Back in the late 1960s, Kurt Vonnegut published his acclaimed novel Slaughterhouse Five, in which the otherwise milquetoast Billy Pilgrim became what Vonnegut termed “unstuck in time.” Pilgrim slipped from the past of World War II to the present of the 60s to the future of interstellar transportation and back again with remarkable agility.
The construct of becoming “unstuck in time” has always struck me as a fictional one until recently. It seems that – like the reels of one of those five-spin slot machines in casinos – parts of the U.S. and indeed the world have become unstuck and are spinning at dizzying speeds away from the present.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the idiots in my neighborhood who seem to have slipped ahead three months because they already have their Christmas lights strung. That’s a rant for … well, the future.
No, I’m talking about the broad latitudinal swaths of people who seem to have left either the early part of the 21st century or modern times altogether. This is not just about the amazing number of people who voted earlier this month to seemingly bring back the 50s, putting the Senate under the control of people who think Father Knows Best is the pinnacle of American culture. They did, however, inspire the topic of this post.
I’m also talking about those broad swaths of middle easterners who think the clock stopped back in the late 600s, who are still fighting for the Sunni-Shia schism all these centuries later. As if the bickering weren’t enough, many of them also have these antediluvian beliefs about women and homosexuality.
It’s almost as if those of us on the Left Coast of the U.S. have become unstuck in time and slipped into the future, electing female senators, legalizing gay marriage, and raising the minimum wage. (Both Washington and California’s two senators are female, and while Oregon’s are male, last week’s incumbent winner Jeff Merkley ran against a female Republican.) We’re toiling away at building the future out here, and the further east you go, the further back in time you go.
You do slide back into present day as you move into the Mid-Atlantic States and then across to England, Scandinavia, and parts of Europe. But then you roll into the old Russian empire and you kind of expect to find Vladimir Putin hosting Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev for dinner, not only to socialize but to get tips on how to govern.
And what’s even more bewildering: these people who are stuck in the past don’t seem to be clamoring to move forward. If anything, they’re clamoring to go further back into a world that was disconnected, uneducated, warmongering, and totalitarian. I almost feel like I’ve been tied to a chair and forced to watch an unending simulcast of every Time Tunnel episode, a cascading parade of human venality that only becomes more depressing by the minute.
Don’t get me wrong – I never expect there to be cultural parity in the world, nor would I want such a thing. It would be horribly dull if everyone thought the same about everything. But I just wish we were a little closer together, if not in thought, then in time.