Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Ontology of Surveillance; US v China

Who knows if ontology is the right word here? The dictionary is no help to me, branching off as it does to terms like metaphysics, or usage in subspecialties of philosophy. Anybody? Could be epistemology, except Google doesn't keep that in its dictionary. "The investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion" according to Oxford. I can better sink my teeth into that one. I sure don't know. I just want a big-sounding word to make it seem like I'm looking deeply into the matter, which, of course, I am.

We all make easy judgements over here about how Xi Jinping is an autocrat. But what if we do that in the same ways that we form our beliefs about the Donald? Xi Jinping's approval rating is at least as high as an emperor's. His regime is ruthless about messaging. The people like his crackdowns on official corruption. Even despite misgivings for other reasons, he builds trust that way.

When I have been a teacher I did try to remember that a student or the students may know more than I do on a given topic. I headed a school whose curriculum was based on that premise. Sure, maybe a teacher will find an opportunity to correct some confusion, even in a realm in which the student is better schooled than the teacher, but a good teacher must find a balance between didacticism and shared inquiry. 

Some students will push their teachers toward a posture of certainty, and even consider them deficient in their knowledge when they're not, and even call them out for it. Of course, a good teacher will know how to navigate this. That's less likely in China, based on my observations of teaching there. Those teachers are exquisitely prepared in advance, helping each other to get it right.

One such authoritative teacher in my school here taught me what turned out the be the folk etymology for the word sincere, to mean 'without wax.' He'd thought that might refer to the wax used to seal a letter, to insure that what was inside remained private. There are other etymologies of the same meaning, such as 'no wax' filler to disguise the faults of a sculpture. It looks as though the dictionary wisdom roots the word in Latin for "purity." Perhaps there's only a fine distinction between the folk etymology and the vetted one.

Or maybe I was being punked, and maybe his students were in on it. How would I know? He was capable of such pranks, and pulled them often with his students. Pranks require a sort of privacy. So does crime.

Any etymology seems to give you grip on slippery words, though there is a good argument in many cases that the folk etymology has long since displaced the pure one; the one the (sincere) academics might prefer.

Just now lawyers are parsing words in the U.S. Constitution to argue first whether a president who's no longer in office can be impeached, and second, whether his claim about a stolen election could be a credible opinion, covered by "free speech." Hearing lawyers making technical arguments can easily sound like the only thing that matters is to provide cover. When there's enough money involved, it would seem that lawyers can torture the language enough to get someone wealthy enough off on most any offense.

In any case, when one is sincere, one isn't playing out some hidden agenda. One isn't acting a certain way to disguise - in the case of didactic teaching, say - what might be the hidden motive of moral teaching. Taking advantage, by any other name. What priests do, ahem. What capitalists do with propriety information. What lawyers do against the protected truth of their clients' transgressions.

One supposition is that our private thoughts are our pure thoughts, unadulterated by what the public may think of them. The meaning slides over into the usage in "private property" which, like privacy, is thought, in a capitalistic regime, to be inalienable from the person holding title. It is our prerogative to release our innermost private thoughts, or to reveal our private behaviors, only if and when we please. 

One of the ways that China powers its economy now is by encouraging 'meme manufacturing.' In essence, that's when everyone copies everyone else's innovation, and then the magic of geographically focused supply chains and small workshop manufacturing enables the economy to turn out mass quantities of something like a hoverboard in short order. Tooling up is outsourced to pieceworkers, in a way. Perhaps like genes, meme's shouldn't be patentable?

Of course there's the problem of whom to hold accountable when the batteries catch on fire. We like our products to have a known brand name over here. Something trustworthy. If only we could trust the motives behind their propaganda. I weep at the American realities on display in the ads for the superbowl. Would that our actual situationist situation were that good; that full of goods.

As with secrets withheld from those who might benefit from them, all propaganda seeks to erase all ambiguity so that we can start to live out our folk etymologies I(n) R(eal) L(ife). Lounging in a long chair is what you do in a chaise longue. It's not what it's called. But you can only buy a chaise lounge on the Internet, since you won't find a chaise longue coming up in any search. Spelling is a bitch - though hardly a problem in China, right? Etymology in China is generally worn on the word's sleeve, as it were.

Before the Internet, our shopping behavior was fairly public. Buying condoms, say, was fraught, and it was frowned on for men to frequent the lady's garment foundation department unless they made clear what the occasion was for the wifey right up front.

So no wonder Google feels OK about having us click away any privacy to our behavior when we're shopping, roughly keeping the same department store rules in place. 

And plenty of folks are fine with having Google, or the credit scoring companies, "know" all about us algorithmically so long as they don't turn that information over to the "authorities," and so long as the people who work with our information don't have direct access to who we are. It's up to the computers to parse behavior, and  for the people to sell it in the aggregate, according to what and how the computers spit us out; again, in the aggregate. 

Trouble is that when our "purchase" on the news gets delivered that way, we end up inhabiting different realities based on what the algorithms send our way. Sometimes those differences are shocking, and sometimes they're meant to be, just simply because that's what the algorithms want. "Want" in this case, generally means to increase the profit margins for the proprietor of the top secret algorithms. Who could resist the urge to dial it up, especially when the public feels that it's getting something for free?

Teachers might also deploy shock to upset student complacency about what they already know. After all, you can't learn physics until you unlearn all the naive theory you'd been going on up until your enlightenment. You know, like cold penetrating walls, and vision being an active game. 

Oh, well vision is active, but we aren't shooting rays from our eyes, though the Chinese usage works that way. There is motive to looking, and our minds construct reality before we can apprehend it. Maybe. We ultimately settle on what we want to see, I guess.

When I was most recently in Shanghai, they were putting up surveillance cameras on every traffic control device. Those Chinese that I was interacting with were fairly blasé about them, tending toward cynical. Perhaps in the way that we here and now might wonder, cynically, if that's what they're doing now with our tax dollars. Don't we have real problems to solve?

Here in Buffalo they put up cameras to catch speeders in school zones. Trouble is that drivers are distracted trying to keep track of lightly-announced speed-trap cameras instead of paying attention to their driving and watching for kids in their way. The News catalogs a ton of complaints, but not a one about what I just said. What matters. No, the critics call it a money grab (which it is), yet another tax on the poor (which it also is), but nobody seems to point out how ineffectual it is toward the stated purpose, and how much it undermines trust in government.

Given that everyone's photo is on file in China along with their national ID, and given that one requires a national ID to access the Internet, and given that China is experimenting with a 'social credit' scoring system (which will likely put our credit scoring system to shame, the way WeChat does almost everything else about our mobile technology) and especially given the state of facial recognition technology, no wonder Americans jump to conclusion. 

Here we have a straight-up contest - a comparative study even - of the power of capitalism in a supposedly democratic environment here in these United States, versus the power of the state in a supposedly authoritarian environment.

I have to admit up front that I'm creeped out by surveillance in either context (not to mention pissed off by unjustified speeding tickets). When a computer quizzes my identity by bringing up pieces of my credit report, I guess I'm about as creeped out as I would be to see my face and ID number on the Big Screen when I jaywalk in China, which is a shaming technique apparently being tried out there now. The national ID number is blacked out just lightly enough so that the individual being shamed knows they've been pegged, but enough so that no one else (apart from the government) can't shame them algorithmically by way of ID.

Shoshana Zuboff comes closer than anyone I've read to an ontology of surveillance in terms of property and ownership. But then she goes on to call what surveillance capitalists do an "epistemic coup." As in Google may have no right to arrogate to itself ownership of my behavioral history so that it can sell it to the highest bidder, but the real crime is hijacking any trustworthy meaning in order to get money for clicks.

This is important: what's proprietary isn't exactly the information, which they grant you some control over, but the algorithms which only they can generate, since only they have such a massive trove of behavioral information, and such a big pipeline of data and such vast computing power to use on it.

It could be that not only isn't privacy basic to democracy, it may actually be harmful. Getting pornography by way of private peep-holes is one thing, but getting our political information that way has proven extremely dangerous. We don't want a truth police, but we might actually need local newspapers that look the same to everyone who reads them. We might have to bring back now moribund distinctions between justified and unjustified opinion, the way we once did with advertising and news broadcasts. We may have to outlaw vertical media holdings.

When a fraudster hides his history to wed a wealthy woman, we call that a crime. We also call it a crime when a talented painter sells his imitation of a master as though it were the master's painting. I think the tendency in China is still to celebrate the fidelity, and encourage further development. There are other ways to ensure provenance, including the graffitti left on the artifact by its series of owners.

But then again, more bottles of expensive French champagne get sold in China than were ever produced in France. They have whole shopping centers which specialize in fake goods, though they're generally confessed as such. Buyer beware?

It isn't your violated privacy that's important. Even false labels might be attached to goods that are just as good as the original. What marriage is ever really based on full disclosure? 

It's the undermining of the public need to "distinguish between justified belief and opinion" that's important. It was that which led directly to the capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. The epistemic coup led directly to the political coup of Donald Trump. Republicans as a whole don't seem to understand this dynamic. anymore. They did at the beginning when they were as horrified by Trump as anyone. Of course it's the job of all of us to school them.

Or maybe they do understand it and just simply want to exploit it. Maybe we're all being punked. 

We all believe some pretty nutty things in our private heart of hearts. We may even harbor personal history that's on the border between embarrassing and incriminating. That's true even in China. In general, we keep certain private matters to ourselves unless we feel it safe to utter them. To outer them. To out ourselves. 

Nursing private grievances seems to cause all sorts of mayhem, from personal attacks to insurrection in the capitol. Maybe our background check for firearm purchase should be a grievance check. Trouble is that a feeling of grievance might tend to relate to one's personal distancing of oneself from fault. Projecting fault outward seems a constant for humanity. Projecting on some other. China taking the place of the old Soviet Union seems like a bad idea all around.

In any case, if you have a big enough presence, you can say out loud in public that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States and some proportion of the public will believe that. If you're not quite big enough, you'll lose your job almost instantly for saying the wrong thing. That feels way too volatile sometimes. Where's the middle? As the Jeep ad asks in Bruce Springsteen's voice, now dropped because he was arrested for drunk driving. And why wasn't Colin Kaepernick mentioned during all the NFL self-congratulation for its massive diversity campaign?

Some will apparently believe that Hillary hides a hideous habit of harm to children. And plenty of people think that Jesus can and will solve all their problems, some because people in authority tell them so (I don't doubt that plenty of people experience Jesus' grace quite otherwise).

I mean that's fine, right? I don't mind people expressing their faith, until they start talking about my America being meant for their religion.

According to Zuboff, the popular shorthand that you're the product which social media sells is wrong. They aren't selling you, and were you to tabulate the actual value of your individual data, it wouldn't exactly provide you real income, no matter what Kim Stanley Robinson speculates. Well, unless property is truly theft, and you divide their market value by the purchasing public population where a trillion dollars may go a long way. Better than a stimulus check, and I'd say we have more claim to that wealth than we do to the wealth of Proctor and Gamble or General Motors. 

Individual data just simply isn't worth very much on the current market. It would be worth about as much as a billboard targeting just you. That might be a lot if your girlfriend wants to ask you to marry her in public. Why anyone would think that romantic sure beats me. It might also be worth a lot if you're wanted for some transgression, or if it provides access to your bank account.

I think that I need something still stronger even than Zuboff's complaint. Something like what Guy deBord was getting at in his Society of the Spectacle. From commodity fetishism which renders labor invisible, to spectacle in place of life. Surveillance capitalism really doesn't want us to be in touch with reality. It wants us glued to the screen.

The trouble now is that on the receiving end, we're always getting virtual billboards directed pretty much only at us, or our micro-target market segment. Our reality is so utterly mediated that we don't know what we really want or like, since we're that distant from it. And that seems to have the power to infect our thinking such that we believe the crazy conspiracies of the fictional Q-Anon. Especially if we're nursing some grievance or other.

We just simply can't make meaning by ourselves alone. So, what? We let money make our meanings for us? Yep!

There's a really important lesson in epistemology right there. If the one-time organs of authority say something is true against a backdrop of the highly motivated language of propaganda (we call it advertising here, and propaganda there), the human mind apparently tends toward nuts. You should hear the things they used to believe about us in China! They're almost as nuts as what we still believe about them from here.

Our trouble with China now is that we pretty much live out what their propaganda has always said about what is wrong with American democracy. Who's telling the truth? We still have a chance to make it right!

According to Kai Strittmatter, China's leadership is aware that trust is compromised in any authoritarian state, and their social credit score is an attempt to solve that problem. He writes that propaganda works, as does the internalization of policing (we police ourselves) when people believe that someone's watching, even when they're not. He believes, or perhaps he knows, that if China wants to locate an individual, the authorities need only "ask" their massive system of surveillance cameras and facial recognition protocols to alert local authorities when the perp shows his face in public. Almost anywhere.

Are we so different? We seem to allow private bounty hunters to invade people's houses. Our police cruisers scan our license plates as they go by, and our digital payment history can pretty much reveal everywhere we go and everything we do. Click to agree, my ass! We have no clue what we agree to.

Strittmatter correctly distinguishes the self-policing of Americans stopped at red lights even though there's no-one around to catch them, from the self-policing of expressed thought, which is far more likely in China than in the US (I have it on first-hand authority that Americans are the outliers when it comes to stoplights).

For folks like me, it truly is the liberty I feel about expressing political thought which makes me love this country. It's still more comfortable for me in my circles to say out loud in public that I'm a socialist, or even an anarchist, than it is to praise Jesus. I voice such things as harmless conjecture, not urging a soul to follow my lead. I always do wonder what I truly do believe. Sucks for me.

In China, when I stupidly asked a lunch table of young colleagues what they thought about President Xi, they instantly scattered. One nice fellow stayed back and offered as how Li Keqiang is a really great guy. But I might as well have asked them if they masturbate. I was that out of place. I was being thoughtless. 

Sure, part of me is more afraid - or at least as afraid, of capitalism as of Chinese authoritarian government. We're the ones who napalmed Vietnam, undermined democracy in our various banana republic dependencies, not to mention how we have treated blacks, native americans and mexican border-crossers here at home. Nevermind Agent Orange! 

Our government has often been the stooge of private capital expropriating land from farmers in other countries in destruction of local subsistence. That might be fine if there were some international regime to enforce a living wage. But clearly capitalists wouldn't stand for that. It's what exporting factory production to China (and now Vietnam) means, fer Chrissakes!

By comparison, China feels almost  benevolent. After all, it still calls itself socialist, sometimes even communist, and I tend to believe China when its leadership claims no interest in imperialistic conquest. They would only invade another country in approximately the same way that we have, perhaps. Building up their arsenals for the same benevolent reasons we do. And exporting their particular brand of market expertise. They seem to be getting better welcomes around the world than we do now. Go figure. I guess Money talks.

Here we have the military industrial complex calling the shots, where there the Peoples' Army owns the means of production (not wanting to burden the citizenry, by doctrine). Is it a toss-up? Well, they do jail people who reveal state secrets (just like we do) even when those state secrets should be obvious to anyone.

Anyhow, it is really nice to stroll in China, even to get lost in strange and impoverished places and never to feel afraid. I'm just not sure how benign that safety is. But does the presence of actual danger make us feel more alive here?

I just simply don't feel that the sort of trust that artificial intelligence can realize - here or there - is the same sort of trust that is needed for a healthy polity. Trust in process is also trust in safety for disagreement. Fake trust, enforced by reliable and near instant sanction is hardly trust at all. It's more like fear. Heck, they have enough friendly cops in China to deal with jaywalking. And I've witnessed more citizens in China who feel comfortable arguing with and even yelling at the cops than I've ever seen here. Their uniforms are modest, and only top cops carry guns.

So maybe I also believe that China hopes to use its brave new cybernetic infrastructure to dial itself toward the democracy which Chairman Mao had always claimed was his end game. Maybe they are playing the long game, as they set the stage for debate and disagreement in a context where the bounds and the rules are both known and utterly reliable in advance. 

Maybe the Chinese government is right in its claim that it is we in the West who are provoking the disobedience' in Hong Kong. That they only want to give the Uighurs a hand in becoming a productive part of society. Maybe it's smart of them to ban the Falun Gong, which we would protect under the doctrine of religious freedom, the same way we do Scientology, which as far as I can tell is a cult which teaches you how to do method acting so that you even believe your act yourself. Wow!

(Honest, I've watched dramatic productions in Shanghai which are as edgy as anything we produce here)

The Chinese surveillance state is surely no more cynical than the Google or Facebook surveillance regimes. It is likely no more harmful, in any of the obvious ways. Both attempt to manipulate behavior. Both undermine trust in the guise of building it (as if you could game the system better than the system games you when you trust the algorithms for lowest price against your stupider peers). 

But for the most part our system of surveillance capitalism is the one which carries out an epistemic coup. I'd take the public propagandized fiat truth in China any day over whatever the kool aid drinking Republicans seem to believe over here. They throw the word socialism around as though it were some sort of white supremacy regime.

What is surely common among all surveillance regimes is the alienation of agency regarding what you choose to make public. Our unvarnished self is not really very presentable, as Richard Sennett might attest. It's just not nice to out it in public. But privacy as a right maybe should not be our highest value. Especially when private secrets are inaccessible even to the proprietor of the algorithms which compose them. That's Facebook right there.

What Marjorie Taylor Greene claims as free speech should be prosecuted precisely because of her position. In just the way that ignorance of the law is no defence, ignorant people shouldn't be allowed to elect criminals to office. At least some mild form of truth in advertising should and must protect "them" from that. We're all ignorant about something. And no, I don't mean felons who've done their time. I mean those who commit larceny against the truth out loud and in public. 

I can say whatever I want until and unless I want the public trust. And trust requires some reciprocal belief in the autonomy of the one being trusted. Sure, a robot may be entirely trustworthy, but a public person putting on an act and not being who he really is not trustworthy. Or maybe such a person is acting like a robot, based on a calculus that to act otherwise would be risky.

China is less preoccupied with life as a 'stage upon which we are all actors' than we are. Less concerned with our more precious distinction between the private and the public self. Acting never pretends to be other than acting, even or especially when in office.

When Chinese literati earned their way to public office on the basis of their mastery of poetry and of the classics, the judgement was made not about whether they were faking it or cheating by way of plagiarism (which is what happens now in the gaokao college entrance exam over there, and in Ivy-scale admissions over here), but rather on the more solid ground of the quality of their writing as judged by those who'd read reliably more. 

Of course the realm of the written word was much smaller before the printing press, and especially pre-digital. It could, perhaps, even be comprehended, especially as the canonical realm was well-defined in China. Your best self in China is your curated self, when it's not fakery.

What if China plays the same game now that they always have? Many many China hands have observed how continuous modern China is with its Confucian roots. Folk etymology for Chairman would have it mean emperor (writing that would be somewhat dangerous, and the etymologies wouldn't match).

How about we stop hating each other?

The thing is that if we think - if we believe - that meaning is a function of (human) comprehension alone, then we might have to ascribe meaning to the nutty Q-Anon understanding. We know we're wrong about ultimate matters even at the ivory tower pinnacles of learning, else scientific understanding would be complete and we'd know everything already. 

We assume, those of us not on the nutty side, that scientific understanding will just keep going and going and going, like the Energizer Bunny. Nobody really expects some kind of final understanding, and if we did have it, we'd be already dead, just like the perfected Chinese society where nobody ever does anything antisocial or wrong. If we weren't dead already, we'd kill ourselves, 'cause why live?

Of course, I'm the guy who says "why live?" regarding immortality, or being able to suck your personality up into some digital cloud duplicate of your brain (which isn't where your mind is, stupid!). We're enamored of the wrong things, I'd say. 

I know, here is where I get a little weird.

Whatever meaning is, part of it is trust. Trust engenders integrity, of the sort that the cosmos might have without us. We're the wildcard here. Conscious cognition messes with amoral nature, each and every time. But we've become irresponsible in our stewardship. We can't be stewards of nature, but we sure ought to be stewards of ourselves.

We have yet to make real contact with any conscious cognition in the rest of the cosmos. Heck, we don't even know how to try, apart from exploratory moon and Mars shots, and speculation directed by SETI. Well, we do pray to our various Gods, but really, that seems rather petty, given that we've made God in our very own parochial image. I don't think God talks exactly in our language.

Shouldn't the vast reaches of empty "outer" space give us a clue at least about how special earth is? We pray for an end to the virus, but shouldn't we also pray for the moderation of global warming? Both are now within our collective agency.

Would you trust "science" to guide every aspect of your life? Science can only deal with artifactual reality when it comes to humans - the tangible output that can be measured - and deals with trust only obliquely when two subjects trust the same description of objective reality. Trust is grounded in subject/object/subject interconnections and unity.

So, just as we are all in the same boat with the pandemic - if any country thinks it can save itself without saving the whole world, that country is delusional about how viruses mutate. The immunized nations will be reinfected by the mutated viruses which surge in the places which don't have immunization - so are we now all in the same boat regarding how we treat reality.

Having only naturally acquired immunity among those who survive infection, the virus will morph according to how to subvert such immunity in the poorer regions. Eventually swamping even the immunized nations, and round and round the merry-go-round goes. Except it's not so very merry. 

Just as we are in the same boat regarding the virus, we are in the same boat regarding meaning. Our basics are no different than China's. Craziness here can create craziness there, which is why their Internet is monitored and censored. They also beat the virus rather quickly.

Back to surveillance. To decide top-down what the behaviors are that are to be approved, and what those are which are to be disapproved is very much like imposing human meaning on a cosmos which is plenty meaningful without us. It's a doomsday scenario all around. 

The only thing worse than doing that is to undermine all trust by using money-tweaking algorithms to determine meaning. 

At least China's algorithms don't only run on automatic. Those algorithms are made for conscious human consumption at the end of the line, no matter how malevolent or beneficent the tweakers are. But at least the distinction between what's good and bad is not left up to mindless money, the way it is in the West. Facebook considers any connection to be a "good," in the market sense of the term.

Even that war criminal Henry Kissinger understands that when each of us gets a curated news feed which is opaque to the rest of us, and when the boundaries of nation-states are less meaningful than other more internalized boundaries, all bets are off for the future of the "world order." There's very little chance for trust when some people prefer their own reality to the reality as curated by Ph.D.'s, for instance.

Algorithmic judgements seem to amplify our prejudices. They can't take a joke. They don't do irony.

Chairman Xi is as vacant as a soul could be. I don't know if anyone else watched their 70th anniversary national day anniversary parade in 2019 where Chairman Xi was on an endless loop, seeming to review the same troops over and over again. While Xi is never off script, some of us ascribe authenticity to Trump for being always off script.

You have to act properly in office! There oughta be a law!

As Michel Foucault might have said, we all inhabit the very same global episteme. Time for a shift, not a coup.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Review of Kissinger's "World Order," posted on Goodreads, August 22, 2016

World OrderWorld Order by Henry Kissinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A birthday gift - I'd read and been quite impressed with Kissinger On China. Since it's somewhere in my blood that Kissinger is a war criminal, I didn't want to be. I'm even more so with this one, impressed I mean. Reading Kissinger on how the world works helps to understand how a man like that could make the decisions he did, and in some sense he causes me to recalibrate what I know so certainly in my bones: that he's a war criminal.

He's at least as smart as Oppenheimer was when he gave the command to detonate the first nuclear bomb. I'd thought that, as I was making my way through the book, and therefore wasn't so surprised when Kissinger deploys the quote, "I am become Death." He isn't referring to himself, but rather he's discussing the state of deployment of nuclear weaponry descending from the horror at its inception.

Imminent destruction seems built in to his narrative, since even he wouldn't be smart enough to know what to do given any particular disposition of leaders of other parts of the globe than the one we root in and for over here. Since I knew that he would ultimately enter the territory of high tech, it seemed certain that he might suggest that the surveillance state is essential and that we must stand ready to step in with deadly tricks when the world becomes that unbalanced, which seems to mean when radical Islam gets its fingers on the trigger. Spooks in the wings would, should and could ooze out and cuff the bastards.

But he doesn't. Having spoken at length with the likes of Eric Schmidt, chief adult Googler in charge still apparently, Kissinger actually gets a clue about technology in ways subtle and obscure. He knows what it's done to our political processes, and he knows what it does to our sense of self and belonging, and he knows what the broad implications are for units of political power, which may no longer be the nation-state (think tight groups of crazies informed by cartoonish amplified realities).

All power is asymmetrical now, and the forces of advertising efficiency assure that no two of us experience or even have available to us the information others might. It's all tailored. Kissinger gets this and contextualizes this better than anyone I've ever read on the topic. He finds the essential truths which we must all understand or perish. He is that confident – one might say smug – in the choices he has made to avoid more deaths than he has caused. Just as, I’m certain, his techno-mentor Eric Schmidt is smug and sure of his non-complicity in the erasure of the American mind. Once that securely embedded in the class which controls the narratives, guilt is a matter for nuance.
Given that I could read and comprehend everything he's written here, and given that I find the narrative compelling, it must be the historical equivalent of a cartoon. Smoothed, simplified, essentialized, and maybe even constructed as an apology for his own genius, Kissinger’s. I certainly don’t want to be caught in an impromptu debate with him.

Oppenheimer's genius was cartoonish too. He had to have convinced himself that in such close association with some new truth he had no choice but to approach it, even though it would be, for many others, too horrible to contemplate. He did it because he could. Because he had to know for certain. Because he was face to face with all the levers of power, and they were granted him as bona fides.

Kissinger does a step more noble. He lets us in on his thinking - gives the schematic - before he sets out to put it into action another time. Well, he's an old man, less certain of his actions. Retired and not about to be placed in any more button-pushing positions. What, collectively, should we would we have done had we known what could result from those equations behind the bomb? Certainly not just shut our eyes and minds and pray!

Kissinger the elder statesman. Consulted by wanna-be decision-makers from any and every side. His neutral stance is that of a Yale guest-speaker, push out the truth as far and wide as you can push it and the world will be a better place, now please let’s retire to cigars and whiskey of the sort which excludes the less exalted. Does he exercise such taste if Trump comes his way? He declares a certain fondness for Dubya . . .

The cautionary tale here is for you, dear reader, not to be taken in by the genius of those who control our narratives. Oppenheimer’s sin was temporal. He believed enough in the community of which he was part to do his part for the greater good. Later mostly vilified and disappeared as a voice of any further importance, once he did beg to differ.

Now certainties are amplified and hermetically sealed by overwhelm of information beyond which no subtlety exists. We are each and every one like some white supremacist outing his (it’s always his) views in public. Except the opposite, since white supremacists get noticed. Quiet goodness is celebrated only when it’s exceptional enough to create an Internet meme.

“I gave my waiter $500 for being such a nice guy” which is never enough to eject one from the labors to wait on others. And we are terrorized most by the true-believers who form an angry cellular mob out from which a child may sprout, strapped with bomb, and what happens when that becomes nuclear? The difference being that Henry would never blow himself up with his cause. Remember that cute little mute baldy in the comics? Telling his way out of all fixes.

Which brand of certainty do you prefer? By book’s close, Kissinger suggests that the security of objective truth is banished. The truing of history is a thing of the past. And thus Kissinger, like the Beatle’s nowhere man, sucks himself up his own tuba and becomes a Nobodaddy. As he was and ever shill be.

Which of us would trigger the bomb if asked to? We must raise our children to know that their mother would never have them do that. That God is not an angry white man. That indeed objective truth is banished from reality, and there is cause for celebration, for tomorrow we may yet die. Henry’s cause has never been objective truth. Henry’s cause is Henry. Picture him bald and naked and mute. Cute!

World Order is not a man’s to make. Drink up please, it’s time . . . Waiter!!


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Monday, February 1, 2021

Let's Try Religion Without God, How About

I am a lazy student. I read too broadly, and none of it quite registers. That means that I am the approximate equivalent of a consumer of mass media. My expressed opinions are based on nothing better than hearsay, since I can't seem to form any solid ideology based on my ingestion of copious words. 

But considering that I've been free of remunerative work (meaning free of The Man) for quite some time now, I guess I'm doing alright. Or maybe I'm just reaping the dividends of white privilege. But still, one can't and doesn't succeed in any economy without either believing in it or being cynical and just gaming it. 

I mean, if I did believe that being a sociologist was my best and highest calling, I think I'd be one by now. (Sociology, roughly speaking, is the arena where I've spent the most academic time, I think). But it never seems worth my life. Or maybe I never feel that I can become good enough at it to make a difference. Maybe the life of a scholar just feels like another form of prison. Apparently also the way I feel about women I love after a while, if it's not the way that they feel about me. Fine distinction.

Anyhow, when I do read a well-researched and well-written book I am always chastised inwardly about any certainties I've ever muttered. Just now I'm reading Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone fame) on The Upswing. It promises to be an optimistic look at megatrends across the past century or so. Those trends might indicate that we are due for another progressive era.

At the outset of my reading - he focuses on income inequality toward the beginning of the book - I was annoyed that he ignored the massive changes in the structure of our economy. I mean the move from farm to city and from a mostly barter economy to a mostly money-transactional economy. But he means to swamp the details with the Big Picture. 

Putnam puts a longish sweep of American history into such perspective that I do feel abashed for having thought I knew what was right and what was wrong with this or that about how we are these days.

But there are a few things that I feel I do know and do understand. One is that the believers in Jesus these days are just about as nutty as the followers of Trump. By nutty, I mean removed from reality. In a sense then, no wonder that they are on the same team, no matter how bizarre the alignment is from the standpoint of moral beliefs and behaviors. 

The trouble for me is that however nutty religion has become, I don't wish to be so presumptuous as to cancel the originating impulse for religious belief. Of course, to me, all of the Western "sky god" religions are quite simply structures for patriarchy to define and defend itself in power. There is nothing of God there, not to mention any godhead. It's all man. That's the only thing I can come up with to unite the religionists with the Trumpists.

Once you personify God - once you make God personal - there's nothing left of that originating impulse for religion. God can't be a being that you can talk to, even while seeming to talk with God might have demonstrable benefit. And God sure doesn't talk to us in any intelligible way. You have to resort to fantasy, like Trump is an honest man, and the Bible is the literal Word of God.

I just think that there must have been something gratifying for a lot of people to hear Trump say "you're fired" over and over on TV. It channeled something that they wanted to say about all the non-bottom-line stuff going on in the urban centers. Keeping people on because they're black or woman or whatever you think is an excuse for slacking. You're fired is what the personal God says when He consigns you to hell.

It's easy to suggest that religionists are all, by definition, reactionary and are just refusing to accept the revelations of the scientific method. This is clear in the case of refusing to "believe" evolutionary theory. One might as well believe that the earth is flat, which many people apparently still do. I would find that very very difficult.

But I also find it difficult to believe that without us to comprehend it, the cosmos is void and without meaning. Sure we can make ourselves its meaning by raising up cognition to the level of the godhead, but that's not what I mean either. We aren't eternal, either individually or as a species, and still the cosmos is meaningful, even without any other comprehender anywhere or anytime.

In part - maybe even in large part - I say this because I think that the scientific method has long since destroyed the validity of any subject-object distinction. We simply cannot know the world beyond ourselves. We cannot know the world without ourselves.

I don't think that's any more radical than the sociologists' bedrock; that we cannot be people without other people. Without the social, we can't even have cognition.

The reason we cling so hard to what I would call the primitive scientific method is simply that we don't want the responsibility as co-creators of our own cosmos. We're hoping for an answer, in precisely the same way that we once did wish for direction from God.

I don't buy any mind/body distinction, for the very same reasons.

Yes, of course I am too lazy to go into detail now. There's plenty of detail in the writing I've put out there, I mean in here, though I have to apologize in advance that I'm asking you to be far less lazy than I have proven to be. Sorry. See my posts regarding Riccardo Manzotti and his "spread mind" theory. Look at how spiders weave webs with the minds in their legs.

The sort of religion that would do us a world of good right now would be one without dogma, without preachers, without any Bible of any sort. It would rather resemble science, meaning simply that, in my view, science can indeed expand to encompass religion. Largely for economic reasons, 'science' as a whole simply doesn't want to expand that way.

It bothers me that true believers in something like what I want to talk about have, quite literally, no choice when called upon to comfort the bereaved, say, than to mouth the platitudes of their received traditions, even while I know for a certainty that many such preachers are as far as any of us can get from the kind of literal belief structure that they are called upon to mouth. 

Some of them write and speak beautifully as they dodge the literal Word. I was moved to tears at my father's religious eulogy. Well, sure it was the occasion that moved me to tears, but the words were important. The placing of my father's life into some context of eternity. 

To my understanding, Chinese 'religions' don't include anything like the Western concept of God. We excuse them, perhaps, for being more philosophy than religion. But still, I would insist, there is more than philosophy there in the Dao, the Buddha, and even the proto-bureaucrat Confucius. 

It would be good to move away from God, who has become parochial, to something much more eternal and therefore much more real. Now back to reading Putnam, to see if there is hope. Hope on the level where he writes - sociology - could indeed lead to hope in my far more extravagant sense. I'm hoping, simply for a scientific expansion beyond slavish objectivity. 

And for a footnote, we're obviously and really in trouble if we can't even get together about how to deal with the current pandemic. How in hell could we manage to politicize that?  I guess we think that God is telling us to mistrust any and all earthly expertise. Talk about separation between mind and body! That's not even what Christianity is all about. Triune godhead includes God as man, right? 

Well, for sure I don't have any more patience for theology than I do for sociology or counting angels among pinheads. I'm glad other people have the patience. Christianity can be quite beautiful. As far as I can tell, Jesus is the quintessential androgyne, and, well, even God has become a beard for homophobes on earth. 

While it isn't exactly fate throwing pandemics and global warming in our way, there is but a fine distinction between pretending a hurricane doesn't exist and spending your time trying to figure out who to blame for it. Right, Job? You have to deal with it is all.

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Virus of Racism; The Virus of White Supremacy, the Loaded Code, the Virus

Clipped to my refrigerator is a stack of coupons. These are not coupons I looked for or clipped (there's clipping and there's clipping). These are thrust upon me for things I actually did buy and likely therefore will buy, and they have the value of actual dollar bills. They are therefore hard to discard, though I will likely never use them. I feel precisely the same way about buying orange juice in plastic bottles that are built to outlast Armageddon. I just can't.

These coupons are meant to manipulate my purchasing. Less visible is the trade in cookies meant to manipulate my purchasing online. Unfortunately, of course, those are also meant to manipulate what I read and therefore what I think. 

Happily, I don't spend too much time on shopping, so it all becomes background noise. I turn in my bottles and cans not for the deposit, but because they are more likely to enter the right stream for recycling. As if recycling could possibly make a difference. Oh please bring back waxed paper, hand-wrapped. Returnable bottles for milk and juice. We just don't care.

I am, of course, neither virtuous nor well-off. If I were, I would simply pay no attention to all this noise. I have only so much time to deal with things I can't control, and adjust my preferences in preference to having them adjusted for me. Style: absent. Curb appeal: nil. Fine. 

It's hard, though, to adjust my reading preferences, and the better the source the more wordy it seems. Proper (non-fake) media outlets like to thoroughly document what they present. The combination of endless Trump terrorism and COVID updates is just exhausting. People look to each other for the executive summary, and sometimes the ones I overhear are just plain wrong and even dangerous.

Then there was Amanda Gorman. There is no executive summary. And yet some are made angry. Some won't or can't listen. Beauty in words and in deed can and will be used against you, right AOC?

What are the roots of this anger? By way of science and math, I bypassed pretty much any and all poetry or even literature in the large sense, on the way to College. I felt bypassed by the knowledge my betters had. Well off and properly virtuous they all were. And so I started over with Chinese, and learned to read poetry in that tradition.

Of course I found that the rules, the meter even, had all been appropriated by and for the state. It still goes on, in form the same. And so what about science? Isn't it trued in the very same way? You think you read found and well-founded conclusions, but no, peer review means the same for science as it does for getting published in the New Yorker. There is a larger narrative that you must fit.

There simply is no way to get good information out there if nearly no one has the energy to cull and read the good stuff. Something a little shy of truth is the settlement. I barely penetrated a minuscule elite with my reading of Chinese. Even beyond the mass of Chinese, even now, though they get more of their classics along their way than we do of ours. They learned how to lay Faberge eggs too, if they were lucky.

We all have to settle somewhere on an explanation, but wouldn't it be nice if the one we settled on were genuinely authoritative at the same time that it didn't condescend to our intelligence and crap detection abilities?

On an executive level, we now know that the more deadly viruses are the ones that led to storming the capital. Our science on those is much shakier than the science on wearing masks and generating immunity for the pandemic virus. Either virus has the potential to unravel society, but both combined, and synergizing, have been truly deadly. 

Ultimately any center for power is corrupted. And yet the Chinese tested for poetic prowess once upon a time. Might we? They also brought COVID to heel, in ways that we might find, well, abusive.

Some have settled on an understanding that leads them to refuse masks or to refuse inoculation. There is understandable anger at the differential impact on different types of business. It certainly doesn't seem fair, and it's likely dangerous, that wage earners are tanking while investors soar. We are becoming polarized in many more than those two dimensions that are all we seem to have now in politics.

Polarized dimensions are the stuff of evolution, and yet we won't even dance together anymore. No wonder transgressions of gender are so important. It's not only about the genes.

We know that to combat the virus of disinformation, we need to rebuild trust. We know that it has something to do with a failure of our public education system. We know that it has something to do with some deterioration in our sense of shared purpose; even here in these United States where most of us still do retain something near to love for the ideals on which our nation was founded. Even those who stormed the capitol are motivated that way, however bizarrely distorted their 'reality' is.

Yes, of course I am anti-fascist, and I don't need to turn that into a coded meme for violence. We are all anti-fascist in our hearts, unless we project a kind of friendly fascist onto some fool out to manipulate things for his own benefit. There are plenty of tools to use now, if you are only out for yourself. If you wish to channel hate, that's apparently a lot easier than to channel love. The tools are out there in the wild and wonderful world of Facebook, Twitter, Google/YouTube search.

I suppose some kind of rage is required to see friendliness in the person of someone whose purpose is to manipulate rage. Where's the love, I'd like to know? I felt it in the recitations of our twenty-two-year-old first-ever national youth poet laureate. Plenty of people didn't. Perhaps they felt she shouldn't have dwelt so much on race; on what is wrong.

But how could we not dwell on race in this country? I just finished reading Greg Grandin's masterful book, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America. Our national history is not pretty when it comes to how those in power and bearing arms have dealt with those they consider "other." Blacks, Native Americans, Mexicans have been our primary "domestic" targets, not to mention those that we have dehumanized overseas. 

The documentation of our collective behaviors, especially as those are projected onto our young armed forces proxies, is hard to read. But there is perhaps some hope in that the anger on display during the ransacking of the capitol building was more like a tailgate rampage than a massacre. Go Bills!

Of course, we can't know what might have happened had the building been turned into a fortress, or had they lucked into a packed house. Perhaps we have been lucky in the creation of some kind of social antibodies, just as my own apparently successful antibody production kept my COVID-19 infection mild.

The raw fact of life in the twenty-first century is that we are all in everything together. Deny it though we might try to do, the twin viruses of COVID-19 and nationalism are rampant now across the globe. In the one case social distancing can help. In the other it is the social distance between the rich and the poor which is at the root of the disease processes which lead to exclusionary nationalism and hate-based authoritarianism. Well, it's not exactly the social distance is it? More like the ease by which the wealthy and powerful are able to manipulate the poor into subverting their own self-interest. 

No wonder there is mistrust even of COVID relief.

Mistrust of public directives against the pandemic are of a piece with mistrust of the motives of those who have or control all the money. Of course global capitalism will have to evolve before we can prevail, which is to say before we can sustain ourselves as a species. 

Nature was once the field of conquest. We have, collectively, been triumphant on that field. Now nature has moved within, and conquest becomes far more subtle. The choice feels stark between reverting to lives that are short and brutish simply because we cannot relinquish our behavioral profligacy, or finding other things to fantasize about than space travel, projected orgies of delight and body sculpting, say.

It feels like we are on the verge of being able to claim a kind of immunity to the ravages of the nature that is outside us; the one the wealthy reserve to themselves as a kind of playground now in so many ways. Sailing by superyacht on the seas of fate is not the same as living. This we do not yet believe.

Also on display during the inauguration were calls to our Heavenly Father, claimed by all sides as the Greater Authority, no matter how perverted by the words of worldly men. This is such a dumbed down version of the godhead. Like equating plastic surgery toward beauty with medicine to quiet illness. There is no God which celebrates rapacity, whether personal or national.

And so these many memes, from Q-Anon through anti-vaxxing, which have infected so many minds must be eradicated with consummate care. They are utterly resistant to attacks that are founded in hate. They can only be combated by genuine and meaningful education, and by opportunity to participate in a thriving and fair economy. Trust is built by free association among people who are unlike ourselves. 

This can happen in school when schools are not as segregated as the neighborhoods they sprout from. It happens at the university and in the military and in corporations that are not stratified by those same memes which stratify society at large. Which celebrate "free speech" internal, in the same way that our nation celebrates it in principle.

Lies told by way of government propaganda are no more dangerous than the lies told by the propaganda for selling. These are the things we must grasp, and not only how to quell the pandemic virus. The mechanics of quelling the pandemic have now been revealed as utterly one with the mechanics of quelling the various viruses of mistrust and of hatred.

The work to be done between now and the next election has nothing to do with revenge. Our work is not the Lords' work. Our wordly worldly work is to build back trust and to know one another as comrades. Without arms.

Meantime it won't stop being exhausting. Dreams of travel of visits of even skiing or taking a simple walk fade into quarantine, alone, at home. I wonder how we will navigate the next decade. Will we all be wearing masks all the time? Will we become unrecognizable, even to ourselves? Will I ever criss-cross the country again? 

Friday, January 15, 2021

I Went Swimming While No One Was Looking

I did. I skinny-dipped below Niagara Falls, just out of view of the hordes of tourists. Often enough with nude sexed companion. It was always nice. It was always exciting. Now I swim in words, seas of words, trying to make sense. Along the way, I caught a dose of COVID-19. Thank you Jesus, because now I have some immunity while others scramble for codpiece cover in some herd or other. 

There was no sense, except, perhaps that I masked myself stupidly, re-using disposable disguises and thus recognized, once walking along with my little one who will always be my little one who might have caught it that way from me. There is nothing other than random here. Nothing to write home about. I isolate myself with words anyhow, and by rights, well there are no shoulds and shouldn't haves here anymore. It might be in God's hands. I wouldn't know.

Watching Bryan Stevenson streaming tears. My little one who left the NICU no larger than dolly clothes, torso in my palm, introduced him to me virtually. She fights for innocents too. He may be her hero. Now he is mine. She has always been mine.

I don't generally know if I'm moved or if I'm touched or if I'm even inspired by words anymore. No longer there, physically speaking. There are just too many of them, and they make their own sense anyhow, so I don't have to do it for them. To be moved, after all is just the passive case that we've reserved for emotions, which are felt rather directly rather than to be paid directed attention. To. I always know when someone's watching me. Thank you Jesus.

Too bad really that so many now feel the same need that I do to torture words, which never did anything to me. Too bad really that we have decided that free speech must include protestations of hate, and vile pronouncements of evil intent. I thought that yelling Fire! in a theater was actionable. How could it be meant ironically? How can such jest be so infinitely tolerated, anymore anymore anymore. 

When hate is serious it deserves only to be silenced, when hate is enacted it moves people to do bad things in return. They have no choice then. I will keep and bear my arms hugging myself at least until I am allowed to arm some other. I would move you in some other direction.

Fingering the keys, there is a different ordering to thought compared to when I once did dictate entire letters, damnably too a secretary, or wrote Chinese by hand. There was no keyboarding then, and I wouldn't take Mom's bribe to play piano. so I still shout most of the time, in writing. There used to be only crossings out, goodbye Jesus, or whiting out, KKK? Now we think we can backspace, but it's all already out. Too late. Committed.

There is no truth or consequence when everyone can say anything in whatever sized crowd, the unknown unknowns where only the lowest of the lowly make pronouncements. Jeopardy. Double triple over and over and under again. Like weaving the seat of that old chair which supports my bottom again and again now that I've rewoven it again and again. The doing hurts my back and not the sitting. 

Still. 

If words make their own sense then why do we think they can save us if we only find the right ones? Isn't that just sociopathicologically idiotic? We must elect our words selectively, selectrically or Google might select them fore us aftmentioned afore. So nice to see you anymore. May I?

I went swimming in words while no one was looking and found enough sense there for all of us. Please, have some. They're homemade. 

Yours are certified and mine are certifiable and who can trust the alphabetic code on the boxes of masks to validate their worth as though your life depended on it? I have been offered many many degrees of distinction if only I were willing to work for them. I am normal now. I make offerings all the time. Response to stimulus is to throw it back to the other side. Spend it wisely, because, so far, I still pay my rent underwear. 

For.

"Study Marxist-Leninism" -Mao Zedong

Heavens calligraphic Chinese words can be impossible to read. Even those of Chairman Mao, for whose words China still pays out in freedom. You have to know them glancingly, those Chinese characters. You have to know them at a glance, the way you know old friends though they be walking across the street, say, in Shanghai. Who knew?

Shanghaied over some rainbow, where pots of gold are a passcode away. And little ballerinas were there for Degas' prurient captivation, so say the times. Who holds us now? Where might we go when this is all over?

The Place. Where drinks are served out of doors. Drink up please, it's time. And yet the game is not over, please. I actually used to say that with my official voice in London every single day but Sunday. Eating fishheads beneath the hatch during the midday closing, then sunbathing I Hyde Park, before the Warming, the evening shift.

Way overboard, you say? How far is too far then, if you're going overboard. Isn't it only a digit? May I please expand my mind? Sure it fills the cosmos, but that's only my cosmos. How's yours doing. Off with his head. The republic is dead. Wave to the flag now, sweetie. Good bye. Hello! My constitution is frail. How about yours?

Long live, no not that one. The new one. Older still. Blow up the headquarters said Chairman Mao to the wind as he blew.

I walk as though on stilts, stilted my talk around the corner making a fool. I should wear, I should blare a crashing tophat. I would be thought captivating again, head over stiletto heels. Drop knife drop kick wide right over your head. Posted shafted I live if I shiv, skewer a string of words and make them song and dance.

Two trains of thought were about to collide along the self-same way. How do you do? Asked the wave of the particle. I don't. I just am, now that you take notice of me. I just am. And you? Do you wave to everyone, then? Or is it just me.

I am nothing special in my delivery. Forever stamp for me. Forever posted. Forever pegged. All will flow past in streams, caring not for my signposts.

Forevermore quoth the raven blackened by ink. Blackened by smoke and therefore lasting until needless unearthed eternity, well, because nobody even forgot in the first place. But it did still say the same thing.

Where there were striding idiot winds strident in their expression, overrunning sense running on and now. Oh yes, we did not plant the bait. It was no man who did it, but a babe in palm in fronds who placed his body there. Its? Their's? There there. The door is open. Storm!

And now those hateful babblers must own their words in deed. For in deed they have condemned themselves and they have lost any right to speak, to freely write, there was never any free speech, to say abominations aloud for we forsake them now, and let us pray forvermore. To damn hate to hell would be redundant. It already abides, and so must we. Good bye, fare well, so long, it's been good to know you. See you tomorrow and the next day, then. Adieu. Adios. And after that as well. Down the welly well well now.

Was it counterclockwise in the Northern hemisphere, swastika down the drain. 

It all plays out rather swimmingly, don't you think? Who could have known? Their intent was deadly, their execution a farce.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Frauds and Doppelgangers

I have always been fascinated that a forger can be - or seem - more technically talented than the artist they're faking. I listen to Tom Waits sing, and wonder if there is a true and real Tom Waits, or only the one imitating a variety of possible Tom Waitses. I remember as a kid watching TV vocal impersonators, and wondering how to distinguish them from the vocal artists they sometimes imitated. They sounded just as good as the "real thing" to me. But what do I know? I'm no expert.

In my study of Chinese traditions, there's not, I think, so much hang-up on originality. Knowledge of sources is conveyed differently than by citation, which would insult both auditor and composer. That kind of knowledge is conveyed by usage and deftness. Both reader and writer have to share a received tradition which is somewhat revered. To copy is to honor, but it's worthless without something of your own. Those not properly educated need not apply.

But I am as shaky on any pronouncements I might make about Chinese traditions as I am about certain treasured memories. Every once in a while I spend stupid amounts of time trying to validate something I've reported as surely true. The jury is always out. Plenty of times I find myself utterly wrong about Chinese traditions.

Last night I watched Orson Welle's "F is for Fake" which I found brilliant in a number of dimensions. I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it before, but so much of it was familiar. Maybe from the Richard Gere "Hoax" which I'd watched getting filmed for a hot second down in Chelsea on Manhattan. Maybe from something diCaprio did. Maybe from general familiarity with parts of the story, which was maybe from Time Magazine as a kid. Heck, I probably saw this film as a "kid."

I've told this family story about being in Pompano Beach, Florida one Easter. Maybe I was fourteen or so. One rainy day we went to a very fancy by our standards restaurant, and all of us remember the drunk at the bar chanting out 'hey bop a ree bop' over and over. We made fun of it on the way home from Florida in our station wagon. We were there with our good family friends, one of whom would later go to work at Hughes Aircraft, in the lead shielded division. My own family would rarely eat out in fancy places, or take vacations that weren't camping. I'm pretty sure we were towing our tent-trailer, though maybe Mom was successful in her begging that time. I can't remember.

I have a distinct memory of reading in Time Magazine some time later about how Howard Hughes had spent time in that vicinity when his life was being handled, and hanging at the bar and singing 'hey bop-a-ree-bop.' This morning, I spent stupid amounts of time checking Time Magazine archives. I came tantalizingly close to what I remember, but no exact citation. I remember remarking what I'd read in Time to my family at the time, and I also remember being frustrated that I couldn't quite find enough detail. I guess it was, and remains, just something that I wanted to be true. Because it made a good story.

The other thing is - and this is very tangentially related - that I am often accosted by people who swear they know me. Maybe this happens to you, too. Sometimes I'm accosted by people who actually do know me, and I feel chastened and very small when I don't recognize them back, though generally I do after I take the time to allow the image and memory to resolve themselves. Again, as a kid, I once went on a reading jag of doppelganger books. It seems I'm not the only one fascinated by them.

But I do have all these criss-crossings with almost everyone I meet and almost everything I read, and somehow I want to remark about them. Mostly, I have the good grace to keep quiet, because I know I can be an insufferable name-dropper. 

But doppelgangering is related to a sense of regret for lost lives; lives we might had lived had we made other choices. I really don't do that. I feel always happy with my choices. Well, except I don't have a great history that way with women.

I do feel privileged for how many lives I've glimpsed, though. I feel like it enriches my world. And I'm not just talking about the prominent or wealthy ones. I feel privileges to have gotten peeks into so many different lives and traditions, though by no means as extensive as many folks I've read about, and even plenty that I know personally. Privilege is such a subjective matter.

But what I want to write about is how we might and should deal with what seems to be the explosion of not just crazy thinking, but very dangerous crazy thinking. It seems to me related to how unlikely our authoritative voices can be relied upon. Everybody calls everybody on some other side "fake."

We always suspect fakery; some motive behind the one that is represented. Our very craving for truth leads us into conspiracy theorizing. It can be as hard to tell the difference as to detect the sleight-of-hand with which Orson Welles begins his documentary look into Clifford Irving, Howard Hughes, and this fascinating art forger by the name of Elmyr De Hory.

None of us is really trained to tell when we're getting the truth and when we're being manipulated. I sure do remember watching Loose Change (as I think the film was called) about how Dubya deliberately brought down the Trade Towers. It was chilling in its way. There were manned tables all over the place to let you know the truth. Somehow it seems that there were Scientologists always hanging around nearby.

L. Ron Hubbard, anyone? So, as I sit here in quarantine with cabin fever in gloomy Buffalo, wondering how much freedom (from fear, to socialize, to shop with better abandon) my vague immunity might grant me, reading William H. Gass, whom I'd never heard of before and who is an absolute gas, who's writing about feelings of fraudulence in his protagonist, and thinking about my own feelings of fraudulence; as I sit here I feel the need to write. One can only read so much in a sitting.
 
As an unconscionable aside, I'm reading William Gass because he wrote an introduction to William Gaddis' The Recognitions which I'm eager to read because he gets named alongside Thomas Pynchon, who I read a lot, but I somehow never heard of Gaddis, so I'm eager, but delaying my gratification. Mostly because the library had a copy of Gass's novel, Middle C, while I'd have to enter the library to get The Recognitions as a physical book, so I bought it and can therefore be confident about being able to read it when I'm good and ready (by which time I'll likely be able to visit the library, but there you go! I'm fickle that way!)

The introduction Gass wrote for the other W. G.'s book was brilliant beyond almost anything I'd ever read, and written very much in the spirit of the Welle's "documentary." The novel is a little slower, with fewer sparks. I may have woofed the art in favor of the authentic, or something like that. No matter, it's a fine enough read. Gass can impersonate Gaddis who can impersonate Pynchon and the critics, like the art experts who confidently identify forgeries as genuine can do with paintings, and it won't much matter to me. I'm looking for what moves me, is all.

Meanwhile, I'm reading about how they've come up with this new vaccine by forgery of genes, and I think I'm on pretty solid ground to promote Chinesey treatments for intellectual property. How much time is it worth to prosecute genuinely talented forgers who punk the experts? How guilty should a person feel for stealing intellectual property if the result is curing disease?

Just how important is the Emperor's New Clothes confidence game of the art market? Hell, artists themselves are rarely the ones who profit, being the only intellectual workers (wrong term, I know, but I hate the term "creatives," mainly because I can have no claim on it) who don't get royalties for their work. There aren't that many Picassos who become sensations in their own time (another aspect of the Welles spoof).

I do know and do endorse the importance of "objective truth." It's what science runs on, and it's how we can maintain our democracy, if indeed we do, by having public standards to distinguish truth from falsehood. 

But I am also a radical disbeliever in any duality between mind and body, and so I would also maintain that there is validity to what each of us holds as true in our own personal narrative, even when its objective truth is not provable. Stories are fictions by definition, at least because you have to pick and choose what to highlight. It's what your subconscious mind does before handing you up something objective for you to make a snap emotional decision on, which then becomes conscious. The world is not built on objective truth. Objective truth is for procedures of trueing, and it's those procedures which hold us together. 

In some sense, that's what objective means. It means 'shared truth.' And that shared truth is at a higher level than to discover the structure of 'objective reality' so that we can gain evermore control over our environment. Science is a procedure for building trust in a shared reality. It's really the only one we've got, or will ever have. 

Subjective reality can be true in a different sense, of course. For instance, I  would never deny the reality of someone's belief in what they call God. I might argue with the way in which that reality gets distorted by men who want to create an empire around it.

The Orson Welles documentary begins with a display of sleight of hand, focusing on the delighted child being teased and fooled with money materializations. Then it slides into candid shots of men reacting to a stunningly gorgeous woman strolling by. The looks on the men's faces are exaggerated to the point of caricature. Welles exposes the hoax, and how he got so many good actors to act for free. It is evidently that good, the acting, that it just simply must be true.

Of course in my private space, I was inwardly looking exactly like those leering men. Have I fallen for beauty and believed it true. Well, yes I suppose I have. I've been divorce once in the legal sense, and plenty of other times in the practical sense. Beauty is a trickster.

But science doesn't only advance by cognitive effort and skill. There also has to be some craft and some artistry to conceive and devise the clever ways in which we test our theories. At the very frontiers of science, objective truth dissolves as we find it increasingly hard to distinguish hard fact from projected theory. Only mathematics can dissolve the paradoxes of Bell's theorem, but I, for one, without the math sill feel that I can understand it. Of course, mine is a very subjective understanding, since I doubt I could hold my own in any discussion among physicists. I keep my theories to myself in the same way I hide my leers.

In my amateur mind, using variations of the double-slit experiment, there is a distinction between the conceptual relation among particles and barriers, which are best understood in terms of waves, and the perceptual relation, which seems to boil down to the quanta which perception 'collapses' from a more wavy 'cloud' of probability - particles, so-called. 

I know, I know, waves are perceptual phenomena too, but it's the dissolution of hard boundaries and the foregrounding of interplay that interests me about waves. Waves remain valid across otherwise impenetrable barriers, including time. It's as though the particle senses the barrier before it "touches" it, impinges on it. The narrative order of time is disrupted at the most diminutive level of physical reality.

To me, that's about all there is to the difference between a computer or isolated brain as a thinking machine and a mind which is implicated in all of its environment. No spooky quantum entanglement required. No arcane structures. We are more one with the world than we are separate from it, is all. 

And yes, I am indeed a fraud, but mostly so are you. My narrative cannot entirely be trued with the more general public narrative, but at least I don't believe in things which are just patently nuts. Like a computational model for mind, for starters. 

Oh yes, I could go on, but this movie review is long enough already.

The trouble for me is that by inspiration about 38 years ago - call it communion with God, if you wish - I hit on a set of subtly altered definitions for terms in common usage. It happened on the basis of a (still now) fairly sketchy understanding both of physics and of aspects of Chinese tradition which acted, for me, as a corrective to some of those things in our own traditions here in the West that we almost never bother to question.

Unfortunately, nothing about what struck me grants me clearance to be considered either a 'creative' nor certainly a scientist or philosopher. But it still rings true as I anxiously navigate a troubled world to be inherited by my offspring. 

After a frenetic search for someone to understand what I was talking about - the closest I think I ever came was to a young poet of my acquaintance, who confessed after the car ride during which I was holding forth that he had been terrified that I was about to drive off the bridge. He thought I might be just that crazy.

After that I put my theorizing away, got married and carried on with life. I've never been quite diligent about any career, and remain as distantly fascinated by how others are diligent in the same way that I am distantly aware of football. But sometime in midlife I decided that a blog would be a good way to "publish" the writing I'd done while living on my sailboat. That writing remains here, utterly unread, as far as I can tell (You have to go back to the beginning to see it).

In somewhat simple terms, I realized that mind and emotion are not limited by the skins of sentient beings, but are as much a part of the cosmos apart from us as are the objects of physical science. I whittled the terminology down to percepts, concepts, motion and emotion. Physical forces act on percepts, while concepts define relations among objects in the mind. The relations are mathematical and not forceful. So mind gets outered as well, as an eternal and primordial aspect of cosmos. 

I'm not only quite comfortable with this understanding, but it relieves me of the stress of thinking that there's something more that we must discover before we can improve the world we live in. I don't doubt that we can and will do a much better job of spreading some version of 'the good life' across the globe. But there is no essential difference, for me, between waiting for God to descend to save us from ourselves, and waiting for science to guide us to some perfect resolution.

We are eternally implicated in the reality that we inhabit. Our integrity makes a decisive difference. There is no self-driving self. We need to take responsibility.

Of course that is a supremely useless statement, since each of us has a different sense of how to exercise that responsibility. But as one of the hundred monkeys needed before we can change the way we live in the world, I remain bizarrely confident that it will happen. That's because I know that my beliefs are true!

That's despite how hard I continue to try to find and accept some disproof. Absent that, I shall carry on in my insanity. You'll come around eventually. That's how the truth works. My God, how beautiful the women that frauds surround themselves with!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

What We Now Know

The other day after getting my COVID-19 test results (positive), complaining right up here of the drama the day before, our capitol building was being attacked. We still don't know why there was so little security, and why the seditionists were allowed to amble off. In the event, I had no idea how much of the bad I felt was a function of which news, and how much was the virus itself.

The trouble with both the virus and the news of the day is the same. The virus has made me feel less sick than I've felt with the flu. But in the case of the flu, I knew that I would get through it no matter how horrible I felt. In this case, I felt like there was some kind of time-bomb hidden in my body that could cause me to tank any minute. A very loving nurse-practitioner told me so. Sheesh. And the media was telling me likewise about what was happening down in Washington. I couldn't watch. It was too horrifying.

How do we contend with the evident fact that upwards of half the country now has so little trust in our institutions that they will believe real fake news to the point of insurrection, in the name of a man who clearly has no integrity, no character, no scruples and whose exit from the stage provides such clear display of all of that, so much so that even his former closest allies are abandoning him?

How do we explain officers of the state, our very elected officials, jumping on the same bandwagon? Is there no limit to self-promotion? To toadying for wealth? Is there no dignity left? Aren't they guilty, as officers of the state, of actual treason?

As Trump's features morph into those of John Voight whose features match an "uncle" of mine who went over that same right-wing cliff decades ago, and as I witness the certainty of those willing to post videos of themselves denouncing anything good about our Republic, it's tempting to believe that it's all a disease process, like the virus.

But in the political case, the disease is so easy to diagnose, unlike the COVID, where after a week there has still been no contact tracing in my case. After almost 12 days from presumed contact, there will be no point to any contact tracing, anyhow. Even while other countries have put together apparently efficient and effective processes. (I've contacted so few people, and none without a mask and keeping distant, that they all know all the details, I assure you) I promise that I'm as isolated as anyone can get. If I got it then we should be a lot more vigilant and pro-active than we are being. That's all I'm saying.

So this political disease can trace its roots to social media, to the demise of media regulation so that there need be no integrity to opinion masquerading as news, of course to the way the Internet has come to operate on surveillance capitalism, and of course to the way that capitalism in general operates in the age of digital technology. Capitalism does not run on scruple.

We don't want to do anything about any of this because we like the life we can almost taste so very much. (I told my daughter that I would love her 'even if you weren't always there for me,' and she asked back 'When was I not there for you!' and I sighed at the ambiguity of English. It's hard work to make things clear!) We don't really get the good life, most of us, but we get enough of it to taste it.

My young friends warn me that to regulate speech on the Internet would be to curtail free speech, and most of the time I do value privacy of communication. I don't want any Banana Republic sniffing out and coming down on seditious and radical organizers. But in our case (as sponsor of any Banana Republics that ever existed) we have plenty of information right out in public of seditious right-wing radicals plotting sedition, and nobody seems to come down on anything. 

Is it just because there is no contest between the sponsors of banana Republicanism and the anti-socialist capitalism which controls our government, and seemingly always shall? Do they dance their Tango in partnership? Isn't that supposed to be the Trumpists' complaint? 

I wish that I could think so. Maybe I could if the white supremacy, the Article 2 distortions, the anti-semitism, the homophobia and hatred of gender non-binary were stripped away. That all makes it seem hateful. So I'm left with wondering how such hate gets engendered. 

It seems like hate and certainty are always related. Maybe we don't need all the ambiguity that we have. Maybe we could express more certainty about the good, and less about the bad generally, from both sides.

Like a clock that's broken but which is therefore telling the right time twice a day (that's a cliche I heard from a politician recently, agreeing with Trump on something - perhaps his demand for $2000 stimulus checks) Trump is right about Section 230, but for the wrong reasons. He's just plain too stupid to understand that Facebook is as incapable to be biased against the right as it is to be rid of dangerous hate speech. They curate what you see by algorithm, and so it's your friends they would have to hold accountable. People believe their friends before they believe whatever passes for the past Walter Cronkite anymore. I think Kevin Simler says as much.

I did remember/find out who Kevin Simler is, and I'm about to read his apparently popular book, The Elephant in the Brain. I know I won't like it because he talks about 'the brain' instead of 'the mind.' But he tussles with - or his co-author does -  my old tussle-buddy (one sided, of course) Eliezer Yudkowsky, so he can't be all bad. 

Yudkowsky believes that the brain is the mind and that it can be modelled computationally and that there will soon be a machine cognition singularity and he can make himself immortal thereby. To my mind, that's as nutty as believing the Disney Christianity which has our dead relatives looking down on us. Anyhow, no wonder Simler doesn't have time to post to Quora anymore, if he's writing books and they're getting read. Well, I'm probably just looking in all the wrong places. Though, I'm not really looking. Sorry.

There's a difference between freedom of speech, which is a cornerstone if not the cornerstone of our republic, and not much worried about by the capitalist establishment, and non-regulation of hate speech, conspiracy-mongering on public media, and general promotion of insane belief structures. 

I know I'm in danger of wanting the establishment clause violated, but I'm not. I'm in favor of getting religion and nuttiness both back out of politics, which is another cornerstone of our Republic. That means we should be not only allowed but encouraged to question, say, Amy Coney Barrett, on her religious beliefs, and make a judgement about whether those beliefs will prevail over established law. 

Yes, I think most religious beliefs are nutty, but I hardly ever meet religious people who are nutty, any more than I meet Trump supporters who are nutty. I do see lots of nutty things they say on social media, which means that they have nutty beliefs that they wouldn't tell me in person. And there's the trouble right there, no? Nobody feels OK challenging beliefs to anyone's face. Everyone seems to feel OK stating their beliefs on social media, especially among friends. 

Each side seems to think that the other is diseased, mentally deranged. How did we get here? Do we even speak the same language? Do we even know how to argue anymore?

Well, I think I'm going to live through my bout with COVID-19, and maybe even get the bonus of an immunity bridge through to whenever they sort the immunization out, whoever they becomes. 

The drama isn't quite over, but at least its not making me feel like I'm imminently going to die, which it certainly was this past Thursday. Not over yet, though. The fat lady . . . oh nevermind!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Too Much Drama on the Way to COVID-19 Test Results

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of deference to the man and to the awards, I give the book a solid five stars. As science fiction, it was pretty annoying. It cloys so close to the way that things actually are and likely will be that all of the inaccuracies in scale grate on me. He should have known that nothing like this can happen in the time frames given, especially as most of the plot regards politics as those play out in the new world on Mars and then reflect back home on earth.

His scale for politics is as compressed as are the timelines for equipping and populating Mars. His renown for this book rivals Elon Musk's wealth. Both are absurd, in one sense. In another they are very real. I mean deserved.

Of course Mars should be used as a spoiler, a foil for how humanity may transform. But in order to keep the work within the novelistic form, of course he must leave humans as we are; full of foible and prejudice and stupid ideas that we hold onto for dear life. Full of stupid enthusiasms for driving and flying and travel (guilty!).

It's an old book by now, and I should give it a break. It's been a long time since I immersed myself in science fiction, and maybe I've grown old as well. I remember being utterly immersed in new and fantastic realities, though the creatures there also couldn't escape their fundamental protagonist/antagonist identities. Only Ursula K. Le Guin ever tried, I believe, to get inside the skin of an evolved and transformed humanity. Horrors, but maybe Margaret Attwood as well. Is my problem with the masculine vision then? Probably so.

But still, the book by far deserves its acclaim. As to Elon, well, you have to afford him kudos as well for seeing through the new economy based on Surveillance Capitalism to one that still requires physical embodiments for purchase. The new economy assesses by enthusiasm for a kind of corporate vision, making bets on smoothness of execution. It still boggles my mind that vast General Motors, which was once the avatar of our economy ("As General Motors goes, so goes the nation") and which "owns" such sprawling physical and human infrastructure, should be worth so much less than Apple, or Tesla now, I guess including its spaceshot fantasies.

So Elon wants to go to Mars. He sometimes despairs of earth's future. And yet he has imagination enough here on earth only to build better cars. He's betting on our staying pretty much exactly the same people as well. Of course we have to go somewhere else if we want to change. We're incapable to transform the way we live here on earth. Nobody can imagine it.

At least Kim Stanley Robinson tries! He's moved back home from Mars, as far as I can tell, and there's integrity in that.

So in my memory, the best science fiction authors bet on a more spiritual transformation. What Kim Stanley Robinson continues to offer (I've only lately been turned on to him) is a polymath read of everything relating to what he writes about, which seems to include almost everything. Politics, religion, a perfectly wonkish vocabulary in the sciences and the dogged discipline to see his massive narratives through.

It would be hard not to recommend him. And yet my inspiration comes from other directions beyond power and bombs and technology generally. My imagination would change us by processes of enlightenment that these things have offered us. Our enthusiasms would have to turn more in the direction of lives lived differently, rather than only in other times and places which project the here and now.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Way Too Much Drama

As I sit waiting for the results of my COVID 19 test, I discover that the milk I bought for making Yoghurt is 'lactose free.' That was not my intention, but checking up on my yoghurt-making assumptions I came across an explanation for yoghurt which made the seemingly irrefutable claim that the bacteria which transform milk into yoghurt 'work' on lactose. I give up!

I've nearly died twice on Christmas eve; once an appendicitis while I was trapped over the Canadian border. They almost didn't let me through to the U.S. hospital because I looked like I was acting my pain. Too much drama! 

The next time a pulmonary embolism. Then this time I felt ill in a pretty bizarre way, but consistent with stories about COVID. The thing was that how I felt was also consistent with too much drinking (so was the appendicitis) or just the general anxiety that I have now on Christmas eve.

There was plenty of drama leading up to the event each and every time. First time, the school I headed was closing. The board had divided into factions and I was trapped between good sense and good hope. Money was on good sense. My heart was on good hope.

Second time I'd just finished moving, had no job because I'd quit the one I did have because there was just too much drama. I didn't want to do forensic computing, and I didn't want those who worked under me to do it either. I worked for the Church. You can fill in the rest.

Trump won't let go of the drama he seems to need to inflict on us. Some are apparently thrilled by it, like die-hard Bills fans, while some are traumatized, like maybe he really won't go away. But then again, what he calls the fake news won't let go of how easy it is to catch the attention of the thinking side of the great divide by promising yet another outrage to be read about.

And furthermore, there are just too many finely honed words to read. I have no clue how to pick among them, where to spend my time. The notion that my words might actually get read is ludicrous. But it is, frankly, more calming to write than to read now. Plus I actually can imagine a better future. I'm not looking forward to global warming and meltdown. 

I actually look forward to a better world. I do. Because I feel like I actually know what's wrong with or thinking. Bold claim, that.

Several times now I've re-read this essay which sits still on Quora by this evidently very smart fellow, name of Kevin Simler. He calls the essay "crony thinking," and it pretty much describes how the brain is organized like a corporation, and some of its ideas are like the people who have their jobs not because they're good at what they were ostensibly hired to do, but because they're good at the cronyism which is at the bottom of what makes the company go.

For me, memes make a better explanation. But Simler's essay does a pretty good job of undermining, in particular, why those of us on the thinking side aren't really thinking when we "believe in" global warming, say. Simler doesn't say the belief is wrong; only that we didn't come at it by fully rational means.

Now, as far as I can tell, this guy doesn't write very often. Certainly not as often as I do, but then why would I go doing any research on him to find out? He doesn't excite me all that much, and look what I got for my yoghurt enthusiasm! When he does write, maybe it carries a lot of weight. I don't know.

My drama comes down to what happens if there's no more coffee on the shelves in the stores. Like with toilet paper, one can't always predict. And what if we really do let democracy, as we've come to believe in it, go down the toilet? 

Last time, broke, I gave my entire stimulus check to the Obama campaign. It worked! I was employed at the time. This time, I gave a big chunk of my recent stimulus check to the Working Family Party's get out the vote efforts in Georgia. I'm not employed, but I'm not hurting (therefore) from the pandemic either. It worked this time as well, so far!

Answer to my prayers! To my money? Anyhow, it bodes well for our future, for sure.

Now the fact is - God's honest truth! - that I was relieved both times I landed in the ER. My Christmas anxieties were erased. I got a 'get out of jail free' card. Sometimes I feel really good about my preparations to please people, and mostly I don't. I'm sure I'm not alone in my anxiety, but I may be extreme. 

This year COVID pretty much let me off the hook, though I still had to watch people opening presents over Zoom, knowing that mine would be delivered digitally with no fanfare. Bought the day before from the New York Review of Books. Typical guy stuff.

I wouldn't have gotten the COVID test but for my kids demanding it. I guess I wanted to keep alive the fantasy that I would become immune by having it. Twisted, I know.

Anyhow, it's almost as though my very survival is at stake now on a daily basis. It's almost as though I have to be alive again. Like many of us, I would maintain that I wasn't really worried about catching the virus for my own sake. I've been worried about some critical mass of cases being reached where it would become almost impossible not to get it. Like a wildfire in California out of control (poor California, I loved you well).

Speaking of the New York Review, it does seem that the more literate and literary a person is, the more claim that person has on how many words a reader must endure. I turn to fiction for relief. It doesn't hurt my head so much. 

That about explains where we're at historically now. We don't know who to believe, and it hurts our heads too much to try to find out. So we believe our friends. During my nearly three-year vagabondish exploration of the continental US, on a quest to understand how Trump won, I would sit in a coffee shop frequented by older women and hear such things as "he seems like a perfectly honest and honorable man to me" in the context of talking about Trump and railing against Pelosi and how she wants to control the world. 

It all kinda blew my mind. Maybe they were just goading me? I must have stuck out. But I don't really think so. They were doing what women in coffee klatches always do, which is to bond with one another. Crone thinking. 

Ouch! That feels misogynistic. But Trump is the misogynist! I'm so confused. People seem to listen to their men more in the flyover states. But everyone I met was super nice! Really!

I guess that a certain subset of the Republican party really does believe that if they don't prevail their world will end, and that justifies whatever they have to do to stay in charge. I guess that they really, earnestly, believe that. All that I have on my side is irony. And a belief in science, so far as that goes.

But, you know, science still fundamentally requires the separation of subject from object, which is something I sure don't believe anymore. Actually, I haven't believed that for my entire adult life. I don't believe that there is anything like mind as opposed to matter. On the most fundamental level possible, I don't think that conception and perception can be separated. Which means that I don't think that there is a mind apart from emotion. Which means that I really can't be bothered when people fail to make cognitive sense, because - to me - there is no such thing as cognitive sense in and of itself. 

Oh well, maybe I have it, maybe I don't, but I sure don't want to drag you through as many of my words as those other guys do. That would just simply be rude. There is not nearly enough beauty in my words to make it worth your while.

I find that, while I still seem to have my taste buds, I've lost my interest to watch movies. Even to read novels, most of the time. I write here because I'm trying to understand what to do. Clearly that's also what lots of people who read those wordy articles and essays are trying to do. They're trying to understand and by understanding make at least a personal world-view on the basis of which to guide action. 

Right? 

Or is everyone just wanting to enjoy life. Go back to normal! 

We should admit that most of us don't really want to go very far with this. We don't really want to have to revert to a more primitive life-style and so we fend off the cranky essayists who would have us take extreme measures.

Mine is, I think, a gentle world-view. Nothing changes very radically from most main-stream thinking points of view. All you really have to do is to let go of the notion that true understanding - understanding what's true - is ever possible. That's because we shall always be implicated in what we think we know. There is no such thing as objectivity, and so, there is no such thing as truth in the abstract.

Admitting that would force us also to admit that politics, marketing, and even conversation are vitally important activities. They constitute most of what takes our attention most of the time. Once we recognize that we can't get away from that fact, we realize that there is no right thing to do. Each of us is different, and so something like 'personal integrity' is the best that we might offer the world. 

The corporate mind has none of that. Football players may have it, but the team sure doesn't, when it's on the field. The team just simply wants to win. MAGA is all and only about team USA. The America I still believe in has more integrity than that. 

In the balance, I think (I hope, I pray, I believe) that integrity is winning. Trump will go away, and the news will be fairly boring again. Tech will become better regulated, and surveillance capitalism will be the first 'industry' to be socialized in a trend that will take us back to sanity. Cars will be replaced by bikes and trolleys and most of us will realize that there is no loss to sailing, in place of a powerboat or a jet ski.

Mainly, we will realize that we are as conditioned by the future as we condition it. That's what free will means, that's what agency means, and there is no scientific understanding which can relieve us of the obligation to care. Mackenzie Scott is a much better man than Jeff Bezos. That's a no-brainer. 

I paid a visit to Alcorn State along my travels. Even though I'd studied education for much of my life, I'd never heard of it. There was an entrance gate control where I was asked what I was doing. Looking around, I said. I guess I looked innocent enough. My trailer had hit a pothole deep enough to swallow the wheel, and I'd found that the hitch had bent. Yikes! I needed to stop somewhere.

Well, and so I stopped along Alcorn State's ring road to swap out a different hitch, checked everything out, and went on my way. Somehow the place felt fine to me. I felt fine. They need more money than they got, I'm sure, but it's a start!

Anyhow, I'll let you know if I'm still alive, next time you hear from me. It feels like a new day for the Nation. A day full of way too much drama! Mckenzie Wark. McKinley Kitts. In my next life, I will have a gender-free name and make better music. In this life, I remain among a droning chorus. Rock on. I would like to dance again.