Your Choice (2014Dec14)

Well, I wish I’d posted this yesterday (It was Sequential Day, that is, the date was 12-13-14) But, I can only play when my aching back lets me, so today was the best I could do.

You have a choice with this post:  you can read my boring-ass essay -or- you can listen to my silly-ass music–either way, please don’t forget to ‘like’ and ‘share’ or whatever.





“Baby Steps Among The Stars” – Part Two (Chap7)

Chapter Seven

Sounds easy—just place limits on money’s influence; allow it, where necessary, to be over-ruled by ecological or ethical considerations. But how? Much is made of the ‘revolving door’ of big-business executives and government regulators—doesn’t it invite corruption to have the same people flit between the leadership of these dangerous industries and the guardianship of the peoples’ interests, rights, and well-being vis-à-vis these industries? Certainly a conflict of interests is almost guaranteed by such intermingling. But what is the alternative? It doesn’t make much more sense to have all our potential regulatory chiefs be confined to those with no knowledge of the industry they monitor. Neither does it seem fair to ask a retiring federal regulator to find a job elsewhere than the industry in which he or she is a recognized expert.

And the power of Capitalism is likewise inherently bound up with the efficiency of our commerce—we can’t declare money invalid for one use and not another. If money has any purchasing power at all, it can ‘buy’ a person—or at least, their effort or their influence—which means that money can ‘buy’ exceptions to rules. The very versatility and anonymity that makes cash so useful also makes it impossible to confine to specific uses.

Worse yet, people are as much a part of the problem of Capitalism as its mechanisms. People, as has been mentioned above, are changed by both authority and submission to it—to be a boss affects one’s mind, as does being an employee. The office politics, the competition to climb the corporate ladder, the stress—all the unnecessary dramas produced by people under workplace conditions—are unavoidably caused by the nature of labor in business. This almost-biologically-mandated perversion of people in positions of authority has gotten much notice recently with regard to the police and their relationship to the communities they protect and serve. It would appear that any person given a gun to wear, and told to enforce the law, is in danger of becoming authoritarian, even violent towards those they ostensibly serve. But the same dynamics that obtain in that example are also true, to a certain extent, in any workplace where a manager is led astray by the urgings of power.

Because of this, it is safe to assume that, regardless of how many laws and regulations govern the workplace, it will always be an inherently unfair environment. Worse yet, this is only a statement of the influence of authority—it doesn’t even touch on the fact that people don’t necessarily arrive at a job with an intact, healthy psyche. People go through lots of stuff before they reach the legal age to get a job—and whatever traumas have formed their personalities are only exacerbated by ‘gainful employment’.

Indeed, this is true of people in general. Many are raised by less-than-perfect parents. Many are raised in religious fundamentalism, giving them a skewed perspective on reality. Many are raised in poverty, causing permanent fear and resentment towards those who live in comfort—and, conversely, being raised in wealth can lead many to become overbearing and dismissive towards the majority of the human race, particularly the poor.

The way we are raised, the conditions of our family and community life, the teachings of our spiritual leaders—all these things create a humanity that is far more disposed towards conflict than cooperation. The formation of an individual is so haphazard that a certain percentage of people can be expected to end up as murderers, rapists, thieves, and con-artists—and the rest of us are only relatively well-balanced. We are not perfect—we’re just good enough to stay out of prison, is all.

So when we speak of Civilization, of the Family of Man—or any such grand generalization—we are speaking in the aggregate of people who, as individuals, must each be considered potential time-bombs of anti-social behavior. And that behavior can take an infinite number of forms, from being crabby towards one’s own children, to being a cold-blooded dictator of an undeveloped nation. This clarifies the issue of ‘how can we be so self-destructive?” We can observe Humanity as a single entity, we can discuss Civilization as an overview of ourselves—but we have zero control over ourselves as a group.

Even when rules are so clear and exact as to describe a perfect situation, the troubles that live within each individual will eventually lead us to find ways to circumvent the spirit of the rules, to manipulate the letter of the rules, for selfish reasons. We have been in this race since Hammurabi’s Pillar, and even the lawyers find themselves working half the time in good faith with the law, and half the time working against it. When the rules get in the way of our dreams, we search for ways around the rules—it’s in our nature.

That’s us—nothing to be done about that. That was fine, back when the world was too enormous ever to be used up, back when God was in his Heaven, back before the Internet, when we weren’t on the cusp of quasi-AI and nanotech-enhanced, remote-presence medicine and self-contained, robotic Mars explorers. Now we don’t know whether to ban paraplegics from the Olympics because their hi-tech prostheses give an unfair advantage, or to baby-proof munitions factories so that single mothers can bring their kids to work.

In a recent broadcast, the discussion over e-share commerce brought out the point that Uber’s car service, while superior to existing urban transport, also circumvents a century’s worth of safety and regulatory legislation. This makes Uber both modern and primeval—they create a paradox by using modernity to circumvent civilization. (As of this writing, there is a news report that India has banned Uber due to a rape that occurred during a ride-share—an excellent example of the conflict between progress and human nature.)

Hacking has always been synonymous with coding—its only difference is in the suggestion of a rebel outlaw doing the coding. The term is important because software, like any tech, is open to both good and bad aims—but a hacker isn’t just a bad person who codes. Hacking can mean being a rebel, or a Robin Hood, who codes—possibly even a champion of human rights. Beyond that, the subject becomes one of syntax. But Hacking, as an activity, has also come to be synonymous with finding an easy way to solve or circumvent problems. So-called ‘life-hacks’ can be anything from the best way to refrigerate pineapple slices to the safest way to invest towards retirement. Hardly the acts of a criminal.

But Uber, and other e-share-oriented businesses, are busily pioneering the ‘corporate hack’, a digital backdoor that allows new forms of trade, free from the boundaries of written communication, brick-and-mortar competition, and civil oversight. These clever, new uses of the digital universe, however, create legislative loopholes faster than they generate new business models. The fly-by-night business, once confined to the mails, has now blanketed the globe via WyFy. A person without a physical location is not held back by the same constraints as a person who can be found behind the same counter on the day after you buy something unsatisfying from their shop. And when combined with computerized phone-answering, these businesses can even offer ‘customer service’ while still leaving the customer with no solid target for retaliation, or even complaint. Hence Yelp reviews, I guess.

So, complexity takes a quantum leap forward. Personal responsibility virtually evaporates. Global climate-change edges ever closer to global disaster. Population growth towers dizzyingly. Suddenly, our civilization is faced with an ultimatum—confine the term ‘civilization’ to mean only the one percent and consign the rest of us to savagery among ourselves -or- take a pick-axe to the existing paradigm through collective action. The first option is the most likely because it counts on the disorganized lack of action we can expect from ourselves as a group. The second option is far less likely, as it would require people, as a community, to act in their own best interest—something history tells us we have never, ever done before.

On the contrary, it seems that small, well-led groups of people are the only paradigm within which humanity can exert its greatest power. A team of dedicated people can be found at many of the central pivot-points of civilization’s history. Now, small groups empowered by technology, can accomplish incredible things—good and bad. Thus we witness the rise of SpaceX, a relatively new and tiny company that accomplishes things it once took a federal institution like NASA to orchestrate. And we see the birth of terrorist groups, without massive armies or host nations, capable of attacks on the world’s mightiest superpower. Even individuals have greater power than we ever dreamed—Snowden’s release of classified documents surprised us, in part, because it involved more pages of information than Edward, in an earlier age, could ever have moved without several large trucks—and he did it with a few clicks of a mouse, sending it all not just to one location, but virtually everywhere. That’s power—we all now have that power—any of us can send a mountain of information from one place to another, instantly.

Those of us old enough to appreciate the difference between then and now are hard pressed to encompass the meaning of such power as the digital age has conferred on us. Those young enough to take digital communication for granted have no idea how much the world will be changed by the growing inclusion of all seven billion of us into this information-empowerment. We tend to look at ‘progress’ as an ennobling evolution—that with great enough knowledge, surely wisdom must follow. But progress enables our fears as well, our greed and our bitterness—these things are provided with the same wings as our dreams.

So, at the end of all this trouble and woe, we find that improving ourselves and making things better for others is the most important progress of all.

But if truth is anything, it’s inconvenient. Take the Earth, for instance—looks flat, feels flat—and for hundreds of years, most people thought it was flat. Ancient Greeks who studied Philosophy (Science, before we called it that) knew that the world was round—some even calculated brilliant measurements that gave them a close approximation of the Earth’s diameter. Perhaps the Mayans, or the Chinese, maybe even the Atlanteans—knew similar stuff, but none of it mattered to Western Civilization during the Dark Ages. Most of ancient math and science would return to Europe during the Enlightenment via East, the caretakers of ancient knowledge during the chaos of post-Roman-Empire Europe—and, indeed, without that returning influx of science, Columbus may never have sailed.

These exceptions notwithstanding, the popular view was that the Earth was flat and arguing about it seemed a moot point. It was only after Columbus’s well-publicized return from the ‘New World’ that people began to see the globe, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a limitless expanse of unclaimed assets and resources. Now that there was land to be grabbed and money to be made, the world could be in the shape of a dodecahedron for all anyone cared. The truth of the world being round had ceased to be inconvenient.

But others remained. Now that we couldn’t avoid the image of all of us standing upright on the outside of a globe, gravitational force became another inconvenience. ‘Things fall down’ was no longer sufficient—because we now knew ‘down’ to be several different directions, and all of them inward, towards the center of the globe. Without Columbus’s voyages, there may not have been any cause for Newton to ponder the invisible force we call Gravity. But once his calculations produced the Laws of Motion, and the Calculus, it became possible to send a cannon-ball exactly where it would do the most damage. The truth of Gravity then went from inconvenient to useful—and physics was ‘born’. Between the chemists cooking up gunpowder and the mathematicians calculating parabolic arcs, the militant-minded leaders of early European states would forever-after find it convenient to shield the scientists from the witch-hunters and the clergy.

Science, however, would not confine itself to military uses. By the dawn of the twentieth century, we had begun to study ourselves. Archaeologists had studied our prehistoric past—and found it contained evidence of religion having evolved from primitive atavism to the modern churches. We discovered that God was a part of human lore, not of divine revelation—that God didn’t exist. This is the most inconvenient truth of all—and it has spawned a culture of debate, diversion, propaganda, indoctrination, and fundamentalist extremism. Half the world pines for the loss of innocence and simplicity—the other half is busy trying to undo science with suicide vests and beheadings.

I’ll always remain puzzled by this aversion to observable facts. We’ll trust science enough to take a ride across the globe in a multi-tonned, metal jet-airliner—but still hold it lightly enough that we pick and choose which science is convenient and which isn’t. Observable fact gets a bad rep—‘there’s more than meets the eye’; ‘all is not what it seems’; ‘the hand is quicker than the eye’—yes, observed fact can be misleading, but only because we feeble humans are doing the observing. Still, I consider the incompleteness of science to be a necessary characteristic of good science—observable fact may not be written in stone, but reproducible results are still of greater value than any other perspective has yet to offer mankind.

And the worst part is that we who believe in science are often so hard-pressed by theists that we shy away from the vital humanism that science lacks. It is, rather, all the more important to embrace what it means to be human in a world with no one to worship but ourselves. But we are too busy defending ourselves from people who would kill us in the name of their fairy tales.

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