Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An Appreciation of Four Futures; Life After Capitalism, by Peter Frase

I am the beneficiary of multiple grants this morning: First, by painful lack of sleep I am granted early morning time apart from work. Next, despite my cruel refusal to participate in gift exchanges, I was granted a physical copy of this book, which, subgrant, is compact enough to have read in a single sleepless morning (though that is likely longer than your workday, and the book still not compact enough to have with me on the road).

Watching the near-full moon descend toward morning, I am of course sadly reminded of lost loves. Sadder still, I watched two truckers yesterday parked in wait with motor running despite ordinances against it, since it was bitterly cold, but none of that is what made me sad. It was sad to see the two truckers each staring at their smartphones, passing idling time, not apparently knowing one another very well.

Now I am reminded of my days delivering beer-kegs with Mitch. Even without unions, there were prudential safety rules stipulating two in a truck for kegs, and even still I lost a tooth to the game. Mitch and I would invent ribald operas and sing them at the top of our lungs between deposits, at each of which we would down a generous draft, starting even before opening time at 7 AM sometimes, where former steel workers in still only recently shuttered Lackawanna plants would robotically arrive as ghosts of shift's end.  Then there were practice dances at the strip club, where sometimes lunch would be granted as well. Ah, those were the days. Some audience is better than none, though our uniforms were second-hand and tattered, keg drivers the lowest of the low.

Saddened then when I saw Mitch down the road from the house I would inhabit with my new bride and the new job teaching Chinese already posted from the News in the bars where we delivered. I'd betrayed the closest human contact I've ever made. Mitch was in uniform, having learned to repair the still newish ATMs, and I was happy for him in a way. But our paths diverged, and I do still retain my close friendship with our shared boss, owner of the beer distrubutorship, not really my friend in that job, temporarily, but he was my first in infancy, and you know loyalty runs pretty deep, discursively.

I enter books combatively it seems, a chip on Buffalo shoulders lest I prove myself more an idiot than I already know myself to be. I would make love, but then I have never learned the pleasures of sucking up to Peters, so it must be battle on, then. Crossing swords. I hate myself for it. Habit.

I never did have the robotic skill and precision of the scholar, the academic, and now I slide hopelessly toward early senility, likely helped along by sleep habits, regretting mildly that I have only been an academic hanger-on, and that just barely.  I don't remember authors well, who wrote what, who I have read, even which stories did once thrill me. I do remember basic things, like predilection for the taste of distaff, and not the stalk. It seems there is no thing I can do about that, although truth be told I never bothered to try much. I was always glad to be liked.

I face a day of chaotic labor, and I can only fall behind. But still I refuse to trespass on my own time in that way (I trespass in plenty of other ways, and no need to mention them all here since they involve the shame of indolence and idle entertainments and smartphone indulgences, and I would like to retain some small semblance of pride this particular morning). I have students to admit at last minute, curricular revisions to log at last minute, and I only a contract worker, without skin in the game anymore, but due diligence is all I know and so I delimit myself artificially. It must be a class thing.

Only 16650 or so characters left and little enough time before I must shower. Note to self, you will be with College President later today, so dress appropriately. Mostly my thoughts are occupied with fitting out my lifeboat, my escape capsule, my strategy to stay alive where renting space anywhere I would care to live will soon exceed the income I might care to make. Sure it is a choice. Occupying the asphalt is mostly untaxed. An adventure. Star Trek for the masses.

I have been the head of institutions, and it has felt sometimes worse than prison. I have enjoyed adulation as a high priest of mysterious network technologies, but it mostly served to accustom me to crawling under desks, and partially because I was always privy to the secrets of those in charge, to internalize a kind of cringing subservience. I did work for the Man, for the Catholic Church, whose secrets finally I did flee. No, not those secrets, I'm only talking about dispositions with money and I thought I wanted to help the poor by cataloging them. Silly me. I would still be doing it but for the cloud, infernal progress. It has destroyed all accountability, all chains of ownership, damnation. I understand the pleasures of scratching itches which feel like torture, poor Richard. There is no truth anymore.

So this is a helpful book. Of course I want to destroy the fellow for the privilege of New York City and the fine institution there which may yet grant his Ph.D. before Trumpism inevitably shutters its irrelevance for being underpriced. The book was published just on the cusp, and who knows what torments its author suffers now, or might it be optimism that all the questions have been called?

Cornel West is the only good read on Obama. Just sayin' And I poured out my overly optimistic soul for him, and my loss was permanent, his but a graying though I was grateful for a human in the Whitehouse.

There is not guidance in this book. Only cautions. Mild reminders that we have choices to make, which I take as an order, yes sir, never to click on bait even though it seems to agree with me. Never to trust the trivial nostrums of so-called democracy, where most voters can't even devote as much honor as I muster for the warlike act of understanding. There is hardly any pleasure in it anymore, and it wasn't for class solidarity that I did not accept the free ski pass on offer by the College. It simply hurts too much. I'm the wrong class anyhow, although social capital combined with rugged individualism is no comfort at all. Inwardly, I'm quite panicked.

It was the children of the one percent who took a pass on education, mistaking it for a credential on their individualistic quest for power. There is panic in their eyes now, as they occupy the Big House, knowing that even some of their own have turned against them, in the simple name of love, in the name of simple love, whose wages are enslavement, robotic abstinence from creativity of the sort which might be appreciated, because it feels that there is so little time left.

And so I must leave even this book behind as I embark on the road to do battle against smart weaponry deployed by everyone else who can therefore be safer than me. Some behind S.W.A.T. black tanks and Humvees repatriated from Iraq to use against our own sand-whatchamacallits. Some who would relinquish the pleasure of control to robots, and of responsibility. I hope I am proof against trivial citations. I cannot survive restrictions too close, and nearly 14,000 characters to spare.

There is not a moment left to lose, thank you very much.

But before we start, let me describe a fifth future, one off the quadrant, outside the box so preferred by earth-bound academics of the masculinist variety. I'm looking for a circular array of perhaps seven, but toward the fifth, let's imagine Walter and McKenzie, say, for the sake of a kind of symmetry, two Marxist technologists, the unlikeliest species on the planet. Let's imagine them in a bar, discussing the evidence that pretty much 99 44/100 % of man's behavior can be reduced to neat models provided by Big Data Analytics, and that most of that is accounted for by the greed factor, measurable by responsiveness to money, and the sex factor, which is just an animal model on steroids. Quite predictable in the aggregate.

So here's the setup: Walter: What about the people off the grid, how can we model their behavior. McKenzie: well they just don't count. Walter: yeah but what if they always do it for love, what if the ratio of love to the stuff we can control is just way off the charts once you're off the grid, what then?

Here's the punchline: Love is the answer. Get it? Oh, it's not meant to be funny. Sorry. Well, it kinda is, since, you know, politics ain't exactly working to resolve the lowest common denominator to the top. Bam!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

On Memory

Like many of us, perhaps, I remember near-panicked fears of ending up like Christopher Reeves, a mind without a body, the claustrophobia of being stuck inside with sight-sound sensory feeds and no way to get them out, no way to end it, no way to convey what it feels like from the inside.

How many of us have the force of mind of Stephen Hawking, the force of spirit of biplane wingwalkers, of fuck-it-all singers, making book on what the rest of us won't do? Not me, that's for sure.

I'm caught in that reverse chicken-egg question where I don't know if it was my giving-fucking-up which has caused the arthritic-feeling constriction in a painful sleepless body or the pain which caused the giving up. I don't have a clue if it's physical or psychic. None.

So tantalized across my life with near-term opportunities to network connections only I can make, except that my reach so reliably out-spans my grasp. What is this if not that paralysis we all fear so much as children. And so, what? We recess further?

Politicians cannot be trusted and so the best that we can come up with is someone so utterly transparent that he can be trusted without fail to care only for his own mug? This is that eventuality I feared most as I lent my admittedly tentative voice to protest marches, to anti-nuke, to stop the hate the global warming, while Al Gore leaves his wife and fattens up for the killing he must make on our downfall.

China now speaks of the US as a shooting star, dominant for a moment up against their five-thousand years of continuity. As though they really can lay claim to that legacy. They own a cartoon version, just as we have out-Trudeaued our own, Gary or Justin, take your pick. This hurts.

My Mom is the happiest she's been in her life, I think. Sure as the prototype of Narcissist Mom (not the same as what we elected) she frets over her aging appearance, her sudden paunch, her strangely bobbed new hair (at least she won't let it turn blue). But from her constricting entanglement with her children she has at last been loosed. She has no memory of that rapist narcissistic former son-in-law, and she's happy in her certainty that I finally do have that wished-for life of  professor of Chinese. As if!

As a nation too, we enter into early senility, and the question is why we all do so collectively recess? Are we that afraid of the truth of our other side, that quest for empire, that ugly self which has always presented ourselves to the world as Trump now does to us internally?

We are not like an old forgetter, we are more like that toddler meme me me me which lords inside the Donald. We never developed a memory to forget. We never even tried to know ourselves. We cannot be bothered to open a book. We only know our wants, and so this week (or was it last?) at CES we still put forward technological happy faces in place of any soul at all. Toying with tech titans for president, as though Bezos-grade reach for pennies on each dollar qualifies cleverness for sagacity.

To my read, Marx still provides the greatest explanatory clarity to what is going on. That doesn't make me any kind of Marxist since, in practice, any and all sorts of dialectical materialism leaves spirit out, and reduces the human to that which can be modelled by marketing algorithms. Big Data. Fake News. Same fucking thing.

It can be fun some times to just say "fuck you" in place of "thank you," and put a British accent on it. For the life of me - and obviously I'm a Netflix fan since they seem to have no governor and even publish Ollie Stone - I don't get the love lost on the Crown, on old Imperialist Winston Churchill, on icons from any past we can be bothered to remember. Fuck you very much. I do so love each time we get together.

My own largest and most fatal flaw is that I never would just go for the beauty who might have wanted me. It ended badly once in marriage, and neither of us seem disposed to try it ever again. Reticence or shyness or simple tendencies to see the consequences before embarking on a path whose shorthand might as well be "bad idea." Bad impulse, and even Marx seems to define consciousness by placing initiation inside the mind of humans. So much for his repudiation of idealism.

In my own happy face memory there was a God and initiation started there. Not a known, but rather a felt God, that impulse toward love which is the only simultaneity in an otherwise drear cosmos, whose fractal interest holds no candle to the people I have known. Traces on pages mostly, but there's the rub.

How indeed shall we learn to put forth the best of us, while keeping still our memory? How to smile face-forward without erasing all that we once did know? Damned if I know, but it does seem worth a try.

Otherwise, we are but a shooting star, soundless fury, hurtling through someone else's night.