Insulting a Dog

An an excerpt from an article, that maybe should have come before the post below but now just follows up on it:

Meanwhile, the emergence of television sounded the final death knell of what media critic Neil Postman called “the Age of Exposition”—that time in American cultural life when the printed word dominated public discourse and “average Americans did not just think for themselves; they thought rationally about ideals, and they were able to express those ideals in a rational way.” By contrast, the ideals that filtered out from television screens were “simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual.” More information than ever was available to Americans, but it was reaching them in an idiom that placed little importance on nuance and broad perspective.

Asset Devaluation

He’s talking about this variety, but I’m thinking of the other, thinking kind. If you try to begin to piece together what is actually going on with a) an economy, b) an election or c) a war, where would you begin? It might be obvious that you couldn’t just take a few periodic snapshots, much less one from yesterday or last week that would lend any kind of accurate picture of a, b or c, but I’m not so sure. Folks seem reasonably willing to take cross sections of any of these and let them stand as generally valid appraisals. I’ve been prone to attribute this to ignorance or skulduggery, but I’m coming around to a third possibility: confusion.

I’ll try to explain, but it all leads back to here, to what green means. In the examples above, to get a good grasp on any of them takes a fair degree of effort, i.e., a tremendous amount in today’s dollars. That’s the kind of inflation we should be talking about. This would go without saying except… it has for too long and compounded annually has brought a kind of collective nadir into view. To understand the present, you would need a relatively firm grasp of the history that preceded it, which would invariably include emphasizing the spots where you’re fuzzy on what happened or are prone to exaggerate that details that fall to your advantage. I’ll admit that this presumes a high degree of self-awareness if you’ll admit that such a thing is required.

It follows that I cannot fully explain this – you’ve got to do most of the work. And here’s the nut. I recently saw a few minutes of the film Pearl Harbor, and it occurred to me not the first time but better about the kinds of information we’ve been feeding ourselves over the last half-century. That fairy tale of how we were attacked and then prevailed, told in ninety plus minutes, is a horribly self-serving stand-in for what happened. Plus, when juxtaposed with the messy and complex reality, the reflection is a very confusing false choice of what to believe. And which would you choose, even if you know wars don’t come in sepia tones? That movie alone is fine; it’s what it stands for that matters. It’s the single input, single output phenomenon that we’re not mature enough to reject, especially when it reflects so well upon us. We’ve got to be able to say “no, that’s not the whole story.” Until then, we are dangerously vulnerable as passive consumers of information from people who have done our thinking for us. Because when you take what someone else says as something you can believe without verifying against what you know, that’s what you are doing. Allowing someone else to think for you.  Who would you trust for that precious mission?

Anti-cosmopolitanism

Just consider that for a moment. At this point in time, it is politically, if not psychologically, necessary for adherents to an ever-shrinking ideology to castigate those among them who have passports, who live in metropolitan areas and keep an eye peeled toward world events.

Never mind that the vast majority of Americans live in urban and suburban areas. Abutting this disconnect is a series of long-tentacled myths, designed to help us reach back to that yesteryear when we were all the same, when men were men and all who weren’t knew their places. We, and others, use these affinities to tie us to the words we invent to re-enforce our affection for the products we use, all of a piece with continuing to deny the impact of our way of life on our physical environment. But of course, not only that. It is a route to that place where we don’t have to answer for ourselves or the growing list of resources we require, all the while we hunker with steely grins beneath the banner of self-sufficiency. Sure, many still reside in gated redoubts, hillbilly hideaways with supercilious names that remind of what was. But theirs is the scared and shrinking kingdom, what’s left of the fictitious fifties, still and always under siege from the tumultuous unrighteousness of ‘other’.

Persecution via this sense of ‘other’ is the desire to make change a casualty of the present moment. This is at the heart of what will nourish the xenophobic to their dying last; they seem to be willing to do anything to exempt themselves from any proximity to being an outsider of any sort – when that is where the gold is. The need to step outside of ourselves and the way we’ve been doing things, has never been greater. I’m thinking of actual, real live people here. They = we, in my book. In imagining our multitude of strengths at present, their fear is our weakness. They might try to deny my existence but I cannot but remember theirs.

“Alas,” said Pangloss, “it was love: love, the consoler of the human race, the preserver of the universe, the soul of all sensitive beings, tender love.”

“Alas,” said Candide, “I too have known love, that ruler of hearts, that soul of our soul: it’s never brought me anything except one kiss and twenty kicks in the rump. How could such a beautiful cause produce such an abominable effect on you?”

Image: Camille Claudel, Abandon, 1905. Bronze. Poitiers, Musée Sainte-Croix

Base Instincts

And not just lower motivations. There is no great challenge to ask people to stop doing anything other than simply to stop ignoring what is going on around them. It might be a little chaotic ( the horror!), yet will all else fall into place around those individual wake up calls, as I have divined previously. The beep of rolling waves of millions of alarm clocks going off… imagine a game of reverse dominoes. While we are meandering down this path, ask yourself to what degree you must be lulled into complacence in order to accept such contrivances. Have we loaded down the basket just to let it sag right here? We don’t even need to accept these small absurdities – just to shrug, to not get our feathers in a ruffle while we commit another corporate logo to memory. But remember our instincts from the cave.

To defend.

To shelter.

To fight.

We’ve achieved an enclave mentality alright, but it is in need of significant expansion.

The sound you hear

In a video I linked to previously, a visiting speaker gave a pretty rousing, if pessimistic, take on the current state of affairs in our lurch toward inalterable climate change, with added emphasis on how our renewable fuels development strategies are exacerbating the situation. He offered a pretty concrete demonstration of what happens when glaciers melt, using a chair and a table at the front of the room. It’s not like they slowly melt away to nothing over the course of eternity; instead, like a chair leaned against the end of a table, they reach a point, a tipping point, where their melting slide dissipates the friction holding it in place and allows the glacier to fall into the sea. Like the chair falling to the floor. Very dramatic.

Kind of like this.

Extra: Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer on renewable energy.


The nature of environments

Understanding them is simply one of the things you would expect of a highly developed civilization.

In a week or so, I’ll film and subsequently post an interview with one of the premier thinkers in the area of Ecological Network Theory. I’ve been refreshing on some of these ideas and they really… well, shed as much light on the mile-wide, inch-deep phenomenon of green as anything. Complexity is real, the science behind it is new and needs to be developed like chemistry and physics were.

Networks (like the one you’re reading on) are everywhere and they link us to everything. This is a new force in evolution, for a single species to have a global character to its selection and coming evolution. It has to do with holism, as different from reductionism or partness – something not well-understood but essential to this idea.

The nickel version (you get what you pay for) is that the problems of environmental complexity will not be solved by old methods. “Just not going to happen,” as the man said. We live in a world that selects for small problems – our scientists mostly do research only on well-defined problems. We need to develop this particular branch of science (ecology), and to develop the science, we need to develop the theory. And this, THIS, flies in the face of the nature of our can-do society right now.

Old capital must be invested in the development of new capital, for it’s own sake. When we do that – fund basic research – there are no guarantees about what we’ll find. It’s not supposed to “produce anything”, it’s supposed to learn and add increments of knowledge for its own sake. Meanwhile, we’re turning universities into vocational technical schools.

It all speaks of a course correction, in a language which puts higher order terms back into the thinking and looks at them more closely.

Related?

Manifest Destiny, 2.0

There was absolutely no single reason it had to turn out the way it has. There were many smaller reasons that shaped our path to now, which added up, are mostly still with us in one form or another.

In the long shadow of that most elegant document, we began to suffuse our fate with God’s, which is natural enough if you’re predisposed to delusions of grandeur. At least the Greeks lived in fear of their deities. But our cherry picking knew no limits, absolute or otherwise, for so long that coming up against some now is leading to quite a bit of confusion. Ah, now.

Running out of some things, ruining many others… were we not actually supposed to run roughshod over fish and fowl? Was that dominion-thingy some kind God-forsaken metaphor? You see how messy this can get. Antagonized by talk of external events like global warming and peak oil, many Christians among us just block it out as liberal politics. But I don’t mean to castigate them. I am curious about how we have connected our God-given rights to our license to plunder, and how, as this license seems to have expired, we plan to pivot toward a conservation-oriented policy.

We do plan to pivot, right?

Imagination, the loss of

I often consider and occasionally voice my consternation about the loss of imagination in our society. For the most part, because of my circle, this usually takes focus on people’s general inability to have opinions on the visual arts, especially painting. People are uncomfortable and search for simple meanings instead of considering the nasty possibilities right in front of them. The focus with painting is a basic unfamiliarity with the form, and the lack of comfort to decide whether something is good or not that typically ensues – the “I don’t know, so I can’t say” gambit. But the culprit-in-essence is collective experience: that we have abdicated thinking on an individual basis and need the validation of mass acceptance or rejection to filter any sort of experience. You can see how this would stand in the way of far more than simply appreciating Klee or Rothko.

Here is a very similar take from a different angle. The very limited sources from which people receive information make us all vulnerable to having our passions manipulated, simply because we have become passive and have lost the ability to follow basic plots. There is all kinds of recent evidence on this front. How would you know who was telling the truth or if they had a reason to lie to you if you weren’t doing your homework?

Making the shift to a sustainable society is going to be massive feat of imagination on many fronts; we simply cannot rely on others to make informed judgments on our behalf. It is a symbiosis of vigilance, in its way – Everyone with their eyes open keeps everyone honest. I know you work too much, you’re tired and you don’t have time – but these are the prices we pay to indulge such vices. All these time-saving devices are exhausting us. There is much yet required of us if we insist on living this way.

Green means being informed.

Image:

Mark Rothko
Red, Orange, Tan and Purple,
1954
Oil on canvas
84 1/2 x 68 1/2 inches (214.5 x 174 cm)
Private collection
©1999 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Side out, Rotate

It is just a big volleyball match, after all. Just supply your own analogies for what is the net, the ball, and the score… because we ARE the players.

Underlying all of the re-contextualization of what we mean by green, however just, is a plain redefinition of the American way of life. It’s got to be fluid – the reason the word is useful is its very multi-purpose. The only way we can achieve that re-definition is to re-evaluate what is what and be clear about what is going to happen, and what we are going to do, hereby.

We can step through this gingerly, arms locked in solidarity, or we can drunkenly smash from one connection to the next, from 1876 to the Eisenhower’s prophetic admonitions to the post-suburban shift that already looks so much like yesterday. I’ll keep coy about my preference. But we should go ahead commit funds to new museums about how subdivisions were named for the things they replaced (Whispering Pines, Thousand Oaks, etc.) Ridicule as the path to redemption, and self-ridicule, at that. There’s gold in them hills.

Call were made, messages were sent

Some stunts are usually called for, of course. We’re always looking for new ways to make the point.

Olympics television coverage has been a boon to advertising agencies who front for the big conglomerates, though some of the leaps border on the vertiginous. This may be doing for Green what the sundial did for time, but there’s more to like from the We campaign, mainly because it seems to assume a little more on the high side about our general intelligence and willingness to change our façon de vivre.

The inescapable marketing angles can have a positive effect, if we continually break their message down to the personal. Live close to work, get out of the car, realize how producing waste is built into our day-to-day and begin to eliminate it in the small ways that can become larger. But none of this is inevitable; we might find the best way, or we might continue to use the hour glass.