Black

December 6th, 2014

I had an unnerving experience during a traffic re-route on a highway outside town. A series of traffic cones had been placed on the median and cars were being directed into a long, backed-up line behind a ‘detour’ sign. There was a law officer next to the cones up ahead pointing the traffic into the detour lane. I knew the area and was in a hurry, so I slowed and began to pull into a u-turn so I could backtrack a block and get home sooner. The cop looked up, pointed at me with one hand, and grabbed for his side-arm with the other.

This sort of thing happens to black guys all the time. Sometimes the cop shoots.

I’m a white guy, and I live in another world. I run into racism accidentally. It’s deeply scary. I spent some time in Alaska, where the indigenous peoples are socially suppressed. I was new, and didn’t know the word ‘native’ applied to an Inupiat or an Athabascan. I ran into an old white friend from years ago, and in our re-acquaintance conversation asked how long he’d lived up north. When he replied ‘fifteen years’ I grinned and said, ‘gee, you’re almost native.’ He responded with an astonished, disgusted ‘no….’

At home, in an equipment store where a display shielded me from the view of two white guys, I heard them talking about God, and one said, ‘really, though, if God wanted us all to live in peace – why would he have created blacks, you know what I mean?’

I think I’m too quick to pooh-pooh the media displays that come and go; too quick to dismiss today’s ‘movements.’ They probably will recede. Very likely, they’ll accomplish nothing. But people are voicing a real horror. Better to be on the streets yelling ‘stop!’ – than sitting in a chair like I am.

Super smart

December 3rd, 2014

There’s a growing public conversation about ‘artificial intelligence,’ because some merely remarkably intelligent people have thought about it a lot and decided it’s probably going to be the end of us. That is, something more capable and powerful than we are will occupy the same planet we do. There’s no reason to think it will like us, or be kind.

Personally, I find it hard to imagine something (or someone) smarter than myself, so I don’t really believe the threat will come from any form of newly enlightened machine ‘consciousness.’ I’m in the group that thinks we’ll simply develop some handy little monster which consumes, say, all the bacteria within a perimeter – and then one morning decides to set its own perimeters.

Once again, we’re confronted with an issue – like global warming or super viruses – about which it’s really hard to care too much. I mean, wouldn’t we all just die? And then, why would it matter?

And I thank you.

November 26th, 2014

I’ve been listening to a lot of scientific talk about gratitude. It’s a vital, evolutionary product, they say. It’s sounds too good to be true: if I simply imagine people who have done kindnesses to me, contemplate them in my heart, feel that warmth of thanks in my chest – I strengthen; I grow; I feel real happiness.

There’s a lot of talk about forgiveness, too. There’s a whole science to it. And again, it’s not just the forgiven who flourishes with the gift – but the forgiver.

In my life, it’s never obvious who I have most wronged. Do I cause more harm when I leave – or where I go? Do I inflict more when I hold back – or when I set free?

I am a Christian so I feel guilt. I do the best I can for myself and I feel bad about it. I look to Christ to help me know what to do, and he seems to say: ‘why are you forgiven? – because you love.’

I love so very much. And I thank you.

 

Tossing for bucks

November 19th, 2014

I remember (I think I remember) John Lennon talking about coming to the US and going on stage to discover the crowds just continually screamed. No-one could really hear anything, so he just stood in front of the mike and yelled nonsensical noise. The crowd just screamed; screamed to be screaming.

I’m not sure why this comes to mind right now. In some of my own conversations it feels like I get half an idea out and someone is already talking to divert me. It’s true – I don’t really know what’s going on. Sometimes I pause to listen and sometimes I just keep speaking into the voices.

I watch various headlines as they pop in and out of websites, and I think maybe they’re just being tossed out to see if they get attention. It’s like a competition for the most interesting phrase – whatever idea might bring the most eyeballs to a particular page. Then, if I’m unlucky enough to care about this murderer or that billionaire or some other movie star – I’ll click to pursue the inevitable nothing on the page that follows.

So it becomes any weirder combination of things that’s attractive – say, a sexy female billionaire, or a pre-adolescent killer. For some reason, people were briefly interested in the guy who shot Bin Laden. The day before it was some guy who got Ebola. I was thinking, I’d click on the link if the guy who shot Bin Laden got Ebola…

Conflict theory

November 8th, 2014

We all agree – this is surprising: we all do agree – that our children’s futures will be less bright than ours as kids. We all agree that money purchases politicians, and legislation is no longer written for the American people. The regular headline is: ‘families earn the same as in 1970.’

What isn’t clear, anywhere, is why.

Decades ago I was educated in Conflict Theory (then called Marxism), and I was recently chided for being out of date. It was well taken. I am out of date. So I started thinking – did I ever understand conflict theory in the first place?

I was a deep blue collar kid and it seemed to me there were two classes: workers and owners. Workers were broken and cowed, and owners were deliberately beating them down. For all my acquired, and sophisticated, language, I never really got much beyond that. But today, at least publicly, we don’t see a bunch of owners – even the lauded billionaires – out there concertedly attacking the middle class and demonstrably beating it down.

Yet there is a small group of owners who live life quite differently than the multitudes, and the multitudes’ prospects are universally seen declining. Now I wonder, is it possible conflict doesn’t imply enmity?

Conflict theory is nice because we can see how a change in relative power might cause something positive to occur in history. Today’s eroding liberties and declining opportunities invite the idea most of us are under attack – certainly, we’re suffering physical damage. But we can’ t really blame the rich if we want to be just like them.

So I’m left with no useful theory at all.

What do you know?

October 31st, 2014

This summer when I made my friendship rounds, looking into people’s faces talking about ‘first principles’ and discovering in a whole new way (at fifty-six) the rest of you simply never assimilated some God-sized motive for being or action, I found I really was different. And not in a flattering way. I discovered in a rush the whole painful meaning of ‘not thinking for myself.’

There’s really nothing to rescue me from that. I think most of us, perhaps in less traditional ways, just cling to the hard-learned rules of our coming-to-being, and manage to cram whole worlds of complexity and nuance into a handful of blind beliefs. Perhaps we can even pass for ‘sophisticated’ in certain circles where our gymnastics are misinterpreted as odd wisdom.

It surprised me. It was new. I lost my ground. I got some textbooks to find out how the leading rationalists thought. Like all new impressions I’ve had, I briefly made the mistake of thinking the impression was new all around – this absence of a Big Truth; this inaccessibility of a God. But quick, I learned, you were all taught this way from infancy; sat around in colleges thrilled by the implications of language and the vast im-probe-ability of it all.

So I’m like a toddler. I’m embarrassed, rescued only a little by the fact we – none of us – ever knew what we were talking about anyway. So I can just modify a few phrases here and there, and suddenly today I appear as ‘with it’ as ever. But I’ve done what’s known as ‘losing my religion.’ And it’s affecting. I still weep. And I know nothing.

Just the beginning, that – or part of something larger. I find what crumbled away was my assurance I knew what to do. I thought God told me, I guess, or there were at least some ponderable rules which were just as solid for everybody. But I can’t find them. I want to rush into something that fits. I feel I’ve been unsettled forever.

This thing I am – it moved and commanded and obeyed according to laws forgotten. I am solely responsible for it, and I can’t believe myself. I want someone to reach out and take my hand, but there is no-one there. I try to cling to what I have, but it can feel so achingly wrong.

I can see why people worship within the structures. I understand the language of country, church, and family, because after all we will soften under the straps. And I know why I want to believe someone might truly understand me – because it’s just supposed to be that way. But nothing is true. I’m creaky and stiff, but I am the only one who will do anything. Because I am the only one who does for me.

Disembodied origin

October 25th, 2014

So, the way science now thinks about consciousness is: it’s a ‘model’ of the mechanical attention our brains pay to stimuli of varying importance. Our impressions of ‘consciousness’ are mental images of the currently most-emphasized neuronal responses, the same way our impressions of the color ‘green’ are mental images of neuronal pattern responses to particular wavelengths of light.

Our self-impressions are fictitious, because our mental images don’t really embody anything – they’re simply oscillating electronic sequences. Our impression of existence is the sensory experience of interpreting messages no longer attached to the real world. ‘We’ are an interpretation of data from sources no longer operating. We can’t see beyond the data. We can’t tell how we came to exist.

But we are efficacious. We can do. That is, even though ‘we’ are only imaginary, we’re quite able to manipulate the real after the fashion of our ‘intentions.’ That is, the software (if we are software) assumes an existence all ‘our’ own. And  that existence supercedes, in both power and capability, its disembodied origin.

Perhaps we originated in God. Science believes we originate in our own flesh. But we ourselves can’t know. While our bodies sustain the flashing display which ignites into our perception of being, and science can determine those physics as precisely as it can define how much food a body needs to eat, Science disappears into the same sourceless inaccessibility that God does – when we contemplate what we ourselves might be.

The morality of science

October 15th, 2014

I mentioned to a few people some time back I was interested in discovering the ‘moral imperative of rational science.’ This generally drew confused looks and some reiteration of our cultural belief that ‘science is neutral.’

Of course, it’s not. Science isn’t just a method. At any particular time, it’s also the coherent body of ‘facts’ and ‘theories’ the majority of ‘responsible’ scientists believe. Science is biology, artificial intelligence, and evolution. Science is a description of currently accepted facts and a faith those facts are true.

So, of course, it has a morality. And, in fact, its morality has professors.

Lately, it’s been scientifically decided we have no free will, no permanent identity, and no consciousness. What we do have decidedly operates according to the common drive of all living things – we want to reproduce. For us, scientifically, that means teaming up and getting along.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the morality of that remains what it always has been. I wonder if this new deity is more or less benign.

Babes for sale

October 4th, 2014

I wish I were a beautiful woman. I could browse a web catalog of rich old men quite eager to own me. It’s a great life. Better yet, I wish I were rich (I’m already old). I could select from lists of graphically displayed and thoroughly vetted females, each enthusiastic to be at my pleasure.

This isn’t prostitution. This is ‘match-making’ in class society. As every non-working, liberally educated wife of a high-earning male knows, you can love anybody you can live with. As every hard-working, dead-ended single female understands, a little compromise is worth it for a buck or two.

As we all recognize at odd moments, we believe whatever we tell ourselves.

I’m surprised at the new nakedness of our cultural truth: we’re a mass of struggling, working people, uncertain of tomorrow. Dwelling among us with ease and impunity are our certified superiors, living in castles set back off the street; who comb through our ranks for our brightest children and most desirable women, to pluck them away from us for ever more – with our consent.

Zero distance

September 24th, 2014

Years ago when I met my wife, when we negotiated becoming married, we argued. We argued about what marriage is – what we wanted marriage to be. I thought of it as the disappearance of the individual, a sort of magical dissolution of two beings into one. She did not. She thought of it as an alliance between two mutually interested people as a supportive, exclusive team.

It bothered me, this disagreement, and in antagonistic moments I always remember it. Today, as I audit a mooc on the psychology of happiness, I’m learning more about why. I have an ‘anxious attachment style.’ My wife’s is very ‘secure.’

My psychology professors exude contentment as they lecture. They cheerfully describe the empirically real behaviors and reactions we display, as organisms, from touching to talking, and how ‘healthy’ activity makes ‘happy’ people. Since I’m familiar with who I am, and my abnormalities can indeed be uncomfortable, listening to these lectures is often like pressing myself through a cheese grater.

I want to say something about my sense of total contact – that ‘union’ my wife, and apparently all ‘secure’ people, shrink from. I experience it in moments. It’s a clear, safe spot where understanding another is knowing myself. It’s an astonishment and an abandonment, while the most profoundly connected and complete sensation I ever expect to enjoy. I express wanting it to those who attract me, and frighten the ‘healthy’ ones away.

I regret frightening them. I see life within them. I want to join that life. So with my marriage: we are indeed allied. We are deeply trusting and pervasively intimate. On occasion, despite all reality, I see her as myself. In those moments I am absent all questions; soundlessly and eternally content – perfectly unalone.