Sunday, May 20, 2007

Al Gore and Jerry Falwell

Phew. I confess some relief! Since here I am scribbling away in the vast public space, and I was actually afraid someone might have been reading. Glad to know I can continue to hide out in my corner. It's really hard to know how the numbers work -- among the billions on the planet, and then among the millions online, etc, you might think it almost inevitable that there's something for everyone. But I can lurk yet.

I did just read the Time magazine cover story about the "Last Temptation of Al Gore", and it sparked a couple of thoughts. (My whole goal here is to start writing, on the theory that for a hermit it might have a salutary effect similar to actual social engagement, and that I might be able to develop thoughts beyond the mere having of them.)

I found it quite credible that Gore does seriously not consider running for president, since he is pretty convincing on his read of the state of the American political system (one doesn't gulp poison once having identified it!). Part of the argument he seems to be making in the book excerpted in Time (The Assault on Reason) is echoed in the Time headline. The headline represents the kind of bonk-over-the-head poetics which is all that has survived the television age. This is what you find in Grey's Anatomy on TV - Life shadowing art shadowing life in ways which feel literary in the same way Applebee's food tastes like real food (when compared to fast food) since it might be more artfully prepared than what you eat at home. Or perhaps even the way movie renditions relate to the book on which they're based. The feeling is very much related to what you would feel while reading actual literature, were you trained and un-lazy enough actually to read.

So, Time magazine does keep itself a cut above, in a way, with fairly literate copy, but can't resist the cartoonish allusion, requiring at least as much literacy as a subscriber to Time would have, though not enough actually to have read Kazantzakis. But surely the implicit comparison to Christ is vulgar? Well, maybe no more so that the Spiderman efforts.

Anyhow, Gore knows fairly well from the inside what's wrong with the political system, feels some actual pain -- more authentic in scope certainly, if not in depth, for his realization of what might have been -- and would no more plot to jump back in than would anyone who'd escaped with his life some undervalued force of nature, jump back into that maelstrom. I think he's actually found religion on the subject, and knows that he couldn't win without losing, so to speak, and that there is no power in the world great enough to change that equation. Well, except for Christ, which Gore decidedly knows he's not (even if Time wants to tweak him).

So, you don't cloak yourself in the skin of the enemy and expect to be able to shed it upon victory. Which brings me to Falwell. I've long struggled to justify my conviction that the likes of Falwell do the bidding of the devil, in their own terms. I've thought it has something to do with accepting a formula for faith (and then relinquishing all and any obligation to renew faith through actually contending with challenges as they occur).

So, these lazy non-thinkers confront difficult issues like abortion, or the challenges of scientific discovery (Creative Design) as if there could be actual guidance elsewhere than in the living confrontation about what the right answer is. And they rattle off a kind of canned theology, which surely reduces the beauty, subtlety and potential depth of the Christ story in much the same way that Applebees (sorry Applebees, you were convenient, and McDonalds is overused for the purpose, and well, I kind of like your food, just as I like Grey's Anatomy) reduces good cooking to a frozen deliverable.

So the feeling of true religion is, in this argument, sort of like the feeling akin to reading literature that you might get from a movie, or of actual intelligence while reading Time. It rehearses something which might have been true once, and might even still be true, but somehow the very security of the brand name is what makes it a fraud (the thinking and feeling went on once, long ago, and far away). So the chef in the lab once did cook with something like love, and what you are eating at Applebees, reduced though it has been by various lowest common denominators, still at least echoes that chef's art . . .

The information age, so called, has, in its summary effect, centered all value-creation back in the central office, and rendered all actual creation the product of machines or machine-like drones. So that the incremental cost of any particular widget or digitally mediated copy is approximately nil, and the capitalist model has reached its logical end. There is no ownership of anything outside the grasp of the new robber barons, even though we the people hold title through the pensions, tax subsidies to the military industrial etcetera, free market choice and, in theory, our vote.

Apparently, Al Gore remains incredibly optimistic about the internet, providing as it could the means for individuals to counter the prevailing tsunami in the other direction. Keeping in mind that this is the very technology which powers things which, tsunami-like, destroy the democratic power of civic anything. This is why we have only Walmart at which to shop, and really really cheap stuff made elsewhere where hands cost ten cents an hour, and get our politicians marketed to us in the very same way. How can there be democracy in such a perfected marketplace? There can only be manipulations, when the scope of choice has been reduced before the questions even get asked.

Al remains buds with that proto-fascist Steve Jobs (seems like a nice guy). And Jobs swims in the soup with all the other techno-enthusiasts (have I mentioned my trite observation that Kurzweil tells the same tale, Propp-structurally speaking, as does LeHaye?). But then Dr. Seuss has long since established that Mom is a fascist (Mothers' Day was nice, thanks!), and so it's not all bad. Anyhow, of course they are optimistic, and maybe, just maybe, there is a moment left for great masses of somehow liberated individuals to make their choices and make their choices known. There's always suicide bombing, apparently, against which absolutely nothing can be done. But short of that sort of final logic to Jerry Falwell/Jonestown numbscullism, where the rote formula justifies literally anything, there just might be thinking back against the machine, as mediated by the very technology which masters us.

Well, I hope so. I like Al Gore. I like the very picture of his working life, and its oh-so-stark contrast to our leather-gloved bush-whacker in celebration of un-thinking exercise of cartoon mythology enacted. That's what I hate about Jerry Falwell and ilk. They cannot help themselves from saying right out what the logic of their beliefs leads them to, and ironically enough, if they were as marketplace-important as, say Don Imus, it would destroy them, and should, but doesn't.

But it will. Just as Karl Rove has (unwittingly?) exposed the flaw more surely than Al Gore ever can, and thereby provides the ground on which Gore's actual thought can take root. So, I think Gore is right and true in his sense that he has more actual power now than he would have had as president. This Gandhi truth force thing. Or maybe actual Christ's power. Maybe we don't really need all that much. Just a few tweaks here and there. Net neutrality. Unionism's resurgence. Genuine revulsion at torture committed in our name. Pity for ignorant suicidists, and even understanding of their stakes, instead of supposing them to be our evil selves. Awakening from the drunken stupor of our oil binge. Democracy can be reclaimed a soon and as simply as people awakening to give a damn. And that's what the Falwell people have already caught on to, though there is no truth-force on that side, thank goodness. Now if only the secularists would stop being so enamored of technology. Cool as my i-pod is, it's not as nice as a real live concert, and I'd love to hop on a hay-wagon to get to it, so long as I didn't have to brave traffic every day to make me living . . .

Blah blah blah

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mothers' Day

I have to quickly bury that first post, since it clearly breaks the rules of not trying too hard to form something. And it's Mothers' Day, sunny out, spring-like.

Mothers' Day is safely this side of religious mystery, but also safely the other side of Hallmark foolery. (I'm not so sure about Fathers' Day, which seems more like PC reciprocity).

I'm a plainly anti-religious type, who is plainly offended by people who insist on literal readings of sacred texts, and who attempt to offer proofs that rule-following behaviors actually result in cosmic responses. I get really really offended when people pray for rewards, as when athletes offer prayers before or after significant plays. I smugly suppose that the only valid prayer would be the one for More Light, and a kind of openness to whatever the cosmos has in response, since I do find in my own life that I get the response I'm looking for, and am often just too plain grumpy to see the one I need.

So, that's by way of exposing myself. But there is that other side of me which plainly envies the belief of those who pray, apparently successfully, to Jesus. And I am equally offended by smug atheists, who rule out any possibility that there is some undiscovered (perhaps even undiscoverable) cosmic structure which rewards faith with actuality (actual faith, with actual truth).

But that sticks me in this over-intellectual limbo. I guess I have lots of company here. I want to intellectualize the Jesus story, for one, to make it a kind of 'as-if', so that Jesus was a man, at that crossroads point in cultural development, who spelled out human responsibilities for otherwise pre-conscious humans who were used to following less justified rules and voices.

The story in any case has not just incredible staying power, but actual transformative power. Sure, one has to dig though the Hallmarkian overlays of the institutional Church to get at what is true there. But even that -- those dogmatificatons of a simple story, and those reifications of tales whose morals needed to be rung out, and those proprietary mystifications to make appropriations into expropriations and thereby bloody -- even that may have been somehow necessary to keep the tale alive. In any case, the accomplishment is so astonishing, as to be very much an act of 'as-if' God.

My particular limbo is almost by definition infinite, since I won't accept any literalization of what I stand apart from, regarding as metaphor from my privileged remove anything others claim to see, but which I can't measure. I have a hard time granting that pious athlete his credit for simply humbling himself -- withdrawing ultimate credit from himself, despite his creditable hard work to earn it. And that exposes my flaw.

I think there was a time when I would be so cruel as to ridicule those who would purchase their sentiments from a greeting card rack. That was back when I was proud of having never eaten McAnything. Come to think of it, I was also proud of never using plastic for purchases. How ground down I have become! Today, I will almost surely spend absurd amounts of time scouring the racks for a suitably inoffensive card, just so that I can get credit, in terms which don't mark me so much as a crank, for having thought about Mom (and even my ex, the mother of my kids). And I will almost surely pay with plastic, without which I would really be marked (by a lifestyle found behind food co-op counters, say).

I feel lazy! I should have the energy to live more consciously. I should recover the strength to recognize Mom the way I used to, with evidence of more genuine thought and feeling. And I should live more off the grid. But I have been ground down, and worn out. Jaded? Spoiled? I simply haven't the time and space to think about it, much less to do anything about it. And now, finally, I fear and even know that I have lost the actual feeling. That this grinding down is more like a co-option into something plain wrong and opposite from where Jesus meant to lead us.

My conviction these days is that humanity is not a grant. Sacrilegiously, that we are not endowed with a holy spirit. Rather that humanity is something toward which we can only aspire, and that in order to do so, we must act very much 'as-if' our fellows (if not ourselves) have been endowed with humanity.

So, Happy Mothers' Day Mom! As with church attendance (can't do it!), I rehearse something which I know I still do feel, or perhaps once did feel with enough certainty to propel this promise into eternity. I am glad for the day. It keeps me from falling farther still.

In The Beginning

This feels very scary. I am doing this (almost) on a whim - no malice aforethought! Scary, like a remedy for agoraphobia, and scary like I actually want to have something to say, not just blah blog my personal life.

I have a feeling that it must break a rule of blog etiquette to attempt narratives of any significance. (I have never read a blog before - honest! I can't imagine anything more dreary, and haven't summoned the curiosity to be proven wrong, partly since my work puts me in front of a computer, ruining the fun of it) Commentary of significance is apparently OK, but I have a sense that blogs are supposed to be stream of consciousness. The medium inherently rejects completed and formed works, except, I guess, as paste-ins, as a sort of reference to the commentary. I suppose that blogs have to be interesting enough to read. I also have a sense that there is much narcissism involved, and that there is some blending toward voyeurism in the reading.

I guess that's what scares me. That I might be wanting to expose myself, or that by breaking into this medium, I am wanting to escape some basic rules, like for instance any need for discipline, since I'm pretty sure that if I were in any way disciplined, I wouldn't be in this pit I want to write myself out of.

I've discovered, over and over and over, that I don't know how to write, and lack the discipline to learn. And yet, narcissistically I'm sure, I've been bedevilled most of my life (I am not a young man!) by the conviction that there is something important which I must put in the form of a narrative. Is there any chance that this newish medium of blogging could move beyond factual exposure, alongside news media, to a kind of art form? I am imaging, and now semi-publicly hoping, that there could be a space for a kind of writing performance art.

If there is, I could go poking around to find it, but I do this from dial-up. I don't find the technology very interesting in any case. What is interesting is the conjunction of Speakers' Corner, with a kind of infinite asynchronos performance space

I'm really not at all sure that I have 'something to say'. Truly, every time I read a book (which is most of what I do these days), I feel relieved that at least I am not depriving the world of anything by failing to develop any latent literary promise. There are lots of great writers out there!

There, that statement exposes what I'm getting at. I do suffer from a sense of failure to myself - lost promise, you might say. Not just that the rat race has ground me down, but more likely something that I have in common with most of humanity, or maybe I really mean most of first-world humanity; those of us who suffer guilt and anxiety about the fate of spaceship earth and yet have no clue what to do about it. (not an entirely felicitous metaphor, as I hope we'll see, but I like Bucky, and it suits me here for now - I'd rather say something like Gaia (sp?), but that feels wrong in the other direction) Those of us who have not been anaesthetized by sufficient wealth or fame (I'll take mine straight, thanks!) to succumb to the illusion of being apart from those who toil and succumb. Those of us who really don't imagine that there can be life, in any meaningful sense, apart from all of that creepy crawly nature which remains, at least from the point of view of complexity, at the center of our known cosmos, and bounded by Earth.

We are left, Willy Loman like, with a sense of lost perhaps not promise, but we see ourselves as from the audience, and we cry for ourselves, glad, perhaps, that we cannot be implicated in some great sell-out, but sad nontheless that we haven't much to say for ourselves.

Hence the blog.

I can be pretty proud of my emails from time to time, though I have never gotten feedback from any correspondent to validate my sense of a well-turned phrase. I have to suspect that my correspondants are embarrassed for me - to the extent I become enthralled by the language, I must seem to be overreaching and pompous. Which is probably why my attempts at crafted narrative always end up scrapped. I end up sounding to myself the way I imagine I must sound to my correspondents, though it is at least conceivable that there is general dullness out there.

More recently, I dusted off a book called The Artists Way (Julia Cameron), which prescribes a daily regimen of uncrafted narrative as a means to discover oneself; to unfetter whatever creative powers are latent. And, true to form, I can't summon the discipline. (I think she wrote the book before blogs were imagined.)

I have to wonder if it is entirely out-of-bounds to use the public space for what should be done in private. There is surely something wrong about not pulling the blinds, say, unless it is that you shouldn't be where even such a signal as pulling the blinds could be noticed. So, I'm that kind of scared. As well as pretty sure that I am simply too clueless to know how to live, and risk exposing that fact.

Does everyone rehearse the meaning of blogs before starting? I must be like a victorian at a rock concert. Same setting. Same meaning. But the music sounds like noise, and the people don't behave. Just lack of exposure? I'll come along.

Nerve endings have built in them the facility to numb the annoying or the repetitive. My dental hygenist is amazed that I can use the traditional Listerine for instance, but I just got beyond the training period. (Masking that awful flavor just makes it worse to me) Just as I have never understood getting past the endorphin barrier with physical activity. Really really really spicy Szechuan-style food, for instance, tastes like a really really hot rock concert, and would be entirely missed by, say, my mother (yours too!).

So maybe I've just numbed down, and am willing to venture out? Blogs are about this blurring of private and public, aren't they? They make it hard for nefarious pols to pander their lies. They make all-powerful corporate entities actually accountable in ways that might rescue some aspect of democracy (do I tip my hand too far when I observe that the United States is fast becoming a caricature of that aristocratic England against which we once rebelled). And blogs allow me to implicate myself in the age of narcissism. To let go of the idea that I will ever write that Great American Novel (which is as much neurosis as any of us should be allowed to expose), without quite letting go of the idea that I might have something to say.

Which is where I started this particular screed. (scroll up to look!). I am proposing a kind of experiment. I am pretty sure that I have nothing very literary in me. But I am also pretty sure that I once discovered something, almost science-style, which if effectively shared, would change everything. This discovery, if that's what it turns out to be, was made way back at the canonical age of, say, 25 or so (24? 27?), and had, for me, what I can only imagine to be the power discovery has for a scientist.

The trouble for me was that I soon found that I had no way to demonstrate this find. There was no microscope through which to see it. No body of theory waiting for this tipping-point measured observation to indicate its next direction. But neither was it quite the same as spiritual revelation, which, judging by numbers anyhow, is much more reliably communicated than any scientific finding.

I have felt, at times, saddened that I am apparently immune to extra-scientific communions of any sort. I have also felt distressed that the growing body of scientific understanding leaves life cold, so to speak. And of course this body of understanding, if that is anything like the right way to speak of it, cannot be encompassed by any one mind. In the end, there seems always to be some kind of faith invoked, whether material or spiritual.

By the same sort of happenstance which frames most good thinking (there I go, exposing my lack of discipline again), I recently read Ray Kurzweil's Singularity book. I realized that it was the same story told in those satirical Left Behind books, where the Revelation tales get told out literally. (They are satirical, aren't they? Please?) Kurzweil apparently actually believes that computing power will saturate the cosmos, and I think he means literally.

I guess a lot of people haven't quite taken notice that we already inhabit virtual reality. That the Candy 2000 virtual date can be had in most bars (I hear, but I find the stories reliable). That we can transport ourselves in the space of a dream to far-off places, even as we make what was exotic local. That perhaps intelligence already pervades the cosmos, since how would we know anyhow - not seeming so intelligent ourselves much of the time.

Anyhow, I quickly found that my "discovery" could not be shown, way back then in my extreme youth. It had to be told. And I apparently lacked the equipment, because I tried and tried, but could not tell it. And of course I realized that this finding was becoming reliably identical to a simple delerious disease (other people thought so too!). I'm pretty sure that there could be no clinical distinction.

So, I relaxed, already. If, as I was certain, this matter was more toward a scientific than spiritual discovery, then it was sure to be found out by myriad others, and all I would have to do would be to join in the more collective delerium when, as it surely would, it developed. Clinical sanity in a world transformed!

But that was back at the outset of the Standard Model (of physical reality). Did I hear on the radio, 30 years ago now?? I was there at the beginning. And mum's been the word, as we wait for the CERN collider to come on line - which to be honest has filled me with a sense of urgency - and some laser-connected satellites to report on Einstein's curvature.

So, I've started to get restless again. It seems as though no-one else is going to come out with this thing, and so it maybe falls back to me. I am alarmed at the collective delerium forming all around me. I feel some responsibility, you know, because I never did rise to the obligation of that fated discovery. Sort of the reciprocal of remaining silent as witness to some heinous crime, because to speak out entails so much impact.

Although, I guess it's not very recipriocal, because that's exactly how I feel - silent witness to heinous crime. Craziness is afoot, and it's not just the religious fundamentalists and their nut-job reality, of which I remain jealously oblivious (I am not entirely oblivious of the truer parts of their realities - the what happens if you act as-if part - but wouldn't it be nice if you really could have your cake and eat it too).

On the one hand, Corporations expend actual billions in reparation and reaction and public relations paranoia when some tiny fraction of the techno-violent destruction of modern living gets meted out in the form of transgressions of the my space safety bounds (whew! Sorry!!). As if horror can be lodged in spinach (Popeye?), and terror in psychosis, when real terror and horror gets not so much meted as rained down on much of the world outside the castle grounds by that same techno-violence, of which we remain the beneficiaries as well as directors and even toward which we have diverted our very lust.

Sorry, sorry. That's what happens when I start writing. But those thirty years ago, I think I imagined some publishing medium without implication. Someplace where a sort of gift-to-the-world-take-it-or-leave-it statement of incontrovertable fact could be dropped off and distributed, not quite anonymously, but at least without needing to make it good enough to make a living at. While still discharging my responsibility, as it were (I always want to say things like "as it were" or "so to speak").

And I do feel some urgency as species drop from the face of the earth. I can't claim any physical pain, but it is very much as if these were insults to my extended physical body. I don't have any faith that I am in any meaningful way apart from this earth, that the boundaries between my self and others are distinct and absolute, that my death is the end of me any more than my skin is the end of me. But I do find notions of eternal to be very silly, metaphorically as though my personal body could pervade forever. And I do find the notion of soul to have become problematical, when it seems to have become an excuse for the self - as though humanity were a grant, rather than something toward which to aspire.

So, at this particular moment, having discovered this great and powerful medium to penetrate that sacred boundary between public and private, and ever hopefull that all such transgressions are not necessarily boorish (though they very well might be!), I am staking my flag that on the faith that there might be a way -- call it catalytic narrative -- to effect global change other than by this confusion of ends and means we now experience as technology-driven military-industrial economic expansion which costs so much of life.

It is narrative in words which has defined humanity - a set of stories - apart from if not the culmination of natural history. Now we have become authors, perhaps, in our own collective story, even as we chafe at the responsibility and prefer to live by our Picaresqe wits at the behest of God or Fate. We might accept a designation as Hero of our own story, so long as by living it we don't have to write it too, which would break the God-man contract.

My claim is that it has long passed time to define humanity more poetically than by narrative. Where Author is less maker than finder, as much delighted as delighter. Where words need not have a point, and narrative trajectories may start all over again before they end.

I do declare, this is a fine new medium! There is some tiny spark of that pleasure in actual human company. And some hope for me that I will actually remember what I once discovered, now so long ago, when my memory, humanity and intelligence were so much more intact.

Technology has finally caught up with my promise, I am hoping, in the humble sense of a promise I once made to myself. I have, truly, nearly forgotten the promise, and my sense of responsibility, which swamped my earlier excitement. Now I am at that other canonical age (50 something) when one is at the peak of power (I was just reviewing the Time 100 -- they're practically all 50-s0mething!). I have to do something!