Sunday, January 28, 2024

False Oppositions

Oh, how I do wish that my voice were equal to my task. It is late in my life, and my references are disappearing. And yet still I know things. I have experience in certain matters. 

I'm not so sure about what knowledge actually is, but one way to consider it regards the ways in which knowledge might bring us together. I still believe that this is the basic function of the scientific method. Science is a process of truing, and not a search for any truth. It operates in a limited and limiting aspect of our shared reality; it's basically about how things - physical, perceptual things, work.

No matter the efforts of psychologists or sociologists or sexologists or humorists nor certainly artists, those efforts will not further the truing of science. That might mean that these are all the most important pursuits.

Here's what I have watched quite intimately, and never mind the references: The state has transformed from a wobbly flawed people-driven shambles into a mighty administrative empire which can't leave go of militaristic hegemony. As though there were no choice. 

Educational institutions have morphed from teacher owned and driven shambles with a governing board, to the analog of the state, top heavy with highly paid administrators and faculty expected to attend only to their classes, leaving their own destinies and the institutions' destiny to the massive class of governors. 

Where once it was the case that friends and neighbors would repair your car and your house, depending on a mutual sort of trust, there now are systems micro-managed from far above shoving costs an entire solar system away from where they once were; even reputation is managed from afar. There is a cheat sheet to keep you on the up and up.

All local businesses, and here I mean restaurants and hardware and lumber stores and certainly sawmills and planing mills for house-parts, are in the charge of national chains, as are dentists offices and most medical specialties. 

The inducements are inexorable, as what owner can refuse the offers from invisible hedge funders, to be able to retire comfortably in Florida? But all that expertise moves away from local to some cloud of finance. Nursing home deterioration is but the canary in the coal mine. 

My first motorcycle trip through the south was chock full of wonderful local places for breakfast or for barbeque, full of local color with a chef who was the owner. More recently, it's all Popeyes or Chic-fil-a with lines of cars out into the streets, no local knowledge or expertise required. 

What, really, is the difference between those arrangements and the pharmacy giving me a quart-sized jar of opioids for a broken bone? And that was a long time ago. Surely those drug companies understand on some level that they are shooting up the veins of the entire country. Flood it and they will want more.

A small manufacturer once explained to me how "Wall Street" money comes in to set prices on chock-full shelves beneath what any local owner can possibly set. Walmart perfected this predatory process, destroying almost all local stores, where the clerks once could raise their families based on intimate knowledge of their stock and its uses.

By now, we don't even need a product on a shelf. Get mind-share and whatever replaced Wall Street funding will come flooding in. We've ridden a wave of cheap crave food and nearly free movies to the loss of the very soul of the nation.

Which is fine, since the nation was always an invention and not some found reality.

Christianson so-called creative destruction is hardly creative. Technology, so far, is basically a pump up to the finance classes. What we call artificial intelligence is as old as everything above. Put simply, there is no heart to it.

Now yes I do enjoy my ability to watch streaming films, and learn on Youtube how to dismantle my cheap but wonderful little speaker so that I may replug the circuitboard connector ribbon and get it to charge again. I enjoy my aging laptop, which is good enough now to have outlasted any computer I've ever had. Lots of things are getting better and better, and even seem cheaper and cheaper for a while.

Most of all, I enjoy the revelations of science, disseminated farther and wider than ever before. 

But underneath it all is an unnecessary divide. We can untangle ourselves from  all of this mess, if, once again, we find some common ground on which to stand. That might even mean to find some common standard; a goal around which to rally and for direction.

Part of our distress is due to the eradication of local news that's fit for print. Another part is the echo chamber of social media. But it's possible that the the main part of our trouble is simply not knowing what to do with what we do know. 

Like in some sense many of us worry about the end of it all, or the ends of it all, as in we "know" that everything ends according to whatever scale you might choose. Some are distressed that even the earth has a life-span, and so we're desperate to accelerate some process for escape. That tends to lead us in the direction of too much reliance on what we already do know which means, in turn, to discount the far more vast reaches of what we don't know.

Those who don't worry about our ultimate demise, simply because the time scale makes the concept tend toward abstraction, might still be worried about our more proximate demise. That would be the sort that is, strictly speaking, avoidable. The climate change, nuke the planet, eradicate too many species poison ourselves to death kind of non-abstraction.

Overall, we discount the possibility that life is bigger than this life or our life. Yet life may be as large as the cosmos, in ways we're simply not prepared to understand. Making our local lives better might even be at odds with the nature of life on the grand scale. We may be on the verge of discovering just why it is that all the living species of the earth are a part of each of us, and we are not and cannot be apart from them. 

We may even be on the verge of discovering that the evidence of life elsewhere in the cosmos is not and never shall be where we're looking for it, not to mention discoverable by the communications vectors we deploy in the search. 

We need to get it together in the here and now before we can be ready even to think about the hereinafter. The ever after. The coda, the swan song, the end. 

Is war materiel really as necessary as we think it is, or is that the same kind of flim-flam which bought us Walmart and destroyed the meaning of market pricing. What we need is a sort of world democracy which respects difference. My very own son-in-law has a fully referenced outline to make a start.

But he doesn't get how things work. I don't mean in physics sort of way, I mean in an embodied tool-bearing kind of way. Sure, now I can't remember where I read something or who said this or that. I find the gas burner left on at the stove where I cooked my breakfast. We have a new totem word for that: Alzheimer's, like Cancer before, it strikes terror into the heart of a man. It's hard to fall asleep anymore against fantasy fugues of my sore-tooth jawbone rotting away in my head.

It takes a while, but I can learn to change my suppositions and ways of operation to always turn off the burner before I remove the pot, and to check the knobs for position each time I leave the stove. Problem solved.

I brush my teeth so very meticulously, wishing I had realized then what I know now, including even the knowledge that it's far too late to be meticulously preventing the decay of my whole mouth. The workaround costs a lot more money than the cost to keep my stove off. I wonder now, when will I lose my balance to the point that I can't climb up to clean the gutters? I am meticulously careful, taking no risks anymore, but I won't be doing it forever in any case, end or retreat.

Almost none of us recognize what Hannah Arendt fully recognized a while ago; that the concepts of capital and labor were both refined by Marx. And that communism and 'rules-based-world-order' capitalism are two sides of the same coin, in artificial contention. Both ideologies are terminally focused on an end-game, a steady state, an allegory homologous with Christianity or any religious what-you-will. 

The classes delineated are caricatures, like Chairman Mao's Big Character Posters, simplifying everything for Mickey Mouse. The fantasies of a re-enchanted end-time where life will be all honey and roses.

To oppose Marxism to capitalism is to perpetuate a meaningless contention for the sake of those very very few who benefit from it. In either case labor expands to fill the all, but for the administrative class, the owners, the party members. In Arendt's terms, labor is that aspect of life which is necessary for survival. Everyone has to participate, but it's not meant to consume your whole life else what's our humanity for?

There isn't all that much labor to accomplish just for the sake of living. Work is the stuff that makes us human, but it's not what's necessary. Work is what's desirable to make conscious human life worth living. Both Marxism and capitalism expand labor to consume the life of the laborer; both for the sake of bankrupt ideology. When there's no time left for the work you really want to do, you've been denied a life.

By a measure of the low fertility which overtakes prosperous economies as represented in the New York Times, the real danger to the continued viability of our contemporary means for living may be the drastic depopulation of the planet. (why is that an opinion piece, I wonder?) Perhaps that will happen in coordination with the flourishing of the rest of earthly life, or perhaps it will happen in concert with earth's demise. The choice is ours to make.

The choice has to be made by action, which means politically. qua Arendt. Population in the aggregate is not a political choice. It happens organically, based on other choices. Well, except for fictional dystopias. Sometimes dystopia feels very real, however. Like when women are forced to give birth or forced to abort. When lives have to be sacrificed for the lack of shelter. When the labor to live is overwhelmed by the 'creative disruption' of the very essence of our lives.

By definition, the hyper wealthy are those who wish to escape the human condition. This is no definition for merit, except in our particular capitalist dystopia. The rest of us are left with the petty joys of local entertainment; escapist films, professional football, and alcohol, always wanting to be rich enough to really live it up. 

Well enough of that. If you want Cassandra then read poor ol' Indi anymore. He's simplified and whittled it down to race-based good and evil, and those of us who are white might as well just go to hell, because by being stowed in a sack of learned helplessness we don't even know where to start.

We've built infrastructure which can't be repaired because where once road building and later rebuilding and still later the laying of sewers all happened in times when the basics could be afforded because there was not the overlay of sophisticated military-industrial complex finance capitalism on top of it all. 

So that now it would be impossible to dig up the streets to lay a parallel sanitary alongside the decrepit and environmentally dangerous mixed storm and sanitary because there is no bond issue that can be made so big. First it was houses that had to be mortgaged to eternity, now it's college, and soon it will be our infrastructure, since the wealthy separate themselves easily enough from "our" infrastructure, where the we that is us just hate each other to death anymore.

We don't have to look far into the future to see this exponential curve terminate. They can build proper infrastructure in Gaza now, can't they?

The trick is to find a way to live a social and non-toxic life right now, in our present, having the start as we have here in Buffalo, to rectify our sewer and water delivery systems. To know that we are moving in a direction where capital doesn't overwhelm all else. Where we admit that there is no weapon system, no matter the cost, which can or will impose our will on the rest of the world. Anymore. Drones of the shelf can beat us any time.

All that we need to do is to get started, one foot in front of the other, and start with the low-hanging fruit. Healthcare, housing, food, sewer and water how about? True pricing without Walmart economics. When the price without insurance for a blood test is many multiples of the cost with usurious insurance - literal pennies on the dollar - can't we call it obvious that something is out of whack?

There is no technical fix. And for so long as we're made to hate one another because we come to our realizations by different paths, we shall never be able to find the real, social, political fixes. The ones right in front of our faces.

And so I no longer know, on a minute-by-minute basis, what to do. There will always be more books to read, even though I limit myself to those that will energize me. I know enough about the house I live in now to know that its needs will exceed my life. There will be no end to it, but for endless piles of money. And even those will prevent my ever living here, since there is far more disruption from the workers whose work I must follow closely because nobody really knows or cares how to repair and maintain things anymore. We live in a modular modulated economy of terminal panic.

I must follow the work closely not because I mistrust the workers, but because their shrift has narrowed its focus such that painters won't take care of carpentry, or even notify you when bad work is exposed. There are storm drains to clear in concert with the demolitions, and to install in the garden against the pooling, and there is insulation above the attics and my very body rebels against my own suiting up against the filth revealed, from across the years, from a roof removal, from the past.

Oh, how I do want my little travel trailer back, its flaws so contained, my needs so limited, but now the tow car has flaky wiring and is as beyond its useful life as I am. There is repose only in the dying. A life in full well-lived.

My trouble is simple. I already understood what I needed to understand, but have passed that prime when I could tell it. A failure in full am I. And yet I do have some satisfaction in that knowledge, since there are much worse ways of success. 

To have had full voice and to be heeded would be worse even still than the tragedy of the commons. Whatever I have that counts as knowledge is worthless without it belongs to everyone. It needs not my name.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' father by the same name wrote a poem, with which my literary friend thought I was obsessed:

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss-shay,

That was built in such a logical way?

It ran a hundred years to a day,

And then, of a sudden, it—ah, but stay,

I'll tell you what happened without delay.

Scaring the parson into fits,

Frightening people out of their wits,—

Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.

Georgius Secundus was then alive,—

Snuffy old drone from the German hive!

That was the year when Lisbon-town

Saw the earth open and gulp her down,

And Braddock's army was done so brown,

Left without a scalp to its crown.

It was on the terrible Earthquake-day

That the Deacon finished the one-hoss-shay.

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,

There is always somewhere a weakest spot,—

In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,

In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,

In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,—lurking still

Find it somewhere you must and will,—

Above or below, or within or without,—

And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,

A chaise breaks down, but doesn't wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do)

With an “I dew vum,” or an “I tell yeou,”

He would build one shay to beat the taown

'n' the keounty 'n' all the keuntry raoun';

It should be so built that it couldn' break daown:

—“Fur,” said the Deacon, “'t's mighty plain

Thut the weakes' place mus' stan' the strain;

'n' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain, is only jest

To make that place uz strong uz the rest.”

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk

Where he could find the strongest oak,

That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke,—

That was for spokes and floor and sills;

He sent for lancewood to make the thills;

The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees;

The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,

But lasts like iron for things like these;

The hubs of logs from the “Settler's ellum,”

Last of its timber,—they couldn't sell 'em,—

Never an axe had seen their chips,

And the wedges flew from between their lips,

Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;

Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,

Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,

Steel of the finest, bright and blue;

Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;

Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide

Found in the pit when the tanner died.

That was the way he “put her through.”—

“There!” said the Deacon, “naow she'll dew!”

Do! I tell you, I rather guess

She was a wonder, and nothing less!

Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,

Deacon and deaconess dropped away,

Children and grandchildren—where were they?

But there stood the stout old one-hoss-shay

As fresh as on Lisbon-earth-quake-day!

Eighteen hundred;—it came and found

The Deacon's Masterpiece strong and sound.

Eighteen hundred increased by ten;

“Hahnsum kerridge” they called it then.

Eighteen hundred and twenty came:—

Running as usual; much the same.

Thirty and forty at last arrive,

And then came fifty, and fifty-five.

Little of all we value here

Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year

Without both feeling and looking queer.

In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,

So far as I know, but a tree and truth.

(This is a moral that runs at large;

Take it.—You're welcome.—No extra charge.)

First of November—the Earthquake-day.—

There are traces of age in the one-hoss-shay,

A general flavor of mild decay,

But nothing local, as one may say.

There couldn't be,—for the Deacon's art

Had made it so like in every part

That there wasn't a chance for one to start.

For the wheels were just as strong as the thills—

And the floor was just as strong as the sills,

And the panels just as strong as the floor,

And the whippletree neither less nor more.

And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,

And spring and axle and hub encore.

And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt

In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, 'Fifty-five!

This morning the parson takes a drive.

Now, small boys, get out of the way!

Here comes the wonderful one hoss-shay,

Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.

“Huddup!” said the parson.—Off went they.

The parson was working his Sunday's text,—

Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed

At what the—Moses—was coming next.

All at once the horse stood still,

Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill.

First a shiver, and then a thrill,

Then something decidedly like a spill,—

And the parson was sitting upon a rock,

At half-past nine by the meet'n'-house-clock,—

Just the hour of the Earthquake-shock!

—What do you think the parson found,

When he got up and stared around?

The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,

As if it had been to the mill and ground!

You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,

How it went to pieces all at once,—

All at once, and nothing first,—

Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.

Logic is logic. That's all I say.

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