I don't get obsessed like most people; my attention span is too scattershot and I'm interested in too many disparate things.
But history is the big exception. I get obsessed with events long gone.
Sometimes the events are really "long gone": like Alexander dying too young to stabilize his syncretic, tolerant Empire and make it last; or Constantine declaring Christianity the state religion of the Byzantine Empire, and ushering in multiple millenia of evidentiary points why religion and The State should not mix; and the genocides of North America's aboriginal peoples. I still take stuff like that personally, which is why I can't bear to see movies like Agora.
And sometimes the events aren't all that long gone at all.
Take 1968. Please.
That was a meatgrinder of a year in the US; a year when very little good happened and the bad that happened was so very very bad it made one despair of humanity and fear for the country. I was a kid in '68, but I know of the events that happened with almost as much emotional investment as if I had been old enough to participate in the culture and politics of the time.
1968 was the year we lost two people we could ill afford to lose; two people who were murdered before their work was anywhere near done; two people whose murders wrenched American politics from one path and put it firmly on a much darker one.
Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy. Martin and Bobby; Bobby and Martin; two men forever linked by the work they did and tried to do, and by their shared fates - just two months apart, no less. Martin was murdered on April 4 and Bobby on June 6.
I never stop thinking about them, and I've been thinking about them even more nowadays. American politics nowadays is characterized by sociopathy on the Right and spinelessness on the Left. The Right is particularly toxic, with Tea Partiers reviving racist tropes and the GOP doing its best to make sure the government can't address any of the inequities and parasitism brought about by a corporate economy that has taken leave of its collective senses.
The racism is the most dumbfounding, in a way, because... we were there once, fought our way out - with, granted, imperfect and incomplete success, but there really was a time when people tried not to be racist. There was a time when the national consensus held racism to be a bad thing, and people who were overtly, viciously racist were certainly not celebrated by serious politicians or given major airtime on national TV to peddle their vile viewpoints.
We have a black President, though, and that drove the Right completely out of its mind. Whatever restraint it once had is gone. I hear commentators saying things that haven't been said since.... well, since the early 60s. The demons of our darker nature that Martin and Bobby worked so very hard to expunge; that Martin lost his life fighting.
Martin had a gift or oratory, and of moral clarity. Bobby had a gift of speaking from the heart and touching people - along with, bless him, a ruthless pragmatism and will to win that would have, maybe, made him one of the best Presidents ever. Even if not - even if Bobby eventually lost the nomination to Hubert Humphrey anyway - I don't see how that would have led to a Nixon Presidency. Nixon was elected mostly because of the riots in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention; and the riots were caused by rage and despair as America's best hopes had their brains blown out, leaving too many people with no one to stand for them, listen to them, care about the kind of country they lived in.
If Martin and Bobby had not been murdered, Nixon would not have been President. That simple. It was the replacement of one universe with another; the death of one timeline and birth of another. What we are today, we are because Martin and Bobby were murdered.
And when I hear the RIght, and the Tea Partiers, it's like time bending back on itself. It's like they want to undo all the work of the civil rights movement, and go back to what things were like before the marches and the consciousness raising and the great acts of legislation and the earnest, heartfelt work so many did to reach out across the divide. They want racism to be paramount again. They want to be able to vilify, to be hateful - and they want to be praised for it. They want to be powerful, and they see exploiting racial fears as their road to power.
I still mourn Martin and Bobby, but at least I could think they had not died in vain, that the country was better than it was for their lives and their work.
But with the Right working as hard as it is to bring back those hatreds and fears, I can't think that anymore. The Left seems unable to muster the spirit, the strength, or maybe the moral clarity to beat them back.
And so I wish we had another Martin, another Bobby, who with their courage, their wisdom, and their wit could kindle that righteous fire and lead us forward again.