Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
There is an village next to an ocean, and every summer the ocean rises. The ocean rises and the village floods, destroying crops and homes, drowning animals and small children, fostering colonies of pestilence in the standing water that create even more famine and decay.
One year a group of villagers engineer a series of dams and canals that divert the ocean’s swell harmlessly, and that summer is the first in the village that nobody dies. And the villagers celebrate, and they prosper. Generations pass until nobody still alive can recall a time when the ocean ever flooded the village. More generations pass and the story of how terrible the summers used to be has become a ragged ghost of itself. Somebody will mention casually as summer approaches that their great-grandmother used to say it would get “bad,” and that would be the end of it.
One day a group of villagers look out over the series of dams and canals and determine it to be unappealing. It ruins their view of the sunset. They begin holding village meetings where they ask that the dams and canals be taken down or at least redesigned to suit their aesthetic preferences. They walk among villagers who have never considered the dams or canals to be a problem and convince them that these are instead problems of the greatest magnitude. At the very least, they offer them something they want in exchange for telling other villagers that the dams and canals must go.
As the villagers reach a critical mass of opinion to dismantle the dams and canals, a few of them ask if they’re acting rashly–if the dams and canals do serve an important purpose that none of them have taken into consideration. One person vaguely says that they remember hearing from somebody a long time ago that maybe the dams and canals kept the village from flooding, but this person is scoffed at for their irrational fears. The ocean has never flooded the village. That’s a preposterous notion. Even if the ocean did flood the village, how bad could that actually be?
The vote is taken, the decision is made, and the spring is spent filling in the trenches, pulling apart the bricks. The summer arrives. In the village, a generation of people who lack not only protection from the flood but any working knowledge of how to minimize its impact suffers as no generation in the village has suffered for a very long time. Those who had been wrong about the dams and canals fear retribution and loss of respect, so they begin to blame somebody else for the crisis, and refuse to brook suggestions to rebuild that which they fought so hard to destroy.
The next summer arrives and the ocean arrives with it. The next summer arrives and the ocean arrives with it. The next summer arrives. The ocean arrives with it.
* * *
This is the story I tell myself when I read anti-vaccination rhetoric. This is the story I tell myself when somebody tells me that we should consider an experiment with four years of President Predatory Capitalist. This is the story I tell myself when financial and environmental regulations are rolled back or labor unions are demonized. This is the story I tell myself when somebody says that racism is no longer a problem or that feminism is no longer necessary.
This is also why I believe that skilled storytellers–storytellers capable of vivid description and a gift for weaving empathy into their audiences, storytellers empowered by comprehensive arts education–are unquestionably essential to society’s survival and progress.
Because the ocean doesn’t go anywhere. The ocean waits for us to forget that it is the ocean.