Saturday, October 9, 2021

Coming Clean

I shall regard this post as preliminary, in a way. I still don't think I have it in me to write my thoughts in any coherent fashion, but I also feel that I'm done with the sort of writing I've been doing. Hold me to it! Flat out, I'm simply not intelligent enough to be attempting what I'm attempting.

Here's an image to hold in mind while I work my way around to what I want to say today: Like many people, I've been broke and in some kind of panic about what I can do next, at various points in my life. My memory is dim about many of the particulars, but I'm remembering one time in California after losing a job that I was really good at (too good, in fact) I took some bait, fairly consciously, and "signed up" for this hiring event which had overtones of get-rich-quick.

As a young man, one of my older brother's friends cajoled me into hearing his Amway spiel. I remember being amazed at the proficient props he used, and at his relentless assurance that he could wear my any reticence down. I had never heard of Amway, so I had no idea what I was up against.

Not that different from an insurance salesman, really. The one who finally sold me seemed actually to enjoy sparring with me about what's wrong with insurance as a concept. I probably inherited that prejudice from my Grandaddy. And I have to confess that the salesman, who is now a one-percenter, and who I still sort-of like, won. I urge my daughters, please to start their life insurance policy. Now. 

Anyhow, I go to this place which is festooned with, to me, obviously quickly put together props, and desks covered with personalty that I know was cobbled together, and hallways built of portraits of the home office and home officers. Probably the former offices of a now bankrupt law firm or something. A temporary set now.

I knew multi-level when I saw it. But it was interesting. A kind of duelling match for souls, and I was astounded at how gung-ho so many of my fellow desperados, mostly much younger and mostly men, made themselves sound. 

So what I'm getting at is that I've been reading way too much peri-apocalyptic literature, most recently this lovely set of interviews by Anders Dunker (whose name I'm proud to have remembered, because I never could keep it in mind while reading). called Rediscovering Earth. It reminds me that there are plenty of really intelligent people working very hard to understand what might be the solution to the obvious fact that the earth is fucked, and that we humans, therefore, are even more fucked. 

Calling us "fucked" is not my usage, please, it's what they all say.

Anyhow, I rediscover Bruno Latour, and he calms me. He seems, to me, to have gone and gotten much further than anyone else. And he lays the framework for hope. I told him that to his face once, and he was taken aback. I guess he's used to being considered yet another doomsayer.

Oh, and please, I'm not trying to name drop. I just happened to be sitting behind him at what was called the Feverish Earth conference at the place where I used to live and work; Burlington, Vermont. And I just happened to have the nerve to comment to him when he looked my way after the presentation we were both witnessing. That would be highly unusual for me.

As I also recall, my nerve had been built sufficiently after that to go up to the Poet Laureate of the State to remember with him my selling him a bicycle on his twenty-first birthday. He was gracious and seemed genuinely grateful for my approach. He knew I'd remembered him because of his pretentious-sounding name, which was quite true. Chard duNord. Latour. DuNord. 

Whatever. The poet laureate's poetry and demeanor were surprisingly good, and I did feel bad about having made fun of him - made a story of my encounter in the bike shop with this white silk-scarf-wearing poser buying a bike, and with his gorgeous girlfriend. He told me that the girlfriend was still his wife. I can be so wrong about a person!

So anyhow, by way of Actor-network Theory - ANT - Latour, to my satisfaction, has provided a framework for hope, as I've already said. If one focuses on the web instead of the nodes, in just the way that McLuhan noted that the medium is the message, you might see the hope as well. 

It seems widely agreed among the non-sociopathic half of the Nation now that we are living in what is variously called the Anthropocene (I've tried to adopt the Donna Haraway better term, the Chthuluthene, but I can't hold that term in mind), which incorporates "The Sixth Extinction" (which as far as I know puts it in line with asteroids killing off the dinosaurs kind of thing), and that the Anthropocene poses an existential threat to life, the universe, and everything. 

Nobody seems to hold out hope that we can ever pull our shit together. Largely, that's because we all will continue to want what we want, and if we can get it we'll continue to go and get it. But my main point is that everyone thinks that thinking is the only way to solve this. And that leads to politics, by way of agency. We must be the agents of our own survival.

Bypassing the many uncomfortable conclusions that we need some sort of beneficent dictatorship, or that China is doing much better than the democratic West, I have a problem with our concept of agency, as though human agency were any different from what plants and animals do toward survival and the powering of evolution.

This is all a variation on that Jameson quote to the effect that it's easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. Most of us, who aren't evangelical or evangelically technophilic, same thing, know that it's capitalism which composes the root of all evil. 

But it's also capitalism which has allowed humanity to flourish, by and large. Many people point to the soulless wealthy folks sitting at the top of the heap, who maybe deserve to be coerced into distributing their wealth (to those of us who made it possible). But I also want to point to the folks toward the bottom who have no problem screwing over their fellow man for a chance at a Porsche, or at a Tesla, for that matter, or even just to eat. The ones who were bushy tailed in that weird hiring event that I attended.

You know, the ones who man the phones that spam you. Or the health insurance reps who take your call. Used car salesmen, they used to call them. 

Now if you've read anything that I've written, you know what I'm going to say. 

I'm going to say that those ANT web fibers/connectors are composed not only of physical matter and communications , but that they are also composed by emotive valence. And I'm going to say that it's this emotive valence that can change overnight, as it were, and furthermore that it's already happened once in history. Which is to say post-history, since in some sense history was jump-started by, or at least largely concurrent with, the very event of Christianity. 

Notice that I don't say 'event of Christ' since I doubt that the Man was quite real in the way that "true" believers think He was. I say event of Christianity rather in the way that Terry Eagleton talks about (writes about) The Event of Literature. I say even that without authority, since that's another book that I've excavated from my distributed stacks, but which, so far as I know, I have yet to read.

I'm also definitively distancing myself from the notion that emotion is some special province of humans. But the Anthropocene sure is. Just like communication is, emotion is a two-way street, and it doesn't exist unless you consider that it's both more and less than human (if you're into more or less). My Octopus Teacher.

Consider the acceleration of time, post Christ to now - the acceleration of history, if you wish, and even the acceleration of geography and geology - leading in a straight line to the industrial and scientific and now digital revolutions, and finally to the Anthropocene, which messes with geography and even geology as much as it does with biology. 

Here is the Anthropocene, full-baked, and it's been far less than the blink of an eye since we've become conscious of it. Like the systems at the power company that I was peripherally involved in which would cut power, when needed, in a tiny fraction of a wavelength as an improvement over the more mechanical fractions of a wavelength that were once sufficient. 

And still we have blackouts.

Anyhow, my claim is that all that is needed is for a change of heart, not a change of mind. I say this in full awareness that in the Chinese tradition, for instance, there hasn't traditionally been that distinction between heart and mind. The term in Chinese is all one. Like the color qing for the color of nature, or wen for any meaningful pattern, including literature; xin for heart-mind is whatever it is that is the primary core for definition of humanity.

Humanity's cosmic function is to bring the steadiness of the heavens down to earth, which can sound a lot like the mission of science or religion without the expectation of comprehensive finality of comprehension, and without confusion about agency.

My claim can be reduced to a change of heart, in Western English terms. Like what if we were all to 'see the light' and realize that our moral behavior at the microlevel will actually be what "saves" the Earth. 

If you have managed to deconstruct mind-body dualism, at least in your mind, haha, as I have, then you have to confess that the health of the Earth, about which so many thinkers among us are so worried, is also at least a reflection of the health of the human mind. I'd prefer to use a stronger word than reflection, but I'd end up saying something like the health of the Earth is an embodiment of the health of the human mind.

Of course the Earth doesn't need saving. It only needs good riddance to foul humanity. But we can say good riddance to foul humanity by ceasing to be foul, right?

Watch how quickly the Earth can reclaim, oh I don't know, let's say an abandoned shopping mall, and you'll see hope. 

Plastic is, of course, never reclaimed, but do we really need it? Really? We only need it to keep the germs away and to enshroud our complexities with an attractive cowling. An attractive skin. Plastic divides us from the rest of life. Wood does almost everything plastic can do, but better!

Mostly, plastic is for packaging. And anyhow, I ask you, why is it that an MRI of Alex Honnold's brain is more accurate than what you can see on the face of him? There is no mystery there, apart from what we invent. Right. His Amygdala doesn't behave like mine does. Surprise! I would never go climbing anything without a rope. Duh! And I'd be happy to do my shopping every day, the way most of China still does, so long as it was only a walk away to the nearest wet market social scene.

My original problem with insurance was that it furthers the capitalist cause of radical individualism. Like, not only can't you depend on your fellow man, but you shouldn't. Since the economy needs your participation, stupid! 

Nevermind radical individualism, any sort of individualism is, at least, a fiction. No matter what McKibben's buddy Kurzweil thinks, you're nobody all by yourself. And it's the body in nobody that counts here.

Well, we'll see if I can come clean. I'm simply trying to distinguish myself from people who would try to convince you what to do. I can't convince anybody of anything. Don't use Facebook! Don't Google! Don't believe that electric cars will change anything! Ban plastic bags! (wait, there's been progress on that one) Ban plastic! Ban pesticides! You get the idea. 

All we need is love. Love is all we need.

I know, I know. It's been said so many times it's beyond cliche. But what if it's true? I ask you.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Very Large, and the Very Small

Notices fly by, but they are nearly all unrecoverable by the time I realize that they'd caught my interest. The new iPhone OS provides me a very promising tool to capture alerts and then to present them to me at intervals. And so I spend inordinate time trying to track why it, and other things on the updated phone, are not quite working. 

I hardly ever pay attention to social media, so that's a start. Perhaps our congress will catch up with my reasons.

But I'm really lazy. I just keep saying the same thing over and over. But today I write at a table, sitting upright, so that's a start. Plus I do read an awful lot. I hold in my hand most mornings this gorgeous piece of technology even though, along with lots of other techie types, I think the entire business model is disgusting. A metaphor?

My social security payments will start soon, if the government doesn't shut down, and anyhow it's somehow the first time in my life when I face nothing urgent or pressing. I have that thing that I've wanted all my life; a blank slate on which to do something. Another start.

I'm reading some Jonathan Franzen essays from the library. That's a help. Thank god he's not lazy. As far as I can tell, he never has been. Somehow he wants what we all want, which is recognition, and he goes and gets it. Of course, since he doesn't exactly hew to established norms for opinion, he also becomes an easy target for socially-mediated certainties. I guess he's big enough to deflect those. 

Yes, of course, my iPhone addicts me to the fascinations of the daily news. Franzen provides perspective. It's been awful for a while now, and it's not going to be getting better. He uses his fascination with birds as a kind of overarching metaphor. Filtered down to the local level anywhere, the birds are screwed, and thus we are screwed. Men shoot them wantonly in the Middle East, starting with armed Italian import hunters, because it's what they've always done and now they have MP3 birdcalls to deploy from iPhones, and really deadly firearms, and a fearsome mobility.

Americans have always been on the move with wheels, and we shall drive over the cliff that way, just like the Buffalo did when tricked. Our trajectories all combine to something that feels like near certainty that life on earth is in big trouble.

Franzen pokes holes in the current sets of socially-mediated obsession, especially including global warming and wokeness. That makes him a target, except that he's right. Global warming, in particular, takes the wind out of all the possible local sails which might power doing actual good. For birds, for underclasses, for the people whom wokeness should be serving, wokeness not being the same as action. Every little piece of social justice work is more effective than any amount of fretting toward slowing global warming. 

We spend so much time correcting one another needlessly, and in needless anger. Who are we making better? Lots of people who believe stupid things are doing good work.

I see no point in even barely trying to write as well as Franzen does. I miss David Foster Wallace, who had a gift with the written word that even, by my lights, his pal Franzen can't approach. I don't mean that as criticism. I really don't. Although the actual publishable critics can't seem to leave Franzen alone.

So, as I marvel at my white teeth in the mirror now, trying to detect what has to be the first deposit of stain from the type of coffee I drink, I wonder why I endure the truly hateful opinionating foisted upon me as I lie recumbent in the chair once every six months as mandated by insurance norms, and then the actual pain of the cleaning. The office takes joy, and I partake in it, in the Russian-descended woman's self-defined torture chamber. It will soon be decorated for Halloween, and I am disappointed that my six month span will miss it. Maybe I'll pay them a visit, when I inevitably have to remind them to submit my insurance claim again.

I have vague mental intimations that stain removal doesn't even matter to the longevity of my tooth enamel. Also, that it may even be harmful in at least the sense that leaving a clean surface must also be opening up the raw enamel for more staining. But that's not a system I can buck, or that I care to. Well, it hardly matters anyhow, since I and my enamel are way past their prime. I'm lazy, remember? I'm just taking advice, despite not really caring all that much if my smile isn't perfect. There is a poster there in the office, of a perfect female face with perfect teeth and I am mesmerized. Still, at my age.

So the purpose of this sitdown here today is to detail my own certainties, not socially mediated, just for the record, as it were. 

Along with, apparently, Franzen, and a very few others, I am not convinced that there is anything particularly awful about our current position in the cosmos. Ends are always a part of beginnings, and both are always traumatic. If I look in one direction - take sex trafficking for instance - I can't even begin to imagine how things will ever be made better. Like Franzen's birds, I suppose. 

I guess the difference now is that we really are awake to how we're all in this together, whatever this is.

But if I look in a different direction, more locally, I realize how very nice a certain segment of the educated white middle class did make life for a while, for a sizeable number of socially numb humans. Such life is mostly without excess and very pleasant, really. I imagine that Franzen and I both enjoyed a similar niche for at least a while, although I may suffer more guilt than he does. Which seems strange. 

But in my brief lifespan, we did move from where I personally could afford a nice apartment with space left over to acquire and rebuild a wooden sailboat and live aboard and sail it for a long long time. Even wood now is the exclusive province of the very wealthy, and "nice" apartments start way beyond my means. My point is that, until recently, I never had to mortgage my soul to do what I wanted. Well, of course I'm white and I'm male.

I would like to write stories or even a novel for the simple reason that I could get rid of the first person, apart from quotes - Franzen gives such advice for fiction writers. I will have to stop drinking for a very similar reason, which is simply because the physical feedback amplifies the actual pain of old age. I doubt that I will ever take any such advice. That's how lazy I am. I don't seem to have a novel in me. Consider yourself lucky, dear reader.

So here you go:

  • I am certain that globally universal time and position-keeping to atomic-clock precision is a more important metric than almost any other about where humanity is headed. (That doesn't mean that it can tell us anything about the direction, just that it's important.)
  • I am certain that what we broadly call 'technology' will provide exactly zero solutions to anything, even while it may exacerbate certain negative trends (like wealth concentration, global warming, toxic masculinity, WEIRD supremacy, hate mongering, sex trafficking, worker disempowerment, rhetorical vacancy, bird eradication, and on and on). That doesn't mean that we can't use technology to find solutions.
  • I am certain that there is something very important with the explosive proliferation of video, and the concomitant valorizing of visual perception. I suspect that has to do with how vision can discriminate, and thereby amplify difference. 
I am certain that:
  • Oil is a fated gift, and global warming was always part of the deal. We have to deal with it. We can't or won't stop it. The gift remains neutral in outcome. There has been plenty of good.
  • Red and Blue, Left and Right, both participate equally in the desacralizing of humanity. Religious belief to the anti-ironic extreme espoused by the Right (especially panderers of evangelical or Catholic certainties) enacts the identical godlessness of the humanist Left.
  • Ratiocination is neither the highest nor the defining factor for what it means to be human. (laughter is, haha! No, really, Aristotle said so.).
  • Belief is what gets suspended in play. Religious ceremony is a form of play. You aren't in the thrall of belief when you are in church, you have suspended it. Every child knows better than to claim that the play is more real than what's real. Play may be more important. Belief in what's inside the magic circle is important during play, but it doesn't help with life in the real except by actual improvements to physical and moral and rational accomplishment. Those are also possible.
  • Time's direction is not a physical quality.
  • Chance is never meaningless. Indeed, it is the basis for most so-called agency.
  • Love defines the direction for life's evolution (a series of chance interactions) in a way similar to how gravity (force/acceleration) defines physical motion and position after a certain threshold for aggregation of the very small - the subatomic "particles".
  • There is no certainty to be had by philosophy or science. Certainly no certainty for direction.
  • Love defines the highest aspiration for humanity, and composes its most difficult set of stepwise thresholds.
  • Ratiocination is as neutral as physics about which is the best direction for any individual or collective action.
  • Scientific or religious certainty is as futile as lead shielding to preserve privacy and moral integrity, useful though it may be to shield secret motives for militant purposes. 
  • Rationalization takes ownership of directions arrived at by chance, in just the way that our convictions can fool us about our motives.
  • Love is eternal, and so life is eternal. Species come and go not as failures but as fodder for love.
  • Apocalypse arrives just as does the death of a young child in the wilderness. It is just as tragic and needless.
  • Science and technology can move us toward or away from love.
  • Money is a virus on what we typically call the soul of humanity, and tends toward the soul's destruction if left untreated.
  • Capitalism as practiced first in these United States and as now a global infection, will surely bring us to apocalypse. Techno-humanists and evangelicals want the same thing in this regard.
  • Whether by collective death or by divine chance, we will disappear by embrace with the godhead. 
So we must rock on! For whatever random reason I recently watched the original Woodstock and Altamont (Rolling Stones) documentaries. These somehow bookended Bob Dylan's "Don't Look Back," even though Dylan's came first. The poles of rock and roll with Altamont marking the descent into commercialism spiraling down. The Dead pulled out. No shit.

Yes the earth is in the throes of terminal death. It ain't dead yet, but it ain't looking good. 

But I give credence to how much good is happening, and how humanity is growing up, by and large, and getting better at not being rapacious and awful. In many senses, the earth is at its prime. 

The messaging that its already too late empowers only the capitalist dead-enders, who will become ever more obscenely wealthy based on your embrace of their fevered escapism. They are all versions of Peter Thiel and Donald Trump, and they really don't believe that anyone else matters as much as they do.

It's not too late to wake up to the facts of life, which include the fact that all life must end somehow sometime, but what a shame that this life should end in this way and in this time. It is so unnecessary. 

I maintain that democracy is not dead yet, and that we can still build a truer democracy than the one we now suffer, which is a last gasp for Homo Ludens. Proof is in the agonistic opposition of two political parties, both in the thrall of neoliberal dead enderism. They are teams on a field. They have lost their religious responsibility to help us to suspend the belief that we shall destroy the earth. 

Our democracy can and will rebound when our elected leaders show, once again, that they understand what is really important and act on it. They will need to learn new certainties. Take mine, for instance. They aren't doing me any good.

I can understand almost any criticism of almost anything. What I have a harder time understanding is the anger that criticism now often seems to embody. I understand a coherent critique of Franzen and his privileges. I just don't understand disliking, or even hating, him for that. Where does that come from? I would say that it comes from "inside" the hater, and that hate is a bigger problem than to do whatever it is that one is trying to do with the criticism.

On the other hand, there is Mark Zuckerberg.

But, you know, on the other other hand I'm not too thrilled with Bill McKibben being friends with Ray Kurzweil. Like, I'm pretty sure that if you turned inside their circles, some of the Nazi brass were nice too. Shit, there I go crossing the line again. I suppose that Kurzweil is earnest in his beliefs, but so are the Monsanto chiefs who rationalize their need to patent nature because then enable us to get what we want. Ditto fossil fuel industry. They hide their truths from themselves for the same reason they hide them from us. Because we want the oil more than we want the truth.

These are the solutions to our despoiling of our planet, our planet's gene pool, and perhaps life in our cosmos that I can't, quite, abide:
  • Population control. Population is the symptom, not the problem. It is a measure of the extravagant success of capitalism, which is the root problem.
  • Transhumanism. That would be the same as conscious evolution, geoengineering, terraforming and the rest. Post-humanism is fine with me, but nobody's really proposing that
  • Infinite energy. Clean fusion, say, or whatever. All that can do is to power capitalism to eternity, which is to say to the devastation of the planet and the end of the story.
  • Reanimating extinct species. I agree with Kim Stanley Robinson, a cheap science parlor trick.
So what can I abide? 
  • Removing ourselves to cities, perhaps, provided copious gardens and lakes and streams. Even zoological curation there. 
  • Recognizing that equity and social justice and even universal basic income are more powerful than any imaginable rational eco-solution toward the goals of sustainable ecology.
  • Deconstruct the economy to disallow expropriation and enclosure of any and all commons, which are those things that all of us require to remain vital, which means most everything.
  • Rewrite corporate law. Socialism, anyone? Everyone?

Like, I don't really know anybody that wants to live inside a computer game, even though that is the only thing that I can imagine when people get excited about any supposed techno-future. Really, most people dread those futures, and think of them in Mad Max terms, and not in terms of the creature comforts we enjoy. Really, once you have HVAC, hot water, drinkable cold water, lights and plenty of relaxing entertainment, what more is there?  

The trouble with optimistic futurists - meaning really that they are blind to the obvious insolubility of the problems that we face - is that they too (like the religionists) have expanded the magic circle of game playing until it encompasses all of life. That is not reality, and never shall be.

Simply by turning our attention to providing all people everywhere with adequacy, we can solve all the other issues. But adequacy sounds like a come-down. Think of it more as what a cat or a monkey has gotten when it is perfectly content. I mean there is quite literally nothing that Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk has that I would like. Recognition? Pah! A nice nap in the sun is plenty.


Monday, September 27, 2021

Recognitions

It looks as though I'll never finish William Gaddis' book. Life's oscillating trajectory has knocked me down a step. I had been on a losing weight feeling good high, following upon working myself out on my daughters' houses. Then I moved into my own place, which involved the assembly and cartage up three flights of stairs of lots of the goods needed for living. 

Now, suddenly, I'm wracked with pain just getting out of my reading spot. During long walks I'm thinking about how it will feel on the return. I might call it "long COVID," except that it is all so continuous with what has always been progressing. Just getting out my bike, my kayak, my tiny house RV trailer becomes a chore in anticipation. 

I triggered Social Security yesterday, which only forces into my face how little I'm going to have to live on. But, you know, I've felt this way so many times before. I thought I was done with sex at forty-something, but it turned out that I just needed a divorce. It's often hard to differentiate the physical from the mental.

I mean, it's all OK. Life has always been a cliff-hanger from the inside. I hope I never need that out-of-body affirmation that Christopher Superman Reeves had when his brain was cut off from the rest of his neurally alive body. Other people get that through meditation, or even free diving (which I once thought I wanted to learn to do, just because I was that good at it), or maybe, sometimes, psychedelics. 

I've never really thought that mind was contained within body, but then I've never thought that it was severable from body either. The only thing that rescues me from terminal irony is that all boundaries, certainly including skin, are fractal and extensive such that each one of us permeates everything, in just the way that a calculable probability wave for self extends you in exponentially minuscule diminishing identity, starting from near nothing. But cut off most of your body and I suppose the extension must increase.

And if you look at the probability wave structures for subatomic particles, their extension moves toward infinity. Perception - touch - collapses these conceptual structures. Reading and writing collapse meaning.

I think that a good writer requires a more certain grasp on words than I will ever have. I look up words compulsively now, mostly because I can by smartphone. My usages remain trued against common usage only if and as I don't stray too far off the beaten path. Plus, I guess I just don't have the right desire to be read. For the most part, the vocabulary that I inhabit feels sufficient.

Getting old, like getting cancer I hear, elicits troves of advice, directly or indirectly given, about what you could or should be doing to mitigate the consequences. My close friend's dad just died. For whatever reason, the family chose to list the professions and advanced degrees of all his numerous offspring in the obituary. The impact of this man's progeny is stunning. The consequences pretty extensive.

It has always seemed to me that whatever book I am reading contains the secret I've been after. As you, dear reader, know, just now I'm reading Homo Ludens, by Johan Huizinga. I'd pulled the book off my shelves because I'd started thinking that yes, it's play that defines how humanity remains embedded in nature no matter how we seem to stray from natural origins. I open the book and it's almost as though I'd read it already.

Huizinga's life ended just as his apocalyptic times were ending. He died just before the "successful" deployment of America's atomic bomb beyond the "controlled" conditions in New Mexico. Huizinga tried to put culture - our collective identity - back into nature's ground. That is, of course, our current ongoing struggle as well.

Also this morning I read a disturbing article in the Atlantic, not exactly bolstering the lab-release theory about COVID-19, but exposing the irrefutable duplicity of those people and agencies which were honor-bound to be straight-up. 

These are the human failings of people who crave recognition; that thing which I most fear. Simply because I know I couldn't handle it. And yet I still feel that I must release upon this earth some strange construing - trueing really - of words which might help us all along to keep our collective lives from flying apart. I have no business doing this. But I do keep on truckin'

Our usage of the term "freedom" is so wild in America. We cling to usages for freedom of speech which are killing and will kill us. Just as I once learned about how bad news persists five times as long and extends five times further than good news (when I was handling PR for my little school), it seems that lies spread in the same ratio against truth. On social media.

It would seem we can no longer distinguish between trued speech and pure pandering of words. Lies, in other words.

But of course, what we mean to say by freedom of speech is that we value the range for play in words. None of us can abide someone else policing our words when they are aimed toward understanding and not toward action. And yet our worship of such freedom becomes an excuse for self-destruction. We have clearly lost our moral compass. We have yet to get a hold of the difference between public and private.

For my purposes, Huizinga affords us a fully grounded definition for "freedom" in the broadest sense. Freedom is simply the baseline requirement for play. One only plays when one has the choice to play (or not). 

Huizinga then goes on to place the practice of the law (a highlight profession of my now fatherless friend's and my own family) firmly within the realm of culture's origin stories in play. He traces Plato, as I do, toward the 'all the world's a stage.' Warfare is played out on a regulated field, up until what he already calls "total war." These agonistic contests are all in line with what all sentient creatures do when they are free to do it. 

But "it remained for the theory of 'total war' to banish war's cultural function and extinguish the last vestige of the play-element" writes Huizinga.

Suddenly I understand why and how the robes in court look so much like the robes in church. Play removes us from grim reality. Of course now, we have lost all belief. Belief is what must be suspended in court or in church and not what must be embraced. You are in the presence of a higher authority. You move apart from the rules of ordinary life and enter the near sacred, and then sometimes the sacred.

Now faith is what enables us to put one foot in front of the other, while belief is what happens in the court or in church by the wilful suspension of daily faith and daily belief. Yes, this is indeed why I worship irony.

Our genetic background in these United States is that we removed ourselves from any and all cultural roots. We never did conduct proper warfare. Oh sure, during the revolution and perhaps during the civil war, but mostly we went about the wholesale slaughter of those we didn't think of as quite human, so desperate we were to lay claim to our new lives in what we thought of otherwise as wilderness. 

We left the realm of play in America. We did this most egregiously in our religion, which we insist - Catholic and Protestant both - must be made literally true. Transubstantiation is profaned when it is thought to be so real. Nobody can really believe it anymore, forevermore. The Bible as God's literal word is abomination worthy of world's end for what it does to twist any possible truing for any possible words.

This is what it means to desacralize reality. We have become fully profane. We can chart our course by poor usage for terms like freedom and belief and faith and God.

Now you know, dear reader, that I am reasonably literate in Chinese. But as short as I feel that I fall in English, that is how far I fall with Chinese according to a near perfect analogy with how far short I fall from riches. Meaning that I am most certainly alive among the "one-percent" with my usage of both English and Chinese, and in my inherited social capital. But literally speaking, I am almost broke.

At least I have Chinese tradition as a foil against too much belief in the rightness of our ways over here.We are the ones who most seem to be coming apart at the seams. Even as we would agree with each other again if we were to turn off those infernal media amplifiers that kidlets who profess belief in 'freedom to innovate' press into our fists.

So yes, the life of freedom is the life of play. It's not something that you can do all the time, though. Play is defined by limits. There is a start. There is a stop. There is a field of play. There are rules. Freedom is not the callow libertarian fantasy that you should be able to do whatever the fuck you want.

Even the hyper-wealthy who prove their profanity by the scope of what they would enjoy, must do actual work much of the time. But OK, let's suppose that all of us would want to build empires here on earth were we able to do so. Multiple castles, ever bigger yachts, personal billion-dollar aircraft and stadia to milk the masses. Yes, that sure would be fun!

Except that people like me, who have managed multiple houses and even a smallish less-than-luxurious yacht would feel it an excessive burden to have so much under my name and control. There would never be enough pleasure to equal what I felt, for instance, on yesterday's stroll. And that's despite the pain, and the fact that I had to call my daughter for a ride back home when it started to rain and I was a few miles out.

No brag, just fact. 

But OK, let's decide to define life as a search for recognition. Just like Fukuyama does when he writes of the End of History and the Last Man. Like Huizinga does when he details the roots of culture on the agonistic fields where freedom has its play. Like Gaddis does when he re-writes Dante's inferno in the novelized descent of American history, by way of one family's trajectory down. Starting with my own ancestor, Cotton Mather, the father of vaccines, along with fire and brimstone preaching. 

Let's continue to celebrate profane wealth. Go Bills! let's build a colosseum to celebrate the wealthy, some of whom don't even want to live here, on taxpayers' dime beyond the financial reach of the actual fun-loving fans. Let them have big screens! Let them eat chicken wings, even though they now cost as much as filet mignon by the pound.

It is so much easier to project our lives onto the lucky ones than it is to project them onto a future where the words of our constitution are made actually real. All are created equal. All will be afforded the chance to play. To be free and happy frequently enough to have some real play to look forward to every day.

And God will no longer be a projection of those qualities we must disparage instead of celebrate; power and control quite literally beyond imagining right here on earth. Yes, of course I mis-use "literally" just like all the rest.

God left us free, even by our own profane reckoning of the sacred Word. And we have chosen to abandon Him. Full stop. We can't be judged by what we profess to believe. We abandon our God as we describe him as soon as we set out to own Him by denomination. 

We are judged by our actions. Even by the actions of our words. Of course the God who is called by Name is not the true God. (translated from Chinese)

The absence of God doesn't mean that we are alone in the cosmos. We sure do act as though we are, though. And then game over, either in God's name or denial. I assure you that God by any name doesn't care if you're rich, or even if you're happy.

Of course I don't mean that E.T. will keep us company. I mean what evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins uncovered. I mean what science, once it's divorced from the quest for recognition of the scientist, has revealed to us. The most elemental force anywhere is love. Love defines the direction for evolution. Love describes the direction of time. Love distinguishes the quick from the dead from the long view.

What, you thought it was about cognition?!? Look around you. There ain't much sense going on. Individualistic libertarian self-aggrandizement is what I see. The quest for recognition as a cancer.

Well, or it's nothing but a lack of love. Why else would anyone seek outsized recognition in the form of fame and riches?

As you know, dear reader, my writing is all and only about my "discovery" of a kind of gold I'd like to give away. The notion is simple; that emotion is part of any rational physics and cosmology. That we are not radically individual, just simply because we are as connected with all of life and as dependent and therefore interconnected with it as we are recognizably individual. 

Of course our physical systems are geared toward our individual thriving. But it is our ideology which pits us one against each other. And that ideology is, at its roots, all about privacy and private property and being special and being a winner. That right there is how our economy works. And so we don't, because we can't, see what's wrong with winner take all. It's where we want to be.

Play also involves chance, just like worldly success does. Creativity includes letting go and letting chance in. Chance here is defined only as what is beyond our control, and not what is meaningless. That connotation seeps into words like "random." Chance is what's beyond our limited and playful minds. 

While it is hardly loving to allow the happenstance of disease and disability to destroy our fellows by refusing to control what we can control, it is also not the expression of love to hoard our winnings off the field of play. 

It is my prediction - one on which I will and have and do stake my very life - that there will never be any grand unifying theorem in physics. Because mind, defined as the conceptual arrangement of percepts which are not defined and predictable according to forces which can themselves defined as the exchange of other particles . . . mind is as primordial as motion is.  There is conceptual structure to cosmos. Beyond us.

Which means that we can never either predict or control everything. Including our own demise as a species, at least in the formswhich we now live out. We can, at the very least, afford the way toward new life. I wonder if we will ever agree to even that much these days. After the plague, what will it take? Killer insects? Climactic inhospitality to some still further extreme? 

Will we ever learn to get off the field of play and take care of one another, or has play too become totalizing in just the way that warfare by drone proxy has. Those gamers at their controls still suffer PTSD, and so do we all. So do we all.

But we ain't dead yet. And there's still lots to celebrate in how we live longer and prosper better. Let us play a little longer and trust the umpires a little better. They're dressed like jesters in their stripes, right?

Friday, September 24, 2021

Play for Keeps, and Go Out with a Laugh

I have become of that awkward age when I simply can't remember where I put things, or how I did something the last time. It's not so awful, but there are new complications to basic life functions. Sometimes, when trying to game myself I really can't figure out any principle by which to do something such that I will more likely know what I did when trying to recover what I'd already done. 

It's easy, for instance, to always put keys in the same place. But it's less easy to establish an order of operation such that you can accurately guess how likely it is that you'll use the same reasoning the next time. 

I know my memory issues aren't all age-related, since my daughter has the same issues. I used to have to derive formulas and proofs during test-time in school, since there was no way I could memorize those things. I wanted to understand, in any case, and not to memorize.

What is age-related is that I can no longer power through the issues. I used to ace tests because I was pretty good at getting the principles involved in the proofs, just like I could power through whatever memory issues I might have had by a kind of reconstructive analysis. Not so much any more when there are just plain blanks in what I might have done.

*sigh*

But, you know, memory isn't what we think it is in the first place. I saw Mom yesterday, and she can't remember talking with my sisters via FaceTime, even though I know she did. She really can't remember much of anything, except that she still knows me and my daughter and my ex and she still acts and behaves as the same person. But she's not sharp the way that some people still are at her age.

Memory is not a storage and retrieval mechanism. Memory is delayed perception, triggered by the same associative principles which promote survival among environmental challenges. You see again that tiger when you confront a new one. You already know what to do. We mistakenly call this cognition. It's really just recognition.

The simple principles of Riccardo Manzotti's "Spread Mind" thesis really demystify the brain. The brain doesn't catalog some kind of internal model of the world. While a better analogy might be the digital "hashes" that computers use to identify photos, the computer will always make a lousy analog for the brain. The brain excites in communion with the world, but it is in the world of our experiences that the mind resides, and not inside our heads.

This is why, in essence, our destruction of the living environment must also destroy humanity. I do believe that life writ large won't and can't be destroyed. For the most part, that's because life persists in more places than here on earth. By living at the remove of cognition, we don't only overrun the earth, but we nix any possible communion with other life elsewhere in the cosmos. 

I hate to throw this out there, but psychedelics and other ways to quiet the cognition that we are so proud of, including - and I really hate to say this - what we call religion, illuminate the more productive means.

On a walk yesterday morning, before seeing Mom with my younger daughter and my ex, I took a long walk with my older daughter, the one with my memory style. 

As far as I was concerned, the value of the walk was to pick up a cup of what must be the best coffee in the world at Buffalo's Public Espresso + Coffee in the Lafayette Hotel. Then we walked to Canalside where it seemed that things were setting up for some sort of concert. 

I didn't think much about it, despite having noticed some caricature Chinesey blow up dolls. My daughter wondered if that was some kind of cultural appropriation. I thought not, since it seemed to have been placed by Chinese folks.

We found seats on the dock, below the boardwalk, and sipped our lovely coffees in the perfect weather. The days have been setting up for fall, and we watched kayaks, sailboats and pedal bars go by. Folks were getting ready for the Bills game. Which basically means drinking. It was really early.

Walking back toward the Canalside stage later, I wanted to walk the perimeter of the event just to get a sense of what was going on with what we found to be an Asian festival. I wanted to sense the tenor of the event, especially given how much China has been suffering in our stateside politics, given a certain amount of reflexive racism. 

Sure enough there was a table manned by the soon to be disbanded(politics!) Confucius Institute, where I might have worked. I knew that my good friend would have to be there, and he was. And then there was an alumnus from the school I headed, who might lay legitimate claim to having been the first non-Chinese to be admitted to legal practice in China. He chatted up my daughter after we both chatted with the faculty director of the Institute.

I'm always shy about speaking Chinese, unless I'm in China, probably mostly because I don't really want to be waylaid and detained by surprise and questions. So I didn't speak Chinese to the faculty director, but when he learned that my daughter is on the faculty of the law school, he wondered about her opinion about a new law that I had never heard of. It quickly developed that he and my daughter (along with myself) were on very different sides of a new law in New York to decrease prison populations by not sending people back to jail for technical and non-offensive violations of parole. 

He explained that as an economist, he believed that people are rational actors, and that punishment is necessary and important for keeping people in line. Of course I kept my sense of Chinese crime and punishment to the back of my mind when I pointed out what an outlier the US is in our treatment of the violators of our laws, and especially in our prison treatment of our underclasses.

So no, I don't think that the highest and best quality of humanity is our rationality. I think there are recently lots of economists who are ready to trash those modes of modelling our economy too. Mostly, I think, like animals everywhere, we play when we can - we enjoy ourselves - and when we're under duress we get serious. If acting rationally means to maximize our leisure, then sure, we're as rational as a racoon is when he sneaks up to the chunk of cheese on the picnic table when the rest of us are mesmerized by the campfire.

But the thing I want to know is why we are always so ready to reward the fellow who runs off with the ball when the rest of us are enjoying a game of soccer. You can't play the game without the common property. The rules, the lines, the goal posts, the shared understanding and all the equipment. That's also true in the game of life. 

The tragedy of our capitalist ways has indeed now become the tragedy of the enclosure of the commons. We give oil away for free to whoever makes the first claim on it. Air and water have seemed so ubiquitous and plentiful that we never even concerned ourselves that these were a commons that could be despoiled by people happy to lay claim to it for private propertied purposes. Their labor gave us something that we craved, and all was good for a very short while. 

Sure, enclosing the commons can also ensure that, as the masses grow, they won't destroy the commons in competition for its resources. But the more direct effect was to expropriate property for the exclusive use of landowners. 

We have yet to recognize that software code is also part of the commons, in the same way that language is. Sure, you might copyright language that is that unique to you. We tend to call such things ideas, or stories, or sometimes they even embody scientific discoveries. 

But why should Zuckerberg get to be a bejillionaire for "creating" some code that lots of other people were working on at the same time. Was he the creative, or just the ruthless capitalist? Should we really be rewarding people for being the first to find gold in them thar hills, whose gold belongs to all of us? Certainly over time, once ideas are out of the bag, they become part of the language. 

You can lay claim to gold for a while, by secrecy, but if you want to protect your claim you have to stake it. You have to publish your patent. That's the beginning of the way toward becoming part of the commons.

Really, what I'm asking is why white technically savvy coders - or managers of coders, more likely - get to own the lives of the gig workers who are exploited and sometimes tortured by their app infrastructures. These franchises shouldn't last forever. I don't know, maybe they don't in the sense that the code gets out.

But all the radical individualists who hew to the ideology of someone like Peter Thiel should be put in jail. In a gentle way, perhaps following on the Chinese model. Shock therapy for the illicitly wealthy.

When tech franchises do seem to last forever, it's likely because they become a de-facto monopoly by virtue of crowding everyone else out. There's only one New York. In the same way, there's only one social network, one search engine, plus a Democrat and Republican couple of nearly identical operating systems. 

These things all follow the Pareto principle, which demonstrates that ungoverned capital will be the death of us all. Ungoverned things fly apart.

Imagine a different world, where patent and copyright monopolies lasted a very short time, or no time at all. All the discoverer or creator might get would be name recognition. Shouldn't that be enough? 

Universal pirating of creative texts in China hardly leaves the authors either impoverished or not wanting to write anymore. The public pays the discoverer a finder's fee and then goes about making good use of the common property. The more readers the better for the author, and even the pirate presses have an interest in maintaining the fidelity of the text. 

If gig workers collectively owned the platform that allows them to scramble so hard - a kind of gaming that they're good at - then they could have a good life while actually doing what they're good at. Owning here just means controlling. Democracy. Ownership of your own life instead of being indentured to someone who thinks and believes he's smarter than you are, and therefore deserves to be rich off your back. 

I mean we have these deadly culture wars now between city and country, and they're all about the commons and about something that everyone calls freedom, but no one can agree on what freedom really means. Freedom from? Freedom to? 

Peter Thiel thinks that freedom means being able to exploit [Matrix] battery slaves with absolute abandon. Suburbanites think freedom means paying nothing for gasoline - sucking up our common and magical heritage in fossil fuels - to power their endless collection of plastic enshrouded power toys.

People in the country who are still embedded in living nature want nothing to do with gays and blacks in the city. That's even as those country folks still help each other out with whatever each other needs while worshipping an anthropomorphic godhead designed to encourage belief in a kind of eternal freedom of bliss.

Now we serious city-dwellers are the smart ones. We have the college diplomas, which certainly don't indicate anything about our minds being someone else province (do they?). We believe in government just like we believe in umpires and playing field grids and rules. 

Really, we all just like to play. We're all just animals, and all work and no play makes Jack a very dull child indeed. The thing that distinguishes humans most is that we laugh. "Lower" animals arguably cry, but I think that humans are the only species which laughs. Though our laughter isn't only in response to fun.

Now I have been told that I'm a killjoy. That I'm too serious. That I don't know how to have fun, since I worry about the world in earnest. I'm among that ever diminishing faction of humanity which worries about systems falling apart, a process which gets called by names like apocalypse and armageddon. But, you know, we've all gotta go sometime. Death is something we all have in common, and you can't take mine from me.

I would like to think that I'll go out like Zorba the Greek, wild with laughter as I hold  both sides of the window through which I'm about to defenestrate, in the spiritual sense of the term.

We have been cursed by our self-designation as homo sapiens, and so of course we think that we must think our way out of our disastrous future as we see it coming. Or maybe we're homo faber, the maker primate, and that's the root of all our trouble.

Animals make things. Animals are sentient, if not wise. Animals play. Sapience is hardly our defining priority, and by that argument we should call ourselves Homo Ludens, as Johan Huizinga once suggested. Not so distinguished from other species but by our laughter. The ludicrous part is the homo part, to think ourselves wise. 

But ludens is universal to all animal species. We should call ourselves Homo Ridet or something like that. The laughing primate which absurdly aspires to be sapient.

Some long long time ago, I purchased Huizinga's paperback called Homo Ludens. Now I find that the book was written in the midst of WWII, and published in English about the time that I was born. I've been conscious of the book on my roving shelves for a long time. It's in what might be my biggest category of shelved books; those that I want to read but never quite have the energy for. Real physical books and shelves are good for that. The ones languishing on my Kindle just virtually disappear. I'd thought it was written by Pico Iyer, who always sits by this books side. That memory deficit again!

In the war zone, WWII must have felt like what we mean by the end of the world. Or perhaps there was a vague sense of life surrounding the mayhem; before and after and on different continents. We now seem to mean something even more total than that. No after, nowhere else.

Play - according to Huizinga and according to me when I started to think about it and then opened the book on some sort of whim - is distinguished by having a field for play, rules, and a beginning and end. He includes sacred ritual among the things we play. In all cases, it is important to regard the play and its altered state as real, for the moment.

War was once more like play in that sense. It was accompanied by music, had rules, had uniforms and battlefields. Death was a part of the contest, just like it was in some of the sport of the ancient Olympics. You at least knew who your enemy was. Warriors wanted to identify themselves.

Now we kill more in earnest. The play has become grim. And we have been made to believe that freedom consists only in those rare moments when we're not compelled to work. But really freedom is only, and has ever been only, what is required for play. You can be compelled to work, or to fight, but you can't be made to play. We are simply mixed up about what warfare is, what work is, and what life is.

Endless war, like life defined as work by compulsion, is what defines what we seem to mean by Armageddon. If we were to play the game of life rather than to live it grimly, then apocalypse would be the end of the game, and certainly not the end of life.

We are clearly making a world of hurt for any future humans, but we will hardly destroy us all, nor certainly all of life. Along with the de-ritualization of warfare, has come the destruction of the play in ritual and worship. Indeed, I'd say that these two are the same thing. Where is the joy in God when the believers are all angry at those who won't play with them. 

In play - watch any child playing and you will see this - you have to believe in the play world that you inhabit, but you also have to know that it's play. You'll warn your parents not to wreck the illusion, and you might even be peeved if your play is spoiled, but you're hardly going to have a tantrum unless your play has become a compulsion, and no longer free and therefore no longer play.

At least some of the people participating in the capitol insurrection this year were having fun. They were playing at insurrection, just like their president was playing at being the president. Could that be the crux of the MAGA revolt? That the dweebs in charge are just too serious? 

Freedom means free to be an asshole, right? An asshole surrounded by your kind of asshole. I wonder if we could ever at least believe in that together? But the guy who runs off with the ball is not just an asshole, he's a royal asshole. Trump was a royal asshole wannabe.

I learn from Huizinga that the hallmark of play is that it can't be done to order. You may be coerced to work or to fight, but in order properly to play you must be free. Is that what we mean or ought to mean by freedom? Here in these United States? Where does our usage of the term come from anyhow? We're concerned about free speech, as though speech doesn't have consequence. How many of us now regard the COVID vaccine as though they were being played. They refuse to engage on the field. They are spoilsports.

Meanwhile, systems are already breaking down, and while some of us are partying like tomorrow will be the end of the world, some others are banging our heads against the wall trying to come up with something to do about it for the long run. And even though it's reportedly easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, the only thing that I can come up with is to end capitalism, and come up with a different way of getting along.

Funny, that different way might be more the way they live in the red counties of our starkly divided country. COVID is just part of the game, and we share our burdens. Will the Amish even notice the end of the world as we know it? They just seem way too serious. But I'll bet they're really not.

I vote for and with the cities, since it's just hard to imagine any other way to organize humans not to overrun the earth. But we'd have to draw some lines about when enough is enough, and that would destroy a lot of fun for a lot of people.

An exponentially progressive income and property tax would do it. But monopoly is a game and wouldn't that just take the wind out of the sails of all the playful wealth creators? 

Or how about after a certain scale, your taxes are voted on by the rest of us. Like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are plenty well-off, but they still seem to identify with the common (city) folk. But could we trust the electorate? Would Trump ever get voted off the island?

Wait, I might be rooting for that crazy Texas anti-abortion law to work. It would set a precedent for suing the rich for their expropriation of our commons. We'd just regularize the matter by way of taxes instead of exile. You sue your poor and dispossessed, and I'll sue the billionaires. Well, we should never have to sue Donald Trump since he should be in jail already. 

The ballots would be long, but not that long. There are only a few hyper-wealthy in each of our voting districts, and the national ballot would only be dealing with the wealthiest of the wealthy in a kind of logarithmic progression. Along with lawmakers we would be inviting the wealthy to campaign for our indulgence of their lifestyles. 

I'm guessing - or maybe I'm just hoping - that those rich from finance - from playing with money instead of doing productive things with it - would fare the worst. The makers and thinkers and sports players and creative types might do middling well. The ones with the lowest taxes (there has to be a legal basement beyond which too much is too much) might be the ones who demonstrably create the most jobs of a sort that people actually have fun doing.

Or course we would need a citizen app for all this. Which brings me back to the gig workers owning their own platform. I mean, why not? Right? Isn't that what democracy means?

OK, I admit that I like to work. I think most people like to work, especially if they have the privilege to do what they like, and especially if they can be their own bosses. So gig work isn't inherently bad. It's the ownership model that's bad.

Now I have to circle back to the trouble with money. At it's best money makes living into play. We're mostly not risking our lives battling beasts and heat and cold to stay alive. We're playing the game of life by using a medium for exchange. Well, it used to be a medium for exchange. Now the medium is the end in itself, and the best gamers get to dictate the rules for the rest of us.

That's why I call money a virus, and I mean you, digital currency. Your infection is far more dangerous than COVID-19. You infect our moral compass and pit each of us against the other. Who hasn't been gamed by health insurance? By a salesman? Life insurance used to be illegal as a kind of morbid gambling. 

If we don't figure out a way to inoculate ourselves against treating our customers as people we can use for our own ends, our game is going down, baby, down. 

It feels like money can buy you freedom, and in a way it can. But most of the people I know who have lots of money think only about money, and often seem to curate their lives as if they were living some kind of work of art. Isn't there something like terror behind that? That you might not be all that. That fun which can by played without limit might make it hard, actually, to have fun. Sour grapes, I'm certain. The rich don't exactly feel bad about their lives.

Love is also play until the consummation, according to Huizinga. So it isn't the screwing subjects which expresses the freedom of the hyper-rich (they all seem so addicted to that). It might be the flirtation, and that might be irresistible. I certainly wouldn't get anywhere by flirtatious flatter, so I guess that I can't know. There is also freedom in saying no, in the end, and in holding out for love that is reciprocated, which is how we've set up the game in the past. But I mean, thank goodness for all the liberated on Tinder. At least they're not leaving the franchise of free sex for the rich alone.

I still have a lot of trouble with the game the anti-vaxxers are playing with my life. But maybe I start to get it. They feel like the rules are stacked against them, and so why wouldn't the people in charge try to trick them into taking the pill, the shot, the indoctrination? Sometimes being a spoilsport is the only way to get attention. Maybe they actually do care less about dying than they do about their false (to me) sense of freedom. Taking a shot feels like getting handcuffed or something, even while taking a shot is what will set us all free (by my lights).

Hell, I may even end up going back to church if someone lets the joy back in and kicks the politics out. I don't even care that we've childishly anthropomorphized the godhead. I'm willing to play along because I know that what you religionists call God is real. I know we need the bounds of ritual and belief in the game. But it has to set us free when we're on the playing field, and not set us out and upon the infidel when we're not. 

It's by virtue of being a story that the story of Christ is real. I mean, I won't ever go so far as 'dominion over the earth' and that kind of bullshit, and I can't quite go along with the behaviors of our evangelicals and those darned taliban. But the story in its essence is beautiful and worth playing for keeps.

Meanwhile I hold this incredible reading machine in my hand most mornings, where for far less output than most poor people spend for cable TV, I can lose myself in good writing, be amazed, and then mostly forget all of it. I trust I've emerged transformed, but it could be that my compulsive reading across such an incredible variety of sources is just my way of playing computer games.

For the most part, I beat them all at their own game. I am, for sure, a writer in my own mind. I know all the answers. I just don't know either how to live them out or how to share them. But I did just find this fellow who goes by indi.ca. Yay! He seems to think the way that I do. Will I even remember him tomorrow? Well, that's why I continue to write. And here you thought I wrote for you, gentle reader.

Anyhow, in most ways the core of humanity is getting better. As my boss once remarked when we passed a blonde driving a Corvette and both turned our heads, "you ain't dead yet." We were playing.

I may be ashamed, and I may worship the god of irony, and I may be wrong on most accounts, but we ain't dead yet, and I shall maintain my perverse hope for the future of humanity.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Living Close - My Castle, My Caste, Castaway, the Cast of the Story I Cast - Forecast

I

I know what it's like to live in close spaces. The rain here today so hard that the street is a river. But the loud old A/C units drown out the sound, and I only know it's raining when I go to see if and where the unit is dripping. At least I'm dehumidified. But the dripping is outside. The rain.

Now is a different kind of close. My oldest close was a tiny house built in a tree and hoping for rain. Perhaps a tent in the Adirondacks, lost against a topo map, awakening to a foot of snow on top, and warm for that. Sometimes wondering if the wind would flatten it. Canoes which somehow sometimes made a roof, and an actual drowning.

That's not the sort of close I mean in older age, though. I mean in a sailboat that I rebuilt with my own hands and mostly hand tools. I mean in the winter or at night when the bowsprit snaps and I have to quickly release the strain on all the other stays. There is not thought in the event, despite much malice aforethought in a kind of anxious pre-panic. I was prepared. I didn't cause it.

Or the rain and hail in the lightning are so powerful that I have to douse the sails and go below to check through the cabin lights for other craft. Donning my scuba mask to see anything at all when I ventured out through the leeward open companionway and then faced into the storm. My motor thrumming still then, just before its death. I felt life then. Alone.

I didn't want to live that way forever. I needed a safe harbor at the end of the day.

I mean in a tiny popup house in a bucking wind, and not able to know that it would not topple over, or that I would be able to handle it or that, whatever whatever whatevermore. The boat would flatten in the wind sheer when a storm kicked up. I'm still here, bizarrely. Old sails can be restitched for a much longer while than you might imagine.

I don't know hurricanes in New Orleans. I don't know wildfires. I don't know floods in New York City. And now my cosy not-quite-close apartment above all frays isn't what I mean at all. 

It's a trap, no different than the cheap hotels I inhabited in Shanghai, saving money for the college at my expense, as it were. Those too so very different from a tiny one-room cabin near Taos, New Mexico. Alive is living close. And outdoors near. Hotsprings instead of bathtubs. But bathtubs in the long run. Crumbled to dust now, those cabins.

My place now is too much inside, and getting out involves stories of airlocks and minor social thresholds and has to be decided. Liberating my bike is a minor ordeal, beyond what it would be if only I had the better isolation of a house. 

Not like going above on the sailboat, or how many times can that door open and close on my tiny house trailer, and how precious the warm and dry repose inside or below while reading. Now I lock in with news on my iPhone in noisy climate-controlled (manually controlled) cutoff.

I feel bleak from the powerboat ride yesterday afternoon. Trump 2024 flags flying from oversized cruisers where out to sea is itself some sort of (semi-automated) ordeal, and the living way too close at the dock. And RVs on the highways, and deeply tanned babe on a noisy Donzi cigarette aspirant boat, piloted by Don-somebody in shades. Super friendly. 

I just simply wonder if there is even any awareness of what to do when something breaks. Like I can't even visualize the systems on my friend's boat, and it is relatively simple and standard. The same friend who arrived the day after I'd removed the engine and exposed the ribs on my old wooden boat before ever sailing it, in our twenties. 

And he left the day after we, together, re-seated the old engine amid much righteous yelling about how to align it properly with the shaft. The shaft turned smoothly forever after, though wood is supposed to move. Still a minor mystery, 

The propellor almost took my head off after I torqued the gear puller to nuclear proportions. To replace the sternpost. We both laughed outrageously.

I'd misrepresented to him and to his girlfriend now wife, they say, how soon we might go sailing. I had no idea. And we remain kind to one another, swimming in soupy Lake Erie under the windmills and docking for take-out pizza (only to boats) in the understaffed riverside complex which should have been hopping harder than it was. Even to be able to dock was a minor miracle! Compared to before. A ferris wheel is ready to go this year.  Will it?

WTF is going on? My family had to leave the shore of Lake Erie in my youth because it was dying if not dead already, and the fish were piled on the beaches. The River is getting better too. Which way are we even going?

At least I had things I knew to do when my craft failed, as all craft will, eventually. Removing cylinder heads at sea to unstick the valves. Piece of cake. Keeping the mast aloft without its forestay and then refitting that stay's anchor with a handcrank-drill and scavenged bronze highway expansion plates for an upcoming voyage. They laughed at me boring holes in my hull while afloat. Crew laughed when I resorted to hand-cranking the engine. Well, I never had crew. I laughed.

They do service calls at sea now, but there's storm and night and too far out and it just simply makes me nervous. Weather being so unpredictable now, and all. Um, I guess I never used to check it. I just went.

I need to know detail about how to survive, though. I need to have touched all the parts, and know to some degree of precision where the weak points are. And still the break is always a surprise. The panic only in the afterthought.

Does no-one else see how obviously we now careen toward the end of what has been turning us on. We sail gleefully over the falls that we can't even hear. I ran the River underwater and worried only about the water intake. For drinking.

Thinking ahead might mean you're prepared, or trusting in a better system might be better. The odds can be odd.

So many people that I know or run into are fitting out small vans as living spaces. Not understanding the difference between a mobile space which can stay put when necessary and the necessity to be always on the move. One must be able to shed one's clothes with a shrug in an instant to swim to run to safety.

To don the snorkel parka, quick. To be doobee. There is no place safe for hunkering anymore. We're all exposed. The living fraudulent. Our dreams are far too material. Our material far too permanent. Our systems too far beyond us. 

I feel my life in small spaces and it feels very good indeed. But the road feels deadly now. Where does one wish to be when things start falling apart? The weather, the political plague, the firestorms.

Too late. It's already started and one has to do what one has to do, and be where one has to be. Moving out is fantasy.

II

But finally there is a thoughtful book about the fraud of automation. Finally, there is a book describing what we call structural racism as a caste system, which is structural at every level of our nation. These things are the same thing. Automation is an ideology:

"But rather than a concrete technological development and improvement, “automation” was an ideological invention, one that has never benefitted workers. I use scare quotes around “automation” as a reminder that the substance of it was always ideological, not technical.

As I read Caste, I want to insert some kind of post-structuralist Foucauldian analysis and I recognize that this is yet another precinct for white domination of thinking, just like computing has created a reserve, a preserve, for young white males who think that way. Libertarian lib-tards. I need a Brazilian butt-lift because I have no butt and would like to appropriate everything to make you look bad. Just kidding, I'm way too old!

I did fall for the promise of computers and networks to enhance social productivity in academic and other non-profit settings. And the fraud that the computers made each of us more productive was made obvious. 

I was an educator and easy to talk with, I was told, and still I could not demystify what was going on enough to help people to work effectively without letting the machine get in the way of their work. Without Solitaire the only thing that made them feel good about the interface.

None of it was helping to help the people that needed help. None of it would help my little school for gifted children, which (fortunately?) succumbed before computers became mandatory. We didn't even have a fax machine yet, though my dictated reams of correspondence were helped along by a secretary willing to try a dedicated word-processor. Though her typing was already flawless and fast. But it canned some boilerplate now. We all speak in boilerplate so that our machines will understand us. I marvel at her mastery in retrospect.

And then we become so angry with one another. As white people think that merit is defined by what white people internalize as what they must do well. And that structural racism - caste - is somehow an intellectualized attack on what we were born to be and can't help.

We run on automatic as a society and as an economy, which is to say that we are being run. Listen up people, listen up. Thank goodness I'm not amplified, or I'd be sued for breaking your eardrums. "Be Quiet" is harmful when amplified.

But quietly, I think we can understand where each of us comes from, if we listen. I'm game. The trouble is now that we accept a level of complexity where we simply can't know if we're outthinking the machines. We game the gaming and are utterly lost most of the time, unless we're only gaming, in which case, rock on if it works for you. 

I actually do understand most of the systems and their glitches. What I don't understand is why we stand it. Does it still turn us on, or is it turning on us? Not my problem, since I'm not really turned on anymore. What is my problem is what's happening outside. And between us. 

The lake had to get really bad before we backed off. How bad does the climate have to get before we back off now? 

III

I'm reading Caste now after reading American Republics, the latter written by a manlier white dude, whose mind works more like mine does. That book covers the territory between the Constitution and the Civil War. It is an excruciating laying open of how we looked as a young nation. How embedded slavery always has been in our national DNA. How willing we were to slaughter for wanton self-aggrandizement. It felt like survival.

But it's Caste that lays me open. Reading that book is therapy, sneaking right past my intellectual defenses. Now I find myself. Flayed. Guilty. Defenseless.

My living is no longer close. The humidity and the temperature both dropped. I chatted with the landlord yesterday about the furnace for the winter. But for now we have the glory of Buffalo in Spring or Fall when the sun shines and the air transmits every little sound. The windows are open and I find myself back within a throng of activity. 

The helicopters landing on the hospital twin towers may be louder, but I have no air conditioner thrumming. I open up. A long bike ride through Niagara Falls to Old Fort Niagara. A long walk with my daughter. An escapade through my heart. 

Lately, after spending time with my good friends the powerboat couple, I have felt beaten up. She seems to feel the need to take me down a peg, which is fine. I'm sure I could use it. But it doesn't really feel like it's about me. And finally I've had it when she feels the need to tell me that I was the only one in our crowd with the cushion of being rich. I'd had it. 

All of my Catholic friends seemed to have money, and seemed to have toys and even boats and things that I was protected from. Money was a presence for its absence where I grew up. Dad would buy ten cent ice cream cones for the four of us maybe once in a blue moon, and we had a single and very old black and white TV in the basement which we weren't allowed to watch. 

So I patted my friend on the back and allowed to her that it was fine if she needed to think that I was rich. She'd tipped me over my edge. I could feel the chill when next I saw her.

It was late in my life, while caretaking one of Dad's cousins in his dotage that I came across the Buffalo Blue Book. The social register. The last one that had remained in continuous publication in the U.S. I was told when I asked about it. No Catholics allowed in this blue book, in the most Catholic city in the nation. My Dad's cousin was really really well-off. Not modern one-percenter well off. Not Thousand Islands robber barons well-off. But well enough off.

No Jews, no Irish, and nevermind the blacks. So sure, I had allowed to my Catholic and Irish couple friends, I was dripping in social capital, but it wasn't until by reading Caste, that I pried open what she had been trying to let me know. Sure we would never be named in the social register, but we knew everyone in there. We went to church with them. Even though my parents didn't contribute to it, I could surely think about the Ivy League. My legacy.

IV

And then I'm remembering how I was hired to the newly forming teams for distributed IT support at the University. That was when PCs were the new necessity on the block, and the centralized mainframe gurus weren't structurally equipped to deal with PC networks. The Internet was new, though the web and dot com were still on their way. It was still all UUNet. Eight bit ASCII was all you got. Though you could turn these into Chinese or pictures by way of an escape code. It was fun.

One of my first support calls was to a black female professor who reamed me out when I asked her was she in such and such department, as though I was challenging her qualifications. I was clueless is all. 

I later found out, after we'd become close, that she was on the hiring committee for my job and had rightly blackballed me as a slumming blue-blood. There was a black dude she wanted to hire. My young boss and still good friend horse-traded and the new Local Area Network PC support division got us both. 

I was nervous in my new job. I jumped ship from an academic scholarship because I was desperate for money. I soon learned that I was also jumping caste (from PhD aspirant to servant). My new black colleague was what my new black ladyfriend called a "zero" when it came to troubleshooting and helping professors deal with their computers. 

My young boss was full blooded East Indian, or was his mother German?, which was somehow invisible to me. Outside the Indian caste structure as a Sikh, I think. I helped him out of his inherited right wing instincts. His father is dying now, unreconstructed, but no less loved for that.

Now I liked my black colleague just fine. But I needed him out of my network. I mean my computer network, not my social network. Too many people depended on it, and he didn't have a clue. I was nervous about keeping the network up now that so many were depending on it, and by extension depending on me.

By that time, I had been schooled by several of my black students ranging from high-school through grad school when I questioned their usage in my review of their work. They gently revealed what I didn't know. I must have been deferential enough not to arouse their ire. I never did go for the gold of my privilege at Yale, where I felt outcaste myself as a public schooler among the preps. I couldn't even look the wealthy classmate from Buffalo in the eyes when we were introduced. He didn't even take note of me. His name was so exalted. And yet I palled with bigger names from elsewhere.

So my black colleague took my Indian colleague and myself to lunch and explained as how he had been ostracized from the work because he was black. And the other two of us were taken aback and a bit outraged. 

I think I still believed in "merit" at the time, even though I never could define what "gifted" meant in the school I'd recently headed. Where my colleagues in the preppier schools displayed outrageous racism in our private 'liar's club' meetings of local private school heads. 

But should I have mentored my colleague? How condescending! I was hardly qualified myself. And yet I now regret not having gotten together on the work level, even as we seemed to get along fine socially. 

I heard and then saw what he was dealing with financially on the home front. I was a very different kind of poor, where I had been granted a whites-only relationship-based apartment for next to nothing. He was struggling against an actual house with marginal plumbing and four kids while I had only two and a divorce to hold me back.

I still cringe that my black ladyfriend had to endure my recitations about falling for a different colleague (white, comely and very young) and I had no clue as to the source of her new rage against me. She won't respond to me still after my return to town. 

Now I cringe anew about how my black colleague must have felt. His dignity felt put on to me. But he came as a leader from his own community. I am ashamed. Perhaps I've grown?

V

This day was predicted to be clear and crisp, but the fact of it is overcast and close. It's cool won't penetrate to where I sit and pretend to write. My entire life is a pretense. A fake. A fraud. Outcaste.

I'm not naming names here. I try to give you no more than I grant to Google who now passes me the outrage of forcing me to agree to be surveilled if I continue to want their direction. Nothing has changed, and yet now they want my actual assent?!? I resemble that remark!

I should name Isabel Wilkerson, though. I did have one good therapist among several. He described himself as more toward what a shaman might be in other cultures, without thereby ascribing any nobility to himself. His therapy worked and I was better able to live. Wilkerson too has changed my outlook. 

The writing is not my style for sure. I usually read for the hit of cognitive expansion. The theory is light here in her book, and the metaphors gentle. Yet the bite goes deep, and for all that it is easy to read and without theoretical ballast, I am finding myself changed. I feel a sort of odd sympathy with all the Trump nationalists. We know not what we do. We are innocent of our anger. And yet it is real.

I have not before understood where and how liberal media has fallen short and failed us. I have not before understood what was happening with Obama and then with Trump. I read The Trouble with Kansas, which helped a little, but this book is the mother lode if you want to know what's going on.

I've hated Obama for being a neoliberal shill for the establishment, and for getting so fucking rich. That's because I believed in him beyond anything reasonable, even while I cringed for what he couldn't help unleashing during his press-club roasting of Trump. He might as well have said, ladies and gentlemen I give you Donald Trump! That trajectory is palpable in hindsight. 

Now I realize that I hated Obama for the same reason that I resented my colleague. I realize that I and my ilk can't help but be the cause of all our troubles even as and though I, myself, don't feel the benefit of my caste belonging. It is the harm which counts. Living close or living trapped, I live only for myself. That can't be right.

I don't exactly name myself here, do I? I neither implicate nor exonerate. I struggle to be. My complaints focus locally up or down, though mine is the penthouse, mine is the bestie in my COVID ravaged walkup. The best that I can afford. The one who died lived in the basement where I hadn't thought anyone could live, and not from COVID. He was white with cancer. I only met him once and he seemed nice. He had been screwed by crossing health-insurance lines, as I learned by those who knew him and who were outraged.

Now, watching in horror at what has been happening to these United States, China reins-in their tech titans and superstars as we still don't know what to do with ours. Let them go to outer space? China reverts to Confucian form whose best Western analog might have been Holy Catholic Empire. They would not remove their state apparatus from moral guidance, nor allow their economy to run armorally amok.

We, here, seem to have no choice.

VI

I write, or so it seems to me, always from the starting point of some crystal nugget of clarity. That, quite evidently, is no way either to learn to write or to gather any readers. It also means that I spend much of my waking life trying to retrieve that crystal nugget that I had the moment or the night or the week before. And still most everything I write becomes something I've already said or written before. 

So the problem becomes how to crawl out from whatever little and often tiny man-cave I inhabit. I've turned away from so many points of focus for a career. Mostly because they're too specific; too focal. No, mostly because of bad luck. No profession seems worthy of a life, and so I spend my life on whatever it is that will have me or that I hazard into. 

I'm not writing like those mostly male and often intelligent-sounding conspiracy theorists who've swallowed their own theories whole, without even choking. They seem to amass audiences. You know, like the preppers whom Mark O'Connell outs as thinly veiled white male supremacists. 

Our apocalyptic anxieties seem to differ mostly on a distinction between there being someone in charge and there being no-one in charge. Politically at least, my own fears scintillate. There is no-one in charge of our government, whose systemic controls are being rapidly dismantled by the rabid right so that, according to the law of the economic jungle, the benign white rich folks who always win will always be in charge. 

They worship an economy which organizes itself better than any rationally ordered economy would. They anthropomorphize the godhead into something which always approximates a bearded white male who's not a Muslim. The beard to distinguish the unkempt long hair from female and bedraggled.

Conspiracy theorists strive to out the malign "system" which has it in for radically and individually competent white males, who are somehow uniquely competent to tell everyone else what we must do. Patently ignoring the fact that it's the black males who have actual experience learning to survive a malign system.

I myself am clearly a believer in the self-organizing systems of nature. The self-organizing systems of our economy seem only to enable the over-reach that is the basis for most of our anxieties about things falling apart. 

I re-read Franzen's Freedom on my Kindle, not knowing that it was a re-read until I re-read my Goodreads review of it, from back when I was in a different kind of fog. I couldn't remember a single thread, except for the grandma dying of a pulmonary embolism, which, at the time, I had nearly done. Still, the book must have informed me somehow, since its tenor felt familiar.

I guess there is no natural and best form of government, just as there is no natural or best way to organize an economy. But it does seem clear that governors - usage here stemming from the mechanical metaphor - are necessary for any type of government or economy to work. Our anxieties are about things flying apart. And therefore about the need to be a radical individual. We think that everyone else needs to be governed. Just not me, myself, and I.

I hold onto the most insignificant factors to keep from flying apart myself. I hold onto a kind of metatheory to keep me immunized against the crazies. My metatheory is almost insanely trivial, and yet it works for me: I see love in the self-organizing principles of nature. I see humanity as a kind of culmination of that direction. That doesn't make us lord over creation, or any better, morally, than animals. But love does inhere in the capacity for choice that we embody.

Our capacity for choice is no more unlimited than our individual lives are.

Yes, life can be brutal, though that may also be a kind of anthropomorphizing. Animals, say, don't maim and kill from any kind of unleashed hatred. It's something wrong with humanity that we do. 

Anyhow, it seems patently absurd to me that Mars will ever be more hospitable than Earth, no matter how thoroughly we've mucked up our systems. That needn't mitigate the thrill of exploration, though I have myself explored beyond my limits in that sort of direction (underwater, outer space, same thing). I don't really expect to find anything more interesting than wreckage. Or a scary fish in my face, emerging from the murk.

It seems just as patently absurd to believe that life in the wilds can somehow be more vital than life in a big city. That the preppers aren't kidding themselves about the comforts of togetherness that they will miss. As simple as hot showers and store shelves and potable water from a tap. 

They seem to believe that loneliness can be mitigated by subjugated women and children and other followers. That God is going to speak to them in some kind of readable code, or rather that God already has. That set of beliefs is dangerous at best.

So the end is certainly near. Just not that end. 

My local end for sure. The end of the democratic America of our dreams for only a little less certain. Definitely the end of unregulated and digitally accelerated capitalism. These things have simply not proven viable. We blew it. Just watch Turning Point on Netflix and see how unprepared out so-called leaders always have been.

But a less imperialistic - which means a less white masculinist - America surely can live on. The compassion and wisdom I hear from, say, black women in government, is nothing short of a natural wonder. And there are more than a few white men in government who agree with me on that. Not everyone panders for votes and tries for voter suppression gerrymandering certainty to the scale of preppers caching weaponry and ammunition.

And that is how we prevail. That is how we return to the embrace of so-called nature, which still exists in our computer code, which will never be removed from whatever it means to be human, because our thought has never been and never will be disembodied Bayesian choice. 

Our choices are real and embedded and embodied. We need to get real.

VII

So as I still periodically ponder what that crystalline clarity was about which I had intended to write before being interrupted by phone call from my daughter, I do continue to read. I learn about sovereign individualism from Mark O'Connell, who borrows the term from some libertarian nutjob. 

It seems that there are actually people, of which Peter Thiel is O'Connell's representative for the moment, who believe that they are so superior to everyone else that they believe that they should be autocratic masters of the universe. 

O'Connell is an ironist, best of all, and among the ironies that he skates around is the evident fact that the Thiels of the world consider the rest of us as their bodies, more or less. They are looking for a cognitive elite to take over everything as they become mega-preppers to survive the systemic collapse that they, themselves, are responsible for. As though they would remain so powerful without the Matrix-like battery power that we, the masses, provide to them. 

They fantasize that the world's collapse is their apotheosis, as it already has been by their triumph on our backs. They fantasize that they can replicate the pioneer days, just like the more working class preppers, except that they can do it in style. Riding out armaggeddon in a kind of yacht life. 

I won't try to rehearse O'Connell's frequently brilliant exposes of the nostalgia in certain brands of futurism for a past that replaces slavery and genocide with the misty romance of Little House on the Prairie. But anyhow, no wonder Thiel makes many of his millions by way of big data and surveillance capitalism, which must just reinforce his contempt for the rest of us who can hardly avoid its predations on our freedoms. What he means by freedom is not what we mean.

It is hard for me to understand that grade of individualism. Narcissism, really, where one cannot quite imagine one's own demise, life is so wonderful. And we are meant to imagine the demise of our fantasies for democracy, as these were never real in the first place. We are meant to imagine demise of all that we do love, that we cling to, just as those with the means find ways to escape all harm. 

But most of us are not so afraid of our individual deaths, and don't fantasize the way that Thiel does about approaching immortality. So why are we so worried about our children's world? Because we love them, perhaps? We are simply not big enough to worry about nuclear war or asteroids colliding with earth, or even about pandemics. All that we have to lose is those that we love. And the communities in which they live and will live. And the world.

To extend humanity as we know it to the ends of the universe as the PayPal alumni seem to want, is identical to extending our radical selves onto forever. But doesn't that just negate love? Don't we love our children because they are not us? Don't we wish that the humanity to endure will be better than this one. Perhaps it will even be unrecognizable to us were we able to see it as it shall be. It certainly won't resemble the likes of Peter Thiel.

Now, somewhat improbably, though maybe not, I read an article in GQ, of all places, about the last denizens of a hippie back-to-the-land movement in Northern California. These also are patrons of Tolkien. Perhaps I would be a tech mogul or a hippie too, if only I'd ever bothered to read Lord of the Rings. The guy who worked on, but mostly taught me to maintain, my old Saab could actually write and speak the language. Thiel is the same kind of Tolkien fanatic that some of those hippies were.

(Interestingly, Apple News + has this article before it's posted to the web, so I can't link it for you. The article is called "The Last Glimpses of California's Hippie Utopias," by David Jacob Kramer)

The hippies were radical individualists as well, moving into their own private altered states, in every sense of that word. Of course, I've had glancing intersection with some of this. I've been to a Rainbow Homecoming. I've spent the night in a hippie prepper compound. Not so different at the extremes of left and right.

I'm forced now to read most of my news on my smaller than average iPhone. It's a matter of money. Steve Jobs got his start too, in psychedelics and a sort of hippiedom. I read another article somewhere else about Bread and Puppets, a phenomenon I revisited when I recently lived in Burlington. The matron had died. Was it the New York Times? I think so. No, the New York Review of books. Written by a fellow one-time Burlington denizen, now poet, Dan Chiasson. Nicely done.

I also remember that some Jews wrote off the puppeteers because of a pro-Palestinian stance, I think.

So I'm spinning irony up even beyond where Mark O'Connell took it, documenting the absurdities of the preppers and the cognitive elites (or so they believe of themselves) of tech. 

It is more obvious to me that our cognitive processes, built on words as they are, also build in the apprehension of self as a kind of epiphenomenon of consciousness on the social steroid of language. Written language in particular. 

We're starting to get a clue that Chinese protagonism isn't the same as our own narrative and novelistic protagonism, though they do finally begin to merge. In ways both good and horrifying. Now the entire globe practices performative identity structuring, and we can't quite move beyond it and back into being. Everyone except those in charge understands the dangers of capitalism the way we practice it from America.

The state takes its cut from the altered states now, and tech provides the bar-coding against tax fraud. As much they have anything else, building codes destroy the hippie dreams. The towers still come down. And yet we all shall dissolve back into the stream of life. There is no other way.

So I have to start by working my way out and past the group therapy of family and friends. It's like group therapy in that it's a (pretty) safe way to work through what makes you angry. In my case, I'm generally the one - mostly self-appointed - who knows how to fix things and live in and with them in ways to maximize their useful life. 

I think that what this means is that I claim a proprietary interest in shared spaces, and get mad when I feel taken advantage of or not listened to. Interestingly enough for an anti-capitalist like me, this pretty much defines private property as that is meant in capitalism. I declare myself the master of any realm that I inhabit.

Also interestingly, automation can be a mitigating factor with proprietary anger of the sort that I feel. For instance, automatic transmission is a help for for car-sharing, since the mechanically-inclined owner (me) doesn't have to worry about someone else burning the clutch, grinding the gears or lugging the engine. 

I remember reading some '60s communard debating about making an exception for sports cars as non-communal property, which might be considered an extension of the owner's body. Like a violin. I suppose then capitalist-roaders could be outed for wanting to claim exclusivity by tweaking the exception.

So to blast any pretensions I might ever have shown about being part of the working class, my family owns a beachside property across the border in Canada, where I am - perhaps I arrogated it to myself - the designated fix-it person. 

And somehow I become outraged when family members live there as though there were a maid service, a cleanup service, and a handyman on call. (I'm generally also the cleanup person when it comes to preservation tasks, like gutter cleaning, window cleaning, shower and toilet maintenance and anything short of vacuuming and laundering bedding, although I do far more than my share of those.)

I live in my own space knowing that I'm the one to clean it. I like cleaning and arranging, and so my living habits are geared toward not ruining that arrangement. As in, I would NOT enjoy maid service invading my space. In part, that also dictates the size of the space that I wish to inhabit. 

What really sets me off in the summer place is when family members live in the same proprietary manner they do when they do have maid service (which might be their spouse). They live like renters. They are immune to my pleas to live gently in this shared space, since they know what makes them comfortable, I suppose. 

So to share a house a car or anything at all, some sort of automated and outsourced cleaning and maintenance service should be mandatory, Chinese-owned Volvo will market a car which builds in all those services to make the inevitable car-sharing that we shall evolve into a lot more painless.

On the other extreme, there is contention about beach access in Ontario, Canada. By lore, there is a distinction between "crown-grant" properties and other, more recent, title. Again, by lore, the public may 'trespass' the beach up to a rod (25 feet?) above the ordinary water line, but if the land was first conveyed as a crown grant, then the property owner may restrict access to the beach, though not to the water.

Walking the beach is customarily allowed to fellow beachfront homeowners, if not to the general public. But there are extremists now along the beach who will threaten to put a lien on your property if you trespass theirs. Some Texas style thing in Ontario settled law. 

These property owners are apparently trained with a script, and spend all their time bird-dogging their private property, chasing out to recite the threatening script to whoever goes there. Most ordinary people despise these creatures. I've even heard one casual beachwalker say that he'd never felt the desire to shoot someone before that encounter.

Well sure you don't want some neighbor just walking into your house while you're at dinner, which also happens along this beach, but really can't this all be settled by normal polite negotiation? Must we be so Oklahoma stand your ground trigger happy?

An automated, reliable and quick mass transit system would pry my fingers from my steering wheel before those fingers are cold and dead. I don't hate gun people or preppers, but I sure do hope that they would relinquish their obsessions regarding personal safety once general public safety is better established. That would include an easier confidence in governance structures, especially up to and including environmentally-based restrictions on personal freedoms. 

So, what I mean by dissolving back into the stream of life is not some hippie dream of primitive self-sufficiency, which is also a model of radical individualism and personally tailored altered states. I mean a greater collective on the model of a political state. You know, democracy as it is supposed to be.

VIII

It is clear to me that along the way toward humans learning to think, it was inevitable that we reflexively categorize ourselves - the subject - as radically special. There is a natural progression from cognition and recognition which enhance the survival of living individuals to a celebration of a sort of competency which can be attached to a proper name; "Me."

But this is akin to what Marxists mean by false consciousness. My Me will never approach Peter Thiel's Me, or Donald Trump's Me. In my case, I would hate myself. Others may be in the throes of disease, certainly including these two named billionaires. They live in the fantasy world where the systems would still support them after systemic breakdown because of their wealth. I mean an autonomous bunker doesn't stay that way forever. You can only buy so much future-proofing. 

If you're prepping, you're more than likely responsible for the mess you want to hide from. If you're Peter Thiel, you've caused the systemic breakdown that you're running from and then you intend to profit again after the fall on the same backs you exploited to amass your billions. 

There is irony and then there's terminal irony. Anyhow, I don't give you credit for cognitive merit so much as for a generic sort of diseased rapacity. The same kind that allows Trump to rise up by abuse of the government and creditors that he claims to despise, while his followers, who may have been abused more genuinely, seem to feel some bizarre solidarity. It's all pretty weird.

Anyhow the "Me" we cherish and wish to endure is not the real Me. It's a fictional fantastical Me. The actual me is more subject-to than subject as originator. Laying claim to proprietary competency is laying claim to fraud. Your consciousness descends from words, and words cannot be had alone as a sovereign individual.

Truth or fiction, Martha, truth or fiction. I am as I am loved, and that's enough. Forever is a lot longer than I expect to be loved, even in memory. The present is, by definition, not the end.

IX

Somewhat exhausted by reading strong non-fiction, I felt the powerful need for a novel. A quick scan of my Kindle "Library" brought up Franzen's Freedom. There are plenty of books in there that I've never gotten around to, After starting it, a quick scan proved that I had read it. I'm nearly done with it now, and there hasn't been a spark of recognition, except for the grandmother dying from a pulmonary embolism. That part I remembered. I even tied it to Franzen, though I had a clear memory of her dropping dead in the remote cottage, which I now realize is central to the story. But narrative fact is, she died in her workplace.

Each day I slog through memory deficits, which pains me as much as getting up from a chair now. Backpain seems permanent, and it takes a while to straighten up after getting out of the car and walking. I somehow feel that it's my fault. If only I ate better or dealt with how poorly I sleep, or did more exercise. 

Stories about of those who survived their loved ones' death on 9/11 and I perversely remember all that we did wrong after the event. All the nation-building stateside that was squandered. Now Biden is excoriated for, among other things, ending the twenty year and abortive war on terror. 

Watching the progressive agenda get undermined by West Virginia - another protagonist in Franzen's novel - is very much like watching the Bills blow it. Buffalo's legacy of bone-headed mistakes can be a metaphor for our national future. City on the Edge

Rebuilding my wooden sailboat was a prolonged exercise in compromise. I'd wanted to steambend frames, and strip off the outer skin of polypropylene affixed with flexibilized epoxy. I'd wanted to restore to yachty bright virginity. In the event, I remember knowing about the various toxins and still finding no way to avoid - tar baby - bathing in them every day, which finished with an acetone wash. Perhaps that's what I pay for now in my old age. 

Though surely my years of sailing preserved some aspect of youth. Had I died then or there, it wouldn't have been nearly so tragic as had I died on 9/11, either the one we remember or the one at nearby Attica, or just the emergency call. Firemen cancer from teflon in their pants.

On the one end capitalism as we practice it is nothing short of miraculous. Somehow we can keep expanding as a species and somehow we can keep coaxing out from earth the substances and systems to make it happen. Sure there are moral lapses at each end and along the chain, but overall who really wants to do without its fruits?

Though it is a morality play writ large. Franzen focuses on population growth, really as something one of his protagonists might focus on. But population growth is at the end of the chain, and no more resolution than to resurrect extinct species could ever be. Flight to Mars or to New Zealand will always be too late. These are novelistic plots as well. 

Population growth is what has been enabled by the triumph of capitalism. China is panicked now, both about American style superstar abandon, and by the error of its way to limit population growth. They gently tamp down radical individualism by outlawing the academic torture of children. Who knows? Will they re-open the gates to computer gaming, or has that genie been let out of the bottle?

With our American government still apparently bottled up in black/white either/or anger fueled virtual civil war, can anyone even imagine global systems holding together into a long future? And what will that lack of imagination do to or with the morality plays with money? Is there no decency anymore?

Sure, the likes of sullied Steven Pinker urge us to understand that we're getting better and better. We feel like wealthy people in therapy, and it helps, it does, and we can buy new things again and feel good, even if we still need a tweak now and again to keep it up. 

Nature will prevail. Natural law will prevail. Fractally chaotic and without order for our discernment, no death can be proud. No death can claim moral superiority to any other. All are random, though we would like amends for the causes when we find them.

While we still and frantically look for better understanding so that we may take better control, it is already the case that our systems exceed any principles for certainty. Science is meaningless without reliable prediction. What we want is control, and it's not on offer. 

Control can enable us to fly, even to the moon. Control can keep us relatively safe among the crazies on the highways. Control might even give us sustainable power generation, if we could only let go of personal luxury transport pods and legislate other forms of moderation. But we can't even legislate a vaccine!

Where, really, do we think that we are going? I have no hope nor expectation of or for immortality. Like most boomers, my biggest fear is to be comfortably housed in some kind of meaningless old-age home, as my parents arranged for themselves against their bigger fear of deliberate ends. Those profits are obscene.

But why do I care? Either way I won't quite be there. Mom has found a new family in one of the rare instances of compassionate care. Why do I care? The odds are that the systems won't quite break down during my lifetime. I have my life up on a shelf, as Mom used to say we put her. Had that novel been on my shelf, I might have remembered it. 

What ever happened to my personal copy of the Club of Rome, Limits to Growth? I read it at its inception and remember it vividly. It had to have survived all my cullings of all my various shelves. I must have lent it out. Franzen's book must have changed me too, or was my reading it too proximate to a series of health scares, not even ending with the pulmonary embolism, which is often a pretty good way to end things. 

What profiteth it a man to keep himself alive with modern medicine, delivered with corruption?

The trouble with my science is that it grants no control. It only provides prediction upon belief, though that belief might be as compelling as any other scientific rendering. My science is far too subtle. It provides no handle for experimental proof or profit or heroic accomplishment, though it's no less true for that. Trued across my life, for sure. My work has been to contradict it. I would if I could but I can't.

So here goes again, trala trala. At the very most arcane and metaphorical remove of subatomic "particles" which exist at the limits to scientific understanding, there must be admitted a newer sort of ambiguity. The pivot point is likely gravity, or more specifically, the elusive graviton. The closest I might come to prediction would be to suggest that the graviton will never be "detected," which is to say that it will never be perceived. 

It hardly matters whether that is because the graviton crosses a line from percept to concept or whether it is because our institutions of science will have, themselves, collapsed. They will have collapsed not only for the same reason that everything else will have broken down, but the chase after the graviton will be the efficient cause for their collapse. There were already so many better things to pursue.

Conception is a function of mind, and can't be instrumented. There are objects in motion toward or away which don't involve force, unless there is force to emotion, which, of course, there is. There is no exchange of particles, though such exchange may also be necessary to emotive motion. Emotion is as primordial as mind is. 

I hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are subject to emotion, and therefore equal to the tasks before us. That it is not our cognitive qualities which will set us free, Our mind is composed and composes itself more of concepts than of those things that we might control, physically. 

That might differentiate us from other life, but not so much as our named and Christian God(s) would have us believe. Master of nothing, subject to all. That is how we avoid our collective ending. The darker women shall be in charge. I abdicate my status as cognitive elite. My age compels me. Anon. 

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