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We had a friend of Jeff’s over for dinner tonight, a guy in his late 40s who incited some fascinating and inconclusive conversation. So, I pose to you, the readers of the illustrious and world-renowned Wren Forum, the same questions we pondered while dining on ham, sweet potatoes and homemade (yes, homemade — in this home by these hands) apple pie.

We started by talking about Disney, not surprisingly, and Jim (Jeff’s friend) asked what I thought about the state of the company. (As an aside, it’s amazing to me that for a company that is doing well financially, even people who don’t follow it closely sense there’s something still wrong there.) I said that I thought the company had lost its way and that when Walt Disney died, it was on the brink of becoming, in many ways, the first “new-technology” company. Disney invested all of the profits from movies, TV shows and theme parks into things like the PeopleMover and the Monorail and Imagineering, and was always looking for third-party companies whose technology showed promise for the future. He was fascinated by “the future.”

That got us talking about how in the 1950s, ’60s and even through the ’70s and ’80s, Americans still had a sense of awe and excitement. Whether it was the Iran hostages or the wonders of space flight or the Challenger’s accident or “Who Shot J.R.?” or the mysteries of the “atomic age,” we had a “collective conscious” that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

We seem to have lost the ability to be fascinated by things, to be excited about the future, to celebrate ourselves (think of the 1984 Olympics). Maybe, we said, that is a positive sign — it means we’re not engaging in “group think” and that we are individuals who just happen to be together rather than a collective society that just happens to be made up of individuals. After all, the argument went, there was perhaps too much homogeneity when everyone watched the same TV shows, bought the same cars and relied on the same companies.

On the other hand … there’s something lost when our society no longer has a collective goal — whether it’s getting man on the moon or freeing the Iranian hostages or getting ourselves out of an energy crisis or all going to Disneyland. For all we talk about movies being “blockbusters,” for instance, “Titanic” proved that a $600 million gross is only the low end of what could be possible if a film seized the popular consciousness.

We began wondering if our society is better or worse off for not having the ability to be awed by concepts. Remember World’s Fairs, for instance? They were held to showcase all of the marvelous things and people that we had yet to discover and explore. (The 1970s concept of EPCOT Center was, you’ll recall, a “permanent world’s fair” — and perhaps the reason Epcot today suffers as a theme park is that we’re not able to get the masses properly excited about our place in the world and the prospects of the future.)

I began wondering if the election was a sign of exactly this problem (if it actually is a problem) — we’re so fractionalized, so marginalized, so divided, that there is no commonality anymore. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is something we weren’t able to conclude …


Steve Expounded Thusly:

There was a quote I found posted on an Imagineering bulletin board probably about 8 or 9 years ago. I loved it so much I wrote it on a scrap of paper and carry it around with me every day in my wallet. It is this:

When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster.

—Lao Tze, 6th Century B.C.

This thought struck me as being so accurate, even almost a decade ago. And while I haven’t thought about the quote for a while, I think you are right about the election being a sign of this problem.

The awe involved does not even have to be regarding the future or science or space travel or any of that. You also know I’d say it has nothing to do with God. I think when people get too caught up in themselves and fail to regard and appreciate the world and the universe around us, we get stuff like 9/11 and Iraq.

An example of awelessness (heh!) bringing about disaster is the environment. There are the simple things individuals can do but don’t because they are too short-sighted or selfish or just simply don’t think about it. Recycling is one of these simple things. Then there are larger issues that stem from both the small efforts and the larger ones. The global warming that is becoming more prevalent and more proved as time goes by is soundly ignored by simple-minded greedy types. Like George Bush, who claims global warming does not exist. The companies large and small who fight tooth and nail to prevent having to control their pollution are also one of the bigger problems.

Environment is only one example.

It’s not bad for a society to have a few unified visions. Even back in the “space age,” society was not as homogenous as we now think it was. That image comes thanks to the passing of time and the solidified current image of the newly-created suburbs and the post-war economic burst. But there were still large cities with counter-cultural communities. There were beatniks and hippies. There have always been people who have a different vision of the world.

I saw The Motorcycle Diaries finally, and if you think about it, where di Che’s motivation come from? He saw the squalid conditions fo the indigenous peoples of South America and was “awed” by their resilience and their culture. His awe of their power as a people led to his fighting for revolution. (We can discuss his choice of Communism another time!)

This topic is so ripe with disussion possibilities, and I find it so cool that this has come up. It gave me a chance to dig though my wallet again!

Oh, the other quote I keep in there is from a fortune cookie I got many years ago: “What have you done with your life?” Less inspiring than the Lao quote, to be sure!

Monday, November 22nd, 2004 • 11:36am • Permalink

Steve Expounded Thusly:

I immediately have to diffuse a potential firecracker here. When I say the awe has nothing to do with God, I mean personally I think God is the opposite of awe. However, to someone who believes in a god, the awe may be genuine. That, too, is a whole other realm of discussion.

Monday, November 22nd, 2004 • 11:39am • Permalink

John Expounded Thusly:

Today was my first day back at work, so I didn’t have time to respond — but I will … oh, indeed I will! 🙂

Monday, November 22nd, 2004 • 8:15pm • Permalink

The Wren Forum » Too Much Choice Expounded Thusly:

[…] Thinking more about the “weighty topic,” here are some things that ran through my head: […]

Friday, October 28th, 2005 • 5:40pm • Permalink • This is a Pingback


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