I watched and listened this week to three stimulating media events. First up, the movie Divergence is good enough and what caught my attention was the authority’s understanding of divergent behaviors as destructive of society and order. These divergences are part of our genetic heritage and so of human nature, which must be controlled. This depiction of an errant, even sinful people and the means needed to control them and promote social coherence was a bit heavy handed and I bet the novel is more nuanced. The genetic component seemed added to the narrative to yield a scientific vision, yet this is the same old story religious orthodoxy and fundamentalism have played out since, oh I don’t know, say about the time of the first and second councils of Nicaea, or any time civil governance enforces behaviors based upon a singular religious creed and with religious zeal. Once again, this reflects a categorical error at best, that human nature is dominated by anti-social impulses when all of mammalian evolution shows the opposite trend, and so human nature must include both. It is like some friends of mine who used to say in justification of their reverence for Confederate heroes that it is “Heritage not hate.” I am sorry but the heritage, like all of ours, includes hate even as it includes heroism. So, just to be clear about the categorical thing. Even Buddhists have wars.
Next up I listened to NPR on 8/14/14 and heard a remarkable interview and story about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, with the Rev. Willis Johnson, who had been videotaped holding a seething and angry young teen during a confrontation between protestors and police early on. Go to: http://www.npr.org/2014/08/14/340422502/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue for the full story. The Rev. Johnson framed this conflict in the most humane and compassionate manner as a human issue, not just a race issue, and further that he needed to hug and protect that young man as much as the young man needed his compassionate action. Rev. Johnson also related it to his youth, his father and his son. Finally he said that anyone who is hurting and angry needs to be affirmed, that the ‘authorities’ that day were denying the validity of the truth they knew, and that we all have been there. And so we have.
In a similar vein we went to see the movie Boyhood, filmed over 12 years as a boy actor grew up and the adult actors grew older. Seems epic in scope but it was composed entirely of intimate moments. Wow! The filmmaker, Richard LInklater, clearly has a deep, patient and compassionate view of life and its corollary activity, filmmaking. To produce good, if not great, art such a view is a prerequisite. Such a view shines through our great literature from Chaucer and Shakespeare on up through Joyce and Pynchon as well as other arts. In this film the human experience is conveyed in its glory, as in the moments when family and mentors nurtured this boy especially though nature, photography and music, and in its painful moments as when adults, often a drunk man, corrected the boy thoughtlessly and even brutally. A life complete. Easy to say, hard to do and wonderful to see. At your theaters now if you are lucky.
Susanne Langer (and if you follow this blog, you knew this was coming) found a dialectic between an individual and society. Any and all individuals follow their heritage with creative license and every society needs individuals to follow its mores and fulfill its responsibilities. To ‘advance’ requires the dialectic of individual creativity and social change through periods of stability and flux. Let us work to promote the virtue in both.