Change: The Singular Constant-Part Two

There have been a great many changes witnessed by human beings, some better than others.  Here I would like to look at a few items or events throughout history and how different peoples reacted to them.  The first on this list is the printing press.

The press had a greater change on humanity than anything else.  I would even go so far as to say it actually changed the way our minds work.  In the early days, there were many who thought that it was a machine sent by the devil.  Granted, many in power, whether religious or secular, saw that the printing press, while a huge shift in technology from handwritten books, was something that could produce an ongoing wave of change by spreading ideas through books.  Because of the power of the press, most governments in Europe sought to minimize their output.  In 1501, Pope Alexander VI issued a decree that nothing could be printed unless a copy had been approved by the church first.  In England, starting in 1534, printers had to attain a license from the crown.  Until the beginning of the 18th Century, there were only a dozen presses allowed to operate in England, and all were heavily censored.  Censorship all across Europe was the common way of dealing with the press’ output.  This is a standard method of those fearful of change, in whatever form it comes in, those in power become reactionary, seek to minimalize the influence of change upon the status quo.

Venice, on the other hand, ignored the Pope’s directive and threw their city’s arms open to printers, letting them print whatever they wanted (Venice:Lion City, Garry Wills).  Europe was flooded with books from the island and not just in Italian but in every language that could sell.  The Doge and others in the ruling elite saw a great economic benefit in the press, and they were right.  In addition, those in power used the press in their favor, pumping out propaganda in many forms.  Given that Venetian sailors touched ground at every point in the Mediterranean, Venice itself was flooded with old and new manuscripts waiting to be printed.

With these two examples we see a pattern of behavior that was to be re-enacted over and over:  those who are fearful of the change, trying to curtail its influence, and those that embrace it, looking for new avenues of possibility.

In American History, there are many examples of that we can look at.  The first, of course, is what made the United States in the first place:  the American Revolution.  Never before in the world had something like the revolution taken place, a colony standing up against one of the greatest powers on the planet.  It must have been a time of tremendous excitement and fear.  The Tories, doing everything they could to stem the tide of what they saw as a huge mistake, while the rebels were willing to die for what they saw as a change for good.  Less than a century later, another decision was thrust upon individuals when the Civil War loomed on the horizon.  But here, the idea of change itself could not be agreed upon.  Many thought that the change that needed to be embraced was the breaking away of the south from the rest of the country.  On the other hand, were those who thought that it was time to end slavery, a change that was a long time in coming.

Another century passed and the issue of civil rights began to be questioned.  Even though slavery had ended so many years earlier, both governments and individuals were behaving as if nothing had happened.  The slaves were released, yes, but only to be introduced to economic slavery in the model of share cropping, poll taxes and Jim Crow Laws.  Even in the military, blacks were segregated and restricted in what jobs they could perform.  When the civil rights movement started, many people embraced it, knowing that something had to happen.  People protested, marched and were killed to bring about a change they thought was necessary.  Those on the other side wanted to maintain the status quo, maintain the age-old relationships that had been set down after the civil war.  Now, given all the time that has passed, it is odd to consider that anyone could have thought that way.  At the time though, politicians were happy to stand up and say that the civil rights movement was wrong and would ruin the country.  They were wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *