Have you ever seen a toddler who can barely walk
Stumbling forward, running to not fall
Deliriously proud of oneself
This may be Western civilization
This short poem is a metaphor for Western civilization. For any of us who have been around toddlers at that age when they are just learning how to walk, it is quite a sight to see how they look like they’re almost going to fall down, stumbling forward, and moving their feet faster and faster, eagerly hoping that they don’t fall down. Interestingly, these toddlers just learning how to walk typically don’t show fear; they may show mild anxiety but the overall experience seems to be one of excitement at learning something new. This could even be seen as deliriously proud (though this may be more of an adult anthropomorphization than the toddler’s experience). I want the reader to experience that sense of anticipation and excitement. Then, of course, comes the turn around. Making this whole experience a metaphor for Western civilization rips the fresh innocence of a toddler into the immature delirium of the world rift with arrogant adults. While this state of existence as a toddler is natural and commendable, this state of existence as an adult is horrifically developmentally delayed and dangerous. The third line about being deliriously proud of one’s self could just as well have been omitted and the poem would’ve made perfect sense. However, this line serves as a transition in comparison of the toddler and adult states. As alluded to before, the experience of the toddler is probably not accurately described as proud, since the self-awareness of a toddler is probably not that well developed. Thus, I took the liberty of anthropomorphizing a bit. The statement is intended to be prescient of the metaphor for Western civilization, a set-up. Also, the anthropomorphizing can actually be viewed as projecting adults’ experience onto the toddler, which is a conceptual pun, meaning that projecting our own experience onto the world is part and parcel of the the arrogance present in Western civilization.
Now, back to the second line. The running to not fall strikes me as a very apt image of our culture which values ever-increasing speed. Mahatma Gandhi once said that there is more to life than increasing its speed. I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, the conundrum we seem to find ourselves in most of the time is substituting speed for almost anything else of value. We may not know where we are going but dammit we are getting there fast. This reminds me of one of my own sayings which I’ll probably blog about at some other time, “Sometimes you get there faster in slow motion.” As a one-size-fits-all solution, increasing speed not only leads us to do the same things over and over again, perhaps expecting different results, but leads us to doing those same things even more so; that is, more efficiently, more crap in less time. I have a lot to say about blessed inefficiency and how this better resembles life, rather than the cogs in some robotic machine as modern Western civilization would have it. But back to the poem. For a toddler, not falling down is a simple pragmatic desire not to hurt oneself. For adults in Western civilization, not falling down often represents a perfectionism and fear of failure that ironically is often self-defeating. This immature perfectionism and fear of failure can be a powerful underlying emotional state that drives our anxiety-ridden, fast-paced race to make life better. Ironically, this fast-paced way of living serves quite well as a coping mechanism for avoiding dealing with our underlying anxiety.
The basic error that leads to applying speed to any and all problems, seems to be rooted in a confusion of means and ends. It’s probably trite to say that life is a process, a means, but it is true. People are not things, ends. In the end, it’s the difference between living and having our lives lived for us (as a means for something else). Yet, our modern Western civilization seems to be persistently incapable of distinguishing between people and things: “Employees aren’t people, they are expenses.” This is the kind of prevalent, ignorant crap that dehumanizes us all. Although, if you don’t mind treating people as things, means to an end, you can really make and consume an amazing amount of stuff (including people) through the miracles of efficiency (see eugenics). This is pretty much a capitalist’s wet dream. Unfortunately, dehumanization is a two-way street, and the capitalists dehumanize themselves in the process. While in some sense, in some impersonal karmic way, this may seem like poetic justice, it really just sucks! We can do better! We need not (and should not) rely on the cause-and-effect, every-action- has-an-equal-and-opposite-reaction, materialistic world to do our business for us. That’s why we have humanity. Try it, you’ll like it!