[ by Charles Cameron — the moral arc of history from Billie Holliday via MLK to Obama — and beyond, who knows? ]
Our topic here is foresight — prediction, prophecy, prognosis, projection.
The Legatum Institute today tweeted a Pew Research projection of Muslim and Christian growth 2010-2050.
It is now 2015, so for practical purposes, we’re thinking here about prophecies and predictions that offer what their authors hope will come close to 35-year foresight.
Short form: I don’t get it.
Obama, like him or not, Christ or Antichrist, Peace-Nobelist or Pol, is now US President and has — whatever his strengths, failings, or both — some influence on how the earth turns, which way the moral arc of the universe bends, and or what history will be seen and written once the future is present.
Short form: How does history happen?
I’ll raise that question by posting three videos along one such arc of history — and I’ll avoid the usual genre of “news” and work with song, dream and sermon.
Describing the impact of Billie Holliday’s song, Strange Fruit, David Margolick wrote in his “biography of a song“:
An “historic document,” the famed songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg called “Strange Fruit.” The late jazz writer Leonard Feather once called “Strange Fruit” “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” To Bobby Short, the song was “very, very pivotal,” a way of moving the tragedy of lynching out of the black press and into the white consciousness. “When you think of the South and Jim Crow, you naturally think of the song, not of `We Shall Overcome,’” said Studs Terkel. Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary record producer, called “Strange Fruit,” which Holiday first sang sixteen years before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, “a declaration of war … the beginning of the civil rights movement.”
As Shelley reported, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
Preaching borders on prophecy when it addresses dreams, as in Martin Luther King’s great 1963 oration, spoken decades after Abel Meeropol published Strange Fruit as a poem in 1937 and Billie Holliday recorded it in 1939:
It’s surely notable that a singer had a part in that speech, too. As Wikipedia reports, citing DD Hansen‘s The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation:
The focus on “I have a dream” comes through the speech’s delivery. Toward the end of its delivery, noted African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” King stopped delivering his prepared speech, and started “preaching”, punctuating his points with “I have a dream.”
The President of the United States is an acknowledged legislator, constrained by checks and balances that preachers and poets do not face, yet his voice too has been raised from rhetoric to song:
Here are the Here are the “three rhetorical aspects” of Obama’s speech that James Fallows singled out for special praise:
The choice of grace as the unifying theme, which by the standards of political speeches qualifies as a stroke of genius. The shifting registers in which Obama spoke—by which I mean “black” versus “white” modes of speech — and the accompanying deliberate shifts in shadings of the word we. The start-to-end framing of his remarks as religious, and explicitly Christian, and often African American Christian, which allowed him to present political points in an unexpected way.
Amazing Grace now takes the place of Strange Fruit, and a President that of a poet and a singer — much has changed, yet much remains.
My own Prior Art on prognostication:
Recently, in Simply so much.. 02 here on Zenpundit, I pondered the nature of foresight in terms of a Marine Corps forecast:
I’m thinking of Lise Meitner as I view the Marine Corps’ ambitiously titled Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045. Who would have thought in 1919 that Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann in 1935 would begin a program that resulted in 1939 in her 1939 paper Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction — which in turn led to Moe Berg‘s attending a lecture by Heisenberg, the Trinity test at Alamagordo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
And yet the period from 1919 (Treaty of Versailles) to 1939 (fission theorized) is only 20 years, and from 1919 to 1945 (nuclear warfare) is 26 years — equivalents, respectively, to the periods from 2015 (today) to 2035 (a third of the way into the USMC’s period of prediction) and 2041 (still within the UMSC timeline).
That’s my attempt at a sober assessment of how difficult it is to “see ahead”.
My Art of Future Warfare story, War in Heaven, is set — as the contest rules required — in 2090.
By twenty-ninety, in my fanciful hypothesis, we may well have learned how to choose which timeline we want to live along in a “manyworld” of constantly branching possibilities – “words are many, worlds are many more, if possible” I wrote, and supplied portals to worlds secular, magical, religious and fictitious:
Forty some years from now, in the wake of John Hardy Elk’s vision and its definitive corroboration “in the external” by physicists at the CERN Diffraction Lab, Shamanism is overturning “the Enlightenment” as the preferred intellectual basis for inquiry. With its gestalt understanding of the interconnectedness not only of space and time but of chance and will, context and perspective, self and other, the Shamanic method of burrowing into deep external space “in the internal” has proven more powerful, faster, and – yes — way more creative than what are now known as the old “heavy lifting” methods of transport.
With schools of Tibetan, Navaho, Benedictine and other forms of contemplative instruction now rapidly surpassing CalTech as the educational venues of choice, and Oxford morphing back towards its earlier life in which theology was Queen of the Sciences, a great many talented explorers have now visited realms considered impossibly “far away” even a decade earlier, the “digital” has fallen away at a time when communication between the like-minded is achieved telepathically, and “radiance bombs” vie with “dark bombs” in the end-of-century duels scattered across many galaxies in which “white” and “black” magics compete — under the law, some would say theory, of the Conservation of Moral Balance.
Who knows? Who can really say?
And then there was the ChicagoBoyz Afghanistan 2050 RoundTable. Introducing the RoundTable, Lexington Green noted:
40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.
The event, then, was pitched five years past the Marines’ forecast, though still forty years short of my War in Heaven. And once again, though more explicitly this time, I relied on the branching worlds idea.. Here, though, I attempted –- not unlike a circus performer astride two horses -– to bring together the physical and moral universes:
Historians — on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me — tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.
We don’t, I posited, move across parallel “shadow” worlds by diving into portrait size Tarot cards, walking a kundalini-enhancing maze, or substituting the sky, landscape and other furniture of one world-line into that of another, though the great Roger Zelazny in his Amber series posits these as methods for planet-hopping.
My suggestion: we chose which routes we take when faced with the constant bifurcations of the manyworlds by the moral choices we make.
And in all this I attempt, however playfully, to glimpse how the past and present might prefigure our possible and impossible futures — and how one or more of those futures may pass through the sieve of the onward-pressing present to become history