“I was born to be me.”
“I was born to be me.”
“A single pond means it’s not married to a puddle or a lake or an ocean. Because single means not married and that’s the things a pond would be married to.”
Mykala and I have what we call everything’s going to be OK moments. They occur when, unexpectedly, you take a deep, clear breath and, finding the typical tightness and anxiety missing, begin to feel the awareness, just over the fence of obligation and the ditch of depression, of a peaceful field of calm.
My understanding of these moments has been subtly, but profoundly, wrong.
You see, like an ignoramus, I took the phrase at face-value: everything (all the events in your life) is (in the future) going to be OK (will turn out nicely).
That’s not it. Really really not it.
As I initially had it, I seemed to imagine on the other side of the fence just undulating hills of astroturf covered in prepackaged food. Like I could, naked and naïve, go to a fake world and experience nice, simple, things; no grit or moxie or spirit required.
Everything is going to be OK means choosing to feel that it will all be… OK. Critically, you are not to be blamed, you are not to feel less-than, you must not accuse yourself of failure when you feel deeply all will not be alright. Rather, the phrase describes a perception that there’s the modicum of a sliver of a possibility in there that you’ll feel, eventually, that it will be.
So, on the other side of that fence of obligation, that ditch of depression, you wish for a variegated, treacherous, beautiful, bountiful, harsh, verdant, real landscape where you get to bring shelter on your back, friends for the journey, a good strong pair of boots, and a thoughtful spirit. To see where you’ll go, what the weather will be that day, and how the seasons will bend you.
This is something like a flowering of Buddhist awareness, and, as always with these sorts of things, the terms are pedestrian, the analogies insufficient, and the lesson only clear once learned.
P.S. I have not learned this lesson yet.
My thinking, years ago, went like this: people, groups of people, compete for limited resources. Even if one side is consistently committed to negotiation, to peaceful compromise (even if BOTH are), physical aggression from a few rogues on one side will inevitably cause armed conflict. How could even the most egalitarian, humanistic leader do anything else, upon witnessing killing of their own?
This evolved to a model of cultural scapegoatism. Violence will arise when there are abundant resources, from just the perception of unfairness or moderately uneven distribution. Tribalism, jingoism, binary exclusivism will then define the in-group by negation. Which is to say, “we are wonderful, we are treated unfairly, and we are the opposite of those people over there.” Those who complain loudest seem to be those who are winning… and suffering the least. So then there’s persecution, murder, war, all metastasizing from a domineering culture who perceives the Other with stereotyping, fear, anger, distrust.
Perhaps, I reasoned, within the framework of a healthy society, one where basic needs of humans are considered, reevaluated, provided for, humanity can reach its potential. The goods and Goods from capitalism can be enjoyed and the cancerous growth of gross inequality regulated — look to Norway, I thought! See how their national competence and foresight took oil wealth and invested it to make the lives of all their residents better and pushed beyond a world powered by oil. If we just built that society, I thought, the bonfire of violence would be starved of oxygen!
And then I read about the nigh-thousand year suffering of the Cagots:
Cagots were shunned and hated. While restrictions varied by time and place, they were typically required to live in separate quarters in towns, called cagoteries, which were often on the far outskirts of the villages. Cagots were excluded from all political and social rights. They were not allowed to marry non-Cagots, enter taverns, hold cabarets, use public fountains, sell food or wine, touch food in the market, work with livestock, or enter mills. They were allowed to enter a church only by a special door and, during the service, a rail separated them from the other worshippers.
“Ok, ok” I thought, “it’s just another example of fighting over something important, some thing arising from insufficient resources.” But then I read further:
The Cagots were not an ethnic group, nor a religious group. They spoke the same language as the people in an area and generally kept the same religion as well. Their only distinguishing feature was their descent from families identified as Cagots. Few consistent reasons were given as to why they should be hated; accusations varied from Cagots being cretins, lepers, heretics, cannibals, to simply being intrinsically evil.
Then the amorality of it, the nihilistic cruelty sunk in.
Which puts us at my thinking today: it seems to me that the human’s need for a strong sense of belonging and their concept of self is so fragile that violence cannot be blamed on conditions of intractable scarcity, or scapegoatism. No. It seems humans have an instinctual, intrinsic desire to inflict pain and suffering on another. Or, more precisely, an Other.
So that’s where I am today. I propose this: you can give a village, a people, a nation, an entire global society universal basic income, healthcare, justice, democracy, and they will destroy it, just to watch it burn. Because that is the essence of the human animal.
But we won’t know if my guess is correct until we first build that society. So let’s built it and hope I’m wrong.
Me: “I spy with my little eye, something… BROWN.”
Ess, without hesitation: “My eyes!”
Paul Volcker, at 91, Sees ‘a Hell of a Mess in Every Direction’:
“The central issue is we’re developing into a plutocracy,” he told me. “We’ve got an enormous number of enormously rich people that have convinced themselves that they’re rich because they’re smart and constructive. And they don’t like government, and they don’t like to pay taxes.”
I agree. They’re not rich because they’re smart, they’re rich because they’re lucky. You can find the scientific summary of this in a piece by Scott Barry Kaufman:
In an attempt to shed light on this heavy issue, the Italian physicists Alessandro Pluchino and Andrea Raspisarda teamed up with the Italian economist Alessio Biondo to make the first ever attempt to quantify the role of luck and talent in successful careers. In their prior work, they warned against a “naive meritocracy”, in which people actually fail to give honors and rewards to the most competent people because of their underestimation of the role of randomness among the determinants of success. To formally capture this phenomenon, they proposed a “toy mathematical model” that simulated the evolution of careers of a collective population over a worklife of 40 years (from age 20-60).
In general, mediocre-but-lucky people were much more successful than more-talented-but-unlucky individuals.
And Volcker’s statement loops right back around to this piece by David Roberts in Vox:
It’s not difficult to see why many people take offense when reminded of their luck, especially those who have received the most. Allowing for luck can dent our self-conception. It can diminish our sense of control. It opens up all kinds of uncomfortable questions about obligations to other, less fortunate people.
So, here’s the point: you’ve got the Gilded Age in the early 20th century, where the increase of inequality, the dizzying heights of wealth reached by the 0.1% were stopped by a Great Depression, a World War (the second), and a rebuilding of American society based on sane taxes and regulations that reduced inequality. Today, we’re right back at that gilded level of inequality. A bunch of selfish humans want more. Some of them get more. Some of them get much much MUCH more. Introspection is limited. Philosophy non-existent. Myths of personal exceptionalism and meritocracy abound and suffocate independent, compassionate, and logical thought. Which leaves you with an eye-wateringly rich class of human who think they got there as an award for being special.
Both of the following upper-class garbage statements spell doom for a liberal democracy:
My journey into misanthropy grows ever darker. I wonder where the bottom is.
Here’s a collage of the covers of the books we currently have checked out from the library:
Ess enjoyed the narwhal and penguin fact books very much. She gets super-interested in different animals; penguins a few weeks ago. It has been ducks for the past few days.
Wanda Gág books never disappoint; plus, she was one tough woman. We’re always looking for strong female role models for Ess. Marjorie Flack is great, too. Stephen Savage’s illustrations in “Where’s Walrus? and Penguin?” are so funny. Equally delightful for adults and children.
Oh, and Kevin Henkes is some kind of magician. What an amazing author and artist.
Yesterday I sat down at our piano, a piano purchased by my mother’s mother. It is a lovely Baldwin Hamilton upright with acceptable action, lovely bright sound, surprising resonance. I play it when I can, though Ess sometimes asks me to stop. The point of this story, though: I didn’t have to earn it. It was given to me. In the care of my mom’s sister, who was moving, it found its way to me because I still played piano.
While the Jetta was in for a long repair, I borrowed my dad’s car to get to work, but also carpooled with him on Wednesdays. And he tells me about his parent’s estate. After raising twelve kids, with only his dad working (who had a high school education), when his mom died, there was still an estate left to the surviving children. This was an important infusion into my parent’s college fund for my sister and myself.
So I’m sitting there playing the piano and thinking I’m just about the luckiest damn person in the world. I’ve been given an incredible amount by my parents; and their parents set them up to be able to give me those things. Look at it all; an embarrassment of riches. I sit upon a vast inheritance of privilege, money, education that spans generations on BOTH sides of my family. I’ve never thought that good things happen to people for a reason, and thinking this through is a firm reminder that I have no credit to take for where I’ve landed. I was started with a lead-off from third base; all I had to do was run home.
This was humbling, in a good way.
I kept playing piano, thinking: I don’t feel I deserve what I’ve received because there’s no actual way I could. I’m not deserving, I’m lucky. So, the only way I can acknowledge the extent of my luck, the only way I can truly be respectful of the sacrifices made to put me where I am, is to pass on as much as I can to Essie.
At the precise moment of epiphany, there was no ray of light coming in through the clerestory window to splash onto the piano keys. Instead, George barfed immediately after I had that thought.
(I still felt lucky.)
We’ve gone from pumpkin to Elsa to octopus to bat back to pumpkin. Pumpkin for a while. Now, we’re at penguin: Essie wants to be a penguin for Halloween. Since she has, essentially, no concept of time, we are struggling to articulate the importance of sticking with the costume once it has been ordered. When time has no meaning, Halloween is in the nebulous future, and there will always be time to order a different costume.
But here we are, the penguin costume ordered. Ess was telling me all about the hand-holes in the flippers. You know, so you can trick-or-treat.
Ok, I’m about to start posting an 11-month backlog of pictures and videos. By way of explanation: I usually am off by about three months, maximum, on posting stuff we have captured with our phones. But, last fall everything came together for us to invest in a Synology DS1517+, a network-attached file server. It took me months to set the entire thing up to my liking, including storing our Photos and iTunes libraries on sparse bundles. In the meantime, posting here was on hold as those libraries were in flux.
I actually ended up writing an app (README here) to automatically mount and unmount these disk images on demand.
Why take all this time? Ok, well Apple devices no longer have upgradeable storage, and the company knows their customers are accumulating vast quantities of pictures and videos, generated by phones. Every computer you have is filling up with your precious memories. So, you have two options if you want to stick with Apple (which I do; their stuff is nice): (1) pay a hilarious premium for large on-device storage or (2) pay monthly for cloud storage. Well I despise the rent-seeking going on in the tech industry so that takes out (2) and I refuse to feel like a sucker and go with (1). So, secret option (3) is to roll your own giant, network attached, locally available storage. Synology, ahoy!
So, that’s all set up now. Resuming picture posting… now.