Rains and Bows

It’s raining and I’m here for an outdoor event. Here, in this case, is Ithaca, New York. The event is the parade that’s an integral part of the Ithaca Festival. As people have been laying out their chairs and blankets along the route since morning, it’s a fair guess that if we don’t stake out our few feet of available public space we’ll miss the parade. And yes, it will rain on my parade. The problem is waiting in the rain. With one hand holding an umbrella and water getting in anyway like a leaky roof, there’s only so much you can do. Reading a book—my default activity—is out of the question. I know very few people here and since I’m acting as a placeholder, there’s nobody to talk to. Tom Petty was right after all.

The parade itself turned out to be a celebration of diversity. Ithaca is what America could be. The various liberal organizations, eager to educate, marched by to cheers and bonhomie. There’s nobody judging here. This became clear in a particularly striking juxtaposition (for which I have no photos, because it was raining) in the parade lineup. A group of Mad Max-themed metal rockers went by in a gnarly truck decorated with torches protruding from fake human skulls. Dressed in future period costumes from the movie diegesis, they produced the guttural, primal roar that is an accusation against current society. Then, like Mel Gibson shifting to The Passion of the Christ, the group immediately behind was a Bible Baptist Church. Add water and mix.

For this I’d sat in the rain for a couple of hours. Forced to relax, I watched the water on the fabric over my head as beads crawled together, joined one another, and scurried, animal-like, from the umbrella to the ground. The drops may look uniform from a distance, but they’re diverse. They come in different sizes, and perhaps because of the distorting character of the nylon, they took different shapes. Placed together in one location, it was natural, it seemed, for them to come together for a common goal, which was the ground. There was a parable playing out here right over my head. While it didn’t seem to be the case at the time, it clearly was a lesson to be shared. Had it been sunny, I would’ve been reading a book. Sometimes it takes sitting in the rain to learn something that should be obvious no matter what the weather.

Gray New World

A few months back I purchased a book entitled One Thousand Languages by Peter Austin. Not a “reading book,” this is more of a reference manual to the often bewildering profusion of languages in the world. Having dabbled in the study of about a dozen languages over the course of my academic career, I was interested in seeing what tongues are being spoken in places I’ve only dreamed about. After introducing a plethora of different communication systems, the book dedicates a significant section to endangered and extinct languages. There is a sadness about a language dying; it marks the end of an important aspect of a culture and a move towards a bland universality.

O say what did you say?

Then a Rutgers student sent me this link. It is a video of Wade Davis lecturing on the topic of the rapid disappearance of minority cultures around the world. Initially Davis begins by telling the students that when they were born (this lecture was delivered in 2003), there were 6000 spoken languages in the world. As of 2003, there were only 3000. The rate of language extinction is (was) about one tongue dying out every two weeks. What makes this degeneration so unfortunate, as Davis explains, is that many are dying unnatural deaths. Cultures are obliterated because of exploitation. More powerful members of nations (artificial constructs, all!) ensure compliance by encouraging uniform languages and monochromatic cultures. It is culturocide.

I would encourage my readers to view this video; it is 20 minutes well spent. A major component of these dying cultures is religion, naturally. Davis makes very important observations about this aspect of cultural non-diversity as well. And I can’t help adding that one of the phenomena he addresses is how zombies are made! Quite apart from my fascination with the monstrous aspect of religions, Davis’ cautions are essential to recognizing the plight of the once diverse human cultural domain. You won’t regret seeing this – it is nutritious food for thought.