Friday, February 16, 2018


Every mass shooting becomes another round of frothing and curses about guns along with declarations from a certain kind of disempowered man that if HE’d been there and if HE’d had a gun, he’d have cut the killing short.  But all guns do is extend and intensify the violence that is always around the edges of human circumstances, esp. as the numbers, density and varieties of humans keep increasing.  

Somehow predator drones coming out of the sky like dragons to destroy families and villages doesn’t offend us, but one or two disturbed teenagers with powerful guns, entirely unpredictable, stir up fantasies.  So I want to take a different approach.

I notice how many of these shootings are in schools, churches, movie theatres, and homes.  No doubt because that’s where there are a lot of targets, but consider that they are — to the uneducated — institutions that impinge on and presumably order and guide lives.  What If the real source of the outrage is the failure of institutions, even the police.  I confess, which will probably get me on some list, that I’d like to turn a fire hose on Congress since they are the biggest failing institution in the nation.  The Wall Street stock market could also use a drenching.

These institutions are only proximate causes of our distress: out-of-date, underfunded, full of alligators.  This is because institutions, organizations of all kind both idealistic like Oxfam and destructive as the NRA (which we now discover has been hosing the Repubs with Russian money) are emergent.  The KKK emerges from scared old men who ghost us with bedsheets and torches.  The Red Cross emerges from people who are responding to suffering.

The deeper problem now is that our understanding of the universe — which ought to give rise to a potent and surging energy for synthesis into institutions that can protect and explain human beings — the raw material for “religion” — is blunted and diverted.  Instead of churches being organized groups of people sharing an ethos, we have shattered into individual screen-watchers who admire the anti-hero for at least taking matters into his or her own hands — like a school shooter.  More Peer Gynt, Conan, and Rambo than Robin Hood, but nothing new.  We’ve been through this cycle before.

But there are variations.  The levels of society which used to be purely economic and inheritable as God-given, still has that practical pousse-cafĂ© aspect of layering, but there are maybe more layers and from different forces.  For instance,  we have a great many people who came suddenly into tech fortunes that they can barely control, like Mark Zuckerburg wrestling with his own algorithms and unexpected consequences.  Wikipedia is controlled by a hundred male Ivy League mandarins with all their contempts and eunuch aesthetics.  Our ideas of wealth are in the Midas terms of everything gold, poor person’s vulgar notions of fine things.  Our ideas of sex are obedient women six feet tall, bleached blonde, sixteen-years-old with cheekbones from the Ukraine and eye makeup bought online.

In terms of academia we have created compartments of knowledge that few can understand, like all the French post-colonial theorists that — half-understood — justify a lot of moral indignation on the part of the oppressed.  Just across the quad are the cosmologists, the deep cell biologists who can “crisp” DNA, the pre-writing history of the hominins written on the land and deep in caves.  These people talk over the heads of the ordinary dope slumped in front of his huge TV on couches with built-in beverage holders.

Simmering on the front stoop are the “brown” people with rich heritages that are brushed aside except as plot devices on the endlessly unspooling police procedures.  They sell self-snuffing drugs to the lost people who pull up at the curb in cars better than they can afford.

The computers show maps: maps of where oxycontin is sold, where meth is coming back, where the water is running out, who votes red and who votes blue.  On the right-hand side of this blog is a little “cluster map” of who’s reading this at the same time as you and where they are.  Sometimes I write something that makes Russia light up.  Other times it is Argentina.  I never know why.  Are they using it for bot material?  This is a good day for them.

The biggest irony of the maps is that the Russian oligarchs protect themselves from jealous not-so-rich Russians by hiding their gazillions in America.  If we froze them and seized them, the Russians would murder Putin.  That would be worse than the trade sanctions that Trump sold for his election without even realizing what he was doing or what the consequences would be.

I could go on and on and people would enjoy it.  We all itch and burn with the way things are going.  There will be a lot of big-time losers before this is over.  Some will win by a shoelace.

Here’s Jeremy Rifkin’s grand plan:  What is invisible to most of us is the fact that most of what we do is simply on paper: constitutions, rules of law, contracts, and money.  They are only consensus summaries.  Trump and his cohort regularly ignore the law, ignore any penalties, while the Repubs are like statues.  They look.  They do nothing.  They begin to die of old age.

Most people will not watch this vid linked above.  Too scary.  Goodby Manhattan.  Goodby elephants.  Hello young people.  Shooting up schools and churches will do you no good.  Try to preserve a free Internet.  Start the search for a new paradigm.  On reservations, in urban towers, at sea — anywhere.  

But I think Rifkin falls short.  He’s putting too much of his hope on the Internet, which is far too easy to distort and destroy.  We’re running out of palladium for smart phones just like we’re running out of fossil fuel.  (His admiration for Wikipedia gives him away.  He doesn’t know that that software didn’t come out of idealism — it came out of porn marketing software.  Connecting the kinks.  In the end he only knows his own world.)

The real source of energy is our human relation to the world, our awe and wonder, our love of what is, our determination to share it generously.  The bleak, vodka-soaked world of central Eurasia and the rancid narcissism of the American dregs are a drag on the system, a source of frustration that ends in shooting of children.

There’s a psych concept called a “leap to sanity.”  When a person gets to the limits of their craziness, maybe in an emergency like the house on fire, their brain snaps to effective function.  But when the fire is out, the craziness comes back.  I think Rifkin is in that leap, which is not the same thing as being wrong.  He DOES know there are new sweeping amazements coming.  On paper.  How do we make them real?


Juanita said...

Yes, I did read your post today, top to bottom, although I did not follow the links. I didn't want anything to interrupt my little idyll of hearing a good smart friend talk to me. I'm in Nebraska, not Russia. Your reference to "paper-exchange" as the basis of our failed institutions talks to me. Symptoms, yes. Of a failed society that once saw itself in terms of community. I guess the word is too close to communism, so we don't think in those terms now. Community is really hard. Watching football where running backs are said to "run violent" and crime-drama where we are all on the side of the cops and prosecutors is easy. Even being able to think about it is fairly difficult. But let us continue to think about it. Your writing helps me have faith that I can. Think, that is. Action is pretty futile it seems to me, except building community, links, connections, but only if it's not just with the like-me-already's. I.E., not huddled, not ganging up.

Mary Strachan Scriver said... "Opining Remarks." I marked your blog so I could follow it now. I rarely do this. I think there are far more people like you and I that anyone realizes. I used to say that the renewal of the world happens under old boards and wrecked junker cars -- unseen until that stuff is cleared away. And it's a good thing, because otherwise the choking dead old vegetation would try to eliminate the little green shoots.

Prairie Mary