Change defines us

Posted 11.14.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | The speed of the wheels and gears of life surrounding us is something we often complain about, but it has created some unexpected consequences. One is that it has made us all elders.

Elders were once needed to connect modernity to the past, to history, to its roots, but with change happening so quickly, we all have dramatic memories of the past because it was not so long ago.

There's not a person who hasn't a tale about environmental or wildlife change -- a lake once full of pike, a marsh once alive with chanting frogs, a forest of birches or oak that once was a real forest. Even kids can remember streams and trails and vacant lots, most of which have been filled in.

These changes used to be geologic, at least in time, but now they happen monthly. Cod disappear; sockeyes appear; pastureland turns into urban sprawl. Most importantly, these changes have happened on our generation's watch. And being elders, we can't say we didn't see it happening.

Every one of us has seen these changes. The planet has changed more in the last five decades than in the previous five hundred years.

Which is not at all to say everyone wants to return to somebody's good old days.

Not many of us want to give up modern medicine, for example; few of us have shown any interest in giving up modern transportation, from intercontinental aircraft to SUVs that blow over in a bad wind. We don't want to give up our flat screen TVs, 4-wheelers, or tropical holidays, either.

Okay, we're all elders, just not very good ones, not very wise ones. Our wisest adage -- which we are in fact demonstrating -- is that what we learn from history is that we don't learn from history.

Another consequence of modern times' great speed, besides the creation of billions of elders, is the creation of a lot of egoists. Not idiots, egoists, and not billions, either.

Egoism works its black magic in human and planetary affairs not by numbers but by its intensity. How are all these egoists created? By the split between, say, climate change deniers and everyone else. By those who insist the tar sands are wonderful because they are, for now, very profitable.

These are folks who not only cut and steal exotic hardwoods, but also those here who buy them for their floors and cabinets. These people are all egoists because they posses the revealed truth; they don't need to look up the details; scientific studies are irrelevant. Climate change is exaggerated, they are certain. All this is the height of egoism.

The radical pace of change and its attendant destruction also awakens people who might have slumbered through their lives (had we remained in the 1950s!); chaotic change mobilizes idealistic people.

See, this pace of change and all its collateral effects is what makes us what we are, elders or egoists. Or does it?

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/11.10