Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest


The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and EverestThe Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest by Ed Caesar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an amazingly thorough and competent telling of a story the likes of which could never happen again. It is a deep dive not just into the person written about, but also into the period which made him and the transformations it was undergoing.

Competent doesn't cover it. The writing here is masterful, but I must confess that I read it because it allowed me to avoid the much more challenging piles of books now resting on my virtual desk. A single sitting for this one. More relaxing than even to watch a film. More satisfying. More enjoyable.

Maurice Wilson, our protagonist, stands out from any crowd, for pluck for luck for derring-do, though he mostly disappeared from history. He would remain gone were it not for this book. That's mainly because he didn't accomplish what he set out to do. Extravagantly, he set out to fly solo from Britain to crash-land on Everest, and then to climb the mountain solo to its peak.

The world is full of such crazies. Only some succeed. These are our heroes.

The true craziness documented here is not to try Everest, but to fetishize the self. Wilson seemed to believe that his mystical individual self was uniquely capable to do what no large team had ever yet done. He may even have thought that a team never could do it because a team would lack the soul that he'd discovered in himself.

As someone who dies from cancer disappears while the 'hero' survivors are celebrated, Wilson would have gone down easily in history if only he had made it. Ed Caesar makes clear that 'making it' was not only not in the cards, but that it was utterly impossible for any individual man at that particular time. And once at the mountain, Wilson was far from the best equipped and most likely to succeed. But Caesar also makes clear that what Wilson did accomplish and suffer in his life was utterly remarkable in almost every other way.

Caesar delineates all of the budding forces of mass media and a world shrinking to where conflict and disease were globalized, and where martial technologies were already globalizing the self. Wilson was a global soul, formed by loves across many continents.

When I buy a cheap toaster now, it has a "frozen" button and a "bagel" button, but I have no way to know what these buttons do. I simply want to know what to do with a frozen bagel. When I search the Internet, I have to game the process to get beyond the words, all of which have economic valence now.

We live in a world where no ordinary person can purchase an airplane, learn to fly it (if poorly) and then fly it halfway around the world across borders, sneaking past them when grounded. We are taught our powerlessness by each and every transaction which mystifies the actual virtual thing behind the purchase.

Most of what you might pay for an airplane now is for the liability content. And you can purchase incredible power for free, though you are locked away from your own self as you have, unwittingly, sold it. You must build your own airplane if you lack wealth, and you must fly it within bounds. Were there only world enough and time to move beyond the established routes.

We also live in a world where authors of any sort must have large teams behind them. Those writings published as books now must follow conventions for training and certification and meriting all the support structures. This is all a simple conservation of resources. Except by lottery, these accomplishments are barred from most of us. Is lottery mystified merit or is it vice-versa? Is there a difference anymore?

Climbing Everest now can be had fairly easily, if you have the resources, which is hardly easy. Ironically enough, Wilson may have briefly been among those with the money had it been possible to purchase a climb in his time. But he would certainly never have availed himself of that sort of chance to climb Everest.

By now the climb has become as commodified as the posh 'wilderness trek' that Ed Caesar wrote about in the New Yorker. That article guided me to this book.

While Maurice Wilson channeled the already commodified ambitions of his time, he was also separated from ordinary probity and caution and sanction and lifestyle. That was perhaps because of his "lucky" passage through astonishing slaughter in the trenches of the first world war, and then the flu. Or it was perhaps because of his dissimilar experience of society, as a closeted transvestite. The author only weakly conjectures here. Not wanting to explain anything away.

And so, the actual man becomes a protagonist in a new novel. That is how each of us lives our narrative lives. And we are made to know by each transaction how utterly powerless we are, even as the world crumbles now all about us. Thank God there is no front to be sent to. Thank God that resources are not wasted on the crazies.

We live awash now in a sea of projected desire and controlled by oligarch bosses and their government lackeys. Which side of which border are you on? What would you do if you found yourself, as Wilson did, alienated from normalcy? What mountains are even left to climb? There is a price now on slingshot escape from earth's gravity. What a worthless thrill!

Wilson seemed to believe that failures to reach Everest's summit were compounded from the size of the expeditions. That size destroyed the possibility for the sort of individual drive which he felt that he uniquely possessed. The kind that can't be proven or even communicated except by action.

What actions are left for individuals to take now? Which centers of which power should we storm? I live in extravagant comfort in retirement because I limit my desires. Now what would compel me to take what action, even though it would risk my very life?

We are the legion, who were never attracted to the purple haired nose-ringed body sculpted gender-fluid commodification of the branded selfie. And yet those must be our heroes. This cannot be a bad thing, until they all sell out. I choose to hear them saying "you can't commodify me!"

But which action can I take now? Sorting my trash and staying off Facebook feels like inaction, and the cost to me is steep. Do I even have the nerve to wear a T-shirt into Walmart that says, "Unionize Walmart?" Maybe next year. Maybe on a mask.

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Monday, November 29, 2021

Don't Go Looking for Trouble

Just as are many of us, I am aware of two courtroom dramas having apparently opposite outcomes for superficially similar situations. The main similarity relates to the undertones (overtones?) of race. I refer, of course, to the Arbery and Rittenhouse trials.

Now I am a decidedly middling man, meaning that my aspirations have never really risen above that fate. My only recordable goal, according to my recall, has been to understand. That I accomplished rather early, not yet thirty. The rest of my struggle has amounted to filling in the gaps.

Of course, to understand means to be positioned below. If you aspire to climb Everest, even when it hadn't been done before, you are channeling a history of your people. You are already a tourist, even though you fetishize the ambition as something mystically related to yourself and to your character as destiny.

My middle expands, but is defined by never having the need to do physical work, but therefore often doing it. The move to mental labor away from physical is an upward climb, and down from it flows money, a kind of social lifeblood whose acquisition, apparently, fills me only with guilt.

I shall never be on trial for that guilt of mine. And no wonder that the untethered physical aspirations of sport become so paramount. A first ascent, fame as movie star or quarterback, these are but the gyrations of those entrapped by the spirit of the crowd.

The one trial noted above involves three guilty assailants and one victim, while the other involves three victims and one exonerated assailant. Both are known by the name of the one exonerated. There is also the distinction of age differentials toward or away from the victims. Of course I violate the judge's order in calling Rittenhouse' targets "victims," even while the judge has been exonerated himself now by that jury's verdict.

There is another distinction between a lonely residential street and the crowded streets which were the focus of protests. If justice was indeed served, it would seem to focus on the individually powerful defense of self-defense. A defense largely unavailable to black men.

Was it really in only the one case that 'looking for trouble' turned in to running from threats? Had Arbery somehow magically killed his attackers, would that have made him instantly guilty? I confess that I suppose that it would have. His right to self defense would have turned into his attackers right to attack him.

Who is guilty of bias here?

Background is the evident fact that the law has not, historically and recently, treated blacks well. Confidence in the operations of the law feels low on all sides, however. That might simply mean that folks are generally afraid that the law still veers away from common sense notions of what is right and what is wrong. Like when hundreds of millions of dollars are awarded lottery-style to a victim of a hostile work environment at Tesla. That awarded work environment is the norm for millions of others every day. 

That kind of legal outcome serves justice only as a kind of symbolic warning to other large employers who might make the same mistake. Doesn't the same logic then apply to why the Rittenhouse outcome is wrong? In any case, it's obvious that those hundreds of millions would provide better justice if they were applied to remediating the underlying problem. 

Indeed, buying off is just another facet of capitalism. Who is being bought off here?

It's just as obvious that police norms which grant water bottles to a white vigilante, while shooting a black gun-toter, need to change. It's just as obvious that there can be no right to carry guns. It's just as obvious that justice here has always been bought and sold. Has the law itself been turned into the actual force that legitimates abuses of power more than it provides a governor to limit them? 

Now as you know gentle reader I often work on houses whose title is held by others. I wish for the owners to treat my work well, and leave instructions that they may do so. But in only one case do I feel offense when harm is caused to the domicile as though I were its owner. The same offence I take when I hand up my translations from Chinese; those from the salt mines of unremunerative mental labor. How dare they edit me!

The case I write of is a summer home, owned by Mom, and held away from the family now by an impossible border crossing. Recently blamed on COVID-19, the trouble really started on 9/11. That's when the tenor at the border turned from presumption of innocence to presumption of guilt. Many, though certainly not all, of the border controllers turned implicitly hostile, and crossing became unbearably long. 

As the somewhat homeless member of my family, I have braved that border to have a nice place to stay upon holiday visits to Buffalo, and more recently to supervise a massive reconstruction and renovation project which was financed on the curve of massive real-estate inflation.

Now I feel myself to be the moral owner of the house, since I am the one who will repair and restore and clean up after disturbances caused by the carelessness or ignorance of others, who are mostly members of my own family.

Do I stand in for Mom, or am I on my own? Who knows? I only know that if the house were being maintained professionally by others, I probably wouldn't care and wouldn't pay any attention to anyone's behavior there. I think that's because I, among all possible individuals, have zero hope to ever be the holder of the title, or even a share in it. I shall continue to labor physically for my share.

I think, but cannot be certain, that my vacancy of hope relates to my convictions as an anti-capitalist. My uncertainty relates quite simply to my ambivalence about having financial resources. As the holder of by far the highest proportion of social capital in the family, I often consider myself an abject failure for my evident lack of relative prosperity. At other times, I am, of course, very proud of the choices I have made and the focus that I have maintained on finding a way to do good by the world.

The trouble is that I haven't actually done any good for the world. I blame this on my deficiencies in communication, which I blame, in turn, on a kind of habitual laziness on my part. Not to mention my grandiose and not so middling measure for success, which would be the transformation of the systems which undergird American life.

Many of us to the left of the political spectrums struggle in the abject knowledge that the opposition is seemingly destined to prevail. If we find hope, it is in the historical cases where the persistence of a small devoted group has changed the world, to paraphrase the words of Margaret Mead.

Just as I know that I am the moral owner of my family home, I know that the slaves were the moral owners of their masters' houses. I know that title is a legal contortion to provide legitimacy to power, and that ultimately that power continues to be lorded over those who do all the work. I suppose this makes me a Marxist, although I remain largely ignorant of the technicalities for that term's proper usage.

All that I know is that the law, as it always has been, as we know it, is subservient to the structures of capitalism, and that capitalism is more about power, especially as that relates to money, than it is about truth, justice, or the American way. Private property is the proper realm of kings.

As you, Dear Reader, also know, I have been obsessing lately about the thesis of this book, Homo Ludens, and my own subsidiary thesis that we in these United States have lost the distinction between life and play. Boundaries are a function of play, and not of life, as Nature's COVID sets out to remind us. 

Here in Buffalo, home of the Bills, it can be very hard indeed to know where those boundaries are, and so you might imagine that when someone contradicts the crowd in its anger at the umpire's call, it would be foolish to contradict the home team sentiment.

We may not like to admit it out loud, but sport has always been deadly, whether on the field of play or on the field of war. Fans die less often than the players do, but our tailgating here reminds us all that fans are very much in the game. 

And so what if hardening up our boundaries and tightening the rules of the game is already far too late? What if the game itself has become a cover for the absence of address for the actual realities of contemporary slavery and rampant abuse of power?

We seem to have near zero tolerance for cleaning up the obvious intertwining of money with political power and corporate power with money to politics. Perhaps this is a collective deathwish for mega-corporate capitalism? Perhaps team red and team blue are in the same game? 

Or perhaps nobody really wants Amazon and Walmart and Google and Facebook to be the masters of our whole lives. Perhaps nobody really wants big box anything very much anymore. Perhaps we want our hometown news back, and the big screen to be more localized too, or back up on stage. Or perhaps we'd rather get out to the highschool game.

Who knows, right? Not me.

Let's go at this from a different direction. I think I've already established myself as in the camp that terraforming to save humanity is not a good thing. Mostly, that's because of unintended consequences, which relate, for me, mostly to our omission of care for the rest of life on the planet, which may be reconfiguring to be rid of us the way we are for the sake of the entire planet's longevity. 

So I guess that must put me in favor of efforts to test the possibility to redirect meteorites, since that would be a move to protect the entire planet. I'm sure that there would still be unintended consequences, but at least we'd give the cosmos a fair chance to leave the dice fair, as it were.

Of course, if you think that the cosmos is dead and cold, then mine is a meaningless distinction. But then you're stuck thinking that mentation is unique to humans, and ultimately that mentation is all that matters, cosmically. Mentation makes us godlike, just as God is man's projection of ourselves. Creation of physical reality ex nihilo; from the mind.

Middling me? I'm just not sure where the boundary is between mentation as death, as in computational certainty, and mentation as life, as in what started with the still not unseated Big Bang inception of life, the universe and everything.

But alas, I remain alone in that cosmos. Howling, as it were, in the cosmic wind. 

Well, all that I really want to say today is that these United States must keep evolving or perish. And that humanity must as well, which would also mean letting go of some certain certainties. 

Capitalism is obviously at odds with most American values now, in precisely the way that individualism is an attitude at odds with cultural survival. And I, for one, am not very impressed with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. They can all go fuck themselves. Well, OK, I suppose that's what they all already do, but sucks for them. They are all only avatars on some screen. The real is always better.

Sour grapes, anyone? Middling wine? 

Drink up please, it's time.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

What Is Really Going Wrong

Most of the cognitive elite now pounds its brains on what to do about climate change. Subsidiary to that are concerns about species and habitat destruction. In some sense, clearly, climate change trumps it all, but sometimes I wonder if that's because we feel that if only we can find a big enough lever, then we can solve it all too. It's too hard to think about the smaller stuff and the complexity of it all. 

Back before climate change took the stage, we used to worry about nukes and silent spring. Progress was visible then, and we felt especially good when we had a chance to peek behind the iron curtain back around the time of the Tiananmen events of '89. 

In those days, it was also easier to imagine a kind of great awakening, or a shift in consciousness. Like maybe feminism was the key or a resolution to racism. Maybe there was something wrong with our minds and especially in the way we conceptualize mind. We sang about the age of Aquarius.

What if our current poor behavior is attributable to the utter cleavage between mind and body that we've been obsessively both assuming and pursuing. Almost frantically. Like we're suffering a kind of PTSD about having been robbed of bodies. 

Of all places, the Wall Street Journal reports on What Your Smell Says About You. It would seem that our smells are at least as unique as our fingerprints are. But they have the advantage of being dynamic. And there seems to be something akin to empathy in our responses to other peoples' smells, especially when we're emotionally close to those other people.

Now, shortcomings with empathy notwithstanding (it seems that we should let cognition back in), it's at least interesting that people seem involuntarily to smile when they smell the undershirts of happy people, and cringe when they smell disgust.

We Americans are practically terrified by smell. We've eradicated most public comfort stations by now, and are beyond ambivalent about whether those are a health hazard or a public health requirement. Mostly, it seems to be about the disgust we feel about the publically unwelcome folks who are beneath us. 

And why is it that business-oriented publications point this stuff out? What, dear reader, am I missing?

We need so many plastics because we are terrified of germs and rot and smells and permeable boundaries against yuck. But the origin of plastic bags and packaging in general might have as much to do with creating the industry as required by automobiles, as it does with our yuck factors. 

As the brilliant Ibram X. Kendi urges in his anti-racist writings, these things don't start with feelings of racism. They start instead by policy decisions put forward by those who will profit by racism (and other atrocities). The racist, sanitary, and other forms of overt or covert disgust follow the policy, Because that's the way the rhetoric moves us. 

So we are disgusted by our garbage, even while most of it won't ever decompose. And we wish to create plastic shapes which become as fantastic as our wildest plastic arts imaginings. And of course, our medicine thrives on the urgency of emergency disposal of anything touching a body, in an approach to disease which often misses the obvious. When was the last time your doctor took a practiced whiff of you? (In China, it might still be somewhat common, though I don't really know. I know it used to be)

What, in other words, if the troubles we've created really are still about something very wrong with our minds and how we approach reality? What if we're suffering a kind of PTSD on a far grander scale than from the trauma of birth? What if we're reacting to the dissection of mind from body?

I mean that's what all of our space fantasies and bathroom fantasies (fantasy bathrooms) and kitchen fantasies are all about. In a car ride just now with my daughter (excuse of snow!) we passed some really massive mansions, and as attractive as they might have been neither of us wanted to manage such monstrosities. 

True confession, I had to abandon my daughter and son-in-law to their new old house (1850ish) because it overwhelmed me, and because I felt quite alone with it. I was meant to be a short-term live-in handyman, but the job description was heading toward the moon. 

They lack both time and knowledge to manage such a house, but it's still nothing so complex as those mansions we passed by on the lakefront. Anyhow, affording their house is within their means, and beyond mine, as composed by my aging and likely stinking body.

Living within the means of our planetary body - assuming that we ever come to terms with the evident fact that we are microcosm and not conquistador - should be possible for us, though it has to happen tout suit! 

All that we have to do is to get over self as commodity, right? We have to stop seeing ourselves in plastic perfection. We have to stop fetishizing our sexual valence. And mostly we have to leave behind the notion that bodily comfort is the goal. Hell, many of us like to exercise our bodies. What if we really understood what such exercise was really in service to? Might we not enjoy riding bikes to work? Might we not enjoy being among our smelly Zizek neighbors on the mass transit? Might we not discover that real sex is better than the performative kind we're urged to master?

Cognition can only know the end of the world, whether by ecological collapse or by realizing that what we think we mean  by freedom is actually its opposite. We seem to want to expand the magic circle of play until all that we do is play, since it's only while playing that we are truly free. We've lost any sense about the difference between the world we inhabit while playing out our religious beliefs and the world that we must survive in. 

Fantasy to the front of us, fantasy above and fantasy below, we don't seem to understand how to get real anymore. we have to leave our fantasies behind!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Now that I've enacted Social Security, can I play? Well, not exactly, but maybe I won't have to beg either. I'm surrounded by folks who pound their minds on the question of when to do this. Funny, the math for time of enactment is almost bizarrely straight forward, and so there's no particular magic to it. In my case, I had no real choice. I am thankful to be relieved of the agonizing my friends put themselves through. 

There are no fancy statistics, apart from actuarial tables. No fancy math. Work backwards from your time of death and the only thing that changes anything, really, is your time of death versus the actuarial norm. Well, don't take it from me - I'm too lazy to do the actual math beyond a quick calculation, but in any case, if you're white and middle class, you're set. Especially if you don't have to make complex calculations based on high-earner/low-earner ratios between or among spouses.

Anyhow, maybe I don't want to play. For sure, life in SoCal or in the Columbia Gorge was inherently better than life here in Buffalo. There were so many places to hike in hills which promised both exercise and vistas. In winter, there was skiing. And overall the weather hardly ever made a substantial negative difference. Recreation was something you could do each and every day. I mean, but for dehumanizing work, if you're stuck with that.

Which now I'm not.

So I might as well write, right? It's not like I have any choice. I can't read anymore, since upon each completed paragraph I seem to feel compelled to comment, and I have to write the comments down somewhere, since they are so fleeting.

I told you already that I'm finished here. This being my practice yellow pad. Now, at least I don't have to pad the feet of some electric typewriter to avoid annoying the people living below me who paid my heat by extravagance with our mutual landlord paying their heat by rules of public assistance. I benefitted by proxy. I was just as poor by far, but I was a grad student at Yale on a stipend staying up late with classical Chinese. Could there possibly be a more privileged choice?

But that's where I got my conviction that you really shouldn't write - anymore - if you think that words just float about in the ether of the mind. They have to noodle you, and spring from the earth, or else what you have to write will have been written that many times before. No matter how many esoteric and seldom encountered words you might malinger. The twisted convolutions of Chinese script have a more clear provenance. Despite the atrocities committed upon them by those darned Commies.

A strange kid, I refused to read. Somehow I knew that a fix was on. That my own initiative, which was directed out of doors and in transgressions under the highway and into the forbidden waters of Lake Erie, would be undermined. Once we moved away from the life I loved, they brought in the friendly PhD teacher of English who was so good with promising kids and that just made it more apparent. Like turning my nose up at mashed potatoes until Granddaddy tricked me. "Open your mouth and close your eyes, and I'll give you a big surprise." Wasn't gonna do it.

I trusted him because he would say that he would eat the chandelier if I ate those mashed potatoes, and he was an engineer who demonstrated magnetism right from the filing of the iron shavings to putting a magnet on one side of the french door glass and tossing the filings on the other to mock a butterfly. So this time I opened my mouth and thought I was tasting applesauce, which was about the only thing I would eat. I had to join the laughter. I'd been had.

So later on, after Grandaddy was gone and my grieving moderated, Dr. Eggleston was brought in. And I only relented when I couldn't sleep at night after watching black and white films on our black and white TV, like Some Like it Hot, which was sexy as hell. I relented in secret. I had my pride. 

I pulled out Plato's Republic from the Britannica Great Books library, whose shelves I still use (I don't know where the books have gone) and read it through in one sitting. I was thrilled to know that I actually could read. Eggleston got no pleasure from me.

Buffalo is mostly flatland, and if there is hiking up hills (or down gorges) there aren't all that many vistas. Letchworth State Park - don’t call it the Eastern Grand Canyon - costs too much gas. Plus the grey damp and cold mushes out much of the year's pleasantness. Fun here is mostly in the bars or at the tailgates. Neither of which I much care to do. Well, I would of I had that kind of friends.

For me, it's hard to tell which part is aging out of play and which part is moving to the wrong place. Follow the money, and you'll find out where the good life is. But by the time you might enjoy it, you're too old or too poor, if you're normal at all.

I'm hardly normal. My accomplishments were always whiffed. Engineering was leached out from my soul, ultimately by desperation at Lake Erie's demise. I was a young inventor, but now why bother? Some woman or other - it might as well be your mother, though it was never mine - will lay claim to your birthright and never consider what she stole from you. Reaching up into her vagina at the urging of the doctor who would perform the abortion. Celebrating freedom. Feeling the fetus. It brings you low in the end. All the might-have-beens. I was far far too young. Roe v. Wade now stillborn. Bellow knew what he was writing about.

In my most recent working life, much of it in a college or university setting, I endured the workplace as modulated by the email inbox. I remember the desperate dull pain of the periodic ritual of cleaning and ordering the messages, to be sure that they had all been properly dealt with. It seemed that it could never end, but even if it did, the relief was nothing like the relief of having actual work to do. Like preparing for a meeting, or presenting curricula, or vetting new hires, or composing a talk.

Now suddenly I realize the very same agony in keeping up with the news. It flows into a sort of inbox, and each time you think you might be back on top you dread the Sisyphean eternity of it all. It starts to feel like work. Every once in a while, I get to ignore it by going off-grid. I never miss much.

As with the work email, so much of it is worth the read and the response. There are so many truly excellent writers, and the things you learn are often composed much as film scripts are, or novels. Though my patience for either runs thin. How infinite is my ignorance, and how silly to think that all that I learn can add up!

These journalistic writers might do it out of desperation for pay, and like me, might have long since given up on composing anything of literary value that will last more than a day. But they do get to indulge in a kind of autofiction these days, so often injecting their own story - their reason for writing - into the story they tell, true though the story must still be, by norms. 

Sometimes I look for the contours of mythology, and it's almost always there. Especially in my own life, ho ho! And so it must dawn on me how Trump has been our god. How perfect an avatar he is for America as seen by China, just for an instance. No wonder half of us identify with him. He's a player for sure, seeming always to enjoy his life, and not let duty get him down. Even giving himself license to bemoan the lifestyle deficits of responsibility.

You know, some very good books and most of the very good movies are created by collective industry. The thank-yous at the front or back of books can be astonishing. I don't even know that many people in toto. 

But you can, supposedly, if you have the skill and determination, shoot and produce a high-quality film right on your tiny Apple device. Maybe that would make up for all the frantic squandering of money on impermanent stage settings which mock how all of us live now in actual fact. In which direction is the projection? Making a movie is like the emergency exception now invoked nearly all the time because we live in perpetual emergency. It would be very uncool to note the unsustainability of disposable gowns and syringe packaging. Very uncool indeed. But you can burn up whole film sets or whole neighborhoods of blacks, and nobody will say no never mind.

As you know, dear Reader, I am spending much emotive and intellectual energy with Homo Ludens, whose thesis I find utterly convincing, at least for now. And I also feel the slacker in me even about play, since I did once for a brief hot minute have title to and for a position directing a media program which had shades of gaming in it. And now I learn that computer gamers might consider this book a sort of Bible, and I had it innocently on my shelves all the while without ever reading it. 

I suppose gamers are all conversant with the concept of a "magic circle," a term coined by this author, Johan Huizinga. But few seem to have extended the usage to life as we live it now, and I am enraptured. 

I'm not sure why I can't draw a little magic circle around my meager collection of technology, and write a book entirely on my own. I only fight my own laziness, justified by age now. At least I won't bother a soul. I live alone and no-one to mind when I get up or if I don't.

Yes of course Trump apes the role of playful god from almost any mythic tradition you may wish. What Huizinga does is to rid the readers' thinking of any legitimate condescension toward culture in its infancy. As if those original mythmakers didn't know that they were playing, and as if they actually thought that the realm of the gods was reality. As if his supporters don't know who Trump is.

No, it is we who are deluded. Along with calculations, if we have the privilege, about when to trigger social security for our personal best, most people I know spend silly amounts of time agonizing about how people could be so stupid to believe Trump. To believe in Trump. As if everyone else had the choices that we agonize about.

Anyhow, what possible good is my agonizing going to do? My only choice is to defuse the rancor, except that the rancor is inside me too. I am surrounded by people who need me to know how overprivileged I am, even as they frolic with their playthings, niver considering that there could be any higher aspirations. I have to quit.

Should we credit computer gaming? With its outrageous riffing on who and what we actually are? How about religion when it extends its magic circle out beyond the temple to intrude on real real life? We are only human, which is to say that we must play when and if we get the chance. As often as possible.

No wonder, really, that so many of the Trumpers are also believers in a cartoon Jesus and a recitation of history which is pretty much sillier than anything we used to watch on the Saturday morning cartoons. Most of which were written for adults in my day. Adults who took their only adult break most Saturday mornings. A cabal for sure against the children. No wonder the Church is bankrupt! I know, let's blame it on Hillary and those evil dumbocrats. They must be eating the children!

So we will not agonize ourselves out from the end of the world. We must return play with play, play by play. Play, Benjamin, play. There is no amount of earnest terraforming which will transform our world to remain livable. You have to be a player to win, as they say about the lottery. And we wonder why all the winners are players, and why the priests are pedophiles. The play is indeed the thing, and no-one has ever played the presidency the way that the Donald did. You've got to give him that. 

But just as honest Abe had to destroy the Constitution in order to renew it, so must we re-invent ourselves in the face of our daily disaster. 

Go India! (Walton for mayor of Buffalo) Go Indi.ca! Oh dear, too little, too late.

You know, I drove to the mall the other day. I remember in my youth when I would explore malls as alien places where others were adept. My ears would buzz and my vision blacken, and I would be disoriented. I would feel the same way inside a computer game, I know. Although I've never really been drawn in by that sort of thing. Having kids, thanks gods, moderated all my responses, and even allowed me to enter into a McDonald's once in a long while. In my youth, I avoided them like the plague just as I thought plastic money was evil.

Ah, the silliness of youth!

Just a voyeur now from time to time, though. They had a fellow dressed like security inside the Apple store. He accosted me and told me to get in line. That there would be no-one to help me otherwise. I told him I only wanted to gawk and felt I didn't need any help. He didn't seem to know what to do. I suppose that they are understaffed the way we all are.

Best Buy has become a warehouse for all sizes and types of flatscreen. Everything else was in the shadow of those stocks. I see our future and it is inert before a screen. Adverts now of weirdly dressed priestess types waging war through VR goggles. Our actual bodies pulsing with RoundUp and energy challenged thereby. Desperate for sale of screens before those too are supplanted by VR goggles through which our furnishings will look fine. A VR screen and a resting spot and nourishment by way of tubes. We're almost there, Wall-E, we're almost there.

There must be some very precise calculation about how many people in and around Buffalo are due a new screen this holiday season. And how to make the price seem irresistibly low. Low enough to be fitted into the food and rent budgets which feel so oppressive now to more than half of us. Here and now.

But looking around at the cars, and at the extremely diminished shelves of goods, I was filled with a kind of resignation. I had wanted only to witness actual things and move away from the Amazon search and wait with something like 'bated breath. But our oil-powered flight is not going to end. Well. 

The driving had a kind of desperation; mine and that I projected onto everyone else. The embodied economy on its way out. Careening toward disaster. It can't last, but we also can't change it. Not in time. Driving ourselves over a cliff.

It's so very hard to let go of this life which has been so very good. Consider all that we have accomplished, collectively, toward better living. Why must it end, oh Lord, why must it end?

Most of all what I saw was that the embodied economy embodies racism and classism both. A kind of disregard for those without choices, as though it were their own fault somehow. Like it's my fault I don't live where the living is better. Looking ahead, I'm only concerned with what makes my life better. And while I don't have nearly as much as I'm supposed to have according to the soothsayers of retirement prep, the little nest egg that I've accumulated grace TIAA has been growing lately such that it generates more income than my spendable retirement income makes. WTF, right? How can I possibly deserve this?

And so I too must root for the stock market, even though its gains are on the backs of those without choice. Actual labor is hardly compensated at all anymore. And never mind the priests, Catholic Health in this town has had to join the ranks of the hyper-capitalist healthcare industrial complex and screw the front line workers. Who are putting up a valiant strike. Catholic my ass! The workers got some satisfaction in the end. They were outplayed.

When the total national boost to climate change mitigation equals the net worth of any one among our wealthiest citizens (if they even remain citizens anymore, by virtue of escaping taxes), I think it's fair to say that our economy is already bankrupt. We've gone too far - we've entered into the realm of abuse - with our exploitation of the gift of oil. The fundament of our economy. The dark dark soil.

Reading Saul Bellow is bizarrely helpful here. I was alerted by Jonathan Franzen, denigrated as he now might be. Already, by the time the better call, Saul, was writing The Adventures of Augie March, it was clear to him how things might end. Near the time that I was born, he wrote. 

I swear that I would never say to anyone else, what my friends feel free to say to me. But this is where we are now, angry at each other because we're not woke enough to use the pronouns right. Go Boomer as an epithet. What's the other guy? Go Brandon? Go Beau? So low. Hunter's Hope. So this is how it will end? It won't be the global warming or the species die-off, and it won't be that we can't cobble a living anymore. 

It will be that we are at each others' throats for being dissed and not recognized. We all seem to want our claim to authentic goodness and merit, and get really pissed off when someone doesn't grant it. 

Well, for me, there's hope that it won't be something that we can't do anything about that does us in. It won't be driving over the edge that kills us. It will be the bumper car we play along the way. And I won't be any match for those playfully massive pickup trucks sporting offensive flags. But I also won't be able to ride my e-bike in traffic. 

Now I'm back to a fever pitch. Whatever. Don't worry, be happy. Things are still OK. And we're way better than we used to be before we mostly squandered the gift of oil. Who knows, maybe what we've actually learned will save us yet. 

Let's Go Boomer!

So yeah, I watched Fletch - no it was Fitch - yet another post apocalyptic movie where robots stand in for blacks, except that the white survivors are nicer to them. And there's a dog. No woman to feed to the dog, though, so there's that. But can This is the End actually be the better film? It's hard for me to accept that.

So so very many films for the love of robots anymore. I think I could fill a page with a catalog, starting with Cherry 2000. No matter what else they are, they're all riffs on Scientology, just like Tom Cruise's once upon a time wifey fell for it, and now she's made a robot of herself, right? I mean Scientology is just method acting on steroids, right? Until you internalize the act and become it. L. Ron no different from Joseph Smith, no different than Jesus, these days.

You don't feel love, and so you crawl right into its sim. And this is how we die. This is the end, my only friend, the end.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Getting Real, or Cosmology Alone Can Save Us

So humans are a microcosm. That means that humans are radically connected to everything else. I'm not the only one to comment that we rival, in complexity, the entire cosmos. And so what are we to do about that?

It seems that every intelligent person is investigating what to do about keeping our world inhabitable by humans. I think that's the wrong problem. The question is what can we do about our behaviors to make us palatable for the rest of life. What must we return in recompense for our gustatory delights?

As I've said many many times before, those of us on the mechanical fix-it side or on the network administration side of humanity are way beyond skeptical that we can engineer our way away from what so often (and wrongly) gets called apocalypse. We don't mean apocalypse. We mean wholesale destruction and end.

Some call this sort of wishful engineering “terraforming.” Science fiction writers like Kim Stanley Robinson and now Neil Stephenson (I keep wanting to call him Bryan Stephenson, and how wrong would that be?) are really engaged in thinking about engineering, including social and political engineering. And some politicians, once again now finally, are trying to do right by the people they serve.

But no-one seems to be understanding how quickly any truly drastic interventions we may make will turn disastrous in purest symphony with the scale of what was attempted. We might as well depend on nuclear winter to save the planet. Perhaps we do.

Shall we retreat into domed bubbles? Perhaps. Shall we become more natural (another misused word) in our behaviors? Impossible! Our triumph is truly wonderful for us. We have good and comfortable lives beyond what was ever possible to oligarchs just yesterday. Or some of us do. For approximation, let's say the literate portion of us.

But to put this all another way, our living is indeed quite natural, so never mind romanticizing Pueblo life, D.H. H.D. Mabel Dodge. It's our nature, as the scorpion said to the frog whom he conscripted to carry him across the river, as he killed the frog. Something like that. 

And it seems to be in our nature to want a portion of us to remain illiterate, which means to remain disconnected from the humanity that prospers. In service to.

We simply won't survive as a species if we continue to despoil the earth for our benefit alone. So the question then becomes, easily, how can we thrive otherwise? Shall we mine our landfills? Do we have the stomach for that? It would be less gross than what it is that we do do. Oh sorry. My puns are never intentional, I assure you. 

It almost seems that we have become clever enough to leave the rest of Nature, writ large, more or less to itself. 

But isn't secreting ourselves from nature the very same thing as terraforming Mars, say, and just as ridiculous. Anyhow, what's the difference between dominating nature and leaving nature if neither leaves the human species alive? Which is, I believe a kind of bedrock truth. We are not apart from nature, and ipso facto we don't survive apart from it.

One of our more fundamental errors is to believe that we have unique access to something more real than real. Something behind or underneath the surfaces. We sometimes call these things principles, and if they work, we call them real. 

But what is real is what is real, and nothing we can do about that. We can't get underneath the real to something more real. All we can do is to find ever more effective ways to work on or with the real. Science is our helper here. It can never grok reality any more or less than religion can, but it can lead us to agree about much of reality. Get reality wrong, and you surely don't survive as individual or species.

One way to get things wrong is to obsess about a reality that you either can't see or can't see yet. We suppose that there is a future reality which is one we fully comprehend in almost precisely the way that religionists believe in a future where we live in God's presence at the end of history. This is what apocalypse means. 

Either way, here we are at the end. 

I'm supposing that there is a different kind of cosmology which distinguishes between knowing reality and working with reality. The one focuses on ideas, which are immaterial, eternal, and come, sometimes unbidden, to the mind and to the mind alone. The other focuses on what I call (I can't say that others call it so, because I'm not enough of an authority) the uncarved block. 

I suppose that this is a matter of priority. Perhaps a chicken/egg sort of thing. If you think that the idea is the primal; that something comes to be ex nihilo by creation, by ideation, then I suppose that you're embedded in Western religious and scientific traditions. If instead you believe that there is no necessary completeness to either reality or to what can be known about it, then you may focus more on transformation than on creation, and you may be embedded in a more Eastern tradition.

Of course most of the essence of any and all traditions has been eroded and perverted, so you may be as free-floating from tradition as I am. As if. 

But the cosmology makes a difference. The earth is as it is, for instance, and as a living being, considered as a whole, it will react and respond to us as we compel it to. Kind of like forcing our ideas upon it. Rape by any other name.

But, I say, that kind of forcing is far far beyond our means. What we can do is to listen for a response. And we can't quite actually do even that if we're overtaken by our guilt at the apparent destruction that we've caused. What we've done is surely not all that bad. And in many ways, we have already grown up and away from our brutal pasts.

We are less ashamed of our lusting, and less likely to indulge orgies of hand to hand bleeding and writhing and hanging death. Our insurrections feel like tailgate partying. Detestable Pinker may be at least partly right. 

But now the dangerous lusts are played out in public. Burgeoning and ever larger monster trucks and boats and mansions. Electrifying them only accelerates the multiplex second comings. 

We are in our natural element, and the elemental is capitalist money. Make no mistake, but we are at our prime. 

There is no shame  or anger sufficient in the cosmos to quell our lust, and so we must conjoin it. We must work through and not against this. 

We are already on the field of play; that place which is the only place where freedom is real. That’s what apocalypse really means. God is on the field with us now. We must conform the rules. 

Let’s try acupuncture, how about? Orgone qi Feng-shui therapy is bound to be better than bio-medical engineering for what ails the planet. Though I hate what it does to put capitalism on steroids, digital power can be helpful with this. Not just LEDs and super smart in/out grids, but transit rectification and alignment, and perma-housing so-called 3D printed in imitation of what the mud wasps do. 

First we had to get the psychically engendered fucking  right, distinguishing between constructed and mystified reality, which is to say to stop distinguishing, because we aren’t quite yet even near to getting real when it comes to sex. But we’re moving on the right direction.

Anyhow, it’s no accident that these things all conflate. The accidents will come about by what we fail to do. The world - us and the planet - is where we need to be. Thank the Cosmos for the oil. We needed that! But to win we have to be sober on the field.