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.

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