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.

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