Wednesday, February 06, 2019 9:52 PM
We Can’t Have It Both Ways (2019Feb06)
Here’s the thing about people: In Vincent Van Gogh’s time, people lacked the wit to appreciate his art. We think of this today as a factoid that adds value to the tremendous worth of each painting. But in Van Gogh’s life, it meant that everyone thought they were a better judge of painting than he was. And this included respected, professional art-critics.
They were wrong.
Everyone who resented hippies throughout the sixties believed that they were being patriotic Americans. Today, we know about the Pentagon Papers—we know that the Viet Nam debacle was a hideous case of our government not being patriotic to us. We know that, while the hippies wrongheadedly berated returning veterans, the anti-war protests helped curtail the number of veterans who never returned—and increased the number of young men who would never become veterans.
They were confused.
Capitalism has made America great. It has done its job a little too well. We now have billionaires living mere yards from the poor—and so cleverly are our cities designed that no billionaire is significantly disturbed by the suffering of everyone around them. Of course, in rural areas, wealth requires fencing and guards. Only in crowded cities can the wealthy rely upon the zeitgeist to protect them from everyone else.
They aren’t scared.
People think that whatever society has been doing for a couple of years, is the way things have always been and will always be. People assume disaster will not strike, but they will confine themselves in straitjackets to avoid taking a risk. People can design five-stage Mars landers and then turn around and stub their toes.
Intelligence flits in and out, but dumb animality is the steady pulse behind all mentation.
I’ll tell you how I know that I’m right and the Trumpsters are deluded: I’m not getting any satisfaction out of this. This isn’t fun for me. I am not riotously celebrating the return of incivility. I’m simply resisting out of survival instinct. Reporters ask those glassy-eyed rednecks, on line for a rally, “Why do you believe Trump?” They invariably focus long enough to smirk, “I don’t really believe him, I just like his style.”
All they know for sure is that Trump will never correct their grammar or their addition—Trump will never tell them that they should read a book. Here in the 21st century, a guy like that is priceless. He won’t ask you to memorize your Social Security number, he won’t ticket you for parking in the handicapped zone, and he doesn’t give a damn if there’s Human Growth Hormone in your kids’ milk.
I began to write computer programs in the eighties—an early adopter who’s woefully behind the present. One striking memory that stays with me was the day I realized that a single typo, anywhere in the code, made the whole thing garbage. There is no mistake so small that a computer will ignore it.
People, OTOH, don’t like to ‘sweat the small stuff’. Historically, that has been human wisdom. That’s why it struck me—and stuck with me—to realize that could never apply to computers. That is their terror.
The monstrosity of two blips on an air-traffic-controller’s screen, meeting, then ceasing. If you’re not watching the screen closely, you won’t even see it happen—but your awareness, or lack of it, changes nothing about the two jetliners carrying hundreds of people, exploding into tragedy.
Trump and his ilk are sales hacks—they will never stoop so low as to sweat the small stuff—and we admire such bravado. But there is a choice we are all pretending we don’t have to make: we can concern ourselves with the small stuff and have a futuristic, global civilization—or—we can go on with the sloppy thinking and science-denying of the freakin middle ages.
We can’t have it both ways.
When your computer tells you that coastal cities will all flood in ten years, you can just buy a new computer. When disaster arrives, we can go back to caves. Or die out completely. Either way, the last 10,000 years will have been flushed down the toilet. But, hey, don’t sweat the small stuff.