Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chapter 4 from 1983

Now look. There I was, entered onto that course in my life when the simple existence of childhood with its real joys and pains was being replaced by the agonies of adolescence. Where I was trying to become my own person, and kept getting stuck on the twin horns of the ecstasy of meaning revealed and the depression of meaning withheld. That period has lasted until right now. I'm still hung up on meaning. I'm still seeking a way to be my own person in a world where the gods are dead, where all authority is suspect as mere convention, and where my own inner voice is as suspect as all the rest. By now, I've been wiped out in my beliefs. There was a time when I could ride the horn of meaning revealed, grasping it tightly; but I would be shifted as easily to the other horn. All the while, however, the bull managed to keep on its feet. How glad I am of that.

Masturbation is OK. It's natural, Howie told himself. Lies about hairy palms and idiocy were invented by the same world that told boy scouts to take cold baths when they get strange feelings. A repression of what is natural. A healthy person explores his body and learns to know it. Authority ends where his privacy begins and that's the way it should be. These lies were attempts to lead that authority so deeply that it would pervade even physical privacy to the depths, apparently, of the unconscious.

Howie was learning about guilt, and its dangers. But he had also seen caged monkeys in the zoo, and wondered how natural was their constant playing with their genitals. Natural, yes, but what bars could there be circumscribing his life that made it so like that caged chimpanzee. It was a theme in his life. The discovery of some intense feeling --a joy, a revelation -- and then the repeated and compulsive return to the source of the joy that in the end, of course, only insured that it was lost.

A very masculine theme, for aren't men bent on repeated ejaculation. The goal is all. And let it come in a burst of glory. It seems built into the anatomy. The active twin in whose power lies the goal achieved cannot disengage himself from the attainment. Cannot for a minute value the way there. Cannot, because, so it seems, the body won't allow it. Such at least goes the naive argument which subtly refuses all other responses than those which seem unlearned because they were learned so remotely. Repress them by accepting them as an art that needs to be learned. So are men convinced of the value of the feminine without often remembering that the art learned is another one unlearned.

As you know, Howie had to learn to masturbate, and had no help after the humiliation of his initial failure. Again, when he learned, it was revelation. Is it to all boys? I don't know, but for him it had unbounded power. It became a private shibboleth for mocking all deceitful social restraints at the same time that it enacted the mockery of his own cage. What could cause that insane repetition? Sure, it felt good. But as the gratification became more and more automatic, why not leave it and progress? Why keep furtively trying to reawaken a discovery that was only alive in its discovery? The goal is forever lost, once it has been achieved.

But eating is gratifying each time anew, and so are other things. In actual frequency, he later found out how normal he was. But the cage was real, and normalcy meaningless. It wasn't just guilt; he hardly felt guilty, though he was furtive. It was a cage he refused to see was erected by no-one and removable only by himself. Oh, there were lots of possible places to lay the blame. Guilt was only one. His inability to do what he wanted described the cage, and the misunderstanding of his family, the misunderstanding of the school and of society, and finally the blindness of fate, were what was keeping him caged.

It was simple adolescent disappointment. He wasn't happy and it must have been because, either he was restricted by parents who thought they still needed to control him for his own good, or by a school which insisted on his need for an education by which he was literally bored to tears. Or simply because he hadn't been lucky enough to have the means to do what he wanted to be.

Are there more of him out there? Who see and hear about other lives both more and less fortunate than their own by means of the television which is the only intrusion of the world beyond the playground? Who digest both the good fortune of being who they are and the bad fortune of not being wealthier, flashier, earthier, more lovable, more real in comparison to the images on the screen. Who digest both the good fortune and the bad in the one paradoxical pill which makes his own life both unreal and the only reality.

Life in the suburbs, where everyone who doesn't belong is suspect -- whether luckier or less fortunate -- and where the deep suspicion grows that life throbs elsewhere. What then? Why, get out of course. Be richer or more earthy or more poetic or more urbane or even be a bum. But get out. Why for Howie was it all unreal? He looked until he found the death behind the mask of all of these escapes. They were acts in direct response to the fear of death they were impositions of something else that was not yet life.

An arbitrary response, so he felt. Where is the rule that says the richer are more powerful and the powerful are more alive? He unwound all the rules until finally, there was only a tangle. Yes, he was drawn to the thrill of power, to the earthiness of a gypsy, to the erudition of a scholar, to the fame of a poet, to the selflessness of a bum -- to everything in which he ever had fleetingly felt the pulse of life and in which when he measured his soul against the mask he found a poor fit.

"Do you mind untangling this, Howie? And then, please, come off it."

I am getting carried away. Too far afield in the story. They weren't masks. He saw the faces, and they were lighted. But the light was not communicable. So that gradually, as he discovered that these others were not him, he would be disgusted that they had no way to communicate their light to him. They hadn't found the answer he was seeking. He pried enough to discover that, and then they turned with some demonic power that was his alone into masks for him. Stupid, petty people, ultimately, who hid behind their masks so people wouldn't discover how little they know.

"You're making him pretty hateful."

That's good. Because he's me. And there's too much of me here. He wasn't like that. Never with friends. He liked people simply and with feeling. He... It doesn't matter.

He became angry at all those possible jailers and at his fate, but that didn't ease the feeling of being limited. That is, it didn't ease his depression and he continued to clutch at whatever could release him.

"You know, your attempts at weighty language are unbearable at moments like this. I'd laugh harder than I am except that I get the feeling you want ‘clutching at whatever could release him' to be made weighty by its vagueness. But it's so obvious that it stinks. It's worse than laughable. It's pathetic."

I'd better try a different mode.

Hold On Just One Minute!

While there is a minute left, I continue to struggle to understand how this particular power grab was so cleverly orchestrated. I try to hang back from the level of conspiracy theory on the one hand which would have Bush orchestrating the constructed deconstruction of the Trade Center towers. On the other, I hang back from reifying the Devil. But it seems almost undeniable that this is a manufactured crisis; a perfect opportunity to hand the peoples' wealth almost literally on a platter, over to the vaunted private capital markets.

As with the Trade Center destruction, the interesting thing was not how did they plan it, but how were they so perfectly prepared to respond to it when it happened. And how did the timing happen so perfectly in concert with readiness for it. The questions to be asked were all about the response, but the response was, as is the case in all moral decision-making, an emotional matter. And for those without emotion, what I've previously shorthanded as the sociopaths, all the decisions are theirs for the taking, since the rest of us are too wary of entering those dark woods.

Could it be that the subconscious, collectively, is the manufacturer? That at each opportunity, there is a simple-minded choice, and that in the mediated world these choices can be handed up, so that even the timing of the seemingly random events can seem, almost bizarrely, orchestrated?

There is an obvious connection between the melamine in the milk in China, the rendition of so many victims of personal vendettas to Gitmo, the e-coli in the food chain, the mistaken identification of terrorists at the airline gate because their database identity veers so close to that of someone who could be capable . . . These are all matters where there has been a subcontracting out of accountability and a deidentified handing up of deniability. This is how the modern corporation runs, and this is how the government runs. General Electric, I was told quite personally, doesn't wish to manufacture anything. There's not enough money in it. So the government has become a holding company for our national best interest, just as Nike has become a brand name for intellectual property standards brought into embodied existence wherever and by whomever for so long as they bear the brand and not the stain of original sin.

I am compelled to make parallels between sociopathy and corporate behavior. We finally have true artificial intelligence in the behavior of capital, unfettered by human contact with communities. I suppose that's what global actually means.

Local motives, always impure, are now aggregated to the point where it is the mindless money almost itself which is the great motive engine. A sociopath like Dick Cheney (I'm certain he "loves" his family) can actually and rationally direct his personal and financial investments in a kind of "Disaster Capitalism" which literally targets "inevitable" catastrophes, including pandemics or the threat of them (AIDS, smallpox) or terrorism amuck (the security business) and plans to capitalize on ownership of patent rights. One pictures a satisfied jabba the hut sitting atop a Sadean castle with loathsome, smoldering masses attempting to cross the moat below.

Can anyone really want this for himself? I'm pretty sure that at sociopath can and does. But I'm also pretty sure that we are all sociopaths at the level of the petty. The small Chinese milk producer is not, quite literally, thinking of the death or even possible death of thousands when he waters his milk in order to meet quotas or to stretch the ironclad marketlaw margins to feed his own family. Hell, even the SUV driver is apoplectic to delegate a tank to his not-so-trustworthy teenage daughter for driving to the prom. I suppose the torturing security-contract worker may well be a sociopath, but he's also driven by better money than he can make in the nonexistent factory back home.

And the hell of it is that the SUVs kill just as surely as the little beetle-bugs. Texting while driving, or swerving in a top-heavy driving fortress have killed in my acquaintance and neighborhood more surely and often than that scary other driver.

So, the problem becomes how not to hand up this authority (and hand down the blame, since now a careless match lighting a forest fire is punishable as mass murder, while the actual accomplishment of it is excused by apology). At its root, this is simply the problem to defund and delegitimize the corporatization of everything. For starters we have to distinguish free market capitalism from global corporatism. I doubt there is a bright red line between them, but I'm pretty sure that we can all, pornography style, tell the difference. We probably need a line between the "financial economy", so newly called, and the "real economy," so that there aren't any more holding companies which split the difference.

We probably have to parse the term "core competency" in a way more closely related to the expertise of the deciders rather than the media-savvy extortion-salaried captains of globocap. There isn't much mystery left to the results this direction.

And, for me at least, there isn't much mystery left to timing of the opportunities for opportunism.

I remain very very uncertain about what to do with this latest wholesaling of the people's power to the private sector. It seems clear that there won't be time to stop it. I guess it further seems clear that the only way to have stopped it would be to backstop the economy with something entirely other from the corporatization which made the emergency inevitable, and the response as if there were no choice.

This cannot be done as an emergency, though it might have to be done in an emergency. I have been asking friends who know how to field dress a pig, and grow potatoes without poison, though I really don't relish deployment of those skills. Sadly, my brother in law knows all these things. In preparation for the rapture. But, the proper response is to develop nonchalance toward those who would manipulate us.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Well, that was interesting . . . .(how the world really ends)

I write these things in some vague attempt to chronicle the meanderings of my thinking. I seem to have a conviction that this is the moment in time and space when everything changes, and I cling to the necessity for written words to link all the inward fluctuations of my thinking, since I know my memory to be faulty, and my disposition to be very very far toward the self-indulgent. This kind of writing is, perhaps, a self-indulgence which has a slight potential to lead beyond self-indulgence, though I remain extremely unsure of that.

In trying to understand my (nihilated) brother-in-law, I've been reading up on sociopathy, and in particular a very useful book called The Sociopath Next Door. It does a very nice job of defining sociopathy as the absence of conscience, and conscience as a function of emotion rather than of moral reasoning or cognitive thought processes. Specifically, conscience is a function of love, and sociopaths have no capacity for it.

I recognize in myself a difficulty with self-love, and I believe that to be the root of my self-indulgence. I'm not sure where it comes from, but I think my sister's life offers a clue, as does my budding awareness of the primal significance of this election cycle.

We lefties are always troubled to understand how the undereducated can be so easily duped by the logowork (apologies Naomi Klein) of the Republican party. And we assume that it is simply a matter of undereducation, and craven manipulation; ignorance and greed; fear and insecurity, and on and on. Until we come across reasoned and reasonable studies, including this one, which explain that enlightenment-descended liberal notions of morality and moral behavior leave out 3/5ths of the modalities concerned. That moral behavior is never a matter of cognitive calculation, and always a matter of emotional first response, which can only be grounded in upbringing, and conditioned as much by recognition and respect for authority, group membership, and sanctity.

I have been as troubled by anything as I have by the question of why sexual behavior matters to morality. Divorced from reproduction, and the implications for upbringing, it would seem that sexual behavior is irrelevant. But in a broader sense of morality, deviant sexual behavior cheapens the ways in which we relate to one another and learn to trust one another. The dangers of disease and pregnancy are not the main case; these simply highlight what was already evidently true.

We have now learned, if we didn't know it already, the extent to which our financial markets depend on trust for their functioning. In the absence of trust, there seemed absolutely no other choice than for the government, in the largest way ever in the history of mankind, to step in, standing for the public at large, to re-establish basic trust, enough for the system to function again. The talking heads call it a confidence game, without so much as a blush in reference to the con-men who have talked us into this catastrophe.

In trying to understand my bother-in-law's behavior, I have come across interesting essays, apparently from both sides of the political divide, trying to understand the difference between the state's interest in gay sex and incest. The biology of the matter, again, seems to the side of the main question.

Again, I think it's a matter of trust. My brother-in-law has been described by his victims (even those who don't yet know they are victims) as the world's greatest manipulator. He's a con-man, plain and simple, and sociopathic in the absence of concern expressed or demonstrated for the mayhem he leaves in his wake. Obscenely, he abuses God to urge upon my sister the notion that marriage is forever, for better or for worse. I doubt if even Sarah Palin would require that the rape victim stay married to the rapist in addition to carrying his child (but who knows, perhaps she would, even while championing the proper choice exercised by the person from who she would like to remove all choice!!!).

So, there is at least a distinction between casual sex, of interest and excitement to both (or all!) parties involved, and sex between a father and his daughter, which breaks all bonds of trust and faithfulness: Given that you can still tinker around the edges with concerns about the self-esteem of participants in the casual exercise of something so potentially consequential, at least emotionally if not socially and for life, there is no tinkering around the edges of power-based abuses.

And one might Hope that there is room now in the authority imprint for a woman. And in the ingroup tent for a black. One might hope that a positive impact of globalization has been that our morality has expanded to fit the shrinking global village, and that we recognize that atavistic behaviors, however functional in the long genetic and developmental run-up until now, can only secure our annihilation.

So, the lie which has been exposed by my brother-in-law's behavior, and by the meltdown of the world's financial markets, is that the agenda of anyone at all has been what they themselves have professed it to be. The loss in trust has been final.

We can at least delineate the progression. When the radical individualism which is a hallmark of liberal moralizing (choice!) moves to the grotesque extreme of SUVs with video screens, and when conservative moralists seem to defend that as the proper reward for deserving winners in the competition of life. When Fox news transparently panders sexiness in its smilingly extreme(and seemingly intelligent) reporters, and McCain follows the same in his choice for VEEP. When this in turn has built upon the perfected methods of the global capitalists to mold and manipulate our every market choice by those same methods of flesh-trading (and when the literal face of a position is mistaken for the very studied prompting which makes up the actual message).

The loss of trust is final.

The positions themselves, and the supposed philosophies behind them, have become almost entirely irrelevant, just as the candidates for president have become almost entirely irrelevant behind the very real requirement for the actual government to act. I think even the President himself, who should be too ashamed to show his face, has receded behind who we now fully understand to be the actual actors; the actual "deciders."

The main issue now is trust. The main issue is transparency - whether we can see through the presentations to the guts and machinery behind them. The main issue is what is in the heart, and who cares.

If only a game is being played, then there need be no concern at all. If cars are only for fun, and the cost to drive them factors in fully the cost to society at large for doing so, then who cares? But as it turns out, we live in an economy where you very simply cannot function without these cars, and where their cost is only recently now far exceeded by the cost to run them. Suddenly, the frills are unseemly, as we digest the awareness that each of them presses costs on the whole which we rather frankly don't trust to be represented by the cost of the gasoline, no matter how high it might soar.

We know that there can be no cost high enough to cover the mayhem in Iraq. We know that there can be no cost high enough to cover the meltdown of the icecaps, or the disappearance of the Polar Bear. And we know that there is no limit to the desire of those in control to have more control, at least as demonstrated by the insatiable drive for wealth, once experienced.

This is all serious business, and there are surely lives at stake, if not the fate of the earth itself.

Who cares?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why Didn't the World End - Yet?

They turned on the big supercollider, and it worked!! It seems there was only one frightened scientist, who certainly looked the part, from my glimpse of him on TV. I'd thought I wrote something here about my thoughts on the machine, but it must have been an email, or just in my mind. Just as well . . .

But in a personal sense, the world did end. This supercollider (is that what it's called? Hadron something?) is constructed after the crossroads, when the scientific enterprise should have recognized that it's all about words and labels. That new particles can be proliferated ad-infinitum provided we have the will and the money, and that there are no essential new secrets to be revealed, other than that, by omission, the actual world of words and human beings is slipping into oblivion, for neglect.

Of course, duh, I'm in the midst of reading Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism, so I'm in a frame of mind to identify and debunk grand narratives. I want to know what agenda the supercollider really serves, since it seems at best unlikely that it actually serves some quest for knowledge and understanding (At worst, does it represent some instrument for mass destruction, or has it moved on to the meta-level of mass control, which was the whole point of mass destruction, or is it just what it seems to be - an engine to perpetuate excitement toward something that will never be; the discovery of unambiguous reality, and by that the instrumentation of trueing?).

I suspect it's just a happy diversion to keep the techies sharp while the economy retools for its next grand project. It doesn't seem likely to lead to cold fusion or some other apocalyptic energy solution. Just a new footnote. A really really expensive one. Well, unless that self-aggrandizing black hole theory turns out to be true, but really now, can you imagine something as definitionally opposed to the prospect as a black hole, aggrandizing!?

That's the other part. Me. This typing on a billboard visible in principle to everyone and anyone on the planet, while remaining calm in my certainty that no one will ever notice. It's not like geo-caching, where there is something remotely hidden. But it's also not quite like dressing outrageously in public. More like the couple making love in the Skydome hotel suite during the Big Game (is it the Rogers Center or something like that now?) who forgot about the TV cameras? (or did they?) Like a Bush gesture when he thinks the recording machines aren't rolling?

Anyhow, it's just weird. I don't even have any interest in what I myself have written. It's too boring to review - too dense to get back into. It doesn't progress and doesn't move toward anything like a conclusion.

Meanwhile, my little sister, raised by the example of a helpless mother, trained as a southern belle without the southern motherly training in the wielding of the southern belle's secret power - raised, in other words, as a southern belle by a southern father, but with a northern mother. And the mother delivered into the arms of a northern patriarch. Both mother and father insecure about the gender roles defined for them, and therefore playing them in caricature. That little sister has just awoken to the fact that her ignorant and manipulative husband has been sexually involved with her newly 18 year old daughter, who thus found the strength to expose the fact.

This is how the world ends, I'm certain. This is how the world is ending. Much though I would like to push this away, as something separate from myself, I know that her innocent vulnerability - my sister's - is my own. I know that I am, internally, the whole entire structure of second-guessing and self doubt which failed, until now, to crystallize the warning signs into what I've always known they were. Predation. Manipulation. Raising self-justification to religion. Perfected paranoia about everything public, and so moving to what's left of the outback, and into a society which is further caricature, truly, than that depicted in the Handmaiden's Tale. (A Boy and his Dog?).

I could have known but chose not to. I could have stopped it, but lacked the clear insight to do so.

At least I now know what born-again really means (need I say the offender professes himself so, as does my for-the-moment still deluded and supportive of his redemption sister). Self-election to a club of similarly ashamed hiders away from judgement and responsibility for their inner tendencies and hidden actions. Is it sort-of like blogging away so that only Jesus will or need ever know? But in the fullness of time and revelation, open to anyone and everyone to see?

Surely, it is an escape from human judgement. Let's hope the moment has not truly passed, when human judgement, soundly exercised, can turn the tide away from shameful acts committed in secret and having the public face of righteousness (or is it the public face of clinical neutrality that's worse?). Help us Jesus to be born-again more truly to our human responsibilities, and not simply to the relief the many panderers of your Name profer.