Monday, July 27, 2009

Moon Landing Lunacy

I seem to be on a theme of anniversaries, mostly just past. I missed the 40th for the moon landing, and wanted to be part of some flame war which just flamed out rather like, well, our enthusiasm for outer space. I myself run hot and cold on the value of explorations of outer space. For sure, there should be at least as much value to such explorations as there is to explorations under the sea, or new catalogings of (old) species, or now so much earlier, the very mapping of our globe.

But it costs a lot of money, great gobs of our precious energy, and must pollute our skies each time we launch one of those great rockets beyond gravity's reach. I'm going to make the claim that the value of our space explorations depends very much on what it is that we do with or by them.

If we think that we will extend the limits for our exploitations and predations, so that we can relieve some pressure from earth's carrying capacity, that is one thing. If we think we are doing basic science, wanting answers to basic questions about our origins, that is quite another. And if we accomplish something very opposite to what we set out to accomplish, that is always interesting.

Another anniversary just gone by is my own birthday; now entering my 55th year, I should have figured out by now what I really want to do with my life. I've chosen to focus - as rankest amateur - on the basic questions, and so have little or nothing to show for a life lived this long, in the way of professional accomplishment.

Sometimes I wish I did. But sometimes I'm glad that I have resisted those investments, in favor of a kind of hanging loose, so that I might have the liberty, even now, even still, to go off in some other direction without having too much invested in staying put. My kids are mostly grown. There are no golden or other handcuffs tying me to what I've already done.

We live in a time of generalized anxiety, prevented from enjoying the fruits of historical labors by some vague sense that we might have blown it or be about to blow it. It's clear to most thinking people that we can't keep living off the fat of earth's stored up solar energy; the oil and coal. It's clear that even apart from the squandering and the pollution we used to worry more about, the very basic throwing up into our atmosphere of all this stored carbon changes all sorts of basic balances.

We're nervous that we won't be able, politically, to contain our twitchy tendancy to deploy all sorts of nuclear devices. We might have created a cyber-structure of such complexity that it could be brought down by something analogous to flying planes into overreaching towers.

We've entered into a spiraling panic about our health, feeling some kind of right to be cured of every dis-ease which must accompany biological life; to where the very germs now have become as idealized as our screen idols, able to resist our every sterilizing tool to raise the spector of pandemic, flesh eating, antibiotic resistance.

What a perfect metaphor, where each of us has the basic right to fight off the germs within us, even if to the detriment of the common pool of resistance. Or is it more in the way we raise our meat, saturating it with antibiotics to create an alternate ecology where the only germs to survive - and we ingest the antibiotics along with the steer it rode in on - are the ones we don't know how to combat?

We somehow think, or fantasize, that arctic storehouses, even though they too are threatened by global warming, may provide repositories to hold in trust those species we now so rapidly displace. That our zoos may be adequate as breeding grounds for species lost in the wild already.

We forget that the genetic code thus preserved is only the positive imprint whose other half in the ecological ground, in the context already destroyed. Species are only "meaningful" in their environmental contexts. That's what species mean. They are what remains of life's variation when contexts shift and flow.

My friend Dr. Koepsell is concerned that we establish a proper commons in outer space. That otherwise we might extend the reach for the predations of the Huns among us against our common heritage. While I find there only emptiness, rather like those concrete habitats at some zoo, or plastic Animatronics life-like dioramas, or permadefrosted crypts for seeds and spores, all cataloged and neat.

I tend to be more focused on our Earth, although I can't help but find myself sympathetic with those who decry our loss of questing glories, like setting foot on our own moon. I do think it's a mistake to think that these kinds of ship sailings can replicate the ones which landed us in America, where a true new world got discovered. They are fantasies, rather, akin to ones of immortality and perfect joy.

Back here on earth, we cannot be abstracted from our context. Anymore than we could really live as heads alone, fed by some concocted soup, as in those nightmarish old TV ads (were they public service ads, or ads for Saab brainy sportscars???). We are the evolutionary outcome from all that came before us, surely, but also remain embedded in a matrix not just of nutrients, but of extensions to our very body of a sort not subject to our control and guidance and manipulation, which is what technology is for.

True Spaceship Earth is a dystopic vision of life uprooted and taken over for a joy ride. All joy rides are brief, or if not, end badly. We are not and never could be that in charge.

I do believe that at it's root, it is a Christian delusion that consciousness was granted, and bounds us from our literal roots, right here on beastly earth. As though we were or are that fundamentally different from our evolved-from heritage, and could persist without our ground. Dominion is a metaphor which ends with the collapse of earthly frontiers.

The quest we must make is all inward, toward bringing new life to what our founding fathers granted us, here in this actual New World, where the Commonwealth was meant to be held literally in common, and our leaders were to do our bidding and not the other way around. Questing outward is not a godlike move. It is a sociopathic manipulation of more humanistic dreams. Our fears leave sociopaths in charge.

Our fears about our own competencies. Our fear, even, that the professionals know best, and we must leave to them our basic decisions. Yes Doctor sir, I will take Lipitor if that's what you think best, so that I may live in perfect perpetual fear of my own heart's betrayal.

Our problems are political, emotional, psychological, but no longer technical. If we were to find some perfect source for free perpetual energy. Clean nuclear, say, which is no more oxymoronic than clean coal. Given our current state of enlightenment, such energy could only guarantee our quicker and more final destruction, because it would accelerate the pace at which and by which we foul our habitat, which is now the entire planet.

These problems do, however, actually have a very technical solution. It was a scant century ago that we did wake up to our implication in the physical composition of the cosmos. It was then we realized that all limits were limits of mind. The speed of light, for instance. The "force" of gravity. Time's direction. Mind is implicated. The position and momentum of matter cannot, even in principle, be determined prior to the act of measurement, which is at the most diminutive level, an act of cognition.

We continue to act as though our minds, collectively, were never implicated in the stuff out there cosmically beyond us. And so our injection into outer space is, in fact, an attempt to colonize nothing. It's an escape from what we are rather than a quest for new discovery. It's an as if conjecture that we really need not be responsible, and in contradiction of those office signs above the copy machine, that Mother will clean up after us.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mind all Googly

Sometimes you write and write, and get lost in the writing. Sometimes you fling it away into the trash bin. Sometimes into the ether. Well, OK, sometimes I write and write.

It's pretty unnerving now that Google funds my free email by googling into my very personal emails. They render up ads which can be funny, or sometimes even anticipate my thinking. Complaining the other day when I visited Chinatown up in Toronto, that all the bookstores I remembered were now all gone, Google very helpfully, in Chinese, with no English translation, offered a link where I could purchase Chinese language books in North America.

But it's also pretty unnerving how the very cosmos mocks my thoughts. How, the other day thinking about old girlfriends and new, there appeared a couple of police cars, lights flashing, between which walked one old girlfriend I hadn't seen in ages, though I did recently find out she still lives right around the corner. Glad to be adverted, she seemed abusive sometimes. I guess I seemed worse. It would have been nice to say hello.

Words are but techniques; according to McLuhan our media encompass our technologies, which are a subset of the larger category. And it may not matter so much what is said, since the medium is the message. Television violence has the same effect as television romance, since it's the mediation which counts and not what one tries to do with it.

If that's the case, and I suppose it is, then what are we doing now? Where have all our gurus gone, to guide us with this hot/cool magic printing press, which if your equipment is newer than mine, can even intrigue with videos?

Lex's law says that the number of transistors alive in the world increases in direct proportion to the amount of information out there; for convenience' sake, let's just count the words. Considering that each machine, except for mine, has millions upon millions of transistors, each changing state, except for mine, millions of times per second, I guess that must be a lot of information.

The chip fabs now just replicate what the old Gutenberg press once did. Big designs now get miniaturized, and reproduced over and over, for playing out some code. The more you print the cheaper they come, until everyone's got a copy.

We all now intertwine, like it or not. We all now interfere. My body is a machine, scaffolding all the colonizing cells which share my DNA (and some freeloaders which symbiotically go along for the ride). Or do the cells themselves just provide the scaffolding for the ambitious little genes? But, thank goodness for the sake of my feelings, my body ends right at my skin.

Our published chips now do the reading, of code which gets loaded in from elsewhere. The hardware-software direction has been reversed, and the pace of quickening quickened. They were code once too, a kind of map imposed on crystaline wilderness. This serpent eating tale truly never ends.

Words, however, can extend my reach right across time and space. I spend more time, alas, communing now with dead poets than I do with loud human beings. But they did pack the best of themselves into their public versions. How very polite of them. I only wish I could return the courtesy.

If McLuhan is right that our very first medium was clothing, and I suppose he was, and that the Thunderings of history were all punctuated by wars, the first of which was division East from West, and the second involved social competition initiated by dress. The enclosure of our private parts. Dress an early technology. Technique. Medium. It hardly matters what you wear, so long as you enclose those private parts dear Adam.

And each new medium rehearses all those previous, so that now we cavort almost fully naked, exposing ourselves on the Internet for the pure lark of it. These are our pastimes now. We might rehearse a return to the very beginning, where there was nothing at all to fight about. We might simply be acting impolitely. There is a tension between civilization and its discontents. Wars as acts of lovemaking. Orgies of destruction. Politeness but a seduction.

All of our words now seem so much at cross purposes. There is no way that the ones which make the most sense can overpower the loudest and most obnoxious, is there? Ghenghis Khan did overpower civilization once. Why won't he do it again?

Can it be enough, finally, that we have no choice this time? That once again it has proven impossible to enclose our most dangerous private parts? Newer Khans (not very punny, that) seem always to be motivated to expose them for private or nationalistic gain.

These Attilas never seem to spend as much time in prison as do the lowly lovelorn who take forbidden pictures of naked prisoners. Whose secrets were being exposed? Which ones do we wish to punish?

Our prisons now still full of seekers after synthetic happiness. While the players with the fruits of our labor still make wagers at the table where we'll never be seated, you and I. Still googling into our minds, with taps, listening devices, pronouncements about who can and should marry whom, the Fathers have grown tiresome.

Well, fuck this shit! I've written enough right here, that were you able to read, and did I but have the talent to write, you could see very clearly that there is no means to enclose our very most inner secret.

We want love. That makes none of us very different from the rest.

We will defend those we love the best, and things can get bloody when we do, but most of those would be terrorists are only confused about the very same thing, and would never hurt us one on one. And those who would, well, how many of them never felt love in the first place? And so many of those have the grace, at least, to be polite about it.

So, in commemoration of this Independence Day, having witnessed a truly wonderful if recession-brief set of fireworks down by the Buffalo River, and if McLuhan is right, and I suppose he is, then how about we punctuate this last great Thunder with a kiss? We're all messed up in one another anyhow. The sanitizing Google tries for over in China won't keep them from this kind of filth right here.

I'm really sorry I can't make this any more clear. I'm really very trying!!! I'm working very hardly. It's my patriotic duty!

Happy Independence Day, oh world of my very own invention. I enclose you with a hug.