The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark. –
Thomas Paine, Author of Common Sense
In 1776, first performed in 1969 and retold as a movie in 1972, a debate rages about whether they could even debate independence. With Georgia declining to send a delegate, New York “respectfully” abstaining, and Rhode Island delegate Stephen Hopkins at the privy, the vote is tied. As Hopkins returns tucking his shirttail into his trousers, he is pummeled about where he stands.
“What’s the question?” he asks.
Being told, he barks, “Hell, yeah! There isn’t anything that can’t be talked about!”
Logic dictates that to have a rational discussion, there must first be the premise of agreed-upon, mutually accepted, a priori facts. Presenting specious points to counter-argue verifiable facts is merely rationalizing, thus paradoxically irrational. It makes discourse, on which liberal democracy depends, impossible.
Which prompts one to ask: What is the point of pointless back-and-forth blather if nothing can be resolved? Why bother? Well, for one, we are still in this together.
When writing “Dangling Conversations,” Paul Simon’s challenge was to strike the right off-tune note about two people out of tune – no longer in love – but feeling compelled to stand each other’s presence. Their inclination is to talk about anything but that which should be. Their elephant in the room.
Each time I hear it, I am encaptivated by how the melody and lyrics blend to create the real-life mood and scene. People talking, if they must, past each other in “syncopated time” as if the other is some nebulous stranger.
While “Dangling Conversations” is about an intimate relationship gone sour, Simon’s “Sounds of Silence” is societal in context. It calls out our propensity for inauthentic exchanges: “People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening.” Quite prescient for much of today’s blather.
In Sayings of Poor Richard, Ben Franklin opines, “Glass, China, and Reputation, are easily crack’d, and never well mended.”
How about if shattered? Can it be made whole? And should we include Relationships in Franklin’s aphorism?
As we step from our cocoon and begin the process of reengagement, we face challenges. Like, what the hell to talk about?
Some suggest changing the subject from the elephant in the room. To what, pray tell? Football is behind us, which leaves the weather. That means the banter would likely be at the level one has with a bar fly occupying the next stool. Further, what is the point of maintaining relationships if they cannot be authentic and open?
Untreated wounds can fester, become infectious, and kill the body. Another maxim, though, says time heals all wounds. A wondrous, pithy thought, but how realistic when trust has been broken – cracked? shattered? – on such a societal scale? Besides, even when treated, wounds oftentimes leave a scar.
The writing of the Declaration of Independence and the productions of the play and film took place during quaint eras when science was respected, facts were stubborn things, and certain truths were self-evident. They happened long before this time when the spurious and fallacious meme FAKE NEWS became gospel for characters strutting and fretting their hour on the stage of life repeating tales told by idiots.
The Founders worked their magic during the Enlightenment – the Age of Reason – which was the impetus for establishing the American Republic. Since our Centennial, we have edged closer to the abyss of Endarkenment, incrementally at first with a pell-mell stampede of late. On January 6th, our home-grown September 11th, it reached a crescendo, and we came perilously close to plunging over.
In just over five years, we will celebrate our semiquincentennial, 250 years since that historic July 1776 rendezvous with destiny.
Franklin declared they bequeathed us a republic; our challenge, he averred, would be to keep it.
Yes, we have massive work to do on the societal scale, but that begins at the interpersonal – family and friends – level. It begins with reaching out. Consider that the human hand evolved to do far more than personal tasks. How it works more powerfully when extended in goodwill rather than when curled in a fist.