Lately, I’ve been trying to see the Big Picture. It’s not my first time trying to see it. But I think it’s true that, for those who still care to look for it, the Big Picture does get easier to see as you get older. One of the things about the Big Picture, though, is that there is no absolute Big Picture. The picture one person may think of as big, may only be a sub-part of someone else’s even bigger picture. The Big Picture is always relative to your own understanding. A young child may catch their first glimpse of the Big Picture when they understand that they are only a part of their family, rather than its nucleus. From there you can scale your pursuit of the Big Picture all the way out to the philosophical imponderables, such as “What is man?” and “Is there a God?” and “What does it all mean?” But whatever size of Big Picture you’re interested in seeing, it’s always true that the first step before you can see it is acknowledging that you are something smaller and less significant than you thought. And the bigger the picture you pursue, the smaller you have to be willing to get.
I have tried, like most adults I expect, to see the Biggest Possible Picture. From that perspective, I think what I see is a pretty, little ball in space teeming with buggy life. Whether we are the first and only example of life as we define it in the Universe, who can say. No evidence to the contrary, so far. Neither is there any evidence that the supremacy of homo sapiens on planet Earth, over the other animals, is anything more than our good luck. The picture big enough to encompass the answers to such questions is beyond me, and perhaps beyond any of us. See Faith. That picture is also too big for this blog.
The picture in which I am most interested right now is not the biggest one, to be sure. But it’s a pretty big one. It concerns human beings and our powers to self-organize and self-govern. To see this picture clearly is to get a handle on all the most pressing problems we face today, as a Nation, and as a species. From there you would be able to see clearly whether the path we are on is sound. At the center of this “Big” Picture you would also expect to see solid answers to questions like “Can basic human rights remain inalienable, while ensuring the security of the State?” and “Is it even possible to insulate the high goals and ideals of government from the base tendencies of men?”
To build out a really big framework for this picture, I want to stretch myself out to the broadest possible perspective. I want to take advantage of all the history that came before me, and of all that we know about human beings today.
One of the things that only decades of life can teach you is how experience becomes history. When you are very young, you have a very different sense of the influence of history on your own life. It seems to you that all the reasons for things being the way they are relate to events that happened before you were born. And of course that’s exactly true. But, as you get older, you get a chance to see how events you have witnessed first hand (so to speak) changed things, and have connected themselves with outcomes many years later. At least for me, this has had the effect of shrinking all of history, of making even things that happened before I was born feel more proximal. Another effect is that, for having lived my own share of history, I feel much more insight into the history that happened before me. And there’s no great mystery in that. In all the important ways, human beings are exactly the same as they have ever been. What’s different are the circumstances. The circumstances are all that’s ever different. We are always the same, in our deepest nature. Therefore, it is reasonable to compare modern circumstances to circumstances from history that are meaningfully similar. Doing so gives us insight not only to the thoughts and behaviors of people from history, but also into ourselves.
That’s the lens I’m working with. It seeks the “Big” Picture, and it’s aimed at Us. Thanks for reading!