Southern Seen — No such thing as ‘small change’ anymore

Southern Seen — No such thing as ‘small change’ anymore

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2008 10:58 pm
By: Larry McGehee

Old Heraclitus was right, centuries ago: “You can’t step in the same river twice.” Things are always changing. But one very big change in our lifetimes is in change itself. As the 20th Century ended and as the 21st has gotten under way, change has taken place more often and faster than at any other time in human history. Rapid change is the dominant trait of our times. Poet Stephen Vincent Benet saw (in John’s Brown Body) that the major seismic shift in our world was the rapid transit of America to industrialism, urbanism, and organization during the Civil War. Something like that transformation was repeated–or perhaps the unfinished first one accelerated–in World War II. That seems to be the time when the small farm and small firm gave way to cities and big business. My brother and I were only two years apart, but looking back, it seems to me that some precedent-shattering event in our society took place in the two years between him and me. My age group played sandlot ball; his had organized Little League and Babe Ruth teams-with sponsors and uniforms and a ballpark. My age group wore khakis and short-sleeved buttoned shirts; his wore jeans and white T-shirts. My group had G-I haircuts; his had flat-tops, Mohawks, peroxide, and greased long waves. My group studied Latin; his took Shop. My group had Pat Boone and Kay Starr; his had Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Two years made for a lot of changes and differences back in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Things haven’t slowed down a bit since then. If anything, things have changed faster and more often. Ancient History is no longer about the Greeks and the Romans; it’s about last week. I’m not sure that we have grasped yet what a completely different world we have created in sixty years time.. Change formerly was a means to an end: somewhere along the line, it became an end unto itself. Since changes supposedly were the means to Progress, we fell into the trap of seeking and accepting change blindly. We didn’t pause long to ask what greater good was served by being able to land on the moon, or to exceed the speed of sound, or to let machines take our jobs in factories and computers do our thinking for us, or to vacate downtowns, or to stop growing and cooking our own food. Our technology, designed to free us, enslaved us instead. The average person over 55 years of age now watches over six hours of television each day. No one can afford many airplane tickets, and there is scarcely a train and hardly a bus around, and so our mobility hinges on automobile and oil availability, neither of which comes cheap. Technology was the only solution we came up with (twice) for settling things in Iraq. Most world crises (genocide in Africa, terrorism in Afghanistan, the Palestinian-Israel stalemate) defy solutions short of technological extermination of one or another side. Our education system is rapidly imitating our factories: everything fifty years from now will be taught by machine. Assembly line workers are already unneeded. The highest paid people left in the dwindling workforce (I don’t count stockholders and corporate executives as in the workforce) are those who repair our machines: mechanics, plumbers, electricians, appliance servicemen, body shops. We limit our number of children to the 2.3 average we allegedly can afford and support, but the automobile companies breed new models every year, and the computer companies announce some new “essential upgrades” almost monthly. We still can talk and listen to only one phone at a time, but we have to have multiple phones, and we have to have them in our pockets, cars, bathrooms, and garages as well as kitchens and dens. Technology has its good side, we know; but it has snowballed, and left us behind with a snowball’s chance in hell. “Things are the saddle”, and they are riding us. Our tools have burst free from the closet toolbox. We can’t tell the difference between “awesome” and “awful”. Neither Pandora nor Humpty Dumpty can put things together again. We may be forced to change our ways of changing our ways. Larry McGehee, professor-emeritus at Wofford College, may be reached by e-mail at mcgeheelt@wofford.edu Published in The Messenger 7.28.08

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