Bored? Adopt a year.
It is certainly boring to be bored with our world given the many different things we can do to break the monotony. If today's things do not suit the purpose, we may dream of utopia on Earth or of heaven beyond. If we are unable to visualize a future, we may reflect on our colourful past to stimulate the imagination. Such evasive pursuits are not always futile escapes from reality, for they may bring us back to life rejuvenated.
The monotony of our time is easy to break - no legal war or illegal prison-break is required. We can simply pick up a book about another time and/or place, then lose and find ourselves in it - I think the world would be a better place if everybody adopted a foreign country or region and studied it for a few hours every week. We can write our own essay or book and be better off for it even if nobody else reads it. No previous experience is required to adopt a time and a place either real or imagined and map it out to our heart's content. Each of us has an invisible vehicle available that will, if we are willing, take us on a transcendental tour of different times and places.
Now I am feeling somewhat bored with the current proceedings at home and abroad, especially with the boring beating of the war drums night and day, week after week, month after month, year after year - I must take a break. Since I presently have difficulty envisioning any more progress of the kind we have recently seen, I shall pick a past year and see what I can find out about it. Take, for example, the year 1908. I have not the slightest idea of where I am going or what I might find. No doubt historians will laugh at my planless procedure, and laymen might consider the very idea boring. Nevertheless, I shall look up 1908 in the chronologies and see how far I can go without a flight plan. I see someone wants to join me, the one who makes a 'we' out of me everywhere I go.
Let us begin with The Timetables of History, A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events (1991) based on Werner Stein's 1946 invention, Kulturfahrplan (The Culture Timetables). Our Timetables is a list laid out along a vertical line broadened into seven horizontal categories: A. History, Politics; B. Literature, Theatre; C. Religion, Philosophy, Learning; D. Visual Arts; E. Music; F. Science, Technology, Growth; G. Daily Life. I shall ignore the headings and select just a few items that strike my eye:
Amongst other things, we see that William Howard Taft was elected President of the United States; a future president, Lyndon B. Johnson was born; a former president, Glover Cleveland, died. H.H. Asquith became Prime Minister of Great Britain; David Lloyd George became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The king and crown prince of Portugal were assassinated in Lisbon; the Young Turks revolted. Isadora Duncan became a popular modern dancer. Books by Gertrude Stein, G.K. Chesterton, E.M. Forster and other popular authors were published - Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was born. Learned works by Albert Sorel (Reflections on Violence), Karl Liebknect (Militarism and Antimilitarism), F. Meinecke (Cosmopolitan and the National State) and other noted authors appeared - Simone de Beauvoir was born. Paintings by Chagall, Monet and other fine artists were finished - Matisse coined the term "cubism." The first steel and glass building, the A.E.G. Turbine factory, by Peter Behrens, was erected. Wilbur Wright flew 30 miles in 40 minutes. Fountain pens become popular. Ford Motor produced the first Model "T"; General Motors Company was formed. Bartok composed music; Rimsky-Korsakov died. 150,000 souls were lost in a quake in Sicily. Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champion if the world.
My choices from a brief smattering of a few tabled particulars is hardly representative of Western events not to mention the rest of the world, but the indications whet my appetite for more. Therefore I shall select and paraphrase a few more historical tidbits from the brief 'Chronicle' chapter of Longmans and Green's British guide, Longmans, Green & Co.'s The Annual Register, A Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad for the Year 1908, published in 1909. The chronicle is laid out in monthly order along the time-line with no attempt at categorization by type of event. It provides a more detail on the items than does the Timetables - like all chronicles, there is no attempt at interpretation:
January: A severe frost took place over the United Kingdom; the temperature fell to 23 degrees farenheight in London. 167 people were killed in a Reading, Pennsylvania cinema fire. Suffrage reform demonstrations took place in Berlin. The Bank of England reduced its rate to 5 percent. A women's suffrage demonstration took place on Downing Street.
February: There were more suffrage demonstrations here and there. The President of the United States pressed a button in Washington to start the first subway trains (Hoboken and Christopher Street Subway) to run under the Hudson River.
March: Anarchists were hung in St. Petersburg for planning to murder Grand Duke Nicholas and the Minister of Justice. The English bank rate was reduced to 3 1/2 per cent. The German Emperor's letter to Lord Tweedlemouth was announced - Prince Bulow made a statement in the Reichstag about the Kaiser's letter.
April: Two houses collapsed on Castle Street. Swedenborg's corpse, buried in 1772, was removed from the Swedish Church to Dartmouth for conveyance to Sweden. Severe snow storms took place throughout Great Britain.
May: A tram line was bombed in Calcutta - four persons were killed; Mrs. Kennedy, Miss Kennedy, and their coachman were killed by a bomb in North India. Naval accidents occurred. Serious destruction of property and loss of life was caused by twisters in Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Lousiana. A terrible railway accident happened in Belgium. Mr. A.C. Pigou filled Alfred Marhall's post as Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge.
June: There were more naval accidents. In Paris, Emile Zola's body was was transferred to the Pantheon - someone shot Major Dreyfus in the wrist at the ceremony, but was later acquitted. 25 people were killed in Kansas and Nebraska tornadoes. There were more suffragist demonstrations. A report of animal experiments in Britain was given; 2,580 of 73,374 experiments were performed using anaesthetics; no 'serious' operations were conducted without anaesthetics.
July: The fiftieth anniversary of Darwin's and Wallace's discovery of natural selection was celebrated. The King and Queen visited Bristol and opened a dock. The National Rifle Association began its annual meeting at Bisley; the Salvation Army celebrated its forty-third anniversary at Crystal Palace. The International Peace Congress opened. 100,000 persons demonstrated in Hyde Park against the Licensing Bill.
August: the International Free Trade Congress sat in Caxton Hall. An America battleship fleet arrived in Auckland. The Lusitania arrived at Sandyhook. Many people died and 4,000 buildings were destroyed in Constantinople due to a fire set by 'incendiary reactionists.' The existence an ancient civilization was discovered in Crete. Count Zeppelin's airship was struck by an thunderstorm on the ground and was destroyed by a fire, injuring several people. The German Emperor and the British King met.
September: Serious forest fires took place in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Unemployment disturbances took place at Glasgow. Tolstoy celebrated his eightieth. The eighth Dreadnought was launched. Winston Churchill was married. A German military airship flew for 13 hours and 2 minutes. From 100,000 to 500,000 people demonstrated against the Licensing Bill in Hyde Park. There were unemployment disturbances in Glasgow. A crackdown on lotteries and on indecent (birth control) advertisements was officially recommended in a British report.
October: "Disorderly scenes took place in Parliament Square as the result of a handbill issued by militant women suffragists inviting the public to 'rush' the House of Commons. One woman actually entered and addressed the House, but was promptly removed. A suffragist deputation, attempting to force its way towards the House of Commons was arrested." There were serious forest fires in Michigan and Wisconsin. 'Hunger Marchers' demonstrated in Trafalgar Square.
November: The battleship Collingwood was launched. Mrs. Garrett Anderson, the first woman mayor in the United Kingdom, was elected. 360 lives were lost in a mining accident at Hamm, Westphalia. Earl Roberts delivered a speech in the House of Lords declaring a German invasion possible. Unionist peers decided to reject the Licensing Bill. Japan and the United States agreed to maintain the status quo in the Pacific. Oxford beat Dublin University at rugby, 29 to nothing.
December: The sixtieth anniversary of the accession of the Emperor of Austria was celebrated - people were crushed and injured in Vienna - a state of siege was proclaimed in Prague, due to Czech and German rioting. Debates on amending the constitution began in the German Reichstag. Lord Rosebery spoke on unemployment and on the possibility of an unprovoked German attack. "It was announced that the Nobel prize for Chemistry had been awarded to Professor G. Rutherford, Manchester University; for Physics to Professor G. Lippman of Paris; for Medicine, divided between Professor Metchinoff (Paris) and Professor Ehrlich (Frankfort-on-Main); for Literature to Professor Eucken of Jena."
The other chapters of the Annual Register provide a record of more events and brief histories of events in England, Ireland, Scotland, and in the foreign countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia. The gentleman or lady who read an entire register would gain a relatively comprehensive, British view of a year's events. But let us turn here to yet another chronology and select a few more juicy morsels from 1908 - The People's Chronology, A Year-by-Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the Present (1992). The chronicle is laid out along a vertical line sorted into categories indicated by symbols along the left margin. Again I shall select and paraphrase only a few items; I shall brutalize the categories as I go along; I shall quote two items in full to exemplify the artful abstracts that we may find throughout the volume:
Carlos and the Crown Prince were assassinated in Lisbon. Persia's shah Mohammad Ali succeeded in a coup d'etat, shut down the assembly, imposed martial law, killed many liberal leaders. Bulgaria declared its independence. Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzogovina, much to the alarm of Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Turkey - Berlin supported Austria. President Roosevelt, the first sitting president to venture abroad, visited Panama. Tzu Hsi (Cixi), China's dowager empress died.
In Adair v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld the firing of an employee for belonging to a union, declaring the state law prohibiting the practice to be a violation of the Fifth Amendment; the court sustained Oregon's 10-hour day law for female industrial workers. The F.B.I. was established to be often used against labor organizers.
The economic depression continued; Westinghouse went bankrupt; petroleum production began in the Middle East; Continental Oil had in beginnings in Oklahoma at a Native American, Ponca cemetery. International Harvester's high-wheeled auto buggy was put on the market at $750; the Hupmobile is introduced. Less than 2 percent of farm families had autos, but there were 200,000 on the road, up from 8,000 in 1900. Half of all Americans lived on farms or in towns of less than 2,500. Japan acquiesced to President Roosevelt's order of the last year, barring Japanese immigration.
The Haber process for synthesizing ammonia was introduced for the production of explosives and fertilizer, freeing the world from its dependence on Chiliean nitrates. Hans Geiger, 26, developed the Geiger counter. Ex-Lax was founded by Max Kiss, age 25 - he was penniless when he immigrated to New York ten years prior.
Psychiatrists had their first international meeting, with Freud and Jung attending. The first professional school of journalism opened at the University of Missouri; the Christian Science Monitor began publication; "Mutt and Jeff" became the first daily comic strip to appear. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series, defeating the Tigers 4 games to 1. The song "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" popularized Cracker Jacks (introduced 1896). The Boy Scouts of Britain was founded. The Grand Canyon Monument was created.
"Mother's Day is observed for the first time at Philadelphia. Suffragist-temperance worker Anny May Jarvis, 44, attended a memorial service last year at the Methodist Church in Grafton, W. Va., for her mother Anna Reeves Jarvis who died at Philadelphia May 9, 1905, conceived the idea of an annual worldwide tribute to mothers, and will agitate for a national U.S. Mother's Day."
"A mysterious fireball explodes the morning of June 30 over Tunguska in Siberia. It creates a shock wave felt miles away, its thermal currents set great tracts of tundra woodlands afire, and the mushroom cloud and 'black rain' that follow it inflict a scabby diseas on reindeer hers. Irkutsk, Batavia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Jena and Washington, D.C. record seismic shocks. Russian scientists will not visit the sparsely populated area until 1927, they will find no meteorite fragments, and some will later speculate that the fireball was a crippled alien space vehicle powered by atomic energy."
Finally, we pick up Harrap's Book of British Dates (1991) and note that, in 1908, "A new torpedo is announced with a four mile range and a speed of four knots", and "The Admiralty announce that the battleships the Germans are building will be the most heavily armed in the world."
What are we to make of all the above? Scanning the information was interesting, but laying it out was tedious work at times, not quite the transcendental endeavor I supposed it would be. This is just a crude beginning with not even a handful of facts, just a point of departure, yet there were frustrating moments when I said to my other self, "Man, this is getting monotonous! I do not want to be a historian! And if I were a historian, I would definitely want my staff or my students to write most of my histories, then I would write the introductions and my foregone conclusions. Better yet, I would just write philosophies of history, and be the most famous historian who never wrote a history."
This is plodding work - I must wind this up. What do we have here? First of all, we have chronologies from the 'Anglo-Saxon' perspective. The Anglo-Saxon 'race' was popular among the British and North Americans in those days, many of whom, particularly the members of the elite, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) race-religion, considered the race to be the crowning glory of mankind. Of course the Anglo-Saxon master race was experiencing stiff competition from the Teutonic super race at the time; the Teutons had saved Christianity from Rome, and by 1908 they had almost taken the moral Jew out of Jesus in order to save the world with their 'original' culture. The Slavs of course did not want to be slaves to anyone, let alone Anglo-Saxons or Teutons, but in self-defense they aligned themselves with the Anglos. The Kaiser felt the "final battle" between the Teutons and the Slavs was imminent, and the self-fulfilling prophecy came true .
But we are racing ahead of ourselves. We do not mean to say the chronologies we selected are 'racist' in the modern sense with its evolutionary or biological mythology in contrast to the old culturalisms, the 'race of saints', the 'French race' and so on. Suffice it to say that we selected a tiny sample of material from only three chronicles, written in English, from Western libraries. We all know why there is more local news than international news today: there is a better market for the familiar because people are normally more interested in what is nearest to them, their own culture and its people. As I mentioned before, the Annual Register provides a full volume of history for each year's chronology; true , it is from a British perspective, but in those days the British Empire was far-flung and it provided many interesting opportunities for the islanders who were bored with he British Isles, hence we are bound to get a more global view from the Register. No doubt if we could read German and had access to a German library, we might find 1908 chronicles from that part of the world, a part which wanted to be the center of Europe if not the whole world; that did not sit well with the British. Incidentally, perhaps Hegel was right about the Westward Ho movement of the World Spirit: British visitors to the United States thought the center had already moved there - the Kaiser dreamed of a British-German alliance to control that center.
We are racing ahead of our chronicles again. It is difficult not to do so, since our extracts from abstracts brings to mind, as the British used to say back then, "what every schoolboy knows." Boys in those days apparently knew more than girls, one reason women were not qualified to vote; today British schoolgirls are neck and neck or have nosed ahead of schoolboys - boys have taken up the antique noble view that scholasticism is beneath them - they prefer to be drinking and brawling buddies while the girls excel in scientific subjects once dominated by males. Who knows what the schoolboy knows today about the events of a century ago? I do not know; but I do know how irritated I used to be to see that statement, "As every schoolboy knows...", when I knew it not. Even worse was the expression I encountered, "Every sciolist knows..." - I had not the faintest idea of what 'sciolist' meant, let alone "that it can be easily demonstrated that imperialism was not motivated by investment opportunities abroad" - of course there were no demonstrations.
A sciolist has superficial knowledge. He may pretend he knows a lot, but his knowledge is trivial. One reason that we are bored almost to death today is that everything in our world except money has been trivialized. We do not want to save goods but to consume them in an accelerating process of creative-destruction. We are not after the thing itself anymore; we are not "gross materialists" any more - we want to take the energy out of our commodity fetish and accumulate it in our power banks. Nothing is as sacred as money and there is never enough of it - we really do not know why. But for many of us, the economic determination ritual is exceedingly narrow and boring and the world it is creating has taken on the appearance of a junkyard of stacked-up things with the spirit crushed out of them, a world presided over by junkyard dogs and their Machiavellian masters - there is an old adage, that the more crushed one becomes, the closer he is to his lord. Wealthy people are bored with luxury. Workers have boring jobs. Many others are starving to death or being killed in upheavals while obese people are trying to lose weight - one secret is not to eat everything on the plate - feed it to the dog or put it down the garbage disposal.
And now, to break the monotony, instead of unloading frozen tuna at the docks this morning I have adopted the year 1908, and I find myself mulling over lists of seemingly trivial facts and events related to the Scientific-Industrial Revolution, not to mention the natural disasters. This superficial view is rather monotonous but I am not terribly bored with it. What it lacks is depth in its details. I shall return to it next week and delve into a few of the incidents listed in the chronicles. I shall "click" on something and look into it. I'm sure I will find links connecting the dots. I imagine I will find Heroes and Social Forces. Maybe I will discover a Romantic Tale some schoolboy or schoolgirl will enjoy. The very prospect of looking into 1908 again is exciting.