I walk into the Rosh Hashanah service. It’s the evening before, so admittedly not the high point of the High Holiday.
But the synagogue is mostly empty. The parking lot’s vast concrete scale a testament of a recent past, part I guess, a post-WWII resurgence of faith and community and part a remnant of a suburban growth that in this part of Baltimore County and for this community spoke of a kind of golden age.
Which is maybe the point. Suburban synagogues may physically be in the wrong place for a new generation.
Anyway, we’re here now.
So we enter the synagogue. Me a former outsider, likely to never be fully comfortable in this space, but surrounded by a family I love. My family.
My girlfriend and I recently had a discussion with Rabbi Irwin Kula where he voiced his concern that many establishment Jewish religious organizations were too entrenched in keeping their core religious practices private. His overarching point was that keeping traditions insular prevents their wisdom from spreading beyond a small group. Second and maybe just as important, imposing any barriers to spiritual innovation also needlessly risks the obsolescence of a religion’s practices within the practicing group itself.
This dynamic isn’t limited to the Jewish faith.
The idea of a more open, public usage and reinvention of religious practices is at odds with many of the ways traditional standard bearers of organized religion conceptualize and market their practices. It feels as if this is a sharp, immutable line drawn between religious groups on the one hand and a more secularized world on the other.
I read a very provocative interview of Elon Musk in Aeon Magazine in which he argues that we must put a million people on Mars if we were to ensure that humanity has a future. Whether you agree or disagree with that particular vision, it made me start to think about how powerful we are collectively when united to pursue something bigger than ourselves.
In an American context, this was most evident as a country in our period of Westward expansion and encapsulated by our sense of “manifest destiny.” This period of expansion was when the seeds of American hegemony were planted.
Most modern historians look at the US notion of manifest destiny with a very critical eye. After all, it is widely accepted that the concept is at the core of our imperialistic tendencies. It seems to justify a voracious need to expand, to dominate, to subjugate. It played a part in going to war with Mexico and it justified our treatment of the Native American population. Manifest destiny was about our right to control.
To some extent (even a large extent) they’re probably right. When applied in the context of imperialism, manifest destiny comes across as a terrible ideology. That only gets worse when notions of divine right or ideas of cultural or racial superiority are introduced to it. Manifest destiny is a dangerous tool.
Is privacy dead? Do we still maintain the desire to safeguard our habits and thoughts? Or does our recent disregard for privacy show that we have really lost this primal need?
In my opinion, our startling lack of concern for safeguarding our personal lives stems more from a lack of understanding about how much of our personal data is stored and analyzed in today’s digital world than from any fundamental disregard for our privacy.
Whatever the reason, we all seem increasingly oblivious to how much of our information we allow to be shared. If I wanted to, I could easily tell you where most of my friends are right now. With a little more effort I could put together what they’ve been up to every week for the last five years. Eating sushi at that restaurant? Traveling with HIM where!? The world probably knows it all.
With the proliferation of the connected world, privacy (or the lack thereof) should be a major concern for us as citizens. But it isn’t yet. So let me paint a picture of one potential not-so-distant future involving the most mundane of household appliances—your refrigerator.
The argument that the U.S. has entered a period of decline is a pretty popular one.
And while our decline may or may not be overstated it seems pretty clear the rest of the world has caught up in a lot of ways. Which makes me curious why we don’t hear as many comparisons between the U.S. “imperial decline” and that of other ancient empires as we used to. Is that because this sort of meta-thesis is out of style? Do people think we are no longer declining as a country? Or this type of uncomfortable truth to close to home?