Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rallying for Sanity

As you may know, I've just driven across the country (again!). It's a fairly nutty thing to do, but I had more than a plane trip's worth of stuff I wanted to bring, and I'm not in a position to buy or rent another car. Plus, I rather enjoy the nearly hands-on sense of the vastness of this continent. Although four or five days of driving might be said to indicate still more how much we've shrunk.

There's plenty of time to let your mind wander driving more than a work-day's worth of highway every day. Sometimes you can kid yourself into thinking that you are thinking brilliant thoughts. By the end of the day you realize that driving is hard work, and there's no energy left to digest those thoughts.

I'm  more rested now.I feel the need to take a little time off from my real-world job hunting at the other end of my drive. I even sense some urgency to do this before tomorrow's rally on the Washington Mall. (Whoops! Too late.)

I'm not super-excited about this event, mainly because it's frustrating that the only thing left for the anti-nukes and anti-war crowd is a celebration of irony. Although to me, this is more a collective shout out about how come the only really punchy articulations of rage against the (political) machine can be made via a medium rather more like a political cartoon than like an essay.

I think we really don't know what it is we believe in with any passion worth fighting about, nor certainly worth dying for. We used to be almost willing to die for not dying in Viet Nam, and that was already after we were actually willing to die for civil rights. By the time of the nukes, we were willing to get pretty sure about needing to end their threat, but humor had already started to replace anger as we marched, Jericho-style, around the Pentagon. By now we're starting to think that nukes aren't even such a bad idea in the face of global warming.

It's a confusing time to want to be politically involved. The real worry is not so much that the crazies will take over as that everyone else will stay home. So, in the event, it was nice to see such a large crowd gathered, and John Stewart's earnest finish came as close at we might ever get to articulating what it is we need.

News-media attention grabbing dictates a narrative style which makes you really need to know stuff. You simply can't not pay attention. And now, in almost precisely the same way that we couldn't collectively turn away from SlumDog, that same director brings us a real-life horror story which makes even hardened news-reporters swoon. It's still the cheesy stuff which gets our attention.

Maybe it's because I'm on the West Coast now, but I've just experienced the my first packed movie house in decades, to watch a very well produced Swedish film, whose draw seems to descend from the blockbuster status of the books on which it's based. Strange reversals.

Our attention really is cartoonish. Despite the reasonableness of each of us, almost all of whom would never yell in someone's face no matter how powerful our disagreements, we mostly choose to spend our time - can you call this an investment? - on Crash-style hyper-constructed and and therefore by-definition artificial renderings of reality.

But even our reality is hyper-constructed. We consume a cornucopia whose inputs are being reduced as rapidly and radically as species are being wiped out. The genetic diversity and variety in our foodstuffs is being systematically simplified by well-meaning greeners of our planet who concoct massively profitable ways to coax ever more calories out of an acre of land. Inputs and outputs are being essentialized beyond viability.

Just as happened with antibiotics and surgery and sanitation and inoculations and all the triumphs of Western science, this process has enabled us to overrun our planet. To shrink it down to where I can cross it in five days without breaking too much sweat, or fly by it without any sweat at all. This could yet be a good thing.

I did watch the entire rally to restore sanity and/or fear on the Washington Mall. With or without reason, my mind pairs the event with the film Nashville. These are capstone media observations about media events about media. The danger is that we will never escape from our ironic remove from ourselves to inhabit our actual selves as we actually are. The danger is that we will never depart from politics as usual, that we will always be a SlumDog parody of who in the heck we think we are.

I watched Man on Wire recently, which is more than enough to prevent my wanting to watch 127 hours. I watched an actual tight-rope walker span Buffalo's twin towers, and that never did bother me. But the filmed documentary-style recounting of the actual walking across a rope stretched between the actual spans of the actual twin towers really messed with me.

I don't think I could stand the hyper-reality of a man needing to chop off his hand to escape the predicament into which he's accidentally fallen in a bid to challenge the fates. It would remind me too much of our human predicament, out on a ledge successfully beyond our ability to recover.

As you can see, the problem for me writing is that I seem not to know how to choose or why among the various things which impinge on my life. I seem to have no editorial agenda, which is why, of course, I blog instead of compose. I am looking to get out of the way of my mind. I know that everything important which ever happens to me or to anybody is something which surfaces from beyond those realms which we can and do and even must control.

My brain takes in and catalogs so very much more than I can be consciously aware of. The more I attempt to control that flow - especially as I grow older and what gets called my re-call ability grows ever more feeble - the more I am aware of the futility of that project. The important books I've read, the important people in my life, the important experiences which define me, the very love that I feel for others whose lives impinge on mine - these are all crossings which I could not and cannot control.

Everyone knows, or should know, that the distinction between fate and the subconscious is at the very best a formal distinction without testable content. Ultimately, one's own mind is as remote from oneself as are those arcane forces of the cosmos which arrange for this person to the be the one you fall in love with, or that accident to befall you at that particular time. Even in principle, not within the purview of conscious willing.

And in that sense the mind is one with its surroundings. To the extent that your perceptual apparatus is functioning, and maybe even when it isn't. Subconsciously, your brain first makes a shape and performs a culling before your mind can get a grip.

Learning then is like cultivation of the otherwise wild inlands of your brain. By words by cultural continuities by all sorts of human in-forming, we transform our brain's potential into something vaguely human, and it would not could not ever take place without some taming of the wild thoughts which would be there left alone.

Fundamentally, this process is narration. I - me, myself - am nothing if not a narrative shaped from the myriad possible narratives which flow through me. This narrative that is me is as much formative of this illusion I have of myself, as I am formative of it. My only human choice is about what I pay attention to among the flow. What I attend to. And to the extent that I allow mediated incursions to pre-condition what it is that I choose from, then I descend to something less than human. I become an ironic simulation of anything remotely possibly human.

That's what I take away, finally, from this rally to restore sanity. I place extravagant hope in mankind's collective ability to move beyond purely Western forms of command and control. I know that we are all made sick of women shouting at their men to man up. I know we're tired of flag-waving which leads to war.

I know that we don't want the insides of our minds to be as essentialized as the cartoonish reality our economic arrangements now increasingly render up for us. We don't all want to be cliches. Do we? Do we want to be cartoons of reality, Disney-like and without flaw?

If we continue to fail so miserably at making the stuff of our collective narrative more human and less machine-like (I love you too R2D2!!) then our passing will have been an event which nobody noticed. Like the brain damage I may have suffered from that most recent obstruction which passed through my brain, how would I know? How will we know? I'm still the guy ridings shotgun on myself. We still think that we're allive. We insist on it. But methinks we do protest too loudly.

I will not be a cartoon version of myself. And yet that is all that you can or will see of me. My presentations and re-presentations and smoothings out and uniform coloring. Ironic, isn't it? What a mess!


Anonymous said...

Journey man- Have you read Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon?

Lex said...

I have indeed read Blue Highways, and enjoyed it immensely.

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