Airplane in the Night
I go to my blog, “prairiemary.blogspot.com”, expecting it to look just as it did when I last closed it yesterday, but it’s entirely different. I’m surprised, but then realize that it is a projection of a code structure devised by people far away and that if they want to change the instructions for the appearance or even the content, they can. It is not paper. They don’t have to steal it or burn it or shred it. They just turn it off. I have no control.
When I remark on email at night that I can hear the C130 big planes in the air, practicing flight along the East Slope of the Rockies, I strongly suspect that it triggers a monitor somewhere and eventually someone will want to know why I’m noticing and relaying the information. Am I a spy?
Before the recent presidential election, I would talk to people about Trump and point out cheesy behavior. They would agree. Then they would declare belligerently that they were going to vote for him. I get the same reaction when I try to explain why I stay off Facebook: it sells my personal info, it censors things it doesn’t want me to know, it rats me out to enemies, it protects lies and accommodates bad people if they’re rich, etc. The person I’m talking to agrees with me and goes right on with Facebook. They say, “Everybody does it.” These are smart people, but their reference group — the people they know and interact with daily — are not the same people as the ones I interact with, even in memory.
My reaction to the “neither of the above” situation of our election is not “OMG the end of the world”, but rather “what structures of our system are putting us into this kind of bind?” Because this is not the first time. It’s just happened at a global level. It’s obvious that the forces at play are sometimes old, hangovers from the assumptions “we” brought with us from a warring Europe that had barely discovered a new concept called “nations” and then we tried to invent “democracy” — though we only intended it to be for old prosperous and well-connected white men, certainly not for slaves and women who would be irresponsible and swayed by promises.
But then, as things do, the forces of culture took over and everything unfolded in quite a different way. Also, smallpox wiped out the indigenous American people in the same way that the Great Plague earlier wiped out the indigenous people of Eurasia. Nature hates a vacuum. And she balances repetition of the familiar against entirely new circumstances. Nothing stays the same, which means small changes (mutations) in the “code” which means that evolution makes my blog look entirely different. I have to learn where things are all over again.
I’m doing mix-and-match thinking here, because that’s one way to change perspective. I get impatient with The Edge because they have a lot of old prosperous academic white men around, filtering. But yesterday I found a talk that is at the heart of the problem. (Edge #482: Glitches - A Conversation With Laurie Santos https://www.edge.org/conversation/laurie_r_santos-glitches) It’s video, print and sound. The idea is to figure out what evolved in the brain/mind to go beyond primates and create humans. They do this by setting up little “plays” in front of monkeys and then figuring out from their actions what they thought. Most of it is about stealing food, which is what monkeys do.
As it turns out, monkeys know what you know. They don’t know what you don’t know. If something happens while you’re gone but the monkeys are watching, they can’t tell you don’t know it. People are the same way — they can’t tell what the other guy doesn’t know. (Santos uses the word “ignorance.”)
Another “glitch” turns out to be that people are so influenced by other people, esp. the ones they admire, that if another person tries to solve a problem and goes at it wrongly, the second person will try that wrong way also, though it prevents them from solving the problem and they have the information they need to understand that. Strangely, a dog or monkey will see you try to solve one of their dog/monkey problems wrongly, shrug it off, and succeed on their own terms. So it appears that we have evolved the ability to observe and absorb what other people do mistakenly, even if thinking for ourselves would solve the problem. This appears to be organically true of the brain, not just a cultural development, though awareness might help us break it.
Long ago when I first learned about atoms, they talked about little balls revolving around each other, sort of like the solar system except very small. Now the research is indicating that there are no balls but rather “shells of energy” that make atoms that are differentiated by the even smaller “shells of energy” that are protons and neutrons in the nucleus while the electrons whiz around the outside, joining to other atoms or leaving entirely or arriving from nowhere. These atoms clump and fold in unique ways to create molecules which our bodies control and are controlled by. We have developed an ability to control and create molecules in a lab — with mixed results.
Every chair, every wall, is made up of these entwined shells of energy which are not solid but mostly space. Yet we sit in the chairs and trust walls not to collapse on us. Our bodies — our bodies! We trust them to breathe and think, but they are only molecules, evolving, unconsciously moving in processes we can’t perceive with equipment. Everything is process. And we CAN perceive them with equipment: thought is organic and resides in cells using molecules.
We had not thought that brains were a process or that they mutated and evolved, but we’ve been aware that people are different from each other and don’t agree. We are not schools of fish nor even dog packs.
Everything has structure, relationships, interactions. In France a school of thought emerged that was about the construction of experience: how we piece together our experience into our individual and cultural assumptions about life. Soon there was an opposite school of thought based on DEconstruction, based on what happens if you throw out all those assumptions and look for the deepest level possible. Derrida is a name that comes up. This was the state of the idea world when I hit seminary, where the task is to find the theological structures of religion and — to be frank — if you were an honored old academic white man, to defend them.
But the scientific evidence of the world was revealing that many of those two-millennial-old ideas were wrong. There is no king in the sky. There is ecology wrapped in a various blanket around the planet, and it calls for different ways of being. But this knowledge has not evolved into a way of guiding human culture politically that responds to feedback the way a proper ecology ought to. So much of it is invented and persists only if it is constantly tended.
If we don’t, we wake up and discover that our blog looks different or just isn’t there, and OMG we’ve elected a president who didn’t get the majority vote. We fear that our beloved family will leave in the night and our house will fall down. In some places that is happening now. Predator drones controlled far away with the same code that supports my blog.