Thursday, September 13, 2012

Two Profound Questions

Two of the most profound questions of my life were asked, in rapid succession, by my brother from the front seat of the Beetle as he drove me from Brampton to Kipling station. The 401 freeway is four lines east, four lines west and lined with warehouses where trucks stop to drink. At night it is lit by the lights of thousands of cars and the massive lamp posts that we accept as normal. It's an absolute concrete shitshow that birds must see as a deadly river, noisy and void of food. A bit of rain on the Beetle's windshield and it all blurs to beauty, an electric, machine-made poem to human productivity. Of course God is dead -we built the stars and put them on Earth to light our roads.

"Why did so many people sign up for war?"

I don't remember why he asked that. It's quite possible I was jabbering about All Quiet on the Western Front. I didn't have an answer for them so I said propaganda to which he countered:

"They would have known. At some point they would have known it was bad and still signed up."

I had to concede the point.

"You studied history?" he asked.

"History and politics."

"Why didn't the slaves revolt?"

"What do you mean?"

"Weren't there more of them?"

And there it was. Sure, I studied history, and we are all scholars of human nature. Why did young men sign up for war? Why didn't the slaves revolt? It seemed that four years reading books and staying up late that one night to compare the colonial era agricultural of Ghana with Uganada for the longest essay I have ever written a swamp of words with a nice clean introduction that let the Prof know, don't worry, I'm intelligent because I can be straightforward when we all know a server can be straightforward, thrusting you a tray, but if there's no food on it then what was the point and so there I was, and still am, sitting in the Beetle ten years ago still unable to call myself a historian.

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