Monday, November 9, 2015

Which Way the Wind?

I have been thinking for rather awhile, and I have something to say.  Yes, I know the world is currently populated with TL-DR ("too long, didn't read") types.  Personally, I am of the opinion that this is both lazy and sad, and I believe that anyone should be embarrassed to admit such.  
If you're a TL-DR,  you will not wish to bother with this post.  
Others, however, may kindly read on if they would care to do so.  


Recently I was fortunate to be able to purchase a copy of an old movie that I remembered liking very much but that I had not seen for years:  The Riddle of the Sands.  It is perhaps not much-known today and it is, admittedly, a little old-fashioned.  

As I watched it anew, I imagined what current audiences would think of it.  Critics would pan it for being slow-moving and for having a fairly simple plot.  Audiences would be bored by the lack of nudity, bloodshed, and violence (yet those things are in the film); they would be screaming about the lack of feminism and the absence of racial representation.  For modern minds revisionism and perceived correctness appear to weigh more heavily than the simple truth that those matters would be inappropriate to the timeline of the story being conveyed. 

But I became fascinated with The Riddle of the Sands and watched it several times.  As I did, I remembered how,  years ago, I also read the book from which the movie's story was taken, and later being surprised upon discovering the real-life impact the novel had had on actual British naval defense.  It was an important book.  The movie, too, is important in its own way as an example of good storytelling, and it is reassuring to watch ordinary men acting heroically to stand up in defense of their country--there were, it appears, some elements of true events and true experiences in underlying tale.  When a story has so great a reach, then there is surely something to be learned from it.

Such things would be considered pollyanna-ish, foolish, boring, wholly dismissable according to the attitudes I see displayed online and in real life today.  That tendency worries me because I believe that what we choose to watch, what we decide to experience, what we elect to surround ourselves with is bound, for good or for ill,  to color our sensitivity and our thought process.  

A few months ago, a friend surprised me with the loan of DVDs of a very popular TV series (which I'd prefer not to specify by title because I would most certainly not encourage anyone to watch it).  He liked the story the show was telling but he was embarrassed by the nudity in the show and apologized heartily for it.  Notwithstanding and not one to refuse a friend's kindness, I watched the DVDs.  

The storyline was buried under a mountain of excessive sensation; however from what I was able to gather, I'd have to say that the main points appear to be about the essential weakness of those who hold noble ideals, about the inevitable corruptability of all humanity, and about the ultimate inescapable triumph of uncaring evil.  This is something I disagree with entirely.  I was unoffended by the nudity but appalled by the violence.  Worst of all, though, was the protracted and intense close-up views of the results of the violence--gore, death, decay, destruction.

We have a right to see and hear and think certain things.  But is it right that we do so?

Let me be clear:  We have a right (the choice, the option, the ability)  to see and hear and think certain things but it is right (acceptable, worthy, good) to do so?

There's a blog I sometimes like to read.....I say "sometimes" meaning that I don't always like what the blogger says but I read anyway.  Rather than basing her views of what she likes on the good aspects of the thing itself, she retailiates by posting vituperative hatred of the opposite view--this is what she believes it means to have an open-minded viewpoint.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   I accept that we all have different views and attitudes but I do NOT accept that pushing one viewpoint means that you have to destroy the other person's.  Loving one thing implies no right to hate another.  

It is good to have a strong and informed opinion about matters of importance.  But it is often even better to belt up and listen attentively when others think differently.  It's a chance to learn.  I could avoid the blogger in question but I don't.  Since she is obviously clever and because she feels so strongly about things, I am curious about her views but I don't trust her opinions because there is no ground under them; she is unwise, unthinking, untutored--more naive and jejune that she imagines herself to be.  She seems representative of the views of many people today--those who demand their moment but who dismiss yours as TL-DR.

I am deeply concerned about the nannying of today's world--the sense that everything has to be perfect and un-hurtful, the insistence that we have to mind everyone's tender feelings at every moment in every encounter; that the rules for everyone don't matter a whit if one person disagrees.  There is a sense that we no longer have to cooperate for the benefit of the majority.   And strangely to the contrary, there is a parallel prevailing attitude that you must be forced to accept what is politically correct but have no opinion that is your own.  The cult of fairness is flawed. 

There is a line between having rules and being forced to engineer our lives so that each person must be accounted for individually in respect to those rules--a coddling and cooing over weakness.  Such things weaken us all.  There is no longer any firm expectation--every aspect becomes more and more mis-shapen in the demand for what the individual wants.  That is not how we become strong.  That is not how we learn.   We cannot begin to know the appropriate time to break the rules until we have come to an understanding of the rules themselves.  If we demand respect without basis, we never learn what it means to earn it.   We have to have the benefit of being able to make mistakes to learn to dissect the truth. We cannot discern direction unless we are given a compass, are taught the proper way to use it, and (it must be said) are allowed the opportunity to lose our way.  If we allow our attention to be drawn away because we want a silver compass instead of a brass one, and if others pander to that wish instead of paying attention to our fundamental needs in the matter of truly  learning to read direction, we miss what we need most to know.  We can't look only at what we want to see while hating what we don't.

Life is not fair.  We can only be prepared to face the crises in our lives when we have a background of built-up strength, and that only comes from experience.  If we are too closely shielded with every variation accounted for, we are prepared only for failure.  In the end game, human beings who do not make use of the opportunity to nurture reserves of inner strength that will help them to endure, will be looking only for the door to what they think to be fair.  That door is a disguised dead end.  Life is not fair, and sometimes it is entirely cruel.  

By contrast to the insistence on fairness and concern for tender feelings, what is happening to our sensibilities when we become too comfortable with the excessive violence, punishing hatred, and over-sexualized situations that are the endemic bedrock of current entertainment?    People become so blinded by the glare of such examples that all else is blotted out, and thus they hold these images up as symbols of power.  It kills common feeling, as well as common sense.  And it has, if headlines in the news are anything to go by, shoved open not only the doors to disaffection and disorder but to destruction and disaster.

On the one hand, people are expected to tip-toe around everyone's sensitivities by keeping everything fair; on the other people brutalize themselves with continually heightening levels of sensation that deaden them to all but the most extreme emotions. 

Where does this leave us?  Humanity is cyclical; emotional life is a pendulum.  We do not simply break down and fail to repair.  Instead, when we push things too far in one direction, they must inevitably rebound equally far in the opposite.  By insisting on excessive fairplay and by isolating ourselves from human interaction and by overexposure to sensationalized entertainment, we become weak; we can no longer see what is worthy and we sneer at those who may have the answers we need.  This leaves us vulnerable prey as the pendulum swings back the other way.

That is why I deliberately choose the slow road, the simple stories that show the way, the undistracted route to common sense.   I have time and space in which to think and to judge for myself.   And I do so knowing that this is not the only way.  I am aware that others are more knowledgeable, and that I have yet much to learn.  Wisdom cannot be given; it must be gathered.

If it were not for the things that I have learned from the old rules and the old ways, I would surely have been distracted by explosive influence by those TV show DVDs and I would not have been able to form discerning opinions about what I saw.  As it is, I realize that such things may be interesting for a moment, they cannot light the road ahead.  Was the show entertaining?  Yes, but that is not enough.  Something cannot be merely good; it must be good for something.  It needs to create further good.  It takes something of substance to do that; sadly, that TV show doesn't have it.  It is an outstanding example of technicians' wares and of film production.  But the strongest characters all espouse selfishness, cruelty, and trickery above all else.  Thus, the show does not convey hope or wise lessons and, unfortunately, without those, it is worthless.  It is not necessary for goodness to triumph all the time but it is dangerous to show evil as the most powerful force because that is what it inevitably will inspire its admirers to aspire to become.

One of my college professors once told me that the purpose of an education was not to teach us what to think but to teach us how to think.  I believe that this vital point applies not only to our education but to our reading, our entertainment, and our environment.  We must be able to dissect what we see and hear.  Thus, if the opportunity avails itself, I may choose to watch other things that are not-so-very-good for me because I have a mind and I want to use it.  I don't need fairness to put a false gloss on things.  The truth is the truth, and I cannot learn if I willfully close all doors but one.   It is as important to be informed.  And it is important to be allowed to choose what stands for lasting goodness.  

So, at the end of the day, I think I'll just go watch The Riddle of the Sands again, thank you--not because it is old or old-fashioned but because it teaches me somethning about goodness.  It does not ignore the evil in the world; it admits that evil exists, and it shows that good people and good actions can prevail.

What we believe will inform what we become.

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