The other day, while trying to read a book and watch some news at the same time (my version of multitasking), I heard some guy compare geologic epochs to human history. The world’s natural history, of course, is divided into epochs or time periods lasting millions of years each and characterized by differences in climate, life forms, and geologic activity. Two of the more recent designations, for example, are the Paleozoic and Mesozoic periods.
But the guy wasn’t talking about old rocks. He was talking about us. And one of the things that he said really caught my attention. To paraphrase, he said that at some point in the future historians would look back at us and say, “oh yes, that was the tribal period” (the emphasis is mine). That assumes, of course, that we survive as a species long enough for there to be future historians.
Honestly, I think the guy nailed it (I wish I remembered his name, but I don’t). What passes for “discourse” these days is, in reality, nothing more than “tribal” conflict and posturing. The notions of consensus and majority rule are fast becoming endangered species, soon to go the way of the dodo bird. Everybody seems to have their own little niche, their own piece of turf that they seem willing to defend to the death. Searching for common ground and compromise is dead – long live anarchy and the cult of “me”.
Even within the normally quiet, unprovocative, staid, laid back community of photographers – especially those with their own little bully pulpits – temperatures are rising. The nasty side of politics (believe it or not, there is a “good” side) is making serious inroads. If you don’t agree with what I say, I’ll simply resort to name calling and other means of character assassination. I’ll verbally beat you to a bloody pulp for no other reason than “my dick is bigger than yours”. Rational debate is for sissies and the weak minded. If I’m the last dick standing (or shouting), then I win.
Now, most photographic blogs, at least the ones that I frequent, are not like this. Most photographers that I know are not like this. I’ve always thought that as a group, photographers were by and large intelligent, reflective, thoughtful, and verbally nonviolent. As a group, we tend to be observers. We see things and then we mull them over. We explore different angles and different perspectives. We know that the world is not pure black or pure white. Rather, it’s infinite shades of gray. It’s nuanced. It’s complex. There is never just one “correct” point of view.
Of course, we all fall off the wagon from time to time. None of us are immune to knee jerk reactions or allowing our mouths to get way out in front of our brains. Especially in today’s highly charged atmosphere. We all say things we wish we could take back. It’s part of being human. But more than anyone else on the planet, I think, photographers are students. The world is a classroom. We are the ones who should be asking the questions, not pontificating. If we already know all the answers, then what’s the point in using a camera at all? There’s nothing left to learn.