Saturday, May 8, 2021

Autonomous Meaning

Preposterous Preposition Proposal on the Paradigm of Pandering to our Algorithmic Selfie-selves that We don't even Know Ourselves as Much as We are Known.

The young man came to the door with a corsage, and - as all of us do - father judged him by little things of/by/from which he might feel suspicion. A misplaced wrinkle, a word out of place, and something he might witness in the eye.

"I don't care what you do, so long as you don't do it with or to or on my daughter." Meant in a jocular, yet threatening fashion. "You don't want to know what I would do to you."

Funny really, that you play a joke on someone while you play music to someone or more likely for someone, but never on someone. Well, if you did play music on someone, it would be behind their back or against their will or preference. 

I have been skeptical about the wonders of James Joyce's most celebrated writing. It has always seemed that he was writing something on us, and that the readers, in emperor's new clothes fashion, are that pleased to find that they recognize the attributions. Maybe I only feel license to think that after I learned that he stowed his literal crap under his bed. Coprophilia nervosa or something like that.

At least now reading William Gaddis' The Recognitions I feel that he implicates himself in all the shenanigans. We the reader sometimes hardly recognize the characters as they ebb and flow and change, or not. But at least he writes for us, and not principally for himself, making no claim as authentic, say, novelist. Plagiarisms blatant with the pride of false origination. He doesn't care to be original, and yet everyone still follows him, or so my recognition of what must be the origin of this or that observation and stylistic rendering says to me. Wasn't Pynchon reading him while he wrote?

How truly strange that Joyce's papers have landed in Buffalo. We were that promising once upon a time. Or maybe it's oddly fitting. We do aspire to, now don't we? Or have we been had?

I don't write to you, dear reader. If I did my writing would be so much better. I write missives to actual people and I think sometimes they are very well-written indeed, though they are not mine to keep. I wonder if I write for you. I certainly don't write on you. If I wanted to do that I would get rich on the writing analog of YouTube. I'm sure there is one, though I doubt it pays well. I suppose I could write about something, but everyone does that.

Those getting rich - I think by selling adsense on, of is it off, or from? their productions - are getting rich both on and off from you. And  by you. For nothing better than that they can find and have found a way to get your attention is a sort of amusing way. 

Call me an old fuddy duddy, but I don't think that our economy is healthy to allow this. Pet rocks are one thing, and even getting rich off or from pet rocks may not cause too much harm to, let's say, our democracy, but getting rich off or from or with one's selfie self just seems dangerous somehow. Something bad is bound to happen when you are your own editor and producer and author all in one. And when the thing you're selling is your very own self. The art of the deal or the art of the con, but you're being dealt a bad hand, in any case.

Oh, but it's free, you say? I have a bridge to sell you. It has a trillion owners. Deal?

The con of our recent past presidency is what should give us pause. He was hardly president for us, much more likely president on us or maybe off us, never with us and sometimes to us. He was always president for himself. And, perhaps, those who, like him, think that their own personal selfie and often selfish beliefs must be right. You know, people who are angry all the time. People who make jokes at others' expense.

Sure, I must check myself when I feel myself jumping to conclusions about someone else's intentions or motivations or predilections or shortfalls in whatever sort of integrity is familiar to me. But Trump has been well-recognized for a very long time, and it was never for his, um, leadership qualities. First Trump played the boss on you. Then he played the president on you. Or you could just say he played president. Or he played with being president. In the end, maybe he was playing to us all, but it was never more than a play for his own advantage. He liked the attention. 

I hear he's abusive behind the scenes. Ruthless. Mean. No, just kidding. I have no idea. He seems able to charm the pants off people otherwise seeming to have some semblance of integrity. Well, he's a confessed womanizer for sure.  Maybe it's father's daughter who's the wild one, and the poor boy with the corsage is the one who's been fooled. Or maybe they're just in on it together.

Oh what will we ever do when we debase advertising as the way to monetize social media? Will our economy fall apart then? Does bitcoin add value? We will pay for it, in any case. Just as we do now, in coin that we should never afford. Behavioral prediction, the new blackface gold.

We must do that if we are ever to have free and open elections again. Those algorithms are just too darned dangerous, and, apparently, none of us is proof alone against the automated pandering that even our best critical I is subject to. Who hasn't been fooled? 

Once upon a time there were earnest good writers. Earnest filmmakers. Earnest authors of software, and earnest DJ's on the radio trying to shock you as best they could, within reason. Now, this side of all the paywalls, all we have is pandering. Automated pandering. 

I really would like to give The Guardian some money, just like I would really like to give the pandering panhandler any spare change that I might have. But I haven't had spare change since start of pandemic. Touchless plastic only, please and thank you. So long as it's free, I'll take it. Pan! Pan! Pan!, says the sailor! Help me!

Thank God that Chinese has no prepositions, or at least not such preposterous prepositions as we do. Made in China for us, the U.S. In China: Made! While we, in the meantime, continue to do a number on them. Or is it they who do a number on us? At least they have the good sense to block our social networks. That'll teach us! Oh brother!

Can you spare a dime?

Sorry, I never wanted or expected to make such a fool from myself. Um, with myself. Play with myself. Oh dear. I do play on myself a lot, though. Why is it play on words and not play with words, I wonder?

Monday, May 3, 2021

Interlude for Anger; May Day Memories of Hard Labor

What is a wasted life? To a Christian, it is a life not devoted to Christ. The penalty is eternal damnation, perhaps. I was told in no uncertain terms on entry to Yale and upon presenting to my advisor my list of courses, which was slanted toward what I lacked, which was humanities, that I was wasting my life. Later on, when I discovered the limits of the scientific method by way of the remove of Chinese culture, I encountered genuine anger among graduate students in physics, as though I were some kind of Mormon missionary.

Now that Christianity and Science; natural law and interior definitions for personhood and all the other triumphs of Western Civ have been bound together in no uncertain terms, at least to my satisfaction, I hope and pray that I never exhibit the temerity to disclaim a wasted life to anybody. Have I said that right? I hope that someone else's beliefs cannot anger me. I hope that I can grow beyond such anger.

There is a brand of Rioja Spanish wine - made from the Tempranillo grape - that I've always liked. Returning now to Buffalo in old age, I was heartened to find it still on the shelves at Hodge Liquor around the corner from me. That liquor store has legitimate claim to be the oldest continuously running liquor store in the country, (re?)-opening as it did on almost the very second that prohibition was repealed.

First taste upon return was refreshing in many dimensions. Now I feel a little disappointed. My daughter tells me it's not as good as her first taste either. Have my tastes changed. Sure my Spanish friend with the multi-million dollar wine cellar felt the need to remind me when I served it on his visit long ago, that it wasn't necessarily the best Rioja one could buy. 

Well, I knew that. I was doing the best I could. In any case, the integrity of a brand must be less consistent even than personal integrity, one hopes and supposes. Especially a brand of wine, which rises and falls with the weather.

My (honorary) presiding over a wine and food club with national repute has done nothing for my tastes. Dang! My mind is too loose that way. I have yet to find any person or activity or body of knowledge already established, apart from my daughters of course, worthy of devoting life to. This is, alone, my shortcoming, and no shortcoming in what may have been objects of my more permanent attention.

I suppose that's as good a definition as any of a wasted life. Except that I do remain devoted to a Truth that I once uncovered. It has no good disciplinary provenance. It provokes no religious devotion, especially not for me. And it has zero practical application, as far as I can tell.

My trouble is that I can't seem to muster the energy to get beyond the bland metaphors: Gravity is love. Digital machinery leaves behind the lived connection to random. The accidents which drive evolution define love. Emotion is as primordial as elemental force. God is not apart from us. Mind was always part of matter.

Back in the day when I lived around a different corner, the owner at Hodge liquor would advise me which vintage to buy. Now the Spanish wine is the bargain wine near the door, and no advice on offer. It would be hard to know if I have reason to be disappointed, or, frankly, if I even am. What is it that I think I once tasted? What I taste now is plenty good enough for me.

I watch Eric Schmidt on YouTube talking about "blitzscaling." Along the way, he disavows his choice of Novell for his first CEO adventure. He disowns primary responsibility as well, for Novell's failure, mentioning cooked books and incompetencies that he should have been alert to before he took the position. Only later does he speak of Microsoft, which I'd thought just simply destroyed Novell. 

It's easy for him to say that Steve Jobs had to be right in his massively unlikely (re)coup at Apple, since look at Apple now! A true believer in capitalism has only one true measure. 

I did once work on a workable strategy to unseat Google. Our problem, or at least my problem, was that I wasn't motivated by riches. I thought Google had become evil, and that Eric Schmidt was the face of evil, based on some terrible animosity toward Bill Gates. That's how devils come into being, after all.

Christ and Einstein were both great disrupters. Now the capitalists own that phrase, and it is thought a force for good. The thing I really want to do is to be a disruptor of capitalism's evils. Where money accrues to the winner of some Monopoly game, and wealth concentrates at some remove from local, and especially from places like Buffalo. 

Search, I believe, along with Clarence Thomas (horrors!), apparently, should be a public utility. But the Yahoos! of tech don't believe that government is capable of innovation or disruption, unless in the manner of Chairman Mao, whom we, in our ignorance, have the audacity to peg as Stalin-esque megalomaniac, responsible though he was, in large measure, for reversing China's poverty as judged by the same historic methods that valorize Steve Jobs. Neither was always a savory soul, though only one was a shameless womanizer as far as we know.

There is now a Hofbrauhaus in Buffalo. My daughter rode my old and still hobbled (from travel) bike, which fits her much better than it ever fit me, and my son-in-law rode a newly refurbished bike from my daughter's nicer uncle - nicer than me. Among her uncles on my ex's side, we've been trading bicycles, and the one that I got back, refurbished by the refurbishing uncle and given back by the one I gave it to after he got a better bike - the one I attempted to ride across Canada in my youth - is exiled in Canada now, grace Covid.

And I'm the one who's been a professional bike mechanic! Dang! I do believe that I may attempt a return to that fine profession, if any shop will have me. God knows I can't live on my retirement savings forever. Well, you know what I mean. I just mean that I don't have enough to squander any against the statistical likelihoods about the time of my certain demise. Self-driving life in the digital age.

So when I saw the Bavarian-style house band assembling in the crowded beer hall, I somehow knew that my old buddy Mitch would be major domo. It had to have been over thirty years, but we seemed still fresh in each other's memory. As fresh as the beer brewed right there on the spot and tasting the same as it did once in Munich, alone on Easter, back in my extreme youth. Here I ordered a full liter, for nostalgia, or perhaps by the accident of enthusiasm. I've never tasted better beer. 

And I'm a craft-brewed IPA kind of guy. I'm practically a beer connoisseur. Dang! I don't like big brands, even if they do go back to the sixteen hundreds.

Mitch and I delivered beer kegs together while I was in transition to marriage and more gainful employment. My best buddy owned the place. We sang full-throated along our sprawling route, from city to country, and accepted beers sometimes upon our delivery, as was then the custom. Like drinking beer with lunch for auto-workers in Germany, back in the good old union days. 

Never tipsy, we sang off the alcohol. Once - or was it often? - at the girlie bar featured in Buffalo '66, where the girls warmed up on our behalf. Hangover from the steel plant days, folks drank early around these parts. Closure mandated only three hours a day between four and seven AM. Remembering their graveyard shifty ways. Not like London was when I tended bar there six days a week for full shifts that took twelve hours from any day I might have had. Who the more civilized, I ask you!

I ride home to settle the liter and remember that this month's Yale Alumni magazine featured on its cover my family doctor's family story. They descend, in a way, from China. Young Ben is now principal of a school in Shanghai. I was his first teacher of Chinese.

I feel like a celebrity at just a slight remove from accomplishment! I take some burnish from my daughters, each truly accomplished in their own ways. I never am. Never have been. I've always been a has-been, almost right out of the gate when Mom slammed the door on the doctor making a house call for my scarlet fever. I've bit it several more Christmas eves since then. Shouldn't there be celebrity in that?

It's just how I'm built is all. Dang!

I hardly ever read the Yale alumni magazine. Still they follow and find me, and there's a kind of loyalty in that. I did donate at first upon graduation when I had no money at all. With compounded interest, it might even mean something to somebody. And then my alienation from the place hardened and I repudiated the brand. It seemed silly to give money to such a rich man's club, which gets so much from taxpayers by way of deductions. I've only earned deductions during the brief married part of my life. The rest of the time any deductions I might have had have been swallowed by the "standard." Anyhow, I never felt quite at home there.

I'm a pretty standard guy, truth be told. I've never aspired to whatever it is that Yalies evidently aspire to.

I remember the wealthy and careless prep school boys, then the majority, who got all the fine women, and who knew how to get drunk and stoned without damaging their reputations. I was far more Allie Fox, dropping out and changing majors serially, until I had contact with hardly anyone I'd started with, living off-campus with the finest woman of them all, and in contact only with my diminutive pool of pals studying Classical Chinese.

Dang! What good would that ever do me?

I did nearly contribute to the Billion Dollar Fund at the University of Buffalo, in my reduced state last night, where I feel warmer ties. But that would have been a dangerous manic act which would have put my life in danger, if I ever do make it to older age.

I am, of course, equally disappointed with brand America, as I am in myself, and full of angst about our future. We seem to have lost our originating spirit. And yet, in some sense, we are the same as ever. We've never ever come any closer to our ideals for ourselves, and we sure have more integrity than we did in the age of (literal) slavery. I identify with and as America. We approximate the same integrity.

I still like that old Rioja just fine, and it remains within my budgetary range. I still love this country and will fight for it if I have to, against the Trumpers if I have to, until we figure out that we are and always have been on the same side. Dang!

As much as I would like to correct the Trumpers, I would like to correct Americans who have the wrong ideas about China. I have no proper loyalty. Dang!

Reading about young Ben's ancestors in China back before the empire fell, the government was behaving toward them much the same way as what we now blame on communism. Great great grandpa was among a privileged delegation sent to study in the US. His restraints from China back home seem utterly familiar, knowing something about the highly intelligent students from China who disrupted my daughter's "Free Tibet" gathering at Vanderbilt. The brilliant Chinese students that you really can't talk to about Xinjiang now.

The elder Lee's life was not very settled. He makes no hero for any story. And yet there is greatness in that family. Good for all mankind. It really does matter where and how you look, and what you look beyond.

It is not comfortable for me to drop names like Yale and Vanderbilt (liar liar, pants on fire), and indeed I'm only scratching the surface. But I have to make peace with all the brands I'd like to repudiate; which have disappointed me. I seem to befriend people, sometimes, who find license in my manner to abuse me. I seem to accept a level of abuse that is surprising to those closer to me. But it must be that I dish it out as well. People don't get angry over nothing do they? Well, I do have one friend who does. But he also has his own familial reasons.

And so here in Buffalo, which is, they tell me, the hottest spot for Covid in the State, I may still enjoy life in relative safety, and travel by bicycle absolutely everywhere with a smile on my face for the beauty. Perhaps you wouldn't see it the same way. Perhaps you'd only see Buffalo for what it's not. Or what it once was and blew. But the president of Yale who practically invented emotional intelligence went to highschool 'round these parts I just now discover. I'll bet he doesn't boast about it, though.

No matter the number of grey and chill days. No matter the closures and restrictions on dining out (we sat outside at the beer hall, to watch our bikes and to be Covid responsible, and couldn't watch the band playing the crowded beer hall inside. Less crowded and more airy than it wanted to be, and we were completely vaccinated, but still . . . .) there is plenty of life in this city yet!

India, Brazil, Turkey, Iraq (or is it Iran?) are all aflame now, and maybe they always shall be. Maybe this sort of virus is the new normal, and of course I am destined to be privileged no matter how I rail against privilege. I'm nervous now about returning to China. We don't seem to like one another anymore.

Was it despite our missteps that we seem to be coming out OK? Or is there something left of good ol' Yankee spirit? Trump has been familiar since before the days of Melville's Confidence Man. Twain's riverboat hustlers, though less of a religious charlatan (he farms that part out). As familiar as we are in the eyes of, say, the Chinese. Don't strangers always know us better than we know ourselves?

There will always be Mitch McConnels and Eric Schmidts taking charge of something at such remove from the ordinary realities that they destroy. They are part of our brand. And they must seem so perfectly nice up close and personal, I'm sure. 

It just scares me when "machine learning" promises to attach itself to capitalistic megalomania which sees unbridled "success" as inevitably good. Even when machine learning leads to a chain reaction in the noosphere no different and in not just a metaphorical relation with a nuclear chain reaction.

So all of us on every side are disappointed and hurt and anxious. Someone somewhere is trying to wreck what we think we almost have. And yet I don't wish for anything better than that fine Rioja wine. I bought a case for Dad one birthday back in the day when I was relatively solvent. We enjoyed it well. There could have been no better wine across so many dinners.

I can't seem to hold on to anger for anyone or anything. Dang! 

Maybe that's the nice part of getting old on the days when you don't feel cranky. Brands disappoint, but it's still comforting when they remain familiar. My old Buffalo home, sung to the Kentucky tune in full throated irony. I liked Novell back in my UB days, when I labored in the galleys of network engineering, and so maybe I understand what happened to Schmidt's Teutonic soul.  I like Harleys and the folks that ride them, and so maybe I understand what they're afraid of too. What makes them angry.

I've ridden both sides of right and wrong, and I can indeed lose track of which is which. I try to stay clear of the kind of anger which coals you or flips you off when you're in the way of their pickup truck on your bicycle. That just seems unnecessary. I just don't have the energy for more than a smile in return. I was never that kind of hothead, even in my youth. But then I had no reason to be, did I? There will always be something to sing about, eh Mitch?

There is nothing that I fear more than recognition. Perhaps you require some difference in learning profile to want it. We'll have to ask Amanda and Greta, or are we the ones who have the need to impose that diagnosis? We who claim the standard? For ourselves? No, Amanda and Greta and April, this young black county legislator for my district in Buffalo, are my standards now.

Anyone want to join me in disrupting Google? I might be talked out of bike mechanics, if so. The privilege of old age is to work for honor and honor alone, and despite what all those hepped on money Ivy kidlets think, we can work just as hard as they can for even better motivation. Now where can we find the venture seed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Recognition (at the Oscars)

I was stunned the other night to hear both my daughters recite what they felt to be a truism; that we are, each of us, protagonists in our own movies. I joked that mine's a novel, to cover my reeling. I believe it's been a tagline of mine for a long time (one of the things that I never bother to revisit or to change) 'author of my own life, dammit!'

Of course, I have never been the author of anything, and certainly not my life. Accident is the driver, with my lousy staid and stunted authorial voice available only in response. I'll take some credit for that, thank you very much, mostly for the mild improvements to lives - mine and those around me - in the way of constructions which take advantage of the happenstance of what's on hand. 

I tried to watch the Oscars last night. The Union Station setting was fitting, in at least the fact that there was more diverse representation than I ever recall. Train stations have always been hubs of diversity. And my TV showed me new colors and combinations, and the speakers seemed more free of expression. It may have been the best (always partial for me) Oscar celebration I've witnessed.

I hardly care about the justice of who wins or doesn't. I must have watched Frances McDormand on stage while we were both at Yale. I was notable only as a quirk, so far as I can tell. There were a fair number of us there and then. 

While I might claim not to care about recognition of the sort that actors crave, of course I do care in some sense. I feel that I have discovered something that is very important to share. I feel distraught - I blame myself for certain - that I haven't been able to communicate it. The structures in which I live describe a crazed life constrained by bars of delusion.

(What a funny term 'actor' is, since they are really acting out someone else's life at someone else's direction. They are responders, or responders are actors if never protagonists. Protagonists are the characters that get acted. I modify my critique of my daughters. We would indeed like to be protagonists of our own lives, and precisely NOT authors or actors or otherwise distant relations to ourselves)

I don't wish to act out my life, I wish to live it. But by disposition, I am shy. I see it in my older daughter now, who seems to feel the same pain I do when she earns actual recognition. This sort of thing gives license, in my experience, to friends to want to hurt you, as though they see something that you don't see in yourself. I want to warn my daughter. I don't wish to see her hurt.

But I have shed most of my anger. What anger remains now is toward those I've been closest to, I guess because they have the capacity to hurt me. I remain enclosed. I feel angry in response when they feel some strange need to tweak me. As though I'm false about myself. I always take it gracefully, even while I feel an absolute taboo against returning the disfavor.

As a collective, humans remain more impressed than awed by our evident ascendance on the planet. We are proud of our destructive capacity in some sense. I, too, am awed when I get glimpses into the workings of our capitalist marvels of desire-engineering, though most of those are reserved for people like me, but who are not me. 

I thought him a good friend, but now he seems to have lost any sense of what he requests of me to hear him drone on about the money he spends and the places he goes, holding on to the imagined suffering of his own youth, and smiling like a Cheshire cat as he tries to stick me with the bill for a cheap lunch. He has never and will never treat me to anything nice. I wonder what he feels that I have done to him? In my memory I have been generous and every-ready with my skills and strengths.

It's hard not to feel angry, but well, I do owe him, as he nursed me through one of my edgier moments, when I was crying a months-long Eureka for having found something that remains mine and mine alone. I wish only to be certain that what I found will outlast my fitful efforts to convey it. Because it matters. I would like to make my findings not mine. I would like them to make some difference.

I don't matter, and I want no recognition, no matter what Francis Fukuyama thinks that I must need in order to be human. Love is enough. Or is that what recognition means? Surely, something is lacking for anyone to want a spotlight on themself and accolades beyond reason. Still, they charm us. They charm our pants off. Even Amanda Gorman seems to feel the need to wear Prada. Somehow it makes me glad.

Here in the wild west, we made for ourselves the tidy fiction that humans are singular animals because we have a "soul" and that soul is recognized by our one and only God. And then we reconstituted that soul as a catalog of what we have done in our lives, so afraid do we remain of death, and that part of our lives that is beyond us. Missing the evident fact that Mother never cared about any of that. That Father would always hold us to account. And that we may never inhabit our soul to anything near perfection. Lowly grifters, all.

In my life, I had to step away from the Christian tradition which led to WEIRD science in the name of Universal Law. It was all accidental - no malice aforethought - and it was coincident with coming to grips with relativity theory in physics, and quantum mechanics (mechanics??). I stepped away toward China. 

I still wonder why it is that I have to be the one standing here, utterly alone, with a truth beyond what I can convey to a single other soul? I will and must inhabit the creative fiction that my realizations, like scientific realizations, cannot stay occult forever. As though there were inevitability to any of our discoveries. And so why celebrate individual genius, I ask you, why?

We all feel that way some of the time. For sure, that's what we project onto those screens we watch which sometimes make us cry even while our fellows won't. Is life that much more real projected? To cry in public the greatest shame, unless at Father's funeral among a small crowd, or in a theater. And you know, film is better for that than even the stage is. Close-ups? Is that the reason?

We don't know how to step out from our frame and our frames and to live life without need for recognition. When it was already obvious that, for instance, in China, there is not such a premium on some sort of inner self having indelible attributes of character. The character that Brett Kavanaugh lacks when he sees irremediable flaws in childish offenders jailed for life, while excusing himself his own juvenile offenses. Have you no decency!? Even the recognition of the highest court allows you to deny that simple act to the least among us? You have no face. You are a shape shifter. No matter your recognition. I recognize you as fraud.

We cannot read a soul through the windows of one's eyes. Not unless we reveal our own. There is no ultimate ameliorative power which can be gotten by way of techniques and technology by way of objective science. Science is a method for truing observation; it is not a way to truth. And, of  course, there is no ultimate Truth, while there may be reason and responsibility. 

It is not reasonable to call subatomic particles real. They are statistical figments - artifacts - of our heartfelt efforts to make sense of the world around us as it would be without us, so that we may manipulate that world, hopefully to benefit our kind. Who would decry the beauty of the vaccine now? Who? Who?

But there will be no end of suffering. We are not good enough for that. Goodness requires initiative and can't wait for certainty or accident. It is a response. 

I know, for I have seen the end of science, and that is not a bad thing. Its end is our beginning as responsible humans on a planet which requires us to stand down. Not to step back into the wilds with tooth and claw. But to retreat to fine cities, which have always been the only safe haven. Except for crime and disease and poverty. These we can deal with. We can't deal with global warming. We can't deal with suburban commutation. We can't deal with some few arrogating all recognition to themselves, and all the goods.

Science ends where subjectivity begins, of course. There can be no objectivity when you can see something that I cannot. When your actions impinge on my reality. But we resist - all of us - the notion that there can be emotion apart from humanity. And yet there is.

Once you can get over the silly idea that mind is what is contained in a skull and by a brain, you also may realize that mind is cosmic. Conceptual relations are the static relations, which don't require exchange of particles and force. Mind is eternal and cosmic. You may call it God, but that would be parochial. God will not be limited by a Name. God is not a singularity. Once named, He too will Peter out. 

I will hate you if I think that I know something about you that you don't seem to know about yourself. And I will hate you more if I think that you think the same about me. The only recourse is conversation; that thing which ends when the check is placed. When that takes all our attention. I won't bring it up until I can bring it up without anger.

In actual conversation with actual people whom I just simply don't know well enough to project anything onto them, I have a very hard time deciding who is intelligent and who deluded. I would never presume to see those traits direct. Hate requires a certain knowledge together with a certain absence. Hate comes more easily than love. 

Love is a motion toward and without force. Hate a repulsion. Gravity is love. As metaphor. There are no particles quite yet to be described, although we have detected waves now. Background love is the shape of cosmos. Literally.

Life, though, requires more than gravity. It requires a physics which makes room for accident. Through not just imprecision, but by design (without any designer, of course). There is no life without accident, no matter how good we wish to be with one another. To reduce its play means to come together, and for that science gets us most of the way. It will even get us to Mars, if that's what we really want to do. To leave the wretched behind us, perhaps. To indulge fantasies of omnipotence for the very very few. As though they could be example for the rest of us, Projections, as of the Queen, on screen. Who must expunge her very person while on show.

We've all watched it on screen. 

Funny thing about concepts: they are no more stable than percepts. But as distance grows, and physical impingements morph into the scale of probability clouds - accident aggregated until there is no difference, real or discernible, between physical/causal and accidental relations - then the only connection between shared physical objects might be in the mind of some beholder. Conceptual, and the particle-mediated physical forces now describable only as emotional. Concepts coming together in the mind draw close by emotive gravity. 

There is no anthropology without clothing taken into account. There is no original man who is not social. There is no universe that is without mind and therefore without love. There are no eternal natural laws except as they bring us together. The natural laws which enable us to explode some megatons of nuclear energy, calculated in TNT equivalents, do not add up to a natural law that we must do it.

Well, I must return to tending my batteries and my updates. News updates. Software updates. Soon, updating and recharging will occupy my entire life, or will socialization return some day? I rode my e-bike near 40 miles yesterday, along the path of the Erie Canal. Chill and stark, I had it near to myself. Big Box housing proliferates like mushrooms around the University built on a swamp for fear of black lives. Probability clouds and drainage canals. As beautiful as a Martian landscape, and with as little life.

The signs of Spring are everywhere.



Friday, April 23, 2021

As the Mind Goes (around the bend)!

Yesterday found me looking blank in my daughter's house. I needed a particular screw-driver, which I was sure must be there. I was sure I hadn't given it away. I needed it to fit into a smallish lock hole for the deadbolt I was installing at my other daughter's house. 

Neither of them really want me prowling around, pulling drawers or looking in boxes. Both of them laughed at how my appearance so perfectly fit my being. Lost, confused, frustrated, and unproductive. I'd already searched every place where I was fully entitled. Gone!

Like my mind, my tools are distributed and attenuated and I spend a lot of time looking for lost or misplaced items. A book to lend my daughter, which I must have already lent. A quote that I can't place. 

Before giving up and hitting the local Ace Hardware for a new screwdriver, my daughter with the deadbolt and I went searching for the Leatherman I'd given her. It might have worked to solve the immediate problem  She caught my disease.

She was spent from her last Zoom class of the semester where she did shed tears in front of her students. We took a ride along the squalling lake. Both of us needed an outing.

The thing about that Leatherman is that I'd lost and found it before, and that somewhat miraculously. I'd carried it aboard an airplane by mistake just after 9/11 and hadn't been detained for that. Why would it go missing now? How much might we both care?

I'd previously given away most of my tools as I have most of my books, just because I was pretty sure I wouldn't need or want them anymore. That has never bothered me, even though and even as I seem to be spending my declining years fixing family houses all over the place. I've reduced the scale of the toolbag I need to the approximate size of a lunchbox. I consider that a victory, and yet still I misplace tools.

The thing which started this was that while I was installing the lock the day before, making all the usual realignments to account for the sagging of the gate and the mistakes of whoever installed the rotted lock the last time, I realized I needed a washer of a certain size to make the lock operate smoothly.

It hit me in the morning that those excess silicone rubber washers I had to buy on Amazon (it's not like they're available anywhere else) in order to get the one I needed for my moka pot would precisely fit the bill. I felt a kind of elated. That was quickly followed by my frustration that the one tool I needed had gone missing (I'd fudged the day before, when I had to leave the lock loosely installed).

Now the question here posed is which represents the creative mind? I'm going to claim that it was the random incursion of a serendipitous resolution before the fact, not the mind I'm losing. In other words, the creative "act" was the one not in my control, but which was in my purview when making a "creative" connection.

Well, yay! I'm an artist. I only had to lose my mind to become one. And a screwdriver. And an important artifact. Fair trade.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Review: The End of History and the Last Man

The End of History and the Last Man The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a re-read. The book has been dormant on my shelves (and in storage) for a long time. Last time, awash in neo-colonialism and post-modernism in grad school, I easily dismissed it. Now I find it cogent, convincing, and very thorough.

I don't necessarily like the Allan Bloom-descended politics which leak through here and there, and I certainly find fault in his treatment of science as a fixed "mechanism," tending toward what he finally calls "progress" in history. He wants this narrative to be as dispassionate and eternal as scientifically discovered natural law.

In that he is wrong. He dismisses Thomas Kuhn with a footnote because the perpetual motion "mechanism" of science will never be paradigm-shifted out of existence, in his belief.

I'd say that it already has been, but that we resist that realization.

Science cannot be limited to the material world anymore. That's an end to science at least as profound as Fukuyama's end to history.

I'd buy the book better if he meant his title ironically. The Last Man is the one who comes before the realization that scientific objectivity, in the cosmic sense, ended with the necessary inclusion of the subject in the reality of what is being examined. What we resist, from left, right and center, is the realization that we must become responsible.

Nature cannot be overcome. Our moral purpose is all that will outlive us, while the atomic "personality" that leaves us in dread of death can easily be represented in some digital archive. Love will never cross that divide no matter the advance of technology. Not lived love, no matter how much I adore Herman Melville, say.

Thomas Kuhn described science in very Hegelian terms (Hegel being the patron saint here), but in place of the contradictions of history are the paradoxes of the standard model of physics. Einstein was the first and last public genius both.

There is a simple way around those paradoxes. It would be to admit of something more like love than progress to describe a direction for natural history. This is no mystery. How else to construe all the accidents that make up evolutionary history. Sure, in an infinite cosmos rolling dice will end up writing Shakespeare somewhere, but, well, really? Such thinking avoids the obvious and destroys Occam's razor.

I personally look forward to what's beyond the end of history, when man takes responsibility instead of projecting that onto some sort of god or other. The choices are infinite, as are the possibilities for failure. Banishing named Gods causes no harm to eternal Love.

Just now, our economy runs amok, and the earth is being destroyed. We have choices to make, and we can't make them without first agreeing to use and to share the universal language of science. The greater "progressive" direction for science is not domination of nature (an impossibility in every case) but is the alignment of human minds as the ground for moral choice.

So, for starters, I do celebrate the ground laid in this book by Fukuyama. To disagree with some of his conclusions is not to feel anger about that. This book provides a springboard for much great work going forward. The worst possible read would be to decide that we may be complacent because liberal democracy is inevitable in any case. He already raised Trump as a danger three decades ago.

The book ends with a description of a wagon train making it through a mountain pass. There are laggards and tragic accidents, but those who finally arrive realize that there was no other way to pass. He leaves just a hint that perhaps we may redirect ourselves to outer space.

The good news is that our moral history will outpace our efforts to reach the stars. We are barely even aware of the real cosmic forces which impinge on us, so blinded do we remain by religion. So excited do we remain by our historically so newfound powers.

Liberal democracy is not the end of history, and humanity is only now just birthing. Liberal democracy is the beginning and not the end. It is fragile still for that.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Crown

I have no idea why, beneath an incredible mountain of possible stories to watch on film, I ended up watching The Crown on Netflix. I remember alerting a friend to it when it first came out because of the celebrated digital opening which showed fluid gold morphing into a crown. He ended up being hooked on the series. I was interested neither in the Queen, nor in the digital beauty.

There was one minuscule dialog last night (maybe Season One, Episode Four?) between still-young Queen Elizabeth and one of her mentors, the Queen Mother or Grandmother or Grand Aunt Queen (on that level I simply can't keep track), but in any case a very old woman on her literal deathbed.

Her words were to the effect that the miserable masses need royalty as, and to be, a moral guide and an aspirational model for humanity. The Queen herself could be allowed no personalty nor personality. Somehow, I/we, the audience, could relate to the pain/angst/resignation Elizabeth was portrayed to have felt. 

Now I am hardly qualified to be a writer, and certainly not a story or screenwriter. I remain too far apart from the world. Your enthusiasms are seldom mine. My experience of our collective lives is of horror and terror for the future we promise ourselves, and like many before me I am gladdened that I may not live to see the actual fact of it all.

Momentum carries newly discovered to be destructive patterns of behavior way beyond the edge of the cliff, and while our legs still churn, there is nothing beneath us. We simply cannot carry on as we have been.

And so I am mostly interested in how mankind will morph - must morph - into something quite different from what we are just now. It will not be mastered digitally, that's for certain.

Sometimes I feel quite alone in wondering what I wonder. I feel quite alone in my astonishment, on the one hand, at how rapidly mankind has overtaken the planet, and on the other at, how little we have or wish to be transformed by that evident set of facts. 

Now, instead of Queens, we have influencers. Instead of inward (moral) self-control, we have universal armed policing which, by killing so many of what we privileged still think of and feel as some kind of "other," cannot help but to inflame the issues we can't face. And then we blame the individual officers, without even looking at the big big picture within which they play bit parts. 

The "we" I refer to must, of course, include the shouting uninformed who bring the narrative alive.

And of course, "progress" is being and will be made in these and all other matters, to assuage those who believe in such things. I did and still do, though not, apparently, in the direction that is still most wanted by most of the world's (docile?) peoples.

We did once strive by way of universal education, including education in "civics," to make of ourselves a people. That is now as much by the wayside as is the possibility to afford actual restorative psychological counselling in an insurance structure which has managed to conjur medical-style "cures" from issues which likely require near life-time attention. The working classes are afforded Prozac and its analogs, while the wealthy are treated in Queenly fashion and in perpetuity for what are, in effect, the most petty possible complaints. 

It's all STEM now all the time, even though it remains the culture workers who have all the influence. The salesman still makes more than the engineer, last time I looked. STEM is yet another way to condescend to the great unwashed masses. Like handing out blankets to feel warm inside.

I suppose that, in some distant sense, the wealthy justify themselves as does the Queen (does one capitalize Queen? Seems vaguely profane), except that they get their cake and may eat it as well. No need to suppress personhood anymore, once you're wealthy. No need to model anything other or more than wealth and wealth alone. 

Off with their heads? No, hardly. They are no better (or worse) than the rest of us are. Just more "lucky" if that's what you mean by luck. It's not a sort of luck that I would wish for. There are limits to how much of me and mine I wish to spend my life's attention on.

I am far more interested in the meaning of the virus, say, toward humanity in our collective future. At this scale, there are no accidents. These reminders are more built in. Just as it seems built-in to us, collectively, to ignore all the warnings.

My thesis must be the very Antithesis of Francis Fukuyama's in his The End of History and the Last Man. He seems to have known nothing about the sciences of ecology and evolution. There will and can be no end to natural evolution. And certainly not just because we might be content if there would be. 

Of course Fukuyama's title was taken for its ironic truth right at the outset. He likely even meant it that way. Except for those within his approximate discipline who thought it a better career move to engage him, pro and/or contra, with earnest. 

I have no discipline. And so my talk is free.

If there is to be a humanity beyond the end, the from here and now so-called "last man" will look nothing like we do now. The Recognitions which Fukuyama found foundational, and which William Gaddis mocks so eternally, is but poor substitute for the love we truly crave. Just as earthly wealth shall always be poor substitute for what religionists seem to mean by God's grace.

Love is, of course, far less trivial to organize than an economy. We shall never be captains of Spaceship Earth; we simply can't master her controls, any more than we could master nature; to be redundant and non-sequitur about it.

We shall not master love. There is no calculus for it. Our Earth shall career and careen as she will, with or without us. Unless we learn to return her love. (Earth shall never be masculine, right?)

The Queen may set out to love her people, and sure she has been as good as it gets. A fine thing it is that this TV series was made so long before the Meghan and Harry show. It would hardly be believable otherwise. Yes, yes, long live the Queen who shall be panty raider King Charles before history Peters out. Johnson & Johnson on pause. We do so want our lives back, as though normal were ever a steady state. As the Queen Mother (whichever one hardly matters) did urge, fucking is no substitute for duty.

And so duty is already spent. Alas poor princesses all. 




Monday, April 12, 2021

Life is In-Between (God and Sub-Atomic Particles, (which are on the same ontological level))

Yes, well, so I've been getting by for many years now with no landline, and almost as long with cellular Internet. Finally, the frustration of the dongles and the wires - all things which can endure only so many pluggings and unpluggings - the frustration did me in, and I got an always-on Internet connection with WiFi. To go along with it, I bought a cheap Roku streaming device. My mind reels!

In some sense I'm cutting edge. I know practically nobody who even attempts what I do, but because of that it hardly ever works quite right. The data limit for the phone itself is different from its limit as a "personal hotspot," and so watching movies may be interfered with by all sorts of things. - calls, alerts, texts, but maybe also app deficiencies. Recovery isn't always graceful. And so I caved.

I was spending too much time fiddling and not enough time doing whatever it is that I was attempting to do. Except that truth be told, I've always enjoyed the fiddling more. So now I'm afraid that I've destroyed yet another pleasurable pastime. Well all the new house-buyers in my family, who spend money very differently than I do, will provide more fiddling than I can handle, I'm sure.

Check this out:


You might call it fiddling for family. Here's the one I made for my older daughter a few years ago:


The problem really is that not enough people do what I'd been doing for that little backwater of tech to be kept up to date. I"m not even sure why anybody would do it, unless, like me, they're mostly mobile. And cheap!

When I first visited China - I can't quite remember, it might have been Taiwan which came first - I remember the incredible tangle of wires from every tele-post. The entire arrangement (it was NOT arranged) bespoke do-it-yourselfism in the context of no regulation and no standards. Considering that it was both telephone and electricity, it was vaguely terrifying.  It was certainly all a tangle.

Later on, I was among the original inhabitants of a "foreign experts tower" on the campus of a university on the outskirts of Beijing back in, maybe, 1986. I remember the fuse closet in the hallway where wires poked out from concrete to screw-posts between which fusible wires were strung. Almost every code in the American book was broken by that building.

Hot water was available only during certain hours - unlike in Taiwan where we had to load the wood into the water heater ourselves when we wanted a hot shower. In this case we could watch workmen doing that to know when the water might get hot. 

Jump ahead, and only a couple of years ago in Shanghai, I encountered my first post-cable world of entertainment. In just the way that cellular bypassed the need for an organized set of wires and switches for telephone, so fiber optics bypassed the need for a cable infrastructure. Electricity seems pretty well organized in the bigger cities of China as well, by now.

It was confusing in a (low-class) hotel to understand how to pay for what was not free when I wasn't the account owner for the Internet TV. The WeChat I used wasn't quite integrated to China's micropayment system, since I was never there long enough to open a bank account, and bypass my American credit cards. Or to bypass credit cards entirely, the way most Chinese do.

But the interface struck me as way beyond what I thought we had here in the US. I could get all the local TV from all over China. I guess in China they want you to watch and don't wish to put omnipresent American paywalls in your way. I could also get plenty of free film - really only the new releases required any payment at all, and when they did it was modest. I just couldn't make my way through the tangle to do it.

Chinese webpages, TV interfaces, and lots more are way busier than most Americans could stand. So Roku looks spartan by comparison. It looks almost organized. Even though I read Chinese with pretty good fluency (mixing metaphors, I know) I've never quite learned to accommodate the clutter of Chinese mass-media websites. I suppose the brain is organized differently in an alphabetic zone as compared to a Chinese-character zone. 

I've never quite managed to leap that divide. My brain wiring was already too set in its ways when I started Chinese.

But here's the deal: we're always in between. 

There are things about which we must agree, if we are not to be defrauded nor to be frauds ourselves (can you tell that I’m - very slowly - trying to penetrate William Gaddis?). These are the things of science. And yet now, having thoroughly repudiated God as a silly projection, mostly used for the sake of earthly power, we are loathe to let science end where it must end; at the point where the subject leaks in among the objects.

Each of us must have our own point of view!

From many points of view, God is very real indeed, and one is less easily fooled of Him than of scientific overreach. Our trouble is that we make too much of individuality, as though point of view must be as personal as personality, and as though that is the only thing worth living for. Death be not proud. 

Redundant in Buffalo, for sure, death is, since we don't know how to stop eating chicken wings. Though we hardly wish to eat them alone. And there simply are no better ones anywhere else. This is not subject to scientific validation. 

Science let go of us, let us go, as long ago as the Atomic Bomb provided proof that we are willing to go only so far as power, which then goes right to our head and we think that the cosmos may be, finally, comprehended. We don't need no stinkin' god. We smell up the cosmos perfectly by ourselves.

I look at Roku's interface and it pretty much looks like any other interface for streaming. Except that there are so many categories; a problem somewhat obviated by a pretty good global search facility. 

But it looks primitive, in a way, by comparison with the one I saw in China. Over there, previews would show up anywhere and everywhere, and then when you choose something, characters might float across the screen while watching a video, to show reactions from people from all over the place,  watching at just the same time along with you. 

Is that the price of "free?" No, you could usually turn them off. What I considered a distraction was apparently welcome by most Chinese viewers. I guess it added to the excitement and drama of the viewing. But I'm not sure. There have never been that many people I could bother with my pesky questions about how to make sense of this and that. People everywhere lack the proper patience. 

But I do have to say that when it comes to what can be gotten on Roku for free, and what you're missing by not being willing to pay for it, the US looks more complex than that tangle of wires in China. I can sign on to Spectrum news without paying for Spectrum TV by virtue of my Internet account, but it's not available for free via Roku streaming. At a certain point I call well enough alone and give up. Or maybe I'll get some thirteen-year-old clever and fearless kid to climb the pole for me and add to the tangle.

I won't stand for being swindled, dammit!

Facebook will now add descriptors to its posts to distinguish "satire" from "earnest" I hear, along with other things. Just imagine the flames from people earnest about their beliefs which look like satire to the Facebook moderators!

So I interact with TV tech in a pretty satirical way. I don't wish to be caught short again the way I was when I came in from the cold of living aboard my sailboat and couldn't distinguish Saturday Night Live from televangelism. I honestly had no read of which was meant as comedy. My mind reeled.

Now I wait for cable and its incredible fees to be replaced by something more Chinese, but who knows? I may have my order inverted. Just because they leapfrogged our evolution away from telephone, cable, DVD distribution networks, and brick and mortar retail doesn't mean that we aren't the more advanced at any given moment in time.

I guess I'm meant to be anxious, in just the way that the ever-morphing viruses among us keep our enthusiasms curbed.

Somehow, on Quora mostly, I feel surrounded by apologists for China (I know, break-neck subject shift), who defend the Chinese take on Tibet or Xinjiang. Finally I read a long New Yorker article which has the ring of truth, and now I myself believe that there are atrocities going on in Xinjiang, no matter how clever watchers undermine what they call the propaganda of Western news. We, apparently, blow up sensation on the flimsiest of evidence.

The ring of truth to which I refer regards the article's treatment of systematic sycophancy in the apparatus which descends from power. Picture local and petty officials being afraid not to detain and inter individuals who *might* be considered suspect, on paper, from up above. 

And then, of course, I'm reminded how Dubya got us into an endless war in Iraq and then again in Afghanistan for equally flimsy reasons, but which ended in much more death and destruction than China has ever wrought on the Uighurs. This is the kind of thing which China throws back in our face. I suspect we deserve it.

Who, after all, is the dirtiest in assuming that others need to be more like us? In assuming, even, that they must want to be? In assuming that their religious beliefs are crazy while ours are not?

Of course official China doesn't do religion. Or do they? Don't we?

In the way of the virus, we're between what we'd thought would be the End of History and the Last Man - life as we'd come to like it - and our future release from viral lockdown. The stock market meanwhile surges. Too bad for all those whose lives have been destroyed.

We're stalled between the so-called standard model of (particle) physics and the next big paradigm shift. And we still think that shift will come from revelations generated by the CERN supeconducting supercollider, which is to say better descriptive explanations for ever more elusive still-so-called "particles." 

Those of us schooled only in Statistics for the Social Sciences cannot know what they do with eigenvalues at Google, say, nor do we have any way to validate our sense that they could do it differently and better were they not so addicted to their particular brand of golden goose: keyterm auction.

My nephew worked at CERN and showed me his graphical rendering of the data which achieves a scientific level of proof for the actual existence of this or that new "particle." (He works in finance now, of course) I forgot to ask how many logarithmic transforms were applied and why, and how many sigmas were achieved, though that is really a business term now.

I know that scientists cannot stop themselves, but I also suspect that they will not stop themselves, really just because their discoveries have been so very exciting, and often very useful. There is no shortage of problems to be solved. Funny thing is, post-bomb, post-discovery of global warming, most of the problems are social, and not amenable to scientific resolution unless by coercion. Unless we really do believe that we may - collectively? - become as gods. 

Given the nature of the so-called one-percent, we know that individuals can become as gods. Temporarily. Who even wants that? I know I know.

We never stop to recognize the religious roots for our terminology. Our assumption that there must be a law-bound cosmos and that those laws are natural laws, which is to say not created by "us", and that the cosmos is ultimately describable - that assumption is very religious indeed. It descends from Platonic archetypes which provided the framework for our unitary concept of God.

Chinese cultural forms are equally indelible, especially the notion that there is a right and singular form for a culture which shall remain continuously recognizable across some five thousand years. Of course, Taiwan must be a part of that. And of course the Uighurs should be flattered to be invited in. Just like the Iraqis should feel privileged to be offered our notions for governance.

Somehow it becomes always and all about a power structure. That's how good guys and bad guys are organized. And God help you if you offend someone whose mind has already been closed.

So here I am and shall remain, living in the bozone where I neither believe in religious truths, nor do I accept that scientific trueings are somehow cosmic, eternal, and apart from what we cook up in our very own (collective) minds. Wouldn't there otherwise be an end to progress someday? Wouldn't we have arrived? And what then, I ask you!

From my point of view, scientific trueings are about aligning our collective minds, which are only apparently separate and distinct according to a very cosmically local set of religious imperatives. Those religious imperatives morph easily into economic imperatives and so on. 

I mean, just try to tell someone who knows physics that the term "particle" is really metaphor. You'll probably get 'sure, sure, yes, of course,' in response. But then go a step further and insist that particles are no more real than ghosts or gods or other collective delusions, and you'll probably start pissing someone off.

We have a lot of apparatus to distinguish the crazies from the sane, but we draw the line at religion, which is somehow held sacrosanct, hoho, even or especially by our secular legal structures. But I'm calling it a fine distinction, if an important one. When religious zealots start carrying guns and taking over political structures, I get just as scared as the Chinese government does. At least the technorati only want everything for themselves. Those robbers of local wealth.

So, in my in-between state, I wait patiently for both government and science to get it right. I look forward to days post-pandemic, when I can be close to strangers again. And I look forward to an economy which isn't so tilted to those who already have all the wealth. The trick is to learn to be content in this in-between state, which is all we are destined ever to have.

Did you know that more people have started to play the game "Among Us" than have contracted the virus? How many cancelled books does that mean? It takes so much more energy to read William Gaddis, say, than to watch a movie made from a Philip Roth book (he believed that reading novels would be dead before the novel would be. Ha!) but only one of them will teach you what you need to know about fraud. I mean Orson Welles ain't bad, but, well, he hung with the likes of William Randolph, right?

Maybe I need religion for that to happen - for me to be content in my in-between state. But the trouble is that science is the better procedure to get us all together. It's infuriating to me that so many people think that they can just blithely disregard established scientific principles. Especially when they do it in the name of religion, but even more when they do it so clearly and blatantly in the name of raw power. 

So, let's say we are in a lifeboat, and let's say it's called spaceship earth, like Bucky used to call it, and let’s say we learn to agree that we will and can never know enough to fully describe the cosmos we hurtle through. All we can do is to enjoy the ride and spend at least enough time and effort to keep the ride going. 

When people in power claim better understanding than the scientific community, I feel like we're headed in a direction toward the corruption we project onto China, or onto Russia. Just a feeling, you know. And yet I feel worse when religionists want to be in charge. I mean, Pence was a lot more terrifying even than Trump, especially if one were to imagine a long-haul with that sort of duo in charge.

But I do hold back about ultimate truths. When scientists of any discipline claim truths beyond science's purview, they lose me entirely. Sub-atomic particles are not the end of any story. In that discipline, we've long since jumped the shark, by virtue of a kind of religious certainty that truth is objective and not a process for mind-alignment. We already have enough teasers to make that clear.

I personally find a cosmos where we are as much the makers as the product to be far more exciting than one where some abstract set of principles or beings abides in-charge in perpetuity. Sure, it's a lot more nerve wracking to be in charge. But hey, I'd rather get rid of cars altogether than to "own" a self-driving car. I'm really weird that way.

Well, OK, maybe I wouldn't mind being able to hail a car from my smartphone, which also told me relative time and cost for public transit. I'm just not sure that the planet can abide private cars, no matter the power source.

Wouldn't it be funny if the real purpose of science were to create a kind of hive mind without any queens? Wouldn't it be funny if the truths that we choose to guide us were as quirky - at cosmic scale - as we each think ourselves to be, addicted as we are to personality.

Wouldn't it be funny if I were actually correct when I did discover lo those many years ago now, that emotion is a cosmic force. It's obvious but still scientifically unthinkable. I think that's dumb. And God is love, full stop. No need for projection at all.

Where I was at, way back then, living on my old wooden sailboat (read all about it!) was tangling with the paradoxes in "modern" physics. Religion deals with paradoxes. Why can't science? Well, science deals with paradoxes by steam rolling them with practical solutions. Just so long as the science works locally here and now, we're fine!

After the bomb, it's true that we did still progress. We couldn't have GPS without accounting for the same theoretical structures which gave us the bomb - relativity theory, time dilation and all that. Now we dream of quantum computing, which will perfect privacy, among other things, as though computation will set us free! 

Computation is not subject to pesky human emotions and parochial point of view. And that's where the trouble begins. I mean I'm really sorry for the life that Alan Turing was forced to live. But that doesn't make universal machines the right response. That imitation game - the digital resolution - cuts us off from cosmos as the outset. That's what on/off means.

Full Stop.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Words Make us Crazy, Especially When They're Written

I read with horror and amazement about this finance cowboy who makes and loses money for Christ. I peek at a Facebook posts of a bible-talking medical doctor railing against the vaccine. I don't care about the money lost, and I don't care about the freedom of speech of Bible-thumpeters either. I do care about the con. The human mind seems to have a hidden tap for crazy. It seems related to Jesus and the whole 'in the beginning was the Word' thing. 

I make the claim that love is a cosmic force, here and there in my writing. I have always been amazed at the historical power of Jesus Christ, the story if not the Man. I have left a tap open in my own mind, just in case God may be real and I mistaken (in my pride at making sense of words?). 

I grow old in a way to make my writing even worse than it already is, and was and has-been. My excuse: I'm not trying to write professionally. I'm trying to conjure some sort of truth from words. I'm trying to true them, across as much reading as I can bear. I'm trying to make the same profound sense that, say, the Dao De Jing makes. Words have proliferated so that this becomes near impossible. That's my excuse. 

I have no intention to force my words on anyone.

I start my fifth paragraph with "I" and still I wish to disappear from my writing in just the way that simple-living Hwang's fortune dissolves, taking down a bunch of banks with him (don't worry, they don't sink, they just flounder for a moment). A Bible thumper has always made a convincing con.

Watching that horned Q-Anon nut-job lead a gang of vandals (he was dressed as a Vandal in the literal sense, right?) in a kind of bizarre prayer session in the Senate chamber should have clued us all in. There is something scrambled in the collective mind of a country as devoted as we still seem to be to a literal read of the literary and curated, very highly produced Bible, as the Word of God. 

How, I ask you, can love be turned into so much hate? So much child abuse? So much practice of indulgence in the forbidden fruit? Not of sex which is practiced so lovingly outside any Church (although much more exciting inside), but of patriarchal abuse of women, children and men. Forgive me father, for I have forced myself on someone again. I shall not want.

We call this out every chance we get now, really just because it's safe to do so. Yes, Andrew Cuomo, your license has been revoked. You should become a preacher. They're pausing the prosecution of any more priests here in Buffalo so that the Church's bankruptcy may proceed more smoothly. Praise God?

How have Christians come to hate border-crossers? How have Christians come to hate gays? How have Christians come to be so contrarian about nearly everything that's sensible? 

That's the same question as how can the mind become so crazed while still being able to navigate a life? What magic formulary of word-doctoring has made that even possible? In Korean?!? 

I guess we all need something to hold onto. We can't make sense of the world, we don't know who to trust, and so we accept as truth whatever gets Trumpeted loudly and with the most self-assurance and in the right cadence, and it must shake the very foundations of rational mind, just like Gideon brought down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev. 

Yes I did march around the Pentagon, but we weren't being exactly serious about bringing down literal walls. It would take a word-crazed one-time pilot to do that. My word-crazed cousin was at ground zero. It was personal.

Now we're building walls? Even as we dismantle the very bedrock of democracy in the name of Republican power? Which claims God for itself? 

This is nuts.

I sure do hope that someone has taken off our distributor cap when China invades Taiwan right after their Winter Olympics. This virus is as nothing against the plague of wanton words which destroy our very minds. The masks worn internally now by all the Bible misinterpreters are far more flameproof than the ones they throw on their toxic fires they fan for what? Freedom? Give me a freaking break already. 

The truth will set you free. 

Your truths are imprisoning you, Christian soldiers. You have erected walls inside your own minds and you shall be damned for a veritable eternity within these walls of your own making.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Review: The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly ProsperousThe WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I believe, but cannot be certain, that this book represents something entirely new in science. It is an investigation of our shared reality which includes the living, thinking, observing subject as a determiner of reality, and not just subject to it.

I may have that backward. We are subject to evolution. What I mean is that our definition of reality now must include humanity as an object. There is no objective reality without us. Language fails me. Dang!

Sure, this author is not a practitioner in the "hard" sciences, but is rather more some new combination of anthropologist, sociologist and metareporter of academic writing. That writing includes history and archeology and psychological experimentation.

At various points in my life, I have invested money, time and angst in talk therapy. I think it has helped. But I can't, for the life of me, remember why I did it. I don't remember being unhappy or desperate. Perhaps I needed help through various transitions. Talk therapy is a very WEIRD thing, I know.

I write perfectly useless reviews. I know a competent review when I read one. I leave those to people competent to write them. I'm more interested to note how it is that reading a book has changed me, and then I sometimes go on to urge my (newly revised, yet still somewhat tortured) thinking on whoever might read my review.

Lately, Elon Musk justifies his absurd wealth (to Bernie Sanders!) by saying that he's amassing resources to spread something like the bright beacon of consciousness beyond earth. As though he knows what's good for all of us. He clearly believes that being the richest man in the world justifies his laying claim to be the most intelligent. He could use some therapy.

Well, after our four years of horror under Trump, maybe some of us among the science-following half of the planet will miss our easy calling out of the opposition as idiots. It was ever so much fun! But the trouble is not that they're all idiots. The trouble is that they're not. Intelligent and well-read people seem actually to believe patent absurdities. So much for the beacon of consciousness, especially if by consciousness we mean to say something like intelligence.

What we mean by intelligence is a very local thing. That's one big message from this book. It's a very timely book, not least because human intelligence now feels so meaningless against the idiot winds which set our course (through what canal?).

Same argument: We didn't get to where we Westerners are in the history of the planet because we're somehow more intelligent and better organized; more advanced. We lucked out. One of the burdens of this book is to disabuse anyone of the notion that our futures were ever designed by us. They evolved, and evolution is a process of accidental change aggregating in ways to move us in some direction for thriving.

We may as well be locusts on the planet! Hey, let's populate the cosmos!

News flash: you may think you're not an idiot and that you're on the right side of history, but you're just as subject to the directions money takes for you as the rest of us are. Click bait (selfish meme competition, I suppose) distorts us all.

Can you even imagine someone claiming the right to outsized influence based not on money, but on love? What an absurdity! And yet that very same legitimate claim would belong to Jesus Christ. Intelligence is as over-rated as wealth is if you ask me. Or if you ask Joseph Henrich.

Let's focus on Christ. Henrichs does in this book, or rather, he focuses on the Church. Still, it would be difficult to find any other individual, real or concocted (the way that Trump was), who has had more influence on human life on the planet than Christ has.

Henrichs is interested in the accident of Christian institutions, and how consequential those have been for Western social evolution.

I read (present tense) this book between Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett's The Upswing, and what I might consider its sequel, a book called Mutualism, by Sara Horowitz. Those are books which implicitly assume a kind of steady state to what it means to be human, and which present a hopeful and even optimistic read of how we might improve our condition. Both are powerful books by brilliant authors.

By contrast, this book ventures into understanding humanity as a species undergoing constant change, by way of cultural evolution. Surprisingly, Henrich maintains that the accidents of cultural evolution have also impacted certain aspects of our physiology. Especially our brains, post-literacy. Our WEIRD experience, our self-conception, and our ways of living and of understanding are simply not the same as they once were, and as they still are almost everywhere else.

This evolutionary process is not subject to amelioration. It just happens. The author, Joseph Henrich, developed his thesis across an adventuresome life, driven, apparently, by intense curiosity about how other peoples live, but also, I lately find, by interest in what? Aerospace Engineering!?!

His book regards what it is that makes us in the Western traditions so unusual. (So special?) He documents a set of accidents through history which changed humanity in ways leading up to the industrial and then the scientific revolutions. These revolutions have occurred only among what would become WEIRD people. "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic."

I spent much of my formative education at Yale pondering the 'why' of the industrial revolution occurring in Europe and not in China. That was after re-calibrating from engineering through physics to Chinese literature. Mine has not been a settled life.

We called this the Needham question, or at least I did. Still on my bookshelves now, despite seemingly endless moves across geography and career, I have the near complete print-set of Needham's opus, Science and Civilization in China.

I remember how nervous I was transporting the pirated volumes back from Taiwan, as though the customs agents would open my books. I wanted to study with urbane Nathan Sivin, Needham's colleague, who sometimes paid glancing visits to our Ivy-League classical Chinese poetry club.

So yes, this book is especially important to me. It has answered, to my satisfaction, one of the most important questions in my life.

I am definitely weird.

I live now in a world not changed, in many ways, from the one where I grew up. But, by my read, our stuck social schematic is now in the approximate condition of a skyscraper after the shrug of the demolition charges set to take it down, but before gravity destroys its appearance of integrity.

We live in the end-times of the era of The Spectacle. We are spectators of our very own lives. What a hoot! Really, we should demark our times as the era of the screen. Think about it. Literacy is so yesterday! Update your book, man!

I remember with a clarity as though I'd seen the face of Jesus when I learned to write my name. It was that electrically exciting. I was using a red ballpoint pen ("atomic age" puns with ballpoint in Chinese usage) on a brown paper shopping bag.

That was about when Dad was building a fallout shelter in our basement along the shores of seemingly still-alive Lake Erie.

My prosocial optimism had been wrecked by the time I hit college. A minor thesis of Henrich's book is that such optimism is essential. He calls it "positive-sum thinking." Such thinking is essential to inventiveness and the cultivation of our collective "brain," which is a very Western thing.

Some of the book's thought-streams question the inevitability of science as we practice it, and even the universality of the scientific principles we live by. Was scientific understanding going to come in any case, if the laws revealed are Platonic/cosmic universals? Or is this all some Western aberration? Something to evolve beyond, even?

Whatever the case, the book's author is implicitly asking his reader to step outside our own tradition, to see it as an outsider might. That is in itself the most WEIRD thing to do. It's what science does.

And from the outside it looks very much like WEIRDness is curdling in at least three dimensions.

The first might be our patent laws, which only just barely stopped at allowing the patenting of genes. Those laws, from their origins, enshrine the gold-rush notion of the genius inventor who should be rewarded for specific innovations, largely by being the first to create an embodiment of something that would soon be produced in any case, according to this book's thesis (and according to me). It once did encourage a lust for discovery. What's left is lust for lucre.

Patent and copyright converge in the digital age, and what we now do amounts to slow death to what Henrich calls our collective social "brain." He calls it a brain even as he debases what a brain can do on its own.

Even a social brain requires some context.

The second dimension would probably be our precious individualism, based as it is on the ascription of internal traits as that which constitutes our very specific individual personality. I am happy to read him debunking all the personality type tests, on which I am nothing but a chameleon (matching whatever happens to be my current ever-shifting occupation), and sarcastically wishing us individuals "good luck" in finding our authentic self. You go, man!

Patent law and practice (now in the digital age) no longer serves the people now that patent portfolios - traded on the open (closed?) market - make a perfect proxy for predatory size of firm.

The third would have to be religion, which is credited in this book (the Christian tradition through the Catholic Church and its family definitions, and later and more locally importantly, through the various iterations of Protestantism) as the inventor [sick] of WEIRD.

By now, our religions have returned to primitive form in stark opposition to what is meant by WEIRD in this book. However enlightenment might be defined, it certainly has nothing to do with the belief structure of most evangelical sects, credited though Protestantism might be with the stimulation of mass literacy at their Lutheran origins.

Now I have to ask; what would happen if instead of stepping outside our collective mind, we were to embrace it more tightly? What if we jump right back into the scientific soup and ask such really important questions as 'why has love meant so much cosmically?' Why are religions so full of hate anymore?

Asking those questions would be to separate knowledge of what we still call "supernatural" phenomena from received authority structures, to re-incorporate them into what we call (scientific) "reality." That should, after all, be the final maneuver in the legacy of WEIRD.

No one has the right to tell me that God is a delusion! No one has the right to say that Henrich is not a scientist.

I mean simply that we allow subjectivity back in to science, in a very careful way. It already came in by way of quantum theory, and now by way of the softer sciences. We are just resisting the inevitable. By any meaning, evolution - cultural or genetic - is built on a series of accidents. accidents are both inevitable and random. But random seems to add up to life, weirdly.

Science works along that razor's edge where non-random natural law allows prediction. Genetic replication follows natural laws. Random defines life. which distinguishes itself, from a distance, as different from the dead structures around it.

Those dead structures are the context for our collective, social, "brain."

What if the core of Christian belief is actually, even scientifically, quite true? You know, God is love, and drop the Name already! I'm big on name-dropping! What else do the accidents of evolution - cultural or genetic - add up to? We WEIRD people are all about romantic love, especially as we see ourselves on-screen, though we may be known by our science and our industry. Could love be a cosmic force?

Hell, many of us who consider ourselves sane call all the religious people loonies, even while we - some of us - express certainty that we will someday encounter life elsewhere in the cosmos. Which is to deny that we already have, and that it has nothing to do with UFOs.

If I were religious, I would consider the store of energy contained in fossil fuels to be a gift from God. In those same terms, I would consider humanity as a whole to have sinned by our squandering of that gifted oil to no apparent end beyond, well, the end as caused by our despoiling of the only home we can ever have. Short of breaking light-speed barriers, as though that might be done within the life-span of ours or any other culture.

Who are the loonies in this equation?

And so, what has technology done for us or to us? Has it made economics back into a zero-sum game again? As in, why do many of us feel that Google and Facebook are stealing our wealth along with any stability to a shared reality - rather than to expand the realm for innovation as they promised? Theirs would seem to be a sharing infrastructure which isn't sharing when it comes to their monopoly access and now control of what it is that we might share. They steal our emotional and our cognitive meaning both.

And anyhow it isn't at all clear that whatever we do on our smartphones is on a continuum with the reading habits which once changed the world. We seem only to amplify what we already think that we know. And we are quite literally drowning in words that have almost an urgency about grabbing and keeping our attention. This is no longer the shared "brain" that Henrich says that we in the West lucked into. This is reversion to a kind of beehive mind, where the wealthy are the queens.

I suspect that most readers will prefer the executive summary of this book, which can be had by way of numerous reviews and introductions in the MSM. The arguments presented in the book quickly become tedious for those not steeped already in the torture chambers of statistical reasoning applied to sociology and psychology (and to politics, of course). Games devised to mimic actual human behavior, and then broad (broad!) conclusions drawn.

In the big picture, we no longer seem to believe in human progress. Our "positive-sum thinking" has reversed itself. It would be hard to know if this is because of the wreckage caused by our technologies as we deploy them, or simply that they feel so disruptive of religious comfort words.

Where is the love?

Structures that once kept us looking forward, now have us holding on to what we feel that we've lost.

I sweated more when I brought banned books with me into China than I did returning with pirated books, but still . . .

We must take control of accident! Listen to me. Otherwise, we are doomed!

Drink up please, it's time.

Yours, in Irony. Irony too is a WEIRD invention. Has to do with God.

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Clarity in Retrospect; the Proper Way to Fight the Pandemic

Buckminster Fuller may be a distant relative. He was, in any case, a kind of soul-mate. Among other things, he saved many many lives by influencing the design of highways to take human weaknesses as drivers into account. Banking curves and designing proper turning radiuses to match braking propensities and more that I can't remember. His designs met drivers as we are and not as we should be.

Against this pandemic, we, collectively on the planet, don't seem to be able to move beyond our moral imperative that a life - any life - is more important than the collective wellbeing of us all. And so we seem to have decided that we must inoculate the most vulnerable first.

The elderly and the infirm are the least mobile and therefore the least likely to spread the virus. We are the easiest to contain. Many of us no longer need to leave the house to work. 

We should have inoculated the bad drivers first, and the ones with crappy rides. Start with the poorly paid essential workers, then the irresponsible and irrepressible young adults who will engage in risky behavior no matter what you think they ought to do.

Leave the rich and powerful for last, since they have plenty of options. Or let them have the vaccine at such exorbitant cost that it would subvent the cost for the rest of us. There aren't enough of them to change the overall picture, so they should be out of the picture except as subsidizers. Thank you Dolly!

By leaving our pathetic morality out of the equation, we could have stabilized the population as a whole much more quickly. I'm calling our morality pathetic just because look what we're doing to the planet.

I have been as careful and as isolated as anyone has, and I still caught the virus. I still don't know and can't quite imagine how, since I shopped only every three weeks at six in the morning when I had the store to myself, always wore a mask, and live alone with no socializing at all. I hardly ever left the building!

Given that upwards of half my apartment building, into which I moved mid-pandemic, caught the virus, the most likely thing is that the building became the vector, as it were. I'm calculating by using Occam's razor - the probability that such a population of sick people could occur randomly in such a cluster feels low. But any of us could have contaminated the building.

My own story is, of course, sanitized. Guilty! The very act of moving makes me suspect, right? I wasn't always wearing a mask as I was moving in. I absolve myself by timeline, but does that make me any better morally? Any less guilty? Not!

There is simply no perch for leadership to have made decisions at the level that they needed to be made. The media made all the decisions, and even Doctor Fauci was its subject as much as he might claim dispassionate science. 

We can argue all we want about which is the real fake news, but the fact is that it's all trying to grab our clicks for money anymore. Our reality is hardly formed by science. Part of that trouble is that we've misconstrued science as a search for truth. It's not. It's about truing beliefs, so that we can all agree about the important stuff. 

Perhaps China has a right to boast now. Or perhaps we're just plainly stupid, socially. We can't make a decision to save our lives. Please let's not have an autocrat as our solution! Thank goodness the autocrat that we tried was a nincompoop who simply didn't try.

Just imagine someone in power disclaiming his private beliefs as more true than science. What a nightmare! Oh.

There must be hoards of educated epidemiologists who would agree with me. They must be in hiding, since they don't want to be called out as murderers or worse. But the fact is that someone or some body has to decide whom to sacrifice in the interests of the whole. Not personally whom, the way that certain people in power protect their families. I'm not naming names, but the science of this doesn't allow for personal prediction. It's only the group that matters.

We need at least some guardrails to keep it real. We need to give speeding tickets to all those mask-averse Trumpsters, and set the cost for settlement as getting a vaccine. Invasion of privacy? So is carrying a loaded firearm in public. I have the right to calculate my own risk, but not when I'm in traffic.

Get real. You can't control accident. The virus is predictable only in the aggregate. Along with plenty of other seniors, I will gladly go to the back of any line in favor of my childrens' lives. Hello!? My children may not agree with me, but they're way too young to know better.

They'll do just fine without me. I raised them that way! Yeah right, like I can take credit. Thank goodness they're both their own people, and don't listen to any man telling them what to do.

I only wish that they would obey the speed limits as well as they comply with COVID decency.

And I'm the one who gets speeding tickets! There is no justice.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Notes While Reading *The WEIRDest People in the World*

I write perfectly useless reviews. I know a competent review when I read one. I leave those to people competent to write them. I'm more interested to note how it is that reading a book has changed me, and then I sometimes go on to urge my (revised, and somewhat tortured) thinking on whoever might read my review. Not very polite, probably. But post Internet, who cares? Right?

Lately, Elon Musk justifies his absurd wealth by saying that he's amassing resources to spread something like the bright beacon of consciousness beyond earth. Far far beyond earth. As though he knows what's good for all of us. He clearly believes that being the richest man in the world justifies his laying claim to be the most intelligent and therefore the one who gets to decide for the rest of us.

Well, after our four years of horror under Trump, maybe some of us among the saner half of the planet will miss our easy calling out of the opposition as idiots. It was ever so much fun! The trouble isn't that they're all idiots. The trouble is that they're not. Intelligent and well-read people seem actually to believe patent absurdities. So much for the beacon of consciousness, especially if by consciousness we mean to say something like intelligence.

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the bozos who own more wealth than the rest of us combined are on the same track; that we should pay attention to them because of how much wealth they've amassed. I know people personally who've been enabled in their rudeness in the very same way!

News flash: being wealthy is no indication of intelligence. To say that it is is an insult to rocket scientists everywhere.

Now what if it's the very same money which has been determining the thought processes of that other half? It's hardly a stretch to say that it is. The self interest of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News and certainly Facebook and Google (do they have selves?) and how about Hannity, can apparently generate an entire alternate reality, full of the same smug apologists (who write better reviews than I do) who rectify (that's a tiny interjection of Chinese, right there) the real world wherein I live .

Can you even imagine someone claiming the right to outsized influence based not on money, but on love? What an absurdity! And yet that very same legitimate claim would belong to Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, even Mother Theresa, if you don't mind that she was a mass murderer, the way that my renegade but super intelligent Catholic friend designates RBG. Intelligence is as over-rated as wealth is, if you ask me.

Let's focus on Christ. Joseph Henrichs does in this book. I don't think he would ever dare to claim that Christ deserves all the attention he's gotten across two millenia, but it would be difficult to find any other individual, real or concocted (the way that Trump was) who has had more influence on human life on the planet.

I say he wouldn't dare to claim that because he would be ejected from his fine position at Harvard, another moneyed source for authority (Just imagine how few corporate entities could afford a billion dollar fine for sex abuse. And Harvard has better endowment than USC!). You can't quite be a scholar and a religionist, unless you're at a divinity school. Henrichs is more interested in the accident of Christianity, and how consequential that has been for Western social evolution.

I read (present tense) this book between Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett's The Upswing, and what I might consider its sequel, a book called Mutualism, by Sara Horowitz. Those are books which implicitly assume a kind of steady state to what it means to be human, and which present a hopeful and even optimistic read of how we might improve our condition. Both are powerful books by brilliant authors.

In particular, Putnam's book brackets my life, and Horowitz's brackets my experience and my ambition. I've crossed paths with each of them in various ways across my life.

By contrast, this book ventures into understanding humanity as a species undergoing constant change, by way of cultural evolution. Surprisingly, there's even a role for genetic evolution in our recent history, since he maintains that the accidents of cultural evolution have impacted certain aspects of our physiology. Especially our brains (not really genetic change in that case), post-literacy. Our experience, our self-conception, and our ways of living and of understanding are simply not the same as they once were, and as they perhaps still are almost everywhere else. 

This evolutionary process is not subject to amelioration. It just happens. The author, Joseph Henrich, developed his thesis across an adventuresome life, driven, apparently, by intense curiosity about how other peoples live, but also, I lately find, by interest in what? Aerospace Engineering!?!

His book regards what it is that makes us in the Western traditions so unusual. (So special?) His overall thesis regards a set of accidents of history which changed humanity in ways leading up to the industrial and then the scientific revolutions. These revolutions could have occurred only among what would become WEIRD people. "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic."

I am definitely weird. I live now in a world not changed, in many ways, from the one where I grew up. But global warming then was not yet part of our vocabulary, and driving cars had not yet reached the point of saturation to turn a pleasant outing into an exercise in frustration, and sometimes in rage. But the outlines remain the same - it's the same schematic, as I lately reaffirm by criss-crossing these United States and Canada many many (many!!) times by RV.

By my read, our social schematic is in the approximate condition of a skyscraper after the shrug of the demolition charges set to take it down, but before gravity destroys its appearance of integrity. No worries, it has seemed that way to me since about the time that Reagan was elected. I'm sure we have a moment or two remaining to us.

It feels now as though we only just barely color within the lines. This is while I often feel what amounts to a desperation not to let go of the TV life (not in myself for sure - I've already lived that life) that all us white people have envisioned for ourselves. 

And then came the Huxtables. Dang! Me too, me too! We live in the era of The Spectacle. We are spectators of our very own lives. What a hoot! Really, we should demark our times as the era of the screen. Think about it. Literacy is so yesterday! Update your book, man!

One iconic memory from my own preliterate childhood was Dad tossing my silver spray-painted cardboard robot Halloween costume over the cliff and into the roil of Lake Erie at the bottom of the fossil-filled shale at the edge of our back yard. My clever costume with compartment for candy and puffs of flour exiting an inverted funnel on its head was just one piece among frequent disposals into the vast beyond.

Lake Erie's death scarred my childhood, framed to the East by a second sunset as the Bethlehem Steel Plant dumped what we called slag into the lake, and of course to the West by God's increasingly reddening sunset. Our streets were paved by slag, likely held together by PCB-containing tar. 

The rounded pebbles would catch at the runners on the sleds we dragged behind a Bethlehem Steel junior-executive's long tail-finned convertible. We called those pebbles ‘cinders.’ They looked like globs of congealed volcanic lava, as though we understood what lava was. All we knew was that it looked like what must have come from the slag pouring from the steel plant.

Then came the frenzy of one uncle piloting "flying boxcars" overhead, while his brother would head off to Vietnam. Blond and blue-eyed West Pointers both. We watched the Bell Aerosystems research hovercraft destined to despoil Vietnam pass along our beach in the camouflaging dusk. An open secret. 

Dad built a fallout shelter in our basement. Another early memory of hefting "cinder blocks" onto a plank down which they would slide for Dad to mortar into place. Preliterate me worried that the fallout would come in horizontally and that our position high on a cliff would leave us exposed. Dad explained how radiation went in a straight line to explain why we needed only a baffle and not a door. Why there was no concrete roof.

That fallout shelter later became our pantry for all its stored canned goods, and then my photographic darkroom. We all still managed to have fun, even imagining camping out on the four-decker bunks. No wonder I like to live in small spaces!

I remember with a clarity as though I'd seen the face of Jesus when I learned to write my name. It was that electrically exciting. I was using a red ballpoint pen ("atomic age" puns with ballpoint in Chinese usage) on a brown paper shopping bag.

My prosocial optimism had been wrecked by the time I hit college, obviously. A minor thesis of Henrich's book is that such optimism is essential. He calls it "positive-sum thinking" and such thinking is essential to inventiveness and the cultivation of our collective "brain." I guess positive-sum thinking is essential to cultural evolution in our WEIRD direction.

I spent much of my formative education at Yale pondering the 'why' of the industrial revolution occurring in Europe and not in China. That was after re-calibrating from engineering through physics to Chinese literature. Mine has not been a settled life.

We called this the Needham question, or at least I did. Still on my bookshelves now, despite seemingly endless moves across geography and career, I have the near complete print-set of Needham's opus. I remember how nervous I was transporting the pirated volumes back from Taiwan, as though the customs agents would open my books. I wanted to study with urbane Nathan Sivin, Needham's colleague, as it was, who sometimes paid glancing visits to our Ivy-League classical Chinese poetry club.

Well beyond answering that question, which this book certainly does, and which by my memory occupied many fine minds in those not-so-distant days, this new book presents a thesis which brings together and perhaps even concludes many many streams of thought. The thesis is vastly ambitious, and the book - The WEIRDest People in the World - provides evidence both scientific and anthropological/sociological to be convincing in the thesis' (theses? There are at least 95 of them) proof.

Some of the book's thought-streams question the inevitability of science as we practice it, and even the universality of the scientific principles we live by. Where are our choices, really? Was scientific understanding going to come in any case, if the laws revealed are Platonic/cosmic universals, or is this all some Western aberration? Something to evolve beyond, even?

Whatever the case, Joseph Henrich, the book's author, is implicitly asking his reader to step outside his own tradition, to see it as an outsider might. That is in itself a very WEIRD thing to do. It's what science does.

I'm still waiting for him to attempt an interpretation for why we seem now to be disintegrating all those institutions that we celebrate. Are we somehow becoming less "WEIRD?" American exceptionalism by ironic twist?

Surely the likes of Yale Law grad Josh Hawley prove that our collective tendency to be Wealthy Educated Industrial Rich and Democratic - the WEIRD of the title - can make no claims on our individual disposition to act a lout

My own sense of what's happening is that our WEIRDness is curdling in at least three dimensions, and more likely 95. 

The first would be our patent laws, which only just barely stopped at allowing the patenting of genes (partially thanks to a student in the first class I ever taught - claiming serendipity here, not credit!). Those laws, from their origins, enshrine the notion of the genius inventor who should be rewarded for specific innovations, often largely by being the first to create an embodiment of something that would soon be produced in any case, according to this book's thesis (and according to me). 

Patent and copyright merge in the digital age, and what we now do amounts to slow death to what Henrich calls our collective social "brain." He calls it a brain even as he debases what a brain can do on its own. I am, as you know, gentle reader, an adherent of The Spread Mind thesis, and don't credit brains as much as Henrich apparently does. My brain isn't really all that distinguished from the social brain in which it's embedded.

The second dimension would probably be our precious individualism, based as it is on the ascription of internal traits as that which constitutes our very specific individual personality. I am happy to read him debunking all the personality type tests, on which I am nothing but a chameleon (matching whatever happens to be my current ever-shifting occupation), and sarcastically wishing us individuals "good luck" in finding our authentic self. You go, man!

At about the time that we are celebrating gender transitions, the borders that we cross may all be the same borders. Patent law and practice (now in the digital age) no longer serves the people as patent portfolios - traded on the open market - make a perfect proxy for predatory size of firm (they're all predatory, by definition as we practice so-called capitalism).

The third would have to be religion, which is credited in this book (the Christian tradition through the Catholic Church, and later and more locally importantly, through the various iterations of Protestantism) as the inventor [sick] of WEIRD. 

But by now, our religions have returned to primitive form in stark opposition to what is meant by WEIRD in this book. As with patents, the reading of any book as providing just one literal Way can only be counterproductive to enlightenment. However enlightenment might be defined, it certainly has nothing to do with the belief structure of most evangelical sects, credited though they might be with the stimulation of mass literacy at their Lutheran origins. 

Now I have to ask; what would happen if instead of stepping outside our collective mind, we embrace it more tightly? What if we jump right back into the scientific soup and ask such really important questions as 'why has love meant so much cosmically?' That would be to separate knowledge of what we still call "supernatural" phenomena from received authority structures, though to re-incorporate them into what we call "reality." That should, after all, be the final maneuver in the legacy of WEIRD. No one has the right to tell me that God is a delusion!

I mean simply that we allow subjectivity back in to science, in a very careful way. By any meaning, evolution - cultural or genetic - is built on a series of accidents. Joseph Henrich implicitly denies meaning to the Christian religions. They are, rather, the accidental form which the universalising of ancestral objects of worship (was that inevitable?) took. 

But what if the core of Christian belief is actually, even scientifically, quite true? You know, God is love, and drop the Name already! I'm big on name-dropping! What else do the accidents of evolution - cultural or genetic - add up to? We WEIRD people are all about romantic love, especially as we see ourselves on-screen, though we may be known by our science and our industry. Could love be a cosmic force?

Hell, many of us who consider ourselves sane call all the religious people loonies, even while we - some of us - express certainty that we will someday encounter life elsewhere in the cosmos. Which is to deny that we already have, and that it has nothing to do with UFOs.

If I were religious, I would consider the store of energy contained in fossil fuels to be a gift from God. In those same terms, I would consider humanity as a whole to have sinned by our squandering of that gifted oil to no apparent end beyond, well, the end as caused by our despoiling of the only home we can ever have. Short of breaking light-speed barriers, as though that might be done within the life-span of ours or any other culture. Who are the loonies in this equation?

And so what has technology done to us? Has it made economics back into a zero-sum game again? As in, why do many of us feel that Google and Facebook are stealing our wealth rather than to expand the realm for innovation? Theirs would seem to be a sharing infrastructure which isn't sharing when it comes to their monopoly access and now control of what it is that we might share. They are justified only if primacy of genius remains a root value. And only if genius is always a good and not something that 'stable-genius' Trump or even Hitler bequeathed to our planet (damned Godwin!).

And anyhow it isn't at all clear that whatever we do on our smartphones is on a continuum with the reading habits which once changed the world. We seem only to amplify what we already think that we know. And we are quite literally drowning in words that have almost an urgency about grabbing and keeping our attention. This is no longer the shared "brain" that Henrich says that we in the West lucked into. This is reversion to a kind of beehive mind, where the wealthy are the queens.

Indeed I suspect that most readers will prefer the executive summary of this book, which can be had by way of numerous reviews and introductions in the MSM. The arguments presented here quickly become tedious for those not steeped already in the torture chambers of statistical reasoning applied to sociology and psychology (and to politics, of course). Games devised to mimic actual human behavior, and then broad (broad!) conclusions drawn.

In the big picture, we no longer seem to believe in human progress. It would be hard to know if this is because of the wreckage caused by our technologies as we deploy them, or simply that they feel so disruptive of religious comfort words. I would say that, more likely, it has to do with our economic structures and the cynicism those build as the accelerations of technology in the realm of primacy rewards and gold-shaving wealth-building leaves most of us feeling plainly swindled. 

Where is the love? 

He teases us that maybe we’re too disposed to particles in physics by analytical reductionism, and personality traits same. But there remains something of the rah rah we're Western we’re the lucky ones. The author runs a lab, and has tenure at Harvard with the ridiculously high citation "score" of 84 or something.

I sweated more when I brought banned books with me into China than I did returning with pirated books, but still . . . That was after I thought I'd been marked for very publicly sponsoring a commemorative event a year after the massacres in and around Tiananmen square, June 4, 1989. China's customs officers were no more literate than ours.

Yes, it is our civic duty to sneak around paywalls every chance we get, and to steal books from wherever we can find them, and especially to sneak them across borders. It is our civic duty to turn our backs on every sort of social media. We otherwise will have squandered all that we have been granted in celebration of our public emotions. 

Of course this is me talking, spinning off my read of Henrich's fine book. He is too smart to stray into much speculation about how parochial our abstract reasoning may have become. 

He mocks our cataloguing of [subatomic] particles ever so mildly, right along with our search for some authentic self (built of personality traits as measured by psychologists enamored of type testing). He nods to our current political dysfunction, and by implication the crumbing of the Big D in the WEIRD of his title, which would be (would have been?) democracy with a little D.

As are most of us, Heinrich is embedded in the world he might be criticizing. He knows, as I don't, how to stick to his topic. His bibliography, in which I recognize only a few names, makes a stretch beyond even what Steven Owen has read. But that's the academic scientific game. I, too, have been amazed at the length and scope of my own list of citations when I have been an academic writing academic papers. That's the game. 

It's not the game of life, though. Academic thinking rectifies our shared belief structures until the economic activities in the actual game of life overwhelm shared belief structures, which is to say that trust is overwhelmed and undermined, and then all the academics are only howling in the idiot winds.

Along comes a paradigm shift, suggests Thomas Kuhn, and scientific understanding steps up its game, just as it did to bring along the A-bomb. Was that a gift of God? We've been stalled in the overall paradigms of the Standard Model of Particle Physics now for as long as I can remember. Well, long only given the acceleration of change, which has become our main shared belief.

Plus ca change!  

Evolution is driven by love, or what's a meta for? All of those accidents of evolution end up with a creature capable of love, and now we fully intend to throw that all away in favor of intelligence as our defining feature, even while we hang on to such idiotic ideas as that we can improve things on and for the planet and our fellow man by taking control of accident. Think about it.

As I have and will doubtless continue to detail right here in this web-space, the very particles described in the standard model of physics dispose themselves not only by describable and measurable forces, but also in conceptual ways where the only force is emotive. Wanting is not a physical process.

Anyhow, read this incredibly important book with an open mind. I hope you'll be as blown away as I have been.