“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.” Depending on your source, this originates with Hegel, Engels, or Marx, although it appears to be Marx who cites both of the others. Whatever, they all have the same idea, and they are referring to events from the French revolution through the following century. Have things changed?
My own question is, have they ever changed? Brilliant as Hegel/Marx/Engels were, I doubt they were the first to wonder, in the words of Pete Seeger, “When will they ever learn?” History is taught less in high school now, but I’m sure I never learned critical thinking from what I was taught in the 50’s. Robert McNamara referred to “the fog of war,” and I would submit that the fog of war has always been with us. We either don’t see, or we don’t remember, or we can’t bear to face it.
As a species, are we defective? Individual members of all species appear to learn from experience, to avoid what is dangerous. Their survival depends on it. Human children learn these things too: that you can’t breathe under water, that fire burns, that if you’re hungry you have to eat, that if you’re thirsty you have to drink. Those are pure survival things.
Later, children learn that if Daddy says “no” you’d better not do it, and if the teacher says “no” you’d better hide it, and if the law says “no” you’d better run. On the other hand, if religion says you should you should love one another, you show up when someone has an emergency, you give whatever you can, be it loving support or shelter or money. When the fires roared through the Santa Rosa area, the community rose up to help.
That’s on the personal and immediate community level. When we look at the tribal level and the larger aggregations, all bets are off. This is where tragedy and farce take the stage. Globally, there is a huge upsurge in support of authoritarian leaders. There are individuals leading the movements, but there is huge popular support. Humans have seen, time and time again, where this leads, but where are the effective alarm bells? And if they’re heard, then what? At the tribal level, the lesson “fire burns” doesn’t carry enough weight.
On the web, it’s an everyday thing that a given YouTube “goes viral.” The time has come where nuclear criticality is on the table. Can our species see the farce and laugh it off the stage? Can that go viral? Today on our way to sit in peace at the ocean, to drink in its vastness and accept our place in the family of things, Bob Dylan’s words were on the radio:
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well-hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.