Thoughts and finds 2

January 7, 2020 at 7:00 pm (By Amba) (, )

It’s actually funny to read grave and somber reports of world leaders “tweeting” threats at each other.

power tries to blind us to our power.” But, without being too starry-eyed, there are other models for human civilization than “the rule of men, the rule of profit, and the soul-crushing rule of religion (true idolatry),” models we don’t know enough about. So says a man whose young sweetheart was abducted and murdered decades ago, and who went on to study and write about Minoan civilization.

You may be tired of my flogging Claire Berlinski, and I wouldn’t blame you—she’s an odd taste even for me—but trust me, or don’t, there are good things in this post.

  1. Her first instincts are hawkish and she started out exulting on Twitter about Soleimani’s death, the first thing Trump had done that she agreed with. But she’s drastically toned that down as the shadow of possible consequences has lengthened over her. This post does a great job of enumerating all the salient factors that NOBODY KNOWS.
  2. She asked readers to free-associate the first five words that come to mind about the decade just past. And she publishes lots of the results. Try it yourself, if you like, before you read them. Mine were: Robots in all Christmas windows (That was when I knew in my gut that we’ve gone down the wrong road.)

Not interested in recaps (of more than five words), not interested in predictions. We have seen and we will see.

There is a book called Patriotic Gore. (I remembered only the title, so had to look it up. It’s by Edmund Wilson and is a study of the literature of the Civil War. Wilson served in the ambulance corps in France in WWI and ever after was as antiwar as it gets: opposing U.S. entry into WWII, calling postwar America “the United States of Hiroshima,” and refusing to pay his taxes.)

Probably because of that book title, the word “patriotic” itself has always been gory to me. It is red and black, like fresh and clotted blood. It has an aorta of vowels in its heart spelling “riot.”

I had no air conditioner my first summer in New York, 1968. I’d sit on the fire escape to cool off, and the Puerto Rican granddads in their sleeveless undershirts sat out on the sidewalk below, on folding chairs. 12th Street between A and B, before the East Village drowned in drugs. It was just a family neighborhood, but I dreamt of corpses laid out in rows on the sidewalk at night, their blood, darker than the dark, running down to the street. (Vietnam.) This song is the sound of that summer to me: sweaty flesh and the undirected yearning of new adulthood.

Morning rituals: Feed and clean up after the cats; sit down with breakfast; look at the weather app, look at the newsletters. Is it going to snow today? Is the world going to end today? Things it’s useful to know as you plan your day.

(Reading the news feels to me like a survival instinct—a useless vestige of the prompt to scan for predators before you came out of your cave. That instinct was aimed at local threats you could actually do something to prevent or avoid. Robbed of any immediate, actionable object, vigilance becomes chronic anxiety and scanning the news becomes an addiction. Rolf Dobelli thinks we should quit.)

Another beautiful song. Maybe this one is the sound of now. I don’t know, but I’m playing it over and over.

1 Comment

  1. Polly said,

    [Minoans, their “Sea Peoples” cultures, Etruscans, and Native Americans endured far longer than anything familiar taught in schools, Rome included. Yes, they knew how to fight. More importantly, they showed what humans can build on the fact that there is Plenty For Everybody (and there still is) on this planet.]

    It’s a lot easier to be (relatively) peaceful when human population is limited. The competition for land, and food, is much less intense.

    Population began exploding thanks to agriculture, and the result was ever more intense warfare. Marx thought religion was the cause of war, and Freud thought it was some destructive instinct. No, the main cause of war has always been territorial, protecting boundaries.

    We protect boundaries because that is how nature works. We are tribal, because we must live in sub-groups. We have nations, because tribes band together for military strength. We are patriotic, because otherwise we would not defend our boundaries.

    Boundaries are an essential fact of nature. Every cell in our body has a boundary, and our life depends on that.

    We know all this in software development also. Complex programs have to be divided into sub-programs, and they have to be hierarchical, and there must be boundaries between the components. Software tries to imitate nature, because nature knows the best ways of doing things.

    If human population continues to explode, there will NOT be enough for everyone. And even if it levels off, it’s still way too much. There will always be competition. And unless or until our civilization destroys itself, technology will make competition ever more deadly.

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