Oh Lord, Take Away That Homogenized and Blended Milk

“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.” – Alice Hoffman in “Practical Magic”

When I was little, I despised the arrival of homogenized milk because I believed it was synonymous with milk that had lost its character, in part because milk from different breeds of cattle was mixed into a blander product (such as the Guernsey/Jersey/Holstein Triple Blend championed by Foremost). And, practically speaking, there was no cream on top for coffee or cereal.

Some folks use the word “homogenized” to speak of a world in which all cultures, races, traditions, and religions are accepted. I have always hoped to see such a world. But there is a danger in putting the wrong spin to it, that is, shaking it up like homogenized milk so that all of its wondrous components lose their identity.

Every culture, religion, race, and tradition has unique gifts to add to a nation’s culture, to the world’s culture, to our discussions of issues and values and goals. When we gloss over these gifts for the sake of convenience–or perhaps for the sake of an easy conformity–we are burying the gold each of us has to offer.

We used to laugh about all the individualists in high school, college, and first jobs who went out of their way to look the same as everyone else. While we saw them as lemmings, that view was an insult to lemmings. Star Trek would later capture mindless conformity with its Borg civilization. As Wikipedia describes it, “The Borg are a vast collection of ‘drones,’ or cybernetic organisms, linked in a hive mind called ‘the Collective’ or ‘the Hive.'” When an individual was assimilated into the Borg, s/he lost his or her individuality. One had to admit, the Borg was a very efficient (and as the good guys on the Starship Enterprise discovered) very deadly.

Long before Star Trek’s Borg cautionary tale about homogenization turning sour, authors and other thinkers who had not yet been assimilated into the addictive sameness we often find (and willingly create) in modern society warned us about the evils of (figuratively speaking) of same-same homogenized milk. My favorite has always been Emerson’s comment in Self-Reliance:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

I was a terror when any of my teachers in high school and college advocated doing things a certain way because that was “what as done” or because they (those misguided teachers) saw education as hammering out children on a Henry Ford assembly line. They hated my Emerson comment, telling me that (like recruits in a boot camp), you need to be broken down and made all the same so that you will emerge from school with a firm foundation. I was told to leave the classroom more than once for responding that “by the time I have that firm foundation I’ll be a mindless automaton.”

I saw that foundation not as a Brave New World wonder, but as soul-stifling indoctrination. Some say our schools have gotten worse in that respect since I was a student. I applaud those who say that we should celebrate our differences even though I think most little minds are ruled by the hobgoblin that wants to sandpaper away those differences because automatons are easier to predict and control, living and working as they do–as Pete Seeger sang in his famous 1963 song “Little Boxes”–“And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.”

Walmart is a manifestation of over-homogenization because it kills off local businesses run by local people, each of whom as a different looking storefront, a different philosophy, and an individualistic approach to his or her products and customers. Social medial debates are often a manifestation of over-homogenization because they play out with all the people on the left sounding just the same and all the people on the right sounding just the same as though each group acts via ticky tacky pronouncements from its own Borg mother ship. Since I grew up at a time when people still remembered where our Christmas traditions came from, I mourn the fact that across the county so many of them have been lost or, worse yet, shaken up into a plastic bottle of homogenized celebration in which we’re told that the components have new meanings–as in the fiction that the Twelve Days of Christmas end on December 25th instead of beginning on December 25th.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions because they tend to sound like practices we should have all began a long time ago rather than waiting until January 1 to proclaim “I’m no longer going to kill people I don’t like” or “I’m no longer going to drink a quart of whiskey a day” or “I’m going to stop hating people who aren’t just like me.” Good Lord, are we so homogenized that we need a specific day each year to see the light or turn the other cheek or find our true path? Even though most of these resolutions sound good, they will fail because–as Tanya Tucker sang in 1992, “Well it’s a little too late to do the right thing now.”

Pasteurized, non-homogenized milk was delivered to our Tallahassee, Florida doorstep by the local dairy that was about a mile from our house. (No, this is not our house.) – Florida Memory Photo.

The fact that it’s too late is the fault of that “good foundation” we were all given in school and the little-minds-ticky-tacky approach the movers and shakers who tell us what to do have done with that foundation after graduation. As you’ve probably noticed, we’re told that being all the same is being normal.

My feeling is that if we need a real New Year’s resolution to try on for size, it’s “I will no longer be normal.” Yes, I know, if you’ve a Star Trek fan, you know that it’s nearly impossible to escape from the Borg collective, and if you live in a typical suburb, you know there are homeowners associations that insist that all the homes maintain the same ticky tacky look the builder bestowed upon them, and if you live in many communities, you know that if you question the quality of produce that comes from the local supermarket, the city council has passed laws to keep you from growing vegetables in your front yard because then all the yards will stop looking all the same.

Some scientists tell us that no matter what we do about humankind’s contribution to the natural cycles of global warming and cooling, that it’s too late to do the right thing now. Likewise, it may be too late to escape the ticky tacky society that results from homogenization run amok.

But let’s give it a shot. Let’s say spilt milk is something to celebrate rather than something to cry over.




Dona Nobis Pacem

One night in 1967, I picked up a white candle on the campus of Syracuse University and joined a long line of students that moved like a ribbon of continuous light across the dark campus. We did not use the words Dona nobis Pacem (Grant us Peace) as many bloggers are saying across the world on this November 4th day in which we blog for peace. We were, of course, protesting the Vietnam War in those days when many of us sang  “Where have all the flowers gone.”

Since that night of candles and songs, at least 10,960,000 have been killed by wars. “Gone to graveyards every one,” the old Pete Seeger folk song tells us. “When will they ever learn?”

My Scots ancestors once sang—and often still sing—an old song called “The Flowers of the Forest,” a lament about the grief of the women and children after James IV and his 10,000 men died at the Battle of Flodden Field in northern England in 1513.  I wonder if Pete Seeger ever heard the words: “The Flooers o’ the Forest, that fought aye the foremost, The pride o’ oor land lie cauld in the clay.”

Perhaps There’s Hope

Since 1967, we have had many occasions to ask “When will they ever learn?”  Even in these days of terrorists and unstable governments and territorial disputes that seem to have no solutions, there may be hope. In his October 2011 article in Foreign Policy “Think Again: War,”  Joshua S. Goldstein writes that even though 60% of Americans responding to a recent survey thought a third world war was likely, fewer people per year have been dying in wars in years between 2000 and 2011 than in the 1950s through the 1990s.

One reason for the decline is the smaller scale and scope of the conflicts after World War II, Korea and Vietnam. According to Goldstein, “Armed conflict has declined in large part because armed conflict has fundamentally changed. Wars between big national armies all but disappeared along with the Cold War, taking with them the most horrific kinds of mass destruction. Today’s asymmetrical guerrilla wars may be intractable and nasty, but they will never produce anything like the siege of Leningrad.”

Is there reason for hope in such an analysis? Goldstein suggests that the world seems more violent now than it ever did in part because information is more accessible and pervasive. Whether it’s via 24-hour news channels, online news sources, or social networks like Twitter and Facebook, we hear one way or the other about every car bomb, every attack and every atrocity. On such days, I’m still tempted to ask, “When will they ever learn?”

Higher Standards

We still have work to do, and this isn’t it. – Wikipedia Photo

The world, writes Goldstein, also seems more violent because society’s standards have risen. A day’s worth of fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan brought news of battle deaths that were a tiny fraction of the numbers killed per day in World War II. Yet our anger about every five soldiers or civilians killed in recent these conflicts was, it always seemed, much higher than for every 5,000 killed in the 1940s.

We’re less tolerant of violence now. The in-your-face nature of TV war reporting that began during the Vietnam War is showing us in ways we cannot accept where the flowers are going and how they got there. The images out of Iraq showed us more of what we didn’t want to see.

Perhaps we are learning. Perhaps our flowers of the forest will remain in the forest and the day will come when laments and folk songs about war and grief can be left on dusty shelves and slowly forgotten. Until then, we still say Dona Nobis Pacem and hope people are listening.