So, who’s paying attention?
That’s actually somewhat of a rhetorical question, as I have no real expectation that I’ll get replies, and this isn’t some kind of survey, but it is a serious question. More importantly, it’s a broad question, and I should explain that I don’t simply mean who might be paying attention to my little blog notes.
Let me tell you a little story from a long time ago, over a couple of decades ago, that pops up out of distant memory. I can only figure that it floated to the surface because there’s some kind of resonance with a hell of a lot of current events and situations.
Many years ago, there was a young man who hung around a lot at a place where I worked. One day he walked into my working space. The job at hand involved stretches of time when I was just standing by babysitting equipment, and as long as there was no malfunction kicking me into action, I could do other things while keeping an eye and ear on things. The young man walked in during one of these times with a wad of paper and questions.
He had ambitions to join the military (he was telling everybody in sight, all the time). The wad of papers in his hand was an example set of questions for some kind of entry evaluation test for Marine Corps recruits who wanted to sign up for specialized training after basic training, in electronics. He was asking me about it because he had heard I had an electronics background. I looked it over for a minute.
It didn’t get terribly advanced, but the material covered went far enough that I had to presume that it went beyond testing to see if someone had the necessary academic foundation (math and science) for electronics study, and general intelligence and aptitude, and was intended to also determine if a recruit already had enough electronics knowledge to perhaps skip past some basic introduction material and go straight to a more advanced class.
It was pretty clear that he didn’t know the first thing about anything in the sample questions, and also that he lacked the academic foundation you needed to go into an electronics course. I tried to explain that learning the material in the test would be something that would take a substantial chunk of time.
His response was “just tell me what I need to know to pass the test”. I started to do what I could to lay out some idea of what concepts and topics were being covered, and he interrupted me. He didn’t want an outline of what he needed to learn. He was expecting the actual information he needed to know. He literally seemed to have some notion that he could get me to just sort of jot down a few pieces of information on a piece of paper to memorize, and he would be all set. Just tell me what I need to pass the test, and be quick about it.
That popped up out of my memory as I was thinking about how many people just want some neat simple answer to anything, without any care about actually understanding.
Too many words! Get to the point! Cut to the chase! What’s the bottom line? Don’t tell me about a bunch of stuff! What’s the answer? Just tell me!
When things come to some situation where people are demanding some neat simple short answer, sometimes the best a person can do is do their best to reduce things down to a smaller set of questions.
And, no, there isn’t an app for that.
In the latest Kunstlercast webcast, there was an interesting comment from the guest of the week, teacher and writer Eric Zency. He offered a working definition of the word “sustainable”, the thought that something was sustainable by virtue of not undercutting the conditions necessary for the continuation of its own existence. I thought that was great. That nails it.
The word sustainable gets thrown around far too casually, far too often, if it’s not ignored completely. It’s a simple thing. We have an awful lot facing us in terms of problems of circumstances and systems and routines that are unsustainable, and the word is not ambiguous or complicated. By definition, the unsustainable simply cannot continue forever. Unfortunately, it seems clear that too many people seem to hang on to something like an analogy that Eric Zency mentions in the webcast I just mentioned, somebody jumping off the top of a 20 story building, and maintaining the belief that they can fly for 19 floors.
It became obvious quite a while ago that too many people toss around the word sustainable in superficial and arguably foolish ways. Have you ever encountered somebody talking proudly about how they’re changing their life to be more sustainable by buying a new hybrid SUV to drive around the highways of suburbia 50 miles a day, or whatever?
Another topic came up in the conversation between Kunstler and Zency, the general category of the Millennials generation. For younger people, there is a pretty severe imperative that they face, whether they want to face it clearly or not. Circumstances will not allow them to pretend much longer, if at all, the way that the generations of their parents and grandparents are pretending.
Go back to the analogy of pretending you can fly for 19 stories of falling, and what the younger generations are facing is that this pretense can’t continue. They also need to avoid getting sucked into the trap that seems to grab some of us, a kind of nihilistic attitude of “oh, well, it’s all going to shit and we’re doomed and nothing you can do so I just want to get mine and ride it out to the end or hope it doesn’t all fall apart until I’m gone“.
What they have on their hands to deal with is substantial, and how the people who are young today, and looking forward, will deal with it, I can’t guess.
What is certain is that part of what they have to deal with is being surrounded by too many people who are making the difficult and challenging into something much worse, because of some severe attitude and attention problems. Too many people have constructed all kinds of mental barriers of sheer nonsense and fiction and deliberate ignorance, because they think that makes things easier, and shining any light on that can trigger all sorts of ugly reactions. It’s grim stuff.
Too many people just dig in even deeper to whatever avoidance defenses they have. Look around and observe how many people react to anybody or anything pointing out problems with outrage, not about the problem at hand, but about having it pointed out to them so they can’t ignore it, although, in these kinds of cases, chances are, they’ll have a raging tantrum about that, and then proceed to ignore it anyway.
Sometimes it’s more subtle, and not as blatantly ugly, as people just bury themselves in diversions. I can only hope that readers understand the variety of the available and popular distractions and diversions, as a full list is tedious, and should be pretty obvious. Let’s just say that Aldous Huxley probably got things right to an astonishing degree in his novel Brave New World, about people happily entertaining themselves with idiot distractions to avoid letting themselves be conscious that some things are very wrong.
In an appropriate bit of coincidence, I found myself looking at a piece of garbage advertising waste of time announced by the words “Go to att.net for the latest Sports, Lifestyle, Finance and more!“. I glanced at this and thought that maybe it would be good if AT&T could concentrate on providing proper functional communications service, along with not being an auxiliary technical handmaiden to the American Stasi.
Reality warp is an epidemic. Conscious people can look around and gather their own observations of people who take the ridiculous and absurd seriously, and regard the profoundly and urgently serious like it’s a fucking joke. Stop and consider how much passes for entertainment and amusement to some people that’s sliding into raw sadism and cruelty, while malevolent imbeciles are regarded as noble and wise.
Through it all, too many people dismiss any kind of substantial examination of anything serious as “too long”, protesting that they just don’t have time for this, but then they’ll waste endless hours filling their heads with sports and idiotic trivia and “reality” TV entertainment. I’m growing more and more tired of the occasional joking from people about how their “ADD” makes it just too hard to actually pay attention to anything that takes more than 30 seconds of their time.
The spectacle that is current American politics (and the “news media” circus about it) is becoming more grotesque and useless by the day. That, it should be obvious by now, is reaching levels of grotesque absurdity that stretch the ability to believe it’s really happening, given the situation of what’s blasted from television news as “The Syrian Crisis“. People who don’t seem to want to take the time to know what’s going on, if it can’t be condensed down to something simplistic and uselessly abbreviated, will sometimes apparently turn to soaking in cable news where people babble and argue endlessly, yet convey almost no factual information, and not notice the irony.
Over the past few days, great heaping piles of the chatter of politicos and the infotainment sector have been devoted to twitching and barking about the appearance, of all things, an opinion-editorial piece published in the New York Times from Russian seemingly-permanent head of state Vladimir Putin, addressing the American people about the subject of the barking and saber-rattling regarding Syria.
The reactions to that have been a combination of completely expected and almost bizarre. One fundamentally important point to note is that, as you read this, it should be obvious that for the most part, he’s actually right. This right here should be enough of a shock to bring some people to their senses. I mean, this is Vladimir Putin, ex-KGB agent, a man who would probably generate widespread agreement that it would be fair to describe the man as a thug.
In all the huffing and puffing and grandstanding posing of righteous indignation in reaction to this editorial, a really primary thought is lost on too many people, which is, basically, how far off the rails has American political leadership become that Vladimir Putin becomes the voice of reason? Good God.
Many of the bumbling politicos are, naturally, going to respond to that NYT piece by saying that Putin is playing manipulative games, and of course he is!
More to the point, the bombastic fools beating the war drum here set him right up for it, lofting the ball up for Putin to spike the thing. Even worse, we can probably expect all kinds of noisy and bellicose characters to take the bait, and make lots of pompous noises in coming days proclaiming their defense of the notion of “American Exceptionalism“, an idea that the neocon crowd have been pushing for years. That idea has been taken up by Barack Obama toeing that party line. People walk right into it.
People barking about how we supposedly must attack a country that hasn’t attacked us, and is not a threat, with the absurdity of saying this is essential to “national security”, forget a lesson of history. The last time the American military was fighting an actual real threat to the nation was 1945, when the US finished dealing with a very real threat to the whole world from a nation that had ideas fed into their national psyche telling them that they were special, exceptional, and should rule the world.
Right there is one of the best examples of a lesson in the importance of learning lessons from history. It’s an old idea, the importance of learning from history. The tragedy is that one of the lessons of history is that over and over, in the parade of passing time and successive human generations, too many people fail badly in learning the lessons of history. Even worse, people can think they’re “learning the lessons of history” and get completely wrong ideas lodged in their heads. This is a real hazard, and the probabilities of this happening are high when you live in an era where people think that some sort of sage wisdom is found residing in people like Glenn Beck and Oprah Winfrey or some other TV charlatans.
One very large lesson was laid out in pretty stark and simple form a little over 50 years ago by outgoing president Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell speech to the American people before turning over the office to President-elect John Kennedy. This was the origin of the phrase “military-industrial complex”, a phrase that, I suspect, too many Americans vaguely know but regard as some variety of “conspiracy theory nuttiness” or something, without understanding the source, knowing what Eisenhower said (or even that he coined the phrase). It’s very unfortunate that so few Americans seem to know and understand what he was trying to warn people about, even though, now, it’s painfully obvious that he called it right on the mark, with the possible argument that, now, we might be a little more correct to modify this to something like “the military-corporate-banking complex“.
Things like that get lost in a period of human history when Twitter feeds and mobile phone text message gibberish are regarded as great advances in communication and information, and people can’t be bothered to maybe take a whole 15 minutes reading something, and maybe even some time after that actually thinking about it.
I didn’t sit down here today to write about the future of younger generations, but the younger people among us certainly are the ones who have to think about what we have going on now and what the future will bring. Thinking about the long term, for them, is not some mere academic exercise. For them, especially, I recommend that they read the book The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe. It shows, in a pretty thorough presentation, the general idea that history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. To be clear, this book does not exactly predict the future (a potentially foolish exercise), but it does show pretty well that there are definite patterns. Part of the importance of grasping this stuff for younger people is to understand that much of what they might be told by the middle aged and elder generations of their parents and grandparents about what things are now, and what will be in the near and distant future, are extremely likely to contain, and be founded upon, all kinds of misunderstandings of the past and present, and presumptions that the future will continue along a certain path based on these.
As a side note, it occurs to me that given the barrage of the kinds of stuff I alluded to about assorted snake-oil carnival barkers selling people some batch of “E-Z answers to the world, your life, and future well being and prosperity!”, it might be tempting to regard my recommendation of The Fourth Turning as an excited recommendation of exactly that kind of bullshit. It is not, and anybody who might approach the book expecting that is likely to be confused and disappointed.
What you can gain from the book is an understanding of historical cycles, and where we are now. In Strauss and Howe’s analysis, we’re certainly now in what they term a Fourth Turning phase of a cycle, categorized as a Crisis period. Pointing people to the stuff of Crisis period can lead to a set of predictable reactions, unfortunately; denial, platitudes about deux ex machina simple fixes, freakout panic, angry hunts for scapegoats. Let’s not do that.
Part of the reflex jerking around is the game of people flipping the political switch between R and D and thinking they’re really doing something. I thought a bit of recent news was interesting.
There was a primary election to select a candidate for the ballot in the upcoming election for the office of Mayor of the city of Toledo. The winner of the primary election for a place on the ballot for the general election is an independent, placed on the ballot alongside the incumbent mayor running for re-election, who is also an independent.
Ponder that for a while. Yes, you read this right. There will be two choices on the ballot for the election to choose the next mayor of Toledo. There is no candidate for mayor on the ballot from the Democratic party, there is no candidate for mayor on the ballot from the Republican party.
I have to wonder if this might be an early sign of something that will become more of a trend, as people realize that the two dominant parties of American politics have long ago ceased to be anything but useless and corrupt and destructive, and push them more and more toward their thoroughly deserved place in the waste bin of history.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Dr. Stephen Hawking