Good and Bad (2017Jun26)


20170628XD-StarBase

Monday, June 26, 2017                                            9:30 PM

Good and Bad   (2017Jun26)

We had a lot of good stuff before the world became industrialized, polluted, and overpopulated. But we had to give that good stuff up in the name of progress. There’s a lot of good stuff in idealistic youth, fresh from school. But we have to teach them to be cynical, distrusting, and acquisitive before we consider them grown men and women fit for the business world.

For humanity, something isn’t really useful until it’s been broken in—our sweetest gift is a handful of flowers, cut down in their prime, with only days to droop before they are thrown away. Not that I disapprove of flower bouquets—but they are, objectively, murdered plants—and that’s the way people like them.

I’ve always been fascinated by the muddy mess of the old Main Streets. See, before paved roads, every street in town became a muddy, impassable obstruction. Back in those days, there was never a big patch of mud, unless people were there. What strikes me about this is that even before exhaust pipes, factory chimneys, diesel engines, or chemical plants that dumped toxic waste in the rivers—even before all that, people were messing up every place they gathered in groups larger than a tribe.

Which is why the muddy obstacles were found in settlements’ and boom-towns’ streets—and not in the Native American villages. Even the slightest deviation from the hunter-gatherer tribal traditions (like a higher population density) would have changed things—and whether change is good or bad, I tend to admire the fact that there was a terrible balance in their lifestyle.

Think of it—coast-to-coast, groups of people living solely off the land—in comparatively miniscule numbers, sure, but with zero infrastructure that wasn’t already being supplied by Mother Nature. And before their feistier, paler brethren came sailing up, they hadn’t even needed to spend a dime on national defense.

I’m telling you, Europeans didn’t so much discover the New World as find the corner of the world that they hadn’t already ruined, deforested, overhunted, or incubated plagues in—and then proceeded to ruin that New Corner as fast as they could (experience tells, right?) And their specialty—weapons and war—made it easy to wipe out any previous residents, wherever they went.

Ironically, the reason the New World was so full of un-ruined goodness was because Native Americans kept it that way—and the Europeans judged them too inferior to hold claim on their land (or their lives), partly because they weren’t sophisticated enough to have ruined it all, already, themselves. That’s what you call a ‘bitter irony’.

Thus I always feel that when we discuss people, humanity, whatever—that we have to talk about two kinds of people—the kind of people we were evolved to be, by nature, and the kinds of people we learn to become, as part of civilization. These two very different aspects of humanity are nevertheless melded into each personality.

Virtually no one is so civilized that they don’t breathe air—nor so natural as to never use money. Some of us dream of going forward—colonizing the solar system, where there is no air. Some of us dream of going backward—to a naturalism so idyllic that money becomes obsolete. Trekkies dream of both—but there are very optimistic types, don’t you think? Still—beats pessimism.

20170628XD-HunterGatherers_(G_Caselli_73)

Lachrymosa Regina   (2016Feb06)


Saturday, February 06, 2016                          9:43 AM

Struggle, Weep, And sacrifice

Snuggle, Sleep, And love a wife

Burgle, Beat, And stab a knife

Gurgle, Bleat, And laugh at strife

Wiggle, Crawl, Behind the lies

Giggle, Beam, As sun will rise

In the olden times, a man could spend all day chopping wood—and he’d have been a hard-working, responsible adult with profitable employment; a woman could spend a week sewing a single fancy dress—and she’d have been considered quite clever and industrious. Today, either person would be considered to be wasting their time. The Bayeux Tapestry took an army of ladies-in-waiting, through three separate reigns, over many years, to complete—today it could be scanned into a digital loom’s memory and printed out in a few days’ time—possibly a few hours.

Travel was simpler in olden times—it simply wasn’t done. Those few times when anyone left their home for somewhere more than a mile off was called a Pilgrimage—and it was the event of a lifetime. Even in the beginning of the nineteenth century a trip up the Rhine from say, Bonn to Vienna, was a week-long excursion that took the form of a traveling celebration—I learned this today from reading a biography of Beethoven which describes just such a journey. Before trains (and then cars) travel was, and had always been, at a walking pace—nobody ran, and a team of trotting horses was considered positively speedy.

Communications were only possible within shouting distance—anything further off, and you had to write a note and have someone carry it to the person you wished to speak to. Medicine was as famous for its frauds and failures as for its rare successes. In short, life was simpler. The question that harries me is this: is life required to be simple? Are people who evolved to chop wood and sew their clothes capable of being happy in a world of traffic-jams, I-phones, and 3D-printers?

The popularity of Zumba classes speaks to our need to go out of our way to find some semblance of the exertion that our bodies have evolved to expect—exertion that our bodies, to some extent, need to remain healthy. The popularity of Zen, Yoga, and meditation speaks to our need for quietude—and to how difficult it is to find in our modern lives. Our interest in gourmet cuisine shows that even when food can be prepared in seconds, we are happier when we can make a production of its preparation, and a ritual out of its serving and its consumption.

The entire human race is, to some extent, being hauled forward through time, like a child being marched down the sidewalk by an impatient parent. We are given no time to appreciate our surroundings, no time to contemplate our simple existence, and no escape from the arcane complexities that our lives have come to contain. When we began to rebel against the childish despotism and the simple-minded morality of past centuries, we also began to distance ourselves from our childish nature. Today’s pre-pubescent middle-schooler has more sophistry than the most jaded courtesan of a few hundred years ago—and while that includes the blessing of women’s liberation, it also requires a maturity that may exceed our natural limits.

Complexity and self-control are assumed by the heralds of Progress—it’s taken for granted that, if man can create automobiles, for instance, then man is capable of using automobiles correctly. Highway safety statistics put the lie to that assumption—even after we’ve created protocols for testing, licensing, and registering drivers—and created highway patrols to enforce safety regulations. Weapons offer another example of technology being embraced without any thought for its dangers—as do drugs, banks, and computers. All of these ‘wonders’ present us with as many risks as benefits. Hence the growing complexity.

Only a student of history can envision how completely modern civilization has severed itself from its roots. Humans used to be fairly fancy animals—we had risen above bestiality, but we still bustled about with simple tools—we were animals that had found a few handy shortcuts. Today’s human can go for years without leaving a paved surface, a home, or an office—they never have to plant anything, dig anything, or exert themselves in any way—yet their food will be cooked, their clothes washed, and their homes kept warm (or cool, if needed). Money is involved of course—which means a job is probably involved—but in these times, a job doesn’t mean real work—it means something quite different from chopping wood or making clothes by hand.

This is a philosophical discussion, of course—we are well past the global population size that could have been supported in olden times, using man-power-based agriculture and transportation—so it goes without saying that we can’t go back. There’s no need to point out that I would be uncomfortable without the luxury of running water or flush toilets—I’m not unconscious of the blessings of modern life—nor is there any need to point out that democracy and free speech are an improvement over absolute monarchies or theocracies—I’m actually a big fan of human rights. But it would be jejune to imply that Progress comes without cost—many an immigrant to America has testified to the subtle panic at suddenly realizing total personal freedom—the right to make our own decisions is also a heavy obligation.

The strangest part of modern life is that things that once seemed acceptable—natural human impulses—become either impossible or criminal. Whittling was once a popular pastime—someone would pick up a piece of wood and starting carving it with a knife. Nowadays, carrying a knife is considered somewhat belligerent—and finding wood on the ground is a rare thing—and the pile of shavings might even get you a ticket for littering. Spitting used to be a common affectation—spittoons were once profligate, attempting to keep the mess of indoor spitting to a dull roar. People used to be more careless—and far less mature. It was 1920 before anyone even recognized that excessive drinking was a problem—and then, of course, we overreacted—childishly.

Are people still childish at times? Of course they are. My question is should we expect humanity to be as adult as a modern civilization requires them to be? I suspect we have over-reached ourselves. If we consider the sophistication of global issues in modern times—and contrast them with the regressive attitudes of the Republican party—we see a picture of hosts of immature, thoughtless people railing against the constraints of modernity—they want a return to conformity, bigotry, and dogma—and while we may all agree that they are wrong, we must still ask the question: are we asking too much of the human race as a whole?

When Einstein first published his Relativity work, it was famously incomprehensible. When Turing first published his work on automated computing, it too was beyond the understanding of people. Both Einstein and Turing had insights so profound that even the best and brightest of their peers had trouble comprehending them—and the public at large was left with buzz-words and jokes about relativity being gobbledy-gook. And Turing wasn’t helped by having his work kept secret for fifty years—Einstein was fortunate to have achieved his fame before the atom bomb made his work a state secret. And even before the bomb, public opinion was encapsulated in “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931, which includes the lyric “Yet we get a trifle weary with Mr. Einstein’s theory. So we must get down to earth at times, relax, relieve the tension…”

And let’s face it—while far simpler, Edison’s electric dynamo, the combustion engine, and even Watt’s primitive steam engine, while familiar to us in concept—are also beyond the ability of most people, myself included, to explain in any detail. We are surrounded by mystery—reassured only by the assumption that if we studied engineering, we could probably understand these things. But that doesn’t change the fact that only one in a million people truly understands how most of our technology really works. It works—is the most we know about most things.

Our Constitution, while not technological, is also a complex invention that most people do not fully understand. And I’m not talking about internecine debates in the Supreme Court over fine legal points—I’m saying that too many of the people who live by, or at least under, our Constitution don’t have a firm grasp of its basic points. The fact that the world’s greatest democracy also enjoys the lowest voter turnout per capita for its elections is just one of the failings I could place in evidence. The evangelicals’ lobbying for theocratic legislation is another. These people obviously have no understanding of the system. Conservatives used to do their best to suppress free speech—reaching a high-water-mark during the red scare of the McCarthy Era—now, neo-cons have flipped the script, embracing ‘free speech’ as a license to ignore the rules—the so-called ‘teaching of the controversy’. But dumb is still dumb.

People are dumb. We are children—I’m sixty years old and I still have to remind myself to act like an adult. While I would never advocate giving in to the regressives, I think we need to ask ourselves—how far can we push ourselves in certain avenues while merely maintaining the status quo with others—or more to the point, pretending that there are no other avenues? We can push ahead with technology and social change—but if we don’t match that with some progress in pluralism and income equality—if we don’t delve as deeply into the quality of human nature as we do into changing the ways we live—we court chaos—and disaster. The hell with courting it—we live in chaos, on the edge of global disaster. And it seems to me we don’t have the sense to even ask ourselves why.

It’s the proverbial modern dilemma—how do you fix a car while you’re driving it down the freeway? Stopping, much less going backwards, is not an option. I believe we need to broaden our understanding—to go beyond economic absolutism, beyond political demagoguery—to seek working compromises between personal liberty and social support programs—between ownership and responsibility for others. We need to envision a world without starvation and war and slavery—and ask ourselves: how do we get there from here without dropping a stitch? And most importantly—how much do we need to ask of ourselves to get there—and do we have that much to give?

2044


20140207XD-NASA-CrescentMoon_n_Ert_s_Atmosphr

Friday, February 07, 2044          6:59 PM

20140108XD-NASA-11807630193_b237750226_k

Farewell:

I’m the one. Fate had to pick someone to be here, now, at the end. Well, not the end—you know what they say about endings. Say rather at our leave-taking. And I am the one who last boards the last shuttle, after all the others have embarked. I look around—not too bad, ‘though pretty bad, of course—but there’s hope of recovery in a distant future…

20140123XD-NASA_vog_in_s_pacific

Take-Off:

As I strap myself into the lift-seats in the Maintenance section (back of the rocket, as it were) my mind is suddenly filled with the enormity of it—here we are, following in the footsteps of the Fell, taking wing into the cosmos. As I leave this planet, we repeat a step that many have taken—the Fell, and who knows how many sentients before them. We say good-bye to planet Earth.

20140110XD-NASA-OrbitalScienceCorp-AntaresRocket

MRB 2:

The ‘ancient aliens’ nuts had it partly-right—we weren’t the first ones here—but we came from here—we evolved within the mega-ecology of the ‘virgin’ Earth. The way it was told to me was that the Fell left Earth for good, many millions of years before we did. Once they had left—and enough time had passed—this holy planet reverted to its teeming oceans, crowded with whales, sea-beds covered with lobsters—forests grown so profusely that a person couldn’t walk into one, never mind walk through one. The plains spread out over fertile lands packed with maceratory herds—and permafrost and sand covered the cold and the arid. Flocks of birds once again filled the skies, sometimes, during migrations, blocking out the sun for days.

20130411XD-NASA-Sun_s_Corona

That’s what makes it holy. No matter what damage we do to her—we eventually do one of two things: we disturb this place until it can no longer support us—or we wise up and hit the road—and having done either of those things, we relieve the Earth of her burden of sentients—and she re-purifies herself.

20111108XD-NASA-spacewalk

MRB 3:

Eventually, even the metals used to make orbital-labs and satellites will come back down to where they came from, back into the Earth. It’s isn’t a fast process. It takes long enough that by the time a new sentient species evolves, it has petroleum underground and rare metals scattered all over the world. Those millions of years—those are ‘user-transparent’ (as we used to say)—the new species will never have any inkling that their world has been used before. In the face of supereons, even gems and stainless steel parts become dust in the wind.

20140203XD-NASA-W49B_supernova

Orbit Approach:

There’s a trick to it—that’s why all sentients are clever—if you miss the tricky part, you never leave. Earth is a playpen—each of the new, sentient species must grow up in it. You can just imagine how much time it takes an entire civilization to grow up—hell, even thirty years ago we had no idea of the ‘trick’.

20140206XD-NASA_venus_full

But we got lucky—some gal with enough money to make herself heard managed to convince some people to prepare for leaving Earth, and they convinced others, etc. until it became a world-wide issue. Leaving Earth is the tricky part—the Earth is a great place to grow up—but being confined to a playpen as a teenager is simply wrong. Our survival depended on our maturity—if we lacked the courage to leave the nest, we would stay there until starvation ended us.

20140120XD-NASA-BigOlXplosion

Trans-Earth Orbit:

So we had a world-wide consensus (not without detractors, of course) by 2030. The next decade was an epic parade of cooperative construction on massive ships, colonies, and space-platforms. Countless boosters pushing away from Earth’s gravity-well filled the horizon like distant fireworks. A few scientists began focusing on the technology that would transform space-debris into water, atmosphere, fertilizer, and building materials. Sub-ecologies, like Kansas farmland and Louisiana rice paddies, had to be transported to labs where they could be the ‘sour-dough’ that we would use to create new fertile growing areas amidst the vacuum of space.

20120131XD-NASA-WesternEuropeAtNight

The whole project was weakened by lack of a plan to get everybody off the planet—until, in 2038, materials science finally gave us Arthur Clarke’s holy grail—a space elevator! Ethical qualms thus reassured, the only remaining difficulty was the significant number of people that didn’t want to go. Removing people against their will was a non-starter—we weren’t going to do this if it demanded blood on our hands—our future voyage, as mankind, could not begin with a mass murder.

20130927XD-NASA-MilkyWay

The problem was picked at—turns out that any one past menopause wasn’t a problem, anyone too young would be legally required to go with their families, and most adults that didn’t want to go weren’t all that ambitious. Holdouts were informed that most factories and industrial facilities would be destroyed as a final, helping hand on Earth’s long voyage to its next sentient explosion.

20131126XD-NASA-ngc4921_colombari_3984

Station V-5:

Great, curved windows showed the glowing, blue ball with the white stripes. There were less than a hundred-thousand humans remaining on our old playpen—scattered widely enough that they’ll never join up, in small enough groups that inbreeding will doom them, if it isn’t something else first. What reasoning could be done had been done—they know the same facts. They’re just downright ornery—who knows? Maybe that’s the last cut of the umbilical—shedding the downright ornery, those so well adapted to their cradle that they will die in it rather than be discomfited.

20121007XD-NASA-Spacex2_launch

I think of the billions of us out here, a fledgling civilization, not even ready yet to pass across to neighboring stars—and how long it will take us to fill up our new home and suck dry the solar system’s vast resources. And I wonder if it will last long enough for humanity to reach for the stars.

20140202XD-NASA-Cas-A

No Headlines


Can it be true? Has it come to this? It was bad enough when ambitious, young entertainers could no longer dream of the day they’d be a guest on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”. Now the newspaper industry is dying—soon no one will be able to dream of someday being “in the headlines”! These social lynchpins connected us to each other, just as Sunday once brought communities together each week. People don’t ‘gather’ anymore. Well, sometimes they do, but it’s called “Occupy” Wall St., or wherever they happen to be gathering.

Summer campgrounds once gave us mini-communities, in which vacationing families would see each other as neighbors for the duration of the vacation—comments about how the kids have grown, or a new baby, or the latest Coleman camping accessory—even when we went away from our communities, we just formed new, temporary ones with whoever was at the same campground. No theme parks. No Hyatts. Just a bare patch of dirt in the woods, ready for tent-staking, and a lakeside beach for relaxing, while the kids ran themselves to exhaustion….

Where else have we stopped connecting with each other? Everywhere except the internet. But people give the Web too much credit—I bet a lot of people who are separated from each other find that ‘skyping’ is just as distant and unsatisfactory as a phone call used to be—communication, but no warmth, no flesh.

One of the things that contributes to culture shock when visiting some other countries is the total absence of internet access—and sometimes even electricity. It’s funny to think that in many communities around the world, people still are born, live their lives and die without ever using electricity. I suppose the Amish might understand, but I’d be at a total loss in such a place.

As time passes, I seem to focus more on the things that are leaving, or already gone, than the things that are new. Take ‘Skyping’ as an example—I have no desire to Skype somebody—but in my twenties, I would have lunged at that. Much of new technology guarantees two things:  (1) Something a bit more charmingly civilized will be lost. And (2) Our remove from our forebears (and from the present Third World cultures) gets wider and wider.

Think of this modern rash of ‘school shootings’—could we, back when we were students, have gotten away with anything like that? No, we were living in each other’s laps, compared to the way families live today. And obesity—that was a practical impossibility back in, say, the 1950’s—daily life simply required more movement and activity than is needed today.

That is not to say that all that communing was always a good thing—there were lynch mobs, riots, secret brotherhoods, lots of bad things—but a total lack of any ‘mingling’ in our daily lives is such a departure from our heritage. Is community activity a necessary part of a happy culture? Have we lost in Civilization what we gained in Progress?

I am, perhaps, more attuned to this, due to my shut-in-like lifestyle—most folks my age are still interacting with society a lot more than I do. But I can see in young people (including our own) a tendency towards solitary activity—even when communing with each other, they commune online. I think flash mobs are in some ways a result of the lack of actual connection between an online group of friends—they organize a brief meeting and an organized interaction, then all walk away like nothing happened. But, that may be the only time something actually happens in their lives, sans keyboard and mouse.

It worries me.

Mandelbrot On The Brain


20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot05

Monday, April 22, 2013      1:13 PM

Perhaps our imaginations are Mandelbrot equations that have evolved in our brain matter to follow the line of analog rather than that of awareness—we cease to see the thing and imagine a something that is like the thing, but only in a way—in another way, it is quite different—and the biochemical equation fills in the blank. Do you know how a thing is just beyond your mind’s awareness? When you can feel it there, lurking under the scrim of conscious memory, and it isn’t that you need more time—it’s just that you have to re-orient your mind to finally grab ahold of the thing, the word, the idea, the, the,..

20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot06

“    That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:

A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,

Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle

With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.”

–        EAST COKER

(No. 2 of ‘Four Quartets’)

T.S. Eliot

I see all these fantasy-based series on Syfy and HBO—and the recent spate of fairytale-themed movies, ‘Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Jack the Giant Killer”, etc. and then just now I’m watching the made-for-TV TNT Movie of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s classic, ‘The Mists of Avalon’. And I realize that we have to embrace magical thinking.

20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot04

I’m not saying it is the truth, I’m just saying we have to embrace it—as much as we need to simulate our animal-selves’ existence (exercise and diet) to keep our bodies healthy, we also need to recognize the importance that mystery played in our earlier civilizations—with regard to our mental and emotional well-being.

Prior to the Enlightenment, there was primitivism and religious devotion—no third option. No one ‘knew’ anything, the way we think of ‘knowing’ something, today. Everything was up for grabs—a demon might chase you; a witch might enchant you; you could fall asleep for forty years and return to a home that has nearly forgotten even the memory of you; you might be imprisoned within a stone—or there might be a magic sword in there, instead. God could stop the Sun in the sky—and no one dared question it. That one little problem was actually what began our descent into businesspersons—astrologers had been observing the sky’s signposts for millennia—even the Old Testament was young compared to Astrology. Then came telescopes, and before you know it—well, now it’s out there.

20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot03

You can persecute stubborn-minded astronomers for a few centuries but, in the end, with planetary observations that stretched back to the earliest records of civilization, supported by magically-enhanced vision via the telescope, the truth was in the math for anyone to see—and then a bunch of other things, and then the Enlightenment happens. People begin to see that there is a certainty in the world that even the most terrible magician can’t refute—basically, they accepted arithmetic as more axiomatic than faith. One cannot make measurements of magic, and one cannot allow magic in mathematics.

20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot02

But even this would not have been a problem if we hadn’t reached a point where literacy and public discourse could root out the smoke and mirrors of magical belief, and shine a light on, —well, on bullshit, to put it bluntly. And in many ways, particularly in terms of human rights and democracy, the routing of magical thinking from our daily lives is a great blessing. However.

Religion is part of the old, magical-thinking-type way—and there are lots of people who would get angry at that statement for two reasons: one, their religion isn’t some hocus-pocus Las Vegas magician’s act!—and two, their religion transcends mathematics. So, we find ourselves very prettily stuck in a barrel—we can either drop the barrel to stand in the naked truth, or we can tote that barrel around while we try to lead a sensible life. I’m for dropping it, but then I’ve never been much of a stickler for form. And form is nothing to sneeze at.

20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot01

T.S. Eliot was known to be very attracted to rites and rituals—his conversion to Anglican was as much to regain some magic in his life as it was a shunning of agnosticism. He called it ‘meaning’, but I call it ‘magic’. As a lifelong atheist, I can attest to the emotional toll it takes to turn ones back on fairy tales. If I could make the slightest pretense of faith, I would work its last nerve—let me tell you—‘magic’?—much better way to go through life—illusory, vestigial, irrational?—of course. But, still, the way our minds are designed to work. Social interaction loses its coherence in a fully rationalized society—everything is a field of study but nothing is mysterious, unknown, or inconclusive. I know there are sub-atomic physics theories and cosmological theorems that will always glimmer in the distance—for that small group of people who can climb to the ridge of that mental mountain range. But for the rest of us there’s little more than electricity, clean water, medical insurance, and job security. There is no cathedral being built; there’s no crusade to fight against an exotically unfamiliar foe; there are no barren deserts for mad monks to wander in.

There is only the endless struggle against the brute animal that lives behind our eyes and the craven junky in our guts that’s willing to walk into traffic for something just out of reach and the hysterical, traumatized self-hater that’s always trying to break into our hearts.

20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot07

We need charismatic diversions, periods of wandering and wondering and being in awe. We need secrets—secrets kept from us and secrets we keep to ourselves. Any good therapist will tell you that is no way towards a healthy emotional life—that is the sort of thing that allows you to be manipulated, repressed, and overwrought. Which is true. The fact that we may need it to satisfy some other lack still remains, healthy or not, true or not, scientific or not.

Truth is truth and science is science—but that doesn’t make us happy, by itself. We need some blissful ignorance, perhaps a daily ride on a big roller-coaster—anything that will bring us to the face of eternity, even for a moment. Somewhere we can laugh in the teeth of a fiery dragon or soar on a magic carpet. Our species has spent all but the last few centuries feeling fear, hunger, lust, wonder, and curiosity—do we really think we can be okay with a desk job and a cable TV?

20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot08

Life on a Go Board


ancienmanor

I don’t like it when words are used as stones on a Go board, or statements used as chess-pieces—those are combat simulations—since when did communication become combat? For that matter, when did words become the only form of communication? Actions speak louder than words, but words, or perhaps videos’ scripts, are considered a life-connection from you or me to someone halfway round the world. Am I really connected to those people? Funny story (you know I accept friend-requests from anyone) this new Facebook-friend of mine only posts in Arabic—it’s beautiful stuff, but I don’t even know the basic phonemes of that written language—and I had to ask him to tell me his name (or equivalent sound) in Roman script.

I don’t want to get into a debate here about argument. Formal argument, or debate, is certainly useful and productive—as is regular old arguing, when it’s done with restraint or when its goal is an elusive solution or resolution. The Scientific Method, itself, is an implied debate—a conflict between prior theories and the new theories that overthrow them—or that are overthrown thereby—no, I’m not saying that communication isn’t rife with conflict—my purpose here is to discuss other forms of communication and sharing. So, please, let’s not argue (—jk).

ancienMask

I finally realized that all these unsolicited friend requests from the Mid-East were because I was using a photo of Malala Yousafzaya as my Profile Pic! I’m glad—now I know they’re not shadowy extremists trying to cultivate an American connection—they are instead the liberals of their geographic zone.

Such international friends frustrate me—the lack of words that I don’t type could be just as offensive as any thoughtless words I post—and there are plenty of those. I wish I knew what they were. Whenever someone wants to Facebook-friend me as their American friend, I start right in on criticizing all their grammar faux pas and misunderstood colloquialisms—they love it—that’s what they want from their American friend. I’m afraid geek-dom knows no borders—only my fellow geeks from faraway lands appreciate criticism—I’m sure people with the Cool gene flock together across the datasphere as well (but then, I’ll never know—will I?)

ancienRug

But communication, as a means of sharing ideas and organizing cooperative efforts, is far more than a battle of witty words. Political cartoons, cartoon cartoons, obscene gestures, and ‘making out’ come first to mind—although there are plenty more examples. The Media (a term I use to denote People magazine, other newspapers and periodicals, radio, cable-TV, VOD, cable-news, talk shows, private CC security footage, YouTube and the omnipresent Internet.) I say… the Media is looking for trouble.

They aren’t broadcasting cloudless summer skies or a happy family sitting around the dinner table or the smoothly proceeding commuter traffic a half a mile from the traffic accident. And I don’t blame them. Their job is to entertain—that’s what pays their bills. And I don’t blame us, either. We are happier watching dramatic thrills than watching paint drying. There’s no getting around that.

And I won’t play the reactionary and suggest that we go back to a time when entertainment was a brief treat enjoyed, at most, once a week. Even the idle rich (and this is where that ‘idle’ part comes from) just sat around socializing when they weren’t at a fox-hunt or a ball. To be entertained was almost scandalous—think of it—in a deeply religious society, such escapism went against the morality of the times—and even as a once-a-week diversion, it was frowned upon not only to be a stage player, but to attend the performance, as well.

ancientseal

But entertainment, like a gas, expands to fit the size of its civilization—those old scruples took a few centuries to kick over, but once the digital age had dawned it seemed quite natural that everyone should have access to twenty-four-hour-a-day entertainment (call it ‘news and current events’, if it helps). And now we have people walking into walls and driving their cars into walls while they stare fixedly at their entertainment devices.

So, trite as the word may seem, Media is a mandatory entity to include in any discussion of the human condition. And more importantly, it must be a part of the Communication topic, as well—most especially with a view towards a formulation of culture that does not make conflict our primary means of sharing and informing our minds. So let’s recap—Entertainment equals drama equals conflict equals fighting (See ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’). Information equals scientific method equals discussion equals human rights (See ‘Bruce Willis’—jk).

capeBordr

To begin, there is one thing that needs to be acknowledged—learning is NOT fun. I’d love it if it was—I know fun can be used to teach some things—It’s a lovely thought—but, No. Learning is a process of inserting information into the mind. People talk a lot about transcendental meditation but, for real focus, learning is the king. To learn, one must be patient enough to listen; to absorb an idea, one must be willing to admit that one doesn’t know everything; to completely grasp a new teaching, one may even have to close ones eyes and just concentrate—nothing more, no diversions, no ringtone, no chat, no TV, no nothing—just thinking about something that one is unfamiliar with—and familiarizing oneself.

We forget all that afterward—the proof in that is that none of us graduate from an educational institution with the ability to ‘sub’ for all the teachers we’ve studied under. We have learned, but only a part of what was taught—it’s implications, ramifications, uses, and basic truths may have eluded us while we ‘learned to pass the class’. Contrariwise, our teachers may have bit their tongues—eager to share some little gem of Mother Nature’s caprice implicit in the lesson plan—and had instead put the ‘teaching of the class to pass’ before the ‘teaching of the class’.

dinPlate

And that is no indictment of teaching, that’s just a fact—it doesn’t prevent me from admiring great teachers. But I couldn’t help notice that great teachers always color outside the lines in some few ways. Teaching people to learn for themselves, with that vital lesson neatly tucked into the course-plan of the material subject of a course—it takes effort, discipline, and way more patience than that possessed by most of the rest of us—but it also requires an allegiance to the Truth of Plurality, that incubator of eccentricity.

merit

But we forget our Learning. It becomes something we simply ‘know’, something that we just ‘know how to do’. Part of good parenting is learning to teach well—young people have the luxury of just understanding something, while parents must struggle to figure out how to explain it, or teach it, to their children. And then we forget about that learning—and must scratch our heads again, struggling to explain ‘explaining’ to our grown-up, new-parent offspring. It’s a light comedy as much as anything else.

femIdol

So learning is not fun. There is a thrill involved, however, that is almost always worth the ticket price. The internet and the TV blare words at us in their millions, info to keep us up-to-date—just a quick update—and now there’s more on that—and we’ll be hearing a statement from the chief of police….—also, we are seduced by lush orchestrations or driven musical beats, by the gloss and beauty and steel and flesh of literal eye-candy, and that dash of soft-core porn that is the engine under the hood of so many TV series.

We see breaking YouTube uploads of rioting in a faraway land—we believe that our quiet little lives are nothing, that all our sympathy and concern should be spread across the globe to billions of strangers in distress. We are flooded with information by the Media—but because it’s the Media, only conflicts and crises are shown—the peaceful, happy billions of people that pass by those crowd scenes, that seek refuge across the border, that have families and generate love to whomever gets near enough—we don’t need to see them.

housOclay

But that isn’t true—it’s true for the Media, but it isn’t true for us. The Media can’t change—but we can be aware of its bias. We can take note of the fact that the Media should not be the major part of our dialogues with one another. Best of all, we can become aware of how much the Internet can teach us—if we can stop IM-ing and web-surfing and MOMPG-ing long enough to notice that the Internet is a hell of a reference book.

No, I’m not saying we should trust the Internet. I’m saying that the real information is there, and finding it and using it will be the road into the future that our best and brightest will walk along. They will pull their eyes away from the Mario Race-Cart, the YouTube uploads of kittens and car-crashing Russians, and George Takei’s Facebook page—and they will throw off the chains of Media and make it their bitch again, back where it belongs.

lareale

In WWII, fighter-group captains and flight-team leaders are always saying ‘Cut the chatter, guys—heads up!’ I think we need the same thing—everyone should have a little devil on their shoulder that says the same thing—“Hey! –so the Internet connects you to the entire civilized world—that doesn’t mean you have to say anything—it just means you can.”

Our high-tech communications infrastructure is no small part of the problem—the digital magic that flings words and pics and music all over the world bestows an importance and a dignity to our messages that many messages don’t deserve. Posting to the Internet is kind of like being on TV—it grants a kind of immortality to the most banal of text-exchanges—it can even be used against you in court—now, that’s very special and important—and now, so am I, just for posting!

precolumbnGoblet

So, yearning for the perennial bloodlust of Law & Order: SVU, our self-importance inflated, and our eyes off the road, we speed towards tomorrow. I hate being a cynic.

[PLEASE NOTE: All graphics courtesy of the Quebec National Gallery]

Saw A Documentary Today


Image

Thursday, January 31, 2013           11:42 PM

I’ve been watching the History Channel documentary, “The Men Who Built America”. American History allows for many approaches, many different types of foci from which to weave a narrative—this one takes up the stories of the early ‘titans of industry’:  Cornelius Vanderbilt (the Railroad tycoon), J.D. Rockefeller (the Oil tycoon), Andrew Carnegie (the Steel tycoon), and J.P. Morgan (the Banking tycoon). Eventually, the story arrives at the period of Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Trust-Busting’ reforms, and the tycoons that follow all have some aspect of their industry that builds on the edifice founded by these primary Robber Barons—and all have more oversight to answer to (in that those first titans operated without any restrictions other than those theorized by Darwin).

But I found it troubling in its pat-ness. The early efforts to unionize workers and mitigate the horrific burdens and dangers of the mills and factories were met with almost reflex violence. The management so thoughtlessly dumped harsh conditions upon the employees, simply in the pursuit of personal profits—but when these people objected, they were shot at, beaten, and harassed. The owners lowered wages and extended work hours until the steel mill workers were killing themselves on twelve-hour workdays and supporting their families on starvation wages. Then, when the management (a guy named Fisk) saw that the workers meant to unify in a strike, he hires Pinkerton ‘mercenaries’ and sends them to shoot into the strikers’ blockade line.

I just can’t get over the idea that, in those times, it was acceptable to treat the people who actually did all the work as underlings, not as equals, and to impose upon them the worst of both ends—long hours and low pay. As a ‘history lesson’ this documentary seemed to say, ‘Capitalism has always treated the hard-working employees as beasts—and we still do that very same thing in present-day business’. Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital ” was originally a piece of journalism more than a Communist Manifesto. Karl was simply pointing out the bare facts—that the rich and powerful took for granted the right to treat everyone else like dung to be scraped off their boots. And the only reason they got away with it was that workers were willing to accept the roles the bosses cast them in.

There is and has always been a bottom-line, survivalist ‘engine’ at the heart of civilization’s achievements—when I look at the Pyramids at Giza, I imagine generations of slaves being incentivized with club and lash; parts of the Great Wall of China were mortared with human bone and blood; the United States of America was the result of genocide of the natives and the buying and selling of ‘slaves’ kidnapped from another continent—and we don’t really have to talk about Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Late-Nineteenth-Century America, having newly crossed the threshold of the Industrial Age, would make of itself a great nation—with railroads crisscrossing from coast to coast, from southern Canada to northern Mexico, steel production for bridges and skyscrapers, electric lights, and oil—first used for kerosene lamps, until supplanted by Edison’s light-bulbs—when oil became even more important as gasoline for the new ‘horseless’ carriages. The issue of whether this could have been accomplished less savagely is moot—the past is past.

But I think it’s a cop-out to present our historically-energized progress of those times as something we ought to admire these bastards for making happen. Their rivalries, their compulsions, and their presumption of superiority over the workers they persecuted—it wasn’t the only way to accomplish all those things. It was, in fact, about the most self-centered, vicious and destructive way to bring that modern infrastructure into being. Not to mention the pure, unashamed avarice they made no attempt to hide—the greed that was their only true goal. The eventual rise to greatness of 20th-Century America was, to some degree, an accidental by-product of the grasping, envious accumulation of wealth and power that consumed the lives of these ‘historical’ figures.

To top it all off, PBS had commentary-segments that allowed us to hear what today’s entrepreneurs had to say about these old-timey fat-cats—and there was real admiration on the faces of Donald Trump, Jerry Something-or-other (the big Hollywood producer), and a bunch of other shark-ish people who’d made a pile by ‘daring to be a-holes’ (my words, not theirs). Oddly, if you’d asked me what documentary film would benefit from these superficial money-grubbers’ thoughts, I’d have to think for quite a while—but bridging the gap between the Robber Barons of the past and today’s ‘Greed is good’ Masters of the Universe only drove the point home more painfully. Those early tycoons were interested in riches, power, and influence—and such people will always be with us.

With us, yes, but do we have no option other than to allow such people to be in charge of humanity’s destiny? In modern politics there is a tradition of admiring the take-charge types and playing dirty tricks against opponents and generally making that business one whom all sensible people avoid—the result is a political system wholly populated with people who seek power. We know that these people are the worst possible group to have governance over us—but no one with an ounce of integrity can bear to spend time among them, much less take part in their campaign rituals and power brokering.

But in Finance and Industry, the set-up is even more macabre—people inevitably nickname their business leaders as sharks, cut-throats, “take-no prisoners”, head-hunters, corporate raiders, swindlers, muggers, con artists, treacherous, lecherous coyotes and hyenas, embezzlers, and ‘masters of the universe’. That last I find spectacularly perverse, implying as it does both the ability to pilfer society, and the idea that doing so is the most important part of existence. The corporate owners and bosses don’t stop at misinformation, corruption, and sneakiness—no, for an honorable person to become part of this group, a willingness to accept bullying, crime, and violence—and to join in—is required.

Politics and business are old, old institutions—their cold-blooded predations against we common families and our mores were already ancient, long before the Americas were a glint in Columbus’s eye. The difference with America’s Industrial Era was, and is, that it gave the Rich-and-Powerful unstoppable power while also making the Earth a place where no one could go completely native, wandering away from civilization into terra incognita. The powers-that-be became unassailable and inescapable almost simultaneously.

So I think enough time has passed—we can reflect on the centuries gone by—we can see that they were savage and inhumane. And capitalism has had a great run—in conjunction with war, it has leavened civilization, lifting up our abilities and our technology. But these things have long ago outstripped the humanity that is our higher selves, our hoped-for goals as a global society. It is time to find a way to live that rises above commercial competition and the 1% controlling the other 99%–we need to get science-fiction-ey about this. Why not? Science Fiction, or what we imagined was science fiction when I was a young man, has sprinted past our reality and now finds us in a world that only the well-educated and tech-savvy can comprehend.

Yet amongst all this futuristic electronics, space travel, and Hi-Res 3-D we still act as if we are playing capture the flag, never being secure in our lives due to the constant competition. Competition is great, alright? It builds character and all that whoop-dee-do. But a global civilization like ours would be best served by individuals who see cooperation as their highest priority. Cooperation, not competition, is the key to surviving our own instincts, our violence, our greed, and our lust for power over each other. Pluralism and inclusion are the only answer if we ever hope to get past our divisiveness and bigotry. Religious tolerance is the only way to wrest power away from the zealots and reactionaries.

And we can never control our waste and pollution if we don’t stop competing for cash and consumables, real estate and natural resources. Great damage has been done to a fragile globe—but no one involved in its being laid waste can stop—others would simply step in and continue the waste in one’s place.

The United Nations seems to be a busted institution—what we need is a confederacy of nations that has the right and the power to do what we wish the UN could do—act as a leveler and a mediator, enforce justice without borders, and husband what is left of our Earthly legacy—our ecological balance and our evaporating non-renewable resources. We need a ‘super’ UN. And we need to call time on the game of ‘business’—even it if wasn’t a path to our self-destruction, it is too fragile a structure to be the bedrock of our existence. The Markets swing up and down with no discernible logic—and it doesn’t help that many traders and investors are just gamblers at heart; making risky bets that threaten even the most solid corporation.

We support people when they’re old or poor or disabled—we should be looking to government to support everybody and coordinate individuals’ efforts to meet needs, not market pressures. Impossible—yes, yes—I know. But it’s like Sherlock Holmes always says: “Once you have eliminated all other options, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true.” If we look at our present and think of our future (if any) it is the only way. Our love of liberty and freedom is all very well—but to confine it within only one or two nations’ borders makes a sham of the whole thing. We live well while other nations starve and suffer—while even some of our fellow citizens do the same.

What is the point of civilization, if it isn’t moving ever closer to a civil society? “The one who dies with the most toys wins”? Is that how it really has to be? Seems stupid—but what do I know? Seven billion people is a pretty big group for a ‘free-for-all’—without any intelligent plan to it, it’s just a bunch of animals overrunning the planet. Or am I missing something?