This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. There’s a certain comfort in being able to predict reliably and in advance just when that tree is going to fall, that rock face is going to collapse, the other shoe will drop. But I don’t know that that would be a good thing. I think that for me if the warning came, I wouldn’t be paying attention –or rather I’d be too rapt in attention to something else. Like that saying that “Life is the thing that happens while you’re otherwise engaged.” Ah yes. So much of life just races by, Sonie Rutstein of Disappear Fear, says. And it’s true. Were it not for some kind of milestone event every once in a while, most of us would probably lose track of the spiral of events altogether. Another sage has remarked kind of cutely that “Time is Nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once. But in these days of multitasking, of two and three jobs, of constant texting and tweeting and lord knows what else, doesn’t it seem like everything is sort of running together? And then an event. And people respond, and we have another milestone. I guess that can be good in a way, except we seem to have had an overabundance in recent year.
A kind of odd duck of a man, David Brin, who is both a scientist and a science fiction writer, was talking one day recently on our local community radio station about the development of artificial intelligence, the history of it, it’s hope for becoming a real aid to the furthering of civilization. He also spoke of the kinds of problems it’s encountering in its development. He or somebody said that advances in AI would occur so rapidly that within the next three years or, so they would have a mechanized person who could think for itself and do the work of 20 people. But wait, the interviewer said, wouldn’t that put 20 people out of work and on the dole? There was a silence and then someone said, “Let’s move on,” and they did.
But I was tossed right back into the ’50s, standing in my mother’s kitchen, watching her make doughnuts the old-fashioned way, one that I don’t have time to tell you about right now
She was shaking her head over an advertisement for a new automatic washing machine that would be the salvation of the modern housewife, a truly amazing labor-saving device. “It’s a code, she said. They’re not saving anybody’s labor. They are making laborers obsolete.
And over the years it’s only gotten worse. I don’t know about you, but I have a little trouble with making on line purchases that are then delivered by drone. It almost tickles me when one makes a mistake or crashes into a building. I mean why should anyone be bothered by making major life choice on the advice of some intelligent soup can, or having some mechanical mosquito know your address well enough to dive-bomb a large box of comestibles and let them fall onto your covered front porch. Then you open the box and find they’ve included their famous and tasty pita chip dust manufactured en route by the three cans of organic diced tomatoes that some dufus packed in the same space as the chips with no padding between and thence no protection for the chips from the rocking and rolling (and sometimes tossing, caroming and plummeting of those heavy cans of good intentions. Really. Personal experience. I mean Jeez-o-Pete, even I knew when working in my parents’ grocery store as a teen, to put the bread and chips on top of the canned vegetables and hardware when I was sacking groceries, so nothing would get mashed. Any intelligence, artificial or real, would be helpful in these circumstances, doncha think. I’m pretty sure one big reason McDonalds hires so many older workers now is that many of the younger ones don’t know how to make change without the computer telling them what to do. I mean, doesn’t that creep you out a little. It does me. They can make electronic gizmos that can mimic the synapses between neurons in your brain. They’re trying to work out what electro-chemical combinations they can insert in these machines to make them be friendly to humans, and meanwhile, in some places many those exiting high school in the spring will not have had courses they comprehended in physics, chemistry, Civics, History or even an adequate command of their own language. Maybe if I were more absorbed in modern culture I’d be less concerned. But I’m so old I remember when crackers came in a barrel and nails in a keg. When if you wanted chicken for dinner you went out and killed a chicken. I remember when pre-sliced bread was so new it was practically magical – the greatest thing since, well, whatever came before sliced bread. We learned enough practicalities in our educational efforts to take up our part and step into adulthood. There is so much more now, to learn.
Lately though I’m seeing signs in the young people I’ve talked to and listened to that give me hope. They are smart. They are confident. And they’re ready, many of them, to take that leap of faith into making democracy work by taking part in the process.
It’s a curious thing that as we move in a direction we call forward in our world, some of the things we tend to leave behind are the very things that will get us through if the way gets rough. But some hold onto the important ones. They know that Faith means knowing that a bean seed will never sprout into a tomato. Hope means we’ll strive to be strong enough and wise enough to put our children and our communities first, before snake oil salesmen and clearsighted enough to see the dangers in mistaking ignorance for righteousness. They know that charity means showing loving kindness toward not just those we like and that are like us, but those also who are unbelievably different, knowing they hold up a mirror up to ourselves, so we can look into our own eyes and ask if we can dare, and if we can bear to love one another.
50 years ago, this week there was rioting in the streets of America after a man named king was shot down. And we saw people being washed away by fire hoses and bloodied by police dogs and here in the Ozarks we watched it on our ten-inch black and white televisions and tried to puzzle out what it all meant. And we watched as a shaken young white man standing on a truck bed amid a crowd of heartbroken dark-skinned hundreds. He stopped the riots in that town with a single sentence - I too had a brother killed by a white man,” Bobby Kennedy said, and in that moment, he stopped being a Kennedy or a Democrat and became the embodiment of it means to be an American and a decent human being. And that tradition continues today, showing up in the unlikeliest of places. And we learn that sometimes in our hardest days, we come to our finest hours. I pray the generation coming up has the wit and the will and the fortitude to claim their place in the fabric of civilization, and I see many signs that is indeed the case. Every year, as my generation of Americans continue to leave the planet, those young ones and their wisdom, if they can hold onto it, will be the ones who carry us boldly into the future and whatever it holds. This is Marideth Sisco, deeply grateful to be living in these Ozarks Hills.