Hopeless optimism and the death of curiosityI’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I’m an optimist, a hopeless optimist. I just happen to believe that we humans put ourselves through the ringer more often than we have to.
By: Forrest Johnson, Lake County News Chronicle
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I’m an optimist, a hopeless optimist. I just happen to believe that we humans put ourselves through the ringer more often than we have to.
The other day I was concerned about the death of curiousity because everything has been made so convenient, so separated from hands on, that we tend to forget how things actually work and get done.
Can we still be curious when we’re fed the pablum of convenience, no matter if it comes in the form of an appliance or the internet, or just the fact that so much of our culture seems molded out of the same cost-conscious cast?
A fellow I once met on a boxcar in 1975 made a comment to that effect as we passed through a small town that was sprawled along the tracks. He said something about how our social fabric has a way of getting frayed at the edges, just like a rug by the door.
He pointed out the doorway at the town that appeared to be dying a slow death. As we slowed and clattered through the forlorn downtown it appeared as though half of the storefronts were empty. The grain elevators slumped from inactivity. As the train picked up speed again, we started to pass the newer edges of town where nobody lived, given to fabricated buildings, chain stores, chain link fences and empty parking lots. Out along the horizon was a school. Commerce and the business of the town had shifted from the center of the town to its edges, leaving an apparent hole in the center of the community.
“That’s new business and to me it already looks like its frayed at the edges,” he said, motioning to the economic sameness that had filled in space formerly occupied by prairie. “These people don’t know it but they’re draining the lifeblood out of their own community by spreading out like this and joining the parade.”
He wasn’t a sociologist. He was simply the tidiest hobo I’d ever met. He flossed his teeth daily and at the end of the day he’d strip down, grab the corners of his dusty shirt and pants and give them a good shake in the breezy doorway. I rode with him from St. Paul to Wenatchee, Wash., where he hopped off and headed toward his yearly job at a familiar apple orchard during harvest time.
“I’m watching that happen all over the country,” he said. “It’s so subtle that we don’t even notice what’s happening.”
That was in the mid-1970s. Nearly thirty five years later, thoughts of how indifferent we can be to the unwinding of our social fabric seemed particularly timely.
We sit and mourn the passing of the good old days. We wonder where the corner bakeries and the clothing shops have gone as we stand in line in a store that has rows of washers and dryers and tires and rows of frozen food cases that stretch for two city blocks.
There is an absolute connection to the fact that as we chase lower prices and costs we’re also chasing our society out of town.
We fall prey to lower prices as those lower prices eat away at production jobs in this country. We fall prey to lower food prices and those lower prices eat away at the farm economy built on family farms and rural communities.
I made a big deal out of a pair of shoes one day to my kids.
At the shoe store I proclaimed that I will only buy a certain type of shoe because it was made in the USA and therefore I was willing to pay the cost.
I went on for a while with my speech, loud enough for all to hear. In my candor and grandness I failed to notice the shoe guy trying to tell me something.
In my third go-around about losing the means of production to foreign nations simply because of lower production costs, the clerk said sheepishly, “Half of those shoes are made in China now.”
I sputtered to a stop.
I decided there wasn’t any conspiracy behind all this, simply because we’re all a part of what’s been happening to us.
I’m curious, is the social fabric unwinding before our eyes or are we simply creating a new rug that someone else is making for us?