Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting (taking?) a Haircut

It's interesting how these terms seep into the language. A short time ago, "getting a haircut" was a technical term used by equities traders for how, I guess, you have to eat your losses sometimes - a kind of sharing in the pain, which, however, by the term's derivation, clearly doesn't kill you. Now it's being used for what's going to happen to the rest of us, when we get asked to take cuts in salary, keep our cars longer, or pick up a bigger share of our health insurance bill. As if this won't be an outright scalping for the paycheck to paycheck among us!

For myself, getting a haircut is a pretty strange matter. I do remember when very young, but not so young that I wasn't getting myself around on a bicycle, "my" barber was a kind of doorkeeper to manhood. A place where I would go alone, and talk and be talked to as the independent agent I yearned to be. He'd remember me, visit to visit, and ask interested and pertinent questions about what was going on in my life.

I even remember a kind of wistful regret when growing my hair long meant losing that particular connection. I felt a tiny amount of shame as betrayer, right along with what I felt toward the avuncular boy scout leader whose attraction suddenly paled alongside that of a particular girl.

Then, almost bizarrely, I carried a kind of do-it-yourselfism about cutting my own hair right up through that part of my life when I had a kind of public presence, and would even appear on television from time to time. Hair cut (likely butchered) by myself in the mirror, with no real sense of what was going on in the backside.

Counter intuitively, I got away with that (if I really did!) because my hair was thick, and the chops got covered over. Now, when my hair is nearly nonexistent, I seem to have lost my nerve about doing any self-trimming. Now, when I could care less about my appearance, and dress toward that peculiar non-entity status which makes the male of the species so much less burdened than the female. Now that I have to drive a half hour away and then hope the topic doesn't veer around to Hillary (barbers seem to have been filtered down to only those susceptible to the likes of Limbag anymore), I seem to need to get my hair cut before the shag becomes an item for comment. I guess it's all about the avoidance of standing out and making a fool. (Youngsters often feel that standing out can work to their advantage, as it so often does)

As with grocery shopping, I have to plan for it along the way toward somehwhere else, since there would be no way to justify the cost of the drive for just a haircut; or even just for groceries. But it's an odd turning point, this matter of how much I do or don't care about my appearance. No clear boundary. Just a small matter of nerve and comfort zone. A slow dispassionating to accompany the rather more precipitous de-sexing.

Still, there are times when I have a slightly public presentation coming up, and no driving plans to take me by my barber. These are the days of sixes and sevens, where I have to inject actual decisions into the stream of automatic khakis and engineer-plaid boring shirts and which place I'll visit today on my workweek rounds. These are the days when I seem to be forcing an issue and bending out of my groove.

My decisions - all of them - react to the things going on around me. There is no me anymore which knows where he's going or what he wants to do. I deliver maximum value for the dollar I earn, and trust that the Charities I serve will make maximum use of it for the needy they serve. I grind away to pay the child support, and cling to my comforts as the only things I really know that I want. The wood stove. The solitude. The house which is just the right size and reflects back to me by bookbinding, leather and wood colors everything to define my comfort zone.

My work supports a digital economy, where near analogs of reality can be perfectly reproduced, bit for bit if necessary, on the underpinnings of perfected binary decision trees. Embodiments of simple logic now made so intricate that foolish souls actually analogize that this is that in which thinking consists. But these machines still have to dip outside themselves for random numbers. They have to grab at clock ticks or person inputs, since I guess even one second per millennium of inaccuracy in a clock still allows for randomness up against a decision tree with no room for ambiguity at all.

This digital reality is the very Platonic ideal realm, which can never exist in actual reality any more than can an actual circle, say, or perfectly parallel line, or even a line at all for that matter. I learned recently that it was the discreet/continuous Zeno divide which got Galileo in trouble as much as it was the earth decentering thing. He rather urged the idea that there aren't really spheres in nature, say. And that the qualities of things, such as their color, inhere in the impingement of the thing, atomically as it were, on the organ of perception, rather than in the thing itself. Making trouble for Christ's materialization, most problematically in the Host. Such thoughts invite a kind of conjuring to the truth of knowing.

This is the same divide which now favors the discreetly digital so fervently (although my prophylactic digital TV converter box, which gets perfect pictures when it gets them, distressingly gets nothing intelligible at all when the signal drifts, in an all-or-nothing pitch for me to pay for my anaesthesia, I guess).

So, these digits are simulated in actual reality by clear tipping points in matter, along with some error correction against - I think I'm not making this up - the boundary blurring of, say, cosmic rays. The matter itself switches in state from something measurable as up or down, this or that, though it's the matter's context which makes the state definable. In reality, the boundaries are never so clear. In context they often can be.

The Turning Point we now face - it's always the same one, but the context sharpens its impact - is the one between algorithmic preprogrammed decisions, like the ones which take me through my days so very apart from myself; and heartfelt decisions in response or, still better, engagement with contingent events. We can continue down the road toward discreet boundaries between selves and families and nations and dare we say points of view, or we can find within our own very discreet selves that which we would like so very much to remain other.

Digital reality never implicates anything. Except along a decision tree moved along forward and back, there is never any clear and present implication of this here bit with that one there. It's an either/or thing with a time dependent cause and effect, and even with quantum computing, there's only thought to be an energy and time savings, not a logical divide. I think.

So, out in the world writ large(r) than bits and bytes, we find through brand naming and outsourcing and debt instrumentalization that there is no responsible agent for the mob-surge trampling which does still get done to the temporary self-marketed and therefore means of production (thought) sold-out self temp worker.

OK, so I've been holding on to this particular shit for far too long, and it's not really going anywhere. It's grown, well, flatulent. But at the time of my haircut, for which I'm now due anew, I did have something very much in mind which is long long gone. Over the Christmas holiday, my very digitally savvy nephew showed me his tee shirt creation, which looked so improbably artsy that I knew it must have been printed from some computer generated prior image.

But it wasn't! It was manually generated, using pins and tape and actual hands-on craft. And then he proceeded to demonstrate the impossibility to prevent digital theft, and its rather simple justification, that if someone is so lame as to re(re)present as valuable something so trivially reproduced, then screw 'em, I'm (he's) going to snag it, which I thought was a rather nice corrective against the uptight establishment economy so recently exposed.

Rock on dude (time for me to get another haircut!)

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