Renaissance: planned, providence

It is more than coincidental that the symbol of an approaching New Year is a baby. Babies are an apt metaphor for a fresh start, unsullied by the pock marks and scars of life’s journey. The idea of a new beginning is particularly important for Pine Bluff.

In November the people spoke. They rebuked the ensconced bad habits of myopic leadership in favor of promised change. They demanded city government set aside all its self-destructive ways in preference to a new path, a broader vision and a better day.

Even though this new start holds great potential, we are cognizant of many administrations of yore that sprouted strong only to wither in the heat of tradition and provincialism. It should go without saying that we no longer have the indulgent luxury of yet one more false start.

In that spirit, it is fitting that we look back across time to one of humanity’s greatest watershed moments, the Renaissance. The term “Renaissance” literally means “rebirth.”

As a marker for the historic epoch, the Renaissance usually refers to the period of great learning that began in 14th century Italy. By the 16th century, this wave of rediscovery reached England.

In a direct sense, the most important thing to be reborn was the knowledge of classical antiquity. The grim liturgy of the Medieval Age gave way to a community of scholarship and inquiry steeped in the writing of Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, Plutarch and many other intellectual titans of the ancient world.

The Renaissance was also an age of discovery, both geographic and scientific. It is during this time that Copernicus challenged the Ptolemaic view of the universe. For the first time since the dawn of humanity, we were no longer the center of all that is. This revelation worked as well on Earth as it did the heavens.

The order of the universe itself took on renewed significance. Corollary to the reordering of the universe was the recognized interdependence of its parts. Many complex hierarchies were devised to describe the relation and order of being. They held that each constituent segment reflected the others.

Renaissance scholars regarded a human being as a microcosm of the universe — a being whose body reflected the structure of the larger world. Just as they believed the world to be composed of four “elements” (earth, water, air, fire), so too was the human body composed of four substances called “humors.”

This in turn reflected the Renaissance belief in the Great Chain of Being – the concept that everything in the universe had a proper place in a divinely planned hierarchical order. A disturbance on Earth resonated as a disturbance in Heaven.

Civil disobedience and crime were regarded as affronts to God. So too was any attempt by commoners or nobles to rise above their rightful place. The Great Chain was in some sense a tool of freedom and in others a tool of oppression.

While the vastness of the Renaissance could fill many volumes, even a quick list of principal figures suggests the magnitude of its importance: Machiavelli; Shakespeare; Francis Bacon; Da Vinci; John Milton; Luther; Erasmus…

High handed and philosophical as all this may seem, it contains a few deeply instructive admonishments for the coming local “order” of things. First, don’t be afraid to learn from history — embrace it. Second, understand that there exists an order of things and that everything is interconnected — solving one problem means solving others that adjoin it. Third, disorder reverberates — failure to address incipient problems assures their spread.

Lastly, transformation is possible —- indeed, it is unavoidable. Even those things that wither and die have transformed. It is up to us to shape the transformation that we will inhabit.Happy New Year.