"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

May 31, 2012

The past is as unmovable by mind as are the stars.

1. The stars are the past. They happened before. This is not figurative. It is literal. We are constrained by relativity. The night sky is the lingering lost, part of our present because the "past doesn't go anywhere." Perhaps a fool would argue that the stars mean nothing: they mean everything. We are seeded by their dying. But... Scrying the night sky and the stars for signs and wonders, for clues to the fate of the universe, is no more effective than shitting in one's pants and flushing the toilet anyway. The past is prologue, sure. Also, it is not. Interconnectivity is myth. It's a story told against the inexorability of death, a facile consolation. Things come apart. What happens in Boston may never matter to the child starving in Dhaka. The stars don't care. Events accumulate and the child is forgotten.

Photons do not decay, in the human lifetime. Photons do not decay, over the course of terrestrial ages. We decay. We are brief. Staggeringly meaningless, from the vantage of photons and stars. A single life can be suffered, until waking is work, and breathing too much a burden to bear. A photon feels nothing. And the past, these photons forming wave fronts against our eyes, still didn't go anywhere. Every molecule bound together to make a body is the past made present. We can study them, learn. Make predictions, record data. We do it with cells, we do it with the stars. Awareness and memory, nonetheless, are not morality. The past does not teach. It does not evolve. Progress is fiction, dialectic is deception. Photons do not arise from synthesis. Trees grow by bifurcation. As do crystals, and human memory. Things split, to grow. They do not encounter their opposites and unite. The past tells no stories, it has no narratives. Events expand, they layer upon the memory, and most things happens without a mind ever knowing it. There are seven billion human bodies. Not a one of them can tell you the complete history of a square meter of soil.

2. It is stupidity to read the past, to build up and fascinate with the meager, mean stories of this or that notion, trend, government, commodity or faith, to map what is not by what came before. Events happen, and it's equally stupid to pretend they do not. Learn them, or not. You'll still need to eat, shit, sleep. You will still die. That's how most of us live, and we are not the lesser creatures for it. The past is as immovable by mind as are the stars. It hasn't gone anywhere, and most of what was made within its fluctuating contours will outlast the lot of us. By millenia. Some still have a need to know, a compulsion to draw value and validity from the pursuit of the past, forward into its consequences for the dimly understood present. It is a compulsion, an obsession. It can be useful, or not. Knowing the that red giant will nova does not prevent its destruction. Studying historical trends will not obviate their development. History is an astrology. Fiddle with it, if it makes you happier. Mostly, it will not. The termites will chew the wood, the roaches will scatter, mold will weaken the beams, water will find the cracks in the concrete, winter will come, and the housing unit will one day fall in on itself. A child will grow up elsewhere. She will be different from what she might have been, but might have been never was.  The now, the current, is always passing and memory barely maps the hint of it. It is the arrogance of a self-obsessed stupidity - a mind as its own mirror, imposing a fragile order on a world which does not obey it - to assert the primacy of history, to shelve lives like books and demand from the future a conformity to a past which doesn't care because it never was as we imagine it and never went away, anyway. Events happened, but our stories barely tell their impact. We are encompassed by our ignorance. It's too soon, far too early, to tell ourselves that we know enough to fix, fashion and shape into permanence the best of all futures.

The outlines drawn by the mind, the old gods and constellations, depend upon the distance between the stars, not their proximity. Most of history is the told in the same way. It is outline, making sense of the impossibly dense and unknowable by fabricating snippets and cataclysms into fables. Coincidence occurs, and these stories overlap with patterns in the memory, accumulations from experience that suggest a rightness, but which only communicate the appearance of similarity.

3. The past is not right or wrong. Neither is the present. The future, on the other hand, is almost always peopled with moralities. We arrive to find it fleeing us. Disappointed, abandoned, injured by its inevitable faithlessness. Our achievements fade: memory and bad conscience conspire to form a despotism. Over and over again, we resolve to promise ourselves a better tomorrow. Perhaps it's uniquely human to treat disappointment as a goad, and the goad as a call to be better, to perfect, to be more good. It is from this belief in betterment, this urge to improve, that most human evil is done. It's never enough to discipline one's own memory, is it? The bombs fell on Belgrade and Baghdad because men thought that they could profit by it, that in profit they would improve. A mass obsession for an age of mass spectacle.

School, church, temple, masjid, courtrooms, cop dramas, prison cells, op-eds, fairy tales, movie scripts, television plots, sermons, advertising campaigns, expectations humble and grandiose - they all fix into place the fascination with improvement. It's not enough to learn and let go. It's never enough to wander. Meaning is added, belief is confirmed, narratives are introduced to too-young brains. Poisonous, pervasive, spreading like plagues and killing frosts, following the merchant princes, the politicians, the generals and royal scientists, the urge to improve the whole of the face of the earth until every life is fitted into its place, if only at first by name.

4. The past tells no stories. We tell them. We have the capacity to tell them differently. There aren't many freedoms, really - but this is one of them. I don't know if it's enough to begin with a rejection of improvement, with the morality that demands a singular futurity. Maybe not, and that's okay with me.

Epilogue. I'm also okay with the guillotine, the noose and their use as an answer to the inflicters of widespread suffering, so grano salis, if you need it. Violence does not cure, and most acts of vengeance make things worse for somebody unintended as its recipient. There is no perfection, and we already have to live with with our contingency, conditionality, limitation and mortality. I do know, in moments of some provisional clarity, that compassion is one of the more finely made lenses through which to watch, as long as it tempered by the ability and capacity to resist, to strike and to elude those who would harm.  Moral pacifism, like national militarism, Christianity, or evangelical veganism, is an attempt improve others for one's own benefit, to collect them up and constrain them by belief. It's an urge to cure, and a reasonable person has a thousand reasons to mistrust it on that account alone. It does not follow that retribution makes anything better, either. Retribution does not improve. But, it can remove. And that is a tool which should not be discarded lightly.


gamefaced said...

this is fucking amazing.
i've lost a good hour mulling, on company time of course.
dead on sir.

Randal Graves said...

You're obviously unfamiliar with this.

High Arka said...

Why do we shit in the toilet and not in the pants? If there is no improvement, why does it matter?

This seems to be a "the world is complex, therefore nihilism" argument, similar to "no escape."

Can I conclude that a rose is beautiful?

Fifty years later, can I remember that beauty, and describe it to someone else?

Can the story make them smile?

Your shell, and your perception of your self, may be limited, and on a different scale, so too may be the photon or any aspect of the multiverse. Next to a mountain, any boulder may look small, and next to a planet, any mountain small--it does not cease, then, to exist, or to have any importance.

One may criticize humans for having an inappropriate belief in their own glory, without going to the opposite extreme and concluding that everything is meaningless. Put down the Kool-Aid and back slowly away. Perhaps your brief life is longer than you think; perhaps "history" is recorded in a way that you are not aware of; perhaps others will one day remember things that you thought were forgotten. We should not avoid the crimes of the past so rigidly that we punish our children with different crimes.

The Mathmos said...

Slowly coming to an horrifying realization : High Arka comments on nearly every blog I read. No escape indeed.

High Arka said...

Burn the troll. Didn't you hear? Talking to it only produces badthought inside your head.

Brian M said...

At least Eerily Lackadaisical and anne have not found their way here. Unlike High Arka...those trolls offer nothing. High Arka offers thought, even if one doesn't agree.