Sunday, November 30, 2008

Curious questions

Oh, good heavens, some people are on the BBC just now trying to employ the evolutionary model to ideas. "The good ideas survive, and the bad ones do not," the speaker says, only to be interrupted by a literary critic who says that the "good book" is not the one that sells and that culture doesn't work this way, and then another speaker wants to apply infant analogies. Whee!

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change." - Charles Darwin

So, "survival of the fittest" <--> "fitness is health" <--> "health is strength" <--> "fitness is the strength" :: "Survival of the strongest is evolution." Thus does "evolution" mean the opposite of what Darwin said it meant, mean more what Hitler said it meant.

What a bunch of galloops. The book or idea that flourishes is the one that most nearly satisfies its cultural moment. On this, the Darwinian and Marxist and Hegelian analysts would agree. Thus, the idea that flourishes is the one that responds most nearly to what the cultural vaccuum is.

I didn't want to write about that, though. No. I have a dearth of e-mail and friends right now, in my time of need, and so I convulsed about what I heard on the radio instead of any matter of genuine concern.

My last got no readers at all, so my blog is definitely heading in the right direction. If the trend continues, this will actually get some unreaders, and that's what I want to ask about.

I grew up in the Watergate generation. This is an important thing. While, since then, there have been other opportunities (the Iran-Contra generation, for example, or the Alberto Gonzales generation), the Watergate generation is that time when aware and yet gullible young people, say ten to fifteen years of age, could watch television all together and see the President lying, stealing, and pilfering for the slightest political advantage. It was a moment that marked all of the intelligent and aware of my generation with either superior cynicism or furious faith.

I was, therefore, one of millions who learned early on the philosophy of realpolitik. Knowing that states act always on matters of gain and interest, rather than belief and philosophy, has served me very, very well. It helped me realize, for example, that Edward Teller's funding pipedream of the x-ray laser (aka the Strategic Defense Initiative, aka "Star Wars") upset the Soviets because the thing absolutely sucked as a missile defense but was an absolute beauty when it came to vaporizing people from outerspace. It helped me see that Iran-Contra was itself a burp, where philosophy dominated interests and thereby screwed up both the philosophy and the interests. It helped me realize how the invasion of Panama might well be more in line with The Panama Deception than the saving of a Navy captain's wife from harassment.

It has failed me, though. My cynicism and my analysis have failed me entirely, however, with the invasion of Iraq.

What I want from the Obama administration is an explanation of why we did it. I'm serious. I have been waiting for six years for an explanation that could survive a third grader's analysis.

What has infuriated me is how outrageously flimsy the explanations have been. It's not that they're lies: we expect lies when it comes to a causus belli, but it's that they're so obviously lies that they beg us to supply our own reasons, and no one has been able to supply one. Panama deception? No. Misdirection? No. Oil? No. To sneak up on Russia or Iran? No.

What is infuriating about the invasion of Iraq to me is not that it was foolish, disgraceful, immoral, and disasterous, but that the proferred reasons don't make sense, and even the most cynical and sinister conspiracy theories don't make sense, either. In fact, what I want to know is why we invaded, because there actually is no reason at all for it. Tell me that we wanted an outpost for Aramco, and I'll feel better. Tell me that it was to enrich Dick Cheney, and I'll feel better. Tell me even that it was a plot to kill poor people the world over, and I'll feel better.

Please, President Obama, don't leave it as it is, where there is no reason at all for this sacrifice, this disaster, this atrocity, this corrosion of all that we hold dear about ourselves and all we want to protect in our collective soul. Even a paranoid reason would be better than lies and nonsense.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Memoriam

My last blog post got exactly one reader, so this one will be another ray of sunshine.

This is a guilt trip town I'm in. I'm quite susceptible to guilt, but not usually of blame. I am a teetering mass of guilt, but always about failure, not crime. There is a difference. If you tell me that I've done something badly and I don't agree, I won't be bothered at all. However, if I, myself, think I did something badly, then you will be unable to convince me not to feel guilt.

The thing is, this is a guilt trip town, and by that I mean that drivers tailgate.

If you drive a car and there is traffic, you might feel as if you are walking along a sidewalk. You have to get around people who are wandering, have to avoid making eye contact with bullies, and all the rest. Inevitably, though, you feel the constant pressure. There is a pressure from people behind you, people beside you, to move, to go faster, to go slower, to change lanes, to stay put, to stop, to go, to go from the redlight more quickly, or not so quickly. Traffic gets on our nerves because of all of those expectations. We're all always being looked at and urged. There are only two choices on the road: press or be pressed. If you are in a hurry, and all of those idiots are in your way, then your anger and assertive reactions are aimed like rays of hatred out at all the other people. You glare, glower, and grimace as you go. If, though, you achieve your ideal speed (the speed you would go if no one else were around), then you feel pressure. All those people are hating at you, and it's not nice.

When I lived in North Carolina, the characteristic driving habit of the entire state was to get into the middle lane, if there were three, or the left lane, if there were two or four lanes to choose from. People got onto the highway and immediately went to the left lane, and there they stayed. "The left lane was good enough from grandpa, and I reckon I'll stay until God calls me home," they'd say. It was an article of faith for each and every driver that left lanes were "normal" for people going 45 mph and 95 mph alike. The middle lane mania, on the other hand, was for people going a "normal" speed. The people who thought they were middle class whether taking home $25,000 or $400,000 a year also thought they were "middle" drivers, neither fast nor slow.

Where I am now, though, the defining characteristic is tailgating. I'm not exaggerating when I say this, either. Whether it's a teen or a senior, the driver follows at 10' or less. Furthermore, it is not, as you and I might have expected, a matter of speed. On a commute, I get to a passing lane. Since I drive five miles per hour over the speed limit, I feel like I'm in no one's way, and yet I customarily have two or three SUV's (or, as they were recently called, "FUV's") riding each other's, and my, tail. When I get to the passing lane, I feel a sense of relief: they will pass me and go about their busy days without threatening me. However, they don't pass. They stay there, tailgating, because that's "normal" for them.

The effect of being tailgated all the time is to feel the weight of another person's anger all the time, to feel in the way, all the time, to feel hated, all the time. I do not respond to that person's criminalizing gaze, but I do respond to the anger and come away agreeing that I'm all alone, despicable. It's a guilt trip town.

Along the state highway, there is a very, very large field. It is perhaps 20-40 acres of furrows, usually growing peanuts, I believe. For months, I had seen two stray dogs out in that field. They would play the way that only two yearling dogs without owners could play, with utter joy. I would drive by, and they would be within ten yards of the highway, jumping in the air, twisting their necks as if catching a Frisbee, and play biting each other.

Yesterday, I was driving down the road, and there was the dandruff of cotton boles all along the median, as the autum crop had been taken in. The leaves are down, now, or falling, and so there are pixels of color amid the brown and broom sage orange of the fields, and the soil's shoulders switches from the cut pumpkin color of the northern half of the state to the sandy gray of the coast, and there, at the edge of the road, was one of those dogs, dead.

I cannot blame the drivers, nor the people who abandoned the dogs a year ago. The dog had been annihilated by the strike, and so it is extremely unlikely that he had much suffering to do. Instead, his death had been most probably as sudden as his life, but it's a town of guilt, of sadness, and of raw cut death, and I remember and mourn that pair of strays.

Monday, November 24, 2008


So, what has been going on? Well, I have been having a back ache from the cold butter knife Death has been jabbing me with, and I have made the transition from a blissful and busy worker to a very, very unhappy one, all with a single day's belch of miasma in my direction. I'm rather weary of egos that are like the thing that may never be filled (Proverbs 30:15-16).

I spent a good amount of time, or rather a bad amount of time, sorting through the horde of wrongs I had done and the reasons I had for suffering, thinking that the solution would be the grand quietus, but, of course, that is not satisfaction. That is cessation. Satisfaction is in going from comfortable and collegial to surveilled and disconcerted. The problem, of course, is in knowing or even speculating upon what it is that is doing the accounting. If it's just me, as the OT VIII's would say, then to Hell with it (get it? that's clever). If it's some cosmic compter, then I'd like to know when, exactly, meekness will pay off or why I'm not enjoying the payoff, or if that failure to enjoy the fruits is itself another debit in the column. If the frame of reference is grander and more intelligent and loving than that, then I'm in the world I know. In the divine realm, suffering is neither good nor bad. It is irrelevant, by itself.

That's right: I said that suffering is irrelevant, and so is death.If you think about things, then you really don't have any alternative but to think that death, and consequently its presagements, are neither good nor bad. I do not mean that they lack value. They certainly have both value to the one doing the dying, suffering, and grieving, and they have meaning, but they cannot be moral. Morality requires free will and choice between that which is obedient to the good (or God) and that which is not. One thing we know very well is that not a blasted, blighted, benighted one of us has the least choice in ailing, perceiving the ailment (suffering), and dying.

I could extend this to an imitation of Donne's Thoughts upon Emergent Occasions and paint suicide and suicidal behavior in the shimmering light of over-analysis, but that would be as illogical as believing that death is a special act. Donne understood death better than we do, I think, for he never protested it nor welcomed it. Life builds up, and death takes away, and so each death is a reduction until the final reduction. By that time, one needs to have a new lease elsewhere, a new home. However, at the same time, every creature is born to a death sentence. Logic is enough, even in such darkness, to illuminate one fact: nothing can be special if it is shared by every creature that is or ever has been. It does not actually come sooner to the good or the bad, and disease certainly does not care about the virtues of its hosts. There are things we can do to make this event more or less likely at a moment, but the fact is that we are all driving or driven by a machine whose wheels are about to come off.

If you are at peace with these facts or raging or wailing or smiling, it makes no difference. It is simply a topic that does not welcome or even allow thought. Thinking about your own individual extinction on earth is almost impossible. It is like trying to remember a pain you have felt: you can summon up the fact of the pain, but not the experience, and, just so, you can think of and acknowledge the fact of your death, but not think about it. This is how nature made us, and it shows the hand of the divine.

Think about this. If we cannot imagine zero or infinity, either one, then the instruction is to live, and in living to accumulate life. What is it that makes us live? That which is most lively, is, no doubt, loving, but so is pleasing and being pleased. This has been my thought, anyway, my philosophy.

So, about being meek. I am not meek. I've never been meek. I've given up, though, on struggling against the deeply seated manias of others. There is no reform possible, when what they are doing is born out of their needs rather than their reason. Thus, the ego that may never be filled is best avoided, like an event horizon. Thus, if someone has plans for every other person to do this and that and this other thing to glorify his own shining heart of gold, then the best thing is to be invisible. Once spotted, sucked, dragged, and crushed, though, there is nothing better to do but try to find the comfort, no matter how cold. Look up. Look down. Look somewhere, but try to find the thing that is still living.