This post appeared first in The Finger Lakes Times (NY), part of a weekly column titled, “Denim Spirit”: http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-the-failure-of-imagination/article_cec3e410-c470-55ab-889e-69e11ace7c55.html
Dystopian novels, zombies on Netflix and cable, apocalyptic movies with catastrophes wrought by nature, aliens, or escaped viruses. It seems as if these horrid, horrific, and once in a while sublime, end-of-time entertainment features began as a trickle a decade or so ago. Then it morphed into an avalanche, and now, a tsunami.
I am not talking about the threat of Roy Moore in Congress, rather, the fanciful depictions of humanity or the planet meeting any one of a plethora of horrendous and inescapable endings.
Zombies, really? The popularity of such things used to confuse me.
Now I see this vast array of violent demise as lack of imagination.
The parade of despicable behavior from the President of the United States to well-known celebrities, to scions of corporate enterprise, has shocked us numb. We cannot imagine how we will ever put the genie back in the bottle and return to a less scandalous, more professional, and wise leadership.
Earth and sky and sea have been abused and poisoned to the point of climate change and diminished drinking water. It is far easier to imagine a rancid conclusion to our gluttonous economic over-indulgence than it is the righting of the ship.
Nuclear devastation has made a comeback in the popular imagination, edging out our flirtations with dirty bombs, gruesome viruses, and random comets as the agents of Armageddon. The creativity of our imaginations easily stutters over a flash at the end, while finding it excruciatingly difficult to envision peace.
As a poet and writer, I know firsthand that it is easier to evoke sadness, sorrow, grief, and pain than it is to touch the rapture of joy for the reader. Fingering illness and death with vivid detail can be done relatively easily, while painting with words that deliver the experience of a glorious sunset is near impossible. I am not sure why that is, but it is.
Leonardo Da Vinci was so amazing because he could imagine centuries ahead of himself, conceptualizing inventions that had to wait for far greater engineering and technology before they could be brought to life. He imagined scuba equipment, helicopters, automatic weapons, a parachute, and even a robotic knight. He imagined what he could not create. We need someone like Leonardo.
As a species, not merely as a nation, we need people who can imagine our way beyond the fog of doom appearing on the horizon – whatever horizon, within whatever arena, we are in. We think we have only five senses: touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste. But there are other senses that the disability of pure reason has neglected to count. Imagination is one of them.
Before we can wander into peace, before we can conjure up the means to over-come self-interest and move toward unity, and in order to figure out how to reorder the economics of gluttony, we must be able to imagine new alternatives. Imagination is a powerful tool, perhaps the most powerful of senses in our arsenal.