I know I may seem overly provocative (or perhaps just foolhardy) for going after both left and right, and also recommending their shared virtues, ahead of the customary vitriol. I am not one of those cynics who thinks there is no difference – never have been. For me, considering our comparative empowerment, the basic moral question for citizens in rich western democracies has to be – how much predictable harm will this particular gang do to the foreign poor, in our name? And let’s be very clear here – the answer from every team we’ve ever been offered has always been – plenty.
But generally speaking, for the last fifty years worth of increasingly strange western politics, the political left (such as it is) has had a demonstrably less harmful constellation of ideas – for them and us both. Much of this comes from accepting some (by no means all) science, as a sensible basis from which to govern, democratically.
The point about science, is that the same experimental results can be obtained by anyone who cares to investigate – this makes that part of their governance-claim reasonable – it gives a standard which all can access.
Our biggest foolishness of all underlies my big critique, and also underpins that crucial question about harm – because the question should really be – how much harm will we all do to the world, while this particular clique is steering us?
Pay no attention to the mindset behind the curtain (top photo)
As far back as I can remember, the old factory territory which is now being turned into Liberty Village was marked from the elevated Gardiner Expressway, by a series of huge and often super-complicated billboards.
There used to be a lovely hidden tension between the slick-surface of consumerism presented, and the dilapidated factory-housed but thriving artistic community, tucked just behind the neon. Now? Liberty village is full of hip new ad-agencies. Death of irony indeed.
But advertising itself? Sadly stronger than ever – and we, caught in it’s grip, increasingly infantile and persnickety, as we flail helplessly away from one another into digital alienation – fewer and fewer cultural tools-in-common, with which we might ward-off the dehumanizing deluge, by easily and reliably realizing shared compassion, in our day-to-day lives.
LSD Pay here
I’m especially sad about the extent to which Television has reasserted itself in the last twenty years – despite many reports of it’s death by internet. I even heard one student say, “I know the environment is a real drag now, but I feel lucky to be alive today, because TV has never been better.”
I mentioned awhile ago (in my post about Gregory Bateson and the logical double-bind), that I read a lot of out-dated and out of print scholarship. This is not (just) because I’m an ornery guy, but also because again and again, I find that great contributions to thought often come along, blossom and then wither-away, decades before they are most needed.
I’m reading Marshall McLuhan again (much more on him, soon) and there are few better examples of a thoughtful contribution, whose contributor did not live to see their work’s full relevance (nor, even all these years later, has it’s outright imaginative magnificence been adequately appreciated).
Like Freud, Bateson, Buckminster Fuller and the far more often discussed (but almost never really understood) Einstein, McLuhan had to invent new forms of language to describe his ideas, and attempt to spread them.
His central quest was to give us the tools to understand the new digital environment which we now inhabit mostly unthinkingly – because we never did accept his vocabulary of concepts to a functional degree. In practical terms, his ideas are much like the ideas Freud managed to loft into general use – which, for all their faults, have at least allowed discussion of formerly unapproachable, but important and far-reaching subjects.
LSD has been mentioned by several notable figures as a breakthrough experience, early in their unusually imaginative careers, for a reason. Like Psilocybin (statistically, the safest of the common hallucinogens) it forces it’s users to understand something which is always true for every one of us humans.
We don’t perceive objective truth – we just make up a story from fragments, as we go along.
I don’t mean to say that we’re dumb or lying – only that our perceptions involve a ton of editing, inattention and a very restricted perspective, which means we’re always missing most of what’s actually happening – and by lazy habit, assuming that we’re getting a fairly full and clear picture.
Having an experience of sustained alternate (psychedelic) perception, and feeling the differences themselves shift (all of which can be lastingly disturbing, when approached foolishly) gives such travellers direct experiential knowledge, rather than a theory held at arms-length, of the ever-distorting dominance of our perceptual subjectivity.
There are two huge problems with the stage-one enlightenment that comes from really thinking for yourself, and observing the world curiously for awhile. First, whenever we awaken to a level of reality that we used to overlook – we find it very hard to go back to comfortable un-seeing again. Not only that, but the new insight may now seem so obvious, that it’s hard for us to imagine, let alone remember continuously, that everyone else doesn’t suddenly share our great revelation (a serious guru-problem – no-kidding).
Secondly – having finally noticed that the Emperor is strutting around the place completely naked – what the heck is one supposed to do about it?
This hydro-meter struck me as one of the finest art-uses of a found installation that I’ve ever seen. Power – split between the big-man and the lab-coat weenie – and yet all of it rusting, slipshod, way outside of code – creaking – how much longer can this arrangement possibly last?
And what if we consider them not as ancient opponents, but a unified duality? What does the tension between power and science get us, in the rich west, especially? Not progress toward sustainable farming, or modern efficient infrastructure, advancing educational standards, or the long-overdue abolition of child poverty. We now routinely consider family-homelessness acceptable, in the richest countries in the world.
What we absolutely do insist upon – at any cost – are trinkets and distraction.
We choose candy over vegetables at every meal – which itself calls into question the assumption (that we never do properly question) that our badly-outsize wantings, are our most important individual human qualities.
The Standard Model – Free Externality
What cost, our trinkets? Slaughter the breadth of the whole darned world, in point of fact. There is no part of the earth or nature which we have deemed to be more important or valuable than our own dumb cravings.
Five million were murdered for coltan (tantalum ore) – not so that we could all have cellphones – no, there was enough available for that, anyhow. Year after year, we all dutifully paid for the bullets that murdered roughly a holocaust-worth of people – and we didn’t even have the decency to notice – all so that our cellphones could be cheap enough to throw-away.
Not for their function – just so we could enjoy feeling fashionable.
That’s not what we tell ourselves we are – it’s what we prove we are, by doing.
Externality is the inescapable no-free-lunch entropic side of our existence, which we have all been hallucinating our way very carefully around, this whole time. Industrial capitalism’s foundational hubris – that it could push infinitely against the natural world, without ever anticipating (even a Newtonian) push-back.
Utterly ridiculous – even within its own antiquated frame of reference!
We’re now experiencing frightening consequences of industrialization gone truly mad and getting some very gentle (on it’s scale) pushback, from the biosphere. This wouldn’t surprise us so, if we were actually watching.
I do not mean to say one has to (or ought to) go on a ‘trip’ to see any of this – curiosity and compassion will get us there reliably and safely, every time. But advertising and Pavlovian consumption will still keep doing all it can, to mask our simple duty to be aware of our distributed externalities.
Where does our transport-gasoline really come from? Traditionally, from denying political and human rights to hundreds of millions of people in the middle east by force and manipulation for a century – and now – in the exciting new and improved version – also from using millions of gallons of unbelievably precious fresh water, to cause avoidable earthquakes.
Seriously folks. What year exactly do we think this is? This petro-addiction is officially beyond pathetic. Ruinous of our health, morality – even our creative adaptability as a culture. And still way-dumb, on every natural and aesthetic level.
“I’m going to kick, really I am, I just need a few more… droughts? Die-offs?”
The thing about walking around with such fantastically loud and non-stop blindfolds nowadays (earbuds over hearing – touch and eyes on screen) is that we’re liable to forget that the world is nothing like a store at all.
All externalities not only count, they compound in ways that can ultimately prove dangerous indeed. Linear thinking (as McLuhan so interestingly observes) is a function of our phonetic and type-based inheritance. An artificially well-organized and regimented model, to which no natural processes whatsoever conform.
To really understand natural systems we need some more of what (in some circles) is considered obsolete thinking – about exponential and logarithmic rates of change. Cumulative quantities have a way of becoming dramatic qualities, over time.
Or – as we see with sadly increasing frequency – ignoring a problem works and works and works – right up until it’s ‘suddenly’ a complete disaster.
Prevention is the way to go – for disease, for environmental disruption, for species extinction, poison toxicity – there is no treatment on earth that is anything like as effective as simply not doing the harm in the first place.
Evil or not – (it is our job as citizens to restrain them as necessary, anyhow), corporations simply do not use all the hair-product, or flush all the toilets. They can’t finance the mining of that much coltan, unless our appetites give (and keep giving) them the sustained capital-clout with which to do it.
I say, enough of the helpless serf-pose we’ve all got so comfortable with. We are among the freest citizens on earth – which means it’s not just our right, but our absolute duty to steer this ship away from the rocks, as best we can. Cynicism just won’t cut-it (hard as it can certainly be, to fend it off) we have to find our way through this mess by creating that better way ourselves, constantly. Which makes renewal a basic life-skill – doesn’t it?
Where we are AT (I know, I know, kill-me now) ;o)
The fantasy of cash-gratification and infinite free externality is everywhere around us – more air-tight and yet empty, than ever before.
Why use a simple (and biodegradable) broom, when we can throw-away a brand new manufactured synthetic membrane, every single time we clean a surface? (some companies have way more than their fair share of indoor pollution, and skin-contact carcinogens, to answer-for).
We feel proud that we are the most deeply compassionate people ever, because we feed our beloved animals pure meat food each day – and to heck with the damn rain-forest cut down to provide that meat, and the millions of starving poor who can’t afford grains anymore – because they are going to feed Fido’s meat-cow.
We now routinely and comfortably value our pets over their children. This is 21st century compassion.
We emote like crazy, and pay an extraordinary amount of attention to the vast cloud of weightless opinions around us – but we have never been even close to this lethal, in our ignorant vanity. The web now consumes more power than the airlines – and wants more still.
But hey, at least we can use it to obsess endlessly about the environment that we are accelerating the destruction-of by using it to endlessly obsess – instead of actually changing how we live. The only thing that could still (possibly) work – and we all know it.
Throwing-out a bag full of inflated balloons? Really says it perfectly, doesn’t it?
(And yet if you scream out loud about stuff like this, they call you crazy) ;o)