Monday, December 21, 2015

IGNORANCE AND WANT

I have read a lot of books during my lifetime.  The vast majority of books that I have read are non-fiction.  I think I prefer non-fiction because they tell of the times and events that have led the human race to the place where we see ourselves now.  We learn from the history of us and it is said that this knowledge keeps us from repeating mistakes of the past.  That isn't exactly the case as history has repeated itself a lot through the millennia, but for the most part we strive to remember mistakes and vow to not let them happen again.

I do read some fiction but I am rather particular about the writers of fiction that I read.  There are two writers in my library that stand out above the rest when it comes to fiction.  John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens.  I have read all of Steinbeck's novels and the major works of Dickens.  What makes these writers stand out in my mind is that they write a fictional story that is based on the period of time in which they are living and mold these stories to present to us a lesson in humanity much more personal than a history book could.  When I read Steinbeck or Dickens, a picture is painted by their words that take you into the time that the story is taking place.  They place your mind inside the minds of the characters so that you understand what they are thinking, what they are feeling and how the world is seen through their eyes.  Both of these writers are masters of presenting their works in such a manner.

In 1843, Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol".  It was a short story compared to the length of his novels but carried as strong of a message as the longer works did.  Most of us are familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge.  The old miserly man who had a firm dislike for mankind, particularly the poor.  The story revolves around Scrooge being changed overnight into one of the most beloved men who lived in London by the lessons of three spirits who visit him on Christmas Eve and show him how he must change for his own benefit as well as mankind's.  It is truly a story for the ages and one that is celebrated every year through movies, plays and readings.  It is a story that will never fade away I hope.

Every Christmas season over the last few years,  myself and some cousins of mine have attended a production of "A Christmas Carol" at a local university.   The production is magnificent and very entertaining as well as thought provoking.  It brings to life the characters that Dickens created all those years ago.

This year, for some reason, made me stop and think about the message Dickens was bringing to us.  There was one scene in particular that filled my mind.  Towards the end of the visit by the Spirit of Christmas Present, two children are revealed from under the Spirit's robes.  The children are in rags, with sunken eyes and skeletal figures. The Spirit explains to Scrooge who the children are:

“They are Man's and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

Ignorance and Want.   I thought about "Ignorance" and "Want" for a long time.  I did a little research to see what the experts thought of these children as presented by Dickens.  I came to one of two conclusions.  "Ignorance" is the one we are to beware most of all.  "Want" is what ignorance brings.  Anytime there is ignorance, there will be people wanting.  Not wanting out of greed, but rather wanting to just survive.  Ignorance blinds us to what the needs are to make society a more perfect place in which to live.

Keeping the poor ignorant will trap them in a cycle of poverty from generation to generation without a means to escape.  Education is a must, and was a must for Victorian London.  Schools were not very available then and most times the children could not go to school because they were forced to help the family by spending their time in the work houses.  Without at least a minimal education, these children would grow up in ignorance as their parents had and the poor, they extreme poor would always be with us.  In Dickens time, this was the case.  Very little education that would allow for children to have at least a chance at breaking that cycle of poverty.

"Ignorance" can also be applied to the well off.  Those that do not live in poverty tend to not see what they don't want to.  They are ignorant of the plight of the poor who live around them.  Indeed, if anything, the poor provide a much needed service to the well off.  The cheap labor that the poor provide make it possible for the well to do to continue living that life style.  But ignorance of the poor is not a solution.  Ignorance of the poor, and keeping the poor down, will eventually bring society down as well.  I think perhaps the spirit was pointing out to Scrooge his own ignorance of the poor and how he, as well as society, fair better with a more prominent working class.

The result of ignorance is always more want, more need.  We should make ourselves aware of those in need and to do what we can to help them out of the cycle they find themselves in.  It is a problem that has faced man for centuries and continues to do so.

I am not sure what Dickens personal philosophy was as to how to break the cycle of poverty, but he is correct I think that the first step is getting rid of ignorance by both the poor and the wealthy.  I feel that once we make a dent in ignorance, once we teach and give those in the poverty cycle the tools to begin to climb out of it, then every generation after that should become a little more self reliant.  I think that once we take away the ignorance of the wealthy and they learn what tools need to be given to help the poor out of poverty then their investment in this endeavor will bring society as whole up to a better level.  With the wiping out of ignorance, there will be less crime, less bigotry and racism.  There will be more of an understanding of our fellow man.  There will be less want.

I also think that it is important that while the poor are given the tools to climb out of that hole, it must not be blindly given, but earned.  For those things that are earned are vastly more appreciated by an individual than that which is given freely and blindly.

So let's take Dickens wisdom to beware ignorance and work on eliminating it, which will result in less want.

Society will be the better for it.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

TRAGEDY IN THE ART WORLD


This isn't the first post I will write about John Lennon and I promise it won't be the last.  He was too much of an influence on the arts to forget him or let his birth or death slip by without notice.

John Lennon was one of a kind.  People will argue that his song writing partner, Paul McCartney, was just as much of an influence if not more and that may be.  John and Paul were different.  They thought along different lines.  While Paul was indeed a great song writer and performer, he seemed to stay out of putting his thoughts, his philosophy out front.  Not so with John Lennon.

John was a complete artist.  He was a philosopher.  He was, in some ways, a politician.  He wrote books and poems.  He drew sketches portraying his life experiences.  He also,of course, wrote music.  His music changed over the years with each topic being a mirror as to what he was going through life at a particular time.  He was one of a kind.

Even the titles of some of his songs tell you what he was thinking or going through. Such song titles as "Crippled Inside", "Gimme Some Truth", "Instant Karma", "Power To The People", "Mind Games", "Imagine", "All You Need Is Love" and "Revolution" are examples of this.  There have been plenty of writers who wrote songs along such topics but in my opinion none came close to touching the genius of John Lennon.

One the most infamous events in Lennon's career was when he said  on March 4, 1966 that "We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity".  The world, especially the Christian world too great offense at this statement and it created a huge backlash against The Beatles which produced huge record burning parties and boycotts.  Lennon was soon to apologize for something that he said that he did believe. “I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I’m sorry I said it, really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. From what I’ve read, or observed, Christianity just seems to be shrinking, to be losing contact.”

I look back at that time in 1966 and what Lennon said had some truth to it.  The Beatles were huge.  They were filling stadiums.  Their fans were more or less worshiping them.  No doubt more people, especially kids, were showing more interest and belief in The Beatles then they were into religion.  That is all Lennon was saying.  But that one line was pulled out of context "We're bigger than Jesus" was all that was heard.  Lennon's foresight that he would have to apologize for something that he thought he was in the right about was a part of his maturing process.  The initial statement and following apology was probably the most important statements Lennon ever made.

 I did not always agree with John Lennon's philosophies, but I do respect any man who can present his thoughts in an intelligent manner without getting offended or offending.  Lennon simply spoke what was on his mind and you could take it or leave it.  It didn't really matter to him.  I learned a lot from this part of John Lennon and the world is a better place for allowing him to express ideas that were not necessarily mainstream.

The lyrics to his songs were the most efficient way that Lennon got his message across.  One of  his most popular songs titled "Imagine" has become a mantra for peace and equality and held up as a slogan by most people who only hear what they want to hear in the song.  These people do not really listen to the lyrics though.  The same people who were so very upset at the "bigger than Jesus" remark hold "Imagine" up as a great song that lays a blueprint down for how mankind should live. Yet the opening verse in "Imagine" is "Imagine there's no heaven, It's easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky". The second verse also attacks religion with "Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too.    "Imagine" is a song about socialism, close to communism and yet not only Americans, but people all over the world have held this song as a blueprint for life because they do not listen to the words.  Don't get me wrong, "Imagine" is a great song, even a masterpiece and I love it.  I love the lyrics to it but I don't agree with them very much.  It was, at that time, Lennon's philosophy however.

One thing that John Lennon did that impressed me was that he was able to listen to new ideas and often he would accept new ideas and throw away old ideas that he thought were flawed.  Not many men, especially artists, have that ability.  Lennon did.

By the time 1980 rolled around, John Lennon had been out of the public eye for five years.  He has not recorded or written during that time but had evolved into a more stable, down to earth man with family being one of the most important things in his life.  As this thinking progressed he began to write again and his last album, released just months before he was murdered, reflect a philosophy of love and family and people just getting along.  The music was toned down and not as angry as some of his earlier works were.  One of my personal favorite Lennon songs come from this album.  It is almost a biographical song which explains where he was at that moment in time.  It is titled "Watching The Wheels".

WATCHING THE WHEELS

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I'm o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game,

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away,
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me,
When I tell that I'm doing Fine watching shadows on the wall,
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball?

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go,

People asking questions lost in confusion,
Well I tell them there's no problem,
Only solutions,
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind,
I tell them there's no hurry...
I'm just sitting here doing time,

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.  

Despite all of the controversy that followed him, despite all of the brilliance in his words, his music, his writing and his art, John Lennon was a true renaissance man.  He was a man who was always true to himself even if it did temporarily cost him some fan and admirers.   It seemed like they always came back because when John Lennon said something it was truth in his own mind.  He was a special artist that come along in history all too rarely.  Part of the reason that Mark David Chapman gave for murdering Lennon was that Lennon had stood for helping the poor and yet all Chapman saw was a man with tremendous wealth.  In other words, Chapman saw Lennon as selling out.  To this I say read some of Lennon's lyrics and you will hear him talk about the poor and disenfranchised and how we, as mankind, should help them out.  You will also find that Lennon believed in working for what you get and deserve.  Read the lyrics to "Revolution" and you find that he is telling people to get things straight before you go off and just rant about revolution in the streets.  There is a right way and a wrong way, and Lennon was seeing that it was being approached the wrong way.

REVOLUTION

You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be alright
Alright Alright

You say you got a real solution
Well you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be alright
Alright Alright

You say you'll change the constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know know it's gonna be alright
Alright Alright 

The world could use a few John Lennons these days.  On December 8, 1980, the world lost one of it's finest thinkers and artists.  His works will live for a very long time if we are lucky.