By LENNOX FARRELL
Is life today a choice between the sacred or the profane, or a conjunction of them both?
About six decades ago, a man in Trinidad named Sewell Gordon, appearing before a British judge, had apparently not shown the respect due the Crown. Harshly sentenced to Carrera, an impregnable, offshore island-prison, he escaped one night. Wounded in the attempt, he had ostensibly also slain a guard. Recaptured, and convicted for murder, he was condemned to the gallows, and hung by the neck until dead, dead, dead!
These details, prepubescent, remain indelible. So stark they remain; stark as the bleak arrival of morning when, blind-folded he was hoist, that the day had appeared apocalyptic. The significance of his death, still so vivid, reminds one of former times, when in our collective experience, death was not passé and inconsequential. So casual now is the frequency, not of mere murder, but even more of serial killings that our jaded interest is titillated only if some new form of indignity and barbarity, diabolical in its ingenuity, is visited by the killer on the victim. Ironically, as the significance formerly attributed to human life drastically degrades, that attributed to pets inversely upgrades.
By contrast, in the past, even the predictable large-scale dehumanizing of Africans by Europeans in the Belgian Congo in the 19th century, could stir massive demonstrations in the West Indies. Then, too, Europeans, to emphasize their over-lording of Africa, would shamelessly profane sacred utensils, places and practices, strategically even pissing publicly on, and in, sacred objects and locales.
Despite these examples of the sacred being deliberately profaned, if anything remains it still is, to me, a sense of a greater loss; a loss of our once having a larger sensibility towards matters, sacred. In short, despite the horrors of wars, genocides, and serial murders, there had previously been an unmistakeable, and higher regard – if not always acceptance of equality, and reverence – for life.
Again, there have been liars, cheats and swindlers. However, these characteristics were not regularly welcomed as praiseworthy options. Nor considered exemplary. On the other hand, a person who was `considered`; that is someone known to be decent; someone trustworthy, was the individual to whom everyone – including the crooks – could look, as the example to be followed.
In fact, the death of the sacred is so wide-spread, it diminishes, not only life, but also how living, we once interacted with each other. Thus, one’s given word was one’s bond. The loss of such moral markers raises other questions: Is having a sense of the sacred the same as having a sense of direction? As having a sense of priorities; as having a valid sense of choices?
There were other things also held sacred about one’s word. It was sacred if given to wed someone else. It was quite a thing unbelievably shocking if, on one`s wedding day, the other party had left them `standing at the alter`. Or also for someone to strike a parent; especially their mother.
Then, too, was the expectation of being married before having children. Unfortunately and unfairly, a child born out of wedlock was oft legally abused. It was quite a stigma carried, to be dubbed a ‘bastard’. In most situations, too, those expected to bear the burden of single-parenting were women. Marriage was a societal, contractual expectation, primarily because the `home was the foundation of the society`.
However, not today; not when the paradigm has shifted the foundation of society and the economy to the workplace. But with no corresponding paradigm shifting women’s responsibilities.
Of course, I am of the persuasion that children should be born in wedlock. And not merely for old-fashioned reasons. Among the best arguments supporting such ‘old fashioned notions` is data of how negatively affected in school and beyond, can children born out of wedlock be. And in circumstances where one parent is primarily responsible for that child`s wellbeing. However, so damaged now is the ‘family’, that similar challenges affect those in two-parent situations … both out working, needy!
Are families now more valued as consumers than as humans? Will the consumers become the consumed?
This matter of children born out of wedlock is one so thorny, few care to address it. There was a church convention during which this issue was raised; questioning the judgement of women who normalize the bearing of children outside of marriage. Most of the women present were not amused. One, with immense grief replied, ‘I did everything by the book. I’m a professional, educated to the highest and at the best. I kept myself chaste; been a good example to nephews and nieces … yet can’t find a man; one able to keep his word to me as I to him. The men I know, even in church, are players … and I chose to have a child, and before it was too late for me to bear a child … You men have no idea what it means to be a woman today; a Black woman …`
As men, we may not easily countenance such criticisms, that too many of us are unreliable. In this regard, advice my brother and I got from our father worked and still does. Seeing the growing interest we had in girls, he once chided us, “If you get a girl pregnant, come only to tell me the date … for the wedding.”
Today, too, there are some things which, while profane, have ‘become sacred’. Again, there have always been that tribe of liars, cheats and swindlers. However, these were disreputable beings; not to be lauded as examples to follow. That is, until politicians and copywriters discovered `spin`: or the efficacy of brazen lying!
There is a biological basis to this dishonourable feature of modern political life and campaigning. First, `spin` is publicizing things which are the very opposite for what one`s opponent stands. Next, get `the lie` out early; first if possible. Then, regardless of later info to the contrary, repeatedly spin the lie into the truth, or something akin to it.
Spin works because the human brain, making more than four billion decisions every second, conserves energy where it can. It therefore requires less cognitive effort to hear something the first time than it does to later erase and replace what has already been imprinted. Lies work!
Spin is also used by corporations protecting their `brand` and market share. Thus, when shopping, one should expect, while reading labels, to be ambushed. Thus, a product listed as `made fresh` might be fresh; but not necessarily natural; and `natural-based` products could include plastics, which are made from petroleum, a `natural product`.
Today, among the most profane examples of what is considered sacred, is greed. Once antithetical to everything decent, it is, today, the new definition of what is good. The lie is truth, and the truth lie. Choose! But in choosing, what could one lose that is irreplaceable? One’s very humanity?
Or, as summed up another way, Ralph Ellison, the African-American author who asked, ‘does losing our sense of where we are, imply also losing our sense of who we – Homo sapiens – are?’