There is so much ink being poured over the various economic indicators, the GDP, GNP, Unemployment percentages, Wall Street and Bay Street indices, dollar trading figures, trade numbers in percentages and comparative with both exports and imports from various countries being marched in Sousa-style across our retinas. And then there are the "poll" numbers for political parties, and also for individual candidates, and the millions/billions of dollars spent pursuing public office, and numbers that pile countries and cities on top of each other according to some index of living standards and rate of agreeableness to human life....and then there are the numbers of university graduates, especially in mathematics and science, as comparisons between countries, and the tax rates in various countries, especially corporate tax rate comparisons, in order to attract new industrial development in order for politicians to generate both increased tax revenues and higher public opinion poll numbers for themselves.
And then there are the numbers of prisoners, especially black and minority male prisoners, and the crime rates...all of them grist for the sociologists and the journalists and, of course, the politicians either to dodge or to shout out, depending on the size and resonance of the numbers within their respective communities.
It is as if we have become drunk on our own capacity to gather, store, transmit and even digitally analyse all manner of statistical data, now including mega-data and meta-data, the mountains of information on which social policy makers and politicians gorge.
Occasionally, in our prep-packaged diet of digital data, newscasts will insert a "human interest" story about a hero who, at ninety-five, just jumped out of an airplane, as one last item to be ticked off his or her bucket list.
However, there is another side to these limited and highly skewed portrayals of "reality" that does not gather much public traction either in the media or through the dialogue between and among the political and the thought leaders.
And that side has to do with the as yet unmeasured and steeply climbing graph of insolence, insensitivity, rudeness, insouciance and even barbarity...without remorse and more dangerously, with complete indifference.
We live in a period of history that our grandchildren will have to pause to digest. With all of our techno-accomplishments, including new medical interventions, new ways of communicating, new ways of researching all forms and genres of data, of generating images both photographic and virtual, we are quickly bestowing on our offspring a legacy of violence, of barbarism and of pride in the release of that side of our natures.
Four rabbis at early morning prayers in a Jerusalem synagogue are not merely murdered, they are butchered. And although their assassins are shot, their Islamic community immediately gives out sweets on their streets, as a sign of pride in the accomplishment of their colleagues, the assassins. Palestinian voices, although mouthing to their English audience the expected sadness and horror at the atrocity, nevertheless utter rather opposite messages within their own communities. Medical aid workers, even one who converted to Islam, following his tour of duty as an American soldier in the Iraq war of 2003, is beheaded by ISIS, as another sign of the sheer unmitigated and insufferable violence that comprises the heart of the Islamic terror campaign, as the content for their ensuing media blitz, demonstrating a level of cryogenic corpuscles that have to be flowing through their veins as well as through the veins of the rabbis' assassins.
And, of course, in both instances, violence is being perverted into a religious act, as if there were some deity or some sacred text that both condoned and encouraged such violence. Praying rabbis, expecting to be left alone in their silence and in their attempt to visit with God, are no match for butchers with machetes, cleavers and the usual guns. Nor is the human conscience linked as it has been, we believed, to the human poetic heart, capable of integrating such violence into its "vocabulary" or into its 'digestive' system, as one must attempt to digest meaning from events one encounters in one's life.
And so, there seems to be a growing divide, not merely at the level of the blatant terror...those recruited and evangelically over-committed to the cause, and those of us who simply find the whole movement repulsive, inhuman and indecent. And even between those numb to violence and hate and those of us who continue to be outraged, despondent, and despairing.
Madame Defarge was portrayed as knitting into her yarn the names of those to be executed in front of the guillotine while she fed the pigeons, in what has to be one of the more gruesome scenes from the literature of the French Revolution. A fictional character in Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, Madame Defarge represents one aspect of the Fates. The Moirai (the Fates as represented in Greek mythology) used yarn to measure out the life of a man, and cut it to end it; Defarge knits, and her knitting secretly encodes the names of people to be killed. Defarge also symbolizes the nature of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution in which radical Jacobins engaged in mass political persecution of all real or supposed enemies of the Revolution who were executed on grounds of sedition to the new republic through the guillotine, particularly targeting people with aristocratic heritage. (Wikipedia)
In what was really a class war, the aristocrats versus the people, this Revolution was pointing to a new relationship of power in France, while exacting violent revenge. And there are other equally heinous and violent murders, including beheadings by British monarchs whose lives were worthless, apparently, without their having absolute control of everything including the procreative powers of their female partners. We cannot and must not absolve ourselves of our own history of violence and our capacity to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands in Ruwanda, for example, or Kosovo, or more recently in Baghdad and Nigeria, march in italicized red ink across our collective conscious. And we have to wonder what such stories did and continue to do to our collective unconscious.
And we also have to ask, "Do we really care?".... as we stampede through turnstiles turning Black Friday into another form of violent mayhem, trampling human life in our compulsive and addictive demand for things, baubles really, to match our neighbours, to impress our kids, to smooth over broken relationships, and to "keep the economy healthy" as if that health were the holy grail.
It was John Donne who reflected that he liked and even admired individual humans, some he even loved, but had contempt for the crowd, the mob, the mass....and when the mob is running headlong, like an army of Leningen's ants, into the seductive arms of the phony empowerment that comes from being literally armed even while living inside gated communities, that comes from having "the most stuff" and/or the biggest office, the most expensive BMW, the most exotic vacations, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to disagree with Donne.
And the more we collect, compile, store and worship our "audience data" as if that were our purpose on the planet, the more blinded to our need for collective and compassionate education, employment, spiritual experience, and both poetry and music we become. Our souls and our spirits, from all faiths as well as from none, are starved and parched, living in this dessert of the angry, listless, hollow and empty lives that it is our duty to live in the pursuit of living encounters, breathing moments filled with beauty, and with new discoveries and with travels to all of the living models of many different civil-izations....And yet, one is prompted to wonder, if all of this steely, shark-like behaviour and attitudes, including rigid and unshakeable ideologies (certainly not belief systems) can or will generate anywhere, new models that could still wear the name "civil"-izations, proud of their continuing contributions to the arts, to music, to dance, to literature, and to empathy, compassion, and also to enriching the human capacity to hope and to dream and to create....and not to worship our capacity to destroy.
And when we will develop a meaningful and respected scale to measure our willingness to reject violence and hatred and indifference that makes the first two inescapable?