Thanksgiving in a time of fear and uncertainty

The first ThanksgivingTomorrow is Turkey Day and the beginning of the “most wonderful time of the year.” But this year, the economy’s in the tank; media company stocks (and company valuations) are bumping the bottom; and layoffs, buy-outs, and early retirements are everywhere. Uncertainty is the word of the day, which is actually a four-syllable word for fear.

The day after the holiday, many believe, will be telling. We’ll “learn” how consumers really feel based on what they spend. That news will propel us forward or cause us to slide deeper into the funk of 2008. That’s the way we are, or so the experts say. This is the “group think” of modernity. Study it. Categorize it. Label it. Shift it. Drive it. Manipulate it. And so it goes. Logic and reason can do no better, for they live within the world of the known. “If it exists, it can be measured,” is the first rule of science.

The brilliant mind of Kevin Kelly wrote about the origins of science a few weeks ago (The Origins of Progress, Anachronistic Science). If you want to expand your mind, read Kevin Kelly, for his is one of the most significant voices of contemporary culture. But Kelly uses science to try and answer a question about science that perplexes him: Why was science “discovered” in Western Civilization and not before? It’s a fascinating question, and one that is terribly important for us today, because we’re at the beginning of the post-modern, post-colonial era in the West.

I’ve been studying and writing about postmodernism for over ten years, and I see the conflicts of a culture in change everywhere. I actually prefer the term “postcolonial,” because, from a practical perspective, it fits better. Colonialism is a top-down, “teach a man to fish” philosophy ideally suited to the application of logic, reason and science. Where it runs into problems is when the top wants to maintain its position on top, but I digress.

The thing that Kelly refuses to acknowledge — as do most people of science — is the role of faith in the origins of science, and that brings me back to Thanksgiving 2008.

We’re in the midst of a second Gutenberg moment, in which knowledge (The Jewel of the Elites) is spreading throughout the globe like a giant mushroom cloud, and I would argue that this significantly will alter any future projections, just as the first Gutenberg moment did centuries ago.

As to why science came from Europe rather than China, I think it’s fair to point again to that first Gutenberg moment. Movable type was invented in both cultures at about the same time, but the difference is in what the printing press was used to create. The fundamentals of logic and science demand a degree of faith and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good, and that came from the source of Western knowledge of the time: the Bible.

The only downside to science, is its tragic dismissal of that book and its place in history, for I believe it contains the source code for Western Civilization. When Wycliffe completed his common English language translation, he made this remarkable statement: “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people and for the people.” (Aside: Lincoln lifted that from Wycliffe, so the American Civics Literacy quiz got it wrong.) Wycliffe’s claim is as true today as it was back then, for democracy requires an internal governor, which the faith of the people provided. It may seem like it’s missing in our culture today, but I don’t believe it.

Finally, man wants to be God, and it’s always been that way. This quest is what fuels all progress. We want immortality. We want to overcome time and distance. We want omniscience and power. Nothing wrong with any of that, but I would love to see science actually acknowledge it some day.

So as we stare uncertainty in the face this Thanksgiving holiday, let’s ask ourselves this: Is our faith in ourselves, our government and our institutions to figure all this out, or do we believe, as our forefathers did, in something bigger moving us forward? For me, Life is in charge, and while I certainly believe our gifts and talents play a big cultural role, I’m most thankful that something bigger than me influences everything else.

Besides, gas is now $1.69 a gallon here in Dallas. That alone ought to give each of us pause, for who could’ve imagined it just six months ago?

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

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