15 October 2016

Nothing new under the sun

Someone recently commented that chaos would follow this election, regardless of who win.

As an historian, I have to confess: the chaos has started.

For the most part, everyone likes history, but I think the one thing you get from studying history versus just reading history is the long-view of life on earth. You learn how to take an event and follow the ripples through the centuries and realizing that seemingly unconnected events are, in fact, so intertwined one would not happen without the other.

The best example of this is probably James Burke’s Connections series. Watch the series. He actually tells you what that has to do with the price of tea in China and gives you an idea of what the long-view can do for how your see the world.

So what does all of this have to do with the current presidential elections? As we all know, this election is out of control. Pundits and extremists on both sides have predicted chaos will follow if “their” candidate isn’t elected.

But if you take the long-view, however, the chaos has started. It actually started decades ago, if not in the fall out of World War 1, which was itself a consequence of our on-going shift from agrarian to industrial one and now to automation.

More importantly for this election, people are losing jobs and those jobs aren’t coming back regardless of campaign promises. The jobs of the future haven’t jelled yet so we don’t know where to go for deliverance. It’s a normal part of the ebb and flow of society but it’s unsettling. Hence the anger, the preppers, the mass shootings, the rioters, the people quietly googling “where should I live after Nov. 6?"

One problem is it’s hard to see the long-view amidst chaos, and many people don’t even look for it.

Business focus on the next quarter.

Politicians focus on the next election.

People focus on the next weekend.

Few of us are looking beyond the immediate pain to see where we’re going and lay foundations to get there. Instead, they want a quick fix and assurances that they will be safe. This is why guns, bunker manufacturing, food preservation and training for the apocalypse have become multibillion-dollar industries.
Trump’s appeal lies in his outsider role and promises of quick fixes. He’s cast himself as the lone wolf hero (a very American literary archetype) and makes it OK to lay the blame for the chaos on whatever scapegoat you choose. And it’s very nice to have someone to blame…whether it’s Christians in Ancient Rome, Jews in Medieval Europe, Witches in early modern times or Communists in McCarthy’s America.

As a woman, the misogyny that’s erupted around this campaign reminds that it’s easy to lose rights, even those pledged to us.

My area of study is the 12thcentury, the era of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Matilda, and some men you might have heard about, Henry II (son of Matilda and husband to Eleanor) and Richard the Lionhearted (son of Eleanor and husband to no woman).

Matilda was the only legitimate daughter of King Henry I, who had upward of 20 illegitimate children. His son and heir, William, drowned when the White Ship burned and sank in the English Channel in 1120, throwing the succession into chaos.

At the King’s urging, the barons vowed to support Matilda as “king,” but when the time came to crown her in 1140, her cousin Stephen of Blois raced to Winchester and had himself crowned before the pregnant Matilda could arrive. Enough of the nobility broke their vow and supported Stephen that civil war followed.

By summer of 1141, she was winning. Then the chatter started. Chroniclers tell us that Matilda:
  • Displayed “intolerable pride and willfulness”
  • Possessed an “extremely arrogant demeanor instead of the modest gait and bearing proper to the gentle sex”
  • Was “lifted up into an insufferable arrogance”
  • “Alienated the hearts of almost everyone”
  • Was “unfemininely willful and unnaturally domineering”
Sound familiar?

For the record, I have problems with Clinton. I think her vision is small, short-term and unprogressive. But I also think history will be kinder to her than her peers have been. History takes a long-view and knows when it’s seen this shit before.

Most importantly, though, history also tells us not to despair. Chaos ends, just as fat and happy times pass.

Even in the midst of The Black Death, people still married, still made wills, still sued their neighbor for diverting his sewer into their backyard. On the Camino, you’ll see all types of graffiti but one of the most common phrases is: LIVE YOUR LIFE.

So even as chaos rages, be kind, have faith, and live your life. 

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