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First published October 16, 2018
“All the rules have changed and it’s hard to watch people keep carrying on just the same, like it’s business as usual.”
The simplest thing would be to tear it down,” the man said. “The house is a shambles.”You do the right thing. You go to school, spend the years, invest the money, put off this or that temporary form of glee, take on the debt, pay it off. Get a job at the bottom of the ladder, work X number of years and move up. There are mis-steps, of course, accidents, bad decisions, re-directions, disappointments. Some big, some less so, everyone has these. You get married, have children, be a solid citizen, join the board of a local youth council, coach your kids’ ball teams. You do the right thing, and everything is supposed to work out ok. You’re not looking to be a millionaire. But you want to send your kids to good schools, see them go to college, have satisfying adult lives of their own. You do the right thing. You don’t cheat on your taxes, or your spouse, you keep trying to learn new things, not just to keep up with changing work skills, but to understand the events and transformations that are taking place in the world, and to satisfy an unquenchable need to learn, to sate that mental itch that keeps laughing at you as an imbecile, correctable only by learning, reading, watching, gathering knowledge, trying to make sense of it. You plan for the future, and have a sane expectation that, someday, you can retire and still have a decent life. You do the right thing, follow the course that has been laid out for a very long time, expecting that the promised rewards will arrive. And sometimes they do. But while you were busy doing the right thing, those with the power and the money changed the rules of engagement. So, instead of an American Dream made real, it is as if you have stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone. It is a time in which the promises of the past have not just been broken, they have been stolen. And much that could not be hauled away has been set ablaze, or left in pieces by the side of The Road, and so many who live in terror have been persuaded to keep telling themselves that it’s A Good Life. Don’t fight it or it might get worse, much, much worse. Better yet, find some groups who have nothing to do with the real changes and blame them. The right thing has been exposed as a long con, a sucker’s game, rigged, the prizes snatched away even when you hit the bullseye. And those doing the yanking laugh at their victims as prey, as marks. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold, as it is devoured from the right.
The question in this case was, "What in the heck is going on?" How can it be that all of the rules—about what kind of leaders people admire and elect to public office, and how we behave as citizens of the world—no longer seem to apply. All the rules seem to be changing. And not only that, but larger, biological rules about our home, the idea that the poles would always be covered with ice, and that there would always be more fish in the sea. All these things that I've always counted on suddenly were no longer true… One of the things you can count on is that people will be very afraid, and they will cleave to leaders who reassure them, even if those leaders behave like tyrannical bullies. When we're afraid, we look for protection. One of the things this book is about is how desperately we hold on to our old world views, even when they no longer serve us, and how we overlook a lot of things to find reassurance.Kingsolver addresses this with a binocular view. In one lens it is 2016, in the other the 1870s.
“I wonder what service is possible…when half the world, with no understanding of Darwin at all, will rally around whoever calls him a criminal and wants him hanged.” – he’d witnessed this very thing in a market square in Boston: the crude effigy dangling from a noose, the monkey’s tail pinned to the stuffed trousers, the murderous crowd chanting Lock him up!…“I suppose it is in our nature,” she said…“When men fear the loss of what they know, they will follow any tyrant who promises to restore the old order.”The central image that crosses the timelines is the notion of shelter. Kingsolver has placed both families in buildings that are crumbling, in the same location, a nice stand-in for the demise of extant societal underpinnings. It is brought in as well to describe why people can be so resistant to new ideas. Science in particular is a venue where Kingsolver has frequently offered insight, connecting the demise of physical spaces here to the feeling of vulnerability.
”We are given to live in a remarkable time. When the nuisance of old mythologies falls away from us, we may see with new eyes.”Offering an explanation for so many who voted against their own economic interest in 2016, in hopes, however ill-informed, that the right would restore a mythical, lost world. From a more optimistic perspective
“Falls away, or is torn. The old mythologies are a comfort to many.”
“But we are creatures like any other. Mr. Darwin’s truth in inarguable.”
“And because it is true, we will argue against it as creatures do. Our eyes are not new, nor are our teeth and claws. I’m afraid I see a great burrowing back toward our old supremacies, Mrs Treat. No creature is easily coerced to live without its shelter.”
“Without shelter, we feel ourselves likely to die.”
“…your pupils depend on it, Thatcher. Their little families have come here looking for safety, but they will go on laboring under old authorities until their heaven collapses. Your charge is to lead them out of doors. Teach them to see evidence for themselves, and not to fear it.”There are many stressors portrayed, particularly for the contemporaries, that will keep that very large gong, very close to your head, vibrating long and loud, with widespread and lasting resonance. The anti-science terrors have been noted above. Contemporary families must cope with the horrors of the cost of medical care in the last so-called advanced nation that lacks universal coverage. Willa and Iano not only have a disabled elderly family member, who resists the public programs that might cover him, but are the recipients of an unexpected surprise, when their twenty-something son and his gf have a baby, mom, in a burst of 21st century strangeness in the USA, not surviving. Guess where dad and child wind up? Well, child mostly, as young dad returns to the world of work to try to make his way, Granny Willa and Auntie Tig taking on the parenting duties. Mention is made of Zeke’s six-figure college debt, and working as an intern, because if he took a job he would have to start paying back his mortgage-level school debt. The 1870s presented some different stresses, including a look at the particular challenges of being female, when identity was more tied to one’s family and significant-other than may be the case today.
“To stand in the clear light of day, you once said, Unsheltered.”