Voice of the Mountain
by Shawn K. Inlow
Kicking it at the top of the J-Curve
When you are a retired person you can do things like this: Tape the "Les Miserables" Festival they were having on Turner Classic Movies last week and begin your day with the very good - very complete - 1934 French version that runs over 5 hours in length. Then, having done your homework - I didn't have the 6 hours required to read the 1,800 page novel by Victor Hugo - you can move on to the 1935 classic (read: 2 hours) starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton before advancing to the 1952 version with Michael Rennie and so on.
It was a plan, however small.
Until my brother-in-law emerged from the basement... My brother-in-law lives in the basement, no questions, please... and he says, "Ain't ya watching teevee?"
Today's Voice speaks to tragedy in our culture but in a more broad way. Bear with me, we've got a few miles to go before we sleep. I have detected a severe reaction to the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, which I was made aware of by my brother-in-law.
When you begin your conversation with "Turn on the television, you've gotta see this," it is as sure a sign of pending graphic horror as you will ever see. But you can't just keep watching Les Mis, you have to look. But I got a sick feeling in my stomach. My mind raced back to September 11, 2001, when I was home with my toddler son and the phone rang and my wife, the editor of The Progress, a small daily paper in Clearfield, Pa., said, "Turn on the teevee. You've gotta see this."
The presses had been stopped at The Progress that day to observe the insensate violence of that day.
"What channel?" I said.
"It doesn't matter what channel," she said and hung up the phone.
My mind grappled with that. It doesn't matter what channel? And I woke to a new age in real-time horror. The phone rang a while later and it was the office calling me in to report to Shanksville, Pa. as part of the response to the crash of United Airlines Flight 93.
So I'm sitting there watching the carnage in Newtown unfold but I'm not hearing much of it. I'm thinking about how the Rodney King beating set LosAngeles ablaze with violence. How everyone was transfixed by the run-up to the Iraq War. How everyone was glued to the teevee for the O.J. Simpson verdict while society itself was coming unglued.
A real friend posted to Facebook about her visceral reaction to some network trotting out a 9 year-old to interview about the Newtown shootings. While you recoil from that, I will take the reaction as a positive sign. You need to be offended at something like that. And it is a good sign that there is a place that is too awful to go. And turning off the teevee is a good and natural reaction.
Consider the opinion of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. I think you have to click through to watch this on YouTube, but it is worth the view.
I'd like you to step on back with me though. As I posted yesterday, sometimes I feel anxious or alone. I feel like things are getting unhinged and it should, it should affect any decent person. These feelings are normal, if unfortunate. The problem is not in your set.
I wonder as I pull away whether or not each little dose of hell is a symptom instead of the disease we're all trying to put our finger on. See, everybody's going to go talk about gun control as a political issue:
No, I'm aiming at something larger. Stay with me now. I've been reading books like the incredible Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Jared Diamond - a must read for anyone - where Diamond examines cultures in Easter Island, Central America, Polynesia, Greenland and Idaho (yes, Idaho) among others.
Check out the enumerated list on the book's Wikipedia page and you quickly see that Diamond posits the root source of societal collapse as "overpopulation relative to the practicable carrying capacity of the environment." Now, that's a very short tell on a very complex (and I think, thrilling, anthropological history) book.
Look. You take an ant colony, like in the Pixar movie, "A Bug's Life." The colony exists on Ant Island and it can grow as an ant colony only so far because the island is only so big. Never mind the grasshoppers and the rushing waters all around. Once all the natural resources are used up, and nobody has any food left, the population has got to die off from famine. This is the principal behind the notion of the J-Curve.
But if you take an overcrowded planet - our own Ant Island - where everyone feels so alone and powerless, could there not be another symptom besides die-off. Like the rash you get when you are exposed to an allergen, could not our society, not unlike any animal species, exhibit other troubling side effects?
I wonder if this propensity for people to go bat-shit and start shooting isn't somehow related to anthropological population pressure. As if that pressure somehow just causes more and more people to crack. Examine how you can feel alone in a crowd. Examine how Facebook just quickly encroaches upon you and unleashes this tide of information on you and you just can't manage that many "friends."
I think the ones who crack are the hopeless ones. The isolated ones. And the goddam teevee just makes me feel more hopeless sometimes... Maybe if I just click back over to the middle of Les Miserables (literally, "the miserable").
But writing to you, dear reader, makes me feel less alone and more hopeful. What do we do with these situations? We sensible people share and talk and try to be a little kinder. Folks, I don't think it's necessarily the teevee or the gun or the perpetual war by themselves. I think it's how the constructs of our society - all of those things, and more, together - cause hopelessness. The answer - all you can do - is to go about and be kind. Cause hope wherever you are.
We'll see you tomorrow and we're going on a frightful sleigh ride with the Original Santa in a movie from Finland called "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale." Until tomorrow. Enjoy!
Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.