It Was Easy   (2016Jun23)

Thursday, June 23, 2016                                          4:33 PM

We had it easy—our biggest worry, back in the day, was the commies shooting off their ICBMs and making a crater of the globe (with the help of our retaliatory strikes, of course). But it was called MAD for two reasons—the obvious acronym, Mutually-Assured Destruction—but also because it was literally madness even to contemplate—and everyone knew it. We could worry about a madman getting hold of a bomb and starting something that would quickly get out of hand—but that was a long shot, mentioned mostly in novels of the ‘thriller’ variety. And no one seriously expected our governments to find any rational use for their nuclear arsenals—MAD, remember? Purely defensive, or so we would have it—don’t start none, won’t be none.

We didn’t worry about the environment—most of the pollution, and all of the data, would come later. Rachel Carson had made an iron-clad research project out of proving that the American Bald Eagle and other birds were endangered by the use of DDT as a pesticide, which caused egg-shell thinning and premature hatching. But we all took “Silent Spring” as a special case, a one-off complication. We were still fine with lead paint and asbestos insulation. Even the ecologically-minded were unaware of the build-up of consequences our civilization was beginning to have on our environment, and on ourselves.

We didn’t worry about energy—gas was pennies to the gallon—‘cruising’, the act of driving one’s car around just for fun, was a popular tradition among American teens—we wouldn’t have our first gas shortage until 1976. And even as we worried over OPECs surprising stranglehold on oil production, our concern was mainly over reliable supply-lines and the economic implications of foreign-oil dependence. Catalytic converters were invented only to reduce smog in crowded, car-choked cities—we were still decades away from any concerns over carbon-footprints and greenhouse gasses.

We didn’t worry about recycling—the first recycling drives were reliant on the need to do something with all the garbage—we were busy picking up trash along the highways or vacant lots and it all had to go somewhere. Lots of it was bottles and cans—and so a push began to make them all deposit-return containers—to compensate the collectors. Recycling as a concept, as a way to mitigate against runaway consumption, came later.

We were focused on trying to “Make America Beautiful”. At the time, it was considered more important to raise the fines and enforce the laws against littering—doing something with all that trash that used to line the highways came much later. I can still remember a time when, on family trips, the end of a fast-food meal was the act of jettisoning all the trash out the car window, at speed. Nor did we have to undo our seatbelts to do it—nobody wore those things. Of course, without them, or a speed limit, Americans on the highways were dropping like flies. Today’s highway fatalities, while still the number four killer, are nothing compared to our old stats—today’s roads are baby-proofed in comparison.

We had worries—sure. But we trusted our leaders. We thought the world too big to be vulnerable to our industry. We thought that faraway people who hated the USA only affected our travel plans, not our national security. Everyone watched the same TV shows—everyone listened to the same radio stations—we were connected as a culture. And we still felt that oppressing women and minorities and the disabled was just the way of the world—and being gay was still the ‘love that dare not speak its name’. It wasn’t right—but boy, was it simpler. The fine judgments of the politically correct were still decades away—on the other hand, we didn’t laugh at its complexity yet, either. We were still busy trying to laugh it off, deride it back into invisibility.

Part of our difficulty with the present is that our many problems, and our social progress, contribute equally to the growing complexity of life. Complexity is a big problem. You give everyone a computer network that they can carry in their pocket and what do they do with it? Well, some of us plan trips to Mars, sure—but most of us use it to meet for drinks or play games. You offer greater complexity to the human race and only a few will dive in—the rest will look for the ‘easy’ exit, like Twitter, Snapchat, or Angry Birds.

Complexity is a deceptive indicator—we don’t want our problems to become more complex, but we are okay with the needs of social justice making our interaction more complex. Well, perhaps we’re not ‘okay’ with it, not all of us, certainly—but we accept its inevitability. It stands to reason that making sure we override our assumptions, forcing the equality of persons who may have never enjoyed equal status—is a complex process. The political correctness of our speech is nothing compared to the complexities of legislating equal rights, not to mention enforcing that legislation. And all of this is working against the inertia of generations of handed-down bias and hate.

Certainly it would be easier to get rid of all that hate—then we wouldn’t need to legislate social justice. But some things need to be brought out in the open—people can be childishly secretive, especially when their hearts tell them there’s something not quite right about their behavior. Domestic abuse, child abuse, corporal punishment—these things are still problems that trouble us—but the numbers are way down. Not so long ago, beating your spouse or your children—that was a personal decision you made behind the privacy of your own front door. And if things got bad enough that the authorities became involved, they turned a blind eye to whatever madness the head-of-the-household was indulging in. Now it is recognized as the felony it always should have been—and for the most part is treated that way (though pockets of ignorance persist).

My point is that if such obvious evil has traditionally been hugged to the patriarchs’ bosoms throughout most of history—if denying them that outrageousness is so relatively new—then we can see how much more difficult it is to try to limit prejudice and bias (merely mental violence) in our daily lives. The fact that some people ridicule political correctness just demonstrates how small they see that evil as being. They target the most progressive view possible, which admittedly can often have paradoxes and growing pains from being so new a concept—and deride the least thought-out aspects of it, as if that negated the value of social justice itself. Niggling whiners—they cherry-pick the weakest faults of the new, yet have beams in their eyes when it comes to the monstrous faults of the familiar, old ways.

Evil has time on its side—and tradition. Human civilization grows like a goat-path, retaining every kink and twist of its caveman days—the push for social justice is an attempt to straighten some of those pathways. And not only because it is right—though it is justice we seek—but also because society is more efficient when it affords choice and opportunity to every individual, when the weak are not oppressed by the powerful.

Human nature is on the side of evil—we are naturally greedy, selfish, and demanding creatures. The history of legislation is the history of people trying to outmaneuver the rules—so of course it becomes very complicated. Everyone has got an excuse why they should be exempt from the sacrifices implicit in fairness. Even those who benefit from new legislation will sometimes seek ways to get more than their fair share of opportunity. We are none of us saints—even the downtrodden have urges. Make a rule, any rule—and you’ll find you need to make five more, to modify the first—then ten more, to modify the other five.

In truth, legislation only enables the bare bones of justice—it is only when our culture has absorbed the spirit of the law and begun to live in that spirit, that the rules work properly—and, ironically, that’s when the rules become extraneous, their job completed. Take seat belts—people began using them to avoid getting a ticket—now they do it for safety, and teach their children to use them, too.

Even seat belts have their complexity. At the advent of seat-belt legislation, many complained that wearing the original lap-belt was as likely to cause harm as prevent it. The head rest and the shoulder strap were added, which made seat belts effective safety measures under virtually any conditions. It wasn’t until after these improvements that seat belt legislation could be enforced (because the cops could see the shoulder strap)—but it also made wearing seat belts the sensible thing to do.

Yes, everything was easier in the old days—but not better. We often yearn for simpler times—but they were simpler because they were dumber—we were dumber. Nobody used to use a keyboard—except stenos, secretaries, bookkeepers, and keyboard players—we wrote things down with a pencil—and if we needed two copies, we wrote it down twice. Nobody knew how to connect up wires on appliances—if appliances needed wires, they came with—or an expert installed them. Now toddlers hook up their own video game consoles. People used to disappear from our lives forever—just by moving far away. If you really wanted to, you could write them a letter (with your pencil), glue a stamp on it—and a bunch of people would pass it back and forth until it ended up in a mailbox. Imagine. You can still do that, you know—I wonder if anyone does?

We didn’t worry about climate change—oh, it was happening—we just didn’t have a bunch of satellites collecting sensor readings on the atmosphere over years of time—or recording time-lapse proof of the shrinking of the polar ice and the glaciers. All of that information is very new—which is why backward-looking folks can pretend it isn’t real. Old folks call it new-fangled—but new-fangled information is still data—it won’t go away—we can never go back. Yet it’s hard to blame them for trying—I’d like to go cruising again, myself.

Blossoming

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

1:36 PM

galaxies appearing to collide

Galaxy ARP274

 

Blossoming

The 1960s were an era of blooming. Flower Power was the order of the day. When those first protestors stuck daisies into the barrels of the National Guard’s rifles—rifles that were pointed straight at the protestors and close enough for them to jam a flower stem into it—they began the revolt that was later assimilated into our culture. This was the dawning of the concept ‘think outside the box’, though no one would see the shift clearly enough to put into those words for another two decades. The 1950s had been a high-water mark for stultification in America. But that homogeneity was so pervasive that it became a weakness—a stiffness that almost dared you to deviate by so much as an inch.

In the 1960s, clever young college students (and even high school students) were taking that dare. The adult legions in their housing developments, automobiles, telephones, air conditioners and refrigerators, were enjoying a luxurious lifestyle compared to the three previous decades—a ‘middle class’—all of whom came from a prior poverty where such opulence as their present had been considered great wealth. They liked it—especially after getting back alive from a world war—and nothing their kids could say was gonna change that.

Blanket conformity like ours of the 1950s can be made to look ridiculous by something as simple as pretending to be unaware of the restrictions. If you have ever seen episodes of an old TV show, “Laugh-In”, you will note that the humor is pretty moronic. That such antics were enough to ‘scandalize’ audiences into ‘aren’t we naughty?’-tittering is both an example of how strait-laced our diversions had become, and an indication of how such boldness has gone from bravery, then –to commonplace, now.

Some young people saw ‘flower power’ primarily as a political statement insofar as forcing the issue into the basic ‘peace vs. war’, ‘hawks vs. doves’ arena—this made the geopolitical implications of the war in Viet Nam a moot point. Much was made of the great distance between our two nations, the lack of any immediate threat to US soil, and the youth of the soldiers being led to the slaughter. This damaged the premises which our government used to defend its policies, i.e. the ‘domino effect’ (the idea that, if Nam fell to the Commies, the Reds would just press on to the next victim-nation, and the next, ad infinitum.) This ‘controversy judo’, if you will, left Hippies free to brand themselves as “peace protestors” and the Establishment as “war-hawks. This was very powerful PR.

But others, including myself, saw ‘flower power’ as a philosophical quantum-leap—the idea that everything can be made light of (or, conversely, be made a looming tragedy) by ones approach, or point-of-view. This gives us the powerfully robust intellects of the digital age. Today’s budding scientists are not made de facto ‘monks in a cloister’ by those old assumptions (i.e. ‘geeks’ are inconsequential, space-flight is nonsensical, and racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism are all perfectly acceptable in our society.) Science is king (in business, finance and the military, anyway) even if the new, ‘indoctrinated from birth in closed communities’ Evangelicals (and other cultists) are making a brave stand against Reason.

We today are much more aware of the duality of things, the plurality of the open-mind, and the origins of the observable universe. We more easily accept the concept of 11-dimensional space (the other seven of which can only be inferred by theoretical physics), our new map of the Human Genome (the blueprints for making a healthy baby), the practicality of a permanent space outpost such as the International Space Station, and an understanding of the human brain that allows us to legislate against ‘cellphones while driving’ because we can clearly state that those two brain functions interfere with each other to a dangerous, often catastrophic, extent.

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Such open-minded-ness is not without its costs. We see bullying and exclusion of students leading, next semester, to armed murder sprees. We see people spouting the most self-serving nonsense become popular, respected Christians in our communities. We see finely honed pro athletes accidentally shooting themselves in the tuchas in nightclubs (cause they gotta be carryin’ if they want any street cred, yo!)—and celebrities exiting limousines pausing to flash their privates for the paparazzi. We see a lot of ‘crazy’ along with pluralism—it is more a balancing act than a philosophy. But in our technology-driven culture, most of us need a lot of knowledge—and those of us who can’t absorb enough become walking examples of the adage: ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.

Ending of Saturday, June 09, 2012           1:26 AM

[Wednesday, June 13, 2012         7:50 PM    New additions: ]

V                        V                            V

Where does that leave us? O, right, cyber-space! We have launched our civilization into cyber-space. Banks, Stock Exchanges, Military, Industry, Factories, record keeping of every kind, each and every transaction’s paperwork or contracts—and let’s not forget the fairly new ‘e-book’ push. The Times today announced that Thomas Pynchon, considered by most our greatest living novelist, has given his publisher permission to offer his works in ‘e-book’-form.

So, we are on the verge of replacing our school books, texts, references, and encyclopedias with electronic ‘books’. We’ve already (mostly) replaced paper checks, paper invoices & bills, paper receipts, typewriters…. Heck, we’ve even switched from ballpoints to felt-tips (felt-tips were unacceptable, pre-digital, because they didn’t leave an impression for the carbon copies on the sales receipts) because a data-file of a .doc ‘don’t need no steenkin’ carbons’ (if I may paraphrase Generalissimo Zapata).

Gone are the days of the gruff ol’grampaw who ‘just isn’t interested in those newfangled laptop-thingies’. If you want to talk to your friends, withdraw money from a bank, keep your photographs where you can share them with the rest of the family, or use the navigational system in the car to get anyplace at all—you’ve got to get in the pool and get wet. You must accept that you will have a life-time of hunting and pecking before you—a mouse is very useful, but there’s always gonna be some text input, i.e. typing. You must accept that every little blip on the screen display, even the different colors of the text-words (when it’s also a hyperlink) all of these tiny details are important. You must accept help from your grandchildren when you get stuck.

But mostly we just have to accept that we are now the most ignorant segment of society. All of our hard-earned knowledge is now garbage, all of our hard-won experience is more likely to mislead us, than guide us, through cyber-space. We must remember that the ethics of our youth are considered quite naïve—weaknesses that others will only exploit, never share.

Still, this discomfort, coming so late in life, is very exciting—and we know we won’t be here long enough to see even today’s perspective become quaint and dated—as it must, as every age has. The real victims are the low-IQ folks—even if they get full-on support at home, at school, for medical or therapy requirements—even the best case scenario—will still leave the learning-disabled unarmed in a world of speed and complexity and competition.

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Speaking of IQ—it wouldn’t surprise me if the test has to be recalibrated in future to account for the rise in over-all IQ-strength needed to hold even a minimum-wage service-industry job. If legislation hadn’t passed so promptly, the texting-while-driving error would have swiftly winnowed out, in hyper-Darwinian fashion, the less sensible drivers among us. Then again, they may have taken out plenty of smarter, innocent car-full’s in the process!

Yes, perhaps I will have to reconsider this issue of increasing complexity in everyday life, and the bad position duller-minded people may find themselves in—it’s equally likely that their lack of comprehension will result in more oppressive government. If we can’t trust citizens to understand what they’re doing—well, of course, we’re gonna need to put some slight restraints on peoples’ activities, right? Yes, the intelligentsia will chafe at the bridle—but who listens to a bunch of eggheads anyway….

Ah, Flower-Power, where are you now? Have we gone beyond our blossoming, into the mulch of history?