The War of Wealth, a Broadway play by Charles Turner Dazey that dramatized a run on a bank during the depression of the 1890s (the play opened 10 February 1895). (Library of Congress; Image © Strobridge Lith. Co., c1895) Image Source: Wiki.
Exponential technological change. Recession spreading from the west to Asia. Unemployment. Middle Eastern uprisings. Occupy. Internet clampdowns. Budding cyber conflicts and a new class system. Global marketing and collapsing local cultures. Nuclear tensions. People are being tested. Hardship turns private lives upside down, but walks hand-in-hand with opportunity. The test is a moral and spiritual one above all, a test of resolve and a test of the heart. In a state of flux, some answers are superficial but look substantial, while others look risky but actually are profound and enduring. Conspiracy theories multiply, as do reports of sasquatches, ghosts and UFOs. The question is not whether these things exist or not, because they are fringe constants, the stuff of superstitions, mysteries, myths and legends. If we were to find scientific proof of all three tomorrow, they would quickly be replaced by other things. They haven't changed. We have. What changes is popular credulity. There is a rush to believe in the unbelievable, possibly because that gives a wider range of reference points and hence an illusion of stability to generally accepted reality. It becomes increasingly difficult to read the signs correctly and find stability anywhere.
On January 28, The Art of Manliness quoted a manual entitled Courage by the French pastor, Charles Wagner (1852-1918). Wagner's historic source from 1894 rings true today. The mid-1890s were a time of cultural, political and technological flux, and of economic depression after the Panic of 1893. Wiki: "Until the Great Depression of 1929, the Panic of '93 was the worst economic depression the United States had ever experienced." A credit crunch and financial panic hit Britain and there was a steep drop in trade in Europe. It lasted ten years, and the decade and a half that followed after 1900 was still shaky economically, leading straight into world war. At the same time, the 1890s decade saw the Klondike Gold Rush, the invention of the earliest standardized automobiles, of cinema (the first commercial film, , was shown in 1894), telephone exchanges, and airplanes. Just that list of innovations tells us how much we are still living in the era of 1890s. As of 24 January 2012, there were thirty people left alive in the world who were born in this decade, so it has not quite left living memory and has, in a sense, now returned.
One of the earliest motion pictures: Trafalgar Square, 1890 ten frames by Wordsworth Donisthrope. This work is in the public domain in those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years or fewer. US public domain. Video Source: Wiki.
A decade and a half in its wake, the depression of the 1890s sparked strikes, wars, revolutions and mass migrations. Wagner's words come full circle today, revealing how when societies come under stress, common values split between appearances and reality. Everyone senses the fluctuation; and if there's going to be a conflagration, some are only concerned with being on the 'winning side' - but under these conditions, being victorious does not necessarily indicate real success:
Evidently, Wagner connected ethics to our relative grip on reality, something worth considering the era of virtual reality, found footage and social networking.Nothing is so difficult as to remain faithful. At each step of the way outside influences are brought to bear upon us to make us deviate or retrograde. And if there were only difficulties from without, it would not matter so much; but there are those from within. Our dispositions vacillate. We promise one thing with the best intentions in the world; but when the time comes to keep it, everything is changed–the circumstances, men, ourselves; and what duty demands of us seems so different from what we had foreseen, that we hesitate. Those who will fulfill on a rainy day a promise which they have made on a sunny one, are few and far between.
And so we go on casting our hearts to the four winds, giving it and taking it back again, breaking with our past, separating ourselves from ourselves, so to speak. And when we look behind, we no longer recognize ourselves. We see ourselves in the days that are past as a stranger, or rather as several strangers.
There is nothing like a steadfast man, one in whom you can have confidence, one who is found at his post, who arrives punctually, and who can be trusted when you rely on him. He is worth his weight in gold. You can take your bearings from him, because he is sure to be where he ought to be, and nowhere else. The majority of individuals, on the contrary, are sure to be anywhere but where they ought to be. You have only to take them into your calculations to be deceived. Some of them are changeable from weakness of character; they cannot resist attacks, insinuations, and, above all, cannot remain faithful to a lost cause. A defeat in their eyes is a demonstration of the fact that their adversary was right and that they were wrong. When they see their side fail, instead of closing up the ranks, they go over to the enemy. These are the men who are always found on the winning side, and not in their hearts would be found the courageous device: Victrix causa diis placuit, sed victa Catoni.
A profound duplicity, a discrepancy between words and deeds, between appearance and reality, a sort of moral dilettantism which makes us according to the hour sincere or hypocritical, brave or cowardly, honest or unscrupulous–this is the disease which consumes us. What moral force can germinate and grow under these conditions? We must again become men who have only one principle, one word, one work, one love; in a word, men with a sense of duty. This is the source of power. And without this there is only the phantom of a man, the unstable sand, and hollow reed which bends beneath every breath. Be faithful.