Passing the baton of hubris

“Our Hubris Will Be Our End” (and yet, someone will adapt…):

The thing we humans of the Anthropocene share with the Nanticoke and the Unami-speaking Lenape who used to live on the Delmarva Peninsula, and with the !Kung of the Kalahari, the Yukaghir of Siberia, the medieval Persians, the ancient Mayans, the blue-painted Picts, the Neolithic proto-Chinese Peiligang peoples and the Paleolithic nomads of the Pleistocene Era is precisely our ability to adapt to changing conditions, primarily through the collective use of symbolic reasoning and narrative. Homo sapiens can live almost anywhere on Earth, under almost any conditions; all we need is a story telling us why our lives matter.

I know it, I know it, I think about it all the time when I ponder the next era. But it doesn’t make it any less frustrating, how stupid we can be, in the face of ample evidence on how to prevent it.

In some unknown future, on some strange and novel shore, human beings just like us will adapt to a whole new world. You can see them sitting circled around a fire on the beach, the light flickering on their rapt faces, one telling a story about a mighty civilization doomed by its hubris, an age of wonders long past.

I just hope we leave good books for them, to help them understand it wasn’t inevitable. It never is.

Advertisements

Human Beings

I remember being a young boy walking to K-Mart, watching litter from convenience store wrappers pile up along the curb, seeing dark smoke puff out of trucks’ exhaust pipes, wondering about the cumulative effects.

The Earth is mighty big, so it would take…how many years for this to matter? Turns out it was already known how many years. But it’s hard to get humans to long-term plan for themselves, or their offspring, much less everyone else who also calls this lone planet home.

A classmate, Wendy, gave a report around 1989 about acid rain, greenhouse gases, and carbon. That report and all of these thoughts stayed with me ever since. In one sense, my life has unfolded in parallel as we’ve watched ourselves screw our future selves.

And everyone who comes afterward.

Helpless feeling. How can one do more when forces with such power and capital so easily delude so many into doing nothing?

Homo Sapiens, in Three Quotes

“Long term, people say we should search for a solution,” he said, “but they don’t want to be the ones to suffer.”

“The Water Wars of Arizona,” New York Times, July 19, 2018

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

–The dipshit, known for decades to be a dipshit, vomiting in 2012, four years before other oblivious/gullible/greedy dipshits helped him become president

“Why take on an intractable problem that would not be detected until this generation of employees was safely retired?”

–Exxon, debating whether to do anything about carbon emissions, in Losing Earth, Part I, The New York Times Magazine (a piece that, it should be noted, is waaaaaay to kind to the GOP and fossil fuel industry which both worked to delay, confuse, and punt the problem)

Hey, as long as you can golf in the freaking Arizona desert while you’re still alive, why bother, right?

When you sound more ironic than you probably intended

The Trump administration has quickly established itself as one that denies objective reality, proudly creates “alternative facts,” and even lies about what we’ve all plainly seen in front of our own eyes.

That’s why statements like this about the Holocaust — the administration broke with tradition by failing to even reference Jews or anti-Semitism on Holocaust Remembrance Day — cut a little too close to, well, their reality:

“If we could wipe [the Holocaust] off of the history books, we would. But we can’t.”

I bet you would, Reince Preibus. I bet you would.

 

You Don’t Say: Dow Hits 20,000

Much has been made, with excited anticipation and finally realized jubilation, of an index of stocks from 30 companies reaching a round number like 20,000.

And then over here you have:

People should also be aware, Mr. Kelly said, that expected cuts in capital gains taxes has kept many investors from taking profits during the rally. The thought being, that if they were to wait several months, they could dump their stocks and face a lighter tax bill in the process.

There’s more, but… oh I can’t even.

‘He is a man of action’

So here we are trying to digest the first few days of life under “President” Donald Trump, Der Groppenfuhrer.

Trump’s advisers say that his frenzied if admittedly impulsive approach appeals to voters because it shows that he is a man of action.

Such voters, to the extent that they exist, are men and women of horrific ignorance.

To act without knowledge, to react without insight, to spontaneously opine (and effectively enact policy) without restraint, is the behavior of a narcissist madman.

In 2017, that’s our president.

He sits in the White House at night, watching television or reading social media, and through Twitter issues instant judgments on what he sees. He channels fringe ideas and gives them as much weight as carefully researched reports. He denigrates the conclusions of intelligence professionals and then later denies having done so. He thrives on conflict and chaos.

Oh, also: He lies. Repeatedly. And then lies again when he denies every uttering his previous lies.

Ironic and sad, that his general election opponent was ridiculed for supposed dishonesty.

All of this was predicted during the campaign, as he revealed the unhinged insecure reality TV star and huckster many knew he was.

But we get the government our uninformed citizens deserve.

Eyes in the Stars

I was born to see two thousand years
Of man’s effect upon the planet
Extinction seems to be a plausible risk
Whatever happens I’m a part of all this

–“Pandemonium,” Killing Joke

Is freedom so great
To fight for food?
Compete for shelter?
Who is the top dog?
Is this the winter of humankind?
What has become of us?
What made us blind?

After disclosure comes
Man takes his rightful place
Amongst the stars
The celestial barge awaits

One by one, we embark
To the sun behind the sun

–“Into the Unknown,” Killing Joke

I got to know my wife under the gaze of Orion. I wooed her under nods to Caseiopea and the “seven sisters” of Pleiades. I spend winter nights soaking in the hot tub staring at all of these, enjoying the clear sky in the crisp winter air.

Pleiades resonates almost universally with stargazers for being visible “from virtually every place that humanity inhabits Earth’s globe. It can be seen from as far north as the north pole, and farther south than the southernmost tip of South America.”

There is something wonderful about staring at these parts of our universe so far away knowing people so relatively close — yet so far — are staring at them with me.

In these settings I get humanity’s historical fascination and attachment to the stars, its projection of irrational meaning and attachment to them. They are constant in a world that is not. They offer some form of structure or packaging to the vast chaos that is our home.

As I sit in the hot tub pondering the infinite — or is it a vanishing point? — horizon of life and time, I think of these visuals that draw us together across physical space, time zones, generations, time.

As I watch a plane’s lights far up in the night sky literally fly in between me and Pleiades long enough to briefly block the constellation of stars 425 light years (!) away, I think of the frightening fragility of life, the relatively brief window in time of our civilization, and the many ways we can destroy ourselves in an instant.

Donald Trump, climate change denier, reality TV-emboldened narcissist and oblivious friend to all those who too easily place their own lifespans above everyone who might follow, is president-elect.

It gives one pause.

We are (letting them) make the Web worse

Don’t over-complicate the web. Don’t hinder it with data-munching add-ons. Please.

Some kind of brain parasite infected designers back when the iPad came out, and they haven’t recovered. Everything now has to look like a touchscreen.

Really interesting piece (or transcript of a talk, with visual examples), with funny (and flooring) examples in the beginning and great points toward the end.

The kicker is actually in the tongue-in-cheek footer for the fake (and improved, and much less memory-heavy) Google AMP site he made:

Dozens of publishers and technology companies have come together to create this unfortunate initiative. However, it is 2015, and websites should be small and fast enough to render on mobile devices rapidly using minimal resources. The only reason they are not is because we are addicted to tracking, surveillance, gratuitous animation, and bloated, inefficient frameworks. Requiring a readable version of these sites is a great idea. Let’s take it one step further and make it the only version.

Combined with this lament by Iran’s “blogfather” Hossein Derakhshan about what happened to the Web — now it’s social media- and app-driven, and the flow of ideas seems hindered — while he was in prison, and we have different aspects of the same problem: as this “democratic” medium is increasingly commercialized and dumbed down…where does it leave us?

Are we witnessing a decline of reading on the web in favour of watching and listening? The web started out by imitating books and for many years, it was heavily dominated by text, by hypertext. Search engines such as Google put huge value on these things, and entire companies – entire monopolies – were built off the back of them. But as the number of image scanners and digital photos and video cameras grows exponentially, this seems to be changing. Search tools are starting to add advanced image recognition algorithms; advertising money is flowing there.

The stream, mobile applications, and moving images all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication – nodes and networks and links – toward one that is linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

The Door: On keeping your house, and letting others go

I’m reading “The Door” by Magda Szabo, a book from the 1980s that was only recently translated from Hungarian into English.

So far, a great slice of life from that country, and that period (inclusive of the decades leading up to it) centered around an educated writer and the eccentric and opinionated anti-intellectual woman who becomes her housekeeper. Great tastes of “peasant” perspective vs. educated citizenry during tumult in Eastern Europe. Their relationship is wonderful in its complexity and its mutual challenges.

Anyway, I’ve been poor at recording favorite things about books as I read them, so here are a few snippets of lovely language and concepts I wanted to save (all emphasis mine).

On Keeping Your House As You like

“So extreme was the overall impression created by the apartment that our visitors reacted in one of two ways. Either they were paralysed with amazement, or they were overcome with laughter. Even the walls of our kitchen were something else. Instead of wallpaper or paint, we had oilcloth covered in squirrels, geese and other poultry.

Most of our visitors were artists. For them, the place was a familiar world of gentle lunacy. My ultra-correct relatives, with no fantasy life of their own, I had written off long ago.”

On Letting Others Go

The housekeeper, Emerence, explaining herself after the writer is shocked to realize Emerence knew their elder mutual friend Polett was going to commit suicide after years of feeling lost:

“Have you ever killed an animal?”

I said I had never killed anything.

“You will. You’ll put Viola [their dog] down. You’ll have him injected when the time comes. Try to understand. When the sands run out for someone, don’t stop them going. You can’t give them anything to replace life. Do you think I didn’t love Polett? That it meant nothing to me when she’d had enough and wanted out? It’s just that, as well as love, you also have to know know how to kill.”

 

"Now that I know the final conflict is within…"