Are we living in the past?
Nostalgia appears to have become an obsession. Everywhere I look I see bunting, Union Jacks and black and white photographs reminiscing on simpler times when things were done differently which to some means better. Naturally we look back to try to determine who we are as if the answer can not be found within us here in the present moment. We celebrate the date we were born when we can never remember it, we say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes although it’s clear their soul will not leave their body if we don’t and we still associate the heart with feelings when we know this is physically not the case.
As children we learn not to put our hand in a fire because although the flames are pretty they burn. Past experience can be helpful in preventing us from repeating mistakes but not all our attachments to the past are healthy. We cling to where we once were, what we once did and who we think we should have been. When our present day selves are conjoined with the past to the extent that we are following patterns that no longer make sense, forcing ourselves to relive trauma and practicing damaging traditions are we stunting our own evolution?
Kings and Queens are born into great wealth, privilege and power and have a valid place in our history but why are they still here? People once believed that these monarchs possessed royal blood, that they were chosen by God to rule and were better in some way than the rest of us giving them the power to hold the countries purse strings and tell us all what to do. In 2018 that doesn’t really fit in with our modern view of equality. Do we really believe that one person is born ‘better’ than another? We still have a Queen in this country sitting in her counting house atop billions of pounds while her subjects shuffle out to food banks. We have developed a celebrity culture based on this idea that some people are more worthy, interesting or watchable than others. Our media stalk and report on these people as if they are somehow different from the rest of us. Did this craze begin with royalty back in Tudor times as the royal barge passed and crowds waved at the waters edge? This has mutated into paparazzi stalking Princess Diana all the way to her death.
But it didn’t stop them.
Today despite massive financial divides between rich and poor people are still very attached to the idea of the perfect monarch viewing celebrity and financial wealth as a milestone, an aim, something to aspire to. We take comfort in the symbol of the queen never questioning whether her presence is right or not. She represents something; a mark of our country, our identity, our sovereignty and an income of £82.2 million a year. For some reason the normality of this tradition overrides the unfairness, ridiculousness and practical reality of the situation.
Recently Iceland has caused a bit of a stir by trying to ban the practice of male circumcision in babies. This is a physically irreversible procedure leaving little boys penis’ permanently changed but its connection to both the Jewish and Muslim faiths keeps it out of the limelight; I mean you can’t go around saying someone else’s religion is wrong.
Politicians in Iceland have no such scruples and argue that religious or not this practice is an infringement of the babies human rights resulting in obvious uproar amid cries of racism and anti-semitism. Jews traditionally circumcise because of a passage in the Torah (Genesis 17 9-14) stating that all males must be circumcised as a mark of the covenant between Abraham and God. In the Muslim community although not stated in the Quran it is accepted as a practice of increased cleanliness but however common is not essential. In Islam most boys are circumcised by a medic in a hospital around the age of seven whereas traditionally Jews have a Rabbi or Mohel perform the ritual (without anaesthetic) typically on 8 day old babies at home or in a synagogue. The argument on the side of both religious communities in Iceland is that they are being forced out as this practice is fundamentally a part of their religion and cannot be changed.
That may be so but shouldn’t we consider the rights of an infant before the fear of ancient redemption? Just because it’s the way things have always been done does not automatically make it right. It used to be common practice to burn women who floated when thrown into water in this country but we don’t do that anymore having learned that most people will. I question whether just because people have believed in something for thousands of years means it is somehow untouchable and off the debate menu. Apparently I am not the only one; not all Jews or Muslims are pro circumcision there are many that don’t believe in the practice. There is another verse in the Torah (Lev 19-28) stating that you should not make any cuts in the flesh of the body as it is Gods and in Islam although it is encouraged it is not enforced.
It may be cleaner to not have a fore skin and some people would argue that to circumcise a baby is better as they will not remember the pain or be aware of what is about to happen. I have met several adult males who had to undergo circumcision when in their late teens due to, in some ways, unfortunate growth spurts and they would tell you that the healing process for an adult is no picnic. Despite this these babies are still being cut against their will as they are not capable of giving their permission. After the op they will definitely be in some pain but we have no way of measuring if this pain is comparable to that felt by an older child or adult. Has anyone considered this? Is what may or may not happen in an imagined afterlife more important than your child’s pain right now? Or is this an example of why circumcision is actually in place; past wisdom teaching us a lesson?
Does the argument to ban come from a practical place and the opposition emotional? Although there are rational points to be made on both sides it appears that this is becoming about race or acceptance of another community instead of an ethical discussion about what in a modern society is acceptable. People are offended and feel victimised: their sense of self is threatened because they have attached this religion and its’ ancient practice or the human rights of a two day old baby to who they are. Any opposition on either side is likely to be branded either anti-Semitic, dis-respectful, intolerant or alternatively short-sighted, old-fashioned and wrong. The reality in this case is that the choice of the baby undergoing that practice is not relevant to those practicing it as they believe it is a command from a higher power, a higher power that can not be questioned, proved or seen. All because of the words in an old book.
Yet books carry weight. The American constitution is another example of old words followed in modern times to the huge detriment of modern society. In the wake of yet another school shooting, 19 years after Columbine, we look on in incredulous horror as the President of the United States of America suggests that arming teachers is a reasonable next step in protecting children in schools from shootings of this nature.
Did he actually just say that?
America is so governed by the NRA, one of its most powerful organisations, that it automatically leans towards the idea of more guns to prevent shootings than considering a ban. The irony here is culpable. And a large majority of Americans will go along with this because it says in their old book that they have a right to own a gun so they believe that owing that gun has something to do with their identity. Therefore when teenagers get shot and their fellow students take to the streets in a gun-banning rampage these other people feel that they are being attacked, that their rights are being threatened and thanks to huge endorsement of this belief from not only the NRA but many politicians and people in power (probably being paid by the NRA) the fight continues.
And so do the shootings.
So instead of just letting go of the firearms and trying something new they resist, clinging on harder to something that probably isn’t even that important to them. The principle takes over. The shocking statistics of dead school children and devastating massacres disappear as the attack becomes about a right, a freedom, an ego.
In the UK we had one school shooting, banned guns and there were no more school shootings. In Australia they had one school shooting, banned guns and there were no more school shootings. Nineteen years ago in America there was a school shooting, politicians offered thoughts and prayers and since then there have been 15 such incidents killing a total of 146. How is it possible that there are so many people in America so desperate to keep hold of their firearms when such a large amount of children have been needlessly slaughtered? Why do people want to keep their guns so much? Is it simply because of this piece of paper?
Each of these examples have their roots in the past, a past that we cannot see, hear or experience because it’s already happened. The more we look back the more of the present moment we lose and the more likely it is that we will continue to make the same mistakes. History can serve as a poignant reminder of what we do not wish to repeat. But when we consistently continue to make the same damaging choices and refuse to change our behaviour or policies despite these reminders there must be other factors at play.
One is money and the other is ego.
Old institutions like the Monarchy wouldn’t still exist if someone somewhere wasn’t profiting from them. Keeping old hierarchies like this in place serve as a convenient structure for the rich and powerful to stay just that. It is not about the best for ALL human kind but the best for me and my pot of gold. Age old greed; another tradition we are not so good at letting go.
There is no better example of living in the past than religion and religious practices. There is an ocean of sturdy scientific evidence that proves the Big Bang theory yet some churches still teach creationism. The whole premise of how the Bible/Torah/Quran was written is evidence enough that there was no mystic involved. A series of stories and morals offered; yes and many of them useful. A decree from an all seeing all creating all powerful God; not so much. The amount of crimes committed in the name of a ‘God’ the world over are uncountable and yet religions still have believers so driven they will lay down their lives and those of others for those beliefs. The identification of belonging to something or someone who can never discourage or chastise is attractive to so many. Blind faith is appealing to the ego, the scriptures and practices become a part of our personality and our cultural identity can then become defined by this. That in turn makes it even harder to let go as we have come to believe it is a part of us.
When these feelings of longing extend to damaging the lives and rights of other people I can’t help but wonder when is enough enough? Gun control in America is the perfect example of this. And both factors are at play. The rich and powerful few want to make money from gun production and gun sales so they feed into the belief of the people that they need these guns, that part of their national identity relies on these guns engaging the collective ego of the American psyche.
Greed: check. Ego: check.
This human fixation with the past has become so unconscious we don’t even know we are doing it. We emotionally attach ourselves to these practices, ideas or public figures opening our sense of self up to then feel threatened if this idea is ever attacked. We then defend it as if we are defending our own survival no matter who gets in the way.
The present moment is the only moment any of us ever has. There is a tendency to look back on what has been or focus forward on events that are anticipated. This is a type of madness as we constantly project to some imagined or remembered moment.
Will we ever wake up? Can we evolve past our mind-identified obsessions? Why live in the past when you can live in the Now?
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com