Big History

If you took any history classes in high school or college, especially if you are of a certain age, those classes most likely revolved around human history, or even more arrogantly, white upper class male human history. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking that nothing existed outside of the salons of Europe until we “discovered” America.

Yeah, if you’re like me, you had a brief obsession with dinosaurs. But you probably didn’t consider that history. You thought of it more as paleontology. You certainly didn’t classify the big bang as history. That was astronomy.

Yes, we are taught to put everything neatly in their own little boxes. Geology, archaeology, biology, chemistry, physics, genetics, environmental studies, psychology… each has its niche, and never the twain shall meet.

But you know, that’s kind of like studying individual trees without examining the forest. It’s like focusing on one book without ever looking up at the wonder of the library. How short sighted of us.

Thank goodness there is now an academic discipline that looks at the big picture. It’s called Big History, and instead of focusing on the 10,000 years humans have been around, it looks at time from the Big Bang to the present.

Granted, biting off a 13.8 billion year chunk of time and trying to swallow it whole is no mean feat, but in a lot of ways, it makes a great deal of sense. An interdisciplinary approach is much more three dimensional. How could one possibly study the fossil record, for example, without understanding geology? How can we ever have a grasp of the cosmos and our place within it without looking at the many causes and effects that intertwine with one another?

You can’t understand human migration without a grasp of climatology. You can’t comprehend the elements that make up life on this planet without having a sense of chemistry. It’s macrohistory, not microhistory. It looks for common themes across a variety of disciplines.

Oh, to be young and have the time and the energy and the wide-eyed innocence to be willing to rack up debt and go back to college! It’s such an amazing time to be learning. Rock on, big historians!

big-history-timeline

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

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Too Convinced of Our Own Permanence

It really surprises me how oblivious most people are to our dire situation. Between the insane twitterings of the man we chose to lead the free world, the nuclear saber rattling, the imminent environmental disaster that we have brought upon ourselves and yet seem content to ignore, and the ever-increasing worldwide paranoia, the Doomsday Clock ticks on.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Doomsday Clock, it’s basically a unit of measure that has been maintained by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board. They’ve kept adjusting this measurement, back and forth, as circumstances have dictated, since 1947. Originally their calculations were based solely on the threat of global nuclear annihilation, but in recent years they’ve also taken climate change into account.

The clock is now set at two minutes to midnight. Only once since 1947 have we been so close to the end. That was in 1953, when the US and the USSR were testing our first thermonuclear devices.

This is a big deal. And yet no one seems to care. It’s time to wake up.

We all make fun of teenagers for thinking that they’re immortal and for taking risks that no sane adult would ever contemplate. But the truth is that we all think there is some sort of permanence to humanity. We don’t really believe that anything we could do could cause the end of life on this planet. Not really. And because of this, we are taking stupid, teen-aged risks.

Tick tock, people.

Doomsday Clock

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Who’s the Animal in This Scenario?

One of the most distressing features of social media is that it really highlights the more despicable aspects of humanity. If I’m not reading about some sick $&*@(% who buried a dog alive, leaving only its snout exposed, causing its eventual death, then I’m seeing pictures of men cheering as roosters slice each other to ribbons. If I’m not hearing about people who get off on torturing black cats at Halloween, then I’m learning that the Amish (whom you would expect to have a moral compass), are some of the worst perpetrators of puppy mills, because they see dogs as livestock to be exploited. And how does one hunt not for food, but for fun, Trump Junior?

And then there are all those animal rescue videos. It warms your heart that all these animals are saved, rehabilitated, and given forever homes, yes, but it’s horrifying that they were abandoned in the first place. Seriously, how hard is it to spay or neuter your pets, or, here’s a thought, not take the responsibility of owning one if you don’t have the maturity to follow through?

And don’t even get me started about people who tie their dogs up in the back yard, all alone, even in the worst weather imaginable. Because I’ll cut a b****, if I have to, to prevent that. I really will.

There is nothing lower than someone who abuses, neglects, abandons, or tortures a helpless creature. How do people who do that carry on with the rest of their lives? How do you send out for pizza while you have dozens of animals starving in their own filth in a shed somewhere? How do you read your kid a bedtime story after having reveled in the painful death of a creature that you’ve forced to fight for its life? How do you decorate your Christmas tree after dumping kittens on the side of the road like so much garbage? How does that work?

Trump Junior

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Aggression is the New Regression

In the near future, when the leader of the free world is going to be someone who publicly declares “I’d like to punch him in the face,” and also condones waterboarding and other war crimes, can an uptick in violence be far behind?

There is a thin veil between humanity and aggression. That veil is called morality. The reason we don’t devolve to a society of cavemen is that we have developed laws and codes based on this morality. It keeps at least some of us in check. Violence is wrong. We all used to know this, at least on some level.

But soon we’ll have a leader who is willing to pierce that veil, and do it with a smile on his face. I’ve recently noticed a lot more adult bullying and intimidation. We are regressing. We are losing our civility. Check out this video of a man kicking a woman down the stairs. There is nothing on earth that can justify this type of behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a violent world, and always has been. Every woman I know has been abused in some form or another at least once in her life.  It’s hard to feel safe in that atmosphere. But the only thing we seemed to have in our favor was public outrage. Now the outrage seems to crop up when we don’t behave aggressively enough. It’s a different world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m scared. I’m also disheartened.

I leave you now with a link to a television clip from Morocco, in which a makeup artist is demonstrating how to cover up the bruises you receive from domestic violence so that you can “carry on with your daily life.”

For this, I have no words.

violence

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The Dreams I Have

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and indeed every day of the year, we should reflect on our progress and lack thereof with regard to human rights. How can we improve, and what can we as individuals do to bring about these improvements?

King had a dream. We should all have a dream. In fact, we should all dream big. So what follows are some of my dreams for humanity.

  • One man, one vote. No more of this outdated electoral college foolishness. And each person should be able to vote on each issue and feel confident that each vote will hold equal weight.
  • No more gerrymandered districts. Enough, already. Each voting district should only be allowed to have a maximum of four angles. If you can’t figure it out in the shape of a rectangle, a square, a triangle or a circle, then you are just being manipulative to a criminal degree.
  • An end to human trafficking.
  • Free education for all.
  • Free access to information for all.
  • Universal health care.
  • That the world finally accepts the overwhelming science of Global Climate Change and actually does something about it.
  • That all cars manufactured from now on must be hybrids.
  • Tax breaks for everyone who offsets their carbon footprint.
  • A ban on all automatic weapons, and strict tracking of all ammunition.
  • Unions should be encouraged, not demonized.
  • The scientific method should be stressed, comprehended, and taken seriously.
  • Children should be strongly encouraged to read more and play more and exercise more.
  • Clearly label all genetically modified foods.
  • Tax tobacco growers out of existence.
  • A dramatic increase in public transportation.
  • A part of every primary school education should include an element of giving back to the community. Children should learn to clean up their own playgrounds.
  • Television, movies and advertising should depict people with normal sized bodies.
  • There are enough humans on the planet. Give tax breaks and incentives to people who choose not to have children, instead of to those who have them.
  • Every adult should be allowed to marry whomever they choose, but the marriage process should be harder and divorce should be easier.
  • No more lobbyists.
  • A cap on campaign spending.
  • A ban on pharmaceutical advertising.
  • Reduce product packaging by 75 percent, do away with junk mail, and make recycling mandatory.
  • Equal pay for equal work.
  • More mental health facilities, fewer prisons.
  • Stricter penalties for polluters.
  • All students should have the opportunity to study abroad. Being immersed in another culture increases awareness and reduces fear.
  • Ban animal testing of cosmetics.

How could all these things be achieved? I haven’t a clue. That’s the nice thing about dreams. They don’t have to be realistic they just have to be idealistic. If your imagination can’t roam free, you can’t ever expect to be free.

Happy MLK Day. Dream big today and every day.

MLK

[Image credit: louisalloro.com]

Bureaucratic Humor

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love Google Doodles. They show that Google has a sense of humor and the confidence to mess with their own logo without thinking the world will come to an end. That almost makes me feel that corporations are human beings after all, as the Supreme Court ruled. Almost.

Other large entities would do well to take note of this. I’ve noticed that this type of bureaucratic humor is common here in Seattle. That “we’re all in this together” mentality makes me feel very warm toward this community.

Take, for example, the Seattle Department of Transportation. Yes, they’re my boss, but even if they weren’t, I’d be impressed by them. We are currently in the midst of a year-long painting project of the Fremont Bridge. This is causing obstructions and inconvenience for the residents of this neighborhood, but it has to be done. Now, they could have been rigid and humorless about the situation, and created an us vs. them mindset in the public, but instead they have posted these signs:

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This really makes me feel good about being a part of this organization.

Maybe if AT&T and the US Post Office and the IRS adopted a sense of humor and humanity they wouldn’t be so universally disliked. But it takes courage. To do it, you have to take a step away from your safe, conservative little hidey-hole and take a risk. You have to be creative. We can’t have that, now, can we?