I Can Dream—Can’t I?   (2016Jul31)

Sunday, July 31, 2016                                              3:06 PM

It’s very damp and cloudy today—but not as hot, so I shouldn’t grouse. I am so glad that there’s only a hundred days or so until the election—I’m tired of being tortured by the media—no reasonable person at this point could take Trump seriously as a candidate, or even as a man—he is seriously dangerous to our mental health, never mind our country. I love Hillary—but go ahead and hate her if you must—just don’t vote for the GOP’s psychotic demagogue, please (even they don’t like him).

That’s where I am with this election—no more finely reasoned arguments, no more he said-she said—the question has been answered many times in many ways and I’m done. Trump can issue as many more lies and as much more bombast as he likes—I’m not listening anymore.

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So, let’s get back to ourselves. Forget the candidates. What would I like to see happen? That’s my new question. I’d like to see us build and renovate and repair. I’d like to see us hire and train and start new businesses and invest in new things, new ideas. I’d like to see us get serious about cryptography, hacking, firewalls, malware, and all the other threats of modern business and warfare—maybe a whole new branch of our military devoted to cyber-defense, with enough funding to tempt the top mathematicians and coders to civil service.

I’d like to see better training and oversight of the police—especially in trouble zones where police brutality against minorities is endemic. I’d like to see pot legalized, and other addictions treated as illnesses, not as crimes—and I’d like to see our prison system shrink down to where it is no longer a profit-center. In fact, it would be nice if our prisons could become actual rehabilitation centers that prepare inmates for re-entry into legit public life, preferably with voting rights and a chance at employment.

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I’d like to see free public health care and free tuition to local and state colleges. I’d like to see the rich have to pay more taxes—or any taxes, come to that—same with corporations. I’d like to see a full bench on the Supreme Court. I’d like to see legislators get elected who will pass laws—any laws—and it would be nice if they didn’t shut down the effing government, too—as long as I’m wishing.

I’d like to see a lot of changes in the world. But change is hard—if it wasn’t hard to change, I’ve have abs instead of a pot-belly. But I can dream, can’t I?

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I’d like to see community shops that are partially social settings—places that offer internet, coffee or other beverages, newspapers, maybe hot food—places where you don’t have to buy anything to hang out there—perhaps a sort of partially public-funded ‘town square’ for the twenty-first century. Maybe there could be a bunch of low-cost housing nearby, and bus stops or subway stations. Imagine a mini-mall that’s more about community than commerce.

What choice do we have? All commerce is happening online mostly now—and, absent Pokemon Go, everybody is sitting at home. We have to find new social interactivities or we’ll all end up in closets with VR headsets our only window on reality.

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And there’s something else the 21st century needs—we have to face the fact that working for a living, in an age of automation, robotics, and partial AIs, is an outmoded concept. We have to start thinking in more socialist ways—we have to accept that everybody deserves a decent life, and an occupation—even when all the old work is being done at the push of a button, and is owned by a handful of autocrats. I’ve talked about this before—it’s just common sense, with a teaspoon of extrapolation.

‘Earning one’s way’ in life is an old tradition—it won’t be easy to work out how we all live in a world where we don’t have to work—where we can’t work—and it’ll be even harder to convince the super wealthy that they don’t own the Earth or the Human Race. But I can dream, can’t I?


From yesterday:


Collaboration   (2015Aug19)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015                                           1:03 PM

Pete came by yesterday—we killed our imaginary audience and made some recordings which I hope no one will mistake for Pete’s fault—if you look closely, you’ll see a very capable drummer trying to be nice to a totally awful piano-player. This mess is completely my responsibility. I almost never play with musicians because musicians, understandably, don’t go looking for half-assed collaborators—but Pete is an exceptionally kind soul and an old friend who is the exception that proves the rule.

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This is a picture of Pete and Spencer back in the day–If you watch Spencer’s walk-through on the video, you’ll see he’s grown some since this picture was taken.

I’ve been thinking about collaboration lately. As I’ve mentioned often in these posts, I think that people may have excellent self-control when the situation demands it but that humanity as a group, as a mob, has no brain and does whatever it does, crazy (or even suicidal) or not. We try to mitigate this with governments and other frameworks for group action—but even these foundations can only influence people en masse to a certain degree.

Take the Drug War as an example—with Prohibition as a historical precedent, we can’t be very surprised that the Drug War has been a complete failure—drug abuse is a part of the human condition. People will seek out recreational drugs just as they seek out alcoholic beverages. After all, life is a struggle and there aren’t that many features that offer unalloyed enjoyment—we can gain peace from our relationships and achievement from our endeavors, but not always—and it’s a struggle, win or lose. But a weekend spree is an easy and affordable escape from the rigors of the work-week and the number of people who choose to do without it will never be unanimous—criminalization simply complicates things.

Collaboration, cooperation,—even democracy—all also run up against the matter of people all being different in many ways. I heard the debate yesterday during the news reports of the first two women who passed the Rangers Training School requirements. As the closet-misogynist debated the moderate-feminist, they both had some confusion about the fact that average men have expected differences from average women, but the best of the best soldiers are exceptional people with above-average abilities, gender notwithstanding. Generalizations about gender roles do not apply when speaking of virtual Supergirls—although, rightly, we ought to take the hint that generalizations about gender all have that flaw to some degree—because we are all different.

Thus individuality and human nature are both obstacles to traditional governments and other organizing frameworks—yet they are both strengths as well. Perhaps our paradigms of organization are at fault. Churchill once opined that ‘Democracy isn’t a perfect form of government—it’s just better than all the others’. And I feel that we have become sophisticated enough to look at democracy (and capitalism, for that matter) and start to face that fact—having found systems that outdo more ancients customs is great—but is it the best we can do?

For that matter, can Democracy and Capitalism coexist without one cancelling the other? We see many examples where capitalism has infringed on the democratic process recently—but there are also times when the force of majority rule outdoes the primacy of property. We aren’t really being honest about this whole subject—we’ve been too busy defending democracy from fascism and capitalism from communism to allow ourselves to question their basic values.

While Democracy and Capitalism fight it out (and while we pretend that they work together) we have a third player—religion, or Christianity, since I’m speaking primarily of the USA. Many conservatives will insist that religion is a bedrock value—in spite of the fact that we are famous for sidelining religion from our governing principles. They’ll put on their blinders and assure us that ‘religious freedom’ was only meant to apply to the different Protestant sects of Christianity—as if that made sense, and full ‘religious freedom’ didn’t.

This is partly a failure to understand history—in much the same way that conservatives insist that our constitutional guarantee of ownership of flintlock rifles translates into prowling the Wal-Mart with semi-automatic weapons. But it is also a failure to understand religion, as a concept. Most people of faith make the mistake of counting their religion as the truth, while all other religions are, at best, to be tolerated. But Truth and Faith are not interchangeable—particularly in the situation where we have allowed for the existence of more than one form of faith.

What the original colonists did was recognize that even a single individual’s unique faith, with or without an established church, may be questioned as to its validity—but it can’t be made illegal. The opposite truth to that premise is that no one religion can be made the legal faith under our government. Basically, we accept that citizens will have whatever faith they may or may not have, but the law will operate separately from any one faith. Anyone who seriously proposes that America become a Christian nation is as much a threat to our way of life as the Communists were in the 1950s—even more so, since the Commies have had their day and faded away. ISIS would be a better example, come to think of it—both parties wish to transform us into a theocracy.

But let me return to collaboration. In science fiction novels, one gets the impression that the human race will expand outward, mimicking our behavior of the exploration era and the pioneering era. One gets used to the idea of the human race having a ‘destiny’—a place or a state that our future selves will eventually reach out to and evolve into. We envision a solar system busy with mining, colonization, exploration, and discovery—our little blue marble, Earth, just a single part of a civilization that calls the Sun its home. We even dream of FTL starships that allow colonization of other stars—a future civilization so vast and varied that imagination can barely envisage its size, never mind its nature.

Our gravity well, however, is no small barrier. If humanity is ever going to go beyond Earth, it will have to involve tremendous collaboration. At this point in modern technology, we will need tremendous collaboration just to survive at all. Where does the motive come from? How do we mobilize our efforts towards the survival of humankind when we have never had to worry about it before? Up until now, we’ve been so sure that the Earth is invulnerable to our attentions that we have never considered it a factor in our decision-making. The whole debate over climate change is really just humanity trying to convince itself that we’ve outgrown that simplicity.

Our systems of government, of commerce, and our cultures have all developed under the mistaken mindset that humanity can do whatever it will—we are slowly coming to grips with the fact that this is no longer true.

Part of our problem is that heretofore we have assumed that the point of life was the afterlife—that we should concentrate on living our own individual lives under the tenets of our faiths because the important part, the afterlife, will be affected by how well we follow the rules while living. No part of human culture actually emphasizes the importance of species survival—‘God’ made us, so naturally we can’t be unmade unless ‘He’ decides to unmake us. Climate change, drought, chemical and oil spills, and nuclear waste make it clear that we can certainly unmake ourselves—there’s nothing religious about it, it’s just a fact.

So now we have to turn from our focus on our individual afterlives to the maintenance of the survival of the human genome, and to Gaea—or whatever you choose to call the overall biome of the Earth. For we have two ‘afterlifes’—one is a spiritual belief, the other is our offspring. To reach the first one, we have to be mindful of ethics. To protect the second we will have to begin having ethics as a group—something we’ve never had, and something I have no idea how we’ll ever attain. The alternative is to remain the simple, global mob we’ve always been—and just wait for the lights to go out.