Language, the moon, John Steinbeck, you, me–all connected
Cross post from IfLizWereQueen – Feb 7, 2012
As of late, I’ve been giving much thought to language and particularly the language of politicians and its power to distort the truth and manipulate us down ugly, narrow, mean paths of willful blindness and purposeful ignorance–paths that will eventually deliver us to annihilation, not only of ourselves as a species, but perhaps our entire planet. As our language becomes more limited and narrowly circumscribed, we become more limited and narrowly circumscribed–binding our own potential for physical action and interaction with others.
Perhaps there is no stopping any of the insanity, Perhaps it is all part of some evil and useless destiny that was long ago fashioned as the script for humanity by some small-minded, mean-spirited god. Or perhaps it is that somewhere along the way, the worst among us have stolen the pen from the real god’s hand and have shifted the once and great design for humanity down an ugly narrow, dark,dirty alley strewn with former hope of humanity cacophonous shrieks of our own making where there was once music.
As we lose our connection to nature and our rich language with its abundant metaphors and complexity of expression, we also lose our ability to be fully present in the moment and with it, our ability to communicate that connection not only to others, but to ourselves.
Many of us are Disconnected and Don’t Even Realize It.
It is amazing to notice how few people are fully present in the moment. You walk down the street and every other person is either wearing an ear bud and talking to an invisible ghost, or they have their thumbs dancing on the tiny lap top of their cell phone as they walk down the street. No doubt countless thousands of accidents happen every year simply because of the close personal relationship that people have with their electronic devices.
Maintaining an awareness and connection to nature takes effort these days–especially if one lives in an urban setting. Still it is well worth the effort. I keep track of the moon’s phases. Tonight, for example, February 7, 2012, is the full moon. I went out and gazed up at it for a full five minutes. I like looking up at the moon. It comforts me to remember that the moon has shone for so many years on so many people before me. And I wondered tonight: how many people here in the Dallas area are even aware that tonight is a full moon? I wonder how many of us looked at the moon tonight. How many of us were there who appreciated the moon tonight?
I’m currently reading again East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s a wonderful saga and I love the story and I love Steinbeck’s rich descriptions of Salinas Valley and the area around Monterey Bay–places that I’ve visited several times and love. It’s this book, combined with my own recent commentaries and thoughts on the current political newspeak, that have cast me into my somewhat nostalgic frame of mind tonight.
The remark by the ancient philosopher, Heraclitus, that we never can step into the same river twice is certainly true for me in regard to a return reading of book that I once enjoyed. Because I have changed, I always have a different, usually richer experience than the last time I read the book.
This time, as I read Cyrus’s explanation to his son Adam about the nature of a soldier, bold harsh brush strokes of truth stood plainly bare before me. To experience the importance of language –I share a lesson from John Steinbeck about “soldiering” written 60 years ago.
The Best Description of “Soldiering” that I ever read.
“Cyrus explained softly to Adam the nature of a soldier. Look now–in all of history men have been taught that killing of men is an evil thing not to be countenanced. Any man who kills must be destroyed because this is the worst sin we know. And then we take a soldier and put murder in his hands and we say to him, “Use it wisely.” We put no check on him. Go out and kill as many of a certain kind or classification of your brothers as you can. And we will reward you for it. , , ,You’ll go in soon now–you’ve come of age.”
“I don’t want to,” Adam said quickly.
“. . . And I want to tell you so you won’t be surprised. They’ll first strip off your clothes, but they’ll go deeper than that. They’ll shuck off any little dignity you have–you’ll lose what you think of as your decent right to live and to be let alone to live. They’ll make you live and eat and sleep and shit close to other men. And when they dress you up again you’ll not be able to tell yourself from the others. You can’t even wear a scrap or pin a note on your breast to say, ‘This is me–separate from the rest.’ . . .After a while, you’ll thin no thought the others do not think. You’ll know no word the others can’t say. And you’ll do things because the others do them. You’ll feel the danger in any difference whatever–a danger to the whole crowd of like-thinking, like-acting men.”
“What if I don’t?” Adam demanded.
” Yes,” Cyrus said, “sometimes that happens. Once in a while there is a man who own’t do what is demanded of him, and do you know what happens? The whole machine devotes itself coldly to the destruction of his difference. They’ll beat your spirit and your nerves, your body and your mind, with iron rods until the dangerous difference goes out of you. and if you can’t finally given in, they’ll vomit you up and leave you stinking up outside–neither part of themselves nor yet free. It’s better to fall in with them. A thing so triumphantly illogical, so beautifully senseless as an army can’t allow a question to weaken it.”