a bang or a whimper. The future is ours to create. Stand now.

There are times for shouting from the rooftops. There are times for sounding the trumpets or sounding the alarm. And there are times for a quiet determination. Choose your mood, choose your tone, choose your approach, but whatever you do, choose to act, and act now. The hour is late, and there is no more time for delay, or for floundering in hesitation. Act now, and stand.

The world, as with our lives, is what we make of it. We can live in paradise, or the nearest thing to it – at the least, we can live in a just, free and peaceful world, a beautiful world reigned by ecological sanity and love of one’s neighbour. Or we can live in a hell of our own making, and race feverishly towards our own self-annihilation and early demise, and into a dark age which has no exit, save for the tomb. The choice is entirely in our hands, and there is no use in our whimpering about our wish that someone would come along and fix things for us, and make everything nice. It is our future to create, or to destroy. The power is in our hands.

It is our choice what we make of our world and our future. Let us choose wisely, and choose now. Act now, and stand. It is within our power to heal this troubled world, and to restore a bright future for all human beings, and all living creatures on this Earth. It is within our power to create the world anew.

The hour of our choosing is here. The fork in the road has arrived. We must have bold action now, or human beings will simply perish from the Earth.

Stand now. We need you now. Not in fifty years, or ten years, or five, but now. Stand, and let us heal this troubled, beautiful world which is our home.

Stand now. It is time.

J. Todd Ring,
March 26, 2014