Friday, June 17, 2011

Guest Essay: What We Need to Know and What We Don't

Harry T. Cook
Harry T. Cook

By Harry T. Cook 
My brother, Ron, keeps sending me electronic versions of long and substantive articles whose subjects are as urgent as anything you would see promoted by your local television station as sizzling "news at eleven."  I promise you none of the articles is about Congressman Tweet, D-N.Y., or Sarah Palin's latest inanity.
The latest piece that came to me was from The Economist and has to do with the human footprint being left on the planet by Homo sapiens -- though if you read the piece you wonder if "sapiens," i.e. "wise" is the right word. The well-researched article says that the human race is overbreeding in the very parts of the world that cannot sustain more mouths to feed.
Just a day or two before The Economist article appeared in my e-mail, I had read about the coming world food shortage caused in great part by persistent drought where there should be rain, and too much rain where there should be far less -- all due to climate change brought on by global warming. It seemed to me that the effect of the article was like a siren warning. No significant note seemed to have been taken of it, however, save by one or two climate-change deniers high in their usual dudgeon.
There are things we need to know about, and those we don't. Huge draughts of oxygen have been used up over the idiocy of the New York congressman Tweeting images of his crotch to random women all over the country. It is nothing but fifth-rate prurient entertainment. One more "weiner joke" may push me over the edge.
The second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth day stories about the Tweetster have produced above-the-fold, bold-faced headlines and juvenile smirks among the purveyors of imbecility on what is laughably known as "television news."
If the national press of the day studiously avoided mention of Franklin D. Roosevelt's handicap or his 30-year love affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, never mind John F. Kennedy's philandering, why now does it plumb the shallows of the political peccadillo?
When the ruling class in ancient Rome perceived unrest among the plebs, it served them up jaw-dropping spectacles known as "circuses" and a glut of free food known "bread" -- all to sate the masses into passivity, hoping they wouldn't notice that the empire was rotting from within whilst the Hun was at the gate.
I suppose, with all this on my mind, it was not a good time to pick up Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, especially its 15th and 16th chapters, which scorn Christianity and its institutions as pustules on the body politic. I more or less knew that anyway.
It is the clear message of the Gibbon work that signals of Rome's impending end were for some time evident in its everyday life. However, those who might have been able at least to cushion the fall when it came could not perceive those signals in the same way human beings in general so often cannot see the proverbial forest for its proverbial trees.
The bread-and-circuses public policy contributed to that blindness in the same way that the media of the present time, with their emphases on trivia and celebrity, drown out the voices of reason, which are trying to tell us what we really need to know rather than the latest trifles of gossip vended by grinning morons.
al-Qaeda is not our worst fear. Climate change and global warming -- from the mere mention of which most Republican presidential hopefuls are fleeing -- are at the top of our enemies list, together with our Pogo-like selves and our studied disregard of what violence our species continues to wreak upon the only planet we have, and of what the economic and social consequences will be for our children and children's children.
FLASH! We interrupt this essay for breaking news: Kim Kardashian has just uttered a polysyllable. Film at 11.

Harry T. Cook is an Episcopal priest, journalist, author and peace-and-justice activist. His area of research is biblical studies, especially 1st Century Greek texts.  He is a noted preacher and public lecturer, and his writings are published in books, newspapers and other journals. Each week, he publishes a topical essay on his website:

© Copyright 2011, Harry T. Cook. All rights reserved. This article may not be used or reproduced without proper credit.

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