As always, the only thing linking the two items mentioned in this post in my mind is that they both start with the same letter of the alphabet.
Candles, lamps, lanterns, sparklers, fireworks, fire, the sun — everything that shines. To me, light is warmth and brightness; hope, optimism, inspiration, joy, illumination in every sense. In nature, the changing of the light alone can transform a place completely; set a new mood, or bring out certain features while obscuring others. The sun suddenly bursting out from behind the clouds can make the whole scenery suddenly radiate with energy; the setting sun can bring on a sense of peace and harmony, or melancholy, or even romance (or all of these together). Indoors, candles invariably add to a room’s comfortable and, frequently, festive atmosphere. An open fire in a hearth, likewise, conveys warmth and comfort. And what could possibly say “celebration” better than the exuberant sparkle of fireworks?
Oh, I know. The sun is a nuclear reactor that, if we go on wiping out the earth’s ozone layer as we’ve done in the past two centuries, will one day scorch our planet into a black ball of ashes. Fires have, in the millennia before the advent of electricity, wiped out more than a few cities (or substantial parts thereof), including priceless works of architecture and other gems of the history of civilization; and they’re proving an ever greater destructive force in our natural environment, too. Electricity, in turn, can spark off fires as easily as candles and other open flames. And fireworks are, at heart, made of the same thing that goes into guns.
But all things have two sides — and it is always up to us how we use them, and what meaning we assign to them. It’s probably closer to a minute or even just a few seconds before twelve (rather than five whole minutes) where it comes to the preservation of the ozone layer and our natural environment, but I haven’t given up hope yet that it can be done. Modern technology has made it possible to use electricity safely; and of course we also need to be aware of the risks when we handle open fires. And every grain of gunpowder that goes into a fireworks rocket instead of a bullet is a grain used so much better than for killing. So give me all the candles, lamps, sunshine, and fireworks that I can have — just please don’t make it neon light. It’s the one sort of light that I absolutely cannot stand — it feels cold and artificial, and it gives me headaches. There’s not a single tube of neon light inside my home.
“Rhein in Flammen / The Rhine on Fire“: Annual May 1 Koblenz to Bonn boat parade, culminating in fireworks.
(Except for the top five images, all photos in this section of the post mine.)
Christmas at home and in my neighborhood ~ winter sunlight, seen from my living room window and from our garden ~ November sunrise in our garden and on the Rhine ~ autumn sunsets on the Rhine ~ “Bonn Leuchtet / Bonn Shines“: annual autumn light display (university / Beethoven monument with historic post office / town hall) ~ candle holders in a stall at Cologne Christmas Market ~ dusk on a North Sea beach at low tide ~ autumn light on Rügen island ~ the summer afternoon sun shining through a sunflower’s petals ~ the pre-09/11 New York City nighttime skyline, seen from Brooklyn Bridge ~ late afternoon at the Grand Canyon ~ sunsets in Tofino (Vancouver Island, BC, Canada), Palos Verdes and Santa Monica (California) ~ Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario in the late afternoon sun ~ Egypt: Giza at dusk / Luxor temple and obelisk illuminated at night / sunset on the Nile ~ Australia: dusky skies over Uluru (Ayers Rock), Northern Territories.
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson.
There is truth and there are lies.
Lies told for power and for profit.
And each of us has a duty and responsibility […] to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
President Biden, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2021
As I said elsewhere, I’d compiled my list of topics for this series way before I actually posted the series’s very first post, and also long before the failed January 6, 2021 insurrection attempt. But it didn’t even take four years of a presidency beset by so-called “alternative facts”, and by a hatred of everyone and everything exposing the dozens of lies propounded on a daily basis by the then-resident of the White House for what they were — and resulting in the ultimate attack on the American democracy (and democracy as such) of January 6 — to make me add “lies” to this list of topics.
Human relationships are necessarily based on trust — and trust requires basic honesty. There is nothing as corrosive to trust, and hence to human relationships on every level — from those between two individuals all the way to society at large — as deliberate deceit: no matter whether it occurs in the form of an untruth expressly spoken or disseminated, or in the form of a truth deliberately suppressed. Lies create a false sense of security, making their victims plummet into a void once the lie has been exposed and the ground thus pulled out from under them. Lies, once discovered, can cause families and friendships to break up; which is terrible enough on an individual level but even worse if it affects an entire society, such as that of the former East (and in part: West) Germany, when the archives of the former East German “Ministry of State Security” (Staatssicherheit, or simply “Stasi” for short) revealed, after the fall of the Communist government, not only how insidious East German secret police surveillance had been, but also just how many ordinary members of the public had been made to spy on their loved ones, and on their friends and neighbors, as part of the Stasi’s systematic pursuit of potential “defectors” and “subversives” (i.e., people wishing to move to West Germany or maintaining a form of contact with West Germans that was deemed to undermine the East German régime).
The immediate result of the revelations coming out of the erstwhile Stasi files were divorces and shattered relationships between siblings, parents and children, and close friends, by the hundreds and thousands. An indirect result was a widespread mistrust of government, including the democratic government of the reunified Germany (and the democratic governments of the newly formed East German states): people who had spent their entire lives in East Germany knew only one reality, namely, that the state was out to get you and it couldn’t be trusted. They had never experienced a society that was built on openness and government accountability, so many of them had a hard time believing it could actually exist. And it certainly didn’t help that, in the first years after reunification, many people also lost their jobs as part of the transition from a socialist to a market economy. The same is true again now, all over the world, with regard to everybody who is (or has been) on the losing side of globalization, the 2008-09 financial crisis, or the transformation of our world into a digitalized and largely service-based economy. So there are a lot of people once more right now who are ripe for the pied pipers’ picking — and make no mistake, lies foster conspiracy theories; they are an integral part of many a bandwagon: Plato’s Cave only works as long as those chained up inside it believe themselves to be in paradise, while at the same time believing those actually walking about freely outside in the sun to be frying in hell. Lies work on their targets’ fears, turning what may have begun as mild and easily removable doubt into profound, irretrievable suspicion, mistrust, and hatred — of no one more than of the perceived “winners” of the lottery that has dealt the lies’ believers a losing card; particularly if they see (or are made to see) those “winners” as the very thing they are afraid of: the unknown “other”, who shouldn’t occupy any place in their world to begin with, let alone take away their own place (or threaten to do so).
Obviously, morally speaking, lies are a bit of an iffy thing, because we all tell them on occasion; if only for reasons of politeness or diplomacy. I should know: I’m prone to trying to avoid conflict by staying mum and not speaking my mind — yet, unless it’s with a person I will never meet again or in a social setting where speaking up at the wrong moment would break all sorts of taboos, I’ve often found myself paying for it later, because it turned out that “let’s not make a mountain of a mole hill” really only works if it is a mole hill you’re looking at, not a mountain that you’re mistaking for a mole hill because you’re looking at it holding your binoculars the wrong way round. And of course, a delayed conflict invariably gains in magnitude the longer you try and put it off. You’d think I’d have learned this by now, but it seems I still haven’t (and at this point chances are I never will).
BUT: lies “told for power and for profit” are a different animal altogether. There really is no excuse for not calling them out and fighting them at every turn. We owe it to ourselves as much as to our communities at large.