Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Heat and Light and Permanence

Permanence. Not here, not now. Not in our future, unless.

We treat this virus as though it were the deviation. We are the deviation, and the virus belongs to the better part of what has kept our personal planet alive for so long.

I continue to be astonished by my own ignorance in my own youth. I am embarrassed by my successes, built as they were on such ignorance. This is even while I feel that crushing tingle crash inside when I encounter prodigies that I left behind. They remind me of all that I have not become. Belying any modesty I might put on.

I open the curtains in my under-heated apartment, watching the ice melt on the windows to confirm that I'm letting out the heat. I want the light more, for the moment, though the light is worthless for keeping me warm. Still, they are the same substance, which is no substance at all. LED lights shift the balance. Direct solar heat is nice, when it doesn't burn. A matter of what our eyes care about in relation to our larger bodies. Show me the way.

I try to update my Microsoft subscription, but things don't seem to be working. I open a chat with an apparently human chatbot, but when he wants me to send the code "he" sends to my inbox, I tell him that I feel skeezy about that (or about him). He apologizes. 

I know it has something to do with moving back away from dot edu and into the general population. The language for that is backwards. "You are upgrading from better to worse." I want to know what the differences are. "He" can't know without impersonating me by way of my account. He wants permission, but needs to know I'm the me who's giving it.

Really, I want to know if he's a human or a bot, and I think it's the evident fact that he's human which bothers me. Bot codes should remain private. But the rules are unclear. We don't quite trust one another, despite the layers of improbability. He needs to be sure I'm me, and I need to be sure he's only an agent and not out for himself. My goal is to spend money, and I don't want him to spend it on my behalf. It's not the same as to stand before a cash register. Wait, are there such things anymore? Are you sure?

We won't get this right in my lifetime or in my kids' kids' lifetimes, but we should at least set a direction. The exquisitely unreadable William Gaddis puts this into the mouth (I think) of one of his characters: "What is it they want from a man that they didn't get from his work? What's any artist, but the dregs of his work? the human shambles that follows it around. What's left of the man when the work's done but a shambles of apology." [ The Recognitions, p 96]

Right, that should make me feel better, well, except that I have left no art behind. In my wake. Nothing I write here is publishable - good enough to be made public. This is but perpetual practice for my legacy. Something to leave behind. I am become a shambles of apology. Even though all I ever do is practice. Never a production.

That's the difference between an artist and a selfish glutton living off their personal gift. I have a beautiful mind, in approximate terms. As might a scientist, I write for posterity, and not for my here and my now. I am certainly no artist. Sure, I want some living, some recognition, don't we all? But not for what must be given freely as a gift. I wouldn't charge you money for saving your life.

And yet we do charge money to save lives, which means that we withhold our services, or submit them to some greater organization. I can't even imagine contributing to Wikipedia. I dread to be the one to see an accident first-hand. How would I know what to do? I remain shaky in every aspect of what I know for sure.

We need balance in our lives. If going to Yale were a public burden rather than a path to private riches, I wouldn't have hated the place so much. Merit is not something that money alone should decide. Merit should be worthless without some return to the public good. And yet we reward the prodigies. There is no art in making money.

Look how long it's taken us to get digital interfaces to be as intuitive as the old dials. I can finally run a microwave (provide that there's a crib sheet behind the door), my oven, not quite yet the thermostat, without a manual! My iPhone? Does a manual even exist? Not if nobody would read it. Is this but our individual recalcitrance, or do we grow together, in step, the interfaces with those who would better profit from us? Why do we submit?

(Frankly, I write here because no-one will read my well-crafted letters. I'm not saying that what I write here is well-crafted. I'd need an audience for that to happen, you know, like the one I used to have writing letters. Fuck digital! It has destroyed the art of the letter.)

We remain amazed at how fast digital technology has transformed our lives, and so, perhaps we remain blind to the ways that increasing profit-driven obfuscation about connections between surfaces and what goes on inside are related to trust in any of our transactions. 

The same is true of human personality that is true of gaming against our money. Distance between motive and face. How can there be trust when love is a transaction? Crusty curmudgeon, I know. Sorry.

But we'll never get anywhere if that is where we start. So let's start from the outer limits. Why the fuck not??

We shall not make physical contact with other mindful life. Not in our lifetimes and to my satisfaction, not ever. The farther away we scan, the farther into the past we see. Presence is hyper local. But for God, of course, with which we've lost contact now that we worship according to patriarchal plan alone. The only alternative on offer is disbelief. In anything beyond the shambles of the me the now the temporary temporal.

I live alone. Who would trust me with their life, and whom would I trust with mine? I live nearby my kids and they keep me going, as I do them, though I'm at the pivot between good advice and domination. Tentative. I want only to be helpful. I wish I had more money. They no longer take my advice. Damned! Except that I wouldn't take my advice either anymore. It's crusty.

So let's go as far as we can go here on planet earth. First off, we need to back off our religious belief in capitalism. Right, as though just saying so can make a difference.

A wise and highly placed and still more highly educated banker from outside the U.S. once explained to me - on the level of Econ. 101 - that when demand or supply are inelastic, then private ownership makes no sense. (I'm probably wrong in the details with my restatement of what he told me.) This is, of course, on par with religion making no sense once God becomes personal. You can't privatize the air we breathe or the water we drink, and you can't privatize God. 

We're moving in the wrong direction in nearly every dimension.

Here in the U.S., we believe that even such things as power utilities and healthcare and education can and should be privatized on some specious argument for efficiency. We think that personal interconnections should be privatized, and so our mail system and our local newspapers go bankrupt. For so long as we continue to believe that this is the proper way to proceed, democracy will be in jeopardy. Democracy thrives only when there are public spaces.

Public spaces are where it is safe to differ. Talk to someone and you probably won't hate them. In the comments section, you probably will. We who hate Trump and by proxy Trumpsters are in denial about how manipulated our own hate is. We take the click-bait as well as anyone. Yeah yeah yeah, please tell me again what I already know for certain.

I have a fine reproduction of Chairman Mao's calligraphy hanging on my wall. "Study Marxist Leninism." I thoughtlessly left it for my Zoom backdrop because of where I have to sit to get a good cellular signal. A well-off friend asked what it was. "Bad message, good art" said one, when I explained. "Irony" said I, thinking of the irony between the message and the patrician calligraphy, but also of the irony with which Mao is now regarded inside China. Except, of course, that China knows not irony.

We're all clear about what's wrong with Trump, and I thought we were clear about what's wrong with Republicans these days, but maybe not. "Trump and Mao have a lot in common." "Thats scary," "Yep."

Ideology tries to pin down where the boundaries are. Our compass needs to point beyond ideology. Boundaries are meaningless except on a map, and when defined by power.

We will not get very far in our present. We might not even survive our present. And we surely won't if we lack a compass. This is not only we as a people. Our direction is putting our very now in jeopardy; the planet is on a crash course. And we feel helpless about it. The compass points could flip. The ocean currents could turn off the planetary climate control. We seem to be going sterile, even as we celebrate the late discovery that gender is a social construct. Duh. It's also an economic vector. 

Reproduction without license is illegal in every other realm for artistic production. 

So yes, we have to get the money out of politics, and out of love. We have to shut down K-Street, by which I mean big-money lobbying. We have to universalize voter registration and access to the polls. These are the trivia. But beyond that we have to leave go of capitalism as religion. 

I don't think that anyone would argue that some kind of market economy works better than almost anything else. Even for food production, when starvation is not at issue, and when food safety and worker wages have been regulated. Even for housing, when there are good building codes and some limits on predatory holdings. 

Fact is we really don't wish to survive beyond our present. We don't care about more than me and more than now. Judge us by our actions.

Any way forward is about balance. Between heat and light and between public and private. Sure, our national boundaries will eventually have to go away, but not tomorrow. Of course we can't be as populous and as mobile as we are for much longer. The balance between local and global is built on irony.

Most importantly, we can't keep allowing meaning to be a private matter. Latching onto ideology is too easily up for auction; especially when the ideology is created and motivated only by and for money. And behind any political ideology is someone's grab for power. Stalin pointed to Marx in just the same way that Mao did. Marx was a scientist, and nobody's apologist.

Making cars a part of our transportation infrastructure by way of Shared Autonomous Vehicles would be a bridge too far, unless those shared vehicles are multi-occupant and the occupants are strangers. I'm speaking for the planet here. No matter how we get our energy, the earth can't afford us to remain as private as we'd like. The COVID message is as mixed as it gets.

Imagine this: Instead of search based on keyterm auctions (where Google now steers you away from "natural language" after implicitly steering your toward it) we move to search as a public utility, like the roads are for now. The way that Wikipedia works. What if idea-domains were not linguistically relative, and what if they were reliable such that everything on the web were reliably available there and only there in the properly defined locus for some "idea" or other, in the proper and easily searchable locus, to whatever arbitrary degree of precision?

First off, you would know what not to look for because it doesn't exist unless you wish to create it yourself. That would be a massive time-saver as you look to expand your knowledge.

Second off, real-estate for advertising would be massively valuable in such identified domains. What if such real estate were in the public domain? Nice diversion for your taxes, right? 

Your behavior in search would not have to be saved or catalogued or parsed to sell to advertisers. We will have reclaimed public spaces, and destroyed surveillance capital. This type of search is trivial compared to whatever it is that Google is doing with its monopoly scale eigenvalues. The only reason that no-one's doing it is that there isn't any money in it.

Third off, Facebook's monetization model would be simultaneously undermined, and revenue from personal correspondence could be returned to the postal system, where it belongs. We all want to connect, but not at the cost of civil public discourse. We don't need quasi public smug ideological pronouncements among our friend connections so that we might feel the obligation to cheer them along.

If we're going to move ahead and if we're even going to survive, we need the return of some sort of civility in all the public spaces. Decorum on airplanes used to be implicit. Now that we scan and screen, passengers seem to feel it's OK to act like a lout, just like politicians do.

Yes, we are talking about the relation between public and private, which is likely identical to the relation between heat and light. It's a balance. There are no rules. 

Our airspace, the climate, our mineral wealth, none of this can be consigned to private interests as it now is, if we are to survive. Meaning and epistemology cannot be private domains, if the planet is to survive.

This will all take time, now that we've allowed a massive infrastructure for advertising healthcare, the law, and even education to pollute our public spaces. Livings will have to be rejiggered. None of that can be done without a true north. Rigid political ideologies can only prevent us from heading in the right direction. Science makes a good start. Religion needs to get out of the gutter. 

But we can do it if we try.

I'm exhausted. I got my first vaccine yesterday and since I've already been sick with COVID I should have more confidence to go out in public now. But what shall I do? Which way shall I go? What sort of contact is to be made that I haven't made already, and that I can't do from home and alone?

Surely in the vast cosmos, my life is as insignificant as is the life of my personal planet. No, that's a phrase too far. Significance is not the same as permanence. Significance is not a matter of scale. It relates as much to death as it does to life. Can't have one without the other.

All heat no light gets us nowhere. Lighten up!

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