None of the movies on offer at the local moviehouse interested us, so we settled in to watch the DVD of the first season of CSI. We didn't really follow this show when it came out, so the initial season is pretty new to us.
I've always liked television procedural shows, stemming back to the "just the facts, ma'am" of Dragnet. I like the way little bits of personal lives drip in the cracks of the crime-solving. I thought to myself that in some ways weblogs have a similar air. Weblogs have their own personalities, and they become so ingrained in the weblog that the "personality behind the weblog" sometimes seeps through in little bits along the edges.
Life could be so interesting if you could just take all the hints and glimpses, and run them through the computerized fingerprint comparison, or an electron microscope which shows occult viruses afflicting the object under investigation. But weblogs work instead on words, and I do not believe that spelling and grammar are necessarily clues to the sophisicated truths a weblog can hold.
I thought today how my niche of life is north Texas--Collin County, Dallas County, perhaps Grayson, Denton and Cooke. Five counties--that's a lot of square miles. I thought to myself that if I treated my own area as a crime scene, I might be able to do a little forensic work on how to fix things.
This has been a quarter of crime scenes. We now see a troupe of sad stories of heartless violations of the Geneva convention, as well as dire stories of terrorist bombings and political assasinations clouding a murky situation even more than before the situation arose.
I'm not in sympathy with the strained voice I heard on NPR this week, suggesting that we are all to blame for our government's recent failings. This type of "collective acceptance of guilt" is too facile, too reductivist.
If there are collective sins--and I posit a few in my mind--they are not the sins that every thing done wrong overseas is the fault of everyone in this country. This type of easy, English seminar view of the world serves a disservice. It also gives the illusion of hopelessness. It's like being stuck in the intro to that old western TV show in which a man is removed from the military, his sword is broken, and he is "branded" a coward. I do not think that the branding runs nationwide, even to those who dissented from his acts.
This troubled era gives so many a kind of "I told you so" moment or two. The years of neglect of our public health system no longer seems like "bleeding heart" stuff when anthrax can be put into play and we're talking rapid response. The lack of a proper device for our gradual transition to alternative fuels no longer seems utopian to most, but now is a recognized part of our future national security.
But it's the easy stuff that I want to move beyond for just a moment. The fact that mistakes have been made and that there are political costs to uphold and that we all should register to vote and all that--that's not my point tonight.
I'm instead intrigued with the idea that the discovery of truth is such an important thing. I read today about the man who wrote the song "Amazing Grace". He was a sailor named John Newton. He converted to Christianity in 1848. But he continued to work on slave ships for a few years. Although the sweet sound saved a wretch like him, what did he do with the poor wretches in bondage in the hold? Apparently, he ultimately gave up the sordid business of being a slave ship captain. But what was it like for this man who "once was lost but now is found" to realize that he kept transporting enslaved folks in the hold? It's the Thomas Jefferson dilemma. I still love the song, and apparently the fellow did feel badly for what he did.
But those are the easy sagas--palpable error, and obvious need to change. But what other truths lie in wait to be found? I often think that the truth is such an important thing. I don't believe that factual truth is necessarily all that elusive. Some mysteries go unsolved, but the facts themselves are not so puzzling--they're often positively Newtonian in that "apple fall, sun is 93 million miles away" way.
But on so many things, there's a huge snow storm in this country, and the horse has blinders on. Consumption? Check. Decline in business integrity? Check. A loss of the "can do" approach to compassion? Check. But it's easier to see the sleep
But lest I descend into some screed about "them out there", in corporations, in government, or in the traditional institutions, are all to blame, I think my point is that people drive institutions, and not institutions people.
For one hundred and ten years or so, modernizers have insisted that if we just changed one big thing, everything would fall into place.
Traditionalists contended that if we just returned to one big missing thing, then things would revert to some prior state of bliss.
In this country, we've tried both, and all sorts of permutations in between. We've managed to limit our nuclear bomb explosion count in wartime to two, but I do not count that as our most moral achievement.
I get concerned sometimes about fighting orcs. I love Tolkien--read the Lord of the Rings several times a year. But I hate that the enemy is an orc--a thing it's perfectly okay to kill, because it's evil by definition. People are so much more complicated. Moral questions are so much more difficult.
I think that in this country we are about to enter into a time of deep forensic analysis of how we got here on many fronts in many ways. I'll follow this dialogue and debate with interest, even if it means I must sometimes listen to career politicians speak at length.
But I'd like to root out the things I do which could be done better, and do them better more than watch CNN. Sometimes the "conflict" I feel I need to have is the conflict within to try to be a better person than I am.
I get a bit frustated with some prophets of higher thought who imagine that if each one merely transforms him or herself, then the world will magically transform. I must admit that I believe in the existence of evil actions and evil intentions. I conveniently place all those notions under the generic term "Evil", though I'm not really being particularly theological in how I use the term.
Even if I achieved an unexpected and unlikely personal reform and grace tomorrow, I do not think that flowers would bloom all over the planet or anything.
But those little bursts of insight have their place. Sometimes when I come to a realization on a moral or personal decision question, it's as though a light actually does come on. I feel a relaxation, as I realize the right thing to do or think.
But wouldn't it be great to be able to take a swab of my own saliva, and realize "I could solve this personal failing *like so*" or
"this explains everything". So often I feel I know the problem, I just don't know how to implement the solution.
I hate the idea that my vision gets obscured by being caught in a spider web of societal choices. But I know that everyone I admire in history was similarly a prisoner of culture and time.
I am not Sarah Vowell's biggest fan, but I listened with appreciation today to her radio piece about the absurdity of everyone comparing themselves with people who took great risks for truth, such as Rosa Parks. This resonated for me, as I am not fit to tie the shoe of anyone who has done things like my heroes have done.
But this inner inquiry--this inner search for additonal truths--it's not an easy thing. The result is not a foregone conclusion. Sometimes I think that the constant self-analyis is not even productive. I think that instead what's productive is just helping where one can, loving whom one can.
I get bored of the image of protesters who get on the six o'clock news. It's not that agitprop lacks a place, but so often I believe that we live in a post-agitprop age. No offense to those who march or protest--I respect the solidarity and effort.
But the things I need to learn and teach are things I can't say in 12 words on a poster anymore. For that matter, I never could--or did.
I'm intrigued by the notion,though, that I have to shake the dust off my shoes of flawed assumptions and needless dilemmae. But even thinking about it seems to worsen the problem. I know there are truths to be found and shared. The problem is how to convert one's enemy. We have had enough division. But conversion to a noble cause is much harder than using a tank to roll over him. But the effort to convert can be so much more noble. But I want all the revolutions to be velvet, not military. I want my own confrontations on behalf of truth to be inclusive, not derogatory. It's an ideal, and certainly not one at which I am adept--trying to convert the "insiders" from my "outsider" perch. But surely it's worth the effort.
Maybe the whole thing is deductive. Take it one step at a time. Try to be kind rather than try to draw a conclusion. I don't know. I'm still learning.
I think, sometimes, that another generation will look at our material wealth and technical prowess, and wonder why we delivered
such an unequal economy. I don't think they will say we should have been socialists instead of capitalists or capitalists instead of socialists. I think they will say we were just inefficient by any measure.
But I'll leave that to historians and science fiction writers.
I just want to put on new glasses, which let me see my own little ways to improve a lot better, and new work gloves, that let me improve without rubbing blisters too easily.
I've viewed the corpse which is my life thus far. I see far too many self-inflicted wounds and mysterious blemishes. But I'm nonetheless hopeful I can get to the truth of the matter, and begin serious efforts towards solving a few mysteries. I thank my weblog for this, although the weblog defines the problem more than it solves it. I must work on solving my own imperfections, with such help as I can invoke or muster.
As to the big picture, I don't know. But in all this stock-taking, I'll be interested to see if any "big" lessons are learned.