Change

In one episode (“Flight Path”) of the great 1970’s science fiction television series UFO, a young, beautiful woman is threatened by a bad guy (under alien control) who is trying to jimmy her apartment door and shoot her. After brief indecision she remembers the double-barreled shotgun in the closet and blasts the intruder through the door just as he gains entry. He falls to the floor dropping his pistol which slides away, but then starts painfully dragging himself toward it to finish the job. How does she respond? Does she:

A. walk into the next room, light a cigarette, and escape through the window

B. pick the pistol up, put it on top of the refrigerator, light a cigarette and threaten the maniac with the other barrel of the shotgun, or

C. kick the gun away, put the sofa on him and sit in it, light a cigarette (they smoked a lot of cigarettes in this show), call the police and pull out a good book?

The answer – none of the above. She cowers in a corner of the room within range of the gun – without even lighting a cigarette – and waits, trembling and devoid of hope, for him to finish what he started. Ah…how times have changed. Nowadays the intruder would be a 250 pound troglodyte who would unceremoniously bash in the door only to get his derriere kicked by a 100 pound hellcat in a black leather jumpsuit.

It helps, if one wishes to understand what the heck is going on in these vintage shows, to be able to travel back in time and immerse oneself in the social mores and attitudes of that period. Not an easy thing to do. In this case, we must understand that first – attractive women were essentially porcelain angels. Showing a bit of grit was fine, and even a little sexy, as our protagonist did when she shot him in the first place, but taking it to the next level by threatening, or heaven forbid, shooting her attacker with the other barrel (option B) would have been crass, unseemly, and completely out of the question for any self-respecting woman. Better to die. Solving a problem through violence or the threat of violence, was the purview of the man. Second – the idea that any man (protector) would try to kill a woman (protected) was so ghastly that it literally paralyzed her. The sheer evil of it pinned her to the wall. Nowadays we take violence of all types and degrees for granted, but back then, with World War II still fresh in the social memory and fought over and over in movies and on TV, violence was relegated to certain closely prescribed circumstances. (The shock value of this type of homicide, however, did add immeasurably to the intensity of the show.) Third – option A or C would have introduced shades of gray to a black and white situation that would have caused considerable discomfort to the viewers. He was bad, she was good. He was powerful, even in his last moments, she was helpless. If this black and white situation wasn’t actually black and white, what other situations and attitudes might be suspect? It would have been too much to contemplate.

Times change, and most of that change is inevitable. Of course change brings destruction and dissolution – of attitudes, organizations, systems, physical entities, etc. – but no one would want to live in a world where nothing ever changes. Imagine living where you live how you live, surrounded by what you’re surrounded by, doing what you do in the way you do it with everything exactly the same… forever. If old stuff wasn’t destroyed, there would be no room, mental, physical, or metaphysical, for new stuff. There would be no creation of any kind.

Destruction and creation are the engines of life and existence. Take away the cycle of destruction and creation and you’re left with entropy – an infinite field of stable nothing. To try to prevent change out of a blind fear of the destruction it brings is to lose your chance at creation, as the political organization of ultra-conservatives that has animated the Frankenstein’s monster Tea Party will inexorably discover. But change these days is increasing exponentially, and a nagging question is beginning to surface. How fast is too fast? At what point does the rate of change in technology (smart phone apps), business (universal, omnipresent commercialization), daily routines (non-stop multitasking), private life (hovering drones, gps), etc., threaten our individual and collective psyche? The fact that so much has changed since 1970 that it is difficult to make sense of certain situations in the shows of that period is interesting. Is it alarming? Should we be concerned as a species, or do we possess the ability to just continue to speed up forever? In 1970, Alvin Toffler and his wife (uncredited co-author) warned us against out-of-control change in their best-seller Future Shock. The book spawned a new field, futurology, that attempts to predict and explain the future, but scientific studies and surveys that plumb the depth of our capacity to endure that future are very difficult to find.

Blind, mindless fear of the unavoidable change toward diversity and power-sharing has transformed the far-right into suicide bombers, willing to destroy themselves, their party, and the country in order to “save” America. But not all conservatives have lost their minds over this. A consultant with one of the recent moderate Republican gubernatorial campaigns agreed, during a private conversation, that change is necessary and inevitable, but added that it should be “methodical.” While “methodical” might be a little slow for many Progressives, the suggestion that change also not be helter-skelter is perhaps not completely off in right field. When it comes to attitudes about change, the difference between left and right might just be one of degree. This suggests compromise in our body politic might still be possible, you know – like it used to be in the perfect, golden-age past. Now that would be a change!

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