The View from the Electronic Colosseum
"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot
I woke up this morning with the famous quotation above stuck in my head, though I wasn’t quite sure why. But I have a sense it has something to do with Thomas Wolfe’s stunning novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, which I finished reading a month ago and frankly can’t get out of my head. All those scenes of corrupt human nature, how insensitive and cruel people are, indifferent, how passively domineering and greedy money encourages us to become. It isn’t difficult to see the book's realistic portrait of modern man..
I won’t get too political about why Europeans and the rest of us don’t do more to defend against the WWII-minded crazy man destroying the world so he can fill out his collection of countries he wants to sit on the mantle of Mother Russia. After all Ukraine isn’t in the right country club, you know NATO, so it’s okay for us to just pull up a bench in our electronic coliseum, right? Maybe watch the nightly news where the tigers get their fill of innocent people who wanted to join the country club but couldn’t get together the right support. Perhaps it will be enough if we only become outraged and pay our six dollar gasoline fee as if a tithing to our better selves.
History will walk us through the logistics and visions of empire building, but literature has and will walk us through the who and why. Behind the aggression waits the reluctant soldier forced to invade his cousin’s town, the child watching her dad disappear into the night never to return to give her the carved toy he promised. T.S. Eliot is right, we always come back to where we begin, and if the maturing process of aging functions as billed, we then can see the life we’ve led for what it is, assess the person we’ve become rather than the one we pretend to be with our masks designed to manipulate what others believe.
This circular review process works for civilization as well, for humanity struggling with its dual nature of aggression and altruism. As we watch this unnecessary travesty unfold, perhaps we might consider an harmonic image to amplify our awareness---the Netflix series, Vikings. Their endless cycle of killing, treachery, ambition, and blame-it-on-the gods thinking sure looks like what Russia is up to under Vlad the Soulless, but what about the rest of us who sit in our theater of electronic distance and gawk at the horror or lament at the money we’re losing in our portfolio? Are we the same people we were in the days rocks and spears? Can we see ourselves now for the very first time? Are we aware of tribal dangers? I wonder if we know ourselves at all, if we accept what we see or simply lack the will to leave behind the savages hidden behind the masks.