Monday, January 24, 2011

Change That is Apparent; Change That is Not. . .

Thomas Jefferson was obsessed, one might say, with the weather. For most if his life, if I remember correctly, he made daily, detailed observations and notations as to the local weather conditions. To us today it might seem rather eccentric or compulsive to do such a thing. But we live in a very different world. Imagine more or less being cut off from the media we take for granted today. That is, imagine one could no longer consult weather reports on the internet, televison, radio, in the newspaper and what not. Further imagine that news of weather outside your immediate local area took longer to reach you, and often came in incomplete form, some through word of mouth. That's a world that fits in more closely with the one Jefferson encountered at Monticello.

In fact the world of "expert" opinion, of those who attempt to describe or, alternately, impose patterns on an individual may have been much less pervasive then on a daily basis, at least at certain levels of society. You had newspapers, pretty much the local ones; you had books; you had the testimony of fellow citizens, some of them in positions of authority, in local meetings of an official or unofficial nature. And you had opinions and information handed to you by close friends, neighbors and such. There were the local authorities who prescribed patterns certainly, as well, but perhaps left more gaps in your daily cycle to be filled as you saw fit. I do not know.

We have all such avenues of communications today too. But we have many more voices as well, to be disseminated in the various electronic media. So we are all aware of global warming, for instance, even though our direct experience of day-to-day and year-to-year existence would not necessarily underscore or call attention to the pattern (unless you happened to live on the North Pole, for example). (I'm not going to talk about those who do not believe in global warming. That is not relevant to this discussion.)

One point of this is that the experience of our daily life and the experience of hearing what those who tell us what the patterns are outside of our little world are two very different things. The more pattern weaving and spin doctoring we are subject to, the less we are obliged to think things through ourselves. Gentlemen farmers like Jefferson knew that understanding weather patterns was vital to agricultural well-being and so they needed to try to discover those patterns on their own. Nowadays others tell us what is happening and what they think is going to happen in the future. Of course they can be wrong; they can also be trying to put a spin on things to their own advantage.

But if you get enough of your thinking already done for you in this way, you may come to a point in your life where you aren't doing much in the way of thinking "for yourself." Perhaps there was also lots of predirected non-thinking happening in earlier times via the authority of consensus, religious doctrine and what people on the local level were saying--the religious leaders, local politicians, influential citizens, etc. I'm not saying that it was "better" then. But the expectation of change was not a constant either. Your farm, if that's what you were about, was something you imagined in perpetuity--for better or worse. (For worse for those who were slaves, if that was what was going on. That's another huge difference between what is the case today and what was the case then but I am not addressing that here for the moment.)

My point is that there was an expectation of continuity then much greater than there is now. We don't expect our children to be doing what we have been doing for our adult lives. In fact many of us have found that "doing one thing" for an entire lifetime has no longer been possible. So we have a greater expectation of constant change and we have a greater number of voices telling us what those changes may or will be.

That doesn't mean that everything we hear covers all the changes we may be experiencing in our lifetime. There may even be changes taking place, patterns that are shifting in ways none of us are aware of. A thousand years from now, people may say, "oh, yes, the 21st century was the time when bla-bla-bla began." Well what would it be that they'd say that we aren't thinking of now?

Something to ponder, anyway.

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