Friday, April 3, 2020

The Shape of the American Future

My body has a plan of sorts. I know almost precisely what I'll look like tomorrow and the next day, along with a pretty good idea of what I'll look like farther down the road. Someday I won't be at all, though I will have been, for sure.

Maybe we think that the plan is written in DNA, even though ninety percent of what's contained within my sack of skin is guided-schemed-planed by foreign DNA. My body schematic would be far too complex to diagram; it is dynamic as hell. The interconnections could never be teased out from random.

What holds all this together, I wonder. How is the overall integrity negotiated among all the players? We think it's self-interest which drives evolutionary forces and then these mesh into the symbiant which is me. And I partake in the mess which is the disease overtaking the planet now. It is taking advantage of my RNA mirror plan, from what little I understand.

Am I in charge of me? On some level, sure, as I make the choices to determine at least tomorrow's shape. I could end the entire conspiracy of me with a pull of a trigger or the swallow of some pills. That much is clear. Or the virus could do it for me.

It can be rather marvelous, now that we have videos and photographs especially, to look back in time and to recognize myself, even when I was a little kid. You might not recognize me so instantly as I do, but I'm still reliably there. At this end of life, my future self is no mystery either. It's a lesser reach.

The cloudiness is similar either way in time, but there are clear endpoints at either extreme, just as there is the limit of my skin. Without my skin, a part of those Canonical Chinese six sensory arrays, I wouldn't feel a thing (Chinese Buddhism includes mind among taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell).

Yes, of course the mind is a sensory organ. It senses the future. It feels it. It makes choices. It gives me the illusion that I'm driving my own appearance among the intersecting timelines inhabiting the earth, even though most of me runs on automatic most of the time.

I am away from home. More properly, I haven't had a home for a long time now, living on the road or in borrowed spaces. I enjoy a very nice quarantine hut now, which includes all I need to avoid contact but for a bi-weekly nervous shopping trip.

I remember powerful presentiments when I arrived in my comfortable borrowed space. I didn't feel welcome. I felt that I was trapping myself off the road that I loved so much. My daughters seemed to be converging on my old Buffalo home, but there was winter in the way of heading back that way. Skiing was a lure. I have two siblings here. It still feels like family (never an entirely positive thing).

I did fly "home" for Christmas, able to stay in Mom's Canadian summer home across from Buffalo, while the border was still open. I hosted Christmas dinner with Canadian bacon, and smoked a cigar and drank bourbon by the fireplace with my future son-in-law. That feels like eons ago, and I'm still not certain that it was real.

I had presentiments that the stock market was flying too high and that I am too close to needing to withdraw those scant funds not to turn my little nest egg into cash. Blew it! Likely, so did you, if you are invested at all.

In every case, I dithered, though that may have been the right decision. Sure, on the one hand I've watched twenty percent of what I seemed to have evaporate overnight and heading downward. Sure, I wish I were back in Buffalo instead of across the continent so that I could shelter in place more physically near to my daughters (and still be able only to FaceTime them).

I have no-place even short term to stay in Buffalo now that the border's closed, and the market for real estate is sewn shut along with everything else. What's even the difference if I didn't leave when I could and felt like it, even through the weather-terrorized winter.

It's not the time to move. Against all my presentiments, I did nothing, and that may have been my very best non-choice. Surely, I would have burned through many more funds just to churn in a different place. I'd be in much more dire straits. I wouldn't have been a help to anyone.

I'm doing my part diligently not to share in the hosting of the novel coronavirus. So is everyone I know, although diligence here relates to how little you make an exception of yourself, which is a very imperfect measuring stick. I have vowed not to lay any blame when and if I or anyone I love gets infected.

You know, now, it seems as though giving all that money to laid off employees was an imperfect response. Giving money to their employers to keep them employed starts to look better, in retrospect. We've almost incentivized the laying off as the responsible thing to do. Our connections to one another were already frayed, and our connections to any workplace are the most frayed of all.

Still our better angels could guide us to enforce the payrolls based on some intelligence about ability to pay, in the same way that we will be enforcing the quarantines. Your only choice is to protect your own for the sake of the whole. So far we're all still jockeying for position and a shared sense of who "we" are. The "we" feels like it's receding.

Those great reserves of evaporated money have now all been converted to cash by fiat, and still there will be hoarders. There will be people trying to protect their corner and cover their ass with toilet paper. Some Chinese savants are wondering how to mask spread by farts. It's a reasonable concern.

It seems odd that in our genome editing, global capital flowing, digitally interconnected world we can't seem to get it together any better than we did in 1918. The fixes are not technical, I guess. On any level greater than the individual, we are crazed, seemingly cracked as never before.

But, COVID 19 is also part of earth's plan. We are the organism which is being bleached out, perhaps to save the planet. It's working in the short term, by system collapse so far if not yet by death. We don't know what things will look like if we ever come out some other side.

Far too many people actually do believe that they can make the right decisions, and even make them for other people. At a time of cartoon leadership all over the planet, we still yearn for a chief decider we can believe in. But who now, apart from sociopathic individuals, would want to be that person? One for each nation, under God? One for each city, each county, each state? Will the real leaders please come forward! Will we even know how to give them a chance when they do?

We can't seem to get it together even to the extent we did in the World Wars of the century past. We don't know what it is we want anymore. We know what we want to get out of, but not where we want to get to.

We're not sure we'll recognize ourselves in what we seem destined to become, just as looking back, those of us with clear eyes can see a nightmare unfolding unto the Now. And it seemed to be getting better, Steven Pinker, it really did.

You know, our built worlds are so ugly. Orderly suburbs support no roots. Those suburban tracts are interchangeable spaces yearning for the natural disorder of retro New England aspirations. Those spaces we year for look really messy and random from the air, in perfect inverse relation to how they look when lived in. We can't seem to escape our roots, even when we live those roots in caricature.

Our cosmopolitan centers all start to look alike, designed by Ayn Rand weirdos with a megalomania complex. In China, the skyscrapers all look like a pock-marked Liberace Libertarianism channeling Louis Quinze post-modernism peppered with imported James Bond chic. WTF, is that really our future on the planet?

Do we even know who we can hug? Will we ever? Again?

What future are we going to embrace?

Does the future even talk to us anymore? Did it ever? The fractal patterns of our blooming skin are all we know for sure, once so smooth and soft. Corrupted now by donalds and borises and jong uns and nicolases and in general people hung up on cartoonish Elvis and now Bart Simpson hair, or at least on their hair in one form or another. What is up with that?

This is what it takes now? Jinping has the world's most iconic blackened hair, emulated with red ties and what? All over China? At least in the party? Western suits all over the place. It's at least as bizarre as our domestic architecture, isn't it? Vlad has no more hair than I do and his socially deserted country seems relatively clean. What's up with that? We know he styles himself James Bond, R.I.P. old man.

Isn't America with our executive lounger cars which can be lived in and our detached houses and large lawns and long lonely highways just practically designed for quarantine? And yet we quaranteeners seem to be getting it worse than anyone now. Our entire continent is socially distant, isn't it? In at least the sense that is now meant.

Can't we please just stay apart, people? So many of us "own" gorgeous wombs with TV views all over the place. This shouldn't be that hard. What happens when we actually do run through the entire backlog of streaming films? What happens when they start to look quaint for the world they projected?

We need to see a future, hear a future, taste a future and imagine a future that doesn't get us back to this place.

We have no read on our future at the moment. We have only noise. We yearn only for childhood on a Saturday morning when Mom and Dad were still in bed. The only time we were allowed to watch cartoons in my household.

When I was a child we lived on a cliff above the soon-to-die Lake Erie. I SCUBA dove beneath it's fractal surface into the foetid subliminal. The unconscious of the planet. How and why could I feel comfort that way, I'd like to know. A different kind of womb with a view, I suppose, where I could hear myself breathe and take the breathing over consciously to stretch the time out. There were shipwrecks to attract me. Carapaces of death and destruction. Junkyards out of sight. Possible treasure.

Later on, it was an old retro wooden sailboat, and I improbably stayed alive through many a storm. Fast motorcycles, good mechanical skills, retro Harley with technology from the time of the great flu pandemic that I could fix at sea. I was always at sea. Still am. I never did know what to do. Still don't. Do you? Do we even have a clue about survival?

It's far too late for a plan. That's because there are simply too many plans in competition. The trouble is leadership. The trouble is that we allowed our political structures to be broken because, like a teenager, we believed too much in our future. Now we can't seem to get the right teams in place in the right places and vest them with the right authority.

I've never had even the rudiments of a plan in my life. Money was never a proper goad, nor was patriotic service. Vietnam wrecked many things for me. I have been curious. I like to make and fix things, but I really don't like to do anything from a plan. My sailboat started from a wreck, because it surely could never have started from a wad of money. I put it back together with found materials and with partners and I did love it and sail it and live aboard for a while.

I like to fix things that way. The thrill I get when the fix works - often better than the proper fix - is far beyond whatever pleasure I might have had in gazing at a perfect trophy yacht, or wife, or house, or car.

I've always felt that there are two sorts of builders - those who work to realize the detailed plans of some architect, and those who have internalized the process and know how to improve and modify it according to need. There are precious few boat builders who work that way anymore, and it's likely illegal to build even private houses like that anymore.

But that will be the way we have to build our new world. We'll have to build our structures from the grassroots up. We'll have to sew our own masks, and improvise our own respirators, and create new social and healthcare patterns that include our entire communities; our new "we."

And then we'll have to rebuild our political institutions so that the better angels of our leadership are the ones in charge. This will not be easy. It may entail privations as hard as those Lewis and Clark made on their way to my temporary home. But there will be wonders along the way. There will be true glory in the end.

We will build our nation anew because it's worth it. It is already clear that China will be the new world power. I love China and I love all the Chinese I've ever met. But I truly love this fragile ship of state for all its shortcomings. I truly do. I can still sense the glint in our forefathers' eyes. It's about time for some mothering.

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