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!

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