Play It Again, or Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

Posted by on 11.05.09 | 6 Comments
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A long time ago in the midst of strife and warfare and strife caused by warfare part of a generation dared to imagine a new world of peace and harmony, and dared to believe that it could be realized not only in some supernal realm where burdened souls take refuge from intractable facts, but in this world, right here. And they wrote songs expressing this hope, and we all sang them, and in singing them we too dared to hope.

Now those same songs are being used by huge companies to convince us to buy cell phones and investment advice, automobiles and “personal data assistants,” devices that didn’t even exist when those songs were written. And sometime between the moment when those songs inspired us to believe in peace and the moment when those exact same songs inspired us to buy an ipod it became clear that once again we had lost; the dream would not become a reality. The hip generation started accepting VISA and MASTERCARD as the inertia of what is overcame the hope of what might be. Nothing had changed even as everything had. Even today we are going green, but as Newsweek points out in its current edition, it is only because now there might be some money to be made from it.

But this post is not a lament over lost opportunities and failed dreams. It is an early November leaves-are-gone-dark-at-4:30 tribute to the human spirit and its ability to dream and to hope even when dreams are hard to come by and hopes are faint.

For we have been imagining a better world ever since hominids developed brains big enough to notice the difference between how things are and how we wish they were, and know they could be if only we were a little different than we are. Twenty-five hundred years before John Lennon told us to “Imagine” Isaiah spoke of the “feast of rich food” God would make for all people, and of how God would “swallow up death for ever.” That didn’t happen either, but that is hardly the point. He evoked an image of transcendence that has continued to inspire us ever since. The Revelation to John, that strange apocalypse stuck on to the end of the Christian Bible, is in its own way another such vision. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” the seer of Patmos wrote. Exactly so. In the midst of another time of strife his spirit would not be stifled, his hopes would not die. Much more recently Karl Marx envisioned a whole new world in which the state would wither away into a genuine workers paradise. Fortunately for him he died before seeing his dream become a nightmare.

These visions will never come to pass; they are not meant to, and so in one sense those who struggle to bring them about will always lose. The radical hope of a different world will always elude us not because bad people who understand the situation will do evil things to defeat it, but because good people who cannot transcend themselves will misunderstand the situation in their attempts to do right. But in another and deeper sense the visionaries will never lose, because they will never stop dreaming, never stop hoping, never stop singing new songs. Inspired by them we will never stop singing either; in the face of those who co-opt and bastardize the songs of life, turning them into advertisements for junk we don’t need made by multi-national companies who don’t care, we will not stop singing.

We are a strange species, we can see the difference between what is and what could be…if only. I don’t know that any other creature can do that. It is good that no matter what happens people can’t stop dreaming, can’t stop hoping, can’t stop singing. In that is our real salvation.




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