October , 1997

Poetry

Linear Progression

Linear Progression Illustration

 

The long and the short of it is this: Is history linear?  Is progress certain?  Or put another way, is it inevitable that things will get better?  It is a strikingly American expectation, perhaps fostered by our brief history as a nation.  We do not recall when Rome fell, when darkness descended, and we forgot so much we once knew.

The idea is very simple and very old.  That today even the humblest man can see farther than the tallest giant of old.  For today’s man may stand on the shoulders of those long gone.  So it begins with knowledge.

And it all begins with produce – with an apple in a garden,
the Tree of Knowledge and Experience, of good and evil.  Does it tempt us still?  It does me.  I think sometimes ignorance would be bliss, but it is just a passing attraction.  I thirst for knowledge.

I watch my nephew, not yet one year old, and see the way he carefully considers the world. “Harry,” I must explain, “can you understand how much we want to make the world a better place?  We would pay a high price if things could be better for you.”  He looks at me pensively.  He has known no place but this one, and he seems to ask, “What is this better place?”

Indeed, what is better at all?  If we make his life easier, with no burdens to carry, no obstacles to be overcome – will he have a good life?  Or will he grow weak and soft – unappreciative of his own capabilities to build a life.
The produce industry will meet in Anaheim, where Disney first became a land.  But I have been to Celebration, a little town built by Disney that attempts to make life, well, Disneyesque.

It is pretty; every house has a front porch, every building suggest a better time when neighbors knew one another.  One can imagine the porches filled with children and grandmas and sweet lemonade.  Yet, I drove through at dusk and the porches were barren.  The swinging seats stood still.

Why?  Two words: Air conditioning.  Why sit on a hot porch in Florida when one can sit in a comfortable air-conditioned living room?  You can’t go home again.  What has changed, for good or evil, has changed forever.
Of course maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe we all would prefer the porches, but we hide from mosquitoes carrying encephalitis.  In which case the buildings are a distraction, an attempt to recreate a life that memory has covered in a beautiful haze but that was, in fact, nasty, poor, brutish and short.

Some say history is circular, every man from dust to dust, every family from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves and collectively we are doomed through war and disease to forget all that we once knew.  To return to that state of ignorance in which we began.

I recoil.  I won’t let it be so.  Yet I am not a great philosopher, nor a mighty statesman.  How am I to stand athwart this version of history and yell, “Stop!”?
Each man must fight in his own sphere, and we gather in Anaheim to assert that we exist.  That our roles matter.  We search to find a giant whose shoulders we can stand upon.  That we can, each in our own small way, make history go forward.

Each plane ticket, car drive and hotel room in Anaheim is a vote against a circular future.  An assertion that if history is not of necessity linear, then it is the way we intend to pull it.

“Harry,” I promise, “I’m pulling hard."

by Jim Prevor