I’ve been spending a lot of time this past summer thinking about what I should teach youth. What have I learned that will be lost, when I die? Of this learning, what is worth saving? What is best forgotten?
After devoting considerable thought to the subject I decided people spend far too much time remembering what they should forget, and forgetting what they should remember. (Which was which? I forget.)
This may sound odd, from a person who loves to study the past, but amnesia is an important part of growth. We need to forgive and forget, or we get stuck in the ruts of various grudges we never drop. Life is full of indignities, and if we don’t drop them then we are doomed to walk around all the time being indignant. Wearing an outraged expression all the time makes your face hurt. (Try it for five minutes, if you don’t believe me.)
I think one reason it is difficult to remember much of early childhood is because it is full of indignities and embarrassments. If you had to remember all of them all the time you might have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Rather we absorb a sort of conclusion, a lesson, a moral-of-the-story.
As a consequence of this amnesia we walk without needing to think of all the falls that went into learning to balance. What good would it be, to remember teetering backwards and sitting abruptly down onto a diaper full of poop? It is far better simply remembering how not to.
The only ones who want to figure out all the individual events that go into our habits are psychologists, who are curious about our motives, and, as a person who became deeply engrossed in psychology as a youth, I have discovered a danger of psychology is that it makes it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. If you have to figure everything out before you begin, it is unlikely you’ll begin. Talk is cheap, and action speaks louder than words, and it is through failures that a sincere seeker finds right. No man became a saint without first blundering his way through a long series of moral failures.
It is these “good habits”, the crystallized essence of experience, that come down to us as various cultural commandments, the rules that saints pass down through the ages to guide and instruct the young.
We tend to resent these rules, especially when young, because they seem to impinge upon our freedom, our ability to to go out and learn for ourselves. The saints, and even ordinary parents, want us to avoid “learning things the hard way”, but when young we want to rattle the bars of our cages, to bust out and “raise some wild oats.” Then we (hopefully) learn rules do not exist without reason, nor do they exist merely to oppress us.
Mark Twain’s father died when he was eleven, and he himself died in 1910, yet in 1915 Fred N. Ringe wrote,
“It reminds one of something Mark Twain said to the effect that when he was seventeen he couldn’t bear to have his Father around while they were discussing important questions but when he was twenty-five it was wonderful how the old man had improved. “
This quote, which Mark Twain may never have spoken, is used by many who have come to understand how respect for elders is acquired, and is in itself an example of how an elder like Mark Twain is so respected that the words of a complete unknown like Fred N. Ringe can be remembered and respected a century after he wrote them, if we think they were written by Mark Twain.
I would like to have my words remembered and respected, a century from now. Perhaps I should say, “Mark Twain said, ‘I would like to have my words remembered and respected…’ “. But first I thought I’d turn to the culture of China, where ancestors have long been held in great reverence, to see if I could get any pointers on how to sell my words.
Wow! That Mao fellow sure did know how to sell a book! And I will confess that when I was young I wanted to be a rock star, and have crowds, like the one seen above, treating my every moan and groan as if they were Shakespearean sonnets. That being said, there is something about the above crowd that utterly repels me.
I suppose what repels me it is the uniformity seen in Mao’s idea of “collective good.” It is strongly opposed to the idea diversity is a good thing, and that each person has a God-given gift as unique as their fingerprint. Instead, during Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”, individuality was seen as bad, as a “Western” concept that needed to be “purged” from society. How opposed is this to my liberal roots? Well, while the young in China were roaring about as militant members of the “Red Guard”, I was traipsing about humming Ray Stevens:
With twenty-twenty hindsight one thing apparent to me is that Mao wasn’t truly rebelling from capitalism. He was in fact acquiescing to it. How? He was subscribing to the capitalistic idea that increased production is better. Before the “Cultural Revolution” was “The Great Leap Forward”, which was all about increased production. Mao was frustrated by the fact China appeared backwards, “third world”, like it was living in the stone ages, and in his eagerness to be more capitalistic than capitalism he conceived the idea that traditions were an evil. Anything that seemed “old-fashioned” was labeled either “bourgeoisie” or “Western”. It must be “purged”, even if it in fact was the heart of China’s spirit, and an attribute that made China unique and in some ways more civilized than the barbaric West.
Just as some psychologists think amnesia is the answer to the problems of the troubled, and shock-treat their brains, Mao felt the answer to China’s troubles was to subject the collective mind of China to shock, attempting to create an amnesia towards tradition, which would allow “reeducation”.
Meanwhile, traipsing about, back in America, young hippies felt production itself was the problem. They wanted to “get back to nature”. Indians, somewhat to their own astonishment, found themselves abruptly held in reverence rather than scorn, and coined the word “Wannabea” to describe young hippies who “want-to-be-a” Indian. In like manner, the Amish suddenly found ridicule was giving away to admiration. Where China was attempting to destroy its past, America was attempting resuscitation.
To some it seems hippies were simply spoiled, and ungrateful, and unaware how hard life had been in the Great Depression, and how lucky they were to live in a time of increased production. People who didn’t live back in the 1950’s and 1960’s don’t know that, in fact, production actually had gotten a little out of hand, and that pollution was so bad smog made eyes sting in Los Angeles, and a river in Cleveland actually caught on fire.
Listing ingredients on the side of packages of food began with the “Fair Packaging and Labeling Act” of 1966, and I can remember scrutinizing the sides of packages with other youths in wonderment, amazed by the exotic chemicals used to color and preserve our food.
I can actually remember the day it sunk in to me that producers might need to be watched. I was hanging out on a hot summer day with a bunch of teens, and we had the “munchies”, and dumped an entire half-gallon of ice-cream onto a platter, with the ice-cream retaining the rectangular shape of the cardboard container it came in. Just then there was an uproar outside, and we rushed out to some sort of hilarity so engrossing that we utterly forgot the ice-cream. Hours later we walked back inside and, while some of the ice-cream had melted into a puddle, the additives still retained a rectangular shape, on the platter. One of my friends poked at it and wondered, “What the hell sort of crap are they feeding us?”
That was beginning of an interesting time, when there were all sorts of interesting battles in Congress, where producers fought for fewer regulations, because they didn’t want the expense, while “consumer advocates” fought for “protections.” It was also the beginning of a time when people turned more to yogurt and granola and other natural foods. For the most part I couldn’t be bothered with such stuff, (though now that I’ve experienced cancer I wonder if I should have bothered). Not that bothering would have done much good. One cause of modern cancers is likely the pesticides used back then, and producers were not required to list those on the side of containers of yogurt and granola. (The “organic” movement was just starting then, but hadn’t reached the levels it now has assumed.)
What my focus was back then wasn’t the pollution and destruction of forests or rivers or the air or even the very food I was ingesting, but rather of the home. I was from a broken home, and witnessed the divorce-rate in my little town soar from 2% to 50%. I also witnessed the change of my town from a Norman Rockwell New England village to a bedroom suburb where there were far more newcomers than old-timers, and people stopped knowing who their neighbors were.
The instinctive American response was to simply move further out into the wilderness and form a new town. This was the idea of a hippie “commune”, which was in some ways the old American concept of creating a Utopia, and in some ways was a newer and more socialistic idea, but was seldom true, pure communism. Nor did most hippie communes work or last very long. “Free love” was fine in theory, but in fact people got pissed off when lovers were less than faithful. Also drugs didn’t lead to clear thinking, and people had trouble being responsible, (as responsibility seemed an affront to freedom). I was still a teenager when I lost faith in the hippy communes, and began thinking more deeply about what made a home and a community strong.
Such thought led me to contemplating what was attacking homes and strong communities, and at first the culprit was “progress”, and therefore in some ways “producers”. There seemed to be a mindless greed and desire to have-more and get-more that overrode saner thoughts which might think there were situations wherein “less” could be better. People chased superficiality. A suburb itself was a superficiality, for it pretended to be “in the country”, though suburbs completely lacked the family and community of a true farm homestead. Where a child on a farm had the mother at home and the father working out the window, a suburban home echoed during the days and outside the home’s picture windows was a vacuum. In some suburbs growing corn or opening a shop was outlawed, as if honest work was repulsive. Peter Townsend was correct when he described such a society as a “Teenage Wasteland.”
Though originally it was producers, and therefore “capitalists”, who were destructive to communities and homes, more recently it has become the far-left as well, which returns us to Mao, and the idea of a “purge”.
The far-left has no love of the two-party system, as the far-left’s concept of “collectivism” seeks an enforced “unity” wherein “the party” controls the population, and the population had better accept what the governing elite decide “for their own good”, or they will be labeled “bourgeoisie” or “counter-revolutionary” or “Western” and sent off to a Gulag for “reeducation”. (I’m not making this up, as a personal, paranoid conspiracy. Read the far-left’s own words.)
Much of the current “Resist” movement, which has appeared following the election of Trump, is an attempt to copy China’s “Cultural Revolution”, and to create a sort of American “Red Guard” that will overpower more traditional forces, (who are in fact a truer “resistance”). This movement is having less luck than it had in China, for there is still a large percentage of Americans who don’t want uniformity, and who still believe diversity is a good thing.
The fact the people who call themselves “liberal” have shifted all the way from claiming they would fight for my right to have a dissenting opinion, to saying dissent must be crushed, reminds me of the statement, “I didn’t leave the Democrat party; the Democrat Party left me.” There is a huge difference between a Harry Truman Democrat, who stood for the working class family, and modern extremists.
When I looked up the source of the quote I discovered it originated from Ronald Reagan. Nor was it his mere wit; it was a fact of his life.
In some ways I find this embarrassing, for I can recall being a young Liberal and despising President Reagan. I deemed Reagan a rich fat cat, and never bothered read a word he wrote, preferring to bad mouth him for his advanced age and his success. Now I poke through his speeches and see him saying “my” thoughts, way back in 1976.
One thing that makes me shake my head is how often he said the Democrat Party had changed, from what it was back when he was a Democrat. One time a somewhat snide person asked him if he had attended the Republican convention when Abraham Lincoln was nominated, and he replied, “Of course not; I was a Democrat back then.”
In conclusion, I’ve come to the same conclusion as Reagan. Perhaps I am merely reaffirming the old Churchill quote:
When I gather together my thoughts, what is it have I decided it is important to teach the young?
One thing I’ve done this summer is to study what I’ve learned from three cultural branches of my family tree: The Yankee; The Abenaki; and The Huguenot. And one thing that saddened me is to what degree all three cultures have been destroyed.
The modern world, with all its gizmos and gadgets and plastic and video, can’t compare to a single old man I knew, who died last winter, and what he knew about weather and trees, and also what he knew about being a faithful husband and having a home. He’s been erased. In a sense progress has been a purge, erasing the wisdom of the past as thoroughly as Mao.
But that old man did pass one thing on, though I cannot claim to have learned a hair of what he held in his head. It was his attitude. Basically it stated, “All men are created equal.”
It seems to me that there is something inherent in that attitude that demands we love our neighbors. It whispers of a better way, where it doesn’t really matter if your neighbor is richer or poorer, white or black, capitalist or communist, Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Atheist.
In the scriptures a man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the tale of the Good Samaritan, which has become a concept so ingrained in our culture that people, who would not otherwise touch a Bible with a ten-foot-pole, can evoke the concept while speaking of laws involving “good Samaritans.” For example, in many states, if you stop to try to stop the bleeding of a person laying on a highway after a crash, the bleeding person cannot later sue you for malpractice, due to clauses in the law protecting “good Samaritans.”
It is not a merely American idea that “all men are created equal”. It involves “loving your neighbor”, with origins in Old Testament Law over 3000 years old. Such a concept does not allow purges. It does not allow capitalistic profit to override humanity. It actually, if you take it to the limit, does not even allow war.
At this point you can cue the violins, and put on a recording of John Lennon singing :”Imagine“. For, though many deride him now, John Lennon was no fan of the extreme left. He stated (in song),
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.
Lennon was actually of the old-school of Democrats, and if fate had allowed him to live past age 40 to the age of 77, (which he would be today), he very well might now be saying, “I did not leave the Democrat party; the Democrat party left me.” And if he stated this in a truly communistic nation he’d be slapped into a Gulag so fast his head would spin.
As a second conclusion, I’ll simply state that it takes guts to believe “all men are created equal” these days, for you will catch it from both sides. The extreme right will attack you for getting in the way of production and profits, and the extreme left will want to purge you for getting in the way of their (supposedly bigger and more fairly distributed) production and profits.
However a neighbor is not a production. A neighbor is not a profit.
Who is your neighbor? Well, your closest neighbor is your spouse. Love your neighbor. Next closest are your children. Love your neighbor. Next closest is your neighborhood. Love your neighbor. Next closest is your county and state. Love your neighbor. Last on the list are the big-shots of the Federal Government, and it doesn’t matter a hoot in hell if they are communist or capitalist. Love them as well, but love them last. Charity begins at home.
This is the attitude which was handed down to me. It may infuriate certain big-shots, who feel they should be higher up on the list, but if you study the American Constitution you see they should not be tyrants, but servants.
This is the attitude we should try to pass on to the young. Progress is not evil, when it walks hand in hand with this attitude. Great powers are attempting to destroy this attitude, but if you stand by the Truth it will stand by you, and furthermore Truth transforms all it touches.
The Truth is that the Yankee, Abenaki and Huguenot of New England were once enemies, and none thought there could ever be peace. Now all three bloods flow in my veins, and peace has blessed the landscape of New England for 200 years. The feuds are forgotten, and amnesia is a good thing in that respect, but the attitude that was merged and coalesced is not forgotten.
Truth is no candle that the ignorant winds of darkness can blow out, and in the end huge darkness cannot stand up to the littlest light.