Are There Any New Problems, Really?


This sabbath was so beautiful (70 with a cool breeze and not a cloud in the sky), my thoughts also soared. I was thinking about a snippet I had read in that essay by Leo Rosten I wrote about previously. He remarked:

"There is the myth that every problem has a solution, and if there is a solution, you have to run out and solve a problem. I am inclined to think that we now learn, with pain and with reluctance, that many human problems are only reshaped and re-formed and are not so easily solved."

I think there is quite a bit of truth to that sentiment. Certainly the fact that we can relate ancient scripture to our own day speaks to this. With the very, very few exceptions where a society has embraced Zion principles, many of the problems of our ancestors are still our problems today: poverty, inequality, family dysfunction, tyranny of many sorts, peer pressure leading to societal problems, the oppression of women, and so forth. Even the political polarization that characterizes our time is of longstanding pedigree--here is another quote from Rosten's essay:

"There is the myth that in politics the extreme left and the extreme right are violently and unalterably opposed. The reason for this is that in the 18th century, political opinion was distributed not in a straight line, but in a semicircle, in the French Parliament. It makes little sense to talk about the extreme left and the extreme right as if they are opposed, because, in fact, they have much more in common with each other than either does with the middle. If you take the two ends of the line and put them together and make a circle, you will find that the left and the right meet, as they should, because both are convinced they know the truth; both are prepared to kill those with whom they disagree; both believe in suppressing ideas; both make no distinction between treason and dissent. Neither understands the democratic process. Both say that some people and some books and some ideas are dangerous. Well, of course they are. Ideas are very dangerous, but the suppression of ideas is worse."

Remembering that this is an essay from 1965, over 56 years ago, but that it seems like it could have be written just today, is quite revealing. There seems almost to be nothing new under the sun, as the writer of Ecclesiastes has put it. While the particulars of technologies and styles may change, the tensions seem to baked into the mortal experience, as the natural man (and woman) faces off against the spiritual man (and woman) in every age. It's like the same educational course is given to generation after generation of God's children. What seems to differ for all of us is into what stage of societal rise and decline we are born, but the fundamental tensions remain the same.

I do feel somewhat sad to have been born at a time when my civilization seemed to peak, and now that I am older, seems very evidently to be in decline. I am not sad for myself, of course, but rather sad for the children I brought into this world. I console myself with the fact that their patriarchal blessings indicate they will be a force pushing back against that decline. That is a noble calling--to be a light at sunset. And yet, gosh, it is sunset now, with all that entails.

A sign I once noticed said, "Faith is not knowing what the future holds, but in knowing Who holds the future." And that is where my thoughts rest this sabbath evening.