Tuesday, July 16, 2013 10:47 PM
Feeling kind of strange tonight. It doesn’t help that I’ve just watched the PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery “Endeavour” episode with an early serial killer case. It’s even spookier that it’s set in the seventies, in and around Oxford, in England—I’m fairly certain that ‘Masterpiece Mystery’ is just the American product-label for some extremely fine BBC programming in ‘Criminal Procedurals’ that is worlds ahead of our L&O:SVU ghoulishness.
Nor does it help that the Dragon Lady landed a few shots, much as I tried to appear as if I were laughing her off, and now I’m a tetch anxious—it is so easy to be wiped away from the Internet. Cancel my WordPress account and I lose an immeasurable amount of uploaded artistic expression—just because I’ve decorated them with various images that pop up in Google Image search—it’s not as if I try to sell anything, or even ‘build a following’ (which seems to be the current coin of the online-realm). And you won’t find my images altered to try and hide their source—if I was a real pirate, I could ‘wash’ all my downloads through various graphics programs I have and make them all indiscernible as to their original appearance—to human eyes, or to computer analysis.
But I would be as likely to expect to be arrested for hanging a magazine illustration on my living room wall, as to be called to account for my sharing of images that I find on Google Image search. There are methods available to prevent unlicensed downloads—the museum sites and the art sites use them all the time. If the Dragon Lady wants to hang fire, allowing her graphics to show up in a public search (no doubt in hopes of trademark exposure and attention) without any safeguards against casual use, that’s her business decision. I shouldn’t worry—such as her will probably grate on the nerves of her WordPress contact as much as she grated on mine.
But I’ve been clouding up recently—I’ve just completed reading the ‘Century Series’ (or is it ‘Trilogy’?) by Ken Follett, which begins at the turn of the 19th century and through the two World Wars—an epic involving Americans, British, Russians, and Germans—with interconnections of characters, generational sagas of ‘houses’,etc. and so forth. And I’ve just this very day finished re-reading Virginia Woolf’s “The Years”, a sweeping story centered on the English, but affected by the same historic changes and struggles. Add to those the watching of “Downton Abbey”, the newly-ressurected “Upstairs Downstairs”, and “Selfridges”… well, you can see that I’m just one more English-accented, historic dram-edy on VOD away from thinking myself more a member of the Bloomsbury Group than a suburban New Yorker of the 21st Century.
And here’s the most awful part. These people—Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Roger Fry, Selfridge—they are all antique subjects for the historian, yet their works speak of a sea change in the story of humanity (not including Selfridge, who was more an engine of that sea change). They decried the end of the placid, changeless life of pre-industrial times whilst giving in to all its modern temptations—democracy, socialism, the rise of wealth, the end of many jobs that were always done by the peasants, the lower class, whatever label they’ve had put upon them by the comfortably powerful.
Steam-engine trains didn’t just change the world’s transportation, they destroyed every form of travel that had preceded them. They made a whole amalgam of Inns and Coaches and Retinues (and horses, lots and lots of horses!) obsolete. Everyone whose trade was involved in those earlier modes had to find something new, or starve. And choo-choos were just the very beginning—in a relatively short amount of time, steam was replaced by diesels, dynamos, and daredevil flyers—people who actually flew!
Then, as all this industrial explosion is going on, weapons increased their killing range and power by orders of magnitude, the comfortable little wars that were a kind of habit to Europeans became WWI—an endless slaughter, as militarists came to terms with the obsolescence of valor, of honor, and of the reality of modern weapons as instruments of mass slaughter.
So the society of the Old World is atomized, replaced with anarchy, socialism, communism, and capitalism—the myths and legends of old begin to pale in contrast to the reality of automobiles, manned flight, electricity, factories, nuclear power—the traditions of generations were swept aside with an almost violent speed—the rate-of-change in a hitherto changeless world. They thought they were going mad sometimes—and so they were. They were changing themselves into a civilized society of nominal justice and equality—a complete reversal of the previous millennia of mankind as the only-slightly more intelligent animal over all the other animals.
Now, this line I’ve drawn between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is an arbitrary one, with respect to my point—mankind began to abandon its happiness with that first crop of domestic grain, the baby-steps of our evolution towards ‘us’. There is some evidence of a schism in those earliest times—some ‘tree-huggers’ of the early sapiens opposed the greedy, twisted practice of raising a crop, storing a crop, and (with all this food lying around) maintaining an army with the surplus of grain. The ‘conservative’ pro-nature group felt that this new invention, ‘cities’, was an evil thing—but the other side had the army, so….
Our first steps out of our hunter-gatherer forebears’ cycles of natural, wild life were also the origins of crime—for the first time we weren’t entirely absorbed in foraging—and we proceeded to think up ways of taking control of that surplus, those original ‘assets’, by hook, crook, or bull-puckey.
And every step since that first one has been down the artificial, technology road, further and further away from the mindless bliss of wandering the fields and woods. But technology is a tough nut to crack—those first thirty-thousand years were a slow climb up to the cusp of industrialization. And when those early-twentieth century artists expressed their views of the world, they were by and large unanimous in perceiving it as a whirlwind of change, confusion, and the ugliness of human brutality once it had obtained steel industries and scientific laboratories to draw upon.
So, naturally, I thought of how it parallels our own age—how we see lifestyles and employments evaporate as digital technology begins to replace our minds, just as industrial technology once replaced our muscles. And, like it or not, we should not be surprised to see societal changes that exceed our imaginations, to go with all these practical changes. When a human worker becomes an option, rather than a necessity, how can we be expected to stick to the traditional notions of a middle-class employee or small business owner? Even now, after less than a full decade of enforced idleness, my ego struggles to justify my integrity, my place in the community. Someday soon it will become ludicrous to think of doing some average job, staying employed and solvent for a lifetime—while the world becomes a laser-guided starship of machines and processors and AIs.
We are removing our own necessity—the ultimate end of technological development is the automation of everything. We will need some new way to live as a community, as a nation, as people. We will have to see socialism as our friend, not our enemy. We will have to take that ‘I don’t take charity’ chip off our shoulders and start adjusting to a life without challenges other than those we set for ourselves. And we will somehow (don’t ask me!) have to end the competition of capitalism in favor of cooperationalism, if that’s a real word. Otherwise, the end of all our grand and mighty progress will just be a reset, back to primitivism—with one difference: our poisoned planet will not support us as it did when we were nearer to the other animals.