Recently I have read some observations about how the trajectory of American history is "progressive" and because of that, any who are worried about the current space of conservative policies and ideological threats from the "right" can relax, taking a longer view.
Also recently, I have learned that, although the U.S. Supreme Court has "ended" life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders, Florida, for one state, has found a "legal" way around the ban by imposing sentences on fourteen and fifteen year-old young men of seventy, eighty, or even ninety years without parole, effectively imposing a "life sentence" without parole, without contravening the Supreme Court's decision.
It was president Clinton who was and will likely be for history, condemned for his parsing of the word "yes" in his unlikely and unsustainable defence in the Monica Lewinsky assignation.
And while academic historians, thought leaders and even ordinary people take positions on all questions that range from the uber-conservative to the uber-progressive, and while we (the collective world community "we") are learning much about many features of the human being, and also many insights into the world around us including its physics, its sociology, its chemistry, its biochemistry, its technology, its geology, its astrophysics, its connectivity on both a psychic and a technological level, our own collective capacity for personal and community growth, (however that abstraction may be defined in various geographic and cultural quarters) as well as our own capacity to create and to generate new working models for research and ultimately for enhancement of human life....we are, at the same time, increasingly conscious of just how little we actually do know.
We are also conscious of what a monumental effort is required for anyone to become expert in a single field, any single field, and that while we may acquire some proficiencies in a specific area, we are also expected to engage on a wider, more encompassing and increasingly exposed public stage. While collectively, and perhaps even for some individually, we have "learned" more than our ancestors knew about a specific human disease, for example, and while we have compiled libraries of intellectual theses about all human activities, including war, and geopolitical relationships, and theories about the existence of a deity, and about discoveries in the lives of the smallest and the largest creatures to have existed, as well as attempts to draw the timeline of human history on the planet, with respect to the level of our learnings as compared with the many universes yet undiscovered, we are, metaphorically, still in our infancy.
We, however, behave in many cases, as if we have mastered all we need to know, especially if the skill we have acquired has relatively large pay-offs in income and status terms even if that skill is being declared obsolete by those currently engaged in the academic pursuit of similar skills that we acquired in our early adult life.
The pace of our collective discoveries far outstrips our collective adaptation to the implementation of their implications of those discoveries.
We know, for example, that life sentences without parole for adolescents is counterintuitive, in terms of prevention, and in terms of social cost for the obvious reasons that it deprives an "undeveloped" individual from rehabilitation, while merely satisfying a regional society's need for vengeance, a word that too often is defined as "justice".
In all our "intellectual dominion" we continue to wrap words and meanings in packaging that makes our discoveries, both pleasing and tragic, into saleable conceptions, for the purpose of making those discoveries palatable to others, especially as a function of the public discourse, leading ultimately to the writing and passage of laws that people are expected to follow, or to suffer the "consequences" as determined by official investigations, due process legal proceedings and eventual sentences based on those collective and cultural "norms" we have collectively, and sometimes arbitrarily imposed.
In fact, various forms of "governance" range from more collective decisions to many fewer collective and many more tyrannical decisions imposed by a small group or even by an individual, elected or appointed, or even one who has grabbed power through some military or illicit means, such as an outright purchase of a political vacuum.
So simultaneously, we humans are, as Rollo May reminded us, both subject and object of all of our lives...we live and breath and learn and discover and reflect on those discoveries, both triumphal and tragic in which we have been engaged, while at the same time recognizing that we are part of many larger and less influenced "arcs" of development in many fields, only glimpses of which do we grasp, leaving many of the finer details to others in whom our ancestors have placed a degree of trust and we have, for the most part, followed their example of trust in the "experts" in so many fields.
However, it is the collision of our collective acquisition of mountains of new insights, at supersonic speeds, with our individual and collective perceptions of eroding reasons for that collective trust in both other individuals and especially in our formerly reliable and trustworthy institutions, all represented by fragile and fallible human beings, that results in our having to acknowledge and find new ways of meeting, addressing and languaging our various "elephants" in the room, and failing in the process in that endeavor.
I received a phone call from an aspiring political candidate recently, seeking my support in his bid for a nomination to a political party's endorsement in an upcoming election. When I asked him what issues were of particular importance to his candidacy, he answered that he thought there were two elephants in the room, climate change and income inequality that required addressing. A third issue in which he expressed his interest was the rising cost of government, especially in health care.
The "elephant in the room" analogy has become so readily accepted and used in political discourse, in the last decade or so, that one has to wonder if we have not almost unconsciously allowed ourselves and our collective culture to slide into a state of "addiction" from which the concept is derived. Alcoholics, drug dependent individuals are those who struggle with denial, especially the denial that accompanies their dependence on these chemical substances each of which thereby gains control of their lives, requiring determined and not-too-gentle interventions to be brought under "control"...
Is it actually true that climate change and income disparity have become our "elephants in the room" as this candidate expressed them?
Have we become so dependent on our collective "elephant" addiction and denial?
Or, have we merely found contemporary words of judgement with which to judge and sentence our political class, in order to find our place in the psychedelic landscape the colours of which have so blurred our capacity to see, or to see adequately into the multiple nuances and influence of such a complex and intransigent political knot, that we have so far been unable to untangle and to resolve with specific political approaches?
Or, have we grown, instead, dependent on a collective and individual life that resists the rather large changes to our "hedonism" that confronting the demon of climate change as well as the monster of income disparity would require? And so instead, we grasp at the most minute piece of information that hints at our willingness and our capacity to face these "elephants" and to overcome our resistance to their potentially lethal implications, calling our desperate grasp "the news of the day" that feeds our fading hope that we will indeed find the will and the resources to sustain our attempts to reduce the impact of such threats.
Or, have we simply adopted a lexicon of the apocalypse, including the "elephant" analogy or metaphor as our way of shining a light on what we all know we are failing to address effectively, and the real elephant in the room is our own powerless, or the perception of powerlessness?
And if the latter is even partially true, then we have a larger problem than that posed by both climate change and income disparity...and that is to address our identity politically, intellectually culturally, even spiritually in order to re-acquire both the confidence and the trust first in our own perceptions of our capacity to influence events, and then in our capacity to extend that trust to others in our communities whose responsibilities include leadership in our institutions.
And while "spring" movements are spreading through the streets of Kiev, Cairo, and other cities around the world, there are also bullets and missiles careening through the streets of Aleppo and Damascus, that many might perceive are disconnected from their personal lives...and that disconnect is one we cannot collectively or individually tolerate any longer.
When the world connected only through the latest ship docking in our port, bringing the latest news and information about how the other "half" lives, we could legitimize our detachment. Today, we no longer have that luxury, nor that freedom from the responsibility that attends to "our brother's keeper" because, we have now become "our brother's keeper" to the people in every corner of the planet...simply because we know what is happening to them through the abuses of power expressed in actions of infamy which defy "classification" as just another "elephant"...these are people just like us, millions of whom are fleeing despots, and then starving in the wilderness of lands foreign to them, with people who have "taken them in" without knowing how they were going to feed, cloth or shelter them.
And all of our intellectual and scientific and academic pursuits, while necessary and important, must not even be deployed as our method of denial of our collective and individual responsibility for these desperate people, each of whose lives could be ours, except for mere accidents of history.
If we are not "united" with the most abused, and the most rejected, then we condemn them to their fate, without hope of relief, including all the 2000 adolescents currently serving life sentences in U.S. prisons without the hope or the promise of parole.
We must all work to assure our grandchildren that the arc of history takes no additional victims in its long march to freedom and equality, and justice without vengeance.