Recently in the small town of Bluffdale, Utah residents were shocked to see high foaming green toxic slime rising out of the storm sewers. Rather than being the plot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pilot episode, this actually happened and many people got sick. The source was traced to Utah Lake via the Jordan River (the lakes only outlet) and the Welby Jacob Canal. The lake was already known to be over saturated with a particularly nasty type of green algae and the authorities had already treated it with chemicals to eradicate this growth. Farmers were told not to use their irrigation water from this source and people in general were told not to worry. The “medium risk” numbers for the particular cyanobacteria involved are stated as 100,000 and the latest measured levels were 700,000.
The chemicals used to treat the lake water produce the foaming action and the algae cells release their toxins as they die off. The net effect is that although the lake was contaminated with a type of toxin that can cause Lou Gehrig's disease, the act of killing the algae releases those toxins that were bound up in the algae. The lake has been shut down for all recreational use and the people have been told not to worry about their drinking water. Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River in Florida and Georgica Lake in The Hamptons are just a few of the other bodies of water suffering from this plague.
I was told by an Australian Naturopath once that when the body has an internal malady that the last place it is manifested is on the surface of the skin. This can be when the problem has already been conquered within. The paradox is that when the real threat exists we may be largely unaware due to lack of visual evidence. Usually we become concerned when we discern visual signs that something is amiss. Many times this can be nothing more than the smoke from a rifle after the bullet has long since run its course.
Some of the greatest historians have brought to our attention that as civilizations are born, grow and dissolve that the period that we will later mark as their greatest expansion is actually the period after the centre has already begun to die.
When I think of my grandparents who were born just at the turn of the 20th century and compare their experience of our culture and civilization to mine half a century later; I am struck by several interesting things. For example, my grandmother lived through the use of a horse and buggy for transport and had to transition to a Dodge Dart. Similarly, she experienced reading by sunlight, candle light, gas light, hydro-electric bulb and was still alive when nuclear produced electricity came into play. The ritual of writing letters to relatives was changed to dialing a telephone. She experienced cooking in an iron stove with wood as fuel and transitioned to natural gas. She went from telling stories at night to listening to Elvis on the radio, on the phonograph and watching Gunsmoke on the TV. Clothes that had been washed in the creek wound up in a washing machine. My grandfather, a sailor, began his career on sail powered vessels and had to transition to steam power and later to diesel-electric. My grandmother's food which once came from her back yard as well as her father's livelihood which came from 100 acres of East Texas cotton were changed into trips to the Piggly Wiggly Supermarket and Woolworth's Dept. Store. The Colt 45 transformed into the atomic bomb.
Some of these changes were definite improvements both in quality and in kind. Some were not. This is an interesting accounting and one that has recurred many times in the human story thus far on Earth. Rather than argue the merits of these changes, as is so very tempting to do, I would rather direct your attention to a comparison with a similar list of changes drawn from my life, that is, from the period of the mid 1950' to present.
I was born into a world which already contained the radical inventions which decorated my grandparents world. I was also treated to witness some changes of my own. I remember when Bakelite and other softer plastics made their debut in the kitchen. From the Spindletop Gusher in my grandparent's time to DuPont in my own time; plastics derived from petroleum began to replace what had been made of wood, ceramic, leather, metal and glass. I saw automobiles, furniture, building materials for human dwellings and clothing slowly become plastic. Long before I knew about BPA or had read the Huxley brothers writings on what I shall dub “pharmocracy” and “chemocracy”, I strongly disliked plastics. They did not smell right to me or to my dogs.
I watched wars with combatants in recognizable uniforms fighting for stated goals become “police actions” or “conflicts” conducted by “peace-keepers” for officially indefinable vagaries. As to the weapons of war, because I am of a generation who began with atomic weapons delivered by rockets and subsequently watched as laser, electro-magnetic, sound, chemical, biological, economic, psychological and other such weapons were developed yet their impact in my time pales before that of the advent of the cataphract in ancient times.
At this point, I will take the laces represented by the changes experienced by my grandparents and myself and tie up my dancing shoes. I would point out that in my estimation the quality of the changes were greater in my older example than in the more recent. Having said this, we could easily go back farther in time and find that those earlier changes were yet greater in magnitude. The wheel was a big deal. Fire making was a big deal. Fixing an atomic bomb to a rocket changes its versatility but it remains just an atomic bomb. An armored horse is an improvement yet it remains a horse. An electric powered self driving automobile is yet an automobile. My rotary dialed wall mounted telephone transitioned to a keypad desktop model which transitioned to a cordless unit on a receiver/charger base and eventually into a small portable device with internet capabilities. This unit merely combined the existing media technologies of TV, radio, telephone, telegraph, camera, etc. A debit card is only a digital variant of a fiat currency economic system fatally flawed from birth and killed by its own expansion.
If you dismantle the assemblage of a Swiss knife, the individual tools remain what they were long before the folding knife was invented. My point is, that in my lifetime things have mainly been combined, refined and improved. I hold this to be quite less impressive or life changing than the inventive breakthroughs of the past. The transition to human flight is more impressive than the transition from Kitty Hawk to a stealth bomber or an aerial drone. The epic life changing inventions which have helped or hindered our lives have already long since been put in play. We are merely being amused by their constant re-branding, combining and re-purposing.
A man, Albert Pike wrote in his book Morals And Dogma that a horrible war would be purposely stirred up between Muslims and Christians to the end that after the crows finish eating the eyeballs, his ilk could bully the handful of shell-shocked survivors into accepting a world government. He wrote that during the American Civil War era when he was the Supreme Grandmaster of the Masonic Lodge. Unlike Nostradamus, he wasn't fueled by visions, rather he was privy to secret meetings and engaged in global correspondence. We are watching the sanitized version of these efforts on our flat screens 150 years later.
When you peel back onion skins or take apart Russian dolls, you cannot put them back exactly as they were, which is why most folk don't bother. There was a Supreme Court case in the USA not many years ago where the Plaintiffs were 2 young investigative reporters who worked for a major show. They were fired for telling the truth and thus sued their employer for wrongful dismissal. The final judge ruled that there never was before and there is not now any law requiring any news media to be bound to report the truth. The fellas took a long walk, probably wondering how they would pay for their student loans for journalism school.
We cannot deny that people do got shot, burned or blown away but we may be absolutely guaranteed that their stories have been doctored through omission, obfuscation of pertinent details and altered images. We cannot take a single minute of news at face value. The purpose of the stories in our time, from the neglected panda to the gay adoptive parents of a stateless refugee amputee who are horrified that there are no transgender washrooms at the public school it attends, are aired for the purpose of eliciting an emotional response in the viewer and providing guidance for the ensuing dialogue the next day at the salt mines.
In this way society can be tweaked, coerced, managed, massaged and nudged into which ever corral the farmers want. The last worthy newspapers in the USA were bought out by agents of very rich European men at the turn of the 20th century. Thus, I can advise you that before you get an emotional reaction to any horror you see on the news, to remember that what you are seeing and what info you are given is incomplete and thus, your reaction may prove later to have been off the mark, when the dirty laundry gets washed 50 years later.
When the French king offered the Viking Rollo a big chunk of real estate in return for mercenary services, he didn't do it out of altruism towards his Scandinavian neighbors, he did it to expand and consolidate his then meager holdings. His only condition was that they profess to be Christians. Well, those guys kicked ass all the way from Jerusalem to Sicily and Calabria. When Pope Gregory II called on these Normans for help they burned a quarter of Rome. El Cid was himself of Muslim North African lineage according to a direct relative with private family archives dating back a thousand years or so. Tell that to the people who join the Christian festival in Spain every year honoring him as a Great White hero. Richard the Lionhearted couldn't speak English, wasn't born in England and didn't reside in England, yet he is the quintessential English Hero King.
If you study into the history of the union movement for example, you will find, after following the money trail, that certain powerful men wished there to be workers rights in certain places for certain periods of time for certain definite reasons to reach certain objectives. They never let the horses run away any farther than was served their purposes. It seems incredible to us, because of the massive scale, a scale we never approach in our short busy lives.
Dynasties plan agendas out over hundreds and hundreds of years. It is no matter to them that some objectives aren't realized in their own four score and twenty as long as their DNA get to hold the bullwhip in their turn. That's why there is a peerage. The same folks who allow unions into being and to gain a certain amount of strength for a certain period of time can and do yank in the ropes and dismantle the apparatus when it suits their plans. "Kill the best and buy the rest" has been working from before William The Conqueror's corpulent corpse exploded during his funeral, filling the kirk with an awful stench and is working well beyond the day when Bruce Cockburn penned the song They Call It Democracy.
You or I cannot fix all this, so don't fret. Take care of your family and friends. Stay sane and keep your sword hand free. When I think of all the trauma that the people who came before us had to wade through in order for us to get born, I am encouraged and emboldened. We must do our best to honor them. Don't frighten children and don't raise fools. I personally think that one small problem with our species is the lack of discernment in knowing when our important needs have already been met and we need no longer strive and connive for more. In this world being satisfied is looked upon as being retarded, lazy or worse. Yet it is this same dissatisfaction that drives great men to their demise and ordinary men to chemical escape. Water, food, shelter, clothing and companionship alone remain unchanged and unappreciated by those who possess these things.
In my humble opinion a few, a very few, old Japanese and Chinese men figured this out. The fact that they had to live in caves on top of mountains, write poems on mossy walls and get drunk every day on dandelion wine should give us all a clue as to what we are up against here. The universe is expanding and there is no doubt about this fact. We are creatures cringing at the flashes of lightning and the sounds of thunder. The paradox is that if we are alive to witness these visual and aural signs, it means that we have miraculously escaped the actual lightning bolts. The sturm und drang that we witness on the nightly news and in the current books we read must be put in this same perspective.
The Big Bang already happened and you who are reading these words began to die before leaving the bed of your birth. The glaciers started melting before they ceased expanding. The people who we can call the dominant minority in all periods of human civilization have in our own time, already shot their dice, spun their roulette wheels, placed their chips and drawn their cards. They have always been knights of arrogance presiding over squires of ignorance. As the lakes in Utah, Florida and New York mentioned at the beginning of this essay illustrate, their pedigreed perennial twits and courtiers have again peed their beds, soiled their khakis and run their ships aground. Putting out a double album now only serves to prove that the band ran out of real material two releases ago. It recently came to my notice that I have no fear of that which I respect and that I disrespect that which I fear.
Thus, my friend, whether you are hearing this on the radio, reading it on my blog, or listening to it on my podcast, I tell you to take heart. The essence of the turmoil which you see and hear today has already bolted and gone to seed like a neglected lettuce in the back corner of the garden. Your folks came through their trials and so will you. I would add that if you can hold the image in your mind of our universe rapidly expanding into the infinite and see our planet as a speck in that dust cloud; you would logically come to the following two conclusions. One: We might as well be kind to each other during the ride. Two: It is patently ridiculous to take abuse from anyone.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.