Friday, September 05, 2008

Out of Time, Out of Place

Can there be any greater horror for people of a nation than Civil War? Let me be clear that I'm not suggesting by anything in this post that I want to go back to that, but, the fact is that people on two very different sides of an issue were worked up enough to kill each other for it by the tens of thousands in this country. It wasn't even 150 years ago. Really, 150 years is nothing.

Yet, good LORD, think of all that's happened since that time. You can start with the end of the Civil War and the preservation of the Union. Then there's the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment (and all the rest of them since),Lincoln's assassination, the light bulb, cars, refrigeration, Suffrage, World War I, telephones, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, the threat of nuclear holocaust, penicillin, television, the Cold War, National Parks, satellites, the Red Scare, the Folk Scare, space travel, John Kennedy, MLK, Bobby Kennedy, Vietnam, Watergate, thalidomide, the end of Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, laser discs, personal computers (thank you, Apple), cds, cell phones, the ERA (still not ratified in all 50 states), electric cars (again), two gulf wars (the second one is still going)'s just exhausting. Think of all the things I've left off. Mind boggling.

So much progress, but, the last week has me wondering about life in a different time. I don't want to say, simpler, because I'm not sure they really were. A lot of things were harder than they were today -- we take for granted things like indoor plumbing and refrigeration and whole-house wiring. And as the world became smaller, especially during the first War, there was a lot of complexity that people weren't quite ready for. There was a lot of ugly stuff, too, not to be forgotten. Still, some things were different. Or, there was universal denial.

Well, maybe not universal. If everyone had been in denial about the inherent potential in the colonies, we might still be English. If everyone had been in denial about slavery, then there would not have been an underground railroad. If everyone had been in denial about what Hitler was doing to the Jews then Germany might have succeeded. If Kennedy's advisors had been in denial about the final frontier, there wouldn't be an American flag on the moon.

Today is different, though. A lot of people are in denial. Coupled with the fact that there are a lot more people, period, when a lot of them are in denial, it's a lot harder to move the needle. Let's take the GOP's VP candidate. I know, I know, aren't we all sick of hearing about Sarah Palin? Me too, but check it out. The woman has never been out of North America. She doesn't believe in global warming. She says abstinence education is enough but the evidence to the contrary is growing inside her own daughter. And as most readers know, she told ministry students that the war in Iraq is a "task that is from God." If her vice presidential nomination isn't an act of denial by nearly half the country, then I don't know what is. The thinking people of this country are like a collective Sisyphus, pushing democracy like a 20 ton boulder up a steep and craggedy mountain. Truly, it seems almost hopeless at times. And very lonely.

The election isn't going to change much of anything for anyone, either. Even I know that. No matter who takes office in January, he will inherit a mess unseen by any incumbent in our history. Most days, I can't believe anyone is crazy enough to run at all. As most of us have come to believe, I'm not sure the office of the President even means much anymore given the way the office has become an ugly charicature of its former self in the last eight years.
I think what I may be romanticizing is the fact that once upon a time before we were even a country, people did things. People, everyday people, changed things. There have always been such people but we don't see it as often anymore. People hid slaves in their homes, women were beaten in public by straw-hatted gentlemen because they wouldn't back down on the right to vote, doctors performed abortions in safe, sanitary conditions, black and white students lost their lives in order to move equality forward. The decades before may have been a simpler time but there was a lot of daring in it, too. A lot of everyday people died doing not so every day things that moved that boulder another quarter of an inch up the mountain.
I think things are different now. Look at Cindy Sheehan, who took on a bold protest when her son was killed in Iraq. She camped outside Bush's ranch -- how many of us would love to do that for so many reasons and she did it! But she ended up being the only one behind the boulder of apathy and in the end it rolled right back over her. When she gave up, she wrote that more people are interested in who wins American Idol than what's happening with our country. That's the sorry truth.

I don't know that this election coming up is the thing that finally matters to anyone. I don't see scores of people signing up to do community organizing -- a one time fan of it myself, even I don't invest the time or effort anymore; my sleepy denial-driven Stepford community doesn't care and it's a 40 minute drive to anyplace else that might. There are things I believe and things I want to see happen, and I write to my Congressional representatives, and maybe I get a nice little note back. But little changes.
So I guess that's why I'm feeling out of place, and out of time. Even the music I love harkens back to a different way, a different era, some of it from that time and some of it new but in the spirit of those days.
Mac Wiseman, one of the remaining first generation bluegrass players, was recently honored with the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Mr. Wiseman suffered from polio as a child -- not many people remember pre-vaccine days anymore -- but that didn't stop him from becoming one of the most accomplished bluegrass musicians and recording artists in American musical history. Early on he played with Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt in the Foggy Mountain Boys band. The son of Virginia mountain parents who sang old time ballads and enjoyed early country music, Wiseman has gone on to become an original tradition bearer. You can read more about the honor and his achievements here.
This tune is from the recording, Arkansas Traveler, which I have blogged about previously several times. It is one of two recordings issued a couple years ago by the Pa's Fiddle Project to honor the music that appears throughout the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This little ditty is called The Monkey's Wedding -- I figured it would be a nice change of pace from Froggy Went A Courtin' for you and your listeners of all ages. Hope you'll enjoy it right down to the end of a glass of lemonade and some homemade ginger cake. Meanwhile, I've got to crank up the horseless and get into town for some postage stamps.


At September 08, 2008 8:26 AM, Blogger DrDon said...

Yeah, look at Cindy Sheehan. She became a victim of her own ego. And this is probably the problem. A lot of the politicians we complain about started out wanting to do the right thing but ego overtakes us all at some point if we get enough attention/power.

It is what it is. One of my former employees, an Italian woman who still has family there and visits often, used to say that in Italy they didn't care much what the president did as long as he kept his hand off their money.

This is probably the appeal of dictatorships. In many countries there is no illusion of democracy so you just go along and take care of your own needs and go to work and try to have a nice life with your family. Here we have this notion that things are actually supposed to get better and that we should be striving for something greater. I think it just sets us up for disappointment

At September 08, 2008 4:44 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

That's true, scary but true. Yet I think my take away from my trip to Dearborn was that damn, there really was a time in this country when if you had a good idea, you could really do something with it. And even with the competition you could still find a way to make a buck and take care of your family. And you could employ a lot of people. Edison had people MAKING HIS OWN DAMN TEST TUBES. And they were unlike anything I'd ever seen. But it was what he wanted, and they all had jobs, and so everybody won.

So I hear you, but I wish it could be the way it was sometimes. Today "striving for something greater" means, "hooray, I paid off another credit card bill!" That is kind of sad.

At September 09, 2008 8:09 AM, Blogger DrDon said...

I understand what you're saying Mando but sometimes I think we're too wistful about the past. There are plenty of inventive people still around. A lot of it is in the tech arena now rather than manufacturing but it's still there. And let's not forget that Edison was an absolute bastard. Sure he was very creative but he was every bit the controlling SOB that we see in many of today's companies.

So I don't think we've really changed all that much and debt is an individual's own fault. We can say "no" to new video game systems, bigger cars, bigger houses, new TVs, $200 cell phones, etc. We just choose not to. Sometimes I agree that Americans are just too whiny. We complain about so many things that we actually could control if we just denied ourselves a few things or said no once in a while to our kids.

At September 09, 2008 11:03 AM, Blogger Ipsissimus said...

Yeah, Mando, I thought the Republicans were nuts for having Palin as VC - seems they were brilliant, appealing to the rednecks. McCain is shooting up in the polls because of it. Great yet scary article in BBC by Joe Bageant called "Why Rednecks May RUle the World"

I'm so disgusted with my fellow Americans I might just go into hiding on my hill and never come down. How can they just forget the disasters of the past eight years? Even worse - how can people attempt to blame Democrats when Republicans have been in control the whole time?

At September 09, 2008 9:26 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Oh lord...I am watching a PBS show on debates...Dan Quale just lobbied the Jack Kennedy comment and Sen Bensen is about to give it to him on a silver plate.

"Frankly, the two of you are so far apart in your objectives..."

Aye, there's the rub.

Doc, I am unabashedly and unapologetically wistful, it's true. But I agree that putting bread on the table and saving for college is far different than loading every kid up with a cell phone or DS Lite. There are so many things I've learned its easy to go without, like cable. When my kids come back and they have the TV on, it becomes like a constant background "thing" and it gives me a sense of just how much it must be on at the other house. So last week I suggested we go an evening wtihout the TV on or at the computer, and we all went to the fitness center instead. Nobody fainted, or died. I agree that parents give in too much and don't often enough "pull the plug".

Ips, I can't even tell you how disappointed I am. I'm going to write to my republican Congressional delegation and tell them just how much. God help us all if John McCain is elected and drops dead the next day. And God help the first person I meet that day who voted for the McCain Palin ticket.


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