It is this sunlight,
endlessly refreshed, that allows the grass to grow,
the birds to sing — and you to live. The Sun’s
energy flows through your breakfast cereal, your morning coffee,
your veins and your mind.
It animates you
as it has animated almost all the Earth’s life for billions of years.
Oliver Morton is referring to galactic history, but the sentiment explains my desire for ceremony concerning the annual return of light. Over the last five years, I have intentionally cultivated this religious impulse into a celebration of human diversity: the need for solar nurturance is universal, encompassing all modes of spiritual practice and transcending every form of social and institutional division.
We human beings alive today live on the verge of the future – as this wonderful video demonstrates, “we live in exponential times.” What we accomplish, and what we fail to accomplish, will set the limits for succeeding generations. A verge is “something that borders, limits, or bounds.” The verge is a measurement in time.
The iconicity of the Earthrise photograph, taken by astronaut Bill Anders in 1968 (when I was five) as a proof of technological prowess and singular human interconnectedness, competes in the modern age with old, established ideologies. Our visual and visceral senses are immersed in strategic and incidental ways to inspire the gamut of human emotion. Mundane hopes, grand visions, and primal fears are inspired to motivate daily participation in the increasingly complex structures of interconnected global societies. The contemporary class values of intellectual and creative freedom require deep investment in the construction of social infrastructures that enable strong human ties across the many diversities which compose human experience and inform human wisdom.
The trick is how to institutionalize systems that enact the precious balance between control (by which I mean reliability of the system actually doing what it is directly intended to do) and democracy (by which I mean the actual freedom of individuals to pursue activities they value – see Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom).
The crucial tension, it seems to me, is a certain level of unlearning our confidence in prediction so that we develop a few more risk-taking skills. In Wouter’s words from earlier today:
“We think if we turn left we know exactly what will happen.
We don’t know s^*t.”
In everyday life, we generally do know what will happen if we turn left – we arrive at our intended destination – unless something happens, and suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of an adventure we never intended and do not necessarily want. Institutions are designed to eliminate – or at least minimize – such unexpected happenings. But by ruling out the spontaneous and sporadic, institutions also instill modes of conformity that threaten to mold us into compliant complacency. Then we – taken in aggregate as masses of indistinguishable people – are easily provoked into outrageous mobilizations including the co-production of horrifying violence – be it formal war or stealth co-optation of resources driving others to despair.
As Tumbleweed explained it the other day, we have the accumulated knowledge to predict how discourses play out over time if they are not interrupted immediately:
“First people say, ‘They own the bakeries and the banks.’ Then you have Kristallnacht and next thing you know we’re liberating the Jews from Auschwitz.”
But how does one intervene in such discourses without falling into another kind of fascism?
Merely regulating what people can/cannot say is hardly an answer; the repressed attitudes simply work themselves out in another way. Rather, we need a few mechanisms which routinely, habitually embrace the discrepancies of our differences as a matter of course. Olivia Judson argues playfully for “The Ten Days of Newton” to “embrace the discrepancy” of Newton’s actual birthdate (which is different pending which calendar one uses), posing this as a new holiday to encompass all the variations currently celebrated at this time of year around the globe. She names Newton’s foundational role in terms of the way we now understand our place in the universe, highlighting (among other achievements) his work with prisms. Newton proved that
“The prism doesn’t create colors, it reveals them.”
The point is that we have the incredible decision-making power to invent systems composed from the vast array of imaginative potential in combination with increasing predictive competence. The question is whether we deal deeply with revealed knowledge or insist on creating new prisms (or keeping old ones) to distract us from what we already know is there. The desire for security binds the individual to institutional control, but safety (perceived and real) constantly fluxes with the organic compulsion to grow.
How many times can a person reinvent themselves? As often as necessary – if
- confidence in the relative security of life is guaranteed, the
- skills of reading the immediate for future implications are cultivated, and
- responding inter/co/pro-actively is modeled and implemented.
(I’m not promising its gonna be easy!)