Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Education and Catastrophe

“We are in a race between education and catastrophe.”  -H.G. Wells

 

Let me introduce the contestants: In this corner, Catastrophe!

 

• My daughter reports it was 107 in Portland, Oregon yesterday. 

• We found a dead whale as we walked on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Apparently one of fourteen recently noted. 

• Mitch McConnell still exists. And he is using power he never deserved to block the most simple of democratic principles. 

 

Etc.

 

In this corner, Education! 

 

• Yesterday, Carl Nassib became the first NFL player to openly declare that he is gay. A professional FOOTBALL player. 

• I walk the streets with my mixed-race granddaughter and no one blinks an eye. As far as I know, she’s made it through 9 years without anyone publicly insulting her based on race. 

• Joe Biden is President. Kamala Harris is Vice-President. Barack Obama was President.

 

Etc.

 

Because Zadie is visiting, I don’t believe I have time to do justice to the main point I want to make. Or will have to be (gasp!) uncharacteristically succinct. But here it is in three Acts:

 

ACT ONE: Watching old movies and reading old books, I’m struck by what was commonplace and accepted as the norm within my lifetime seems so weird and unacceptable now. I’m talking about things like sexual harassment at the workplace (all levels), domestic abuse, child abuse, religious discrimination, homophobia and anything and everything that has to do with race.

 

ACT TWO: Though it’s clear there are plenty— and indeed, far too many— “unwoke” people still walking the streets, voting and getting media attention, I believe there are more people than ever before, both numbers and percentages, who clearly understand how human beings might finally treat each other with kindness and decency. Jokes, behavior, talk, stories, values that fueled hatred, discrimination, false superiority, unearned privilege are losing ground—yesterday’s norm is today’s unacceptable. What was cool back then is uncool now.

 

Take smoking. Look at the photos of Greta Garbo and Lauren Bacall and James Dean and Marlon Brando, of Billie Holiday and Lester Young and Miles Davis and Bill Evans, all those icons of cool—and every one of them smoking.  Now if you’re a smoker, you’re hiding out in some back alley somewhere and embarrassed if you’re caught. 

 

Same with all the signs of intolerance and toughness. A mere 30 to 40 years ago, you were insulted if you were black or a white person befriending blacks, if you were gay or a straight person befriending gays, if you were a woman or a man embracing the feminist movement. None of that was cool. Now it’s the opposite. If you’re intolerant and still attached to some macho tough stance, you are thoroughly uncool. Of course, not to WAY TOO MANY people, the ones showing up a T….. Rallies. But overall, in the media, in intelligent public discourse, in the overall direction the Rainbow Coalition flag is blowing in the wind, more and more people are waking up to the simple truths of how to raise better kids in better schools in better societies with better food and better exercise and better health care and better self-care.

 

ACT THREE: Think about it. It’s not hard to think of a thousand ways we seem to be worse versions of ourselves today than we were yesterday, but I believe the evidence points in the other direction. More people know more about what it takes to be free of the crippling limitations of blind intolerance, but just as we’re getting close to finally justify evolution’s long patient process, the whales start washing up on the shores in 107 degree heat. It is indeed a race. Can we make it in time? We’re so close to getting it right—or at least knowing what’s needed to get it right—but we could be brought down by the consequences of our historied greed, ignorance and ill-will just as we’re in sight of the finish line. 

 

Let’s commit to the right team in the relay race. Train yourself, eat well, work as a time and of course, hydrate. But not with those damn plastic water bottles!

 

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