Time and Place



In my years teaching undergrads about ancient religions, history and literature, I spent a good amount of time talking about the relativity of origins of belief, doctrine and social norms. When I was, myself, an undergrad and then grad student, one of my beloved mentors, Kaz, had a distinctive way of using the German term Sitz im Leben as a way of emphasizing that we cannot- CAN. NOT.- begin to read or understand a text- let alone try to do anything as tricky as interpret the thing- without a thorough knowledge of the time/place/situation in life in which it was produced.


I’m starting to think we’ve completely lost this vital awareness. Assuming that we, as a connected grouping of human beings, ever really realized its importance.

What the Hell, people? Come on. We are rapidly ceasing to act in ways that demonstrate the beautiful and limitless potentiality of humanity. We are focusing so much on the divisiveness that keeps us tied to a status quo- one that is nostalgic-yet-fictional, at best, and deliberately-and-maliciously-constructed, at worst. And one that benefits the veryvery small proportion of our population that wields the political and/or economic power and doesn’t do much for the rest of us.

Petty* clerks who refuse to do their jobs (a job to which she was elected) because of a narrow, context-less, rote, and erroneous reading of a series of social controls written for a Bronze Age civilization?!?!?!

As much as I’d love to say that that particular episode of willful idiocy is symptomatic of a seeming US-wide epidemic of willful idiocy (Don’t get me started on her biggest supporter, that Huckabee guy…), the reality is that those that live in Canadian glass houses should not be tossing rocks around the joint. As much as it pains me to say that.

I have to admit that I do submit to certain form of Canadian-born schadenfreude at those times when the apparently-de facto pig-ignorance that is employed, permitted and/or supported by certain portions of the American population becomes overwhelming in its ridiculousness. Increasingly, though, doing so comes uncomfortably close to pots and kettles exchanging insults across the International Boundary.

Back-to-school week here in the Centre of the Universe north of the 49th parallel (Toronto, for those non-residents who deny our awesomeness) has brought back an issue to the media spotlight after a summer hiatus (even irrational and deluded Ontarians head to the cottage, apparently). For the first time since 1998, our provincial government, after years of consultations, has updated our public school health curriculum- including what we, as a society, have to teach, in our public schools, about sex and sexuality.

Since Ontario is clearly run by a secular, elected, governmental body, non-Ontarians might find the outcry over the institution of this curriculum somewhat bemusing. Even I did a fair bit of resigned head-shaking and minimizing of the ‘protests’ that took place before the last school year ended. I had my own opinions about those who might nay-say imparting undisputed facts and realities to our children. Some of those opinions were less-than-flattering, to be sure (there’s one in the paragraph above, in fact).

I keep trying to hope that we have put aside our reliance on adherence to Bronze Age, (Ancient) Near Eastern values and cultural mores that jibe not-at-all with those of Canada, in 2015.

That small spar is fast-disappearing.

The ‘debate’ rages. And not just about this (non)issue, but about too many other things of import that have portions of our population running back to their fairy tales and to the strictures that were put in place to maintain social controls over populations from long ago and far away.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like debate. Debate, by definition, polarizes– and suggests that someone will ‘win’. Which, of course, means that there will always be a loser. And it also means that there is no opportunity for respectful discussion- a dialectic, if you will.

This drawing of lines and taunting of the ‘other side’ has reached proportions of absurdity to such an extent that I find myself beginning to lean ever-more frequently toward the dark side of those who greet differences of opinion with juvenile name-calling and instant-and-absolute dismissal. I’m starting to ‘get’ the approach of some of those New Atheist-types who refuse to so much as acknowledge any way but their own, particular highway.

After decades of learning and teaching about different approaches to the way we humans create reality and culture and society, I’m getting a wee bit too much up on my own high horse of opinions about what we need to codify as our societal- and legal- values.

Holding onto my meliorism has been harder and harder. What’s meliorism when it’s at home, you ask? At its most basic, meliorism is a concept that allows for the fact that the world can be made better through human effort. It’s tied up with the pragmatism proposed by peeps like William James and co. It’s kind of central to my way of looking at things.

Except… That foundation has become shaky, lately. Trust and belief in my fellow human beings isn’t especially strong at the moment. I’m having a whole lot of trouble accessing any level of respect for whole lot of people who are making a whole lot of noise, lately.

Then this morning I saw an opinion piece in our local Star.

Timely as all get-out, IMHO.

Respect. It’s severely lacking in our discourse these days. And, contrary to the assertions of certain talking heads, respect is not some hackneyed, airy-fairy, super-left-leaning-liberal, nebulous concept that posits that everyone is, in some way, ‘right’.

I’m ashamed I needed that reminder.

None of this is to say that I’m faltering in my firm stance that we need to work toward complete civil, legal and societal secularization. I hold the truth of that necessity to be self-evident.

People don’t seem to get that there’s a distinct difference between working for social justice for all people and being ‘politically correct’. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion- regardless of how backward-thinking and based in tenuous, misinterpreted, anachronistic apologetics such thinking might be. But no one is entitled to expect such opinions to interfere with the larger, overriding and instructional societal rules and standards that guide us in living together as equitably and respectfully as is possible for a country/province/county/city of humans from different places and with different levels of education and different ways of looking at the world.

We are, thankfully, not a theocracy. Nor, for that matter, is the US- although it’s getting harder and harder to remember that little fact. We are not governed by laws that discriminate based upon things like race, gender or sexuality. Not anymore. These over-arching laws aren’t perfect- not by a long-shot they aren’t. But they are demonstrative of forward momentum- the correct direction- away from past distinctions that were established- and supported- by distressingly out-of-context ideologies and institutions.

It is becoming increasingly necessary to remind ourselves just where and when we are. Not where and when we think we are- or wish we were. If you are committed to retaining adherence to the strictures and social norms that were dictated by things like the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Scriptures, the Qur’an, or the standardized version of Manifest Destiny-driven North American history that many of us grew up learning, you must needs seriously sit down and actually learn something about the times and places in which those things were codified. Seriously.

If you do, and still think things were better back then, I’ve got a time machine for sale, cheap (it’s a DeLorean, so it’s a bit dated retro, but still functional).

Knowledge of history does more than help prevent its repetition. Knowledge of history illuminates our awareness that there were no ‘good old days’. Not compared with the situations in life that the majority of us can claim here in North America now.

Again, things aren’t perfect- or even great- for too many of us. Relative economic stability and lack of equitable opportunities remain elusive for too many people in countries that command unprecedented access to resources such as food and shelter (and even many of those numbered among our most vulnerable can still claim more than, when compared with too many others elsewhere on this big blue marble of ours. Exhibit A: the current global refugee crisis. But more on that another day…).

Human progression and evolution may experience periods of reactionary reversion now and again (I cite the fact that that Trump buffoon has anyone taking him seriously as a contender for leadership as proof of that), but our drive to dispel ignorance as we seek understanding and justice for all trumps (pun totally intended) the backsliders every single time. Every. Single. Time.

The past should not, CANNOT, govern us. We can must learn valuable lessons from the wisdom that came before our time, certainly, but we are not beholden to the limited thinking of people who had significantly less information and leisure for reflection with which to work than we have achieved- and continue to achieve- as a human race. We can hear and respect the values and knowledge of people from places that seem far-flung (even as communication causes the world to shrink), but those values that we have instituted, through our agreed-upon system of governance, will always take precedence. In 2015. In Canada.

We can stand around (or go for a troll on the internet) calling others ‘immoral’ and ‘blasphemous‘ and ‘against god(s)’ and ‘idiotic’ (I’m guilty of that one) and ‘stupid’ (okay, that one too, sometimes) or we can keep to the forward momentum that promotes the values of “mutual tolerance (although I’ve noted my concerns with that term, previously) and respect for each other’s dignity and humanity”, as Edward Keenan so wisely stated in his editorial.

Our time and place demands that we do so. We know so much more than we did 4500 or 2000 or 1400 years ago. We are ever-evolving and better than we were even a century ago. Although I’d personally prefer that they didn’t, those who wish to hold onto the ideas that came out of those bygone times and places are welcome to do so. “Diversity of practices and beliefs… (and a) social and legal framework of mutual respect… (are enforced) through government institutions that acknowledge our differences, and insist that we respect each other despite them.”

Those ideas are out of place and time, though. And, as such, need be weighed reasonably and evidentially against our current societal values.

I think that’s a pretty fair summation of forward thinking. Secular forward thinking. We’re not there yet, but we’re on a solid heading. It’s hard to remember that, sometimes. But it’s true.

As a (nameless, female) character in that Big Book O’Stories found out, there is never value to be found in looking backward– to a time or place- with longing.

To do so is risk her fate. And pillars of salt are eventually worn down by unstoppable forces like waves and winds of progress.

Don’t look back
A new day is breakin’
It’s been too long since I felt this way
I don’t mind where I get taken
The road is callin’
Today is the day

I can see
It took so long to realize
I’m much too strong
Not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind

It’s a new horizon and I’m awakin’ now
Oh I see myself in a brand new way
The sun is shinin’
the clouds are breakin’
‘Cause I can’t lose now, there’s no game to play

I can tell
There’s no more time left to criticize
I’ve seen what I could not recognize
Everything in my life was leading me on
but I can be strong

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind**

*I use the term ‘petty’ in this case not as a descriptor of her duties as a representative of the county, but because her so-called reasoning behind her unwillingness to do her job are ‘of little importance and trivial’. Contextually-speaking.

**I hesitated using anything remotely Boston-related after the trouncing their hometown team gave MY hometown team last night (sheesh guys. What was THAT?!?!), but the song just sort of lent itself to the topic…

24 comments on “Time and Place

  1. So, this was a really good thought provoking read for me. Having many in-laws, who think me the Jewish anti-christ himself, I started thinking about the petty little things about them, I have spent much time through the years going on about. I’m just as bad aren’t I, in my own self absorbed enlightened way. As always, thanks for a great write, and I do love Boston so. 😉

    • colemining says:

      Hi Daniel! I really needed the mental re-set that the editorial provided today. There can be a fine line between standing by our evidence-based convictions and become inflexible and self-righteous in our confidence in that position.

      While I find the opposition to the new curriculum ludicrous (and I, unlike many of those protesting its institution, have actually READ the thing), I haven’t, until now, taken the time to really explore some of the reasoning behind that opposition. It’s still exceptionally unfounded- but I can honestly say, now, that I’ve taken the time to hear the other side.

      Interestingly, that’s not my fave Boston song 🙂 But it fit- and got me thinking, as well.

      Thanks for the visit- and the comment! Good to ‘see’ you!

  2. bethbyrnes says:

    I have so many thoughts to share in response to this Cole, that I think I would break the internet, literally, as well as the minds of anyone reading it.

    Let me start off by apologising to every civilised, post-modern human being on earth for what is transpiring here. From ‘that woman’, to Huckabee, to Trump, to the NYT trying to take down the first viable woman candidate in 250+ years in service to the oil & gas knuckle-draggers, I cannot fathom what has happened to the American people. It must be years and years of sitcoms that have slowly seeped all the frontal matter from the crania.

    I was so excited about the discovery of H. Naledi in S. Africa this week. I gave my poor SO a long disquisition on how we need to know our history, especially our paleo-history to understand ourselves today. There would be zero impetus to return to any other era if people were just properly educated about our past!

    All I can say here without rambling on with my blood pressure rising is, YES! yes-yes-yes.

    • colemining says:

      Lol. If you were to break the internet, Beth, it would at least be in the cause of relevant dialogue rather than the size of some celebutante’s posterior…

      As I said, you guys south of the border aren’t the only ones needing to do some serious apologizing. The epidemic crosses international borders- and is running rampant here in my Home and Native Land (as evidenced at the half-way point of our federal election campaign). We all need to smarten the Hell up. And I don’t know how to facilitate that- beyond the periodic yelling into the void that I’m able to manage hereabouts.

      When we were in DC in July, I was extremely impressed by the Smithsonian’s Human Origins gallery- and I’m sure that they will be updating the exhibits to incorporate H. Naledi to aid in our collective education even further.

      Honestly. You’d think that with the popularity of shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ (which is fantastical- what with all the dragons and such- yet based in the historical realities of the period of the War of the Roses) that its followers, at least, would lose all sense of idealized nostalgia for the past. Same can be said for the stuff that happens on ‘Outlander’. If we must have a collective addiction to television/cable/film- to the unfortunate exclusion of all else- then one would hope that the addiction might have some positive side effects and illuminate as to the reality that perceived ‘golden ages’ were nothing of the sort.

      I dunno. I just don’t.

      Thanks, as always, for the visit and the comment. Have a great weekend! xo

      • bethbyrnes says:

        I think the popularity of those shows is indicative of an underlying broadly dispersed personality trait that might be called ‘blood lust’. It is evident in boxing, American football, ice hockey, wrestling and hunting. Americans are still pretty violent — from the intersection of their, what, Saxon? Teutonic? genetics and the go-west-young-man adventuring heritage imposed by trying to take a continent away from its peoples. Just the amount of venom and anger here is breathtaking.

      • colemining says:

        Oh I agree. There isn’t much ‘entertainment’ out there these days that I find at all watchable. And it’s not about being squeemish- I am an historian. I know all about the horrible things that we humans have done to one another over the millennia- (ostensibly) in the name of one god or another or as overt display of power over other human beings.

        The only sport I’ll watch on a regular basis is baseball- and even that has its moments of irrational posturing and violence.

  3. lennymaysay says:

    Just in time. I think you covered perfectly how I feel about the shit storm that erupted on social media following the discovery of the new species Homo Naledi at the Cradle Of Humankind here in South Africa. Incidentally, I live just a few kilometers away from this historic site.

    BTW, If you happen to have a functioning De Lorean, I think it’s worth a rather large fortune, so don’t give it away to anyone who still prefers living in the past.

    • colemining says:

      Hi Lenny! I’ll bet there’s a lot of excitement- and, hopefully, positive enthusiasm around the find in your neck of the woods. I have to stay away from most social media when things like that come up. I can generally count on my friends to have reasonable things to say about increasing our body of knowledge about our human origins, but friends of friends? Not all the time…

      I don’t really have a DeLorean- or a time machine. But we’re fast approaching the date to which Marty and the Doc came forward in the second film… still on the look-out for hovering skateboards…

      Thanks for the visit- and the comment!

  4. I did not see Boston coming. I’m going forward with the comment that I was planning until you threw me a curve, and that is this: Sing it, Aretha!

    I am distressed that respect and civility (and on a related note, integrity) have become archaic notions.

    • colemining says:

      Ha! Tricked you, HC! I sneaked in the Boston. Of course I thought about Aretha, but the not looking back bit was really more the focus of what is bugging me these days. Glad I can keep you on your toes 🙂

      Yes- integrity has also fallen by the wayside, sadly. Ironic that such positive, necessary things are consigned to the past, while so many things far better left in dark days of yore are heralded as ‘lost values’. Sigh.

      Good to see you, HC! Thanks for the visit! xo

  5. Wonderful piece… it made me feel quite cheerful reading your commenters too, that there are plenty of us dissenters about ‘
    at risk of being really trite, Santayana’s words that those who do not understand their past are doomed to repeat it, come to mind… and I loved your definition of that Bronze Age Near Eastern way of thinking – a conversation I was having with a friend just last night…

    • colemining says:

      Hi Valerie! Lovely to see you!

      Yes- it is reassuring that there are still some of us around. With all the noise that’s out there, it’s hard to remember that the dissenting (and rational) voices can be heard if we listen hard enough.

      Santayana certainly had the right of it- unfortunately too many people seem to want to cling to an imagined past, rather than do the work to learn what history really has to teach us about how far we have progressed as a human race.

      I appreciate you stopping by- and letting me know that there ARE others out there having conversations about things like this. Makes me feel ever so much less alone.

  6. I sometimes wonder if all this societal bluster isn’t anything more than a smokescreen implemented by those in power to keep the masses occupied.

    Consider some of the events in the news lately: A Kentucky clerk, who appears to be off her rocker, decides to grandstand when told to do her job; Miss America tells off Donald Trump, who laps up all attention, good or bad; a small segment of people insist on believing the president of the US is Muslim.

    Are these really the most pressing issues our society has to tackle? The media and many people certainly spend an inordinate amount of time focused on these topics.

    The Kentucky clerk will soon fade into obscurity and marriage certificates will be handed out in that particular locale. With all due respect to Miss America, winning a beauty pageant really doesn’t give one much in the way of political bona fides, no matter who she’s addressing. Anyone who believes Barack Obama is a Muslim lives in a world of suspended disbelief.

    Ultimately, people will always find minor grievances to bicker over, or perhaps I should say they can always be led to minor grievances to bicker over. I suppose the question is, are we wasting our time fussing over trivial causes while important issues are being resolved without our full knowledge?

    • colemining says:

      Oh, CBC. In my darker moments, the conspiracy theorist that I work hard to keep buried very much believes that it all is nothing more than smokescreen for the credulous.

      I started a post about the European refugee crisis last week (hope to get back to it is I get a few moments, but who knows?) and how we went, in a matter of hours, from being bombarded from all media sources (finally) about the human cost of events that have been transpiring for some time that people are (finally) starting to notice, to ALL local news coverage being about which celeb has been sighted where as TIFF takes over town- and the news coverage, evidently. I have nothing against TIFF (I don’t tend to attend, but I’m a fan of anything that shows people how cool it is to hang out in TO), but I just can’t handle the fact that, for 10+ days every year, it’s as if NOTHING else is happening ANYWHERE else in the freakin’ world.

      It’s wrong. And it’s depressing. And symptomatic of so many things, I don’t even know where to start…

      Trying to stay focused on things of import- like our upcoming federal election- but the impulse to just turn it ALL off- for good- gets stronger and stronger…

      Thanks for the visit- and the comment. I appreciate your perspective, as always. xo

      (PS- seems that Kentucky clerk isn’t willing to give up the spotlight just yet… I despair of our collective future.)

      • What is personally discouraging is when I see trends like the one you describe in Toronto and what I see in South Carolina: the complete neglect of news anywhere else in the world, and sometimes of important news in the local area for celebrity worship and fluff coverage. When I see this sort of thing going on in Canada, and in local markets, things which used to be relegated to inane programs like Entertainment Tonight or, at worst, the New York tabloids or Los Angeles television stations, I find it frustrating. Canada has for a long time been noted, at least through the CBC and its major newspapers, for good coverage of worldwide events. It appears, from what you’re saying, that that is changing.

        My kids, unfortunately, are growing up in an environment where this is normal. I can point out the foolishness of the behavior of spoiled celebrities, but such behavior has also become normalized.

        You speak of your upcoming election. I personally have come to the conclusion that get-out-the-vote campaigns are ultimately counterproductive because they only urge people to vote, rather than to get up to speed on the issues they’re voting on. The latter would require a lot more effort than simply showing up at a polling place, pulling a few levers or pushing a few buttons, and walking out with an “I voted” sticker.

        If you can’t take the time to cast an educated ballot, I wonder if you should be voting. Of course, there’s no way to quantify who’s up to speed and who isn’t, but looking at the percentage of population who shows up to vote on election day hardly gives an accurate indication of an educated electorate.

        However, as long as folks like yourself continue to fight the good fight, those in power will know at least a handful of people are watching their actions. There’s much to be said for that.

      • colemining says:

        It would be one thing if it was only our local news, but our National News channel (that ‘other’ CBC) has been guilty of a whole lot o’ the same sort of thing since TIFF started up last week. I haven’t been much of a fan of ‘entertainment journalism’- not since I left me teens, at least- so it’s incredibly distressing that the line between journalism and entertainment has vanished to essentially nothing.

        We do still have some media outlets- mainly print/online papers/magazines- that can be counted upon to deliver actual news– it’s just harder and harder to look away from the myriad sources of ‘junk information’- since we are bombarded 24-7.

        Up to and including the election campaign…

        We’ve had issues- directly caused by our current PMs changes to voting regulations- with young people (specifically students away at university) being unable to vote. I have a BIG issue with that- since a lot of young people are quite politically involved and informed. But, overall, I agree with you. Getting out the vote is only of real value if people understand the issues about which they are casting a balloted opinion. It’s an unfortunate reality that too many people who are motivated to vote are motivated by their lack of information/particular biases. I can cite a municipal election/electorate as clear examples of that phenomenon, if we are in need of such examples (fortunately that particular example has faded back into the infamy in which he has always belonged).

        The good fight is getting harder to fight. Which is, I suppose, what ‘they’ want (again with the conspiracy theories). As they encourage the proliferation of intellectual mediocrity, that ‘handful’ is diminishing rapidly. Keep to it, my friend. I will do my best to do the same.

  7. […] I’ve said resonates, then groovy. Let’s chat about it. But, as I’ve said before, context matters. A lot. And identity is part of […]

  8. […] by the existence of something called ‘Openly Secular Day’- and were my reiterated shout-outs to the fact that I completely and absolutely KNOW that religion HAS to be removed from the business […]

  9. […] our theologians (who were, often, scientists and philosophers, as well. Limited by their cultural context and language, they spoke of the unknown as ‘god’. They’d know better […]

  10. […] accurate measure. I’ve written about the fallacy of the ‘good ol’ days’ before. That sort of idiocy is being taken to the nth degree by the nutbar seeking to lead the […]

  11. […] determined by any sort of measure. I’ve written about the fallacy of the ‘good ol’ days’ before. Yet the perpetuation of such idiocy is being taken to the nth degree by the nutbar now sitting in […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s