We need to pull back from the chaos and look for the big picture

“The past is the only thing we know. The present is no more than an illusion, a moment that is already past in an instant (or, rather, a moment in which past and future slot into each other). And what we know about the future is nothing else than the projection of our past knowledge into it.”

John Lukacs, from A Student’s Guide to the Study of History (2000)

There’s so much mental flak flying around that it’s hard to focus. Start an article on one subject, three more fly at my head. Whiplash ensues. The border and immigration, energy, COVID, unequal application of the law — DC “insurrection” vs. Portland/Seattle/Minneapolis “protests.” Voting “rights,” the filibuster, profligate money printing, inevitable inflation, cancel culture, media bias, inept leadership, schools that won’t open, transgender “rights” for 6-year-olds, teaching kids to hate the country…the list is almost endless. We’ve been thrown into a state of relentless chaos.

I must take a step back. Since I was a child, my favorite word has been “perspective.” I see it as the concept of starting with history and looking unflinchingly at what is happening now, as part of a long-term continuum with a trajectory to the future. Just as in art, if you draw a table in front of a fence with a group of trees in the background and a mountain behind that, you need to use perspective to see the scene in a way that makes sense to the human eye.

These days, life in the USA doesn’t make sense to me. We have an illusory present, built upon a misshapen view of the past, with unrealistic aims for the future. Movements self-justify by taking one thin slice of history that supports their “mission” and enlarging it in isolation.

Take BLM, for example. If its proponents actually looked at recent history, it couldn’t sustain itself. An unflinching view shows that for many years, the political leaders in modern Black society have encouraged irresponsibility. The excuse of racism is used to justify entitlement and lack of integrity. The left has discouraged ambition to better oneself.

Trump tried to change that, offering incentives to those who would pull themselves up, rather than languishing on the public dole. It was working, especially for urban minorities, until circumstances such as COVID and then this election, destroyed this progress. Still, minorities voted for Trump in record numbers.

Twenty or more years ago, our local farmers' market was adjacent to the “alternative” school and down the street from the city high school. The market opened at 2 PM on a weekday and parking was tough in that neighborhood, so I walked for blocks along sidewalks often filled with minority children leaving classes for the day.

The boys most often had their jeans almost falling off, skivvies on proud display, as they swaggered down the block without a care. The girls clustered in small groups, bantering back and forth. Every second or third word was an expletive, double negatives abounded, their Ebonics unrelated to English.

I was frequently struck by how irresponsible the parents of these youth were for not doing their duty to raise children with a chance to succeed in life. Could these kids grow up into responsible working adults? Some girls were wheeling strollers, already set on a course of action that accepted failure, at the age of 14 or 15. Common practice was to keep having kids with no partner taking responsibility because the state would pay you more then.

Some years before that, when my eldest was in middle school, I ran a peer tutoring program matching kids from that school with elementary students from the campus next to it. It was written up in local papers. It was a wild success. The young teens were great role models for the youngsters. They got one-on-one time and attention, and a role model. The teens were proud of their knowledge and skill, the little kids learned and improved grades, and talking with the teachers, the program was a blessing.

Then the school board found out. I was shut down in an instant. I guess independently doing something to further the actual education of the children was a threat.

I mention these things because so often, we are selfish, discounting our humanity because it doesn’t fit an agenda. Dividing us one from the other keeps power accruing to an established few. Cleaving us from our history sets us adrift, and children set adrift can be lured into whatever mindset the adults around them want to present, no matter how dangerous and irresponsible.

This is a moment in time, superseded by the past and connected to the future. We need to remember that. It may seem like the most important moment but it’s going to be past us in the next moment. How can we make that next moment better?

IMAGE: Sagging pants, Detroit, 2007 by Csc4u. CC BY-SA 2.0.