Lazy Luddite Log



The 2016 that has just passed has developed the reputation among many as a rotten time to the extent that it has almost become a demon of contemporary culture.  My own 2016 was fine personally and professionally.  Any challenges I faced were moderate and I responded well to them.  The biggest one was simply facing life as part of a small and aging family. 

But my wider world as exhibited online was one characterized (in the Anglosphere at any rate) by lots of voters making stupid decisions and (more annoyingly in some ways) by many political pundits making the most stupid analysis of that voter behaviour.  Simplistic profiling seemed to come from all directions and was augmented by reductionist Internet memes.  With all this as a new norm I'm in a mood to move away from partisan political discussion and into non-partisan civic contribution.  A younger me would have been surprised by such a comment but that is how I feel right now.

The other thing that set the doomy vibe of 2016 was a slew of celebrity deaths.  And I return here to the matter of aging.  Our popular culture 'idols' tend to be older than we are so it only follows that we will face a time in which they perish from a combination of age and time related factors.  I have to mentally prepare for more of this to happen because the last twelve month were part of a bigger trend.  The largest generation in developed nations - the baby boomers - came of age at a time in which a variety of new media (from colour television to stereo radio) debuted.   This gave us a lot more popular culture personas to become part of our everyday lives.  Now they are getting old.

But as I contemplate this I also remember that this is nothing new to me.  Many of the public figures that have had the biggest impact on me died before I started blogging and (with few exceptions) I have rarely acknowledged in writing the effect they had.  I will remedy that here with reference to three important persons who died too young...

Janine Haines (1945-2004)

Haines was technically the first Australian Democrats senator and became the first women to lead a Federal parliamentary party in Australia. In my late teens she was a small but significant figure in national politics and made an impression on me. Yes she was sometimes dismissed as more a librarian than a politician. And yet here was someone who seemed to epitomize a kind of politics in which one could take a principled stand while also engaging constructively with ones wider political environment. This seems a far cry from the ideological trench warfare we are digging ourselves into these days and maybe the methodology of Haines cannot work now. Or maybe if more of us had committed to it sooner then things would have been different. I make further reference to Haines in this other post.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Sagan was a scientist and educator who came from a working class Jewish background in New York City. He impacted on me via two different media. One was television via the landmark documentary series Cosmos (1980) which I devoured as an older child. This program used then state-of-the-art effects and electronic music by Vangelis to tell the story of pretty much everything. Science was the focus but the facts were presented in the context of the history of human endeavour that gave us a rational and empirical grasp of nature. The other was a book given to me by housemates - Demon Haunted World (1995). This text is a skeptical critique of everything from paranormal phenomena (like alien abductions) to more mundane yet still suspect notions (such as repressed memory therapy). However Sagan is better than many other skeptical thinkers in that he shows compassion for those who are subject to credulous thinking and seeks to understand them.

Jim Henson (1936-1990)

Henson and his creations have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The Muppets (a cross between marionettes and hand puppets) helped populate the diverse community of Sesame Street (1969 onwards) before they went onto star in the Muppet Show (1976-1981) and many other things since. As a child I was drawn by the slapstick but as an adult I stayed for the cheeky humour. But Henson did more than just amuse. He also provoked the imagination with ambitious fantastic settings presented in movies like the Dark Crystal (1982) with its wonderfully intricate ecology. The nightly news report of the death of Henson at the end of my teens was a huge shock - it seemed to me as if someone vital to the fabric of the times had gone. But his work always involved the collaboration of many artists and it is comforting that his company has been productive ever since.

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I'm tired and it took too long to compose this post. I was partly busy living life. But I also feel a bit mentally lethargic now and it is as if the legacy of those named is fading. Taking a stand. Acting constructively. Thinking rationally. Having compassion for those different from us. Feeding the imagination. Having fun. It is far too soon to say farewell to all these things. We have to try to hang onto them.