Liddick: Stargazing a corrective to political turmoil (column)
December 26, 2016
Here we are at the appendices of the year. The girth-enhancing holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving are behind us. The hair-on-fire, exploding-heart-level-stress-inducing joy and love of Christmas is tapering off. Hanukkah has come and is similarly fading. The portents and promise of the New Year are still just that – unrealized, formless dreads and joys. This is Janus' narrow kingdom, caught between an inflexible yesterday and a fluid tomorrow. In the breathing space it offers, we all ought to pause, uncoil and get our bearings.
One way to do this is to look up. When the next clear night happens, rug up, go outside and have a look at the universe. At about 9 p.m., the great square of Pegasus is almost overhead; to its near southwest is a faint fuzzy patch: the great nebula in Andromeda, also known as galaxy M31. What we see there is light that left its stars before humans walked the earth. There were several species who showed promise, one of whose distant descendants would become us – but not for two million years.
To the east on the horizon the great constellation Orion the Hunter is shouldering his way into the night sky. Wait a bit, then look at the sword hanging from his belt; the light from the nebula has been travelling since the Roman Empire collapsed in the west. The stars responsible for the light have been shining since dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
Between those two constellations are the Pleiades, a star cluster whose light began its journey to us about the time Henry IV established the Bourbons as France's last royal family. All of which is to say that connected to the Cosmos though we may be, it has business longer lived and far beyond the fortunes of man.
“Human beings have short memories and problems with perspective. We all tend to believe that history began with us, and that the universe is ordered for our benefit and comfort, but neither is true no matter how fervently we hope it. ”
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Perspective can also be had from reading. We may think ourselves blessed or cursed at present depending on our political viewpoint or economic situation; in reality whatever triumphs or tribulations we face have been seen before, most on multiple occasions. Bloodthirsty tyrants? Try Caligula or Qin Shi Huang. Ruthless conquerors? How about Temüjin Khan or Tiglath Pileser I? Notorious traitors? Alcibiades of Athens will do. Or Vidkun Quisling. Say what you will about the state of American politics, the average American citizen is very unlikely to be executed for treason so the ruler can seize his property. And no American political leader has yet betrayed our country into foreign hands for personal gain — despite what Thomas Jefferson's partisans said about John Adams. So things aren't as bad as they seem — or could be.
Human beings have short memories and problems with perspective. We all tend to believe that history began with us, and that the universe is ordered for our benefit and comfort, but neither is true no matter how fervently we hope it. We might profit instead from closer attention to what has gone before us and less to emotion and selfishness in our analysis of the world around us — including our politics and social interactions. We wail about the transgressions of Hillary or the supposed ineptitude of Trump; in fact, neither rises to the level of historical cupidity or incompetence. We complain about "racism" in modern America without realizing that, even in the modern world there are many societies where such complaints would be far more accurate. We snivel about "poverty" and "income equality" knowing little about the true nature of either throughout history or around the world, and thinking little about the reasons for their existence here or elsewhere.
So in this short interlude between the frenzy of the holidays and the cold, still solitude of the first months of the new year, let's take a breath and resolve to see things more as they are. Let's back away from that which gets in the way of communicating with one another: unfounded certainties, baseless spite, dogmatic refusal to recognize root causes. Let's all remember that acting like a sore loser means you're a sole loser. That as the volume of one's assertions rises, the likelihood of accuracy decreases. And that acting like a bully, a tantrumizing child, a petulant teen or a fool means you are one. Or perhaps all four.
Embrace the fact that, in the season just past those who had opinions different from yours were – for the most part – enemies neither of you, nor of the Republic. They simply believed differently about topics of some importance. As to those few who were actively malicious, it will require general agreement among all of good will to identify them for what they are, and to drive them from the public square.
Good work for the New Year.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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