I remember where I was sitting on the day President John F Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963. The announcement came over the loudspeaker in Mrs Zalmanzig’s fourth grade class shortly after our lunch period. It was a day that changed our lives and the world.
That day, the seven military bases in our town were put on full alert. Not as scary as the year before when they had gone to DEFCON 2 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, an alert level never reached before nor since, and one level from total war. But this time the forces moved only one step from peacetime to annhilation status after the 35th President was fatally wounded. Many of us were unaware that with the enhanced defence condition, a cultural shift had arrived – launched into the collective consciousness – a kind of psychological Armageddon.
Within a few hours of the fatal gunshots, the Dallas police had caught the assassin, a disgruntled self-absorbed failure who wanted to make his mark on the pages of history. He acted alone, taking advantage of fortuitous circumstances that placed the slow moving entourage squarely in the crosshairs of a US Marine Corp trained rifleman. What followed was a litany of conspiracy theories, amplified by government scandals, the Cold War and the Oliver Stone collage of fictional constructs and misplaced contexts. The Stone movie is among my favourites, along with other fantasies like Blade Runner and Groundhog Day. But Stone’s JFK reveals a deeper truth irrespective of the mundane and sad, but overwhelming forensic evidence. Sometimes the facts fall short of giving us an explanation worthy of the event. We need good stories to match the depth of our experience and pain, and to make sense of the time.
Apocalypsis is truth revealed, slowly and perhaps never completely. Not because there is an overarching conspiracy to hide it, but because of our ability to apprehend and reframe. The Greeks understood an apocalypse as a process of unveiling. They saw that essential truths evolve as our consciousness and understanding evolves. Revelation co-conspires with our consciousness in a dance lead by the arrow of time. We have seen evidence from the Hubble images and the CERN rxperiments elucidating the processes in the new universe a few seconds after the Big Bang, and that evidence suggests that the laws of physics were perhaps very different than those we observe now. We use the current technologies to look back into a distant time from our perspective in the present. There is a risk, caused by the cognitive dissonance between observations and our beliefs, that sometimes leads us to confuse the boundaries between evidence and contextual meaning.
My friends, who strongly object when I say that Oswald acted alone, are adamant that there “had to be a conspiracy” because of all of those unexplained coincidences. With all due respect to the unidentified hobos, the epileptic seizure and the opening umbrella, my response to their objections is always “of course there was a conspiracy”. Just not there, and not on that day.
Why is this important, and what does it have to do with my daily existence?
1. For one thing it means that I need to question my own assumptions about what makes something true. The mythologies emerging from Dealey Plaza have occupied the collective memory for the past fifty years. And at some level those conspiracy theories are true whether or not they are factual. Hindsight can be cruel. Many blame the Secret Service, the FBI and the Dallas Police Department. Nobody blamed Kennedy for insisting on riding in the SS-100-X Lincoln Limousine with the top down. And police and FBI databases were not computerised, nor were they linked, there were no cell phones, nor was there a pre-route Google-type 3D map analysis to flag the danger. But despite their limitations, the Dallas police had Oswald in custody within an hour and a half of the shooting.
2. Another effect of gradual unveiling is that while my basic values may not change – truth, justice, free Internet access – how I express my ideas and the way I work will evolve and change dramatically. Precision computer analysis that was not available fifty years ago now confirms what the Warren Commission concluded, as much as the conspiracists might refuse to believe those conclusions. Business models and tools such as Blockchain, HTML5 and OS X that were not available a few years ago, offer opportunities for me to work in a way that can reduce my own cognitive dissonance and increase my (hopefully) creative output. The less I have to adapt to work styles that don’t fit my temperament, such as 1960s-style corporation desk farms, the more able I am to create a work environment that supports my best work.
3. I need to remember the past in its own context. An open-top Presidential motorcade passing slowly around a hairpin curve, turning and aligning directly with a clear line of sight from an open window on the sixth floor of a building, is something unthinkable now. But those events happened in the context of a time when people left the keys in their cars and their front doors unlocked. Why didn’t they see it coming and protect the President, who had he lived presumably would have stopped the Vietnam War? If only he had lived, then…
But perhaps what I am really asking myself is why did I make all of those mistakes throughout my life, and perhaps if I hadn’t, my life would be so much better now? Hindsight is cruel indeed.
That sunny November day shocked us out of our collective idyllic slumber. In my own individual experience, trauma and loss has awakened me on more than one occasion; and although the pain and loss were undeniable and could not be made to go away with naive hope and shallow platitudes, if I was occasionally willing to patiently observe the unfolding revelations and endure the pain, a personal apocalypse offered me the possibility of perspective reframing, transformation, and a better way to ride the arrow of time.