Melancholy about lost times

Sincere moments reminiscent of our distant past sometimes occur today as if they were a fine artifact in an archeological dig. We have long forgotten certain attitudes and experiences that were moments to live by. Often, it may be recalling the good teen years or perhaps a person who became a good friend but has moved on. Many can recall tender moments with children and pets – those moments when emotions are full.

Mariner and his wife had such an experience. Recently, her sister passed away. The news traveled fast in town as well as all over the country through social media.

We received many email and telephone condolences and we received two visits from unrelated friends with fine food gifts in hand. Both were older and were doing what was expected sixty years ago. When mariner lived here sixty years ago and someone passed on, the entire community stepped forward to assist the bereaved family. There was a standing inter-denominational team of women who took over a church to prepare a memorial meal or otherwise provide support. Social clubs like the Lions, American Legion and Eastern Star would perform a service recognizing the deceased. To paraphrase a recent post, everyone knew everyone’s name.

Such deep communal affiliations are not common in our transient society today. The visits from our friends, one of which had greeted mariner and his wife on the first day we moved in, sparked old social memories that aren’t around anymore. We miss them. Will younger folks ever experience the personal commitments to communal living?

Ancient Mariner

The times they are a changing

Human society as we know it today began as the last ice age receded, about 20,000 years ago. The earliest known communal societies were during the Neolithic Revolution, a time when the plant environment began to reemerge. Vegetation was becoming sufficient to support stationery communities. The Near East was one of the earliest regions to escape the ice age.

֎ In the late 1980s, a drought caused a drastic drop in the Sea of Galilee in Israel, revealing the remains of a previously unknown archaeological site, later named Ohalo II. There, Israeli archaeologists found the burned remains of three huts made from brush plants, as well as a human burial and several hearths. Radiocarbon dating and other findings suggested that the site, a small, year-round camp for hunter gatherers, was about 23,000 years old.

This site exposed several elements: Humans are naturally inventive relative to their environment. One could surmise that the building of brush huts was the beginning of industrialization. Another element is that gathering more food than was needed at the moment meant that one did not have to remain a nomad; maybe donkeys and the Ford model A weren’t needed but not walking all day is worth hoarding some vegetables. Another element is that there were three huts; family was important although the economics of the time probably didn’t support whole generations. Finally, and easily overlooked, is that there was a burial; the earliest humans had a spirituous principal: life went beyond the existential experience.

֎ Has the human genome changed in 20,000 years? Does evolution ever stop? A branch of zoology has become popular: Scientists are tracing behavioral and genetic modifications of all kinds of creatures as the creatures adapt (or die) to global warming. Are humans adapting? On average, humans live thirty years longer than they did in 1900. One could argue that medicine and modern industry, e.g., air conditioning, are not necessarily genetic – after all, our Neolithic ancestors built huts. The scientists may counter that living longer by itself induces genetic adaptations in human behavior and survival. Did our forefathers experience dementia? Would they have if they did live longer? What would the Continental Congress change if they saw this chart?

Aside from the fact that our chromosomes stop reproducing, thereby making death inevitable, humans have one characteristic that no other creature has: humans can change the environment. Think about the impact of changing nature. Opossums can’t do that, nor Monarch butterflies. If another ice age came, would we evolve with a hide and have a different fat structure under our skin or would we ask Amazon to send us a furnace?

Mariner has wondered whether a hunter gatherer could sit still for four hours like we can when we watch television. Perhaps today’s humans are different.

Ancient Mariner

On democracy

The premise of this post is to examine the impact of progress upon the cultural perceptions that existed in 1778 when the United States was born. Progress is not a bad thing; the benefits in comfort, health and functional prowess cannot be denied. What also cannot be denied is that progress has altered human behavior.

The ideals of democracy, its philosophy and manner of governing, is a product of the Great Awakening, the intellectual era that lifted Europe and America out of the dark ages. Similar to citizen behavior today, the public held a defiant resistance against the power structures of the Dark Ages. The transition to a new culture where each individual participated in society was led by religious liberation from the corrupt and powerful control of Roman Catholicism. The Reformation, led by religious leaders, preached that every person had an equal place in the eyes of God.

Sociologically, human behavior at the time still was constricted by the primitive forms of communication and travel. There were large cities where trading and governance occurred but generally the common citizen was bound to local and regional economics and self-reliance on a day-to-day basis. The term used to cite this culture is ‘communalism’. This was the nature of society in 1778.

What follows is the description of a series of historical moments that changed the economics and social behavior of the public. It can be argued that the troubles of the United States in 2023 are the unintended result of progress.

֎ In 1778 it was virtually impossible for a citizen to communicate with anyone even 50 miles away. Daily responsibility to sustain survival took an immense amount of time, which also limited communication. As a result, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution proposed a distributed form of governance that would allow every citizen to have a say in that governance. Hence the creation of a democratic republic divided into states, counties and districts.

The intent, philosophically, was to have each district contribute political or legislative needs and elected representatives that would be submitted to the county, then to the state. Each state then met with all the other states to pass legislation that accommodated local needs for the entire nation. In 1778, this process allowed each citizen, in principal, to participate in governing the nation in a way that accommodated a locally isolated society. The flow of information and decision making rose from the local communities, processed by the next level of governance and finally to represent national policies.

֎ In 1827 The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad opened its lines. The isolated nature of communal economics changed rapidly. Especially in agriculture, it was possible to integrate farm produce in quantities that required processing companies and much wider distribution to the end user. The local farmer was not dependent just on local markets to sustain his financial security. The bottom-up politics of communal economy had been displaced; processing corporations influenced many different districts, counties and states, often appealing directly to states and the national government. Further, transportation was a new political force that influenced national politics without the need to follow the bottom-up philosophy of democracy.

֎ From April 12, 1861 – April 26, 1865 the American Civil War caused severe damage to the idea of local self-sustenance. The war destroyed many communities and killed more than 600,000 soldiers (comparable to 7 million in today’s population). At the end of the war many did not or could not return home. Despite the truce that ended the war, the philosophy of a democratic republic continued to suffer because of racism and unwanted intrusion in Confederate states by the national government. Communalistic representation suffered a permanent change in daily life.

Even today the political scars remain that cause the two-party system to operate inappropriately in light of the philosophy of a democratic republic.

֎ The next culture-changing advancement in progress was the telegraph and telephone. The first public network was organized in 1877. Before 1877, if one wished to talk to another, it had to be face-to-face. Today, in 2023, we can recognize this new telecommunication device to be the first version of the smartphone! One more reason not to harness the pony and ride a mile and a half down the road.

As with all types of progress that covered many voting districts, the job of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was removed from communal economics and was, politically at least, in the hands of corporations. Retrospectively, one can see that the nation was quickly replacing democracy with corporatism.

֎ The ultimate collapse of communalism and bottom-up democracy was caused by the internal combustion engine. No one needed to keep the pony around anymore. State fairs became popular and represented the local remnants of communalism – just as they do today. Still, it was a burden to travel too far on two lane roads that meandered from town to town having followed old roads from one community to another (Remember Route 66? It was started by Indians.). The two World Wars facilitated shifts in population to support industries needed by the wars, causing a breakup and redistribution of communal families. But the final blow came when Ike created the Interstate system. One could travel on roads that were not managed by states – only by national government contracts.

A ghost of the past is sustained by air travel. Remember your parents who still live in the old home where you were born? It takes an airplane to get there and back in a reasonable time.

So here we are today with an electorate that has no voting power. Political opinion no longer comes from dialogue within a community. The power lies with corporations and the wealthy class who fund very expensive campaigns most local people cannot afford and forces the communal person to pick from television ads, biased news programs and gaming strategies like gerrymandering and avoiding term limits. One recent suggestion is rank voting, which may help with the act of voting, but will not repair communalism, aka democracy.

It is time to have a constitutional convention. Yes, the mariner is as afraid of such an event as anyone. The reality is, however, that democracy doesn’t work anymore. What is the new equality? What is the new ‘all men are created equal’? How do we get there from here? Will wearing a gaming goggle help?

Ancient Mariner





Getting bored with the same old news?

The reader can probably quote the subject of the top four headlines without turning the television on. Give it a try. Here is a sample: Trump, Biden, climate disaster and cost of living; there are variations. The news is tiring so let’s get some new news:

Peak solar activity is arriving sooner than expected, reaching levels not seen in 20 years. The Sun’s flare-ups can threaten satellites and electric grids, highlighting need for better forecasts.

Corporatism has arrived. Crazy Elon Musk has the same power to redirect the Ukraine war as crazy Vladimir Putin.

Meet your new gossipy neighbor ChatGPT: In April, lawyers for the airline Avianca noticed something strange. A passenger, Robert Mata, had sued the airline, alleging that a serving cart on a flight had struck and severely injured his left knee, but several cases cited in Mata’s lawsuit didn’t appear to exist. The judge couldn’t verify them, either. It turned out that ChatGPT had made them all up, fabricating names and decisions. One of Mata’s lawyers, Steven A. Schwartz, had used the chatbot as an assistant—his first time using the program for legal research—and, as Schwartz wrote in an affidavit, “was unaware of the possibility that its content could be false.”

A special on PBS explored the phenomenon that many species of fish, amphibians,birds and mammals are morphing themselves to meet new requirements to survive our man-made biosphere. After all, they have to pay cash . . .

For more unique news, turn to your local newspaper – if you still have one.

Ancient Mariner

We are in debt

Mariner and his wife were talking about things in general when a meaningful metaphor emerged:

Every animal on the planet has to pay cash. Humans, however, have a credit card and it is maxed out.

Humans have, to be succinct, trashed the planet and its resources without paying for it. Suddenly, overdue statements are confronting humans – bills for global warming, oligarchical hoarding, fractured social mores and irrational distribution of populations.

Got any cash?

Ancient Mariner

All over again

We live in a time of change, no doubt about it. Not just the normal change between generations or the systemic changes brought on by cyclical weather eras or the changes in economics brought on by political shifts. Today it is a time of change commensurate with the first time, about 15,000 years ago, when humans discovered economic trade and the political advantages that went with it; nomadic cultures quickly disappeared.

Today is a time of change commensurate with the technology of the printing press when, for the first time, ideas and history were available to the common citizen, not exclusive only to the tiny elite of theorists and theologists. At a time when the Americas were discovered, the Great Awakening, the Reformation, and the Industrial Revolution rapidly emerged and changed human life around the world.

Today is a time of change commensurate with the invention of the internal combustion engine in a global moment when natural resources were unlimited – allowing global trade and global warfare, and the quick dissipation of tribalism replaced by a new wave of politics called colonialism.

Today, computer-based communication replaces the printing press; today, advances in travel, technology and economics have released a new age of exploration – not across the oceans but from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere.

Today, global politics enters a new age when nationalism will be replaced by corporatism.

Today, an uncontrolled warming of the planet replaces cyclical weather eras.

Today, the number of humans on the planet exceeds the limits of the planet’s environment.

Today, the era of European white dominance will shift to a non-white majority, leaving the United States in a disadvantaged position because of its intense racism.

One wonders what the next era of change will look like, starting all over again.

Ancient Mariner