“ Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to,” is a well known quote of American humorist Mark Twain. It occurs to me on any number of occasions when I read or watch the nightly news.
Civil strife, war, religious hatred and all manner of terrorism seem to be the order of the day across the planet. How does all of this this happen? Where are indeed the religious leaders of all faiths who can and should try to dampen the fires of hatred amidst their flocks? And where are the rest of us, including me, when another horror splashes across the television and goes unanswered by our collective outrage?
I think sometimes, we hunker down in our fortified bunkers, waiting for the tornado to pass overhead before we can once again walk erect in our diverse societies. Like most fearful primitives, we hope that the collective demons will pass over us if we don’t dwell on them too much or too loudly.
“If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem,” is a shop worn aphorism that we all espouse, yet collectively ignore in self-defense. Some solutions are overwhelming and just seem to be above our pay grades. So we disengage with a disapproving “tsk, tsk” and go about our daily business, grateful that the latest attacks wasn’t “on us.”
Wilford Brimley, an old movie stalwart and character actor, had a great line once in a Paul Newman flick entitled “Absence of Malice.” In response to the Newman character’s query of “who do I see about this?” in reference to the untimely death of a close friend. “There isn’t anyone you can see,” he said plaintively. “I wish there was, but there isn’t.”
I think of that line often in response to any number of inequities in life and society. ‘Why isn’t there someone to see?” I wonder. “There should as heck ought to be.” With all of the political, religious and business leadership that teem around us, why can’t there be “someone” to see about these problems?”
In fairness, there are amongst all of those mentioned, valiant individuals who swim against the tide, seemingly alone, and try to help others around them. They are as valorous Lochinvars, lance tilted against the common foe, fighting like superman for “truth, justice and the American way.” There just aren’t enough of them, except at election time or at “yearly giving drives.”
‘To be or not to be, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and in doing so be overcome by them,” is part of a thoughtful soliloquy in Shakespeare’s classic play“ Hamlet?.” The brooding Dane wonders if his actions in solving conflicts might bring about his end. The sentiment is still relevant today.
What can we do? We give to any number of charities, and try to help out people in need around us whenever we can. But is that enough? I am too old to take to the streets like we did in the nineteen sixties, to seek redress for any number of societal ills? Where are our youth today? Have they no radical ideals to inflame their passions? Has materialism finally smothered the raging fire of youthful idealism?
Former Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev once famously boasted, “We will bury you.” I don’t think he has to. Consumer goods, electronic devices, European vacations, new cars and bigger and better homes have already started the interment. It won’t take much more effort to shovel the last few inches of earth onto us to submerge us forever in the materialistic and self satisfied swamp.
Part of me hopes that there is indeed a cadre of our younger people quietly and diligently working of the whole array of societal ills that afflict us. Perhaps they are better educated and more sophisticated than we are, having realized at an early age that substantive action is better than flashy symbolism. They can, as we use to say, “ battle on as short haired radicals working from within the system?”
It is enough of a thought to calm my immediate apprehensions on this gloomy Saturday. I have had my “turn at bat,” and did what I could in all of the areas we preached about in those gilded philosophical days of yore, the magical sixties. I can only but hope that other, younger philosophical jihadists take up the lance and carry us home. Wow, is this a rant or what?
Joseph Xavier Martin
August 16, 2014