Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Resolving My Internal Divide

I know I just said that I don't want my blogging to be about me. But I have had some time to do some introspection and I feel obligated to say that I look a lot like the country. Meaning that I am very conflicted internally. 

For instance, as a participant in the economy, I feel often compelled by the prices and the variety that I find on Amazon. I don't often travel to a local store beyond the daily fare. And when I do, it's hard to find the helpful people I need to make the trip satisfying.

Sure, there's a range. Ace Hardware, which is a national chain, seems reliably to have someone happy and eager to answer my questions. Home Depot far less so. On Amazon, I have to do still more work on my own, and yet I buy stuff there. The work I do online doesn't match up to the driving and calling (can one even do that anymore?) and searching in confusing aisles where I often miss what is right in front of my face.

I use Google as well, somewhat hating myself for doing so. But there is a certain kind of convenience in return for their surveillance of and now apparent ownership of my purchasing decisions. Just like at least half the country is still having a hard time knowing who to trust, I have a hard time knowing if I've gotten to the bottom of what would be the "right" choice for my purchase. 

Did Google just wear me down? Of course, I don't mean Google, I mean the ads they throw in front of me, in ways obvious and devious. 

Quitting Facebook has been easier, since I've never been prone to performative emotion. OK, so I do peek now and then, but I haven't 'liked' anything in perhaps forever. 

This all may define my limit for consumption. I may be a less eager consumer than you are, but it would be virtually impossible not to be a consumer at all in this economy. 

I have taken an Uber ride now and then, but am glad that I don't really need to now. For me, that's the same kind of glad when I don't cross the path of a panhandler. I just don't need or want the extra angst. 

I'm precisely as divided as California, which voted to allow the continued exploitation of gig workers. Is that a celebration of the technology which is such a large part of the California economy? Or is it a recognition that the people like the economy and convenience of not having to own a car affordably?

In some sense, I am also feeling like the CEO of some big business who feels that they don't have a choice but to remove all jobs to China. Or to Vietnam. The choice seems to be going out of business, and so the fabric of the local community would be frayed in any case.

Nevermind wondering how we mend our divides nationally, what if we internalize Red State/Blue State in our singular person? 

Could there be hope in that? 

Don't get me wrong, I do think Google is evil, and for that matter that most digital technology is evil. That doesn't mean I don't like it. I think drugs are evil too - enough so that I don't care to find out how much I might like them. I have a hard enough time with alcohol, and that's been around since approximately the beginning.

I know that I would resent being condescended to. I can almost get why Trump supporters appreciate him when they talk about how he somehow talks the way they do. Though for me, his is the same kind of performative reality I see in and on Facebook, and surely what gets broadcast on TV.

The wonky reporters on the mainstream media, groomed for good looks like they all are, seem far more genuine than the performers on Fox. But then I surely belong to the intellectual elite, so I'm not really a good judge. Anyhow, Fox i way mainstream. That's what's so scary.

I just simply want to know how to heal my internal divide. I honestly don't know why becoming vegetarian, moving off the grid, or liberating my internal Rainbow Person would feel like a cop out to me. I feel that deeply invested in life as we're living it on the planet, and not at all willing to see it all go to hell.

So the question becomes how do we resist what feels so inevitable. How could I even possibly love Google, Amazon, or god forbid, even Facebook? I'm not sure I can, honestly. I'm more certain than ever that I would welcome judicious regulation of giga tech. I just think anything that big and powerful explodes the inherent contradictions embodied by our American brand of rampant free-market capitalism.

For sure we need a market economy, just not one so religiously capitalistic. 

When big tech came along it was addressing one kind of mistrust. The mistrust that we were paying the right price when the various middle-people took such a big cut. So travel agents, local lumber stores, department stores and so forth were all put out of business on the premise that we could be our own middleman.

What a flim-flam that turned out to be! Big tech has become nothing much different from the penny shaving that savvy computer operators did when banking first went all Fortran. That, however was relatively easier to fix. The crime was blatant. Now we are all implicated, each and every one of us. 

It is my actual and genuine belief that if we were only to learn to trust one another we could carry on famously. Yes, 'all we need is love,' as the refrain goes. But wanting something doesn't make it so and so we would seem to need something more  

It is hardly insignificant that "science" isn't even trusted anymore. I really don't think that's because of the idiocy of those who don't trust it. More likely it's because they're smart enough - those idiots! - to see right through what gets called out as science as still more soap opera on TV. Scientists sell out as fast as anybody else. Let's start with advertising more generally if we want to reestablish trust. 

My Dad, an attorney, was heartbroken when lawyers started to advertise on TV. By the time that medicine was advertised I guess we'd all been worn to a nubbin, and forgot why we once cared so much.

Maybe we should start with the lowest hanging fruit; all those click-to-agree illegalities. I wonder why nobody has tested them. I guess because you always feel as though you're getting something for nothing, Even when you're paying lots of good money to Microsoft just to rent their software. The perpetual upgrades are what's free. 

But isn't a lot of trust lost right there? Shouldn't we know precisely how money is being made off our behaviors? Sure, I know, China doesn't abide by copyright, and so Microsoft really had no choice but to move to a subscription model. Sound familiar? Shipping jobs off to China, capturing the China market. 

Google got some cred when it refused to do search in China under China's terms. Now they couldn't make any claim for decency with a straight face. Or if their face were straight, that would be all the proof we need that the tiger's changed its stripes.

The terms for trust have been bought off. Nothing about Biden's election changes that. There's so much work left to do. But I'm reasonably convinced lots of that work is stuff we would actually agree on. 

I'm certain we're not about to end fracking soon, but at least we could know what the actual dangers are. Of course that would mean overturning Dick Cheney's legal cloaking of Halliburton's secret recipe which he got written into law. 

The loss of public funding for scientific research is not all bad. After all, most of it was the military industrial complex slush fund descended from the cold war. Now the universities are being bought off in much more insidious and dangerous ways. Back when I was studying comparative education, we called it the transformation to the "service university."

Well, "motivated" research isn't science. And the current high-tech improvements to our lives don't always look like improvements. Not with the socio-economic scales so unconscionably out of whack. 

We don't need to turn back the clock and go all primitive, but we do at least need an economy and a society where everyone can be fully employed without selling out their soul to the company line. Rewards for honesty and decency would be nice, in place of so many rewards for the bottom line. 

There are signs that industry is moving in the right direction now that integrity in customer service is punished badly when it's flubbed. I mean what happened to Volkswagen, say. But integrity has to move into health insurance, beyond whether or not we trust our government with that. Health insurance has to be at least as reliable as a car. And cars are pretty darned reliable these days.

They're also pretty darned destructive. So why can't we make public transportation that reliable? I don't just mean the 737 max, I mean the entire infrastructure. It should be as reliable as a smartphone, and use union drivers. Or if it has to be robots, then the riders have to share the benefits in comfort and punctuality.

There's just so darned much low-hanging fruit to be worked on. So I should keep my pie-in-the-sky dreams to myself while we all dig in on the hard work of fixing what's obviously wrong to whatever side you identify with.

I actually do trust that, over time, the big stuff will be fixed as well, once it becomes obvious that it needs to be fixed. Trust will have assured that it will, the big stuff. But we have to learn to trust in the meantime, and we can only do that by working together to fix the stuff we already know is broken. 

Finally, my internal divide is defined by religion. I don't think the choice is between belief and disbelief. For me, reading Richard Dawkins is what others might call a religious experience. His is adequate proof for the existence of God, even though he means it not to be. 

Of course I don't like to put a Name to God. The trouble with religion is that it anthropomorphizes a deity. Of course then we are required to have an immortal soul to distinguish us from the rest of life. What if we were to believe in science and what-gets-called God both? I do. In that sense I don't feel this internal contradiction that the country is suffering. 

I pray that we move beyond this moment. I pray that the Republicans grow a grinchy heart. 

Now let's get to work!

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