The Coming “New Year”
INSPIRATIONAL, 16 Jan 2017
The custom of marking the beginning of a so-called new year is also simultaneously a recognition of mortality and death – of history, the past, of things destined to be forgotten or, if remembered, known as a substrate for what looms ahead.
Few of us think, as the countdown towards the new beginning itself begins, that we celebrate an arbitrary mark, a kind of line in the sand, that the very notion of a ‘year’ – or time itself – is a human construction. The inconceivably vast universe in which our frail blue planet is embedded transcends our time and our times. Stretching infinitely away and expanding at distances which our most ingeniously constructed vehicles will never traverse, I am tempted to say that it, our universe, is ‘indifferent’.
But that’s not true, because this notion too, of ‘indifference’, has been constructed by the human mind with the human being as fulcrum: if our concerns count for nothing, then of course we are being coldly ignored. Ignorance, however, is not the universe’s fault, but ours. As filmmaker Stanley Kubrick said in an interview with Playboy in 1968, “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
Well, we have supplied lots of light – and heat – since our inception. The fires of war have raged for as long as we have existed, and even now that our intelligence has penetrated to the core of the atom and the quantum leap that started the greater world, they continue to rage and burn. Our globe is melting, like it or not, and our numbers are increasing beyond the level at which a reasonably pleasant life – in areas not at war – may be sustained. By the year – again that convention! – 2050 there will be 10 billion souls plotting, charting, scrounging, amassing, organising, oppressing, fighting, thinking, building, searching still, and loving, or trying to.
A friend of mine used to append a quotation with every email saying, in effect, that science begins with counting. It irked me because it’s only partly true: knowing the numbers of things is hardly everything. And beyond a certain quantity the human mind is simply bewildered. Who can conceive of trillions, billions, millions, hundred thousands, in any meaningful way? Which brings us to the paradox of size and power. Knowing numbers has given us the power that lies beyond virtually all of our technological advances, and that has also allowed to evolve great political entities, countries filled with many millions.
But the price we pay for such vast sums, such vast collections, is ignorance and impersonality.
In 1973 E. F. Schumacher published Small Is Beautiful, a book that enjoyed a kind of ‘hippie’ success in the day but which, in our age of growth, globalism and gigantism, seems to have been forgotten – at least by the politicians and money-makers who shape and dictate our economies, economies which say that bigger and faster is always better.
Which brings us back to ‘time’. There seems to be less and less of this precious commodity, whether for ourselves in our daily lives, scuttling to and fro, hellbent on pestering each other with every ‘experience’ via ‘social’ media, or for our Earth, whose lease, as far as human habitation goes, “hath all too short a date.”
So for this coming – future – on whatever date we wish to commemorate a chunk of it, I say “think small”: let’s ponder the things and people within our ken, those we can touch and feel and see and engage with personally. And let’s slow things down enough to savour them. Perhaps the light we generate this way will overcome.
Dr. Emanuel E. Garcia is an American poet, novelist and physician who now resides in New Zealand. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Jan 2017.
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