I Have No Answers.  I Don’t Understand.

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Apocryphal “news” stories, insane (or just inane) narratives, names swatted like tennis balls around Twitter… I could retrieve a few, but to what end?  You’ve heard most of them.  East Indians are saying that they can see the Himalayas for the first time in years as their city streets lie comatose.  New Yorkers say they can see fish now in the Hudson as Long Island lies embalmed.  Something about Englishmen and their nightingales—the size of their wings… I couldn’t quite make it out, but in the same genre.  A CNN mouthpiece publishing a letter to his newborn son or toddler (who obviously can’t read, and hence is obviously not the letter’s true target) celebrating the collapse of the U.S. economy as a vast obstacle removed from the Green New Deal’s Juggernaut.  And the prep-school Ocasio girl-woman who masquerades as a hyphenated traditional Latina from the barrio saying… well, basically that it’s a good thing all structure is collapsing around us, because we’re really going to love (those of us who survive) life in Naked-and-Afraid Land.

I hate cars and car culture.  Always have.  I hate the racket, I hate the razed acres of concrete and glass, I hate the stop-and-start enforced focus on material circumstances that won’t allow your thoughts to stray without deadly risk.  I walked six hundred miles of Irish and Scots backroad in a month on two separate occasions in my twenties.  I permitted (not purposely) my driver’s license to lapse as a graduate student in Austin, where I walked to classes and to the grocery store and to the laundromat—and then walked dozens more miles per week for pleasure.  In retirement these days, I aspire to grow nut and fruit groves on my North Georgia 25 acres, and I seldom have either the need or the want to leave my property.  But… but I do have to travel to the grocery store once a week, and I could scarcely hike that sixteen-mile round-trip with a backpack and bring home what my wife and I require to survive.  Much of what I unload from the truck also goes into a refrigerator—and, no, I can’t run that from the turns of a windmill.

I “get it”, you see: I mean, that our high-tech, progressive economy’s artificial world is often a noisy, tasteless, stinking, hectic, sometimes poisonous sprawl.  I’m all for reducing those horrid qualities.  I’m doing what I can on my own to subtract from them.  But…

But I don’t understand the ambition to exterminate the human race, or large parts of it, in order to achieve some sort of green silence.  Even if nothing were at stake but my own suicide, who would look after my saplings if I checked out?  The deer and wild blackberry would gnaw and choke them to nothing within a season.  Mother Nature doesn’t favor diversity.  She gives the victory to the swift, and she allows the strong to throttle everything weaker around them.  Pope Francis says that Mother Nature doesn’t forgive, implying that the human foibles which once found leniency before God’s throne have now grown insufferable before the universe’s new ruler (whom he seems to hold in higher reverence).  Quite right: Mother Nature is best pictured as a ravening animal, a T-Rex.  Without my human hand, the cherry trees would never bear fruit, the bluebirds would have no houses, and the whole forest would eventually go up in smoke after lightning ignited a conflagration in uncleared brush.

So maybe I should live, and others should die in my place.  Maybe all the capitalist car-drivers should go.  What gives me the moral authority to pass a death sentence upon them?  Why, my self-evident virtue, of course!  So let millions starve as we shift all power to solar panels and wind turbines (which will purge more avian species from the earth in less time than any extermination event since the Dinosaur Asteroid), let a PRC-style board of central planning keep my dole coming because I’m one of the faithful (credentials verified by a chip that Bill Gates and Dr. Fauci have planted in my head), and let “the others” shelter-in-place until they rot as squad cars and Humvees cruise the streets.  To make an omelet, you have to break some eggs… or whatever version of Pope Lenin’s holy writ Ms. Ocasio thumbed before deleting it.

Would I be safe then?  With Big Brother enfolding me deep in his warm data bank, would I finally see a quiet dawn gild skies unplowed by any contrails?  Huawei 5G is supposed to combine with the Gates microchip to keep me apprised of any abnormal fluctuations in my vital rhythms.  Rising blood pressure?  I receive a kind of Amber Alert on my cellphone.  Irregular heartbeat?  The same.  Marcus Welby, M.D., will have fused with SuperNanny (in Gestapo apron) to tweak, instantly and minutely, any slightest menace to my good health.  The invasions of privacy pouring in from all directions need not worry me; after all, as that profound ethical philosopher, Andrew Cuomo, has lately opined, nothing is worse than death.  (Or as Claudio answered his sister Isabella’s appeal to his honor, “Death is a fearful thing!”)  And why will the supreme technicians sitting at the invisible nexus of the planetary network take such interest in my prolonged survival?  Why?

Well, why not?  Why wouldn’t they?  They are the People’s Government.  The People’s Government loves the People, by definition.  They will see that I’m cared for in all circumstances.  If I need to stay home in a mask with a can of Lysol, then I will do so as long as They command.  If my job disappears and I have no visible means of support, then They will send a check.  They know what’s best for me—and for you.  For all of us.  They are experts.  Why would you be so selfish as to attempt to frustrate their mapping of our safest course?  Why should you have the right (again channeling philosopher Cuomo’s wisdom) to precipitate my death through your non-compliance?

And so we surrender our collective future, in this swooning vision of the Earthly Father (loving husband of Gaia), to the kind of elite which has deliberately stockpiled 1,500 varieties of corona virus, which specially cultivated one strain in an insecure Wuhan lab to infect humans, which locked its own citizens indoors with infected family members until entire buildings became death traps, which ordered survivors back to work in patently unsafe conditions lest the GDP suffer further, which destroyed documentation and silenced medical professionals lest the truth of its lethal incompetence leak out… which, by the way, has been forcing self-sufficient farmers of the sort I aspire to be off the land (no longer their land, but the People’s land) and into overcrowded cities for decades… this is the paradigm of our Uncle Li who will ensure our long, healthy lives.  This is the new pater patriae, the upgraded and non-slaveholding (merely slave-ruling) George Washington.  This is the collectivist Nurse Practitioner whose service to humanity in the Wuhan Institute of Virology was financed by 3.7 millions of donated Fauci money, its sister facility in the same city pursuing the same redacted mission statement with more millions from Saint William of Gates.  This is the colossus whose gaze blank and pitiless as the sun will save us from our own childish, destructive behavior.  This is what CNN reporters and Governor Cuomo and Ms. Latina-Campesina would put at the helm of the good ship New Green Deal.  This defoliator of the African continent and heaviest polluter of Earth’s atmosphere in the planet’s history is supposed to redeem us from our great capitalist garbage dump.

I have no answers to such stupefying idiocy.  I don’t understand.  I cannot comprehend how tens of millions of pampered, college-educated upper-crusters eagerly, even fanatically long to pull the plug on the system that has lofted them to the lap of luxury lest the haunts of their hazily recalled Spring Breaks slip under water in ten years—how this is their Awful Horror, yet they don’t give a damn about an unsecured power grid whose toasting in an inevitable solar storm will leave nine in ten of them dead within months.  It’s as if the dismantling of something high-tech can somehow save their puny lives, but the simple, cheap supplementation of the technology on which they tweet and chirp and insta-blather every day must not happen.  They must live, cowering under their beds with chips in their heads: they must live at all costs.  But… but if only the Great Satan may die, then a weedy, viney planet prowled only by insects and rats is a small price to pay.  If anyone lives, then they must live; but if there’s a chance of wiping humanity off the earth, then they’ll volunteer their lives as deliriously as the zealous of Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate.

You can call it childish, or stupid, or insane.  Columnists, bloggers, and commentators do so all the time.  But that doesn’t explain anything.  I’m not interested in marking tallies on a scorecard: I’m trying to understand.  Why are full adults more emotionally retarded than toddlers?  Why are Ivy League graduates duller than a frozen egg?  How can people who design websites and compile spreadsheets leap out a twelve-story window thinking they’re Superman?  It’s not a laughing matter, inasmuch as it’s likely to kill our children and grandchildren.  What exactly is it?  Why is it happening?

Is it a response to the hyper-technologizing of society?  Young people texting each other across the table on dates have become an endless stock of jokes… but our capitalist economy, after all, has created them.  They can’t be very happy in their state.  Is “it” a reflexive attack upon the Dr. Frankenstein who gave them the life of a mute, neutered freak?

Or are we seeing some more specific kind of technological conditioning?  Have “social media” and all the rest—the screens, screens, screens that mediate between the human mind and material reality at every turn—produced a freak insufficiently self-conscious to appreciate its freakishness?  Do these cyber-human hybrids quite literally not know how to evaluate human nature or to calculate human happiness?

Would they have turned out better if we’d had them read great literature in school?  Generations of Westerners used to acquire an immense amount of self-knowledge at an accelerated rate by reading literary classics—as opposed to the propagandistic screeds ramrodded into the curriculum by a corrupt academic establishment.  But what, then, corrupted the academic establishment?

Was it our abandonment of the land, of nature—of the daily tutorial in natural limitation which repelling grasshoppers from the garden and keeping foxes out of the henhouse provided?  Did we lose our common sense when we all migrated to the city and achieved a much higher lifestyle by spinning basic facts to favor deep-pocketed scoundrels?

At this point, does the ultimate cause even make any difference (to paraphrase yet another great thinker of our times, Ms. Clinton—always pronounced “Missus Clinton”)?  Science analyzes causes with a view to comprehending complex chain-reactions and, perhaps, intervening at critical links to forestall catastrophe.  Yet we’ve already arrived at the last link; and the chain, in any case, appears to be a “one and out” proposition.  You can protect your peanut patch better next summer if you figure out what devastated it last summer.  Once civilization’s wagon trundles over the cliff, however, there’s no restraining its free fall for a try at a better outcome.

Maybe I’d just like to know, for my personal satisfaction.  I’d like to understand the race of cowering, wired-up inepts lining up—with masks and observing strict social-distancing—outside the door of the slaughterhouse.  If the unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates insisted, then maybe the examined life offers modest rewards.

But when examination brings no insights… then I suppose we must await enlightenment from a source that Socrates but dimly divined beyond this valley of shadows.  In the meantime… I have no answers.  I just don’t understand.

 

Two Austrians Fled a Third… And Found Refuge in the Truth

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I’m not going to apologize for being thoroughly pessimistic in the past month of posts; or if I do ask pardon, then I should start by craving it of myself.  I have to live with me—and it ain’t easy these days!  When a few national commentators dare to go off the script and mention the number of suicides that our lockdown will inspire, I know exactly what they mean.  I’ve never been less afraid of death.  I keep thinking of the first words uttered by Sophocles’ Teiresias when the blind prophet is led onto the stage of Oedipus Tyrannos: “What a fearful thing is thinking when it brings no profit to the thinker!”

Stay busy: yes, that’s always good advice.  I’ve been in “lifeboat” mode now for several months, really.  By that I mean that I have given the ship up as lost and am occupying myself with considering alternatives for possible survival on the dark, cold sea.  Only since President Trump has begun signing off on multi-trillion dollar “stimulus packages”, though, have I actually been consuming distinctly less political commentary from sources I used to trust.  There’s too much stuff that begins, “This is our last chance,” or, “We need to act immediately if we are to avoid disaster.”  Wrong.  The last chance has come and gone.  Those spending bills were one helluva big iceberg that just carried away half of our hull.  I can’t tolerate any more evasion of such hard facts.  Lower the damn lifeboats.

But survival does indeed call for profitable thinking… so disillusion and even pessimism mustn’t turn to abject despair.  We’ve lost the big one: now let’s win some little ones.  I scarcely know where to start.  I continue my routine of trying to acquire greater understanding, however, as a retired academic who mucks about in his infant orchards much of the day.  I’ve begun reading two works that I probably should have read long ago: Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies and F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.  As part of my regimen, I try to read new books in one of the non-English languages that I’ve studied for years—not in the illusion that I’ll ever “use” them in the future (whatever that means), but just because I hate to let a skill lapse into decay.  You fire up your old Triumph and give her a little spin around the block once a week, not because you’ll ever seriously use the thing for transportation, but because… well, she deserves not to die if keeping her alive costs so little.

So, anyway, here I am reading Popper in Italian and Hayek in Spanish.  (Somebody might murmur wryly, “You’re going to need that Spanish”… but, no, the Spanish I read isn’t anything remotely like the jabber we hear at Wal-Mart.)  The irony is that both of these men came to English as a second language; so I’m accessing their thoughts through a tongue into which the original text has been rendered—but that text itself represented a tongue with which they struggled.  Could there be a better illustration of the Spirit taking serene shape above a great cacophony of words? We are one, even in our misery.

I haven’t actually read quite a third of either book at this point, but I’ve seen enough to be intrigued.  Hayek’s much-reprinted classic is littered with forewards and prefaces in the early going.  I infer from all the explanations and further explanations that he was greatly surprised by the work’s success, especially in the U.S.; that he was nevertheless dismayed at how it had become caught up in a political tug-of-war as Joe McCarthy brought to public attention the degree of communist infiltration in our society; that he had never intended to condemn all kinds of government “planification” out of hand or to declare that their presence made totalitarian rule inevitable; and that his primary concern was simply that exposure to the notion of paternalistic government begins a long, long process of corrupted and surrendered freedoms.  There is a mildness to this man, I find, that indeed makes him an unlikely dynamo at the center of a whirlwind.  I see in him an apt illustration of a phenomenon we’ve come to know only too well: the slanderous caricature by the Left of anyone who dare question centralist, statist orthodoxy.  McCarthy himself was thus tarred and feathered, and with scarcely more reason.

For my own purposes, considering where I am (i.e., deep in the hole of despair), I find a kind of comfort in Hayek’s big picture—a comfort, of course, which he would have been chagrined to provide.  He obviously believed that we yet had time to reverse course in the Fifties, and even the Seventies (when the final edition of Road to Serfdom appeared).  I suppose we probably did have time, even in the Nineties… but instead of regretting our bite of the apple, we came back and stripped the tree (with no less zeal during the two terms of George W. Bush than in any other era).  The air of fatality which Hayek so heroically rejected settles, in retrospect, quite heavily over the past thirty years or so.

My son’s generation, in short, was not sold down the river into slavery only by Pelosi/McCormick “stimuli” and President Trump’s compliant pen.  The dark stranger has been riding down the road since that distant day when we might first have spotted him exiting the mountain’s pass.  And here I’ll toss a bone to the enemies of capitalism and slanderers of innocents like F.A. Hayek: our ravenous appetite for ease and convenience is deeply implicated in our rush to greet this sooty rider.  We’ve been reared, at least since the end of World War II, to desire more stuff, cheaper stuff, and stuff of ever greater frivolity.  The market made us such uncritical, undisciplined consumers.  The cry that spurred us on from the new screens before which we were reared was, “Get it now, cheaper than ever!  You deserve it!”  Has not such thinking fed—yes, inevitably—into the yet more seductive cry, “Get it now, paid for by the rich!  You’d already have it if they hadn’t stolen it from you!”  The devilish rhetoric of the sell was indeed inevitable.  It was our response that might have offered up resistance… but, you know, getting something free at the expense of “the rich” is an even better deal than getting it cheap at the expense of Chinese slave labor.

Karl Popper seems an odd companion in this discussion.  I was surprised, upon consideration, at how perfectly The Open Society slides right in.  I had no initial inkling that the book was a study of Plato’s utopian project in The Republic… and I was a little let down, honestly, upon making that discovery.  Why would the previous century’s premier philosopher of science (as I like to think of him) be scribbling away like the antiquarians with whom I attended graduate school?  Popper’s footnotes, indeed, were so voluminous that they posed a major obstacle to finding a publisher for the book.  Among additional obstacles were the author’s self-imposed and shifting exile as Hitler tightened his grip on Central Europe, his struggles with the English language (as I’ve noted), and his need of American friends and contacts to mediate as he met with one rejection after another from publishing houses.  Hayek was running up against exactly the same barriers at the same historical moment.

But at least one Austrian was tackling the central ideological issues of our time, while the other was retreating to… Plato?  Not a retreat, however: no, but rather a recognition that these very issues were not at all distinct to our time, but were embedded in the human condition.  As I muddled through the first pages of Popper’s tome (its title grotesquely caricatured by George Soros, that living master of satanically torturing words to mean their opposites), I made the further error of supposing that he was just thrusting his personal preoccupations where they didn’t belong.  What had Plato to do with Hitler and Stalin?  (And both Popper and Hayek, by the way, realized that those two miscreants had issued from the same sulfurous ideological womb.)

I won’t exhaust both myself and the reader by trying to encapsulate Professor Popper’s reading of Plato. A brutal compression would be to say that Plato, everybody’s most admired philosophical transcriptionist, is unmasked as having commandeered the reputation of Socrates—everybody’s most admired philosopher—to sell a totalitarian vision.  (Just one example: Socrates’ “a man with power should always beware of his ignorance” becomes Plato’s “a man with power should be purged of ignorance”.) It’s all finely reasoned and meticulously documented, I promise you: hence the merciless footnotes. Yet I had never heard a peep about such interpretive possibilities during all my years in the academy.  By the way, that interpretation turns out to fit.  It isn’t the whimsy of an expatriate who subconsciously imposes the shadow of the dictator he so detests upon every bird, cloud, and blade of grass.  It’s all perfectly convincing.

By way of illustration, I’ll confine myself to the Platonic theory of Forms or Ideas.  I recall being exposed to this first as a college freshman, and thinking, “Those ancient Greeks… what a strange lot!  Did they really think that we’re born with a Table Archetype in our heads that allows us to recognize a table?”  Plato was offered up in just such incoherent, irrelevant terms; and, as I say, nothing I later heard in any ivory corridor added any profundity to my initial impressions.

Popper’s view, however, makes of the Forms something very like what I’ve written of recently as “future worship”: the adoration of hazy objectives, that is, merely because they exist in “tomorrow”, where we’re assured of having transformative superpowers.  It is an irony, to be sure, that Plato’s gilded castles exist in the remotest of yesterdays—in the atavistic Heroic Age when men feasted with gods.  Yet behind the irony is the link which binds Hitler and Stalin, Nazism and communism.  Both visions take as their destination a point whose access—whose mere reality—cannot be validated by current perceptions, common sense, and humane moral imperatives.  Both require that we become something we’re simply not; or, inasmuch as they acknowledge our being unequal to the task, both urge upon us the acceptance of a superman or a super-race.  Both concede that the Peerless Leader’s superior authority cannot be logically deduced or rationally defended.  Both demand of us, therefore, that we embrace a cultic fanaticism—that we suppress our individuality and merge ourselves into an obedient herd.

Precisely.  This is true, it’s brilliant… and it’s disparaged or ignored by our academic institutions and broadcast media as they condition forthcoming generations to chew the cud of totalitarianism.  Add Hayek to Popper, and you have an all-too-prophetic warning that the adoration of the Charismatic Leader who solves all of our problems for us is forever leaking into human societies, drop by drop, decade after decade. Didn’t the Old Testament teach us about our self-destructive craving for kings?

How is the combination implied in “permanent collapse” possible, I wonder?  How can things forever be deteriorating in Hesiodic fashion if there were no genuine Heroic Age at the head of all the fallen dominoes?  If we have always been as we are now—flawed, corrupt creatures in need of a redeemer outside our earthly time frame—then how can we also always be getting worse? Since we’ve always been bad, how do we manage to keep doubling down on it?

I don’t know, my friends… but such is the truth, or what little we can see of it.  Perhaps it is our societies that are forever coming unraveled—and perhaps it is only redeemed individuals who forever keep bits and pieces of them from careening over the precipice: just enough for yet another try where the run-off of Eden’s gentle rain puddles.

Crosscurrents: God’s “Presence in the Present”

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I’m not feeling terribly optimistic about current events–yet I don’t wish to pollute my or anyone else’s celebration of the birth of Hope with excessive brooding over our ephemeral world.  Allow me, then, to share with you one chapter from the rough draft of a book that I plan to see finished in 2020.

I intend for this final chapter of the book’s first part to summarize by compacting several assertions made about the “numinous moment” or “event outside of time”.  Yet before I attempt that act of stitching together, an analogy may be helpful.  I’ve been racking my brain for an adequate one—for a parable, almost, that could convey to our linear-thinking minds how real time might match up to time as we know it.  I at last came up with something akin to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Imagine that you are walking across fog-strewn terrain toward a vague but steady light source.  You really have nowhere else to go that offers any apparent sense of destination; for the mist curls so thickly about your feet that you can’t even see your shoes, and that shimmering beacon on your horizon is your single reference in the soupy haze.

Unrevealed to you, then, in any very clear manner is the enormous but very gradual staircase across which you walk.  Its steps are suited to a giant’s feet, each being perhaps three yards wide; yet despite their great breadth, they rise by only an inch at a time.  You’re actually cutting across these stairs at a broad angle.  The result is that you can advance for fifty or sixty yards along one step before you stumble into the next one’s rise.  Naturally, since you can’t see your feet, you conclude at every mild stumble that the ground beneath you is a bit uneven.  You have no notion of slowly ascending a great staircase rather than moving ever forward toward the light which—you hope—will be the refuge liberating you from the milling gloom.

Those stairs that come at your progress laterally and throw it off balance once in a while are, of course, meant to represent the “outside of time” moments that subtly take us by surprise once in a while… and then, usually, are forgotten at once, since we assume that our attention should be fixed on forward motion.  The biblical phrase “stumbling block” had a part in helping me weave this strange analogy, for we indeed tend to treat such moments as interruptions or distractions.  We dismiss them with whatever explanation is ready at hand and get back to the serious business of “progress”.  Yet what could be more serious, in a spiritual sense, than climbing the giant’s staircase and seeing where it takes us?  If only we knew that it was there beneath the haze—that the little trips that sometimes throw us off stride all have an order!  But our senses aren’t equipped to provide such information directly.  Any knowledge of the stairs would have to be pieced together with extreme patience, most of it requiring a certain amount of inattention to that forward motion we think so full of promise.

For what kinds of experience, exactly, should we keep an eye peeled?  In the course of Part One’s ramble, I believe I have volunteered three at various points.  The first would be personal experiences that have stubbornly stayed with us for years, many (perhaps most) of them deeply rooted in childhood.  In discussing the sort of encounter that I myself recall as having knocked me off my stride and stood me upright, I did not mention anything as numinous as an angelic visitation, a message delivered in God’s voice, or a Near-Death Experience.  That’s because I have never lived through any event of the kind.  I suppose that those of us to whom God does not speak plain English in a deep, unmistakable voice have a little trouble fully believing those who claim to have been so contacted.  We don’t necessarily disbelieve them… but we wonder if their personality may be of a naive and very excitable type.  Everybody has dreams, and some of us have vivid dreams.  (Here I may include myself: my dreams are always in color and sometimes more “high-def” than any waking experience.)  A stable person understands, though, that you take a dream with a grain of salt.

Near-Death Experiences I find to be far more intriguing.  No doubt, some people massage a rough stay in the hospital until it looks like a trip to the Beyond, just as some people innocently mistake an escaped balloon that catches the sun’s last light for a UFO.  When so many witnesses of sound mind and solid character, however, testify so resonantly to the presence of something that greeted them as their vital signs flat-lined, I can’t wave their words aside.  (For that matter, a seasoned pilot makes a very good UFO witness—and there are several such reporters of strange aircraft.)  In attempting to retrieve a particular title for citation here, I found that the medical doctor/author whose name eludes me is veritably buried on the Internet under a mass of similar professionals who have documented the NDE over the past forty years.  Take your pick of them all.  It’s a pretty impressive witness list, however you arrange it.

But, no, I have presented in my discussion no such mind-boggling evidence.  The encounters I tried to describe do not grab you by the lapels, shake you, and announce sonorously, “I come from the other world!”  They simply don’t fit into the routine… and they fail to fit in after a fashion that you can’t forget, because it so insistently seems to mean something.  Just what it may mean, you never manage to decide satisfactorily.  It’s there, sticking out… and you can’t smooth it away as the reasonable effect of some handy nearby cause.

Which brings me to a second kind of experience, and a clearly related kind: art.  If I had to define an art object (or if I were given the chance to do so—for this is my wheelhouse), I should start by saying succinctly that it “expresses the inexpressible”.  Then I should probably try to express myself better and end up making a mess of my definition… because the paradox here is ineradicable.  A work of art assembles material impressions in such a way as to leave you convinced that their collaboration encodes a vital message, a whole greater than the sum of its parts.  You proceed to write an article or a book about the work, if you’re a scholar—and the more words you weave together in trying to nab the message, the more fish slip through your net.  What we academic types always seem to miss about art is its most fundamental characteristic: that it forever points to something not quite there.

Art, I’m convinced, is an angel that God sends to all of us.  The winged visitor might be a painting, a temple, or a mere tune—or the simple-seeming lyrics of the tune; but whatever his specific shape, the cherub manages to whack us lovingly upside the head and make us stumble a little on the invisible step of the giant’s staircase.  All true art calls us to faith.  It does so just by nudging us out of our determined forward stride for an instant.  Its subject by no means has to be the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, or anything related to any item of orthodox belief.  When I was an officer in a regional division of the Conference on Christianity and Literature, a lot of paper- and article-submissions passed under my eye—and the vast majority addressed some issue in the work of John Milton, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, or some other overtly Christian writer.  I always regretted such narrowness of focus in our undertaking.  I wish we could have faced the academy head-on with the confident assertion that all true art comes from God.

For the academy needed a good stiff slap in the face—or punch in the nose—from those of us whom the angel had smacked… but we instead huddled around “our” authors who, for the most part, had been banished from contemporary college classes, anyway.  As I described in an earlier chapter (and will not reiterate now), our ailing culture’s intelligentsia have exploited the free pass we gave them to dismantle art entirely, presenting its essential mystery as no more than a cheap kind of hypnotism practiced by the powerful upon the oppressed.  That thick-headed, empty-souled program of demoralization should never have been allowed to pass unchallenged.

But it was… and so, as a culture, I think our sense of the mystical lurking in material things all around us took refuge in nature.  Again, the overlap with other kinds of numinous experience is obvious.  Many of my personal “outside of time” moments involved a particular natural setting, and many of the arts draw heavily upon nature, as well.  In their quasi-scientific zeal to explain everything away in some “sensible” deterministic fashion, our intellectuals like to attribute our visceral bond with nature to a genetically hardwired response to life on the savanna.  Of course we like trees!  They represented safety from lions when we were naked apes.  Of course we like purling streams!  Every living creature needs water, and water that runs swiftly is least apt to cause illness.

You can hardly win at this game if you protest, “No, it’s not the tree’s height and the stoutness of its limbs for climbing that I like.  It’s the intricate play of shadows in the pine needles—it’s the soughing of the branches in a breeze.”  What do you know?  You don’t have a Ph.D.!

One of the responses that most fascinates me is the one we register to distant sounds.  A far-off train whistle or dog’s bark… such “racket” can induce a deep sense of peace when, a mile or two away, it is scarcely heard.  Isn’t that because of its delightful (yet painful—delightfully painful) hint that even the most energetic spurts of life are but bursting bubbles on a vast ocean’s surface?  The abyss of meaning here is grandly unfathomable.  And how on earth would the evolutionary biologist disarm such a spiritual phenomenon?  Would he say that our apelike ancestors of course perked up when they heard distant sounds, because those were warnings of approaching predators?  But the approach of a predator would ignite an impulsive fear, not stir up a leisurely meditation—and to argue that the reaction has evolved as we have become less susceptible to predators might explain a diminution of fear, but couldn’t conceivably explain the emergence of pleasure.  Why can our “best and brightest” not accept that their explanations won’t reach every nook of the forest?

I will wander off target again if I don’t take care… but I might point out, in passing, that even we non-scientists are now sabotaging our relationships with nature through intrusions of progressive thinking—through cultic outbursts of “future-worship”.  We can’t simply let the indefinite play of light and shadow in a forest or down a mountain glen speak to us of the unspeakable: we have to bend that moment into “activism”.  We must “save nature” by outlawing the removal of underbrush and deadwood, by replacing mines with the “renewable energy” of wind turbines.  In the process, we create tinderboxes that will incinerate millions of acres in the next wildfire, and we erect killing machines that slaughter hawks and other high-flying species by the tens of millions annually… but we sleep better at night, because we have come home from our nature hike with a “mission”.

I’m no fan of the internal combustion engine.  I recall dropping a word or two about my long walking tours in Ireland and Scotland, and I routinely walked to and from work before my retirement.  I’m not out of sympathy with the general distaste for our high-tech pace of living—not at all.  But, please… let nature live!  Don’t be the doctor who starts cutting out organs when a little bedrest would cure the patient.  After putting up bluebird houses around our property, my wife and I have seen families of bluebirds a dozen strong congregate around the watering dish almost daily.  That’s a good feeling.  We don’t really have to go beyond that and agitate to increase the percentage of ethanol in gasoline—which will cause yet more meadowland to be put under the plow, which will destroy yet more wildlife habitat.  Every experience of nature doesn’t have to feed into a political agenda… does it?

To the extent that it does, or that we let it do so, we seal off what may be perhaps our decaying culture’s final portal upon the numinous.  I have come to adopt a single word in my thoughts for the ungainly phrase, “numinous experiences”, which I shall begin using from here on out.  I call these “outside of time” encounters, or smacks in the side of the head, or glimpses out the train’s window, or nudges off the tunnel’s track… I call them crosscurrents.  We need to yield to these rare transverse currents whenever they briefly stroke us: we need not to attempt to wrestle them onto a vector that parallels our forward motion.  They won’t go there.  They are all telling us the same thing, and it is this.  “The purpose of what you do is not the purpose you offer when explaining what you do.”  Our actions are indeed purposive, if we are good people—but not purposive in any sense that we can define, since their ultimate objective is not of this world.  When we nevertheless succeed in reducing our explanations and definitions to terms that make complete sense in this world—and when we thereafter adjust our actions to suit the verbal formulas we have produced in mutilating efficiency—we become less good.  We lose touch with the spirit.  We skew our forward motion so that we no longer trip over the occasional, invisible step of the giant’s staircase.  We proceed, instead, along a perfectly flat surface, paying attention only to its “corrected” smoothness that permits a speedier advance… and we climb the staircase no farther, nor do we even notice that we’re straying from the beacon at our lower level.

Let Freedom Ring… Where? How?

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This roundabout discussion begins with a strange “revelation” that struck me earlier in the month.  Question: why does almost nobody in either house of Congress appear concerned about a 23-trillion-dollar national debt (not counting unfunded liabilities that would run up the tab at least fourfold)?  Some of our elected representatives can’t count, granted; and some are so deeply mired in graft and corruption that their interest in their fellow citizens’ future is equivalent to Marie Antoinette’s.  Yet I consider it obtusely cynical to consign virtually every member of both parties to one of these two categories.  What about the members who can do addition without their fingers and toes and who have also graduated to a modicum of normal adult responsibility?  How can they sit by and watch the dollar’s purchase power overheat and explode?

Answer (revelation): they must genuinely believe that the dollar’s collapse will be a good thing.

How can they believe this?  Because in such calamitous circumstances, the nations of the world would have to become—in a word much beloved of President Clinton whenever he discussed economic issues—interdependent.  All nations having grown equally insolvent, various political rivals around the planet will have to patch up their differences and create a single worldwide system.  Though I understand pitifully little about banking, it seems to me (based upon my limited research) that the world banking industry has already taken large strides toward assuming control over everybody’s finances, thanks to digitalization and other “initiatives”.  Baron Rothschild et al., for example, have a very clever plan for transforming “carbon credits” into a single world currency, centrally controlled by… Baron Rothschild et al.

All the same, would that be such a insufferably bad thing—I mean, one big clunking system?  The truth is that we haven’t yet seen a World War III, with over half a century having been run off the clock since the Cold War’s first dark days.  China, for all her saber-rattling, obviously knows that she can bring us to our knees just by standing back and watching us collapse under the effects of our own moral flabbiness.  No need for her to push buttons that may envelope the planet in radioactive dust for centuries: just let the Yanks continue to forget how to procreate, to snarl at each other because of skin color, and to medicate themselves with gateways to what Baudelaire aptly called “artificial paradises”.

Okay… I can see how some worldly-wise attorney whose understanding of human nature and history hovers at imbecilic levels would buy into this vision enthusiastically.  No more war.  No more borders.  No more doctors for some but not for others.  We know that Congress’s membership now includes several genuine, outspoken socialists—and many, many more on the Republican side have imbibed of Socialism Lite and decided that they can get used to the slightly sickening aftertaste.  Besides… well, I no doubt drew too heavy a line earlier between the principled and the corrupt.  You can endorse the “no more wars, no more borders” scenario in principle and also calculate, in the back of your mind, how you and your children are bound to enjoy certain privileges as members of the governing elite.

For the rest of us, though… I ask sincerely: what would be the disadvantages of living under a one-world government whose citizens are now forced to settle their differences without mushroom clouds?

I suggest that we can effectively prophesy daily life in such a “terminally safe” world just by looking closely—or, even better, viewing distantly for enhanced perspective—the beams and joists rising all about us right now.  Let this picture settle into focus. We would be fed constantly the “soma” of the broadcast media to sustain our state of contented ignorance and somnolent amusement.  We would be disarmed to ensure that the rare individual who went off his meds wouldn’t pose much of a threat.  We would be watched around the clock by indefatigable electronic eyes.  If we strayed into a public expression of “unproductive” criticism (and all criticism of the Unit, of course, would be classed as unproductive), Nanny Google would send us into time-out.  (In the classic BBC serial, The Prisoner, the extreme form of time-out—utter social ostracism—follows the Village Council’s verdict that one’s behavior is “unmutual”.)  Intrusive oversight wouldn’t stop at utterances, either. Our very facial expressions and body language would be monitored and graded.  The “People’s Republic” of China is already blazing the trail with ubiquitous surveillance cameras and a system of “virtue points”.  Those detected in moody or uncooperative attitudes would see their “credit score” docked sufficiently to deny them travel rights, perhaps, or to thwart their children’s entry into a good school. (Egalitarianism notwithstanding, the “right school” will remain a secret passage into the oligarchic elite’s corridors of power.)  I believe the Trump Administration has nodded in the direction of allowing similar surveillance to influence Second Amendment rights.  Nothing to worry about just yet, just now… but if you pay attention to the sand vibrating under the soles of your shoes, you can indeed discern the thump-thump-thump of some rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.

So… there’s your choice.  Option One: life without fear of nuclear holocaust or immolation in Walmart’s bread aisle when a psycho’s girlfriend splits, at the cost of having your brow movements monitored as you brush your teeth.  Option Two: risk of all the fears eliminated in Option One, but with minimal cost of invisible surveillance and moralistic lecturing from Super-Nanny.  The more elderly of us will resist the first choice as its popularity swells, and we’ll probably end up in a mass grave after we flunk out of Re-education Camp for the third time.  The younger of us will be right at home with two-way mirrors everywhere they go, since they actually invite such constant universal exposure into their lives already with their “devices”.

Die, then, old warhorses!  Ye shall not by much precede the generation of asses who win but a few more years before the Committee on Social Harmony euthanizes them as they wait for a hip or knee replacement.

But is there really no alternative?  Are not our so-called “sanctuary cities” in fact pointing us in its direction?  What if we created discrete communities wherein people could live by their own rules—what if we went in that direction rather than transforming the entire human race into robots with uniform behavioral programming?  Let the West Coast, for instance, have marriage of species to other species or of one to three, five, or ten; borders that appear only on paper; one school curriculum, one income, one housing module, and one doctor with one bag of meds for all and sundry; free weed; and elections modeled after Major League Baseball’s All Star Game, where you vote as many times as you like.  Let those happy campers become a province of China, for all I care: they already are, for all I can make out.

On the other side of the continent, let the Southeast insist upon postings of the Ten Commandments in all public places.  Let her citizens be required to carry self-defensive weapons upon exiting the front door.  Abolish school districts: let each school teach that curriculum which concerned parents approve.  Let marriage exist only between a man and a woman, and let vandals who deface monuments cool their heels for a few months in the calaboose.

Let residents of one area who flee its “horrors” to a more congenial space be required to have settled in for five years before they enjoy full voting rights; and let regional legislatures be required to approve new law in two sessions with an intermission of at least two years between confirmations.  Build in some stability, some “drag”. Give customs and manners a fighting chance against George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg. Let cultures separate out according to their preferred values… and let surrounding cultures honor the shift of ethos that accompanies crossing a boundary marked on paper.

Why is this vision a pipedream?  Idealistic critics will say, “We went through all this Tenth Amendment crap with slavery.  If higher moral principle had not trumped regional special interests, human beings might still be laboring under the whip in the Deep South.”  Well… the rude release of illiterate and unskilled slave populations into “freedom” was in fact responsible for much of the misery that descendants of freedmen carried well into the next century; and the considerable opposition to slavery within the South would have expelled it even before the Civil War, perhaps, if national politics hadn’t introduced a complex friction of economic interests (cf. Marc Egnal’s Clash of Extremes).  May I point out, too, that many of our idealists who would raise this protest make no such noise when Muslim immigrants insist upon introducing the brutality of Sharia into their new neighborhoods?

The real obstacle, of course, is practical.  What will keep regional equivalents of the insatiably power-hungry Chinese elite—or the Chinese themselves—from occupying Alabama if New Mexico becomes a convenient launching point? Should states (and I mean all political states, not just the late-great “united” ones) solemnly undersign a treaty that will require each to come to the rescue if a bully invades a weakling? But we know this won’t work. Our current domestic politics show us nothing if not that progressive ideologues treat promises with contempt—and why wouldn’t they? Since reality is “evolving”, the circumstances involved in the promise you made yesterday are already irrelevant tomorrow.

The Chinese will lie, as they always do (unless truth proves more expedient in specific instances); and their ally states from California to Washington will connive at the lying, since their governing elite is more Machiavellian than that founding father of calculated duplicity. I see no alternative but for more principled states to bend their principles—near the breaking point sometimes—in the formation of effective counter-alliances. The Southeast, for instance, could team readily enough with Israel… but to muster the muscle necessary for browbeating China into retreat, it might also have to pact with Putin. India is another obvious friend; but Indonesia? Some of the more stable, adult-friendly Islamic republics?

This is a new pair of unsavory options. Do you lock arms with a neighbor who beats his wife as the pirates come streaming off their ship… or do you board up your own doors and windows, hoping for the best? The survival of states where the individual may still be free to grope his way toward God will almost certainly depend upon alliances with other states whose god is not ours.

Putin at least claims to be Christian, and at least makes an outward show of valuing the nuclear family and a modest level of public decency. He sent the obscene Pussy Riot crew to prison for a year: not an act that sits well with an American constitutionalist, but vastly preferable to Ted Wheeler’s allowing Antifa to bludgeon harmless bystanders. Aleksandr Litvinenko was probably poisoned on Putin’s nod… yes, and Vince Foster probably didn’t commit suicide. Putin seized Crimea—after a public plebiscite overwhelmingly approved the annexation. Putin silences dissident reporters, we hear; minister’s daughter Angela Merkel silences them at least as well with the help of former East German propagandists policing the Internet and wielding “hate speech” like a Stasi thug’s choke-hold. Our Pythoness, Wikipedia, warns that Putin’s trusted advisor, Aleksandr Dugin, is a fascist—but Dugin seems very confused himself about his pedigree: an anti-communist who admires Lenin and a Russian nationalist who treasures culturally diverse traditions.

When the most important thing is at last to have co-signatories in the mutual defense pact who keep their word, it may be that belief in God—some immortal god, any creator-god—is the only relevant factor in resisting the aggressive holy war of Secular Utopians, whose god is tear-it-all-down Whimsy. Societies whose members hold something immutable and sacred beyond this world’s terms are under vast attack. (I’m not keen on the Koran—but we “Islamophobes” should notice what the Chinese are doing to the Uighurs.) While not all such “believing” societies encourage the individual search for the divine, the alternative is an annihilation of the divine in bursts of individual petulance that soon settle into an animal sameness (lust, fear, envy, and the rest).

Of course, if our critical requirement for alliance is a belief in a higher power that postpones utter joy and perfect justice to another dimension, then a good many of our “Christian” ministers and priests will have to ally themselves with our adversaries. We would have to banish them to California, if they aren’t already there.

In summary, I would dare to say that a realistic hope for humane civilization is possible… but only if we don’t hope for too much humanity from our military back-up.

A Fearful Future Designed by Fearless Idiots

I’ve evaded this issue for months; I evade it every day.  I politely step around it as one might smile distantly at a visiting relative over the holidays who shows up with a cold.  I don’t utterly ignore it… but I sidle away, postpone, and break off in mid-thought to address more “pressing” matters.

The future.  I happened (don’t ask how) upon a collection of off-beat essays by a late twentieth-century author, now deceased, named Giorgio Manganelli.  A particularly long piece comments on a just-published (back in about 1980) anthology whose distinguished contributors anticipate what life in 2000 will be like.  In other words, I was reading a wry satirist’s view of several views of the near future from my own view almost twenty years later than that near future.  It’s an uncomfortable experience… and the pathos is a little too keen for me to delight in the absurdity.

Forever present in the human animal, apparently, are certain projections about the future… which would lead one to believe a) that notions of tomorrow are hard-wired in our imagination, and b) that the “real future” may be shaped quite deterministically by this stubborn hard-wiring.  There are the visionaries who foresee the resolution of all problems (without defining a “problem” while preserving any sense of human nature) by technology.  Cancer?  Cured.  Illiteracy and ignorance?  A computer chip implanted.  Traffic congestion?  An air-buggy in every floating garage.  Then we have this giddy band’s dark cousins, the visionaries who see right-wing generalissimos under every bridge just waiting to blow the high-tech train off the rails.  The less lyrical, more clinical prophets possessing an actual background in science will describe a society whose citizens are telepathic or semi-robotic without stirring in un-scientific words like “good” or “evil”… but one can sense their myopic eyes glowing in excitement through the print.  Dour moralists, on the other hand, will point to the script of Sodom and Gomorrah and advise the hasty construction of another Arc.

I remember an edition of My Weekly Reader that must have passed through my hands when I was in first or second grade.  I won’t attempt to peg the year… but let’s just say that 1980 may have been to those estimable publishers of educational matter what 2000 was to Manganelli’s elite commentariat.  What I truly remember—all I truly remember—from that delightfully newspaper-scented front page is the bichromatic image of a monorail.  Yep.  By 1980, well within my generation’s lifetime (we hadn’t heard the word “Vietnam” yet), all of us would get from A to B by hopping aboard a whirring, slightly subsonic centipede.  We’d go everywhere that way: to grocery store, to church, to ball park and movie theater.  There would be no on-board crime, no risky drop-offs at midnight… and cost?  What’s cost?

Apparently, a large portion of California’s current population recalls the same My Weekly Reader issue, was just as impressed by it—and has not learned in the intervening decades about factors like blown budgets, tax hikes, government waste, contractor fraud, zoning laws, and the inviolable limits of three-dimensional space.  I’m surprised, frankly, that the late great Governor Jerry Brown didn’t substitute a teleportation system when his Pacific-corridor bullet-train went bust.  The current governor, I believe, has in fact teleported to us from some other planet… some planet rendered uninhabitable by his race’s brilliant engineering.

Meanwhile, the future continues to arrive on its own terms.  Every day, tomorrow becomes today; and every day, today preserves qualities of yesterday that we had hoped never to see again but did virtually nothing to eliminate.  That’s why the future… yes, I’ll say the word: that’s why the future frightens me.  Because what frightens me is ourselves.  We don’t learn.  We never learn.  We keep turning the page expecting the tragedy to end and a comedy to carry us the rest of the way through the book—as if we were merely browsing through a book, and not writing it.  The boldest (i.e., most insane) of us express a keen interest in scribbling all over a fresh page, but… but they didn’t read the earlier pages, where the tragedy was ignited precisely by a zeal for erasing everything and starting from scratch.  We are held in thrall by the most incorrigible idiots among us, who also seem to have the most energy and the “boldest vision”.  Why wouldn’t they?  Wouldn’t you be bold, too, if you knew nothing about history, resisted acknowledging anything about your nature, and indulged your selfish whimsy as if it were the voice of God telling you how to arrange everybody’s life perfectly?

What could possibly go wrong with such “dreaming”?  How many graduating high-school and college seniors have just been exhorted by impressively idiotic speakers to dream their way out of the present’s miseries?

The very act of writing these paragraphs today, as it turns out, has proved another sly evasion of the future on my part; for I have written in very general terms about the futility of forward-aimed thinking, but not about several specific details of tomorrow—or this afternoon—looming so plainly as to be almost unavoidable.  I wasn’t always such an escape-artist.  When I was childless and single, I used to spend hours trying to bore straight into the future’s thickly veiled face.  Now that I have others to fear for, I can scarcely tolerate the misgivings that the stare-down produces in me.  That cavernous gaze is too similar to the Grim Reaper’s empty sockets.

John the Gospelist writes in his first epistle, “True love hath no fear.”  I’ve never understood that one, honestly.  It seems to me that those who truly love are precisely those who would truly fear.  The idiots with their designs unrelated to anything of the past or to any shred of common sense or practicality, in contrast, seem to be as fearless as lions… or as fearless as tripping addicts who imagine themselves lions.  I understand, from the perspective of genuine faith, that all things of this world end and that all worldly devices and desires are condemned to nullification… but that, in the ultimate comedy, none of the vast desolation matters, since this world is not the real world.  Nevertheless, as a traveler—a drifter, a vagabond—making his way through this futile, trivial, vainglorious, ridiculous world, I cannot completely inoculate myself against the anguish of gullible children who must watch the idiot-dreams of idiot-prophets explode one by one.

Heaven, maybe, has monorails powered by moonbeams.  I’d never thought of My Weekly Reader as a proselytizing instrument… but that’s exactly what it was.  Childhood dreams become reality where adult corruption is forever washed away.  That location is not right here, awaiting just another sunrise or two.  It never will be.

Artificial Intelligence Bows Past Human Brutality As the Two Move in Opposite Directions

I am composing the first draft of this post through dictation. For two years, I’ve been looking at the keyboard of my iPad without noticing that it contained a microphone icon. Finally, I studied the button (we’re supposed to learn from pictures nowadays—that I have noticed!), got a little curious, and began experimenting. When I discovered that the dictation technology which I had wanted to explore for years was right here at my fingertips (yes, literally), I was elated, yet clung to a certain reserve. I had indeed heard that problems lingered.  Sure enough, my maiden voyage took water heavily, if it didn’t exactly end on the rocks. Yesterday, in reading back some of my dictation from the previous evening, I found several embarrassing errors (a phrase which I see my digital amanuensis has recorded, “in Barris saying hours”).   “Digression” was a challenge for the software: it came out “big Russian”. “Repudiate” emerged “rape you a date”. The single most irritating misfire was the relatively simple word “enhanced”. I observed that a German-looking proper kept showing up in the phrase, “in Hanst”, no matter how often I repeated the word. So where the hell is Hanst? At last I couldn’t contain myself. I muttered to screen, “You dumb s**t”; and, of course, when I came to copy and paste my dictation from the previous evening, there was my obscenity staring me placidly in the face. “You dumb s**t.”

In this one regard, if no other, artificial intelligence is already vastly more mature than the human variety. It doesn’t reciprocate in name-calling. Granted, it may be too stupid to do so; but just possibly, it may also be so extremely clever that it understands the infuriating effectiveness of mirroring an obscenity right back at the sender. Now, if I had said those foul words to a human being, fur would have been flying instantly.

The truth is that you don’t have to say anything insulting to a human being these days in order to register as a beast, a cad (you dumb… you poor digital blockhead: not Computer-Assisted Design), or a cruel, heartless boor (no, you stupid… no, sweetheart: not boar; actually, the word “boor” is an intentional slur aimed at white South Africans—but we’re assured that slurring them is almost a moral obligation). A few of my readers may remember the incident about twenty years ago now when a hapless DC bureaucrat used the word of Scandinavian derivation, “niggardly”. He lost his job, and for a while he must have wondered if he would lose his life. Today we can’t say things like “spic and span” or “chink in the armor”. No, they’re not racist: any idiot could tell that they are expressions with no racial content whatever. Yet our society doesn’t breed just any sort of idiot.

We have a special variety of sensitive plant that sends its roots deep into our academic institutions and proliferates in our broadcast media. These delicate flowers process everything we say as it comes from the mouth, scanning for any resemblance to any word on a list of forbidden terms. Once a similarity is identified (no, not “a Denna five”), the long knives come out. The perpetrator is defamed, shamed publicly, humiliated for life, driven from his job, rendered unemployable—all because he used the phrase, “those people”, or blew some kind of racial dog whistle wherein the words “monkeying around” figured.

Given my newfound familiarity with dictation technology, I’m struck by how much our degenerating human mind resembles the rudimentary kind of artificial intelligence on display in this fallible wizardry. We have in our memory bank some thousands of words and phrases that we’ve encountered before: everything that we hear is judged on the basis of its relationship to the words in that depository. We no longer apply any power of analysis to the lexicon, so if you say, “She should stay home and look after her kids,” you instantly and irredeemably become guilty of at least a dozen vile sexist transgressions. The receptor’s circuits perceive no context for your remark and seek out none. The raw text of what you said is what you meant. What else could you mean? You used words X, Y, and Z; those words are stored in the warehouse; and this is what they mean when unpacked.

Words like “target” and “trigger” are incitements to gun violence. An expression like “tough it out” points to toxic masculinity. Employing the word “mailman” or “chairman” designates you as what used to be called a “male chauvinist pig back” in the Seventies; nowadays the noun “male” suffices to capture the same sense. The word “Christmas” is hate speech: it implies disparagement of Islam. Saying “Peking” instead of “Beijing” or “Bombay” instead of “Mumbai” is rank colonialism. Sometimes you don’t have to utter a syllable; simply wearing a sombrero, whether or not you try to pronounce the word’s trilling r’s, is cultural appropriation.

Digital Dictaphone is a good sport about this sort of thing. It ties your thoughts to its available vocabulary without any sort of invidious inference. But the contemporary human version of this artificial operation is painfully artificial in all the wrong ways. We refuse to supply context, to research words used in an unfamiliar manner, to give somebody the benefit of the doubt based upon the person’s previous clean record. We develop the kind of closed mind that only primitive computers will preserve in the future. The machine will pass us up as we descend to its level of weakest performance.

When I have written in the past about human fusion with robots becoming increasingly easy as people grow blunter and robots grow subtler, this is the sort of thing I had in mind. Imagine my iPad’s stupid little dictation device, and then imagine its marriage to the prickly, politically-correct consciousness of a graduate student in English. We are dumbing down, and we’re not doing it gracefully. The day is already at hand when a minimally functional computer like my iPad could be programmed with polite responses, and the result would be superior to the new wave of “woke” people (what an idiot word for an idiot generation!) emerging from our colleges.

God only knows what my digital mirror is writing down. I’ll find out tomorrow (today: you’ll have noticed a few of my many changes as I edit the final draft), because I’m not actually reading the words that pop up on the screen. I don’t want to: they would distract me—would probably make me angry. Yet I know all the while, even though I’ll probably grumble a few curses tomorrow, that the machine is just a machine. It did as well as it could.

I almost wanted to say, “She did as well as she could.” Why is that? Is it because of my need to belittle females… or is it because I attribute to the female, in a traditionalist’s presumption, the desire to please, to compromise, to mediate, to make peace? I wonder if males who come after me, perhaps those of my son’s generation, will deck their computers out in a feminine face and program it with feminine politeness. I wonder if they will find the result more feminine, more lovable, more companionable than the “manly women” who grow up beside them. I wonder how soon we’re going to be reduced to embracing our screens for human companionship

“Sea Cities”: A Better Option Than Going to Mars

I don’t remember the date of my first encounter with the subject of floating cities.  I would guess that the documentary I view on the subject might have appeared as early as a decade ago.  At that time, it seemed that the engineering problems were already well along the way to being solved.  The proposed substructure consisted of hundreds (or potentially thousands) of discrete units that created just enough flexibility to even out wave-effect virtually to nothing.  Shocks were simply absorbed.  I can’t recall how the whole was to be motorized—but the claim was made confidently that these islands would be capable of averting dangerous weather systems.  Perhaps independent ships would drag them from harm’s way.

That, as I say, was a while back.  Having brought the subject up casually last week, I continued to ask myself where the technology might be today—and why one hears no more about it.  And I began to think about all the problems that “sea cities” could effectively resolve.  Let’s say that the polar ice caps start to melt: that doesn’t seem to be happening at all, but let us stipulate that our coasts begin to creep in on us.  All of the plans on the board to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (assuming that these were responsible for “coastal creep”—another whopping and unsubstantiated assumption) would merely plunge us into abject poverty while applying far too little antidote to the crisis far too late.  Such “plans” are idiotic, to be blunt.  A floating city, on the other hand, is an obvious and complete solution.  So where are the drawing boards featuring that plan?

As I also wrote last time, floating cities could tightly control access.  Crime would diminish to a fraction of current measures.  Undesirables and unwanted substances could be kept out with high efficiency.  Indeed, one of my concerns about the paradigm is that we could be contemplating crucibles for horrendous despotism, where abject obedience is enforced and flight is about as difficult as we find it, say, from Castro’s Cuba.  But if we really wish to grow more Balkan and more tribal, as appears to be the case… then here’s our chance.  Island A could be all heterosexual or all gay, if you like; B could be all Mormon; C could speak only Breton, an enclave of Celtic revivalists; D could require all citizens to carry a gun—or to give up even their pocket knives.  Landbound communities are always compromised in such endeavor by the ease of “infection” from the outside.  Here such frustration would be virtually removed.

It occurs to me that islands might also exert an influence against despotism in this respect.  The greater federation operating on the mainland would face a challenge in enforcing its most Procrustean decrees if dozens of island-cites declared, ‘Hell, no!” and slipped their moorings.  What would Mainland Nanny do?  Send patrol boats out to harass the rebels?  But the islands would be equipped with their own defense systems (necessary to stave off piracy and invasion), ratcheting up any such act of chastisement into a bloody civil war.  From the air, islands would pose slowly moving targets—but targets capable of movement, nonetheless.  Given an hour’s warning, their security officers could probably draw them out of an ICBM’s bull’s eye, if not liberate them from the ruin rained down by coastal rocket launchers.  Yet I imagine them having anti-aircraft capabilities as well as their own small defensive fleets, which might well include submarines—useful for hauling them about, but also equipped to take out hostiles along the coast.

This discussion opened as a response to “global warming” hysteria, so it is worth remarking that an island environment could greatly reduce energy consumption and facilitate energy production.  Trailing islands supplied with solar panels could be created, and perhaps something less cumbersome and space-consuming than the standard wind-turbine could be designed.  Ocean currents could be harvested for energy.  Inhabitants would live in a relatively confined area, so they would do much walking rather than gadding about in wasteful, needless conveyances.  Life could also be lived in a less horizontal, more vertical manner to address temperature extremes.  A substantial underwater community could serve as a retreat when the surface became either very cold or very hot (for water provides excellent insulation against both cold and heat).  Surface activities, however, would keep residents in touch with their Circadian rhythms—and often, as we know, the temperature at sea level is very pleasant.

With plenty of sun, the surface would also feature roof-space and slanting walls thickly planted in edible vegetation.  Naturally, as with solar panels, food provision could also be addressed through a kind of archipelago whose trailing islets were dedicated to agriculture.   And need I say that the sea herself is an abundant provider?  If the island produced quantities of “garbage” fully edible and healthy for populations of marine animals, then these latter could be harvested regularly and readily without any risk of depletion incurred.

How to make garbage edible or recyclable?  That may be the golden question… but it appears answerable, if one considers that designers of interplanetary transport are already well along to creating biospheres where all waste products are put back into service.  Why, may I ask, are we so very far advanced in our plans to leave Earth, yet we seem in no hurry at all to develop a healthy and secure method of existing on her oceans?

Could it be because populating the ocean, as I have shown, would likely liberate our planet’s various peoples to a degree of political independence and cultural autonomy that her megalomaniac elite begrudges the human race?  Could it be that the only dreams we are allowed to pursue on any drawing board are those that promote centralization?  Why is it that “progress”, in the warped minds of certain Global Warming Hystericals, necessarily involves the transformation of the human species into an anthill?