Friday, December 1, 2023

#335 / "Accelerationism"

The picture above depicts Marc Andreessen, looking somber. Or looking irritated. Or looking out of sorts - or something like that. According to Wikipedia, whose article on Andreessen is linked above, Andreessen is "an American businessman and software engineer." 

Ezra Klein, writing in The New York Times, amplifies that rather neutral description. Klein calls Andreessen "the chief ideologist of the Silicon Valley elite," and, as the title on Klein's recent column discloses, Klein thinks that Andreessen has "some strange ideas."

Strange they definitely are. I only wish that I could have displayed the picture that ran in the hard copy edition of The Times, accompanying Klein's column. The online version of Klein's article comes with the picture shown above, but in the edition of the newspaper that I read on a Sunday morning in late October - the hard copy version - the picture provided showed a smiling, jovial Andreessen. I thought that picture made him look almost "demonic," though I guess you'll have to take my word for this characterization. I couldn't find that photo anywhere online. 

Klein, who attended the University of California, Santa Cruz for two years, though he graduated from UCLA, characterizes Andreessen's philosophy as "accelerationism." That philosophy, as Klein explains it, seems to me to partake of elements of the demonic, which is why I felt the hard copy picture was so appropriate. As I say, I guess you'll have to take my word for that; however, here is the substance of what Klein has to say about Andreessen's philosophy and ambitions (read the whole article if you can punch past what I anticipate may be a paywall erected by The Times):

We are used to thinking of our ideological divide as cleaving conservatives from liberals. I think the Republican Party’s collapse into incoherence reflects the fact that much of the modern right is reactionary, not conservative. This is what connects figures as disparate as Jordan Peterson and J.D. Vance and Peter Thiel and Donald Trump. These are the ideas that unite both the mainstream and the weirder figures of the so-called postliberal right, from Patrick Deneen to the writer Bronze Age Pervert. This is not a coalition that cares about tax cuts. It’s a coalition obsessed with where we went wrong: the weakness, the political correctness, the liberalism, the trigger warnings, the smug elites. It’s a coalition that believes we were once hard and have become soft; worse, we have come to lionize softness and punish hardness. 
The Silicon Valley cohort Andreessen belongs to has added a bit to this formula. In their story, the old way that is being lost is the appetite for risk and inequality and dominance that drives technology forward and betters human life. What the muscled ancients knew and what today’s flabby whingers have forgotten is that man must cultivate the strength and will to master nature, and other men, for the technological frontier to give way. But until now, you had to squint to see it, reading small-press books or following your way down into the meme holes that have become the preferred form of communication among this crew.  
Now Andreessen has distilled the whole ideology to a procession of stark bullet points in his latest missive, the buzzy, bizarre “Techno-Optimist Manifesto.” I think it ill named. What makes it distinctive is not its views on technology, which are crude for a technologist of Andreessen’s stature. Rather, it’s the pairing of the reactionary’s sodden take on modern society with the futurist’s starry imagining of the bright tomorrow. So call it what it is: reactionary futurism. 
Andreessen’s argument is simple: Technology is good. Very good. Those who stand in its way are bad. He is clear on who they are, in a section titled simply “The Enemy.” The list is long, ranging from “anti-greatness” to “statism” to “corruption” to “the ivory tower” to “cartels” to “bureaucracy” to “socialism” to “abstract theories” to anyone “disconnected from the real world … playing God with everyone else’s lives” (which arguably describes the kinds of technologists Andreessen is calling forth, but I digress)... 

Klein goes on the tell us that Andreessen calls his philosophy "effective accelerationism." 

"Effective accelerationism aims to follow the ‘will of the universe’: leaning into the thermodynamic bias towards futures with greater and smarter civilizations that are more effective at finding/extracting free energy from the universe,” and “E/acc has no particular allegiance to the biological substrate for intelligence and life, in contrast to transhumanism” (emphasis added).

By conflating technology, and "accelerationism" with the "will of the universe," Andreessen is repudiating the idea that humans live, ultimately, in a World of Nature - a world which humans did not create, and which World of Nature is, inherently, a world of "limits." 

To suggest that the world is, effectively, our own creation is to misunderstand our actual situation. It is to claim that "we," human beings, actually are the "God" who has traditionally been seen as the one who has created the world.* 

Whatever your position on "God," we find ourselves alive, rather mysteriously, in a World of Nature that we, most emphatically, did not create ourselves. To suggest that we can ignore this fact is definitely "delusional," to use another "D" word - and a word you might prefer, if you think "demonic" may be too strong. 

Personally, I am going to stick with "demonic." But then, I got to see that picture in the hard copy edition of The Times!

Thursday, November 30, 2023

#334 / We Just Lost Someone Great

Pictured above is Hadley Vlahos. She is a hospice nurse who cares for those who are dying, and she has written a book about her work, The In Between

Vlahos has also been interviewed by David Marchese, for his "Talk" column in The New York Times Magazine. Marchese's discussion with Vlados focuses, in significant part, on Valdos' convinction that there is some kind of something, some realm, some existence, that we encounter once we have died. In other words, Vlados believes that there is some kind of "afterlife." Marchese is skeptical, but respectful, and Vlados is the opposite of dogmatic about her own understandings of this "other room," as she characterizes it. 

If you can penetrate The Times' paywall, I certainly think that the two-page discussion between Marchese and Vlahos is a worthwhile read. Online, it is headlined, "A Hospice Nurse on Embracing the Grace of Dying."

Here is the little snippet from the article that I thought most affecting, and worthy of this blog posting: 

Is it hard to let go of other people’s sadness and grief at the end of a day at work? Yeah. There’s this moment, especially when I’ve taken care of someone for a while, where I’ll walk outside and I’ll go fill up my gas tank and it’s like: Wow, all these other people have no idea that we just lost someone great. The world lost somebody great, and they’re getting a sandwich. It is this strange feeling. I take some time, and mentally I say: “Thank you for allowing me to take care of you. I really enjoyed taking care of you.” Because I think that they can hear me (emphasis added in the text).

With or without asserting any certainty about an "afterlife," this statement touches on a reality that is often not really acknowledged. For me, what Vlahos says is a reminder of those lines I love from one of Ugo Betti's plays: 

That's what's needed, don't you see? That! Nothing else matters half so much. To reassure one another. To answer each other. Perhaps only you can listen to me and not laugh. Everyone has, inside himself ... what shall I call it? A piece of good news! Everyone is ... a very great, very important character! Yes, that's what we have to tell them up there! Every man must be persuaded - even if he is in rags - that he's immensely, immensely important! 

I have cited to Ugo Betti and The Burnt Flower-Bed more than once in this blog. This link takes you to my most recent reference. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all realize the truth of these words - about ourselves, and about others, too?

When I'm gone, I hope someone will think this thought about me: "The world just lost somebody great." Let's all think that thought when learn that someone we know, and care about, has died. I don't think that any of us should ever forget the truth to which both Hadley Vlahos and Ugo Betti testify. Every one of us is "someone," is "important," is "great." 

So, thank you David Marchese and Hadley Vlahos for this reminder (and thanks to Ugo Betti, too, of course)!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

#333 / "Earning" Versus "Getting Paid"

I read The New Yorker every week, and I always turn first to "The Mail." This is the magazine's "Letters to the Editor" column, and other than a Table of Contents, and a "Contributors" list, "The Mail" is the first substantive material contained in the magazine. Of course, those New Yorker covers are often pretty substantive themselves. Witness the cover reproduced above. 

Getting back to "The Mail," though, I find that "The Mail" is often quite interesting. Sometimes, it really makes a good point!

In the November 27, 2023, edition (the cover of which is shown above), Virginia Blanford, of Chicago, Illinois, hit the nail right on the head - at least as far as I am concerned. Here's her letter, in its entirety: 

Not so long ago, I was writting about the billionaire class, and my commentary was not really too complimentary about those billionaires who have managed to sequester such great personal wealth, at a time then we need to be mobilizing all of our collective assets to deal with the incredibly challenging problems confronting us. I listed global warming, and the need to provide housing, education, and health care for everyone, as examples of the challenges that will require the fortunes of the billionaires to be directed to solving our common problems.

Virginia Blanford has it right, I think, when she says that the CEOs, and others high in the corporate hierarchies, receive the salaries they are paid not really because they "earned" them, but simply because that's what they got paid. Our language should not provide semantic "cover" for those corporate executives who are actually being "overcompensated." As with the billionaires, we need to direct the wealth that is generated by our economy to benefit everyone, not just the very few. 

You know... because we are in this together!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

#332 / Standing On The Ocean


I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’

Bob Dylan, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"

Bob Dylan wrote "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall" in 1963. That is Dylan, pictured above, during the year he wrote the song. Click the link and I think you should be able to hear him sing it. 

"A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall" is, without doubt, one of Dylan's greatest songs. That was the song that Patti Smith sang at the Nobel Prize Ceremony in which Dylan was honored (and she was so nervous that she had to stop, once, and start over). You can click that link to hear Patti Smith sing! 

Click this link, right here, for the lyrics, online, though I have also reprinted them below, so that's a click that's not strictly necessary. 

Dylan's descriptive catalogue of the horrors we find in the world around us remains accurate, sixty years later. It is not the listing of these challenges we face in the world, however, that makes Dylan's song so powerful for me. I have been moved, from the time I first heard the song, and I am still moved, by those two, concluding lines. I am repeating them, from above, for emphasis:

I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’

Our faith that we can "stand on the ocean" - at least until we start sinking - is what allows any of us to act, to speak out, to do something never thought about or contemplated before, to take the kind of action that Hannah Arendt said was the way that we can (and do) change the world. 

In 1963, I was two years through college. Some who read this blog posting were probably born after that. 

However long it's been, though, I have come to the conclusion that I well know the words to the song I need to sing. I'm going to keep singing it till the end, too. I am not planning to quit, and Bob Dylan provides quite a good model for that. He has never stopped singing, and he knows his song well. 

Standing on the ocean. Singing the truth.

Don't we all? Or, at least, can't we all!


A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

The Nobel Prize Audience Applauding Patti Smith

Monday, November 27, 2023

#331 / Tracking Down The AOC

For some time (before I succeeded in getting them to stop), I received bulletins from "AOC." I don't know how I got on the list, but these bulletins were arriving in my email inbox with some regularity. The bulletins were usually kind of "right wing," at least so I would characterize them, and I didn't, actually, pay too much attention to them, to tell you the truth. I get about one thousand emails per day, and I definitely don't click on every one! Here's the graphic that adorns the bulletins I was receiving from AOC: 

Awhile back, with time on my hands, I decided to track down "AOC." I was pretty confident that these AOC bulletins did NOT come from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who is commonly known as AOC, and about whom I have rather positive views. I say this even though the only clue to the "AOC" sending me the right-wing bulletins was the following mailing address, provided on each edition of the bulletins I received: P.O. Box 26352, Alexandria, Virginia 22313. 

I took the mailing address in Alexandria as a mere coincidence, and not as a clever backdoor reference to one of my favorite members of Congress. 

"AOC" might have referred to the "Architect of the Capitol." I concluded it did not. What about AOC home and office products? Same! I ruled them out. How about the AOC Wine Bar, located in West Hollywood? I saw no evidence that the wine bar has any particular interest in the kind of political issues discussed in the bulletins that came into my inbox. AOC Resins, likewise. That company just didn't seem a likely origin of the bulletins that come my way. There is an "AOC" that provides AIDS outreach services in Fort Worth, Texas, and Kentucky has an "AOC" that is the acronym for its "Administrative Office of the Courts." Mississippi has one of those, too. 

Basically, my internet searches, asking for references to "AOC," resulted in nothing but strike-outs. 

I decided to try to track down the organization through its address in Alexandria. Bingo!

Or (maybe) Bingo!

I did not find any organization that confesses to using the Post Office Box in Alexandria, Virginia that accompanies the AOC bulletins sent to me. But there IS an organization (rather "right wing," I'd say) that operates out of Alexandria Virginia, called the "Association of Old Crows." Click that link for a Wikipedia writeup. Click this link for the AOC website, which boasts pictures like the following: 

As it turns out, the Association of Old Crows (AOC) is "an international nonprofit professional organization specializing in electronic warfare, tactical information operations, and associated disciplines headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. Its mission is to "advocate the need for a strong defense capability emphasizing electronic warfare and information operations to government, industry, academia, and the public (emphasis added)". 

I am still not absolutely certain that this "electronic warfare" AOC is the same "AOC" that sent me the bulletins I frequently received in the past - and I still have no idea how I got on its list, if this is, in fact, the group responsible. 

What I do know, however, having now tracked down the Association of Old Crows, and having deduced that this Old Crow Association is the "AOC" which was sending me the periodic advisories I was receiving, is that I am going to stick with the "AOC" pictured below, when I want political and policy advice!

I advise the same for you!

Sunday, November 26, 2023

#330 / It's Sugar For Sugar And Salt For Salt


It seems to me, though I haven't done a rigorous check, that I am more and more importing little snatches of music into these blog postings. It is not always music associated with Bob Dylan, but oftentimes (and I'll admit it): yes; it is! 

This posting today was prompted by a short little verse (or part of a verse) from a Bob Dylan song called Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood), dating from 1967.

Click right here if you'd like to hear Dylan sing that song. I'll put the complete lyrics at the bottom of this blog posting. 

At any rate, it's the following lines from the song that have been popping into my head, recently, with some significant regularity:

Well, it's sugar for sugar
And salt for salt
If you go down in the flood
It's gonna be your own fault...

In lots of ways, Dylan is quite comfortable (or so it seems to me) operating in "prophetic mode." Prophetic pronouncements, coming from the Bible, or found elsewhere, tend not to be completely clear and straightforward; they tend to be more allusive than exact. They're poetic, and they don't deliver their message in what we call "straight prose." 

So it is with that verse I just mentioned, which keeps emerging into my mind, unbidden, as I walk around town, or read the news. 

Flood reports and flood warnings (whether coming from the Bible or otherwise) are generally meant to indicate big problems, and Dylan's flood imagery is definitely consistent with this understanding. In A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, for instance, Dylan reports hearing "the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world." In Crash On The Levee, he is letting us know that we could go "down in the flood." 

But you know, the way Dylan is laying it out for us, in Crash On The Levee, if we do go down in the flood it's going to be our own fault! We are going to get what we give, is the way I am reading the prophecy in this song. 

Are we being generous to others, or are we doing them wrong, keeping the good stuff for ourselves? Individually, or collectively - either way - we had better be sure. However we are conducting ourselves, we are going to be getting "sugar for sugar," and it will be "salt for salt." 

If we go down in this flood that's coming, it's gonna be our own fault!


Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)

Crash on the levee, mama
Water's gonna overflow
Swamp's gonna rise
No boat's gonna row
Now, you can train on down
To Williams Point
You can bust your feet
You can rock this joint
But oh mama, ain't you gonna miss your best friend now?
You're gonna have to find yourself
Another best friend, somehow

Now, don't you try an' move me
You're just gonna lose
There's a crash on the levee
And, mama, you've been refused
Well, it's sugar for sugar
And salt for salt
If you go down in the flood
It's gonna be your own fault
Oh mama, ain't you gonna miss your best friend now?
You're gonna have to find yourself
Another best friend, somehow

Well, that high tide's risin'
Mama, don't you let me down
Pack up your suitcase
Mama, don't you make a sound
Now, it's king for king
Queen for queen
It's gonna be the meanest flood
That anybody's seen
Oh mama, ain't you gonna miss your best friend now?
Yes, you're gonna have to find yourself
Another best friend, somehow

Copyright © 1967 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1995 by Dwarf Music

Saturday, November 25, 2023

#329 / Billionaires And The Crisis - Stay Tuned!


According to Forbes, there are 735 billionaires living in the United States (as of 2023). Let's hear from Rebecca Solnit as we think about that fact. Solnit, for those who don't recognize her name, is an acclaimed author. She writes frequently about our global warming crisis. Here's what Solnit says about billionaires, and how they relate to that crisis, in a column that ran in The Guardian on November 20, 2023: 

When you talk about the climate crisis, sooner or later someone is going to say that population is the issue and fret about the sheer number of humans now living on Earth. But population per se is not the problem, because the farmer in Bangladesh or the street vendor in Brazil doesn’t have nearly the impact of the venture capitalist in California or the petroleum oligarchs of Russia and the Middle East. The richest 1% of humanity is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest 66%. The rich are bad for the Earth, and the richer they are the bigger their adverse impact (including the impact of money invested in banks, and stocks financing fossil fuels and other forms of climate destruction).

In other words, we are not all the same size. Billionaires loom large over our politics and environment in ways that are hard to understand without taking on the shocking scale of their wealth. That impact, both through their climate emissions and their manipulations of politics and public life means they are not at all like the rest of humanity. They are behemoths, and they mostly use their outsize power in ugly ways – both in how much they consume and how much they influence the world’s climate response.

Let me put it this way: If you made $10,000 a week – a princely sum by the standards of most people – you would have to work every week from the year of Jesus’s birth until this week to earn over a billion dollars. 
To earn as much as Elon Musk’s net worth at that rate – currently $180bn, according to Forbes – you’d have to work every week for more than a third of a million years – that is, since before Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa (emphasis added).

My near-constant assertion - that "we are together in this" - runs right up against the rocks of our outsized billionaire class. While we are together in this life (that's the truth, as the great poem I am linking right here attests), and while we, therefore, ought to act that way, the billionaires largely act as if they were capable of dealing with all of our problems (and their own problems, too, of course, since we are together in this life) by taking steps on their own.* 

The billionaires are beguiled by the idea that they can mobilize their money individually to solve the kind of problems that really demand that we get to the solution together. The most famous (or infamous) example of this way of thinking about our common problems, of course, is the plan that Elon Musk has devised (he is pictured above) to escape the mess we are making of this planet by decamping for Mars

If we are going to deal, at scale, with the global warming crisis (and thus have any possibility of preventing accelerating global warming from undermining the habitability of Planet Earth), we are going to have to mobilize all of "our" assets. My use of that word "our" is intentional, and is premised on the assertion [third time I am mentioning this] that we are "in this thing, together." If that is true (it is) we are going to have to assert dominion over the assets that 735 individual persons assert are "theirs." We probably will need to pay some attention to the "millionaires," too. Forbes says that there are almost 22 million of them.

Doing anything close to this will require, as all you readers can probably tell, a "revolution." If I am right, and we do, actually, "live in a political world," the "revolution" that is required will have to be a political revolution (as well, of course, as the kind of "spiritual" revolution that may be necessary for any other kind of revolution to be successful). 

The rich and the powerful (Bernie Sanders is right, in my opinion, in calling them "the billionaire class") control our governmental institutions - and increasingly, as in my own hometown, even at the local level, the level of government closest to the people. Taking back power from "the billionaires," and deploying it for projects that will benefit everyone (like confronting the global warming crisis, and providing housing, education, and health care for all) will not be easy. In fact, doing that will have to become the major project of those who are alive today. Projects of individual advancement will need to take a secondary place. 

How are we going to do that? We do need to figure that out. 

Stay tuned!

*On the day I published this comment on "Billionaires And The Crisis," The New York Times published a commentary by Guido Alfani, a professor of economic history at Bocconi University in Milan, which The Times titled (hard copy version), "The Rich Have Forgotten Their Place." If you can penetrate The Times' paywall I recommend reading what Alfani has to say.

Friday, November 24, 2023

#328 / Separate Worlds


That's Dhatboitre, pictured. He is a TikTok "personality." I am reflecting the assessment of The Wall Street Journal in providing this label. Dhatboitre "posts prank, lip sync and comedy videos for his 1.1 million TikTok followers." Again, I am relying on the reporting of The Wall Street Journal in providing this information. The Journal article from which I gleaned this information was titled, "Parents Are Baffled By the Celebrities Their Kids Love." Here's an excerpt: 

Kialia Pinellas was mystified when her teenage daughter started acting like a giddy groupie while they were shopping at a mall outside Orlando, Fla. 
“She was just going crazy,” says Pinellas. “I have never seen her react that way.” 
It turned out her 14-year-old daughter Khaloni Crowell had recognized a clothing-store clerk as “Dhatboiitre,” a young TikTok personality who posts prank, lip sync and comedy videos for his 1.1 million followers. 
Pinellas, who is 42, isn’t among them. Though a regular at the shop, she had no idea she had been buying sports jerseys from a social-media star until then. 
An entertainment gulf has long existed between adults and their children. Stars and shows that attract kids can repel parents. It happened with Mötley Crüe, “Beavis and Butt-Head,” “South Park”—even Elvis. 
Today, though, the way we consume media has widened that chasm. Not long ago, a single TV blasted from the living room. Parents didn’t always enjoy what their children watched, but at least they were exposed to it. 
Generations now inhabit separate digital worlds, consuming separate servings of entertainment. Parents often still favor TV and movies while younger viewers skew toward social media and the “content creators that keep it all moving,” said a Deloitte report (emphasis added).

I would like to point out that it isn't, actually, accurate to say that "generations" now occupy "separate digital worlds." That statement is underinclusive. In fact, when any one of us is "online," we are present in a "different place" from other people who may be sitting right next to us, or who may be passing us on the street, or who may be students in a class we teach, or fellow residents of the same city or neighborhood. 

When we see someone looking into a smartphone (or when they are home, looking into a computer screen, or a tablet screen), it is always a fair to ask, "Where are you?"

I teach classes at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Generally, my classes have somewhere between twenty to fifty students. I do not allow students to use cellphones, or laptops, or tablets, or earbuds in class. That is because I want them to be "in class" during the time set aside for our classroom meetings. 

The fact is, our access to "The Internet" has dissolved and eliminated the "common world" that has always existed when we are physically together in the same place, at the same time. As long as electronic devices are in use, that is no longer true.

In my opinion, the implications of this have yet to be fully appreciated. Our "Pledge of Allegience" claims that Americans are "One Nation, Under God." Is that "one nation" claim true, however? Not if we are all located in different places - and that's really where most of us are, most of the time, nowadays. The Pledge has always been aspirational, but there was enough truth to it that we could recite it, together, without either laughter or derision. Now? We need to understand the nature of our contemporary reality. I am trying to figure out, personally, how we can survive, divided as we are by the addictive technology that now rules our hours and days.

Separate worlds? 

The promise of "The Internet" was that it would bring us together, make clear to everyone that we are, in fact, related to everyone else on Earth. That was the big idea that made early technology advocates so hopeful, that propelled them onward, and that brought us to today. 

I am not sure what we can or should do about it, but we need to start thinking about the the fact that we live, now, in a divided, splintered, discontinuous reality that separates us from one another, instead of bringing us together. This is true, as The Wall Street Journal points out, even within families. But it's true in a much more profound and general way, as well. Splintered realities, with each of us living in "Separate Worlds" - that's where we find ourselves now. 

Have you ever chanted, in the street: "The people, united, will never be defeated"?

I count that chant as reflecting a profound truth. And that means we have a major problem on our hands! This blog posting is not the first time I've mentioned it:

Thursday, November 23, 2023

#327 / Thinking About Thanksgiving


A recently received meditation from a former Santa Cruz County resident, Jim Burklo, seems an appropriate response to this day of Thanksgiving. Jim calls his meditation "The Angel's Bargain." 

Jim has served as the Senior Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California, and he is now the Pastor of the United Church of Christ in Simi Valley, California. Here is what Jim has to say in his recent meditation:

The Angel's Bargain
For a walk along a tumbling stream foaming in golden light - Congestive heart failure. 
For enjoying the aroma of a juniper berry pinched open with fingernails - Cancer of the bladder. 
For fascination with the pattern of migrating birds flying high - Parkinson’s disease. 
For basking in sunshine while leaning against a smooth boulder - Lewy body dementia. 
For the sight of a single strand of spider’s gossamer floating in the breeze - Macular degeneration. 
For the sound of a toddler squealing with joy, both arms in the air -  Rheumatoid arthritis. 
For the privilege of existing in order to reflect the glory of the Universe back to itself - Bargain accepted.

Not so long ago, in one of these daily blog posts - in what amounted to my own meditation upon my age, and life - I confessed the following: "I have lived what has been a long and wonderful life. I am thankful for it, for everything!"

That is my thought today, too - and as Bob Dylan might have put it (has put it, actually): "So happy just to be alive, underneath the sky of blue."

Bargain Accepted!

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

#326 / Less

A bulletin from a Fox News affiliate in Las Vegas popped into my email inbox not too long ago. Here is the headline that grabbed my attention: 

As far as I know there is no paywall that would prevent you from reading this news story. Just click that link. If you haven't heard about the latest water conservation efforts affecting the Colorado River, that would be one easy way to get a quick briefing. 

When I read the headline, and then read the article, this is the word that appeared on my mental blackboard - chalked out in big, bold letters: 


"Conservation" is the "nice" way of saying it. In almost every aspect of our lives, and particularly in everything that relates to our use of natural resources, "less," not "more," must be our watchword. "Less," not "more," must be our objective. In other words, it's time for human civilization to "shift gears." It's time to "downshift." 

This advisory is provided just in case you haven't already figured that out, yourself!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

#325 / Looking Clearly At What's Happening


In an opinion column in the September 9, 2023, edition of The New York Times, Stephanie Muravchik and Jon A. Shields, both of whom teach at Claremont McKenna College, tell us that "Republicans in Wyoming See Clearly What's Happening." 

Ok. So, what's happening?

According to Shields and Muravchik, our American politics is becoming "nationalized." If this is true, that is a fundamental reversal of the "federal system" of government which was established in our Constitution. Muravchik and Shields don't think that this is a good thing. 

Hannah Arendt is my designated "guru," where political theory is concerned, and Arendt wouldn't think that this is a good thing, either. Arendt really liked that American commitment to federalism! According to Arendt (read On Revolution for the full story), the fact that there are so many separate political powers in the United States is a wonderful hedge against totalitarianism, which she believed was a huge threat to human liberty (read The Origins of Totalitarianism for the full story). 

According to the Shields-Muravchik commentary, the so-called "MAGA Republicans" are marching towards a full nationalization of American politics (which, of course, is consistent with our suspicion that the Trump brand of politics is "totalitarian" in its intentions). Luckily, though, and this is, again, according to Shields and Muravchik, Republican Party leaders in Wyoming are not really buying the move towards a nationalized politics with all of its totalitarian dangers. I hope they're right. 

For those of us who don't live in Wyoming, though, let's understand the basic message (coming to us from Arendt, and now from Shields and Muravchik): Diversity is good! Political differences are a "feature," not a "bug," when we think about good government. Arendt calls it "Plurality." Check out the picture from The Times commentary, above. We don't want citizens to have all their cultural and individual dissimilarities expunged, do we? I don't, at least! You probably don't, either.

Furthermore - just as a practical reminder - the ability to take effective political action is maximized at the so-called "lower" levels of government. Local government is actually the most "powerful" level of government, if "power" means the ability to take action and do things (which it does). 

It is easy to be seduced into the idea that we should focus our main attention on that government in Washington, D.C. Let's reconsider that!

One of the great things about "local" government (and even "state" government) is that you can actually make change happen at the local and state levels. But... to do that, of course, you need to get involved in politics and government yourself!

Monday, November 20, 2023

#324 / Facts And Hope

Zeke Hausfather is the climate research lead at the payments company Stripe. He is also a research scientist at Berkeley Earth, an independent organization that analyzes environmental data. On October 18, 2023, Hausfather wrote a "Guest Essay," published by The New York Times. The essay was headlined, "I Study Climate Change. The Data Is Telling Us Something New." The Times classified Hausfather's essay as "Opinion."

Mostly, Hausfather's column presented "facts," not "opinion." Hausfather tells Times' readers the following: 

[The] world [is] warming more quickly than before. First, the rate of warming we’ve measured over the world’s land and oceans over the past 15 years has been 40 percent higher than the rate since the 1970s, with the past nine years being the nine warmest years on record. Second, there has been acceleration over the past few decades in the total heat content of Earth’s oceans, where over 90 percent of the energy trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is accumulating. Third, satellite measurements of Earth’s energy imbalance — the difference between energy entering the atmosphere from the sun and the amount of heat leaving — show a strong increase in the amount of heat trapped over the past two decades.

Here's the "Opinion" part of Hausfather's column: 

It’s now clear that we can control how warm the planet gets over the coming decades. Climate models have consistently found that once we get emissions down to net zero, the world will largely stop warming; there is no warming that is inevitable or in the pipeline after that point. Of course, the world will not cool back down for many centuries, unless world powers join in major efforts to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than we add. But that is the brutal math of climate change and the reason we need to speed up efforts to reduce emissions significantly. 
On that front, there is some reason for cautious hope. The world is on the brink of a clean energy transition. The International Energy Agency recently estimated that a whopping $1.8 trillion will be invested in clean energy technologies like renewables, electric cars and heat pumps in 2023, up from roughly $300 billion a decade ago. Prices of solar, wind and batteries have plummeted over the past 15 years, and for much of the world, solar power is now the cheapest form of electricity. If we reduce emissions quickly, we can switch from a world in which warming is accelerating to one in which it’s slowing. Eventually, we can stop it entirely.

Reducing emissions quickly: that's where we can find "cautious hope." 

But that "hope" will be realized only if the "facts" conform themselves to the reality of what we need to do. 

What we need to do, quite clearly, is to carry out a complete restructuring of our lives on the most urgent basis possible. Specifically: 

Stop Burning Fossil Fuels!

That's our only basis for "hope." 

And that's a fact.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

#323 / Bob Dylan And Myth #1

The above picture accompanied a column by Nicholas Kristof, published in The New York Times on November 16, 2023. In the hard copy version of the paper that showed up at my house on that Thursday morning, Kristof's column was titled, "Three Myths of the Middle East." Click the link I have provided if you would like to see the entire column (The Times' paywall permitting, of course). Be advised, if you do click that link, that you will find another version of the title applied to the online version of what Kristof has to tell us.

Here are the "Three Myths" that Kristoff suggests are driving the Israel-Palestine conflict:

MYTH #1: There is right on one side and wrong on the other. 

MYTH #2: Palestinians can be put off indefinitely.

MYTH #3: People on both sides understand only violence.

I thought that all of the myths Kristof listed were "on target," but I particularly appreciated Kristof's "Myth #1," which put me immediately in mind of the culminating lines in one of Bob Dylan's early songs, "Talking World War III Blues." Just in case you haven't noticed (a lot of time having past since 1963, when Dylan wrote that song), we are definitely edging ourselves into World War III territory once again. 

I gather that the photograph on Kristof's column (and reprised at the top of this blog posting) is supposed to remind us what we'll have left after such a World War III, if we continue to indulge ourselves in those myths that are listed above. We might think about it this way: Look, Ma, no people! 

Dylan, and you may remember these lines from long ago, ended up his song with the following statement (if you want to watch him sing the song, I'm providing an opportunity at the bottom of this blog post):

Half of the people can be part right all of the time
Some of the people can be all right part of the time
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time
I think Abraham Lincoln said that
“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”
I said that 

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that. 

I have a dream, too. And how about you? How about everybody? 

I'll let you be in my dream, if I can be in yours! 

Let's all say that!

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