Not Civilized Yet

I started feeling very sad while out on a walk this week. I wrote a senryu about it:

My heart keeps breaking.
It aches for the not yet known
but yet very real.

I couldn’t pinpoint any one reason for feeling this way. It was perhaps the awareness that we are at a point where things will have to change coupled with the awareness that I will not live long enough to see much of that change happen.

One of the truths that hits us — or at least hit me — as we age is that everyone dies in the middle of some story. Experience shows us how long it takes to get anything finished, but when we’re young we think those many years between us and old age (and death) will be enough.

They’re not. They never were.

Even if I live to be very old indeed – and I still hope that I do – there still won’t be enough time.

From reading history and paying attention to current events, I’ve developed the theory that humans — at least the ones in wealthy countries — tend to think they are civilized. The people who came before us made mistakes (slavery, genocide), but we’ve done better.

That might be rather American-centric, but I suspect it’s true in Europe and large parts of Asia as well. Climate and political refugees are unlikely to share this belief.

It is, of course, untrue. We are very far from civilized. Continue reading “Not Civilized Yet”

Another Take on Eden

In 1968, I took a seminar in political science from Professor Elliot Zashin, who held a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley and was considered something of a firebrand on the University of Texas campus.

He announced at the beginning of the term that this class was to be student-run. In practice, that meant that each of us put together a project or presentation for class.

There was the one where we all decamped for the day to someone’s house in Blanco and ended up divided into several cabals. (I no longer recall what we intended to accomplish.) My cabal decided that we needed to stay overnight and, since we had a mechanically inclined member, tried to enforce our position by removing the rotor cap from cars belonging to other members.

This led to someone storming out and then storming back in to demand that their car be returned to operating order, a demand we complied with, given the level of rage. It was still funny.

But I digress. The story from that class I want to tell is the one about our final exam.

A few days before finals, Elliot announced that we had been goofing off too much and that therefore we would have a final exam. We were, to put it mildly, outraged.

For one thing, we really hadn’t been goofing off. For another, this idea contradicted the entire spirit of the class. Some of us got together to rant and, eventually, to organize a protest. (Remember, this was 1968.)

We showed up on the appointed day, ready to declare our opposition to the exam. I’m sure I said something about the unfairness of the situation. My friend John Logue said something that I’m sure was very rational. (John was always very rational.)

But the only argument I remember from that day was from a guy whose name was, I think, Steve Shankman. He waxed quite eloquent, eventually excoriating Elliot for the failure of his “Harvard-Berkeley ideas.”

Elliot remained unmoved. He passed out the exam paper. It was one sheet of paper on which, in the middle of the page, had been mimeographed this quote:

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.
— Jean-Jacques Rousseau

There were no instructions. Continue reading “Another Take on Eden”