Friday, January 14, 2011

Television Everywhere

There are so many homeless in LA. As with the depth of snow when I was a little person, how am I to know how much of this is life as normal in the sunnier climes, and how much is the impact of our economic meltdown. They say I came of age during a mini Ice Age, and so the snow was likely really deeper then.

Some wheel around with impressive quantities of stuff. I wonder what's bundled up within the third-world-wrap improvised baggage. I wonder if it would be very easy to distinguish mental illness from hard luck, or if the distinction gets lost by the time a person is used to living on the street. By the time one gets to know the purple-shirted downtown security marshals by name.

I am barely holding my stuff together. Some's here in California, and some's in Buffalo. Some is among the contacts I keep going, grateful for the existence again of correspondence, of the sort I used to write before the days of email. There was that awful time when no-one was writing anymore, and before you could be very sure that everyone had email. Thank God that desert is in my past.

I've reconnected with people I haven't seen for years, thanks to Facebook, or thanks to profiles on various Internet sites. My world feels manageable again, as though I never did leave so much behind. My daughters will visit me in my new place, and I will settle my mind.

This self I am, nestled among stuff and correspondence. This self whose eternal existence I don't quite believe.

Then what is consciousness? From where does this conviction come that I am me and here and now and concerned about my persistence at least for a while longer?

My reflexes and behaviors are not so different from the dog I now befriend. We have - dogs and mankind - co-evolved over that same time span which created humanity floating atop of so much meat. We conspire with language to create something more than just a species of animal embedded in the holograph of life's matrix. Even our personal consciousness, that self we hold onto so closely, is conspiracy's merest end.

There was once so much talk of finding oneself, of being true to oneself, of the possibility to lose oneself sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the ill of it. Perhaps we've grown to realize that this fetishised self never did exist, and that the nirvana satori states which ancient exotic practice once promised us exist only at a metaphorical remove from real. Where our own true singular God resides.

Now we know there are no limits to what an individual will aggrandize to himself and for himself alone. In stunning competition with those grandiose rulers from the days of our inception as humanity, the Chin Shih-huang dis (Emperors) or however the hell you prefer to spell it (秦始皇)from back when the rest of us behaved ourselves as worker bees, individuated in terracotta,  with faces enough to mimic proper names.

Was he a psychopath, then, that despotic unifier of what China still claims for it's persistent identity? If you lose yourself in drink or beneath the kind of psychosis that either sends you to, or which develops as a result of, living on the street, are you then in that same remove from self-ness that those with the power of life, death, and personal pleasure from the backs of lowlier selves once had?

So many of those we admire now have that capacity to live as kings or princes or emperors. They do good works and give their money to programs for people in need. They would keep psychotic shooters away from crowds if they could, and, like the autocrats of old, they strive to be responsible and to resist the temptations to live as though there were nothing else in the cosmos but their personal self, and perhaps some comely other for a while.

They show up on TV.

Not too long ago, back when families would eat together, we would also sit together to watch network TV. These were somewhat communal moments, not too far removed from attending a live show or a concert. Television has since become fragmented to the point where it would be hard to understand how people know what they like to watch, and since the gradations are so fine, it seems unlikely that even family groupings might like to watch the same shows.

Our small screens have grown now, and they show things ranging from games to avatars moving in synch with our gestures to Internet redirected amateur-generated YouTubes to the movies we still like to watch in a group when they aren't too lurid.

People still gather up the news on television screens, although this also blends with computer screens, and it's almost impossible now to distinguish responsible news reporting from a packaged and hyped presentation calibrated to capture attention. And much of this descends into a strange kind of semi-hypnotic telling to folks who are frustrated by their own difficulty making sense of the world around them, things which will cause them to be assured that they are right in their lazy and unschooled assumptions about how things must be.

Even those of us who are demonstrably enlightened, at least by virtue of our schooling and our ability to read and to agree with peer-reviewed thinking from among the very best prepared among us, cannot seem to help but to live as though things which we know to be true aren't true.

We know that global warming is real. We know that temperatures in Antarctica are rising at a terrifying rate. We know in our very bones that the human species cannot keep on the way it is, and yet we keep on as though it really can and will. As though a real and tangible God will descend to rescue us. As though we can achieve technologic and satori of a sort which won't alienate us from that self we never want to leave, though we might wish to invent a new one.

This all generates a kind of extreme cognitive dissonance. We live in a perpetual state of waiting for the next shoe to drop. We wait for the final war of the worlds to erupt, and there might be a tiny part of each of us which would feel relief when it does. But there's absolutely nothing any of us can do to head it off.

We listen to the reasonable people up on TV who wag their heads because they also can't get any action even though they have voices that we don't. People carry on as though there's nothing to be done because there's nothing they can do themselves and we're scared about changing what's worked in the past. Indeed, as with the US Constitution, we valorize those things to the point almost of making them sacred. We need something to hold onto. We need something to behave as if forever.

Meanwhile, as we all stare at screens ranging in size from pocket-sized and hand held to wall-sized and almost theatrical, we keep in touch with one another and with the world, and the one thing that we must suppose is that there's something indelibly me about me and that can't change until something kills me. Even then some of us think that there's a way to carry on in the great beyond, whatever that could possibly mean.

Sometimes we worry about whether we have inherited DNA which is just a little bit off. That secret code, still inscrutable even to the one who owns it, which represents our right to exist according only to natural law, and as part of an environment from which we now diverge relentlessly and at an accelerated pace.

Will we be tripped up earlier than some of our cohort, perhaps because the environment has been shifted too far too fast? Or is it just that we may have outlived the span for which the code was optimized? Or are we just simply deserving, according to that natural law, to go away and good riddance. To what extent would you re-invent yourself if you could? How far would you transform from the one those who love you love?

I think we stare at screens for the same sort of fix. We want to know if we are sound in our thinking, in our environment, and we want to check ourselves out according to the widest possible sweep of what's out there.

It seems clear enough that warm homes, shelter from the weather, flush toilets and other such innovations are to be desired universally. We even want those around us to share the amenities, since otherwise we all might be drowning in shit and filth from those who live like animals. There is no-one short of Jesus who loves a smelly homeless person. A dog does better. And yet we must distance ourselves from the shooters and the thieves, and why not the shouters and the haters too?

Sometimes we just want to be entertained or amused, which must stimulate a process internal to our brains which can also be stimulated just by ingesting certain substances. Drugs. We used to entertain each other face to face. We used to watch entertainers live. Now they would look amateurish. We have become used to the best. Projections on a screen at ever heightened fidelity.

Or are the ones we watch the best? We watch them because their genes expressed themselves in bodily forms of exceeding beauty. Comic genius, maybe, or glibness with tongue. We watch them because their parents imbued them with a work ethic which made them climb and climb until they were at the very top, while the rest of us continued to play the lottery of when will someone notice me.

I don't wish for someone better than the ones I  love. I don't dream of perfect skin and form and intelligence. There is something better than that, and it's right here before me now. And still I am intrigued by all the new ways I can get "content" on my various screens. Quite soon now, it will all be mediated by the ubiquitous trade in packets of diminutive data. A kind of genetics of communication, which will render obsolete all investments in satellite infrastructure, or cable plant, or even fiber optics except for the backbones. Even these might get subsumed in some vibratory pulsation through the ether.

We will all swim in that same electromagnetic vibrant soup beyond the sensory capacity of mere organism to detect. Perhaps the screen will turn into a pair of cheap 3D glasses, and we can tune in and out from reality, sight and sound, depending on where we want to be. We can expand its virtual size to all-encompass the drear reality round about us. We can inhabit filmic dystopias and they can become real and real is good.

Except that when the electromagnetic resonance drops, when the generators hiccup, we all fall down, we all fall down and then what of that vaunted selfness which was to be so elaborated? What of that then?

Yes, and it's true that we already condition reality at that remove from our animal selves. We have already touched the quantum fringes, and life on the edge is all that there ever has been. Our reality is already shared. But that we can still, for a moment longer, chose to shut it out by virtue of those historically extravagant riches that you and I, demonstrably by our ability to read and write across the ether, share.

This is the moment then, when all collapses and we face a collective future. Or not. As always.

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