Our civilization seethes with contradictions. For example, strong efforts are being made to erase racism, sexism, ageism and the thousand other isms the mind is heir to. On the other hand, rarely has real life and the newfangled internet been so uncivil. Sometimes, it seems that putting others into categories and making fun of them _ or worse _ is just part of human tribal behavior. The most corrosive remaining effects of isms tend to be internal. Society can attempt to combat the most overt issues with legal remedies, but none of us can ignore that what we are conditions how the world sees us, For better or worse.
Facetiously, I mention heightism, simply because I am quite short. It took a while to learn I would not easily pick up girls in bars, for example. Most leadership positions also tend to drift toward the bigger types.
So we learn offsetting traits to be more clever or more obnoxious or whatever to compensate for whatever innate handicap we seem to endure. And we are always a little envious of those born with silver spoons.
I believe all isms should be resisted tooth and nail. On the other hand, for me or anyone else to pretend I am not a short person and refuse to mention that fact is pure madness.
One of the most fatuous things anyone can say when trying to comfort another is that “everything happens for a reason,” Implying, of course, a good reason.
But I do not accept that the sufferings and calamities of the world are orchestrated in a good cause. If they are so directed, an evil cosmic entity is at fault.
Now I can easily intuitively believe that I have a personal protective spirit, who knowingly shapes my ends, perhaps choosing the best path for my spirit among infinite alternatives. But the nasty correlation to such a reality would be that everything and everyone else are merely props to my own well-being. That is a morally dangerous solipsism which I intellectually reject.
Language constructs narrative. Some people are able to fit just about everything into their own story, making it useful and interesting. And like any good novelist, our consciousness can weave every event and circumstance that we encounter into a fantastic worldview which is much of who we are.
So certainly in my own life much seems to have happened for at least the reason that it helped to make me who I am. On the other hand, I am open-minded enough to think alternatives would have worked (or not.) Mostly things just happened. And later with much clever imagination, I could attach a meaning.
Cynicism is a protection against caring. It is not exactly a rejection or criticism, but rather a way to muffle sharp edges. Very useful, and quite dangerous.
Normally I am not much of a cynic. I do smell roses and rejoice in the beauty of the sky. I smile about every small child I see. I even, on occasion, think well of my neighbors.
But it is easy to slip. The sky is polluted and a storm is coming. Roses will be eaten by bugs and killed by November frost. Small children, like all of us, will eventually die, possibly horribly. So what difference does it all make? Letting such an attitude overtake our consciousness is pure poison and with a strong enough dose one might as well be dead already.
But like many poisons, a small dose of cynicism can make us a little healthier and more sane. It is good, for example, to be cynical about claims that are too good to be true. Good to be cynical about the various prophecies of even experts _ for nobody can predict any future with complete certainty. Good to distrust to some degree almost any human motivations.
Ah, but adjusting the dose? That’s tough. And for a few, cynicism becomes addictive. Often caused by failing to enthusiastically regard the sky, roses, and small children.
The basic “crie du coeur” of conservatives is that “they just want to be left alone.” All is well with their part of the world. Protect their rights and their property with their laws and all will be well forever. Why in the world would anyone want massive changes?
Well, almost. They want to be left alone as long as everyone else conforms. Obviously the courts must stop neighbors from immoral actions, even if they never touch us directly. Immoral, by the way, is anything I personally don’t approve of.
Perhaps this approach worked in the days of the open frontier. But in our current crowded and interconnected civilization, “no man is an island” is a quaint memory. We have become like cells in a body, dead together if we don’t get along.
“Left alone” to use electricity, go shopping, improve our yards at the expense of anyone nearby. “Left alone” to enjoy being free of robbery and crime. “Left alone” to consume whatever we do not directly produce. What an absolutely thoughtless statement.
The old political labels, like many things, are obsolete. All we have left are the shells of slogans, screamed by the power-mad, supported by those who are truly (by wealth and power) in enough control to be left alone.
These essays are written a month or so before being posted, so perhaps all the excitement about a true AI chatbot has died down. After all, who cares if it can do what students and a few professional writers can do?
Ah, but it is yet another massive revolution. Born near 1950, I have lived through several _ communications, computers replacing clerks, automation of factories. Few realize how profoundly today is different from a century ago. AI is about to do the same and more.
To begin with, it will quickly wipe out office jobs. AI and the cloud can fill out forms, track activities, and do everything in an office better than people. Wait until that unemployment hits.
But I also think it may gradually take over all intellectual exercises. It can correlate patterns, more quickly than human geniuses. It is possible there will be little if any “mind work” left for anyone.
What we will have left will be simply being animals. Exercise, hedonism, and politics. An awful fate, some may say. But very much like the ideas of classic Greeks and aristocrats through the ages
Revered ancient philosophers and even modern ones were, surprisingly, what most Americans would consider drones. The ancient male Greek intellectuals and most societies since have believed that having to work at a trade disqualified you from rational meditation.
As far as I can tell, the “great thinkers” of antiquity walked around talking and drinking and complaining a lot. A few of them had their words written down by other people. The great minds of the Enlightenment were mostly hanging out in salons and estates supported with incomes from remote lands. A few, of course, sponged off the wealthy.
Today our most influential self-inflated professional prophets work in education or media, which may at times be tedious or stressful, but is certainly not laying bricks, flipping hamburgers, or standing on an assembly line.
The internet, however, has brought a new set of drones to the forefront. People living okay, with some free time, who can now write and opine incessantly. I’m not sure if that is good or bad, but it is certainly different. As a retired person _ a drone myself _ who admires some of the ancient wisdom I remain confused, often fearful, sometimes optimistic.
This instant is all we truly possess, and it is mysterious indeed. In some ways, right now does not even exist, though we might see it coming and remember it afterwards. And, of course, it is also the only real intersection where we can actively interact with the real world.
Some perceive it as if it were viewed from the future. How will whatever is done be judged tomorrow or in a few years? How can what is accomplished lead to better outcomes or choices then if they were not done? That is a valid and useful perspective.
Others perceive it as the result of a long line of past moments, good and bad. Some actions done or undone, some luck, some inevitabilities. This moment just another like all the others, to be handled as well as possible. That is also useful and valuable.
And then there is the nimbus of the moment itself, an infinite grid of worry, reflection, appreciation, and action. Trying to make the most of this magical instant which is life and consciousness. And, somehow, balancing that with all the other possibilities.
Confusingly, we bounce from one viewpoint to another, feeling more than only the moment, but knowing we are not. An odd situation, which is what being human really is.
Childhood can be difficult. One is gaining all kinds of abilities very rapidly. At the same time, one is being constantly instructed in when to use them or suppress them. And then one learns about hard and final limits, such as never being able to fly.
Child’s play provides an outlet for all those distressing complications. Your toy figures can fly or turn invisible. Characters can yell and fight. Buildings can go up in one instant, get destroyed in the next. Limits are non-existent.
When an adult plays, it can be amazing how much forbidden stuff a child can work out. Characters are allowed to say and do things already taboo in polite society. They can hate school, refuse to eat vegetables, act out tensions with adults. A keen grown-up observer is constantly educated and entertained.
The more fortunate among us never completely abandon childhood outlook. We can still build castles in air, even if now they are dreams of ambitions. We can imagine outcomes to our anger forbidden in real life. And, most important, we can occasionally escape all our limits and wallow in the wonder of the world.
Technological hubris believes that civilization can now control everything everywhere. We quickly extend that into assuming somebody somewhere is responsible for all that happens. Including our troubles.
Nothing new. In the old days when God or the gods controlled the universe we could blame them. Or perhaps the evil subset summoned by witches. It’s human nature.
Also human nature to try to make a quick buck, which is why our civilization is also chock full of lawyers, who invoke the incantations and exorcisms in a dead language. Probably better than trying to punish the imagined culprits ourselves.
Naturally we dream of recourse. Our current superhero movies are nothing more than extravagant revenge fantasies. Find those causing our problems and eliminate them and all will be sweetness and light.
The problem, of course, is that we first pick scapegoats like those ancient witches. Then we elevate some plain old general or politician to superhero status. And if we are really deep in the blame game we let them have all the power they say they need.
Meanwhile the plain fact is that civilizations are a lot less powerful and knowledgeable then we hope. The universe itself is chaotic and unpredictable. Nobody and nothing controls much of anything. Which is truly frightening.
Winter walks in hardwood forests remind me of Gothic cathedrals. I suppose it is the columns rising all around, and the vaulted tracery of branches overhead. Even the sunbeams shining at low angle through a maze of branches seem like the effect of stained glass.
I know it should be the other way around. Ancient as the European masterpieces may be, they are infants compared to the forest. If there is any reminding to be done, it should be buildings reminding me of nature. Perhaps that would happen were I there, but I am here in a large park and my memories run backwards.
Of course, architects would claim form follows function. The churches and the woodlands both reach for the sky and a covering canopy. The methods end up being a convergent evolution of pillars and overarching ribs. Simply a consequence of the constraints of gravity on the necessities of a desire to get higher.
Be that as it may, quiet January strolls down the dead leaf paths are religious. Meditations on grand themes come easily, at least until one trips over a rock or root to be yanked back to local reality.
I am sorry for those who cannot or will not find such restorative retreats. Grateful that I can still do so.