How should American society evolve in 2022? Full steam ahead, American style, text-and-spend, gorge and dandle, everything revolves around me and my friends, as usual? This is what I hear from A-listers these days. Back to normal, baby!
Newsflash. Normal hasn’t been so rewarding in the last ten or twenty years. I agree that we need the convenience part of normal, definitely yes. But the same old degradation of the soul is normal, certainly not. The workers are unhappy. Politics are disrupted. The teachers leave the classrooms and run for the hills. Business people are stressed. And the kings of finance count more and more money. Is this the normal that our leaders want us to return to?
Our problem is the extreme individualism of society, and the extreme irresponsibility of individuals who in no way think of their neighbors when they do what they do. Freedom with irresponsibility has become the new blind faith of the masses.
Changing individual behavior will be the solution not only to the pandemic, but to a much better future. Who wants to buy a ten minute trip to space, if the earth you come back to isn’t worth a column of salt or a handyman’s dam?
America needs. . . America is ready for. . . tectonic change. The last great reform of the Western way of life occurred 500 years ago. The great event that occurred in the early 1500s is often referred to as the Reformation. But religion was only a small part of the change that took place. At the same time, there was a huge scientific revolution that rocked the world of voodoo alchemy from the Dark Ages to modern science. In addition, there was a huge political revolution that buried the monarchy six feet underground and replaced it with democracy. It turns out that little people who lack self-confidence are still capable of big things when they work at it.
My question to you is, are we good today at sticking to what struggling rural farmers and urban traders accomplished 500 years ago? Has religion done a great job in bringing peace to earth? Have science and technology taken everyone on their own path to equality? Has politics brought everyone together into one big, big, happy family?
Five hundred years is a long time. Enough time for a lot of things to go wrong. In fact, the axial progress that began 500 years ago stopped in the twentieth century and has lost a lot of ground since World War II. Here’s why. The Reform / Scientific Revolution / Democracy movement has become totally obsolete, backward, self-destructive, bureaucratic, politicized and commercialized. Anything that took enormous effort to produce back then has now been reduced to a shiny little fake trinket and sold for the price of monthly rent to enrich dishonest people.
Then the Reformation happened because all of society in Europe shuddered with revulsion at their present way of life. Then every last human being who was dissatisfied participated in contributing something different. But not everyone was unhappy. Many people wanted the king, papists, diviners, and all of their followers to keep getting rich and in control of their lives. But a lot of people haven’t. Today, many people want the American Kings and their nobility in Washington DC, along with their pocket scientists and chaplains, to keep all of this in place. But many don’t.
Religion, in the past, was the umbrella under which everyone gathered in a storm, not because religion had all the answers, but because religion was humble and admitted that it needed more answers. . So what did the religious people do? They turned to every possible resource in the cosmos, studying them and frankly asking them as if they could help somehow. In the past, the priests of religion were those who studied science and history, the two most useful resources for mankind.
Because the education of priests was obviously so important to society, priests occupied the number two position in virtually every government alongside the magistrate. Today, the priests of religion are quite the opposite. They are opponents of science, totally ignorant of history, and often supporters of politics rather than public service. Something, someone, somewhere has to change.
The Reformation and its parallel movements made quite a big revolution, but we can learn from other axial reforms even deeper into the past. The great founding prophets of Western religion did not like the cult lifestyle of their time at all. They saw that religion had become ritualized, sedentary, ignorant and oppressive, so they incorporated science and egalitarian politics into their movements. They saw that the traditional vocation of religion had always been personal well-being, so they started with an emphasis on the health sciences: physical, emotional, mental and social. The prophets saw that people were suffering from a lack of community, of group membership, of social life, so they built this for their people. Once people could physically stand up and start walking, there was a program waiting for them to guide them in their movements.
The approach of the great prophets of holistic change was to improve all of humanity, not to gobble up a few special bank accounts. For example, Jesus spent a lot of time healing and helping everyone locally, as if they all deserved more. Jesus also spent a lot of time teaching in order to broaden people’s minds. He was not in the conduct of the sacraments every week to help people warm up their car seats. Jesus spent his time challenging the outdated and hegemonic institutions of society and creating embryonic new ones, without playing video games or browsing hateful websites.
So if we are to learn anything from history, we have to learn that public health, education, and community action are the secret sauce for the rushed revolution of the 21st century. If that doesn’t happen, we won’t.
The aim is to return to the science that education brings, to the social responsibility that comes from ethical living and to the democracy that comes from political participation. Are you in it, the little ones?
Kimball Shinkoskey is a public health worker and historian.