Wednesday, September 7, 2022

An Email to Virginia Heffernan

Dear Virginia (I'm old school that way)

I can't find your contact information no way no how, which is, I presume, the way you want it, and so being both old school and considerate I'll call you out in public, which is where I hide out, the way my friends and I did as kids; not wanting to ring the bell and disturb some missus inside some domicile or other. 

I've read a fair amount of your stuff, and tend hard in the direction of the extravagant praise I've seen for your writing. The flamers aren't so surprising, especially as good writing almost always makes a good target for illiterates. I am still somewhat surprised at how vitriolic some of it is, but that's the nature of our Now.

I especially enjoyed your recent piece in Wired, which effectively exposes and decouples a false connection between work and luck; replacing it with the truer revelation that to equate luck with work debases all of us. As in virtually everything about who and what we are has been determined by luck, and yet our economic arrangements almost compel us to take credit for who we happen to be, as though, if we're lucky, we created ourselves each and every one ex nihilo.

I don't think you did this very much in your piece, but I would say that what you wrote exposes the moral dimension as being far more important than what we commonly think of as our personal agency. Sure we have choices to make, but we almost always fail to notice how conditional those choices are.

When you choose to be on the capitalist pig side of the capital and labor equation, you are making a moral choice. As you point out, we are conditioned to see it as a properly productive choice, even beyond its selfish aspects. Selfishness is, after all, what powers a capitalist economy. And selfishness is what has to be supervised for labor to be marketable. Delayed consumption, metered and conditioned so that satisfaction is always on the way and never already there.

We, each of us now, are the final commodities, alive for just a moment before we too are bought and resold as scrap.

Growing up, my nickname was Hardluck. As in I always drew the short straw, and never won any lotteries. I knew it was silly and wrong, since I knew that I was competent to do whatever it was that nobody seemed to want to do or to know how to do, and so yes I considered myself lucky. I was sound of mind and body, reasonably good-looking and healthy. I grew to like the short straw, kind of wishing it upon myself, and not as penance.

Just now, because I am in transition (I am always in transition), the first thing that acquaintances ask me is 'where are you living?' As it happens, I have no less than four highly viable choices, with two more on the way. Now this doesn't quite make me feel lucky, since I can hardly afford any of them. But in just the same way that I was lucky to escape Covid with a mild case (an example you use), I am lucky that my tiny pension plus social security almost precisely equals my monthly outflow; living in a very affordable apartment in very affordable Buffalo.

I should sell, but haven't done so yet, the trailer that I've lived in for most of the past 5 years or so. It remains available to me still, and I long for it still. So is the apartment I fixed up in Oregon, which gave me pause for a couple of winters and then again for Covid lockdown. Talk about luck! Mom still owns that summer place in Canada to which I decamped upon separation from my ex many years ago. Too bad the borders have hardened, and I can't just go live there anymore during my current transition.

I have yet another sailboat on the way in response to my daughters' longing, and it's about the same layout as the one I did live aboard some forty years ago. I acquired it for a similar song (and dance).

While I would dearly love to remain in this apartment that I love, my well-off Microsoft alumnus brother-in-law has long wanted to invest in Buffalo real-estate, on the condition that I live in and maintain it. I do suffer so!

I do know that once I've moved, which means once I've made my decision, which my mind refuses to do until then, I'll feel relief about whatever were the annoyances of those places I will have left behind. Some will remain useful, some will be abandoned, and I my bodily unchoosing self may yet persist or not as luck will have it.

I'm old, and it hurts even to think about it, but I'm sure I'll be moving into my bro-in-law's house, basically just because it would leave me with just about enough spending money to maintain and sail my new old boat. And maybe keep the trailer.

Now I know that you don't care about any of this, and you should be wondering why I even ask you to read it. Just another guy trying to figure out if he got lucky or not, or might. It's never clear to me what getting lucky really means or might mean.

What I really want you to know, basically because I think you might actually get it, is that at about the time that I was living aboard my old wooden sailboat (albeit younger, relative to my acquisition of it, than the sadly fiberglass one I'm getting now), I discovered, by happenstance, a way to incorporate luck into meaning. I mean that in the way that the scientific method explicitly removes luck from meaning by its usage of "random." We stake almost all of our claims about life, which we might consider to be goodness out of chaos, as though that monkey did finally type Romeo and Juliet by random pecking orders.

Now what I then discovered has no practical application. There's nothing you can do with it that you can't do without it. Scientific knowledge is mostly useful, while what I propose is not. Way back then, I was more worried about fate and coincidence and finding my place in the equation out of a kind of desperation which descends from a seemingly inborn need for meaning. Meaning means understanding for me, and I had no way to understand what felt like a series of meaningful coincidences. Like, life, the universe and everything.

My discovery, as I call it, was not of something new. I discovered a new way of construing what was already known. Starting here from where I ended up then, I rejigger the usage of random as applied to evolution, say, and stake my claim that it would be more informative to define all the accidents that entail life in the cosmos not as random mutations, but as mutations which have tended in the direction of love. Love as a direction for evolution was my discovery. Like gravity, love might be construed as a force of sorts.

Now I'm not saying that love precedes evolution as a kind of force to guide it. I'm just saying that love is a better description than random for how, and mostly why it happens. Like gravity. It's part of the program of mass and force. Force is equivalent to mass, in a measure relative to how forces are applied and perceived according to relative position for observation.

This realization about evolution came after a more general realization that emotion more generally is not a function of the inner state of some highly evolved life-form such as humanity, but that emotion, like force-mediated motion, is an elemental aspect of any construing of reality that we might come up with. The difference from force, whose elemental aspects are percepts, as in proliferating particles at every scale, is that emotions are a function of conceptual reality, whose elemental aspects are concepts.

Words, particles, whatever. On some level particles are composed of words plus some math which add up to predictability. By the displacement of metaphor, which is for exceeding our grasp, stupid. And unnecessary unless you think that the mind is disposed ultimately to understand and to know everything, which is only a tad less likely than the production of that monkey at a typewriter.

As far as I can tell, my reconstruing of life, the universe and anything doesn't predict a freaking thing, except that it might facilitate collective us taking more responsibility for our choices. Responsibility for choices is rather better highlighted once we put ourselves, whatever we have been or shall become, back into our equations where we belong.

While simultaneity cannot be defined in perceptual reality except in relation to some conceptually stationary subject, simultaneity is a direct function of conception and emotion. Conceptual relations are held in mind and don't exist except for simultaneous reciprocity. By definition, is what I'm saying. 

Time was, we thought that particles could exist in isolation. We gradually inferred that there is no escaping relative motion, and that motion involved force and that force involved the exchange of yet smaller particles, and that there is ultimately a so-called entanglement between sufficiently tiny particles such that it makes no sense to calculate distance between them since transformation in one is simultaneously mirrored by the entangled twin, which pretty much nullifies the time/force relation of mass transitioning to energy at the limit of lightspeed.

My redefinitions don't change a thing about what it is that we can perceive and measure. And yet they are somehow terrifying in prospect, and so I don't expect another soul to concur. It would be nice if some soul did, but I don't expect it because the resistance is so great among thinking people. I become a kind of out-of-touch religious castaway for believing such an extravagant redefinition of basic terms.

I also see that you've read and appreciated the grand work of the two Davids, The Dawn of Everything. As I sit watching streaming film and hoping for enlightenment while waiting for the end, which feels inevitable globally, and which certainly is inevitable in my very local life, that book is really what leaves me hope for my children.

Yes, it does seem as though we are so dependent on a global market for our sustenance that its breakdown will consist of conflagration, warfare and starvation on a scale we can hardly imagine, the Davids' book reminds us all that we are adaptable and haven't lost all the social capacity that we've had throughout our bloody history to find a way to adapt again.

I have a kind of hope and even faith that others will discover what I have discovered, at least just in time for the Greater Transformation when it inevitably occurs. This one goes back to the future, as it were. Humans in community. Or whatever it is that evolves from humans. Whatever it is will evolve in the direction of love; that much is certain. The other direction is, after all, death. I leave that to those who misplace their hope in quantum computing. Who misconstrue intelligence in ways artificial and overly mathematical. 

As far as I can tell, intelligence has yet to show its hand here on earth, but look out when it does. The losers become the winners, right? And then what becomes of us?

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