Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's my birthday!

I found a picture that says how life has changed in my lifetime as well as any one thing does.

It’s easy to think of the entire 20th century as continuous with the 21st for as long as I can picture the new century. People remain the same biologically, so far, which is important not only physically but behaviorally. I suppose most houses built in 1954 remain occupied. There were cars in 1954. I heard as a child we had a black 1955 Chevrolet with red wheels when I was born. There are cars now. They’re better now. They’re air conditioned, form-fitted, personally musical, computer managed with accessories activated by a pushbutton instead of muscles. There are interstate highways to drive them on. So road trips are longer and faster with fewer stops, but not all that much different. Still can you imagine driving between LA and San Diego all the way on the Pacific Coast Highway, a two-lane road with stop signs?

Other things are like night and day. The n-word has become the word most likely to destroy a career or an excuse to set O.J. Simpson free instead of being an everyday label. Many used it to describe Elvis Presley’s music in 1954. White folks were supposed to use more disciplined rhythms, ones less likely to stir the blood. Somehow babies were made anyway.

Race in society has changed like night and day, despite those who still see racism everywhere. If it is still everywhere, it’s different than it was.

Sex as recreation was more secret in 1954 than today. USC cheerleaders kept the sexual imagery of their sweaters as cheerleaders were transformed into the hip thrusting sex fantasies of today, but much is different. There actually were cheerleaders leading cheers at a football game in the fifties instead of dancing girls on the field and honey shots on TV. Part of me says that’s progress.

It’s not that sexual repression dominated the past and easing of that repression has only happened recently. Flappers in the twenties didn’t hide their legs. Prostitution has always worked about the same way, no matter how many images or how few a society provided a man to whet his appetite. Sex was not discovered in the sixties to accompany drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, even if oral contraceptives made sex a little more carefree. Sex will not go away unless we manage to become much more totalitarian than we ever have before.

Yet I look at the picture above and know that something has changed forever during my lifetime, more than just my knowledge of life. Black and white photos and movies were the height of technology in the fifties. Now one can fake life in still images or animation and only someone who knows life well can tell the images are faked either in form or meaning or both. I can write something in my study, and my words are suddenly available not only to those I would send them to deliberately, but anyone else who stumbles on them. It’s information overload for some. It’s a business opportunity for spamming scum or more responsible advertisers. But those are not the important developments.

No one buys a car without air-conditioning now the way they did in the fifties. One can drive without it, but why choose that when it’s almost free? When it comes to choosing for one’s entire life, the choice is not as simple, but the idea is the same. What’s available? What’s the benefit? What’s the cost? The number of ways to answer those questions has exploded. At one time, the most important way to be would have been to do the same thing that everyone I know does. I suppose the fifties were still like that. It’s not the only option now. Now my life is full of possibilities, everywhere I go, because everywhere I go I carry an information revolution with me, partly in my mind, partly in my microchips.

It’s no accident that some people look to ancient ideas about religion, whether conservative Christians, Jews and Muslims or liberals repackaging eastern religions as intellectual or New Age, and see perfection. People want perfection, not the murky world of the information revolution, filled with possibilities, good and bad. It’s like wanting the simplicity of a car without air-conditioning. It works, right? This new world of possibilities is a lot more than air-conditioning. How can that work?

It works because the Earth continues to go around the sun, because life is resilient, and because if there is God, He is even more resilient. He is also unlikely to be captured by visions of our world thousands of years old.

There is no resistance in me to the idea that God is whoever and whatever God is, not what anyone says about Him. I look at how most people insist they are right in their beliefs, political or religious, conservative, liberal or atheist, and know that time will prove them wrong, in their lifetime or later. Our past was not so special as to be the only way to live. Everyone who thinks it was will die. And if there is an afterlife, they will find it is much different than they predicted. Then what?

Few think about that. Most people seem content in their beliefs. It’s not reasonable. It’s rational that their beliefs are the best that they can come up with in their own minds, but look at the world, both the internet and the real world it mirrors. Why should anyone have picked the one true way in all that? People believe in such miracles. We are big on fantasy. But because it is fantasy that an ancient belief is perfect, they will die in that belief and pay whatever consequences there are for that belief. People can ridicule the other guy all they want in that, but it is they themselves who are ridiculous.

I would not want to go back to the styles of 1954. At least part of me likes the dancing girls at football games today, even if another part of me wonders how this integrates with the rest of our society and its gender roles. I’m sure that will be worked out eventually. Today is a time of great transition in our world. There are many choices for our future, but I doubt we’re the ones making them. Our nature is what it is, genetic, cultural, and spiritual. It matters whether there is a God or no God. A lot of things matter. Such things shape our future. Most of us are just along for the ride.

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