Saturday, November 14, 2020

What's Next?

In the midst of a pandemic - which had started to feel normal until it began to surge beyond even the initial terror-inducing phase - we await a transition of power in Washington. Those transitions have always felt normal before. If Obama felt devastated, he retained his grace in dealing with Trump. At the outset. Now what??

In unrelated news, I remember watching Trumpsters yell from the back on an auditorium, when asked if those without health insurance should just be allowed to die . . . "YES!" Some shouted. Was I watching on TV? I don't remember.

It seemed insane, although you knew whoever yelled it was expressing a not-unsound belief that life is full of dangers, and that each of us must face them and take care about them. I suppose, in a sense, the person was suggesting that to imagine a paternal (or maternal) state is not only a dangerous fantasy, but a kind of refusal to grow up. But how could they or anyone want a grown up child in the White House?

These are - or seem to be - the same people who rehearse their personal experiences with somehow deficient black people as proof that their racism has a rational basis. As though the ones dying from lack of health insurance aren't disproportionately black and poor, and as though some sort of personal agency could have rescued them. 

I just simply don't and can't and won't understand how people can cheer on police who put their own lives before those they are sworn to protect. It won't do to blame bad apples when the issue seems to have become systemic. Still, I wish we had spoken about reimagining policing rather than about defunding it. 

Guns and power are about all that anyone has left when confidence in public institutions wanes. Wouldn't it truly be ideal if policemen didn't need to carry guns? The way it was in London with the bobbies when I tended bar there. Or as it is now still in China, where those carrying guns are rarely seen, and when they are, you know that those are the extremely well-trained police.

So, it's not the nanny state, it's the invisible regime which ensures a "playing field" that's far from level. Could the tinpot catastrophe of a narcissistic psychopath succeeding in grabbing power actually be the playing out of that invisible regime? I suspect that more than a few Trumpsters may believe that to be the case. Where I hear bizarre and solipsistic parroting of self-serving "conspiracy theories," I guess they hear someone willing to say things as they are.

During my very unsettled morning today (now day before yesterday), while I was mucking with my iPhone, I came across a couple of news items which put me in this frame of mind. 

One was a local calling of attention to a family which had lost several members to a somewhat rare heart condition, which can cause death even at a very young age. The other was recounting some recent fire science which takes note of the importance of wildfires during the process of the evolution of life on earth. 

To me, all of these things are related, including the iPhone. Part of the family tragedy involved the irony that the medical doctor father had insisted that each of his boys have their cardiac condition assessed prior to participation in school sports. That was because of a heart condition he had. He was afraid they might have been inherited his condition. 

It turned out that other members of the family, including the Mom, suffered a different condition. The assessment looking for the first couldn't have caught the second. Of course the family is joining awareness-raising organizations and activities, to be certain that their tragedy won't be so often repeated.

Ditto the wildfires, I guess. We must do a better job of understanding how our recent panic and paranoia about fire has, in fact, endangered us. "Recent" here means the past hundred-some years, while housing has sprawled and wilderness has taken on a new meaning. We did formerly, apparently, intuit an understanding of fire which was better aligned with "nature." Well, we were just not so overwhelming as a force on the planet as we've since become.

And you know Apple's iOS infrastructure is an amazing thing. As do so many others, I'm sure, I have an iPhone so that I don't have to fuss with it. But the complexity Apple must face to manage that array of hardware and apps, not to mention languages and user-styles, feels mind boggling. The trick they've accomplished is to create something as monolithic as it is, and to capture as much of the world as they have.

The complexity of Samsung's infrastructure is of a different sort, I suppose, and perhaps they keep things calm by not trying to update all the time. Well, yesterday I uncovered a glitch to my phone's handling of photo updates. I use a competing software from Microsoft for cost reasons, so no real surprise. But I do have this ex-techie itch, and sometimes I get led down the rabbit hole of trying to problem-solve. I never learn!

I have a pretty darned good professional record as an IT problem solver. But here the issue is that search mostly provides documentation premised on an earlier version of iOS. Those who write solutions clearly don't have any insider expertise, and I suspect even the true insiders don't have a user's understanding of the stuff they design. They have an insiders' understanding, and most likely have down-the-hall style access to someone truly in-the-know. Precious little bubbles out in ways that are reliable.

I must be a little bit addicted to not letting go, looking for the hit when I get something right. Still, I have no urge to publish my results, since I have no confidence that my solution is any more complete than the many whose incompleteness I ferreted out on the way to what worked for me. Who knows how my situation differed from theirs? I may think that I've uncovered a few more variables than they did (I do, of course), but I must be blind to just as many more. 

I can't even imagine claiming to understand the iPhone, even as I seem able to fix issues on mine and other peoples' phones. Some of the time.

So my very much alive and all-consuming question is; what's the next move for humanity when we grow beyond our current psychotic pride in our collective ability to problem-solve. I mean, we're not going to enable immortality. Eradicating disease would be like making time run backward, and we're not going to do that either. I haven't seen anything which gets called "artificial intelligence" which is anything like intelligent. It's all more of a PR hack, based on a misguided notion about what intelligence really is. 

As though, regardless of modality, we will ever or should ever be rid of the graceless complaint that life is unfair. Or the still more graceless complaint expressed by the Trumpsters that those who know and understand more than they themselves do (on whatever specific topic) are just elitist whiners.

I think that Camus had it right, overall, when he wrote The Plague. The plague is in us when we cower from living.  I'm slogging ever so slowly through that book. It was indeed written for a different time. When readers could be more attentive, and school stood for something more like education and less like workforce development.

Was there ever such a time? I doubt it. As a kid I remember wondering what it must have felt like to be a great genius whose genius was never known before the genius was dead. Was there anything intrinsically rewarding to have made some great discovery? 

Well now I know. I'd say that there is. I'd go still further and make the claim that if you require your rewards while living then you're not fully alive. Wow and yikes, that makes me sound like a religionist! But I'd say that the nameless God is what comes next. The scientific recognition that there is more than material to existence. That there is no end to understanding. That the only response to the injustice of life is to live it better, which means to fight the injustice created by mankind. 

Why is that so hard, I wonder. Why? I don't think we want our doctors to question whether they should attempt to bring comfort to the sick.

I guess it's like asking why some people like having power over other people. I've been what might be called a "boss." As the head of a small school, I was told by an expert that my position entailed among the most absolute forms of power over my very defined realm. 

It's true that I was directly responsible for every aspect of running the school, and it's also true that I took direct responsibility for what went wrong. That also could mean strong actions directed against wrongdoers. 

But it never did feel as though I had any real power. Mostly, I was subject to the school's needs. If I did have authority, it would have been because I exercised it judiciously, and didn't interfere where I wasn't the most expert. Of course not everyone would have agreed with that assessment. But power as such was never an ambition of mine. 

And so I am hardly ready to let go of the dream of democracy. What comes next is to unwind the false promises of those who get rich off our believing them. This will be a long arduous business, and much of it must be accomplished over the next scant four years.

We will need to use the power of the challenges we face collectively. The pandemic. Global warming. Population sprawl. Energy consumption. These are the things that we are now collectively subject to. These things are neither our adversary nor problems to solve. They are the conditions for our continued thriving, which means that we will have to change our ways. Living more simply does not mean to live poorly. Wealth in the here and now can only highlight how we all must identically die.

I pray for grace. Cosmic grace. The sort that Jesus embodied. Sure, though I would hardly call myself a Christian. Perhaps some day, when earthly power is gone from those institutions. I would welcome a religion not so centered on mankind. Not so centered on a rank for grace. 

I will welcome the day when individuals do feel agency again, and not so subject to the powers that be, which want us all to feel so subjected. So helpless. So meaningless beyond the trivial agency of casting a vote. Agency be not proud.

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