What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. -- Ecclesiastes 1:9
Monday, July 7, 2014
New and Improved
I’ve got nothing today. I’m still recovering from the weekend. I took the bike out Saturday and bombarded the back roads. The Enterprise is surprisingly “nimble” for something that weighs 900 pounds – 1100 with me in the saddle. The last big wreck I had on my old street bike back in the ‘80s was because the bike went off the edge of the road on a left-hand turn. I can take hard, fast right-hand turns all day while even a sweeping left makes me tense up. I’m getting better, but it’s still a fight.
My wife did not go along. She’s not feeling all that great. She had another episode that put her in the hospital again that last week of June, and she re-started a steroid regime -- which seems to help, apart from some of the adverse effects. I locked up all the guns. The current course will be finished up next Monday, and we are trying to schedule a clinic visit at an academic hospital where there are more diverse specialists and additional testing possibilities. We’ll see how it goes.
So instead of having a big family gathering for the 4th, we stayed home and did yard work. I did manage to finish A Canticle for Leibowitz, and it certainly struck me differently from when I read it back in the ‘70s. The verse above is related. Humanity keeps making the same mistakes, despite our advances. Of course, we didn’t start a big atomic war – at least we haven’t yet. Currently, financial disaster seems a more imminent threat than an all-out nuclear devastation. Still, I would not entirely dismiss the possibility of an EMP attack or an American city going up in a “flame deluge” like Sodom and Gomorrah.
In the last section of the book, there is an exchange about utopian thinking that is close to something we have been kicking around at OC. The idea of a “better” world can be unifying and constructive when everything is a mess and people are struggling just to get by. For the person living in very primitive conditions, any technological improvement or advancement is a boon to the quality of life and productivity. However, as we get more advanced and things really do get much better, the utopian ideal becomes more divisive and destructive.
When much of the common goal becomes a present reality rather than a vague future promise, we realize that we were not at all in agreement about what we meant by “better”. That’s more or less the problem we are facing in 21st Century America. We have achieved so much and moved so far into our future dream that some of us have decided it is not what we had in mind at all. We sometimes find that technology now hampers and shackles about as much as it frees and empowers. As “Hotel California” says, perhaps prophetically: “We are all just prisoners here of our own device.”
Technology isn’t going to make us better people. We can be barbarians with iPhones. We could compare technology to Pandora’s Box. Perhaps it is like those nested Russian dolls, boxes within boxes within boxes where each one opens the next whether we are ready for it or not. Each one unleashes new challenges and raises new questions we may not yet be equipped to answer.
Without giving away the ending for those who might not have read or recall it, I would say Canticle concludes in some hope. Though we seem destined to wreck nation and kingdom and empire because it is not Eden, Miller, perhaps intentionally, echoes that quote from St. Francis of Assisi that we ought to give up trying to change the world and change worlds instead.