Happy 2019, United States and world!

We have endured much together these past 2-3 years, Team America. Thankfully our civil society is incredibly robust — and time is accelerating demographic gains in an inexorably democratic direction. As Boomers give way to Millennials — slated to happen as early as this year — we are experiencing a seismic shift in the national consciousness.

Look out, Boomers!

Our values as a nation-state have always been evolving as the political consciousness and cultural landscapes shift, but in recent political times the changes have been radical, seemingly sudden, and jarring in a way that collective memory does not easily recall. I believe we are witnessing the swan song of a generation — the largest post-WWII generation dominant demo for decades, now facing only the long decline.

Much is said of the Hillbilly Elegies of our country, but to be fair these elders are legitimately terrified: of the U.S. they see around them today — bearing little resemblance to the nation of their boomingly patriarchal childhoods; of the world outside our borders and the immigrants (theoretically; allegedly) streaming into them illegally; of long disused portions of America drying up and economically (and in some cases literally) tumbleweeding away; of their own impending mortality.

We go high

Michelle Obama was right. Is right. We should make ourselves aware of the kinds of games the other side is willing to employ, but endeavor not to play them ourselves as much as we can. But beyond a moral reason to love thy neighbor, there’s the practical matter that we may find common cause in surprising territories. Non-wealthy elder whites and young Millennials who struggled through the 2008 housing and banking crash both have reason to want a robust safety net, for example. This is the essence of democratic politics done well: coalition-building — not among special interests, but among elected leaders representing their constituents in good faith.

The arc of justice

…goes at its own pace, or something like that. Fascism has a creep (or at the moment, more of an open stride), and justice has a methodical process of evidence-gathering and weighing; we can have some solid faith in the latter to do its work. Regardless of the levels of bitter partisanship in the air, we have an enormous cadre of professional civil servants who do their often thankless jobs tirelessly for years and decades out of the limelight, for sub-private sector pay and little recognition. This cohort works tirelessly for us now, investigating the many tentacles of the Trump corruption operation stretching back years and decades into American life and foreign investment.

Mr Mueller, do your worst. By which I mean your best. We understand each other, I think. šŸ‘šŸ½āš–ļø

On the upsides of being underestimated, and a call to stand

There’s something those of us in marginalized groups know instinctively, having lived lives long in opposition to a dizzying continuum of Absurd Moral Authority: from outright violence, to secretive “technical” manipulations of statutes designed to erode or remove rights, to vague and carefully unstated “wink wink nudge nudge” moments from individuals of authority who had some power to constrain us — whether it’s a boss (or potential boss), a teacher, a community figure, and/or perhaps most guttingly a family member.

We know the sting of being scolded for even daring an attempt atĀ upsetting the Tautological SupremacistĀ Meritocracy: “If you weren’t worthless, you’d already be here by now!”

The British thought we would justĀ roll over too

But we should remember one of the primary reasons that we as a nation even won our independence in the first place:

We were underestimated.

Lord North offered tax relief to the colonies that would help “defend the motherland” in February, 1775 — none took him up on it. And in fact, the Conciliatory Resolution only deepened the growing sense of unity emerging against what increasingly became perceived as a Common Enemy. The attempt to divide and conquer not only failed, but backfired.

The British Parliament thought the colonists full of hot air — that a few shows of military force would quickly crumble the upstart radicals in their quest for representation and rights. But battles at Lexington and Concord only fueled further the sentiment that the colonies were inhabited by an occupying force that must be resisted.

It was widely thought to be insane to stand against the world-renowned military force of the British Empire — but the Continental Army under George Washington doggedly turned the fact of underestimation to their advantage via innovative battlefield strategy. The motherland, finding it difficult to raise sufficient troops to fight against their own former countrymen, hired German mercenaries to fight against the colonists — further deepening the resolve of the Americans to throw off an oppressor willing to bring foreign assassins to bear in a dispute formerly perceived as a conciliatory process of achieving the basic rights of citizenship that colonists’ forbears once enjoyed in England. The British overestimation of Loyalist support — combined with the general mistreatment of those who did cross the “revolutionary picket line” — only added to the troubles faced by a predominantly naval power slogging through a lengthy land war over vast territory.

Diversity does not preclude uniting to face a Common Enemy

In so many ways we’ve become more fragmented; more balkanized; more atomized in modern society. We’ve self-selected into our communities of shared values and our social media bubbles. In many ways this is the paradox of prosperity, and the Catch-22 of progress.

We may feel stronger in our own foxholes, but there comes a time when the whole choir must sing together. Now is that time.

And perhaps it is dangerous to use the language of war, and of conflict — or perhaps it may help us to better identify where our Common Enemy lies. Our Common Enemy is not the down at heelĀ rural Trump supporter who lashes out at us in fear, and in retaliation — though their words are often hateful, these people have been misled.

It’s a very old story — older than Trump; older than George W. Bush; older than Reagan or Nixon or Coolidge or Jackson or Johnson. The wealthy white elite has a centuries’ old playbook of dangling so-called Christian morality in front of those whites left most destitute by the former’s economic policies — and winning.

We are watching reruns.

This time, fascism and foreign influence have been added to up the ante — keeping even the most blasĆ© among us glued to our seats.

Stand up

The framers of our Constitution deliberated, debated, andĀ agonized over the most ideal structure to supportĀ a broad pluralist power, in concerted opposition to the monarchies and aristocracies of the past. Many were shocked by — and fought bitterly against — the unprecedented act of beginning such a governing document with the words, “We the people.”
But 85 Federalist Papers later, our sovereign power was enshrined in the document that still governs our ambitions today — and acts as a backstop against those who would wield tyrannical power in our name.Ā 

Our Common Enemy is tyranny, and we must learn to recognize where it lives, and how it acts. Even — perhaps especially — when that domicile is the White House, and that act an act of Congress.

Our Common Enemy is those who would deny the power of the people to govern themselves: through the silencing of debate in a once great forum; through casual disregard of the judiciary branch; through an endless parade of troglodyte efforts at voter suppression.

Our Common Enemy is the long litany of elected officials who act in their own best interests at the expense of We the People. It is the slew of slick sycophants currying political favor with the powerful, who continually rewrite the rules of the game the Winners have already Won many times over, to accelerate the gaping gulf of inequality that threatens democracy, liberty, justice, and most certainly peace.

Without Justice there can be no Peace.

And those who wield injustice have vastly underestimated the swaths of citizenry who can see through the ruse; who have heard the old story and seen its outcomes; who are tired of having to wage the same struggles for rights and respect over, and over, and over again.

But the tired gain strength through camaraderie in adversity; through simple acts of kindness; through humor, and through love.

These are tools the tyrannical cannot access.
Stand, and wield them, in the name of We the People.

Culture is collective neurosis

There’s a popular and somewhat understandable misperception of culture as a vehicle of reproducing “normalcy” throughout society. However, each historical era makes the cognitive mistake of assuming its particular version of Normal is, well, Normal. And that all eras which came before — that were obviously ruled by stupid people who could not understand the kind of objective truths we are now privy to in the New Modern era — were a series of mass delusions in which people fooled themselves into thinking they had The Answers, when they so clearly didn’t. Because The Problems continue apace.

The twisted social psychological paradox we have not yet managed to escape is our abject failure to understand that we Moderns, too, are trapped within an enormous cultural projection of our current set of utopian delusions. We are no different, nor more special, than all the well-intentioned optimists and sad charlatans of bygone eras we love to thumb our elitist noses at. But our cursed cross to bear is the historically inescapable belief in our own Exceptionism — that we are The Smartest Guys in the Room, and that our newfound flavors of scientific rationalism will allow us to Save The Day and prop ourselves up as the hero gods of humankind we deep inside know that we must be.

For how can it be otherwise?

Whether God created us or we Him, it hardly matters — both narratives serve our deep-seated psychological ends: to prop ourselves up as the Platonically pure forms of human perfection we are eternally striving to be, despite all available evidence to the contrary. Whether mere mini-Gods or True Gods ourselves, we puff ourselves up with the pride of our uniquely gifted creationism vs. other species (and when it suits us, Other races, genders, ethnicities, or other demographical lenses that may be wielded to set The Best among us apart), which (in our minds) serves as the supremely obvious evidence of our planetary — and possibly (hopefully!) galactic — supremacy over natural reality.

All of this has happened before

But even a shallow skim through history could easily produce ample evidence in support of the opposing idea: that all such delusions of grandeur are false — which is part of the reason we (technologists, especially) love to avoid consulting history regarding such matters. The social proof of accolades in the Here and Now is far more exhilirating and, of course, less depressing.

And why look to the past, when all that is accessible can only lie before us? Yet both perspectives are false — neither the past nor the future are truly accessible to us. We live ever fixed within a singular bubbling moment of spacetime we have only barely begun to comprehend. In fact, all that our intellectual and scientific machinations have managed to reveal to us is the staggering lack of edgeness at the edges; and that the more deeply we pursue any sort of objective insight into any subject, no matter how narrowly defined, the more we only find an ever-widening gulf of ignorance opening up as if to swallow us.

Such is the fractal nature of reality, that it seems to slip further from our grasp the harder we struggle to know it — like flies in a vast inky darkness of transfixing ointment. Take for example two of the most theoretically “objective” fields known to modern scientific inquiry, and ask for their practitioners’ opinions on how the imaginary “coefficient of certainty” in their domains (that I am just now making up; bear with me — for you see, I too am a mini-God with powers of creation! Voila!) has fared over recent decades. They’re liable to tell you that physics only seems to be getting stranger, while mathematics may be brushing up against the limits of computational irreducibility, leaving a host of fundamentally unsolvable problems (although Stephen Wolfram does nonetheless leave us with ample hope of an infinite amount of discoveries to be made within the remaining territories of computationally reducible systems that we can continue to practically soldier on in. PHEW!). Ā  Ā 

Where shall we look for the Normal?

Outside of heady intellectual computational theory and the often esoteric pursuits of hard science, there is still a planetary majority of people who simply aren’t interested in this particular method of asking questions about the deep mysteries of life. Far from being irrational clods who lack the cognitive capacity to understand engineering and complex equations, they are seeking — and many have found — their answers to the profound mysteries of the meaning and purpose of life elsewhere, in other domains.

Whether it be hearth and home, creative pursuits, caretaking of others, careers and/or inquiries into other fields, or any of a dizzying variety of alternatives to the purely scientific-relational approach to values: these people are not wrong. Ā  They are not misguided, or necessarily simplistic in their searches for meaning — and neither is a simplistic approach itself objectively worse than a complicated one. In fact, as the economist-turned-philosopher Nassim Taleb so compellingly argues for via the concept of antifragility, our modern, rationalized, (predominantly) Western tendency to hyper-complexify matters often only ends up making things worse. We can’t resist the urge to meddle, and insert ourselves into the micromanagement of many processes that ought to be left well enough alone, such that the natural, organic forces of time and randomness can perform their mysterious acts of self-healing.

Instead, we exhaust ourselves with frantic over-interventionism in our quest to “smooth everything out,” eradicate the uncertainties of risk, and tamp down the erratic edges of non-conformity into the kind of straight lines and perfect curves that makes it easier for us to manipulate them within our clever mathematical models. We embark on ever more ambitious projects of forcing people to fit the models we create, so that we may pat ourselves on the back for our obvious brilliance and sophistry with prediction (and, of course, justify the collection of enormous financial rewards for being so clever).

When some people begin to rationally feel spiritually and emotionally lost within this framework, scientific rationalization once again comes to the “rescue,” via medicalization of a vast and growing array of commonly routine experiences and phenomenological traits. From the most trivial and mundane “disorders” such as “inadequate or not enough eyelashes” to the more Orwellian “oppositional-defiant disorders” that tend to land the less obsequious amongst our children on a regimen of expensive drug cocktails, Big Pharma has got The Cure for YOU!Ā 

Whatever malaise afflicts the less engaged portion of the population that isn’t quite sure about the necessity of all this excessive (and fabulously profitable) interventionism, there is sure to be ample pharmaceutical “assistance” available in pursuit of learning to appreciate the New Normal — whatever the New Normal becomes at the behest of powerful corporations and the political minions who serve them via armies of lobbyist Slugworths whispering self-serving plans into the ears of the global elite whilst writing dark money checks in smoky back rooms (of course in my imagination, the global elite have flouted society’s pathetic insistence on protecting the plebes from the dangers of inhaling the carcinogens that afford sociopathic business “leaders” with their well-deserved profits — they retain the right to smoke indoors, goddammit!!).

In other words, Normal is merely what we decide it to be, whether by collective decision or by imposition from a cabal of powerful forces whose colossal self-interest bias has created one of the largest systematic exploits of the principal-agent problemĀ heretofore witnessed in history.

We no longer even recognize the war we’re fighting

Our spoken or unspoken desire to dominate all of civilization through the manipulation of ideologies is no longer even a thinly-veiled attempt — we’re too sophisticated now and, in the common parlance of the often-discredited Youth, “like, totally over it.” We’re more liable to either be bored of the game and tune out altogether, leaving the fate of civilation largely in the hands of the elite forces who have only their own best interests at heart; or to make the seemingly logical decision that the best course of action is to play it, and play it well — in the hopes of making it into the upper echelons of elitedom, by which to survive Whatever May Come.

So: if we do collectively hold some deeply-seated love for Actual Reality, and seek to enjoy the pleasures of each other’s company in a more peaceably sane pursuit of gratitude at the wonders of existence (or at least, a tongue in cheek self-deprecating awareness of our utterly infinite lack of ability to directly do so), then we ought to resist more forcefully the current project we are collectively on — whether by choice or, more commonly, by being caught up in the accidental lottery of birth which placed us into this particular era at this particular time: full of self-important drudgery, decadent hedonism, pomp and circumstance, and neurotic self-obsession.

We cannot, as human beings imprisoned within the distortions of perception and cognition, in any objective sense “know” the world that is Out There. But the illusion is so compelling that we find ever more seemingly obvious ways to convince ourselves that the knowledge is ever just out of reach — if we could only move a little bit faster towards it, we will surely catch it.

Meanwhile the individuals most drawn to the pursuit of wealth and power — the most arguably useful symbols one can wield in one’s pursuit of planetary domination via ideological colonization — have us zealously convinced of the above fallacy throughout every age. Playing on our deepest psychological weaknesses, it gets easier and easier to do so via application of all the modern tools in the toolbox of propaganda at our disposal, that only increase in number under the guise of the “progress” that curiously seems to benefit the wealthy and powerful in an asymmetrical way, versus providing promised benefits more broadly.

This is why we can’t have nice things

Or rather, why we can only have nice Things, and we can’t seem to find a way to enjoy the suspiciously elusive things which are not Things. The simple and ephemeral joys that only well up from In Here, from love to joy, empathy to compassion, are simply not measurable by the sophisticated rational-scientific methods we have thus far been able to invent. Not indexable, not capturable by market predictions or mathematical modeling, they teeter on the edge of a steep precipice inside of an aggressively advancing value system that resists being unhinged from the comforting certainty of statistical analysis — left flapping out in the harsh, unpredictable winds of uncertainty and risk.

Paradoxically (and somewhat hilariously), we often wonder why we’re so terribly bored and full of ennui at the whole otherwise astonishing business of life (once unmoored from the over-interventionism of the Business of Life). We cannot seem to grasp that all of our efforts at stamping out variability and disorder work precisely against us — distancing ourselves from the organic, unplanned diversity of the natural world that did just fine on its own, thank you very much, before it perhaps made the mistake of running into the set of random conditions that proved hospitable enough to produce our tragedy of a species: so well-intentioned, so brilliant and well-meaning, yet so horribly, pathologically, depressingly Quite Lost.