I like the story of the first oil wells. They arose before the realization arose just what the internal combustion engine could mean for the price of oil. They were an alternative to whale oil for lamp fuel.
I imagine what it must have been like to live in a time when darkness required lit lamps and burning candles. The world must have been so different, and yet that was just a few generations ago. I stop sometimes and think about what a miraculous transformation we all get to see--the end of polio in my lifetime, the advent of anti-biotics in my parents' lifetimes. The push to mechanization in my grandparents' lifetimes. The discovery of planets in other solar systems in my adulthood. Everything is a blur, and yet we know that the blur is just beginning.
We live now in a time when social change happens with even more blinding speed.
Sometimes the ideas and notions almost seem to exhaust the society. There's a tendency in some quarters to curse all traditions as if they were as outmoded as candles in the age of electricity. By contrast, in matters of religion, social structure, and societal norms, some insist we must cling to precisely the same candles, even though our fingers burn.
There's an irony about this current time in which we await hypermodern bombing from religious reactionaries. In the same way I once fantasized that Soviet missiles would end my childhood, I now have passing thoughts of dirty bombs and suitcase nuclears. The guillotine of science serves those who fear its progress as well as those who urge its inexorable changes.
We have tremendous controversies, and tremendous diversity of thought. My reading convinces me that this is a mark of a healthy potential for growth and change, and not the end of the world as we know it.
I think that apocalyptic thinking causes so much confusion. Surely Belsen was ushered in by a daemon of the end times. But the Kingdom did not come. Instead, we got the 1950s. In my childhood, the Soviet Union sparked best-selling theologians to earn limousine-level royalties by predicting that the Revelation times were near. Even now, two thousand years after the fact, people imagine they can predict the end of time. Meanwhile, the miracle of science tells us that the universe is far more fascinating and complex than we can dare to dream and hope.
I personally believe that in this time so many times the "big questions" are not the right questions. The right questions, it seems to me, revolve around how to create a world in which there is a bit less bitterness. For so many of us, the "right question" unfortunately revolves around how to create a life that works when it turns out that life is fairly miserable to live even in relative material privilege. It's breaking that cycle--the perception of misery. It's not hard to understand how Buddhist thought took such root.
I think that a form of hopelessness grips people, whether through material want,
personal oppression or simply depressed individual outlook. It's so easy in this setting to curse anyone's light, whatever it may be.
But to my way of thinking, there is a huge tent of people who can work on the side of compassion, even if they are entirely opposed in all their thinking. Whether one is a Millerite who wonders why the world didn't end in the 1840s or a skeptic in all respects as to things unseen, the way to judge people, in my view, remains by their fruits.
Sometimes I marvel that I have everything I could theoretically want or need, and yet do not enjoy what I have to the fullest. I'm not saying that a bit of personal ennui is all bad, because it can motivate one to dream and do. But it is curious how little one can realize how lucky one truly proves to be.
I suppose that I'm not so much into figuring out which candles burn the brightest these days, and which are best replaced by electric bulbs. I am much more interested in how people find warmth in one another. I don't mean that "touchy-feely" warmth, a vague blanket-affection I vaguely mistrust. I mean truly burning for one another, as people alive, and on fire. Surely this is not something that we must agree on all 99 theses (whatever they were) to find.
I suspect that in five years, we will marvel at our ease and naivete in these five years. Yet I also suspect that in twenty years, folks will be amazed at how much easier life is then than now.
We live at the end of the time of fossil fuels; at the beginning of the time when we see the stars. We have the means to conquer hunger in our hands. We lack the will to conquer any major problem.
In this time, there is simply too much to do to get caught up in the rancour of differing philosophies. This is the time to do and to care.