The history of Leonard Cohen's song “Hallelujah” is a fascinating one. Cohen's songs had never really been embraced by the masses, and his first recording of “Hallelujah” in the early eighties was part of an album so lacking in obvious commercial appeal that the president of CBS Records responded to it by saying: “What is this? This isn't pop music. We're not releasing it. This is a disaster.”
As ever more people work from home, and more students attempt remote learning, I'm concerned about a growing chorus of folks who are celebrating this enforced distancing as a welcome wave of the future, and suggesting that what started as a temporary fix should be embraced as a permanent fixture of 21st century society.
There is a flaw in the reasoning behind our infernal, never-ending, society-splitting debate concerning socialism vs. capitalism, and I want to point it out.
To start with, imagine the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
(Notice I say “our” with confidence because, even though I don’t know who you are or where you were raised or what you look like, I do know that you, like all of us humans, are descended from one or more tribes of hunter-gatherers.)
When historians look at the long span of our human history, they try to make sense of our arc of cultural evolution by breaking it up into phases: the agrarian era, the industrial era, the digital era, and so forth. But of course, there are multiple perspectives we can use for this sort of exercise. Perhaps the most important perspective to consider is the relationship of our human population to the rest of our world.
Even if we are fortunate enough to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, that won't mean the end of Trumpism.
Many of the things that Trump came to stand for were around before his candidacy – and, in fact, helped him to get elected – and they won't simply vanish on their own. If we're foolish enough to think they will, then we're engaging in as much magical thinking as The Donald is when he claims that COVID-19 will simply disappear all by itself.
When we contemplate the society in which we live, we often tend to frame our disagreements in terms of cooperation vs. competition: Are we working together collaboratively with others, or are we competing with them?
As with many of us, I've been thinking deeply lately about the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, and so many other people of color, and wondering how and why these atrocities continue to occur in my country, and what we can do to turn things around. I've concluded that there are basically two types of human societies, with very different ways of thinking about themselves.
Democracy is a means of governance over a society that places the reins of power in the hands of the people being governed.
Suffering through a pandemic is a terrible way to have to learn a lesson or two about the nature of humanity.
But it's what we have, so we may as well make use of it.
What can we learn from our current crisis? Not so much in the “I should have stocked up on more toilet paper” vein, but in terms of understanding more about who we are and our place in the universe? You know: big picture stuff?
Here are my thoughts.