Archive for October, 2007
Saturday, October 13th, 2007
“As one judge said to another, ‘Be just and if you can’t be just, be arbitrary.'” – Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
A discourse on the place of accepted conflict as perpetuator of distraction in modern politics, and hence the need for intervention by extra-political means.
If you want to render a population neutral, divide them along lines they cannot help but feel within themselves. This enables equal groups to oppose each other and thus cancel out their influences, all while believing that what they do is “natural.” Although it sounds like conspiracy fodder, this practice most commonly happens through a process like that of erosion: successive similar actions produce radical, almost grotesque, results when each individual action is as non-threatening as pouring water.
Our modern populations are conveniently divided among those who feel and those who judge; conveniently, these groups are not only the two largest on the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment but correspond, through balance of hormones, to female (inductive) and male (deductive) approaches to logical process. Just in case you’re like most modern people and cannot tell the difference between categorical logic as demographic and categorical logic in an absolute and religious sense, this does not mean all males behave one way and all females another; it states that the archetype on which males and females are built has this general structure, and while it can be modified, the overwhelming tendency is toward this behavior. (Most of you are inexperienced enough with logic to think that because something is a member of a category, that implies it is a rigid duplicate of the archetype of the category — if you think about this for a minute, you’ll see that this kind of categorical logic reflects mechanical-material thinking and not logic and you’ll grow out of this practice.)
How this process of erosion happens: we’re all in a room arguing about how to put out a fire. All agree the fire must be smothered. One person suggests water; another suggests sand. The room is divided into three camps now, which are water, sand and neither/undecided. In the meantime, the goddamn fire is getting bigger. So, smart Politician from the water group realizes he must do the same thing advertising execs do, which is to make sure his viewpoint is distinctive. Where once upon a time his slogan was “Water — smothers better than sand,” he’s now catchily humming a new jingle, “Water is the opposite of fire.” The sand camp reacts in horror, and releases their own little bombshell, “Sand is rock and rock isn’t changed by fire.” Where they formerly agreed on 80% of the task — smother the fire — and differed only on the materials used, they now agree on nothing and have constructed two radically different approaches. This is a simplified version of the erosion that in every democracy creates a radical-ish party and a reactionary-ish party to oppose one another; ideas, distinct narrowly at first, are by thousands of repetitions of this differentiation process made into extreme opposition for the sake of currying votes.
Dysfunctional, isn’t it?
In the status quo, we have two major poles — right and left — and variants inbetween. The left is united by its intent to feel (empathize) its way through existence, believing that if we are compassionate to every individual we will achieve justice and thus an end to strife; the left feels strife rewards the stronger, and that the stronger will then abuse the weaker, and that this is inherently terrible. The left stretches from neo-conservatives to Communists, with its moderate element being the American Democratic Party or in Europe, the Social Democrats. The right judges more than feels, but its judgment eschews the individual to avoid being bitchy and thus tends to rest on natural law, or the idea that the smarter get ahead and the slower, more criminal, stupider are deprecated. The right extends from some neoconservatives to John Birch Society style radicals, with its moderate arm being the American Republican Party. At its most extreme, rightism is a philosophy more than a political action, and can be expressed best in the work of Aristotle and (contiguously) F.W. Nietzsche — of course, in one of the great paradoxes of history, modern rightists are in bed with the Christians who fear excessively that their dualistic religion might be made-up nonsense and thus are very, very, very, very sensitive to any critique, and thus force rightist parties to reject Nietzsche (a form of ideological suicide none of them have yet been intelligent enough to recognize!).
We say these right/left splits are arbitrary because they serve no purpose in getting us closer to the truth. From all indications, one or the other wins and, having a partial picture of what must be done, is replaced by the other. And the changes? With the right you get an explicit link to heavy industry (Reagan) but with the left you get a clandestine assumption of the necessity of the entertainment media (Clinton). The right tends to focus on foreign policy/defense, cultivating industry and protecting families; the left will explore civil rights, welfare and protecting individualism. The arbitrary swing factor that causes these paths to differentiate themselves in order to market themselves becomes influential here, and we see areas where these ideas overlap ignored in favor of dramatic conflict. They both play the roles: the right as the towering Authority Figure come to drive away evils, and the left as the slightly-hip older brother who hangs out with black people (knows the “secret handshakes”) and offers a clumsily rolled joint when the parents are gone. We say the result is arbitrary becomes one comes to power, cancels out what the other did, and then is in turn replaced. The result is schizophrenic policy: we can expect no consistent leadership and each side has items it will not change, taboos not because of fear of consequence but fear of public image: if the left lets off of its civil rights agenda for one moment, it will be seen as less lefty and lose many constitutents; if the right accidentally cheered a gay pride parade, many of its constituents would pull back. This is not a response to logic, but to image, and this is the root of the exaggerated division between the political houses: we must appear unique and as alternatives to whatever is in power.
If you’ve grown up with the benevolent words of government and hysterical words of mass media in your mind, this is alien information. You have been brought up to believe that democracy solves all ills, and that the triumvirate of “freedom” — democracy (political freedom), capitalism (economic freedom), civil rights (personal freedom) — is somehow not only inseparable but is the only option to both godless Communism and Jew/Negro-hating Nationalism. You run (don’t walk) to the self-erasing system of two oppositional outlooks because you are conditioned to think that without constant conflict, you will fall into the hands of egregious Control… not yet aware, perhaps, that control can happen obliquely. If all one must do is convince a crowd of people to vote for something — well, salespeople do it all the time, as the procession of defective cars, slow computers, ugly clothing, disgusting foods, etc. attests. People make bad decisions. In fact, they do it more commonly than they make good decisions. Yet we do not consider this a form of control; we consider it “freedom” from control. Even working through this series of thoughts is beyond most ordinary citizens. Unlike philosophers, they deal in tangibles or things that sound like them. They can identify an invader, decide drugs are generally bad, or ban personal nuclear weapons, but beyond that, they are driftwood in a sea of equally incomprehensible ideas.
But even more than allowing a kind of passive control, or authoritarianism by keeping the citizens distracted and operating behind the scenes with the legal favoritism of business contracts and other rewards for silence, this type of system guarantees us a headless control: it has no goal and no controllers. Anyone who learns to use the system is able to influence it, and thus society at large wanders without direction while people inside find a way to make themselves a retirement income and retreat to mountain homes in Aspen. The poor rise to become rich, and the rich might get richer or rub themselves out with distractions, but the fact remains that society is not something with a purpose to it; it is carcass off which we feast because we lack a forward direction that might provide nutrition. We do not look forward to great deeds, or to a society that existentially and qualitatively rewards us with a higher type of living; we carve up the wealth of the past, and fight endlessly over how we distribute it. Both left and right are complicit here: the left wants more equal distribution, where the right wants to reward the most productive. Yet neither criticizes the overall direction of society, something that author Tom Wolfe refers to as “cynicism”: a hard look at, behind the rhetoric, what a system is designed to achieve. If I set up a prison camp where the most violent offenders are given their own cells and televisions, it enforces a type of “natural selection” that promotes only the most violent; the camp, whether deliberately or not, is designed to produce a stream of aggressive people because it rewards aggression. Cynicism is a look at this design behind the marketing, propaganda, pleasant speeches and social conventions of a society.
As we have established, the left/right divide obliterates its own leadership, removes our focus on leadership at large, and obscures the inner workings of society and thus makes image more important than reality as a means of political control. It is superior to dictatorship for the purposes of control because it contains all dissent within its process, innoculating itself against the threat by weakening it through committees, public debate, and of course, absorption by the two-party system. How can you rebel against a system that gives you the right to start a political party of your own and run against it? On paper — according to the rules and statements of its public agencies — the system is perfect. In reality, and behind the scenes, it is ruled by money: your political party needs a half-billion dollars in order to influence enough voters to stand a chance of election, assuming that you can convince them your message is more important than the endless stream of platitudes from right and left. The public show of elections and debates is entirely irrelevant, because its goal is not the finding of direction but the maintenance of directionlessness; its purpose, in the design of our society, is to allow those with money to distract the voters with pleasant fictions while carrying off more wealth, consuming more natural resources, exploiting more workers… in short, the dominant theme of our society is individual profit at the expense of the whole, and the two-party system facilitates it by distracting us with a plausible but unlikely scenario for change.
Politics happens to us like the sky. Far away, options occur; we hope for one or the other, but then we take what falls. While the formation of left and right parties may be motivated by pure behind-the-scenes manipulation for profit, the emotions and ideas that draw individuals to these parties are worth exploring. Both sides have some merit and some incoherence; like halves of a puzzle, they only make sense in combination.
When we look into not what parties state are their ideals, nor what people who have absorbed propaganda as well as criticism claim to think, we can see the emotions and germs of logic that motivate people to pick one or the other. As with all things in life, it is a chaotic spectrum, and although each party has a dominant outlook, people choose them for many reasons. If we look at the desired outcome of those reasons, we can break down the partisan illusion and see what is of importance to those who become politically active.
If the fundamental principle behind conservatism is that tradition must be upheld, the quasi-opposite principle of liberalism is that the order of things has excluded people from its benefit without reason. Conservatism reasons that the order of things has purpose, where liberalism emotes that it is unkind. This leads to further schism in that while conservatives discuss values, liberals are more concerned with a change in the distribution of wealth as the result of a values shift.
Since neither of these doctrines upholds any more dramatic change that the introduction of compensatory influences favoring the doctrine, it is fair to say that they are united in their approval of modern society as the chassis upon which politics operates. Yet if we read more closely into each doctrine, there is a compelling sense of an underlying desire for vast change — a complete alteration in how we view civilization and our roles in it.
Conservatives in their hearts of hearts want to throw out what they see as an immoral and directionless system, and liberals want to tear down the world and replace it so that the poor are equal to the rich. It is almost as if each partisan vector has become stalled by its need to make its offering palatable to politics as a mass phenomenon, and thus, each has neutered its fundamental impulse. To look behind that veil is to see that underlying both systems is the recognition that our functionalist, materialist, utilitarian modern society has lost sight of values in favor of a pragmatic adaptation to itself. (As Plato was wont to note, each political system excels at one thing — furthering itself. William S. Burroughs would refer to this tendency as “the control virus” based on “the algebra of need.”)
Let us then for a moment praise liberalism. The stories of factories run by greedy manipulators who gleefully pay their workers whatever minimum is currently acceptable, without a concern for how those people turn out, as well as contemporary experience with the ruthlessness of moneymakers should show us there is some sense to the liberal — or more properly, socialist — impulse. Why are we willing to let people be used by their jobs, taxed by the government despite their poverty, and then made bankrupt by their own uneducated and inept spending?
It is not as if our system, despite being called “Social Darwinism,” is using this as a mechanism of eliminating these people; they are kept alive, and kept doing the low-paying but profitable jobs like working in fast food, mall shops, factories, security guards, and the like. Liberalism asks, rightly: what is our intent regarding these people, both as function in society and as individual lives? Where other systems may appeal in sterile terms to our functional minds, liberalism address our hearts.
Most sensible people recognize that the denizen of an organized civilization, or one where division of labor requires power structures and economics and forms of mass control, walks a fine and dangerous line between being restricted by government and being restricted by the flaky, criminal, predatory, parasitic or simply selfish behaviors of fellow citizens. Liberalism focuses most intently on the abuse of power by centralized authority, and as such is inherently both anarchistic and anti-money.
These are admirable tendencies even if for now we do not have to consider them as in themselves solutions. They touch something in all of us: to love justice is to hate injustice, and to love people is to hate the idea that they can be used by some crazy abstract system like industry, government or even the social pressures of the mob. We want to stand up for all of us to be sure that our sacrifices and labors mean something and come to a good end, and that in the process we are not treated like rapidly-obsolescing equipment.
Liberalism is also critical of situations where one ethnic group is the slave-crop of another, or where women are given no recourse against being essentially sexual vassals, and any case where personal ability to choose lifestyle or belief is regulated. Does it make sense, a good liberal asks, that a wealthier nation beat up a smaller one? Or that women have a career choice of “wife” or “courtesan”? Or that every black person in a large nation is impoverished and futureless while the children of fat imaginative white bankers have any option open to them?
Belatedly, the left has added environmentalism to its list of concerns (until the mid-twentieth century, it was exclusively a conservative position) — delaying in part because to make any choice in favor of the environment is to deny some individual something they would prefer to have. It is a paradox of freedom that often its preservation requires its denial, but we’ll come to that in a moment. This cuts a paradox into the core of liberal values: we have compassion for the environment as well as for people, but their needs are in conflict.
Look to your inner feeling. It is unlikely you want to live endorsing a system that ruthlessly makes much of its population into pack animals for the wealth of others, or keeps one group hopeless while another prospers. Whatever your opinion of the leadership abilities of women, it is doubtful you want to see them confined to an abusive cycle. If you have any sense at all, you will recognize the constant threat of allowing any central control or power regulate what is acceptable behavior, as this empowers the small cranial capacity bureaucrats to impose punishment for their own masturbatory sense of strength.
No one wants to endorse a society of legitimized bullies, or an unspoken economic war against a certain ethnicity or gender. It is this feeling that sweeps people up into liberalism, and means that despite bluster in other areas, it remains a partisan force for (a) civil rights and (b) wealth redistribution or class warfare.
At the same time, even the most die-hard liberal has to admit something beautiful about the ideal of conservatism: we know that without a traditional culture our values become replaced by what is profitable. No one argues that radio pop music is superior to Beethoven. Most of us if we search our souls will admit that we want some higher value to step in and stop the construction of yet another mall or fast-food restaurant or ugly factory.
We would like a governmental force that blocks entities which although profitable for their owners create a socialized cost distributed to the rest of us — whether that cost is pollution, crime induced by predatory activities, imported labor to pick chicken cheaply or simply completely ugly cities covered in advertising. This our mind, and not heart, speaking; if we define conservatism, it is as a response as much exclusively logical as liberalism is exclusively emotional.
Conservatism is based upon the concept that, whether determined by relativity or not, our world operates consistently and therefore some values are both universal and eternal. These values, in the conservative mind, are not preferences but mathematical optimizations of human behavior based on the most powerful responses to the mechanisms of nature — physical reality, genetic reality, personal decisions — as have been discovered through the history of humanity. These values are eternal in that no matter what changes in our abilities or society, they are enforced upon us by existential conditions — mortality, scarcity of resources, the need for leaders.
What is inspiring about conservatism is that underneath its quasi-reactionary exterior there is a profound love of normal life. Not the extreme pleasures, but the mundane happiness found in doing good work in which one believes, having friends and family and local community, and finding some spiritual (although not necessarily Christian: many of the greatest conservative writers have loathed Christianity but praised spirituality) connection to the mechanism of life, e.g. finding a way to value the end product of life so much as to “forgive” and overlook its dark and morbid side. This transcendent ideal is at the root of conservatism as much as compassion is the root of liberalism.
Sex is understood with the knowledge that no matter how advanced our technology, those parents who are more sexually selective and lead normal balanced lives and have a few children and invest heavily in them will turn out happier, more productive offspring. Conservatism recognizes that for each person with whom one fornicates the potential for romance becomes more calloused. Conservatism recognizes that life is a long and winding journey of which one of the greatest joys is a family, and a family is best based on (relatively) chaste parents who express stability by making that most powerful of decisions to opt for a lifetime partner.
These high-investment chances require the decisions behind them to be thoughtful and balanced, the produced of a mentally and spiritually and socially balanced personality. Conservative views on intoxication, on laziness, on criminality and useless activity (television) reflect this core impetus: those who find a way to accept life and live out its processes in the fullest are the stablest and most apt to become not only “good citizens” but contributing people. They are balanced by the nature of their lack of struggle against the constraints of reality and their consequent determination to turn these to the best advantage.
Although our postmodern view of conservatism is colored by the somewhat useless and fun-dampening right wing parties of our time, it is important to remember that these are both hopelessly reactionary — believing the cause to be at some level lost — and manipulative, in that when conservatism abandoned the aristocracy for voters it had to find some way to pander, to make its “serious” outlook on life palatable to the average person. It did so through moral superiority and a kind of condemnation/reaction that has conservative parties today picking targets before they pick goals.
Of all the people out there, only a few are actors on the political stage. The reasons are simple: the poor are too busy being destitute and intoxicated and lack the education to act; the rich do not work within politics but in economics and manipulation of public perception. The lower middle class, while often the most politically active, is accustomed to a partisan “ground-holding” mentality often defined as much by their professions as neighborhoods.
Throughout all of history, it has been the upper two-thirds of the middle class who have been the political fulcrum of each nation. Hard-working but with enough leisure time to read and with jobs that do not require exhausting physical labor and leave them still energetic at night in the time of solitary thinking, the upper-half-middle-class have the education and career tendencies to organize, to motivate disparate groups of people, and to find complex design solutions.
Although this group has the greatest political potential, they also face a great pitfall: decadence. Anyone can make fun of soccer moms and guys in fantasy baseball leagues, but often the middle class tendency is to “stay occupied” and then, in guilt at being somewhat inactive, to leap toward emotional rather than pragmatic political solutions. These fail because the motivation behind them is a social gesture and not a design decision. In times of cataclysm, however, these same people leap toward crises with a kind of joy in having found purpose that is otherwise missing from most administrative and professional careers.
When we look at this group, excluding those with resentments (abused children, marginalized groups like homosexuals or BDSM participants, genteel alcoholics) we find a cross-section of our society evenly divided between the two political camps. On economics and foreign policy they tend to be liberal because to them rapid growth is not important; they know a comfortable life can be had and are more interested in raising families, furthering their own career accomplishments and having healthy local communities.
On social issues and domestic rule they tend on the whole to be conservative, wanting to preserve the family-friendly nature of their neighborhoods and make sure society’s institutions stay intact so their own youth can take advantage of them. They vacillate here in that during times of wealth, they relax into liberalism because there seems to be some slack in the system that can be used to pacify other groups; they do not appear to honestly believe in eradication of poverty or world unity except when listening to U2 albums.
They have had enough experience in the world to know the poor usually stay that way for a reason, and that the world is always in some kind of disaster that is best ignored unless one wants to get saddled with stewardship and then blamed by all parties involved for its imperfections. Their goal is to provide quality of life for themselves and as much justice as they can afford for others, with the overall goal of having a stable society.
If they have a failing here, it is in attempting to buy off other special interest groups by sharing some of the wealth, not realizing that this falls under the same problems of stewardship mentioned above. They are polite but self-serving, having found out long ago that carrying the weight of the world does nothing for it or the self, and mean well but temper that with a certain pragmatism that believes in elbow grease, (relatively) clean living and meritocracy: the best rising to the top.
That this group swings between left and right with the flavor of elections can be explained by the cycle of conservative and liberal power. Conservatives tend to build infrastructure, and liberals use that infrastructure to increase the possibilities of the average citizen, but by overpromoting individualism create fragmentation. This splintering causes social problems, so the conservatives are called in during the next election to get back to basics. Liberalism is a nurturing psychologist but conservatism is a gruff architect.
The problem with this system is rooted in that inconsistency.
The policies of one group, obliterated by the next, are later reinstated and similarly erase the changes of the last group. Since absolute power does not exist, this constitutes a compromise of a compromise of an originally compromised idea, and soon the parties are reduced to inching forward without effecting any real systemic change. On top of this is the dirty secret of democracy, which is that while all citizens have the “freedom” to vote, most lack variability in their thought process and pick comfortable symbols and emotional responses from their television screens and conversations with neighbors.
In addition to compromise, democracy further adulterates clear action by running every proposed idea through this “popularity filter” which requires ideas both not offend and provoke some kind of simple feeling in their audience. You cannot simply go to war because it’s a good idea; you have to invent a devil and pursue him to an ugly end. Social problems cannot be simply a “good idea” to fix, but there must be helpless innocents ravaged or other mournful disaster. Every single decisions becomes threatre in which good symbols combat bad, with the idea that the direction of a liberal democracy (the term for modern democracies, independent of the term “liberalism” for our argument here) is the best and we are enforcing a “progress” which is inherently not only beneficial but morally right.
This brings us to a series of contradictions.
We want to treat people well, but we know from experience and history that most people treat themselves badly and make poor decisions (buying color TVs instead of investing in retirement funds). They would be better off with many of these decisions not being theirs to make. We can educate them, and give them welfare, but ultimately they determine their own path through decisions that are often quite poor.
We want freedom, but too much freedom for destructive-minded people results in all of us suffering more, paying more, and living in alienating and dangerous cities. Destructive people can be criminals or predatory businessmen, and may “intend to” be destructive or not: what matters is their effect, and whether it acts by creating junky strip malls and tearing down trees or by stealing car stereos for meth money is immaterial. They destroy. They are either held back or we absorb not only the financial cost but the cost to our way of life.
We want traditional values but do not want them imposed upon us. The idea of some government bureaucracy, and we know from experience that bureaucratic power draws its share of small-minded people who experience a nearly sexual thrill from exerting that power of negation on others, telling us when to fornicate, where to go to school, etc. terrifies us. It is for this reason among others that modern citizens are adamant about separation of church and state; we know that even if it is stamped Benevolent Government or Benevolent Church, power can attract abusers who will wreck us if given the chance.
We want the ability to succeed economically but we do not want such excessive competition that we are forced to become predators or be assimilated as choiceless labor. We like the idea that we can with a reasonable amount of effort walk into a decent living, and that if we have a need for more we can within reason attain it. We fear the super-equalization of Communist Russia but also would rather not live in a world where literally everything is for sale (images of opium dens and brothels flash through our minds).
Although it will never be said in these terms, we want natural selection — but not by money or obedience to dogma or any other mechanically linear path. We like the idea of living in a system where those who live sanely prosper more than those who are destructive, knowing that with even a little nudge the lesser elements can be induced to not breed more of their type. No one with experience is fooled into thinking you can educate out small-minded tendencies; they have to be bred out, and the best way to do that is to ensure that the small-minded find it even slightly less inviting to survive and breed.
Most of all, we want a social order that we feel is working for the “good people” among us. While we are not against subsidies for those who have fallen on hard times or are “disadvantaged” in some way or another, we want our resources to go toward those of basically sound character, mind and body. This might be pure aesthetics, but to live among healthy fit and intelligent people is preferable to the other option, unless one is so underconfident or deviant that it becomes an appealing camouflage. Drug-addicted child molestors prefer oblivious neighbors, but happy homesteaders like alert responsible people around them.
When we get over our tendency to group positions by political polarity, and thus stop categorizing as left/right and us/them proposed ideas, we can see how simple our actual desires are. Each includes a benevolent impulse with a caveat that abuses must be prevented, albeit by some system other than abuse-potential-high government. And if it’s this simple, why do we not have such a system? That answer rests in the methods by which our society regulates political power.
Looking into the hearts and minds of the healthy among us, we can see that all of us on some level want to replace modern society. We are exhausted with the constant infighting and manipulation by special interest groups that democracy creates, and we are drained by the constant questions of regulating economic selfishness in a system based on economic accumulation for the self. We are caught in the middle between two extremes that have been artificially enhanced by the need to create democracy-friendly alternatives.
None of us are pure liberal or conservative, and the positions liberals and conservatives embrace flip-flop enough to show us how futile it would be to try to define ourselves as such. Our real focus is less on idealistic concerns and dogmatic divisions but on how well life treats us, because we’re busy — busy creating art, busy raising families, busy discovering that next important iota of research or rule of law. We like life and we like living well. This for the most part is why we are inert to anything but looming disaster; why rock the boat?
However, we are also depleted by that same impetus. Each broken thing we see wears us down and makes us expect more. Each frustration — some insane bureaucrat, the ghetto invading our neighborhoods, a war that seems right until it blows up in our faces, global warming coming “out of nowhere” into our collective consciousness — drains us further. We feel a subliminal dread that not all will work out alright, and that we are like passengers in a boat piloted by committee, careening down rapids while votes are taken and arguments are placed about whether the upcoming waterfall is “a real threat.” We fear for our children.
Immanuel Kant, that sage among philosophers, wrote that evil is not a diabolical, intentional force but a consequence of ignorance. He believed it takes a conscious effort to recognize evil, and that the only redemption is to turn from it and to begin doing good without feeling guilt for the past. No doctrinal conversion can achieve this, nor can any charity — only a thorough changing of our daily behavior. Kant stressed the mundanity of evil and its prevalence. In his mind, most people exist by error and in fact, the way most live engenders a form of unexciting but destructive force that creates long-term decay. As Kant saw it, evil never showed its face as a demon, but as a slightly lazy easy choice because “everyone does it.” Evil is not intention, but a lack of intent to do better.
When we contemplate the horrors of the past century and the fact that they show zero signs of abating in the future, we have to ask ourselves: it is possible that our basic assumptions of what life should be lead us to a form of evil? That despite our good intentions, both compassionately liberal and architecturally conservative, we have strapped ourselves into a system that does not do enough to seek a better path and thus leads us through the rapids of mundane evil? …we fear for the distant consequences of our actions, and suspect in invisible paranoia that perhaps without change our future will be one of “a whimper and not a bang” slowly grinding our society and world into a wasteland from which no future greatness, or even normal health, will emerge.
We are right to have these fears. The divisions of democracy enslave us with false symbols; the method of democracy encourages us to be isolated agents of selfishness; the very “freedoms” we praise give rise to horror; the freedoms we have relinquished are tools we badly need. After years of being able to deny it, we are finally seeing that our path is a mundane evil that will end inevitably in error.
Also we finally notice that our assumptions (of what is “good” but might actually be “evil”) prevent us from changing from this path. We are given choices of right and left but neither fits. We cannot find a popular candidate who will speak more than popular illusions. The solution is to be fearless and redesign society toward what in both heart and mind we know is right.
They: “It’s disgraceful the way Bush has embarked upon this war in Iraq, justifying it with lies and all that.”
Me: “I think he’s a democrat in disguise. He’s setting us up so we run screaming into the arms of the other party.”
They: “Why would he do that?”
Me: “He could make a lot of money, among other things. If he knows the Democrats are going to win, he can have his stock portfolio bought in advance. And who’s the Democrat candidate going to be? Probably a former business partner or his. He’s set.”
They: “The city must not care at all about its gardens. Look at this damage!”
Me: “Gardens don’t win elections. Large masses of illiterate people who want new pickup trucks do.”
They: “Well, that seems uncharitable. I like to place trust in my fellow humans.”
Me: “When you go to a mall, you ignore most people because you wouldn’t want them as your friends. In fact, for a hundred people who pass you, probably only two or three interest you. If you’re like almost everyone I’ve met, you think most of the people who pass you are stupid — you have a kind of distaste for their ostentatious dress, their ignorant conversation, their bad personal hygiene or other signs of less than sterling intelligence. But all one hundred vote. And the 97 you don’t like have more influence than the three who do.”
Me: “Didn’t we just get a new sports stadium this month? Oh, and tax breaks for oil companies. I’d like to be a shareholder at one of those. Maybe I’ll buy some stock and get rich so I can run away to the hills and laugh at this disaster from a distance.”
They: “I’m glad President Clinton has improved race relations.”
Me: “He’s certainly got all of government working hard to promote minorities. The problem is that this takes away their authority over themselves as a cultural group, so you get people who are going to resent those they see as having done this in the future. We’re going to have to pick a culture as a nation and even if we choose a hybrid culture, we’re cutting them out of the equation. So they’ll be pissed.”
They: “Well, at least now they have jobs… they’re going to have more money and that will end the epidemic of inner city poverty. We don’t have any more race riots.”
Me: “We’ve deferred the issue. Through all of history, can you name a single place where different ethnic groups coexisted peacefully? At some point, decisions need to be made, and they’re going to end up favoring one group or another, so ethnically-mixed places collapse in warfare.”
They: “Well that’s just racist.”
Me: “It’s practical. I haven’t said I don’t like minorities. I’ve said that ethnic groups don’t mix. Whether that’s two white ethnic groups or a darker and lighter one is academic. I notice you haven’t provided a historical counterexample. Is that because one does not exist?”
They: “They made a record drug bust last night. I’m glad they got those creeps off the streets.”
Me: “More creeps will come, because drugs are a hot commodity. People want to pay money for them, so someone will provide them, and then we’ll call them a creep and put them in jail and they’ll be replaced.”
They: “Good people don’t use drugs.”
Me: “That’s irrelevant — someone is paying for them and someone will rise to the occasion. That’s capitalism. In fact, it’s even a form of democracy. Voting with dollars. Your fellow citizens want drugs, but somehow we’re afraid to admit that as a society. Why are we so dishonest?”
They: “These gay rights groups piss me off. They want to make marriage legal between two men, or two women. That entirely violates the sanctity of marriage.”
Me: “Why is government involved in legislating marriage, if it’s so sacred? You’re letting some bureaucrats determine the bond between two people in love? Maybe it’s a terrible idea to mix government and religion. Or even culture and government. Heck, maybe government isn’t the solution after all. If government wasn’t involved in marriage, your church could decide who was eligible to get hitched.”
They: “But then in some places, gays could get married…”
Me: “That has always been true. Just keep them out of your community.”
They: “But that would be intolerant!”
They: “I don’t understand why these slimy, conniving conservatives are trying to make abortion illegal. That’s going to put us back in the dark ages.”
Me: “You’re right — it’s a stupid idea. They should just outlaw excessive sexual relations like was done in traditional societies.”
They: “But what about our freedom? That will make women vassals of the kitchen… slaves to the stove… our careers, our freedom would be gone.”
Me: “What does sexual freedom have to do with your ability to get a job? And how many sex partners do you need? Look at what feminism and sexual liberation has gotten us: a higher divorce rate, fewer smart people breeding, and most of our women ending up divorced lonely and self-hating in their forties. That’s progress?”
They: “Without sexual freedom, we might be limited in our choices, and that would be bad.”
Me: “Is that a single choice or fifteen dozen choices? People aren’t making choices. They’re settling for convenience in lovers like they are in everything else. They’ve made love a joke by making sex a commodity. Are we really happier? You think you think you want freedom — but are you really thinking? You want a good life, a sane life, but that requires fewer random choices and more thoughtful ones. Did you want to date, childless, for the rest of your life or be an irresponsible parent? Admit that you’re going to die and at some point it makes sense to settle down and have some kids. If you’re going to do that, you want family built on something better than wondering which of your spouse’s 500 previous lovers he or she is thinking of when they choke out a name during orgasm.”
They: “Environmentalists are preventing Global Oil from building the new plant. That’s terrible because it would have created 30,000 jobs!”
Me: “You’re right. They shouldn’t be preventing the factory now. It should be built into the system from the start that we respect nature and don’t do anything destructive. Global Oil has been planning to build this plant for five years, and only now have the environmentalists spoken up.”
They: “But what about the 30,000 jobs?”
Me: “There’s always plenty of jobs for people who have a brain. This plant is not creating new jobs as much as transferring them here. And how many of those who are hired will be local people?”
They: “Well, they’ll spend their money at local stores.”
Me: “How important is that in exchange for altering your community? These people come from all over, and they’re going to hang on to their ways of doing things. Soon this place will no longer be its own thing, but a collection of people and ideas from elsewhere.”
They: “Oh, well it’s always good to get new ideas.”
Me: “New ideas? No, these are ideas that have been in place in other places for a long time. In fact, probably since time began. There are no new ideas, only new combinations, when you think about it. We haven’t invented a new system of government, philosophy or language since the time of the Greeks — we’ve recombined what we have. All we have now is new technology. But I’ve got to ask: do you care more about new ideas, or the profit these jobs are bringing in? We should figure out whether we’re talking about getting rich or what’s best for the community here.”
They: “New ideas, new faces, new money will help the community!”
Me: “By replacing it with the same stuff every other city is made out of. Great. Now, instead of being a place with its own character, its own culture, and its own way of life, we’ll be like a little chunk of New York or San Francisco. Except we won’t be those places, so we’ll always be second rate. Living in a second-rate town to which you’ve got no allegiance… well, let’s just say we’re not giving our citizens any incentive to behave themselves. It’ll become another trash dump like any other.”
They: “Well, some people will get enough–”
Me: “Some people? I thought we were thinking about what’s best for the community. Who cares about making a few people rich? Think about all the good people you know: they want steady jobs and a comfortable living, but they’re not addicted to money. They found a way to make enough and have time for their families and non-job pursuits like learning, being outside, experiencing life, growing spiritually. Isn’t that more of a foundation of a healthy community than a few jerks getting rich and us importing 30,000 dummies to work dummy jobs?”
They: “The people have voted–”
Me: “The people are thinking just like you: they see money coming in and they salivate Pavlovian. They’re not thinking about the good of the community, or the future, or even whether this is actually going to benefit them. They see dollar bills and assume it will come to them. Weren’t you saying earlier today that most of the people you meet are stupid? That’s who is voting. And you want to trust that?”
Thursday, October 11th, 2007
As is known to those who take the time to think on such esoteric topics, it is impossible to know the good without the bad. There is a middle state, without judgment, where nothing much matters, but too much lingering here and one discovers a kind of personal entropy: since all decisions are equally of this middle state, there’s no point making any decision. Linger in the stream and let it pass. Of course, in that state, there is also none of the reward of accomplishment.
Making choices after all defines us. From the simplest satisfactions when we choose to clean our homes or organize our lives in a better fashion, to the greatest choices, when we stand our ground for a principle or ideal, choice makes us feel alive because in it we are exercising the capacity of life. This capacity is at its simplest level motion, and at its most complex motion through the world of ideas. We feel alive when we encounter a choice and make a good one. We feel dead when we shirk from these choices, even if we’re “comfortable” with our warm homes, cars, video games, pornography and serving-size packaged prefabricated foods.
Excepting such a middle state, we live for making choices toward what is good and avoiding what is bad. As with all judgments and categories, these exist in a spectrum from simple goods like a clean house being superior to a filth-hole, to complex ends where we prefer a society that is not failing to one that allows us excess of comfort. Our choices are informed by our knowledge of what is good, or what ends in an order that is beneficial to us, and what is bad, or what results in less organization and less beneficial aspects. Disorder is another form of entropy, one that is fatal to individuals and societies alike.
Our knowledge of good and bad is entirely dependent on experience, although we come pre-programmed with some knowledge. Snakes are for the most part bad, in our genetic heritage, and depending on where our families originated, there may be other primal fears and primal desires. Germans seem to like order and cleanliness over all else, where to an Italian, a warm house full of good food takes precedence. What we all share that is not learned is a knowledge that some things will end well, and others will not. If we are attuned to ourselves, we become uneasy deep in our gut when we are part of a course of action that we suspect will not end well.
We wonder if indeed our universe learned by the same method, since our thoughts and their maturation so resemble the processes we see in nature whether planets forming from circling gasses or species adapting general principles to specific environments. Our furthest conjecture might envision a nothingness so absolute it is not even an empty space, only an absence in totality, which at some point through a routine error was able to recognize two parts of itself as distinct, and thus created “space” so both could exist. Is the universe made of thoughts? It certainly seems as if it acts that way.
In John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” the most beautiful of angels so made Error and rebelled against an all-seeing God, and was thus cast into a Hell, dividing existence between Heaven and Hell and their mediate zone, this mortal space of time and body we know as “life on earth.” Satan, cast among the wreckage with his fellow rebels, reflects on his fate with the stolidity of a Greek tragedic deity: It is better to reign in hell, he surmises, than to serve in heaven. From error comes new life, and from Satan’s fall comes what we know on earth as the significance of choice between good and bad. With only heaven, there was no need for such choice, and through error, the universe expanded.
When we return from our spacy conjecture to the reality of our present time, we can see a parallel construction: without certain knowledges, we are unaware of how what transpires will end. A child will not be concerned when people around him or her are taking methamphetamine, because that becomes in that child’s experience “normal”; in the same way, a child can be inculcated to live around any population or behavior, but this does not mean such behaviors will end well or poorly. In the same way, we who grow up in a certain society know it as “normal” and must actively assess its tenets and actions as to how they will end.
But our experience limits us, and in this we see the wisdom of hell. Most grow up in the normalcy and do not second-guess it, but accept its failings as a matter of course and do their best to dodge them. Fewer than one percent of all people question the actual direction of society or its future impact. Among those, only a few have either sought or seen hell and remained mentally intact enough to process it.
Of course, hell takes many forms. Some find hell on the battlefield, others in a broken home, and still others in crime or economic desolation. Others find it more subtly in the interactions of people. Win an award, get a promotion, make a work of art, or get famous, and suddenly you find that your friends are retaliating against you. Or sniping, expecting you to pick up the check and not care about the damage they do to your house. In the quiet moments after such events, when the puzzled mind attempts to diagnose the situation… and one realizes that other people can be motivated by revenge, small-minded envy, and even a simple parasitic desire to steal.
Having seen hells created by humans, or even the hell that a solitary human can bring to us, we become more critical of any potential action. Our sphere of good expectations has been violated, but much as Satan in discovering hell found a certain liberation, we find that we are disassociated as a result from an illusion. We no longer believe that all is well no matter what we do. Through the impact of horror, and by seeing the empty and false motivations of others, we realize not only that we are in the driver’s seat of our own lives, but that there is no guarantee things will work out alright on their own — more likely, they’ll turn out terribly, since many of the people in command have the same revengeful outlook as the others in whom we discover anew hell.
In the same way an inexperienced Satan could not know the power of his own choice, because he never had the chance to screw up and get thrown into hell, modern people are inexperienced and know not hell. They are virgins of true depression, true fear, and true horror because they have surrogate experiences of pleasure and pain within a system that doesn’t vary — although it postpones all of its biggest disasters much like it puts its trash in landfills, criminals in prisons, toxic waste in oceans, incompetents in government. They get excited by a change in job, and get depressed by a broken car. But do they face real horror or victory, the chance for change not in an event within their lives but the form of those lives themselves?
Until one knows hell, one cannot look into the structure of things. Behind the visible, behind the immediate, there is the way elements of a situation interact to perpetuate it. To see hell is to realize how those things bring about negativity. To see hell is to wish to know the only way to avoid it is to tackle these difficult and complex but rewarding invisible structures. Any idiot can bash an attacking wolf on the head, but how many can realize the misdirection of an upstream tributary disrupted a hunting ground and brought on the wolf? Or spotting an error that does not attack like the wolf, but leaves out necessary things, laying the groundwork for future failure. To see hell is to realize, like Satan did, that the visible is only part of what must be considered.
To realize hell is to see that the invisible world must be tackled. We cannot exist in the solely visible world, where tangible concepts are presented to us and we vote upon them or buy them but never change the structure of society. The visible world is what humans create for one another, with words and symbols and flags. The invisible world, more than what they say they mean, is the future results of their actions as designed. The invisble world is what will determine the difference between heaven and hell long before the impact of decisions past makes those states come about.
Critical thinking, or the ability to analyze complex structure where there is no single supporting idea (linearity) but a balance of all points balancing all others (architectonic), is the rarest of abilities in our world. It requires thinkers who dedicate time and energy to understanding, but it also requires a vision of enough hell to desire heaven. It is not surprising that our best thinkers, writers, leaders and artists warn us that our society is a path to hell, and most repeat those words and change nothing of their behavior or political outlook. They haven’t seen hell, because hell is invisible until its consequences are felt. For those who can predict those consequences, hell arrives early.
The ancients considered critical thinking to be intelligence. They knew that with enough practice and indoctrination, marginally intelligent people could be made “intelligent” in a narrow field with few tactics that need applying. You can teach almost anyone to be a computer programmer, because most of the “thinking” is responding to variants on already-known scenarios and memory work to find the right matching piece in response. It’s like fitting shaped blocks into holes. Our smart people today are singular function linear thinkers, of a partial intelligence that allows them to excel in one area without an ounce of critical thinking, and for this reason they do not recognize hell. They must be shown hell, and this is why our authors and thinkers try increasingly to represent it.
Yet for those who can make the trip from a heaven of ignorant blithe oblivion (modern living) to a realization of not just personal tragedy but the poor design of a civilization leading to inevitable future hell, the experience is life-changing. Small cares fall away. The yawning gap between perception and reality that will swallow us becomes apparent in all that we see. When this wears off, we become accustomed to enduring situations that are so poorly designed it is clear they will end badly, but most people blithely march onward into them. They are ignorant of hell, visible or invisible.
In contrast to our product-oriented media, which tries to make different hells (war, ghetto, sodomy, drugs, AIDS) seem appealing because of their lack of rules, those who have experienced hell have a different look in their eyes. They want to get away from it, because they realize that while the experience of hell is revolutionary, living in hell is not — it is tedious, both in daily endurance and in knowledge of its certain failure. People who have seen hell tend to find wisdom in traditional family roles, in intangible pleasures like creativity and learning, and in removing themselves from the city to contemplate insignificance under a boundless night sky. They have seen hell, and realize that our modern heaven on earth leads to it, and they must escape.
But of course for most it is too late. They don’t have the time, and they don’t have the brainpower at hand, or the learning, to see hell, much less the invisible hell. This is why in our society, 90% of the people are oblivious and 8% are busy profiting from hell while only 2% are actually worried. Hell is easy to avoid, now, because they are worried about visible hells like war and anarchy. Our society of course as an all-inclusive place is bias against genius, because not only do they not need including, but they resist efforts toward norming. It detests those who rise above the crowd as they are both socially and bureaucratically awkward to explain to others. This is why few voices speak out about what hell awaits us, but these tend to be the smartest and most experienced voices.
When one has experienced hell, the world expands most prominently into two options: the choice to continue on a path to hell, or the choice to head elsewhere. For those who have not seen hell, the idea of hell — “freedom” to a teenage self-indulgent Satan in Heaven — seems appealing. But to those who have seen it, hell is not only not appealing but not rare. It is mundane. The freedom of hell and the oblivion of heaven lead to the same place, which is failure, and the determination of the experienced is to avoid both. Much as the universe recognized its own emptiness, and Satan saw his own failing as liberation, we can find liberation in looking unblinkingly into hell, and then steeling our resolve to choose another path.
Thursday, October 11th, 2007
Staring Down an Icon
I noticed something today among the holiday decorations being thrown out. It was a floral arrangement with evergreen and these weird red apples, quite small, on stiff wire. On closer inspection, they turned out to be plastic, and having melted a bit in the heat next to the stove, were in fact losing their outer plastic skin. The red plastic skin had bunched, leaving ugly veins across the surface as if the apples were decaying.
I peeled. Underneath the skin was styrofoam, and a green plastic “leaf” concealing the stiff wire used to stab them into the foam center of the piece. I thought for a moment: this decoration, bought for $0.75 and used for three or four days of holiday “cheer,” is now waste that will never compost into fertile soil like a real apple. A real apple will rot, stink, and vanish within weeks, leaving behind either happy plants and animals or those and a new apple tree-in-training.
It will decompose into toxic byproducts and stick around for a few dozen of my lifetimes, then become some kind of oily sludge staining the ground where it lay. That is assuming it doesn’t sit in near perfect stasis in a landfill for a few thousand years, which is most likely. When I throw this thing out, since no one knows how to recycle it, it gets crushed into junk by a passing garbage truck and thrown into the big landfill north of town, where they’re burying trash seventy feet deep and covering it with clay. Should keep it better than a museum for whatever visiting aliens conduct a postmortem on humanity.
Looking at this thing, this fake apple that designed to be appealing ending up grotesque, brought on that vague form of depression that comes with tolerating broken-ness around oneself. Dysfunction in the self is depressing, but at least the solution is straightforward; if you’re fat, stop eating so much and go for a walk. If you’re lonely, do something, even casual crime, that helps you meet people. If you’re dying, think positive so your last days aren’t all bad. But when confronting a piece of trash whose existence is owed to the decisions of those around you? It will depress.
Why do we, as humans, make these things (disposable ornamental plastic reproductions of natural objects), when they have one sorta-good consequence and many bad ones? I suppose it’s not fair to say they should be banned, because I will ruin someone’s livelihood and possibly shatter their dreams, but when the consequences are this bad and unnecessary, maybe it is better to shatter dreams than to tolerate destructive ideas. After all, we take them into our hearts, and we become depressed by the knowledge that we’re passing along this destructive buck and powerless to remove it.
As I contemplate the object, I see all the reasons for its use: it is cheap, it doesn’t rot, it is brightly-colored, and any idiot can recognize what it is because it’s an idealized design, not one marred by worms or misshapen or not the ruby red that screams “this is an apple!” to even the totally braindead. And then I wonder about the one good reason for not having it, which is that it depresses us to know we are so destructive, and leave the world in worse condition than we encountered it. Banning plastic waste would remove some jobs, would shatter some dreams, and might cause inconvenience, but wouldn’t it be better to have healthier… souls?
We All Want to Live in Texas
One fundamental truth that I encounter as I get older is that we humans are like turtles. We like having our comfortable shells, but we’re always craning our necks to get out of them, to see what’s on the other side. We suffer for being too clever. We find out what hurts or kills, and we in our big-brained wisdom can keep it away, but then we wonder if we’re missing anything, like Rapunzel in a tower made of red plastic-styrofoam apples melting together into impenetrable goo. She can’t even let down her hair, because she’s not insured against falls.
Our society keeps us apart from nature. I can, if I so choose, live my life so I never have to see a snake or encounter a mosquito. I’ll get that downtown apartment, keep the air conditioning running, and when I go on vacation, go to another city. I can structure my life so that I never see more than four trees at once, and my deepest experience of nature is that downtown park that’s more landscaping to avoid leaving dark recesses where rapes can happen than it is “nature,” whatever that is.
But from inside that turtle-shell, unless I’m totally brain-dead (maybe the TV breaks for a week, and my brain freed of propaganda seeks answers), I’m going to wonder about my world. It’s natural for any thinking being to wonder, because those thinkers that do not wonder are basically limited to repetition of past impetus. They cannot create a need for a new direction by dreaming and wondering. It is probably the intellectual equivalent of being a kitchen blender or washing machine.
When you go to places far away, and talk to people as best you can, usually because they speak your language because it is associated with commerce (and you blame the Jews for money-culture, when all money speaks English these days), you will see through what lens the world views your homeland. Generally, responses to Americans are hesitant; people are somehow aware that the wrong comment might bring bombers and an army of yahoos hellbent on killing for democracy to their doors. They loosen up a bit when you say “Texas,” and then you see it — just for a moment, a fragment of a glimpse — that far-off look in their eyes, like remembering a dream.
They’re dreaming of Westerns, and old-time tales. They’re dreaming of homesteads in lands unexplored, lands without law, and loves so eternal that two people might face the wilderness together. They’re dreaming of how Texas used to be, and an image it retains, not through reality but through the power of our wishes. We want Texas, and Australia and other romanticized places, to be this way forever. We want that frontier, that lack of law and safety regulations on every single thing you pick up, that sense of indefinition. We want the adventure. Outside the shell, it might be there — but we’re too scientific, too practical and too used to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to take that tradeoff, so it remains a far-off dreamy look, and then is replaced by that normal “snapped back to attention” gaze we use in conversation and staff meetings.
We all want to live in Texas — that old Texas. At least, some part of us does. It’s so romantic, human against wilderness, or maybe in concert with it by struggling against it, since everything struggles a little bit in nature against nature to survive. Even the lowly fungus would cease to exist if it didn’t thrust back against the forces that from gravity to the trampling feet of mice (herds, when you’re .5mm tall) tried to beat it back. And so it is with our vision of Texas: that homestead on the prairie where a wild-haired woman takes the hand of her powder-burned man at the end of the day, and they look out over their meagre homestead, full of dreams of its growth and their own. They know this lawless land will possess them, even kill them, but there’s this sense of a power in doing what they do, in thrusting themselves forward against the resistance and making something of it, even not minding its imperfect — like a sense of meaning in the lexicon where a struggle returns a feeling of accomplishment.
That’s the Texas we want, and that we keep in our hearts, even those of us who live here. It’s what is missing from modern society, where we have idealized symbolic apples instead of the real partially-rotted malformed and often blurrily colored thing. It’s not nature we want, it’s not danger, it’s not even the space and “freedom” of that open range. It’s the challenge. It’s the fear, and the beating it back day after day. It’s the conquering of doubt, the whole world against us as we and the beloved head off to the homestead. It’s the shaking of our fist in those sagely nodded heads and murmured voices under conservative beards that say, “You won’t make it that far from civilization — one season, at the outside.”
We don’t want to fight cougars, but we would. We’re not doing it to shoot back at raiding war parties. We’re not enamored of outhouses, or sweating through a fever without penicillin. No doubt it’s easier the way we do things now. And more comfortable. Less risk. But what’s missing, in our lives and in all of modern society, is that we only see the end-product, the tangible and material and human(ist), but we’ve left out the experience of life. That experience includes taking something on and making it work, or dying in the process, knowing we’re not cowards in our turtle-shells. That’s what Texas is, as a symbol of our hearts quite different from an idealized plastic apple, and Texas is the antidote to every one of the fears we’re too practical to voice.
Thursday, October 11th, 2007
Someone writes down an idea in the words we all use. This is how things are communicated, since there are too many people to shout or gesture with rapid hand motions. Ideas take the form of equivalencies, where one thing is said to resemble another, including the nearly mystical form of metaphor. Equivalencies can be stacked in containership arrangements, where several ideas are associated with an equivalency. It is not unlike our databases, where many “x=y” formulations are arranged to portray any number of data types.
The rest of us must act on this idea; after all, it is now in the public eye, our reality over reality in which ideas take precedence over tangible objects and sensations. If it is said a large storm is coming, we need to know to protect our families, after all. But the idea as written takes precedence because it is a prediction, and because we know the others will respond. Even if a storm is not coming, we should stay extra hours in the shop and sell supplies, or go home early because everyone else is. There is something lemminglike to civilization itself in this regard.
Unlike our observations of the tangible, the idea as written can take many forms, including those that are extra-factual or include judgments and opinions, that vague area of idea classification which includes wants, preferences, and moral ideas. None of these extra-factual thought items are intended to correspond as exactly to reality as a pure statement of fact, such as “A storm was sighted off the cost moving inland at five miles an hour.” For example, noting that the storm is probably the revenge of the gods, or that we should be ready to care for those who cannot afford to escape the storm.
When we read ideas as written, we would be more cautious, except that our daily reliance on them makes them larger than life — more important than what we immediately know to be true, such as winds whipping our face as a funnel cloud darkens over the city. Even more, we are subjected to so many of these ideas from so many voices that we shrug off the burden as long as the day of filtering them into clarity and obscurity, mostly-true or partially-true. We will never find the full truth in ideas as written, because the only truth is what happens tangibly, but we live by the ones we find mostly-true, although this often happens after the event.
Yesterday we — and by that I say the end results of the long process of our sainted Democracy, the United States and its allies among the liberal democracies of Europe — we executed a man who is listed in our media as a tyrant, a despot, a dictator, an ethnic cleanser, a brute and a monster. We are told this is necessary, but that thought-idea is not so much factual, because the world would clearly have gone on had he lived, but judgmental. It was determined he was a threat, like the never-ending sequence of enemies our liberal democracy seems to generate.
Like a red flag before us, the accusations were raised. He genocided a small ethnic group unlike all of his neighbors, we’re told, but the fields of bodies reported early in the media ended up being ambiguous evidence. He ruled by brutal force, we are told, in a region where such things are required — and where we now rule by brutal force, including the use of high explosive in population centers. He was a small Hitler, a petty Stalin, a Machiavelli without conscience, and he either pursued nuclear weapons we cannot find, or used gas we have no evidence was used. The red flag waves; the equivalency determines his name equals bad; and we charge forward, and kill.
It is unclear what leaders do not rule by force and brutality. The American republic was born from a brutal revolution which involved the deaths of many participants and the starvation of civilians. Every firm foreign policy stance we’ve taken since has been backed up through force. Even more, it’s questionable that politics can exist without brutality, since every single person never agrees on the same issue nor can be swayed by propaganda, necessitating force. Much like the mechanics of the universe itself, the mechanics of humanity abhor a vacuum and love decisive action, in which we are little more than material swayed and often blasted into oblivion by its mechanism.
When we wave the red flag over Saddam Hussein, or Adolf Hitler, or Joe Stalin or Kaiser “Bill” von Hindenburg, we classify them as evil with our red flag as represented in the word equivalencies in our press with which our leaders seem to agree. Government and our media and our citizens somehow reach the same general conclusion which then bottlenecks and streamlines into a concrete decision. This red flag signals us to charge forward under the reasoning that by eliminating evil, we institute instead what is good, which resembles our liberal democracy where — unlike in the evil empire — we have freedom and prosperity and justice.
In the aftermath, we discover tangible things that make us regret how solid-sounding that red flag was in the first place. There is a lack of WMDs, or the recognition that Hitler’s elimination of the Soviets would have made Europe and the USA more stable, or even recognition that many of these evil leaders stabilized unstable situations, much how Saddam Hussein defended the third world against the first by unifying Iraq and insisting on a fair price for his country’s oil, making all of his citizens better off even if ruled with a strong hand by an educated minority. Uncertainty grows and we question too deeply our own stability and lack of evil, but as that thought lapses into memory, the red flag waves again.
Michael Crichton wrote in his best-selling “State of Fear” that the media and government conspire to generate a never-ending series of apparent threats. He reasons that they do this for two reasons: first, the media must generate some compelling news-entertainment content, not unlike a new sequel to a popular theme, and second, that government benefits best from the events that mobilize nations along a singular path of action: either threats of enemies, from the right, or the ability to big-heartedly give to the unfortunate and thus feel fortunate, on the left. The carrot and the stick, fear and warm fuzzy feelings of goodwill and self-importance, constitute the most effective way of controlling any population.
When our great-grandfathers went off to fight the first World War, they were assured it was a “war to end all wars” and that once the dastardly Hun, portrayed as impaling babies on bayonets and burning whole towns alive, was conquered all would return to normal. Instead they embarked on the most costly war in European history, destroyed cities and savaged the life of the best of their generation, while vast profit was made by those who sold material and services to the war machine on both continents. Two decades later almost exactly, the process repeated again over the unfinished business of the first, and it was once again the “free nations” against the “oppressor.”
Ever since then, a sage observer might note, our wars fit the same pattern: a demon emerges and is assumed to be doing what he does from purely evil reasons, as if he just “likes” genocide and mass murder and mayhem, with no interpretation of the reasons why this person might act as they do — it’s enough for us to know he limits freedom, and since we’re the freedom people, we don’t like that. It’s an easy sell to claim that freedom perpetuates itself, and there is never a need for strong leaders, and therefore that any leader who is strong must be destroyed. And so we troop off to fight in Cuba, in Viet Nam, in Korea, in Panama, and in Iraq. When we cannot directly fight, we send in the CIA or cruise missiles.
In each case, as with Saddam Hussein, we see on close examination that we are fighting symbolic enemies. While there was reason for the United States to retaliate against someone after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in order to show a lack of weakness, we picked someone with ultimately no connection to those acts. We bullied a nation we could fight instead of the enemy we could not. Before the first bombs fell, our media and government were screaming forth categories of negativity in which to confine Hussein, to dehumanize him and to remove any consideration of the reasons why he might act as he did. Hussein was the red flag, not an actual storm. The storm is elsewhere.
To use that convenient equivalency known as metaphor, we can compare this to a bullfight. We the citizens act based on the information we receive and try to do what we consider right. This means slashing back at evils, and promoting goods. It means charging at the visible portion of those evils, which we see as a red flag. And once the flag has whipped through its arc, and we have charged upon the symbol of evil and driven it down, we get stuck in the back with lances that drain our vitality. Our casualties, our ruined economies, our shattered faith in nations and each other and a pervasive depression stay with us. With our lifeblood draining, we look up wearily, and the flag is there again, and we charge to repeat the process.
This cycle will not cease until we end it by stepping outside of the bullfight and confronting not that matador, the elected symbol of our path, but those who have set up the stadium and take the ticket profit. We cannot end this cycle by using the means granted to us, by charging at red flags or goring the matador. We, the people, must choose an end to the bullfight as an institution. This starts by not charging at red flags, which begins in us understanding that what others designate as a symbol may not represent the reality of the situation.
Ancient philosophers warned us about democracy, saying that while it provided a comfortable living, it separated reality from “public appearance,” or a world of symbols which are easily manipulated by others for purposes of control. While we depend on these symbols for warnings of storms, we must educate ourselves to realize that the symbol is not the storm, and if red flags keep appearing in front of us, we are being used as beasts of burden for the slaughter — and someone else is profiting. That profit does not reflect our interests, or our continued well-being. It is our doom, much as a tired bull festooned in lances is eventually drawn to a last charge so the sword may show its mercy.
In the final count, our symbols which once warned us of storms of evils have become our greatest confusion. They hide the biggest storm of all, because it is not a tangible object but a wave of unsettled fear and insecurity within us. This storm that brews is our collapse from inability to govern ourselves. It is easier to charge at symbols, and trivial to manipulate symbols for profit, but this means that our leadership has been replaced by a cycle of flags and no one is watching the storm. While we are distracted with a reality of our own creation, reality is surging from outside — and within — to overwhelm us.
Thursday, October 11th, 2007
It occurs to me that you cannot put a dollar value on truth. People pay for “information,” which is true knowledge, but not for a sense of truth itself, that is to say, an assessment on a situation that cannot be solved by raw information itself. What about a column of numbers can solve the questions of life, or invent where there was nothing before? Truth is not information, which means it must compete with news-entertainment. News-entertainment has no obligation to truth, as its goal is to interest people not educate them, thus truth is entirely cut out of our modern equation.
This is probably for the best. No one wants to be caught “selling” truth. Psst, buddy, wanna buy the secrets of life? Interestingly, this would probably be an optimum way to hide the best truths we have, as only those to whom no one would listen would buy truth from a streetvendor in a trenchcoat. Truth is effectively reduced to this level anyway, since spending time caring about truth instead of what sells puts you at a disadvantage. The only space our society has for truth-seeking is as a hobby. Yes, in your spare time, hunt down that truth. In the meantime, people want televisions with genital-activated remotes! This Is Important.
We don’t know what nature is. To some it means green ridges of trees outside the subdivision. To others it’s wide open spaces somewhere they still have such things, like in Africa or Appalachia or on the moon maybe. Still others use it scientifically to refer to “nature” as all those wild and wonderful chemical reactions that somehow result in things as varied as bacon for breakfast and the emotion we call “love” (note: love can also not be sold, only the symbols of it, in which a brisk trade has been flourishing since the dawn of humanity). Nature if you really think about it means the universe all together, as this big mysterious process that has somehow brought us into existence from the void.
Nature, as this big process, is better understood by us as “rules” or tendencies than as a physical thing. How do you fist fight the universe? It’s not going to come if you challenge it. It’s already there. Nature in this sense stops for no one, because all things are governed by its rules, much like we cannot help that we act sometimes like our parents, even if we drink until we slur our words. Fight nature is like challenging language to a debate. Nature stops for no one and will just as happily roll over us like a Sherman tank as it will bless us with long and happy lives.
What decides who lives, and who dies? Gruff scientific types bark out something about “Darwinism” and the Christians, holding their severed genitals in latex-gloved hands, sing in angelic voices that God decides everything and we can just go along with it, hum a favorite tune, think of England and enjoy it as best we can. What decides who lives or dies is how well that someone is adapted to nature, or the universe, or reality, or truth, if you want to get picky about language. Whatever it is – it is what is – and those who figure it out live and those who don’t die or have other bad consequences. Another way to put it is that if you smear bear pheremones on your ass and bend over in front of a grizzly, don’t be surprised if you get sodomized.
Each of us has a world in his head. This world is like our outside world, but it is our memory and perception of it, and like a photograph of a summer day it captures a certain angle of gist of reality but not reality itself. That world is the conduit through which we experience reality, because the instant that passes must be stored as knowledge, and all our knowledge comes from our senses as filtered through our judgment. So life becomes a process of having a more accurate world in one’s head (truth) or finding a world one prefers, whether drugs or television or religion or incoherent, neuter-positivist thinking (everything will work alright if I just get a Gold Card). Our internal worlds all have different degrees of truth to them.
When an internal world moves far away from rationality, the mind does not have a problem with it. Only later when the physical body has to deal with the negative consequences of an irrational approach to life does the mind get reminded that it was off-base. If someone neglects to prepare for winter, they cannot will their way past a lack of firewood or food. They die. Similarly depart people who try to find buried landmines with sledgehammers, feed bears raw steak, or smoke while filling up their tanker trucks. When people lament the inundation with functional morons that is a hallmark of modern society, it is too easy to point out that getting a job, credit card and apartment is much easier than surviving a night in the forest, and quality of humanity has declined inversely to the rise of technology.
To be a pariah, in this time, is to assert the kind of truth that can kill people who do not understand it. If you see a room full of people confronted with a new baffling object, many will pretend to understand it, others will pretend to be disinterested, and still others will actually investigate it. The last group is the smallest. These are the ones who act deliberately. Deliberate people are not surprisingly unthreatened by the idea of reality existing and themselves having the possibility of assessing it incorrectly and thus being penalized. Those who are not deliberate, and are not sure their vision of reality is accurate, are threatened and simultaneously invent fantasy worlds in which to mentally reside and become underconfident.
It is this conflict of worlds-within-worlds, or mental visions of the world at large, that humanity finds itself stranded, because with the enhanced capabilities of intelligent life comes great demands for accuracy in perceiving the world at large. It is a race for the intellectual ability to see life as it is, and while the winners do not get rewarded at the instant they complete it, they gain an endurance which far outstrips the ability of those who are in denial (fantasy worlds) or shirking the task (underconfidence, laziness, dishonesty). The winners become pariahs in the illusion-worlds of others because to have a winner present who can remind them of reality is offensive, and they see truth itself as intolerant, elitist, even hateful.
So for now society is upside down, because the winners are pariahs and the losers are kings. The people who live a lie find it easier to adapt to this upside down world because they don’t expect truth or logic in the first place, and are generally so negative and underconfident they gladly settle for a few basic things crowned with gaudy distractions. These pariahs are the ultimate realists, and they laugh at the losers. You think you’ve stolen my power? they say. You think your fantasy world somehow changes the fact that the world is out there, and for all the theory we can concoct about relativity or ideals, it is acting as it normally does? Reality is on my side.
I am the laughing amoralist, our pariah says. I am the one who not only understands reality but likes the way it operates, having looked far enough into the levels of its complexity to see why it does what it does, and to realize that in the long term that type of order is better than our human wishes. Morons would make the world out of dessert foods and gold, and then lapse into an entropy of ambition because their imagination ends with riches and sugar. Pariah-realists are glad for the coldness of winter, the difficult of valued tasks, the rarity of good things. I am the laughing amoralist, our pariah says. You think you’ve got me cornered in your illusion-world, but really, all you’re doing is digging your own grave.
The summation of this situation is a cascade of summations which add up to a great weakness: a species is born, becomes powerful, and drifts into illusion that lessening its power at the same time the forces it set into motion with its wealth become dangerous. It has exported its strength to its external mechanisms, where machines or learning written down or social constructions, and now what is inside has atrophied and become flabby. The force of will and self-discipline and confidence that is needed to create in this life is draining away, being replaced with a short-term-cycle of desires counterpointing fears leading to a will only toward escape, distraction and other activity that dissipates focused energy. It is a path to doom, for those who take this illusion as reality.
When all the lights are extinquished, and when there are no frontiers toward which one can run, the illusionists will have to face what the pariah has long kept inside, which is the nature of the beast which affirms the need for conflict in life and for predation and struggle. We accept reality and its adversity, us pariahs, because we know that the machines and mass media and popularity contests of society made it easier to pick illusion over reality. Our endurance builds and we grow stronger, while the illusionists become more dependent on the illusion. The illusionists see only their machines and social order, and beyond it, there is the monster and the beast within. Pariahs have the beast within and so do not fear the forest, whether outside or in our souls.
For those who uphold the illusion, time is running out as the impact of humanity’s changes on the planet and on itself are being seen. The illusion is flickering as if its projector was short of oil or dropping a bearing; the illusionists themselves are losing strength, and have no way to regain it, since the illusion was always untrue and waited only time to reveal its transparency. And the pariahs, long kicked around and denied because they saw a world outside that world on which others agreed, aka the social illusion, are gaining power as consciousness of reality comes back.
The pariah, the laughing amoralist, turns to the illusionist and says, Well, you’ve had your run, and it’s not coming back for awhile, because it’s now apparent that you’ve blown it. Just like George W. Bush had presidential power unchecked until he made a disaster out of that power, the illusionists have had their day, and through their own actions and not those of another have proved themselves incompetent and destructive. Reality has always been there and it gains strength, showing us that the laughing amoralist pariah was right the whole time. Seeing that, the pariah says offhandedly, “And you want to be nice to us, for we are the ones who will make your graves, now that winter has come.”
Thursday, October 11th, 2007
During some events in your life, you will encounter pathological behavior. Like most tendencies in human experience, the concept comes before the action. Pathological behavior can be defined as any action of a method whose goal is not achieved by that method, no matter how many times it is repeated. Pathological behavior occurs when the concept behind an action is erroneous, and the individual deciding how to act does not recognize this fact.
We see pathological behavior in many ways every day. The people who buy lottery tickets and never win, or the lonely souls who carry someone home from the bar to wake up lonely, or even the endless get rich schemes of the masses who chase wealth and, failing, enrich the scammers and frauds of our modern world. All of these pathological behaviors have two components: a flawed conception of the world that unites an unrealistic worldview with an expection of certain result in reality.
The problem with pathological behavior in a social system is that a form of inductive capacitance can be measured in human beings. When two wires are run parallel, current sent through one can be measured in the other. By a similar principle, if two human beings exist in social parallel, they absorb the nervous energy – a sort of essential simplification of idea – in the form of half-understood concepts and desires. As if by osmosis, people grasp the essence of an idea and it becomes the ideative portion of their pathology. “God will save us” and “The state will find a solution” are scarcely removed as concepts in this pathos.
It’s not easy to recognize this. Our civilization has become complex and interdependent enough, and the normal person is so overwhelmed with needs and desires, that it is impossible to point to proof of its failure — but more importantly, it’s equally impossible to point to proof of its success. Many people note the increasing problems (crime, corruption, pollution) and correlate it to a lack of great achievements (art, music, philosophy) but two things hold them back: first, the system seems to be working, and it puts food on the table, so don’t rock the boat. Second: we are still so awed by our technology that we put unlimited faith in it, as well as our technology of mind, which has us supposing that educators and psychologists will find a way to make us all productive citizens somehow.
Yet there’s nothing obvious we can point to (like a clock counting down the sky) and claim it is proof for all to see that our society is failing. All will never see, even if a giant rubber monster attacks North America, because they will revert to non-logical behaviors; this is the brain’s way of avoiding kernel panic and shutting down in disbelief (interestingly, many who faint at disasters first become irrational). They turn to religion, or focus on irrelevancies, and this enables them as peaceful a demise as can be engineered. But the demise we face is not a fast one, but a slow decline into irrelevance, and it is both far off and close by in that we are now in the last few decades in which we can reverse it.
Societies that collapse slowly do not explode. They stagger, through a series of failures and incompetent compensations, into a third-world state where a mass of lumpenproles — dumb, grey/tan, and devoid of all higher culture or philosophy — are ruled by a pompous elite who got the position through a single qualification: immense wealth. Eventually this decadent elite consumes itself through infighting and inbreeding, and what is left is a burned-out shell of a society staffed by dumber, fatter, sicker, more generic versions of its previous occupants.
There is a point where this course cannot be reversed, because culture has been destroyed and the elites are too powerful and the masses too dumb to oppose them — usually distracted by “panem et circenses” or technological equivalent (fast food, TV). At that point, there is so little consensus among the people that they can literally be bought off for a single issue: gay rights, legal marijuana, recycling, more churches. We are not yet at that point but it approaches rapidly, and if “the people” were able to unite behind a single impetus toward change it would be easily reversible. However, they seem more concerned with “personal” issues, meaning political change that benefits them and to hell with the rest, than they are with holistic fixes to an otherwise suicidal system.
This condition arises because just as most people are specialized to a certain level of thinking, few are capable of using what F. Scott Fitzgerald reference to as “cynical” thinking but which might be better called by the name used in American colleges before it became taboo: “critical thinking.” Critical thinking means the ability to compare a stated goal to the method used to reach it, and to separate the actions which will be successful from those that are pathological. Critical thinking allows one to predict enough of the levels of consequence of any one method to project its effects in the future, no matter how popular it is, and critical thinking is a rarity in society today.
Sage observers refer to modern society as pathological because despite knowing that much of what we do is wrong, we persist in repeated patterns, if for no other reason because because we’re overwhelmed. Still, it is not logical behavior, and should be seen as on par with children who refuse to eat their vegetables because they prefer ice cream. Not everything we do in life corresponds to our wishes. Much of it is a matter of “work,” or overcoming resistance to put things into a better organization so they function beneficially.
If we are to trace the roots of this pathology we will find a simple root cause. After sorting through all of the details and problems and intermediate causes, we come to an original error: what philosophers call “consequentialism,” or the idea that what most people think they prefer is the best course of action. This can be seen in our democratic system of leadership, our belief in personal ownership of stock and businesses, and our social system that replaces culture with what is popular to the mass taste. All of these ideas, which we disguise with materialist and humanist rhetoric, originate in the idea that what we prefer as a group is the best course of action.
Anyone who has chaired a committee, or tried to achieve consensus even in a small group like a family, knows that a direction can only be found when every individual considers it not in context of themselves but in the context of a task which includes them but is not limited to them. If left up to their own concerns alone, individuals pick what benefits them, and since the rest of the question — overall direction for all individuals — is a distant second, they consider it barely and conclude it will be addressed by what they summarize in partial witticisms and homilies. “It’s all good”; “It’ll work out”; “The People will rise up and fix it.”
However, the middle class in America and Europe is beginning to see that they, the professionals and leaders of the layer beneath politicians but above workers, have become an endangered species. An influx of cheap labor has made the rich richer, and products cheaper, but the socialized costs of a society without consensus as to direction (something achieved through agreement on values, which are passed down through generations in a form we call culture) make it harder to find respite from the madness. The middle class sees a future in which more money is required to have homes away from the ghetto, more time must be spend on the road commuting, and more effort must be spent in bypassing now-ruined public services for private offerings.
And the workers? Most of these will acknowledge some degree of incompetence in managing their own affairs. Fodder for the workplace, they either walk the straight and narrow or try a way around and in all cases but a few get busted and re-introduced to society as even cheaper labor. The stockholders and CEOs laugh and dumb down the job requirements, making them as simple as pressing buttons on different machines, but the group of violent, stupid, alienated people grows and with it the costs to the middle class. Who gets penalized by crime and unrest? Not the elites behind private security walls. The middle class and the working people pay the price for society’s decay.
In a sensible system, it would be recognized that true leadership (and not just parroting back what the poll figures suggest will be popular) is as rare as the ability to design rockets, do higher math, write philosophy or compose symphonies. A leader is one who intervenes between what the people think they want and what they must do, and either explains to them the logical course or forces it upon them. Whether justification or oppression is used is irrelevant, because if what is logical becomes law, the people are better off even if they had to sacrifice some personal demands for the whole. When the whole becomes sick, we all pay. When we sacrifice for a better whole, we all benefit.
None of our current political solutions are sufficient. It is too easy to promise a pleasant illusion and ignore real problems or opportunities, and so our leaders do it. They, after all, only want to crawl their way out of the morass of poverty that is ensnaring the middle class. Even non-mainstream political solutions fail. While the environment is part of what must be addressed, it is not all of it, and so Greens are left as partial solvers of a detail whose root is the cause described. While a failing of traditional values is part of the problem, it is not all of it, so Conservatives become marginalized with the religious fanatics in a mire of abortion, gay marriage and drug laws. While racial decline and loss of homogeneity are part of the question, they do not complete it, which leaves nationalists further isolated from a solution.
The answer is relatively simple: there is one truth, and we call it reality. Many voices describe it and in any genre there are those who understand most of it, but to see it requires putting our personal interests and egos second to finding truth and enacting it. None of us are god; all of us have some position in the hierarchy of nature, and not all of us can lead and thus not all of our opinions are important in a leadership context. But when we stop concerning ourselves with consequentialism, and look instead toward finding a correct path, we are suddenly less likely to lead ourselves down a path which destroys the whole. As the whole is the provider for the fulfilment of individual wishes, at that point, we also lose our personal concerns.
What we think we desire is contingent upon a healthy whole. When you ask a group of people their concerns, they will pipe up about details, but it is unlikely they will focus on that whole. For humanity to survive as something other than a degraded society where the rich rule the stupid, we need to instead find consensus by targetting reality in recognition of how nature, a healthy civilization, and culture as a reservoir of social learning are essential to our individual futures. Should we wish to survive, and all healthy people do, this is the time to set aside our personal fears, selfish desires and confusions and to enact, finally, a better system of human self-government — before it is too late.
Saturday, October 6th, 2007
When you were a kid, you may have been fortunate enough to have one of those tedious, blown-out old guys down the block who would always compare any current event to some distant dusty greyed-out happening in ancient times. “You know kid,” they’d rasp in those death warmed over voices, “Every time they raise gas prices, it reminds me of the Punic wars!”
Your job as a child was to make fun of them of course. That’s how you do what all children need do, which is differentiate yourself from your parents, because this is how children become self-conscious.They need that self-consciousness so that they can master it, and if they go far enough, discard most of it except the useful factual parts.
When we learn things, we have to go overboard first, and then find a moderate ground, upon which we can then heap more learning. Crotchety old men are on the far side of this cycle, which is that they sit on a heap of learning and are trying to remember back what it was like to be trying to build that mountain of knowledge. They’re upset you don’t understand how the Iraq war re-iterates things we in theory learned as a species during the Punic Wars.
They’re right but presenting themselves badly, because a raspy figure of death does not communicate reliability to the young. It communicates fear. What is missed in this lost chance for communication is a building block of understanding your world so profound that it changes the way you will view politics and society entirely. When children, we view our world like ourselves, as a linear history from birth to eventual death, and presume it to be inherent and unchangeable, a product of nature.When we get more experience, we stop seeing history as a timeline and start seeing it as a cyclic process which occurs in the linear space we call time.
Much like our own lives have birth, life, and then death, history contains similar cycles, but does not itself have them. Time is eternal. But for each entity in history this cycle persists. When we know this, we are no longer fooled by the heady propaganda from our governments, media, and moronic social partners that we are somehow “evolving” as a society. We are advancing through a life cycle which ends in death. The only thing that evolves is the design of individual humans and of course, the design of specific functions within a society.
Left to its own devices, the average civilization will cycle through its lifespan over a couple thousand years and then depart into physical, biological and intellectual ruins that resemble the results of at least a thousand years of dumbing down,compromise, palliative social placation, and of course, commerce dominating values. Is it any wonder the globe is covered with civilizations where dirt-covered people labor in ignorance at the bases of vast, impressive ruins? The original inhabitants are gone, both departed and absorbed into the remainder population.
This is what the old would tell the young if they could. It is also what great philosophers have attempted to tell us for aeons. Before we begin congratulating ourselves on one mechanism or another we have adopted to deal with the ongoing decline, we should ask ourselves: are we experiencing decline? Smart leaders and strong-willed populations can overcome this life cycle or prolong it, just like smart human beings can exercise and eat right and not become walking ruins of humanity before their time to depart this earth.
In movies it is popular to zoom out of a scene, show its larger context,and then return, with the juxtaposition (a product of time) showing how the small events of our lives are both iconic indicators of the larger cycle and contributing to it. Now that we have zoomed out from the events of our day, let us return to the Punic Wars, and the Blackwater scandal currently fading out in Iraq. What the media and government and well-meaning bloggers see is abuse of a system by a rogue mercenary company; what people with historical context (zoom enabled) see is the inevitable product of a declining empire forced to rely on mercenaries, who by definition share few of its actual values.
The real transgressions of the Blackwater people, it turns out, are more than one incident. Where US soldiers tried to blend with the population and reinforce a positive presence, for Blackwater, their contracts are a job and Iraqis are just in the way. Think of the killing of millions of buffalo, the wholesale removal of trees for replacement by concrete, or the billions of pounds of paper not recycled by businesses every year. When you’re on a job,you tacitly recognize it’s a form of control and resent it, because you’re not there as a result of agreeing with the mission. You are there for the money and because, since you’re forced to get money, you picked the least offensive career for you. But resentment is the periphery of that focus.
People at jobs (in my experience) tend to carry that chip on their shouldering a barely-hidden way that makes it even more present wherever they go. They do not act out overt aggression, but instead make thousands of tiny acts of sabotage. They borrow your stapler and don’t return it. They leave messes around the office. They accomplish only what exactly is stated in detail for any assignment, and ignore obvious implications. Job-logic is what gets us people being wasteful, and then running home without a care. Job-logic is what causes sloppiness that reaches epidemic proportions at the big corporations.
Job-logic is someone painting a floor, then storing flammable paint next to a water heater because it’s conveniently close to the door and no one told them not to. We joke at our jobs about how much we like weekends and can’t wait to escape, but under that joke is a simmering resentment which expresses itself in, “I will do what you tell me to, and not a god damn thing more,” which creates a kind of obliviousness. Our product works OK but breaks after a few months, or dumps oil on the floor?Well, we did what it said here in the Working Specification.
When an empire has to hire mercenaries to do the work that its Army cannot for political or logistical reasons do, you know the end is peeking around that next corner, and he’s winking. You know the game, he says. You fear death and death comes for you, but if you’re so goal-directed and conscientious that you seek an ideal more than you fear death, death cannot catch up to you until you are so old your body simply gives out. Our society has not found such a goal and has instead focused on making its members comfortable via material wealth and social esteem, which has made them fat,neurotic, emotional and ineffective. All they know how to do now is hire others to take care of them.
That old guy in the corner is telling you about the Punic Wars because the same thing happened to Carthage. While Rome was a virile and young civilization bustling with blondes and redheads and auburn-haired people,Carthage had become a marketplace for the dramatic international jet-setters who follow money but have no use for culture. They were a Semitic culture,formed from the intersection of Berber and Asian and Caucasian societies,and according to some accounts dyed their hair and painted their faces to excess. Carthage was like Los Angeles at its worst: ostentatious, but quick to humble someone else by pitying them and tossing aside a pittance of alms,and completely useless except for paper-shuffling, re-financializing money shuffling, desk-bound “earning money” without making anything better. In other words, a society in its final years, when it no longer has any ideals to live for.
Rome called their bluff. Unlike the Carthaginians, called Punic from the Latin term for Phoenician, the Romans were united by a common goal of power according to their ideal, and spreading that ideal through an empire.They were conditioned to practical labor as much as theory, and their theory was not landlocked by social constraints like marketing, as the Carthaginian theory was. They were rising, and Carthage was falling, and over the next three Punic Wars they proved it to the world, eventually laying siege to Carthage and literally erasing it from the map. Of course, that was before their own civilization aged, lost its consensus of ideals, and collapsed.
Despite the cries of media charlatans, Blackwater’s recent Iraq debacle is a small detail. Some guns for hire screwed up because in their job capacity there is no requirement that they care about the broader implications of what they do. So it is with all jobs, and jobs as labor without the context of ideals are a product of dying civilizations. The media is performing its job by whipping a detail into a frenzy, and at the same time, overlooking the inevitable truth of our decline. We’re all just doing our jobs, but no one is watching the overall direction on which we’re going. We can fool ourselves for a little more time by calling this progress, and in that time we can make some money and hopefully get away from the mess, so we will.
What it comes down to, when you look at civilizations as life-forms in themselves, is that there are two stages of society. In one, normally the youthful stage, the society is organic, meaning that consensus of values motivates its people toward accomplishment in accord with the ideal that represents the mental derivation that produced those values. In the other stage, usually the later, the society has become self-conscious but has not transcended that self-consciousness, so it imposes Control upon itself from some presumably absent but always oligarchically-controlled leadership faction. Conservative societies rule with a top-down order, emphasizing the production of a leadership caste, and liberal societies rule with a bottom-up order that seeks to neutralize leadership castes by empowering those at the bottom.
Both are methods of control that because they are imposed,create a job-mentality, and so do not fit the bill for saving a civilization.If we want to thrive, there is only one way, and that is by starting at the origin of leadership in a successful society, which is a mental and moral consensus according to some ideal that transcends self-consciousness. We must shoot for something that is not within the self, and is not defined within the society itself. It must be an ideal. Without such an ideal, we are like the Blackwater people just fulfilling rather frustrating jobs, and sometimes we too will freak out and shoot up the innocent from what might be sheer boredom.