"People have often been willing to give up personal identity and join into a collective. Historically, that propensity has usually been very bad news. Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought. Fascists, communists, religious cults, criminal 'families' — there has been no end to the varieties of human collectives, but it seems to me that these examples have quite a lot in common. I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob." ~ Jaron Lanier
Good Morning World, I'm Glad You're Still Here
At 4:25 this morning a bomb dropped, bursting in on the predawn air of my ordinary suburban neighborhood. I awoke with a start; the peaceful sleep of the moment before had exploded instantly into so much shrapnel scattered in a dark bedroom. Images of the destruction around me hung in my mind like dense smoke; I realized that I was thirsty and reached for a bottle of water on the nightstand. My cat jumped onto the bed, purring loudly. By then, of course, I'd figured out that the bomb was only a dream. Or was it?
Perhaps my mind saw something real out there in a mysterious realm of consciousness: had it traveled across the globe, or adopted an orphaned memory in the limbo of the lost? Perhaps I experienced this sudden, shattering horror through the eyes of an unfortunate soul who could never now speak of it to the world? There was only one option for me: I turned on my computer, determined that the moment wouldn't be lost again. I would tell of it; to honor distant lives callously, tragically, needlessly snuffed out in the blink of an unsuspecting moment while a land of forgotten liberties and neglected conscience dreamt away the dark hours in blissful disregard of terrors elsewhere.
Sometimes I fear that we've lost the ability to see the things that don't appear before our eyes. It's called imagination, and there's more to it than meets the eye. Imagination is a prerequisite for empathy; you can't see another individual's perceptions or touch, taste, feel, or smell them, but they exist just the same. Other people's experiences are real, and they matter, and they affect our personal worlds in myriad ways. You could say that I'm imagining things; that is true: and it's precisely what Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mark Twain, Mother Theresa, and George Orwell would doubtless have done in similar circumstances. Their dreams and their lasting contributions to humanity would not have been possible without imagination, and the ability to use it well.
Imagination is the original toy for children of all ages. It's also the most useful tool in the world. Imagination is the imperceptible Lego set that has been used to dream up and produce every innovation and improvement that man has created within his environment, much like DNA comprise the building blocks of living organisms. Slowly, inexorably, modern man is creating an environment that is hostile to the imagination. Crazed pursuit of entertainment and distraction can permanently impair people by clipping the wings of their natural imaginative abilities. As far as I can see, it's the reason so many Americans can watch the 'fireworks' over Baghdad or Kabul, and not be completely horrified.
How can any human heart not sense the connection to others, however far away or different, when it has the full use of unfettered imagination? How can lives snuffed out on the far side of the globe mean so little to so many decent people? It's a speculative observation, but television may be a large part of the reason. Constant bombardment by images can be a genuinely unpleasant sensation when you're not accustomed to it, like those awful flashing ads on websites: but like anything else, one grows accustomed to or acquires a taste for it.
This war against Iraq wasn't simply a failure of diplomacy. It was also a failure of the imagination. The war didn't have to happen; there must have been a hundred other possible outcomes, and almost any of them might have been better in the end. Saddam was unable to imagine a smarter way of being Saddam. George W. Bush was unable to envision a way to be a nicer President of the United States. We the people were unable to imagine a way out of the mess that we're in; some don't even recognize it as a mess.
What America might want to remember is that most of the world isn't watching our TV stations, or even turning on the TV at all. People in other parts of the world may not experience that disconnect from imagination caused in part by sheer over-stimulation. Like my dream was to me, our bombs are real to them; and they ARE real bombs. People can live in Germany, Canada, France, Russia, or anywhere else, and experience the bombing of Iraq in a way it seems the vast majority of Americans cannot, via empathy and the imagination. Try turning off the tube, and turn on your imagination; you might even have a change of heart, and see a whole new beautiful day dawning.
No more bombs, please, and thank you. I'm so glad you're still there this morning. For a minute there, I was really worried.