Plus ca Change, plus c’est la meme chose

By: Bill Whaley
21 May, 2020

(The more things change; the more things remain the same.)

Introduction

Let us hope that we can take advantage of the pronounced changes society will undergo during the next weeks, months, years. Regardless of the direct causes, illustrated by the pandemic, changes will continue as globalism, pandemics, and climate change accelerate. We must think locally in order to defend ourselves against the chaos of what Naomi Klein calls the predatory corporate “Shock Doctrine,” wherein elites exploit vulnerable populations.

The “factionalism,” feared by the founders of the American experiment, has migrated from Europe and the world to embroil America, driven by propaganda and public relations campaigns, promoted by “divide and conquer techniques” pitting sub-cultures against each other. Philosophy, religion, science, the arts, education, commerce, and culture have been politicized, trivialized, and muddled.

The victory of the lingua franca or common language of conventional thinking casts the average citizen in parochial and narrow terms, leading to more “factionalism.” Despite or because of the 24/7 news cycle and Internet as source of an overwhelming information stream, and the rise of “Digitalism” as citation and source, the individual consumer has become the battle ground for micro-targeting.

General Knowledge (common sense) and facts have been undermined by the attacks of poseurs and purveyors, who aim at persuading citizens they are consumers and must adopt attitudes that manifest private prejudices and feelings of anxiety or resentment and the false pieties of idolatry and righteousness, when they aren’t uttering platitudes or “Happy Talk.”

Aversive Thinking

“The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion.” Emerson.

“We must invest our energy in building parallel, popular institutions to protect ourselves and to pit power against power.” Chris Hedges

During the current shut-down, many of the same feelings and “facts,” which offered an alternative to the mainstream back in the sixties and seventies, re-appeared in Taos. The absence of traffic, presence of an uncluttered town, the lack of social obligations, clear sight lines, all seemed like a vacation from the hustle-bustle of the last few decades.

“Though the fires raged in the ghettoes of urban America and napalm ignited the green velvet jungles of Vietnam, there was a sense of otherworldliness in Taos.” (Gringo Lessons)

On March 23, 2020, while New Yorkers were undergoing the quarantine in their rat-like dwellings, I skied cross country under a brilliant sun at Taos Ski Valley. Several of my UNM students climbed up Kachina Peak, more Mountain Goat than human, there they, as Tim Wooldridge put it, were “earning their turns.”

More than once this spring, while reading The Plague by Camus, I thought how the invasion of the plague in 2020 justified a decision made, however subconsciously, by a nineteen-year old, almost 55 years ago. Adults, upwardly mobile strivers or the general naysayers accused “us” of being drop-outs. But the beauty of place and the multicultural natural roots offered unforeseen rewards, a way of life that harmonized with temperament.

Embracing the Moment

Perhaps we can seize this moment as a community, appreciate the historic kindness and current generosity expressed by many who live here: recognize the natural beauty and spiritual mystery of the landscape; the natural roots, which attracts and nourishes newcomer and native alike. Prior to the era of hype and happy talk, visitors arrived in Taos and sought out the mysterious by-ways between absent street signs in the quiet corners of community. (Read Catherine Naylor’s book Working My Way Home, A Taos Story for an echo of those days.)

Then, one found the community and its environs due to personal discovery. Visitors didn’t want to change Taos or do more than enjoy the camaraderie and serene notion of their own contemplation, liberated by the seeming chthonic spirits, which emerge to charm and stir admirers. Nobody wanted to cut down the trees on the Plaza or disfigure the flora in Kit Carson Park or make a lot of noise outside the bars.

Literary Insight

For a sophisticated and in-depth study of Taos allure, you must go beyond the parochial literature of the Mud Palace Pantheon, admirers and detractors, or UNM Press’s thematically micro publications. Read The Bad Side of Books, selected essays, by D.H. Lawrence (a 20th Century genius), edited by Geoff Dyer. Acquaint yourself not only with the author’s direct experience of northern New Mexico but his expansive commentaries on the novel, where he incorporates general claims and analyzes or appreciates the unity and beauty of place and life. Lawrence is very like Camus in the latter’s early essays on the sea and sun in Algeria and, later about “unity” and “beauty”in The Rebel or Simone Weil in The Need for Roots and Heidegger in The Origin of the Work of Art.

The history of ideas and classical views derived from ancient Athens, not to mention litterateurs above, augment interpretations of Taos. Notions of Marxism and “Colonization,” are of limited value, given the complexity of human experience, and insightful comparisons that contrast to other parts of the world. The more you get to know it, the more interesting Taos becomes.

Conclusion

Tourism rises and falls, comes and goes. But the certainties of beauty and the historic culture persist as do the mountains, desert, rocks, trees, and the Rio Grande Gorge. One need do nothing but wait for the cars to stop at auto courts because of a flat tire or a whim. “When you do less, you accomplish more in Taos,” says Flavio. A kept secret has its own seductive appeal.

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