Monday, November 26, 2007

Achebe Reminds Me

Re-reading Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" reminds me of how indelicate, fool-hearted, sometimes-evil, sometimes-cruel and ignornant, and sometimes-well-meaning Westernizing the native lands of America and Africa has been. It is easy with hindsight to see all the wrong ways European Christianity was introduced to Africa and all the obvious misunderstandings that took place, but having just discussed these things in my literature class, I'd like to move on to a more local and selfish concern about the nature of progress. Please forgive the huge leap from something so serious as the destruction of a people's culture to my own musings about progress in my home.

We cannot stop progress, right? But could we agree that some things, we've gotten right and don't need to improve. For instance, clean air can't really get any better, can it? We need clean air and water, right? That's pretty simple. I really like fresh food, homemade bread, home-cooked meals. We can improve the recipes, but there's a limit to how many machines we need in the kitchen. My friends know that I don't like dishwashers. It's not because I don't like the convenience, it's that I like to have a relationship with my plates and glasses. Oh, look at you laughing. Washing dishes is meditative, too. It's also an excuse to do work with friends or family when they come over for a meal. Just like taking the lawn mower apart might be an excuse for two men to stand around in an oily garage chatting. And, I like using cloth towels to wipe up spills instead of using paper towels. I wish I had time to grow my own food. There's nothing more delicious than the freshly harvested.

I like my p.c. Don't take away the internet, but Word Perfect was Perfect a few downgrades ago. The cell phone is ok (though I wonder if we might've been better off without it). But I don't need it to double as an entertainment device, calendar, or funky transformer.

Movies are great and becoming more incredible, but you still can't beat the experience of a live performance. And, that's just it isn't it? It's about our experiences. I want to be more alive and awake, not less. Sometimes, allowing machines to do things for us takes away the hassle and the pleasure all at once. Sometimes we don't see the pleasure behind the task.

I've been driving through south Georgia witnessing rolling white fields of cotton being harvested into huge square containers. I'm sure cotton pickers are happy to find other work besides the blistering, painful work of picking cotton, but there's something about the mechanical nature of growing something that gives and gives, sending in a machine every season to strip the bushes of their cotton bols. Does a farmer have any reason to walk through his fields any more? What about to write a poem? What about to experience the wind and the smell of his cotton. Hail, to the organic farmer who is setting things right again, who understands what parts of progress to adapt and what parts nature had already figured out.

Then, there's the postal service. I love getting mail. Ok, it's nice that Fed Ex exists as well, but that's all we need. It's perfect. Please don't change anything. Except maybe let's change the transportation (planes and automobiles) from oil guzzlers to something solar or wind powered.

Achebe also reminds me of how the Europeans once had a native, pagan culture before the Romans brought Christianity to Europe and forced a new religion on a people who were living close to the earth and celebrating its seasons. Those Romans, like the European Christians, took their new religion to a people and condemned the old religion and traditional culture. It labeled the native gods as Satanic. The Romans claimed that worshipping the native gods and performing native rituals was heresy. They introduced misogyny to Western civilization, claiming that women who understood herbal remedies, midwives, were witches, and that they needed to be burned alive. They loosened an hysterical holocaust killing and torturing millions of women for practicing their traditional ways.

It is often said that victims become vicitimizers. It seems somehow that this has been true in this larger sense of cultural domination. From Rome to Europe to Africa. That makes me wonder about Rome, but I'll save that for another post.