Old Ideas

02020-07-27 | Uncategorized | 4 comments

The technology changes, but our motivation doesn’t change. The motivation is propelled by old ideas, by old emotions, by thoughts that we can relate to thousands of years later. Perhaps I should use the word timeless instead of old. Love and hate, greed, fear, ignorance… They say there are only a handful of different Hollywood movie plots and only the names and objects change. A horse becomes a car, which becomes a plane, which turns into a spaceship… the plot remains the same. Staring at a fire 5,000 years ago, staring at a TV last century, or being glued to a smart phone today… there is no difference.

We can relate to ancient arts because while our clothes have changed a little bit, and while the stone tablet turned into a paper book and recently became a tablet that’s made from glass and silicon, the human experience itself hasn’t changed much. We are still fighting for survival. Many of us no longer fight against the elements or against animals that threaten us, but against other humans. And humans can be amazingly heartless when it comes to other humans.

It seems to me that there are only a few points in our lives where real change can happen, where the doors of options and possibilities are wide open. As teenagers we experiment with our personalities. We might play with different attitudes, like loud versus quiet, or social versus lone wolf, or active versus passive… but then we settle into a personality that we feel suits us. We pick a profession and perhaps we raise a family and, unless something catastrophic occurs… like getting hit by a bus, losing a loved one to a disease, or becoming homeless, we plod along until we retire or the children leave the house, or both. Then change becomes a possibility again.

Perhaps the desire to change or become something else is a genetic selection… because, if everyone wanted to change it might create too much societal upheaval. If no one wanted change society would become stagnant. It is possible that our choice to be progressive or conservative is linked to what benefits society, or humanity… too much movement capsizes the boat, too little movement makes it drift aimlessly.

Of course this points to how ridiculous it is, when political lines are drawn so deeply and are defended so brutally that cooperation is no longer possible. We need each other. It’s funny that both sides don’t want to hear that. The conservatives want a world of just conservatives and the progressives want a world that is made up of only progressives… and both worlds would falter in a short time!

I have been playing a card game in the afternoon and came to the conclusion that a well-designed game has to balance ability and chance, so that many people can embrace the game and can play it socially. If too much emphasis is placed on ability the average player cannot compete and the learning curve becomes too steep. Too much emphasis on chance and the result is that no desire to improve develops. Why should I bother if it’s all just chance anyway. A great card game is one that uses just the right amount of ability and chance to be fun.

The idea of balancing two extremes is what makes a great piece of art, whether it is a painting or a piece of music…. or food. What are those extremes? They can be familiar and strange, comforting and arousing, sour and sweet. It’s all about the balance.


  1. Steve

    It seems that we have been stuck in a circular quest to learn and relearn the concept of balance for a very long time. I don’t know what we were like in prehistory, but I’d be willing to bet our predecessors struggled with the concept of balance like we do.

    The thing is, the rest of nature seems to have figured this balance thing out already. But not us. Not. Us.

    Reminds me of a line from the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Rear Window.” One of the characters, Stella says,

    “Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.”

    I always seem to get a wry grin on my face when I hear her say that.

  2. Will

    For the most part change in humanity is rooted by self service. When we changed from hunter-gather (constantly searching for calories all day) to a co-op society (I gather the berries, you gather the carrots) it was so I wouldn’t have to search all day and the consequence in return was that you wouldn’t have to search all day.

    Think about today’s average change, I workout so I feel healthy, I have a certain attitude so I feel happy and don’t have to deal with the wrath of others. Even when you get down to social change, people march/protest for a cause for change but at some level it selfishly gives them satisfaction.

    In order to get back to a co-op society politically, we all have to acknowledge that the change we seek, regardless of party, has a self centered bias to it and we must acknowledge that in others as well. With such complex systems and change it is hard to go back to simple co-op (you gather carrots and I gather berries). So it is imperative to break down the complex to the simple root and be clear about the objective. You want peace, I want peace. You want security, I want security. How do we solve this in the most simple way.

    At some point we will disagree and have to ask ourselves “how will this effect the generation 100, 500, 1000 years from now”.

    • Victor H.

      I really enjoyed this post. Most people have more in common than not and will mostly cooperate, given the chance, even while making very different personal choices. This can be valuable to keep in mind in an election year when political rhetoric only gets more ridiculous and fever pitched.

      Political rhetoric is full of false choices because it serves to consolidate power and keep it In the hands of the few. And we all play into it by needing to be right… or left. ;-)

  3. JaneParhamKatz

    Ottmar, this is a great piece. I got a lot from the last paragraph – “balancing two extremes is what makes a great piece of art, whether it is a painting or a piece of music…” I suddenly understood a depth I had never seen before. I will be experimenting with this in my piano music. Also, I will apply this to my daily routines, which will become much more interesting.


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