The Whirlpool

Here’s something for Throwback Thursday. I came across a guest column I wrote for The Cambridge Times back in May 1999 when I was 18. I recall that it caused a small controversy. A series of letters between myself and critics were published for a few weeks after, though I can’t find them in my archives. I remember one person saying they hoped I didn’t have access to weapons, which was a provocative statement coming, as it did, just weeks after the Columbine massacre.

I’m very amused by my naive, directionless teenager anger. One can, I think, sense some millennial Y2K angst. I can see my nascent socialism, and my environmentalism. I see a strong thread of anti-theism. I can see my burgeoning obsession with the Classics, including a sloppy attempt at an allusion to The Odyssey. But overall, my opinions haven’t really changed in the intervening 20 years, and nor has the world improved any.

I was put off from doing many more such columns because of the editorial process. The editors would re-arrange my text, or make word changes and then publish them without running the changes by me first. This includes their invention of the terrible headline. Anyway, I reproduce the piece as it was published below.

Don’t get caught up in life’s whirlpool

I’m concerned. I’ve been taking a very close look at the society in which I live, and what I see frightens me. We seem to be caught in an ever-spinning whirlpool. Society is on a downward spiral and I have been unable to locate the cause.

If I turn on the news, which I seldom do because of its depressing nature, I see random acts of violence, reports concerning on-going wars, editorials on countries which refuse to sign an agreement banning land mines and the scores of last night’s hockey game. Have we become so desensitized and emotionless that the biggest concerns in our lives are Bill Clinton’s late night escapades and who is breaking the record for highest paid jock?

If what we have now is the next stage in human evolution, I must admit that I am ashamed to be human.

Centuries ago, when there were fewer of us destroying the planet, humans were different. The Romans had their incredibly violent gladiator games. The Vikings pillaged and plundered as far as their ships would take them. But these people were adventurous and their lives had meaning.

Everyday life was a struggle to survive. New discoveries were made almost hourly. As time ticked forward, things began to slow down. Fewer and fewer lands were uncharted. Fewer forests were left to be chopped down. Fewer animals were left unknown. Fewer unspeakable acts of violence were untried.

Today, there are still millions of plant and animal species lying in wait, not yet having been touched by human science. But rather than send out adventurous explorers to find these creatures, we send out fat men with chain saws to perform a disappearing act on their habitats. Rather than becoming friends with our neighbours and visiting family members on a regular basis, we sit, locked in our homes or offices, completing mundane and completely useless tasks to earn money.

We waste our entire lives, most of us in complete agony, wishing we didn’t have to go to work or school the next day. Knowing, however, that we must. Why? So that we can get great big gobs of green paper. Why? So that we can live in big houses, with big televisions and drive big cars. Why do we need big cars? So that our ride to work the next day will be comfortable. Our lives have become vicious cycles. Cycles spinning ever downward.

Our whirlpool is not forced upon us by a great sea monster. We have created it ourselves.

some of us realize that our lives have become meaningless. These are the individuals who turn to some almighty God for assistance. As if that could help us. Society, as a while. must realize that the only way we can become human again is to change things ourselves. Why spend hours engaged in prayer to an omniscient deity in a “sacred” building if it achieves nothing? People have prayed to gods for as long as humans have existed. Has it helped?

They didn’t stop the world wars. They didn’t stop Mt. Vesuvius from erupting. They didn’t stop the devastation caused by countless earthquakes and other disasters. How long does it take before you hang up a phone when no one answers?

We have to realize that change is only possible through ourselves. But before we can do that, we must acknowledge that there is a problem. Most people are obviously entirely content to waste their lives in an attempt to “make a million”. We all can’t be Bill Gates. Who would want to be anyway?

I am still young. I have my entire life in front of me. It is spread out like a great sea. I sincerely hope that my sea does not contain any whirlpools.

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