March 18, 2009

Humple Pie

Eat eat. Eat your humble pie, cretins. Nobody has any humility anymore. I was reading an essay the other day about education and the writer was arguing that students owe their teachers an attitude of humility in the classroom, meaning they should recognize that they, in fact, do not know everything and that great teachers and great books, etc. actually do have something to teach them. I had to laugh. Kids today with humility?! My sides are splitting!

The old dude was right, of course, but good luck getting any young people today to listen to him. "What a student OWES his teacher"?! Nobody feels they owe anybody anything in our culture today. Duties, responsibilities, virtues -- those went out with the garbage right alongside our cassette tapes and Slip-and-Slides. Now it's just about me, me, me, and "my feelings" and "my opinions" -- "that's just your opinion, that's all that is" -- everything's opinion now, so why should we care about stupid old boring books or weird boring black and white movies or corny old songs, 'cause in the opinion of the young lemmings those things are stoopid and boring and have absolutely nothing to offer their young, hip, iphoned lives.

But I say: eat some humble pie, people! Maybe our current culture doesn't have all the answers. Maybe there's more out there than what gets fed to us daily in the digital media stream of life. Maybe you think it's all a matter of "opinion" and "taste" when it comes to what's good art because you can't accept the fact that you're too impatient, too dull, too incurious, too narrow-minded, too brainwashed, too lazy, too whatever to take the time and step outside of your media jail cell. You're boxed in and you don't even know. When someone points it out, you don't even care.

Humility is the way towards freedom, strange as it may sound. Humility means being open to the smallness of your own experience. By making yourself small you open the way for the largeness of life and truth to enter. This is one of the keys to discovering retro. Once you realize that pop culture is more than just what the opinion makers of today feed to you, you've thrown off the chains and can discover the retro world. Cultural humility leads toward cultural freedom.

What's maddening to me is that it's so easy now to cultivate some cultural humility. We've got everything on the internet -- everything from classic films to rag time music to websites devoted to old school 20th century architecture -- it's never been easier to be a retro maniac, and yet more and more retro is driven underground, left for the obsessives and the freaks. At just the time when technology has made it possible to rediscover everything retro, we're turning our backs on our cultural heritage.

Cultural humility is just another way of saying Curiosity. The curious mind is the active mind; it's unwilling to accept the scraps that the current culture tosses its way and goes off instead to look for the feast found in the cultural past. The humble mind knows it has much to learn, so it sets out to discover all the things worth knowing and hearing and seeing. The dull mind turns around and looks to the past and sees all the dust on everything and says, "Yuck! Gimme my shiny, gimme my flashy new!" The humble mind turns around and looks to the past and wonders what riches might be underneath all that dust.

I'll leave it to you to answer which one lives in chains and which one is free.

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