Monthly Archives: June 2014

My Favorite Martian

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the content of cell phones can’t be searched without a warrant. It turns out that some people pulled over by the police have incriminating information on their phones, which upon inspection, leads to charges for other offenses.

The decision is being hailed as a victory for freedom. I’m not here to argue that, although I will say the ruling gives me the freedom to be just another asshole with a cell phone committing crimes against the burden of human contact. I’m more interested in an amusing quote from Chief Justice John Roberts on the matter.

Cell phones, the Chief Justice writes, are “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

We don’t need Martians to point out the fusion between our phones and our bodies (both contain some form of the word “cell” after all). Earthlings who spot another earthling without a smartphone attached to his ear or extending from his hand think he’s an alien, find his conduct unbecoming, his way of life obscene.

On earth, where only savages and infants go without a data plan, Martians would serve as our last moralists. They’d remind us that smartphones are a recent addition to the human anatomy. Only aliens retain hope we’ll one day cut the wireless cord, if only for a second, to recall what it means to be human.

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Breaking News

An event, especially a painful experience, feels most intense to the person or people directly involved in it. Hearing about something that happened to someone else can be troubling, but pales in comparison to the discomfort the sufferer endures.

Say I break my leg. As news of my accident spreads to people in my immediate circle, the impact of the event carries weight, but its magnitude decreases as the story passes through the grapevine and filters out away from me. I matter to a small group of family and friends, but beyond them my suffering means little, save for the doctors and nurses who treat my injury.

But what happens when Harrison Ford breaks his leg, as he did earlier this month on the set of the new Star Wars film? The media pick up the story, turning coverage of the event into an event in itself. First it’s reported he broke his ankle; it matters not that a few days later we learn it’s his leg. As word spreads, the truth of Ford’s experience undergoes profound shifts. Our attention quickly turns to questions like: How does this affect filming? Will this delay the film’s release? What scene was he shooting? What more might I learn about this blockbuster-in-waiting?

I break news of my mishap on Twitter and Facebook or look for sympathy on my blog. I post a video of me falling, the snapping of the bone ready at the click of “play.” The personal is public. A lot less people care about my misfortunes than Ford’s fans do about his, but strangers whom I’ll never meet find out that I’m in pain thanks to the gospel of gossip: social media.

As information accelerates—as we share and overshare detail after detail—the lived experience of individual events gets discounted, forgotten, displaced. My truth, as it passes from person to person—and Ford’s truth, as it cycles from news outlet to news outlet—gathers false details and suffers from serious omissions, such that appearances trump the Real. But nobody cares about the truth; we simply need to know everything all the time without considering sources or fussing over facts.

It’s like saying “orange” over and over in a short span to the point of exhaustion. The tongue turns “orange” inside out, perverting its sound, stretching it into nonsense. The media repeat (reproduce) stories many times over, draining them of substance, erasing all traces of human suffering. Lost in the business of its global display, tragedy becomes spectacle. Remember: we’re only considering a famous actor’s broken leg; what might we say about America’s recent reentry into Iraq or the VA scandal that resulted in the deaths of veterans waiting for medical care?

Every accident becomes spectacle. Pain becomes mundane. When everything’s covered, when no moment escapes the watchful eye of real-time “expert analysis,” the spectacle itself is breaking news.

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Independent Study

There is no outside, no escape from the terror of Capital.

Capital devours every critique against its insatiable appetite, reducing resisters to crumbs. Fighting back is noble but ultimately futile. Still, many people make a career (far, however, from a lavish lifestyle) out of protest.

Marshall Berman, on page 116 of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, writes that professionals, intellectuals and artists are “paid wage-laborers of the bourgeoisie.” They, according to Marx,

live only so long as they find work, and . . . find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These workers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market. (quoted in Berman 117)

In short, professors need to eat. As long as they’re useful (to the academy, the publishing industry, liberal think tanks, etc.) they’re employed, even when they pose a threat to the status quo by reading and citing radical figures like Marx. Dissenters, like apologists, still power the machine.

I’m no radical, but I am critical of the system, and when I’m deconstructing assumptions I remain in its trap. There is no uncorrupted thought, no theorizing my way out of the maze. I don’t get paid for teasing ideas: philosophy is my hobby, like woodworking or restoring classic cars. Sharing a passion for knowledge comforts my soul.

The cost of an advanced degree triggers thoughts of bankruptcy, so I’m pursuing, on my own terms, a free PhD from the University of Indian Trails Public Library. My thesis is a work in progress, tentatively titled Sharp Left Turns.

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Edge Of Tomorrow

“Nothing conclusive has yet taken place in the world, the ultimate word of the world and about the world has not yet been spoken, the world is open and free, everything is still in the future and will always be in the future.” –Mikhail Bakhtin

I propel myself into the future full of Desire, Hope and Freedom. Tomorrow is virgin territory, a blank canvas, an open field to unleash urges long suppressed. But, if I’m lucky, there’s a tomorrow after that. My Desire, Hope and Freedom speed ahead, relentless in their pursuit of fulfillment.

Of course there’s a twist. There can be no “fulfillment”; I must carry on knowing that satisfaction is impossible. I have glimpses of contentment, but ultimate relief remains out of sight. The chase proceeds, my body threatens to outrun me. Behind each rush the Craving lies.

The pessimist declares my efforts futile. The optimist insists life would be meaningless if I didn’t try.

 

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An Absurd Proposition

I find myself returning to Nietzsche’s thoughts on eternal recurrence. Time is cyclical, not linear, the theory goes. You have lived this life many times before and will live the same life over and over into infinity. But it’s not just your life: every intimate detail of the universe plays back on a loop, the same record with the same grooves.

This sounds both tragic and glorious. Horrific and divine. If you’re seeking comfort, I say live today like it’s the first time you’ve lived, as if this is your original life, such that you will it to happen unchanged forever.

Every day is significant because it returns to you and you to it, but—pop a Prozac—this may be the twentieth or two-millionth time you’ve lived this life and there’s no changing things. Actually there is no “original life,” no counting incarnations, no beginning to begin with.

It’s an impossible thought. An absurd proposition. A blog I’ve written many times before and will come back to again and again.

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All Too Human

Unique

I am unique. No one with this particular body or this particular mind will appear again in the future to live my life exactly as I do now. This is a comforting thought. I have value, I meaning something. Everything I encounter retains my trace. When I leave the house, part of me remains at home. People may wish me harm or curse my name, but no one steals my personhood.

Insignificance

But if I’m unique so are you. I’m a single soul in a world of billions. A raindrop in a tsunami. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try, but whatever I do, in the context of human history, leaves no discernible mark. A slight change in my DNA and I’d be someone else. In my self-awareness I recognize the contingency of my being and recall the nothingness from which my mind emerged.

Unique Insignificance

The human condition is rooted in contradictions and ambiguities. We know life’s a struggle and our only option is to fight. Your battle is yours alone. But it plays out alongside mine. I’m no better at resisting than you. We make up the world, but the world doesn’t need us to continue. We are tragic miracles, gone before our time has come.

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Snapshots Of The Bigger Picture

There is a strong link between my depression and my perfectionism. When I’m down it’s often from trying to control the uncontrollable. And when my projects end up flawed I blame myself for being human.

I spend many days anticipating disaster. I put the “hyper” in hyper-vigilant. But what if the worst is over? Sure, there’s still plenty of heartache ahead, but it’s all survivable. What if I’m living like the worst is waiting around the corner when I’ve already pushed through my darkest days?

Instead of nitpicking minutiae I need to keep my eye on the bigger picture. I have a place to live, food, access to health care, the ability to respond to the world, and opportunities to improve myself and the lives of others.

I love and I am loved. It sounds simple but it’s magnificent. It’s enough to make a sensitive guy prone to overthinking give up trying for perfection.

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