Friday, December 8, 2023

So What Do You Do?

I think it might be a peculiarly American thing to want to know what somebody does for a living, almost before, but almost certainly just after actually speaking with a person for the first time. I know I'm guilty of it. 

I'm always ever so slightly put off by the question, having to answer, 'oh I've done most every job in the book' and then sometimes having to elaborate, which might end the connection if it's a new one. I start with bike mechanic, the only job I ever loved with my whole heart. I don't really play the game fairly.

Once I said, truthfully, that I'm a cosmologist, qualified by the disclaimer that I'll never be paid for that. I don't think I ever have or ever would introduce myself as a writer. For obvious reasons. 

I write here because it's how I think. I don't expect and don't really care for someone to read what I write, but I seem to need the fiction of a reader. An actual reader would probably terrify me into silence, and so I actually feel respected that I get no comments anymore. Like if anyone reads what I've written, they politely back off, not knowing what to make of what I write. Mission accomplished!

Most times, I confess, I can't even really read my own writing. Meaning that it takes me as much work as it might take you, though I can generally bring back what I was getting at. Only sometimes does it badly embarrass me. Like to see a picture revealing how fat I've become. I mean I don't cringe, but it is not, apparently, how I see myself, if to see oneself is even possible.

I'm comfortable to say I'm a cosmologist, because I don't think I've ever really experienced certainty about anything. Sure, I can get preachy on some topics, adopting a tone of certainty, but almost nobody takes me seriously when I do that. 

As I was leaving the nearby cooperative grocery store yesterday, there was a polite but noisy march of protesters against Israel going by (or were they pro-Palestinian? Am I the guilty party or were they?). It reminded me how this might be the very last vestige of actual protest, and that maybe that would be a good thing.

I certainly don't hate Jews, though I've often been annoyed by Zionists who remind me vaguely of evangelicals whose cosmology seems as off as a Chinese rock singer. Vaguely crazed. I certainly have nothing good to say about Netanyahu. Well, maybe now he'll be kicked off his nutjob horse in the face of the real world. Not sure. Powerful people don't seem to mind killing off the other, so long as the job is delegated.

Honestly, my cosmology would prevent me from causing actual harm to anybody, unless they were attacking someone I love. I couldn't do it for political reasons. I was terrified that my number would come up during the Vietnam war. Would I even have the agency not to go? I think so, but remain glad that I wasn't tested.

Yes, I can get passionate that America should stop making and selling so many weapons of mass destruction. I might even start there before going after the AKs of our domestic terrorists. I'm put off by the solemnity of Bills fans in the stadium when someone mentions "veteran." I don't think it's compatible with being a Trumper. Just sayin'

To defend our country means first to defend the constitution writ large. There are betrayers in every stratum, especially as they get power. 

But so, OK, I happened upon this book, "Imagined Communities" - I guess by the processes of reading and exposure. It's a coherent exposure of the ways in which "nations" came to be, a process in which the various Americas play a part. In reading the book, I'm pulled away from all sorts of certainties about constitutions, about the death of newspapers as a certainly bad thing, even about what's absolutely good and absolutely evil. We seem less removed from barbarianism than ever upon this read.

I don't remember encountering the term "print capitalism" though I probably have encountered it, and just didn't have any context to understand what it meant. Now I learn that it might have been the prototype of capitalism writ large. Mass production of standardized products. Control of the means of production and distribution and even the creation of demand. Turns out ol' Ben Franklin wasn't quite so unique as we were taught. 

So the horse cart arrangement does its usual about face, and it may be that digital technology wasn't so much the means of destruction as it was itself the manifestation as well as cause of deeper strains of transformation. The fragmentation of nations, by forces of nationalism of all things, into subgroups with subclaims about authenticity such that the Free State of Vermont associates unwittingly with fascist white supremacist secessionists, because they both require the same superstructure for their definition and formation. 

Which side are you on, brother?

And here I am, back in history, rather than to the side of it. These global contortions are the manifestation of post-nationalism, and maybe I'm starting, finally, to comprehend that term. Even though my son-in-law is the reigning expert, in my book, of the field. I'm still winding up for my read of his book. 

Here's the thing: I pay attention to the stock market just barely. Enough to know that the mix the one underworked wealth advisor I shall ever be graced to have gave me worked fantastically well on the run up to the COVID bump, and it's been downhill ever since. Something about my hedges clipped, since maybe those were in bonds and real-estate. 

The thing about AI is that it will finally master stock-market investing in ways that my brilliant-with-MATLAB super, as in top of the global heap in statistics engineering, synthetic-aperature radar kind of thing was never able to do.

Which, I get it, spells the end first of all of nationalism second of all of history and finally we'll get our revolution, though it won't be the one we wanted. It never is.

I have no fear as in zero about AI taking over life. It has almost nothing to do with what life is, and therefore less than nothing to do with what consciousness is, well except in the sense that our collective loss of consciousness was already AI. 

Benedict Anderson borrows from Walter Benjamin who I learned of by my glancing acquaintance with computer gaming from a quasi-academic point of view. As in all digital artists have to have read The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Although, like good academics everywhere it gets located on a shelf. And now I'm relieved where I used to be depressed that all my shelves are virtual. They've never been easy to organize anyhow.

Although, truth be told, when I was a bike mechanic it never worked for me to keep my tools catalogued on the shelf or pegboard. By end of day in preparation for the next day, sure, but once I started working I didn't have time to look for or think about where the tool I needed was. Every time I try to rationalize my tool locations even now, attenuated as they and I are, I lose them. Sometimes forever.

Like I had this marvelous Leatherman multi-tool that my Mom gave me and that I gave my daughter, and now it's gone missing and I'm absolutely certain that I lost it myself by displacement. The hole is palpable. This the very Leatherman I took aboard an airplane post-911 and panicked when I realized it after losing it overboard from a canoe fishing in the thick muck up in the Boundary Waters. And found it with my bare foot and retrieved it six feet under.

Synthetic aperture this fuckhead! You couldn't find a haystack in the pile of shit below your outhouse head!

Were anyone like Walter Benjamin around anymore the essay would be called Art in the End of Ages Where Reproduction Internalizes the One Authentic Self. His Name has one syllable and not the two of Moloch. I have no art in me. Zip, nada, zero. I wouldn't be able to choose from among the AI productions, no two alike as in the random seed number which has to be gotten from beyond the machine. Still.

It gives me vertigo, but I can't remember what the book-length article I read from Esquire on my tiny iPhone yesterday was even about. Was it about anything? I'll check my history. Here! It was about Moloch, Nobodaddy, Steve Bannon who will never make it to the ranks of single syllable. Riveting. There is no truth to pin. Down.

And I shall read the memoir now from Tufted Daniel Dennett. I played Santa Claus myself just the other day and it broke my heart that my granddaughter was afraid of me. Ho Ho Ho!

I want no time on the machine. My hands shall always be dirty and the prints crazed and cracked.

To follow print capitalism is perpetually to act, perchance. To internalize the machine.

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