Saturday, February 12, 2011

Watching TV (My Yellow Rose)

I keep thinking about this song as I think about the events that have unfolded in Tunsia and Egypt and how humanity has become more and more connected through technology.

We are such complex creatures. At our most animalistic level, we are driven to fight and kill one another on ever increasing scales. But even as we invent newer and more efficient ways to kill our fellow human beings, we are also inventing newer and more efficient ways of connecting with them.

I suppose art came first; cave drawings. Even hundreds of thousands of years later, we are able to connect with people we can never meet. We share the bond of knowing that those people were in so many ways just like us. We know this because they left behind messages that we can understand.

Writing was the next big leap in technology. Like every new technology, it had its skeptics and detractors. Socrates thought writing was a terrible idea. When you send your thoughts out into the world where people you will never meet can read them, there's just no telling what those strangers will make of your words. They could interpret something completely different than what you meant, and you won't be there to correct them. Of course, the only reason we have any idea who Socrates was and what he thought is because Plato, his student, wrote it all down. And although Socrates was absolutely right about the dangers of writing, he missed the point of writing entirely.

Human communication is not the process by which we transfer information accurately and completely, but the process by which we connect on the most basic of levels and understand that we are all the same.

There is no ideal more important than the understanding that we are all the same, because there is no idea more destructive and more exploited by those in power than the sentiment that those people are different than us.

You see, every cell in your body has a marker on it that identifies it as you. When a cell enters your body that is not you, it is immediately destroyed. We are programmed, all the way down to every cell in our body, to survive by destroying what is alien or "other."

But we are more than collections of cells. We are more than animals. We are not driven by survival alone. We are driven by love and hope and fear. We crave touch. We need to be connected to one another. We are forever inventing new ways to communicate, not just with the people next to us at the moment, but with people we will never meet on the other side of the planet and the other side of the next century.

Art, music, writing, the printing press, radio, television, the internet, Facebook and Twitter. Every new connection brings us closer to each other until one day, we will be as ready to kill a stranger in another country for the benefit of those in power as we would to kill our cousin or neighbor. This is why governments, religions, and dictators have always sought to control our means of expression, and why we must always fight for the freedom to speak, draw, write, blog and even tweet.

We must fight for the ability to love our brothers and sisters on every continent because the more we connect and work together for the benefit of mankind, the more we will prosper and flourish together; rather than allowing a select few to prosper at the expense of everyone else.

("Watching TV" is by Roger Waters on the album "Amused to Death." It's performed by Roger Waters and Don Henly)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Today, we are all Egyptians

I was eleven years old.

The extent of my political knowledge was that I had been vaguely disappointed when Bush defeated Dukakis in the presidential election the previous year. I lived in a dilapidated blue-collar neighborhood, so there was a pervasive anti-Republican sentiment that I simply accepted without further thought. I also remember being occasionally worried that we might be nuked by the Russians, but beyond that, I had no awareness of or concern about international politics.

Yet there I sat, on my knees in front of the living room television, crying.

I knew very little about World War II, except that the Nazis were evil and had tried to kill all the Jews. I'm pretty sure that I thought the United States entered the war to save the Jews. I knew that Berlin was in Germany, I had become increasingly aware of the existence of a wall there, but I basically had no intellectual understanding of what was happening.

But I understood perfectly. I understood in the core of my being; the way an infant understands music. It was raw and pure. I sat there alone, with no adult explaining to me exactly what was happening. With tears streaming down my face, I watched as jubilant strangers on the other side of the planet tore down a once insurmountable wall with hammers and their bare hands. I watched people from one side of a wall putting their arms around people from the other side; and we all cried together.

At the completely ignorant age of eleven, I acutely appreciated that I may never witness another such moment in history.

And here I sit, my own children almost exactly the same age I was on the day we were all Berliners; but on this day, we are all Egyptians.

What a beautiful day to be alive.

Thank you people of Egypt; and may you continue to be a light of peace and justice to your region and the world.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dear Egyptians,

You have come so far. Don't give up now!

No system of government is perfect. There will always be selfish, greedy, short-sighted bullies trying to take for themselves what should rightly be shared. There will always be gluttonous monsters who will flood fertile green fields with the blood of innocents before they would give a single grain to a starving child.

And it will always be the tendency of the masses to live like sheep; quietly following the butt of the sheep in front of them, unwilling to expend the energy necessary to even lift up their heads and look at the world they live in.

But there are moments in history, however brief, when we shake off our docile stupor and risk our lives to take the reins of our own destiny. There are moments when we humbly accept our obligation to humanity, climb out of the herd, and refuse to accept anything other than justice and the free will granted to us by the magnitude of our frontal cortex.

I know this is terrifying. It's terrifying to watch, but you have our attention. Sheep from every corner of the globe are breathlessly watching your heroism in the face of tyranny. I can't tell you that what you eventually accomplish will be exactly what you hoped for, but it will be yours.

Rip your destiny from the hands of your oppressors, and it will be yours to mold and guard, and you will pass it on to your children with the hope that they will never allow it to be stolen away again.

It is that hope that you are fighting for, and it is more valuable than the blood, sweat and tears you will shed to get it. You can feel the hope at your fingertips, you are so close, and though it is barely in your grasp, already you are throwing its seeds high into the atmosphere where winds carry it to the rest of the world. You have already taken your place in human history and continued the germination of hope, justice, and freedom.

Now take what is yours and plant it in the waiting earth beneath your feet.