Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We who merely happen to be walking around

Here is another interesting video for you. It’s an amazingly high quality film of the view from a streetcar travelling down Market Street in San Francisco in 1905. What I found so unusual in this film is that there is nothing… unusual. It must be that we are so used to seeing bad quality films of this period that we begin to think that all people walked like Charlie Chaplin or something, or that they were in some way quaint or inferior to us. In this film we see clearly that the people are like us. The policeman gives us his universal policeman stare, people gingerly cross the street avoiding the tracks as we would do, the fellow on the bicycle rides like anyone you would see today, the boy running could be the neighbour’s son.

From there it is easy to see that two hundred years ago or even a thousand years ago, apart from the props, people were basically the same. Just because we live in an era that is technologically, politically and socially more ‘advanced’ (so to speak), it does not necessarily mean we are better or even different than people who came before us. To me, the film illustrates clearly our alikeness, our solidarity with our ancestors. We, like they, are merely living in the ‘now’ of the present moment. We go about our business, thinking - as they probably did - that we are in some way more privileged, more intelligent, more everything than those who came before. But this is not true. I am reminded of a quote from G.K. Chesterton about the importance of tradition:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond