The Little Engine That Will

I’ve been attacked for saying that the only social standard that will satisfy me is  statistical representation, diversity among the decision makers.   No, I’m not interested in another generation of going to a group of white people, hat in hand, and begging them to understand American history, or why its not a good idea to have the only black people in your movie die.  It is not worth my time.  Been there, done that.


For instance, is it racist to have breathed a huge sigh of relief when I heard Ryan Coogler was hired to do BLACK PANTHER?   Not by my definitions, certainly, and if it is by yours,  good luck with that.     Here’s the truth:   I can’t think of a single white director I would have trusted with Black Panther.  He would not only have to have the basic skills, but also demonstrated the ability to deal with black men as if they are human beings, with power, authority, sexuality, intellect, dynamism.   Who the hell would that have been?  Can you name one?


This idea, of proportional representation, was certainly understood by our founding fathers.  I suspect that the people bothered by the notion simply believe “their group” is better, smarter, fairer…or that they simply want to keep control.  Understandable.  But that party’s over.




There is no universally agreed upon definition of terms like “Progressive”, “Conservative”, “Liberal” and so forth, and the stupidest thing you could do  is accept the definitions used by their opponents.


I look at humanity a little like Watty Piper’s immortal “The Little Engine That Could”.  (All on board!  We’re traveling the Scenic Highway of human history!)    The “Progressive” leading edge  Engine is looking for new territory, trying out new ideas, testing and tasting new track as it moves forward.  The “Conservative”caboose  is keeps a careful eye on  what has been proven to work in the past.


(By the way, if you think I’m saying the clown on the Engine represents our political leadership, you may be reading too much to my little story.  Or not.  Heh heh)

When the Engine gets too far in front the whole train s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s out, to the point that the links feel pain and the ride gets shaky.  The Caboose gets scared, and should: most mutations create cancer, not Wolverine.   The Little Train’s Engine can’t see or feel the distress back in the caboose: all it can see is how much further there is to go, and the wondrous adventures ahead


All the caboose can see is that it KNOWS that the track behind is safe.   What its grandparents did kept it alive. And that’s more important than growth or change  or charging ahead over untested bridges.   It sees the wreckage of trains that moved too quickly, down in the ravine.


Back when my generation’s Little Train was a baby, gays were in the closet, blacks were segregated in large chunks of the country, and women were totally unrepresented in the Senate.   As Commandant Lessard said in “Police Academy”, “Johnsons, as far as the eye could see.”  White Johnsons, too.


But man, within the life of MY generation’s “little train,”  gays are not just getting married, and sex change operations become relatively commonplace, but we’re actually debating whether gender has anything to do with genitalia.  Grandpa’s head would EXPLODE.

We had a black President (which doesn’t mean as much as statistical representation in the Senate, but its still an important benchmark) and a woman president seems inevitable within a couple of election cycles.


“Not enough!” to the hard-charging Engine.  “Too much!  Too soon!” to the caboose.


If you’re in the Engine, all you see is that we aren’t there yet.  But that caboose feels like its in the Twilight Zone.    Like the sky is falling.  Stretched far enough that communication between head and caboose seems to have broken down, and each end feels as if it has the only answers.


While change is happening faster, overall, than ever in human history, the war between Engine and Caboose has been going on forever.   Ugh-ugh the cave man had to argue for every change in hunting or exploring, and his brother Yug-Yug had to argue to get the tribe to protect and remember tradition.  “The old ways.”   The Gods will Smite us!

Of course, those who mock the Caboose fail to notice that as soon as there is a change with proven value, accepted by the majority, such change is encoded culturally, and Caboose becomes the protector thereof (in fact, Caboose will forget that he ever objected at all.  Why, I ALWAYS supported that idea!)  And Engine, of course, will conveniently forget all the false trails he followed, and tend to remember only the successes: “I did this!”


Yeah, you did.   And the fact that for my own reasons I see the Engine as closer to my own values than the Caboose doesn’t mean I don’t value both.  I can hear the screams of those traveling in the back, yelling “too much!  Too soon!” and because I understand and was conditioned to accept generational change, that’s not crazy to me.

Of course, perception of danger triggers fear, which manifests as anger and breaks down logic, so there are folks in the caboose who are raving mad: read TERRIFIED.   Of course, there are some in the Engine who are willing to embrace untested change by the shovel-load, pouring coal on the fire, racing faster and faster along untested tracks.  How much is too much? How much is too little? Unfortunately, there is no mind outside the system to judge. Just human beings who all filter reality in different ways, according to their perceived self-interest.


For the sake of the passengers in the middle, Engine and Caboose have to communicate…and right now…they’re not doing a great job.  They could do better if they remember that anger is fear, and ask what might be so disturbing, without assuming their opponents are fools or knaves.   That, apparently, seems pretty rare on either end.



So the Little Train That Could continues to chug along, as it has since forever.  And if the ride is bumpy…its been bumpier in the past.    We got through it. We’ll get through this. The Little Train is actually pretty tough and bendy.


Some of us shovel coal.  Some work the brakes.  Some argue about which track to take.  Most, of course, just tolerate…or even enjoy… the ride.

I think the view is amazing.




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