The church choir that I am section leader for has been invited to Carnegie Hall to sing a concert featuring a new choral work by Dan Forrest, LUX: The Dawn From On High (Lux being Latin for Light). While I won’t be going to Carnegie, for many reasons, having sung there before among them, I have loved learning the music with my choir. The crux of the piece talks about the importance of light, light as a blessing and a spiritual end result from a life- an abundance of light as a heavenly reward. The text of the piece from religious texts and comments on the end of one’s life being surrounded by light. It makes me think of a pre-electric age the importance of light and the power of the darkness. Restoration theaters had candle wick trimmers whose job it was to keep the candles burning throughout the performance. In New England, on the 19th of May 1780, is known as New England’s Dark Day where candles were needed from noon to midnight, so heavy was the cloud cover. Perhaps we still harbor that childhood fear of the dark and bathe ourselves in light to protect ourselves from the unknown. Is that the reason for the preponderance of light in the religious texts describing heavenly bliss? What would be better in the afterlife than the things that we lack in this life? With that thought in mind, it makes me wonder what would be the valued thing would be that would greet us in a contemporary afterlife. What would be our final blissful reward in heaven? In short, what would be the final reward to a culture that has reveled in abundance and immediacy in everything?
It has been disturbing to me to see the acceptance of the most informal of communications, texting, and tweeting, have become acceptable forms of communicating and I was hear that the French legal system said that the texting of a last will and testament has no legal value. Indeed, the court decreed that a texted will or texted changes to a will, had no value in a court of law. While there may be those that remember the outcry when Genesis frontman Phil Collins divorced his wife via fax, it seems that now we react more with what Conan O’Brian calls a horrorplause, the reaction in which the audience responds initially in disgust and shock to a joke and then gradually comes around and laughs and applauds. It seems with this media driven political arena we have embraced the horrorplause. We will be horrified by the statements of our political leaders only to come around and applaud and laugh as if the sitcom we had been watching had come to a close and the credits were about to roll. Perhaps the midseason elections will be the newest version of the midsummer replacement tv shows when we decide that what we are seeing is no longer interesting and that a change is no farther than a tweet or text away. People text or tweet condolences, or announcements of personal importance, but whatever happened to such a personal announcement being worthy of more than 140 characters, or at best 120 characters for the cherished retweet. Or perhaps, in our digital age popularity has become more important than sincerity.
I woke up with a start, thinking of the corner on the NW corner of LaSalle & Monroe in Chicago, which is the Datum point for the city, the point in which of known or assumed coordinates from which calculation or measurements may be taken. In this point the intersection is the point from which all heights in the city are measured a point of common departure. I thought of this early that morning after an evening of talking and arguing with people of different ages and experiences than me.
We struggled at times to find a common ground or more frequently a common frame of reference in our experience. While people my own age could laugh at a reference to Gilligan’s Island the Love Boat anyone a few years younger had no idea what we were talking about. With people say 5 or 10 years older they had references that we could not begin to understand. It occurred to me that with media increasing our appetite for content we seem to digest information so fast that each generation may have its own vocabulary and may end up living in a constant state of now. As the current situation of immigrant child detention at the US border brought up references to the Nazi Holocaust, there may be a time when a reference to the Obama administration will have as much resonance as the Norman Invasion.
Oli Frost is my hero. He decided that he had gotten tired of giving his personal data away for companies to profit from so he decided to download his own data and putting it up for auction on eBay to the highest bidder. The highest bidder will get a flash drive of his personal data and the profit from the sale will be donated to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It seems that while people have no issue with giving our data away for profit, and we are encouraged to give blood, though there is an issue with selling our selves (prostitution) or even our body parts while they are alive. Case in point, search eBay for live kidney and there are no results but search for shrunken head (no- really. Try it) and you are met with more than 20 results. Interesting that it would be acceptable that we should give away the moments that make up our lives, even our life’s blood in many cases for the profit of others but our selling ourselves in whole or part would be taboo.
Of course, you know the old story, to boil a frog, you don’t drop it into a pot of boiling water but put it in cool water and slowly turn up the temperature to boiling. The same seems true of the ongoing debates over privacy and net neutrality. Lulled into a false sense of security or blinded by naiveté, we allow corporations to mine who we are and what we choose to treat us like horses with blinders on, seeing only what they want us to see, and now we want to give them the ability to fast track the online content of their choice while allowing other content to linger in the slow lane. It seems odd that the same legal bodies, corporations, that created the financial crisis in the savings and loan and mortgage industry, not to mention the opioid crisis in this country now want to create a world where they control our access to information for their personal gain. In an economy where the bottom line is at best the shareholder (or more frequently the executives) payout, why should we think our best interests are a concern. The entire point of the internet seemed to be to allow everyone accesses to knowledge for the betterment of all. If we allow our access to the free flow of information to be restricted, we will be no better than frogs in warm bath water on the stove.
In everyone’s life, in some way, you come to a place you say about something you are doing or not doing- is this really worth it? Malcolm Gladwell calls that the tipping point, or “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” at which change becomes either obvious or inevitable. It happens to all of us and in all sorts of situations, that moment when you realize that change is inevitable and perhaps the only choice. It seems that wiser minds than mine have come to this conclusion, as when I read in the BBC that African nations have begun to worry about the risk of job loss in Africa as robots automate many processes that can be brought back to the US or other nations and not depend on the cheap labour force that Africa and other nations have provided. Those who deride the coming economic disaster, suggest that if only the African nations would educate their children in the magic world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), all problems would be solved. These children would rise along with all the other stem fed children to ascend into the light of a technological new day. But don’t worry, for those who are left behind by the ever upward spiral of capitalism, there is always the promise of the universal basic income, a salary for everyone at the cost of social services, so that even those of us who are misplaced in this economic game of musical chairs can receive money to live and, of course, buy things to keep the whole spiral going. Yet, what happens to people with no other purpose than to consume to keep an antiquated and harmful system running? What is the meaning of a life that is only based on our ability to consume? What happens when we reach our tipping point and realize that we are no better than veal calf’s being fattened to make our masters fatter.
It was with surprise that I saw the article in the BBC, that doctors in Britan were treating brain tumours with a drug that will cause a tumor to glow so that in the edges of a tumor will glow giving doctors the ability to see the edge so that they can remove it during surgery. In a strange case of life imitating art, I was reminded of Kevin Brockmeier’s book, The Illumination. In the book, pain manifests itself as visible light after a mysterious event called “the Illumination,” revealing our greatest pain to be the most beautiful thing about us. In this new electronic age, it seems that media allows every one of our pains to glow, to be seen and re-lived at any moment. We can look at tragedies from yesterday to almost 100 years ago, keeping Parkland as present as Hiroshima to those who are willing to look. On the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, it is my hope that we might take a moment, find the courage to reflect on our own pain and give it the respect and reverence that deserves. It is truly one thing that while we may run from, we can not hide from it forever and in this world of the immediate now, perhaps its time to stop and see the beauty in our pain.