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The Life Of The Dead (An Essay From The Future)

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(Original appearance on my Patreon page, 04 July 2017)

To understand our ancestors and the Natural Lifers, voluntary and involuntary, throughout the Solar System, you must understand first that they are all dead.

For our pre-Longevity ancestors, that’s literally true. But I mean something  more profound than a simple observation of the state of being of those who formerly lived and died. I’m talking about people and whole societies that were and are dead in the depths of their souls and worldview from birth.

We share with them the technical fact of mortality. We, too, will all die. No matter that our organs, unlike theirs, continually rebuild and reengineer themselves from the inside, that we enjoy continual in-depth health monitoring built into our surroundings, clothing, bedding, skin, flesh, bones, and blood, every single moment of every single day. No matter that our brains and memories are tended like gardens and backed up like documents.

Sooner or later the Reaper will reach us. It happens. Statisticians and actuaries disagree amongst themselves but most give us between five and fifteen thousand years before chance delivers us a body-obliterating end. It happens to an unlucky few every year already, in fact, among the tens of billions protected by Longevity.

But our ancestors (and today’s Natural Lifers) grew up assuming that their lives will be over very quickly indeed, and that there’s nothing of consequence they can do about it — which never stopped them from trying to micromanage a few extra years our of their short spans. Few ever succeeded in truly taking a view longer than their own lifespans, and usually that longer view consisted of trying to lock the future into living in the comfortable past of their own youths. For most, “long term” consisted of thinking a bare handful of years ahead, literally. No more than a person could count on their fingers.

Imagine what it’s like to be born inevitably and rapidly terminal. After the normal human childhood frenzy of learning, you must hurry on, hardly pausing. Spend your twenties in frantic acquisition of career skills. Your thirties and forties in frantic acquisition of expertise and professional networks. And then you have perhaps twenty good years to enjoy the fruits of that hard labor before the inevitable decline of body and mind begins to steal that hard-won enjoyment back. You’ll be very lucky to live beyond ninety without Longevity. Ninety years. That’s it. And in the past, there wasn’t even the option to change your mind, which many Natural Lifers do around mid-life when the recognition of immanent mortality really solidifies.

Short-lifers hardly had time to accomplish anything, and they were the entirety of society for most of human history. A society built around the recognition of swift and certain death. For them, everything must be a headlong rush, even the most careful and thoughtful long-range planning.

And a personal failure at any stage of life often meant a literally fatal delay of ambition and enjoyment of life success.

No wonder schadenfruede and sadism and suicide and Amok and warfare were rampant.

Not that those things are extinct in Longevity society. But they’re enormously rarer, aren’t they? Because we not only have reason to plan for the long term, but we know we’re here for the long term. We know we are alive and will continue to live, deep down in our flesh and bones and blood and souls. Tomorrow is coming for us, but short-lifers could never be certain that even tomorrow would come for them.

We’ve got more to lose, more to gain, and more to hope for. Just this first half-millennium of Longevity has revealed a slower progress, which the Natural Lifers jeer at, but it is deliberate and broad and lacks the error-forcing frantic quality of ephemeralism. We’ve more caution in deploying new ideas, but enjoy an unprecedented range of pure research and great reliability in the new developments we add to our lives. For why would a person facing ten thousand years of life worry over a decade or two spent chasing a dead end? But the prospect terrifies Natural Lifers, because two decades in a dead end is a waste of the bulk of an advanced professional life with no chance for recovery. It’s also easier for us to admit errors, for that very reason. A twenty year long mistake is a blush for us, but the ruin of everything for them.

As they point out slower overall progress, Natural Lifers are also quick to point out other shortcomings and controversies within Longevity — sometimes with justice, but often out of that schadenfreude mentioned earlier.

In our society it is easier to consolidate wealth and power for those willing to devote all their centuries to doing so — and so far we have several prominent examples of that. The definitions of “career criminal” and “life sentence” have shifted in ways our legal systems have still not fully adapted to. There is still enormous debate and controversy among creatives and legal minds over what copyright and fair use should look like when a creator might live longer than the current age of all human civilization to date. Mental illness and attitudes toward it are also experiencing a sea change — it seems that over a lifetime of centuries we all are statistically certain to experience mental illness in one or several forms.

While these are all real concerns and ramifications of Longevity, none of them are reasons to ignore the advances of technology and rejoin the Natural Lifers. None of them are reasons to embrace a swift death, surely.

Every human advance has brought new benefits and new difficulties hand in hand. Cheap, powerful ion-drive spacecraft changed our entire society and outlook on life. The internet changed everything with its advent. So did the motor vehicle. Rocketry, airplanes, telephones, electricity, railroads, rifles, gunpowder, crossbows, credit, printing presses, steel, aqueducts, sewers, iron, bronze, domesticated horses, writing, agriculture, brewing, fire. Every one of these innovations, and more besides, radically changed human history, society, worldview, and reasoning. Every single one. We adjusted to them.

We’ll adjust to biological immortality too, and all the new innovations it brings us.

The Triumph Of The Won’t

 

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We’re definitely seeing a farce of politics — but it’s not just Trump. It’s Trumpism and Trumpites, too.

In the best of Trump voters, there’s deep and intense dissatisfaction. A feeling that anything must be better than the politics of our memory, whether that memory is the few years of the 18 year old first time voter or the several decades of the elder Trump voter.

In many, I think, there’s an approach to politics that is identical to the approach to sport. You choose a team, and you root for them no matter what. Which is a foolish and dangerous approach to politics no matter who you’re voting for, and a core failure of civic education at school, in our communities, and in our homes.

But I’m not talking about the best of Trump voters here. I’m not talking about the rah-rah-go-team voters, or the reluctant ideologues who don’t like Trump but hate anyone outside the GOP more, or the impulse-shopper voters who went with whoever’s last sound bite they liked more, or the strategic ‘he’ll pick SCOTUS justices I’ll like’ voters or the on-the-fence voters who aren’t quite sure, somehow, who best represents their ideas and ethics.

I’m talking about the hard Trump core. The people who love the guy for all he represents. Not the Russian bots and foreign provocateurs, but the ones who sound like Russian bots despite being born and raised in the most corn-and-apple-pie-fed settings across the country.

Theirs is the triumph of the won’t.

They call themselves “alphas” and their perceived enemies (most of the citizenry of the United States of America) “betas” and “cucks”…

…and “feminized” (because being a woman is bad, or means you’re inferior, or means you’re genetically programmed to serve men because quite a few of the Trumpite hard core love them some 19th century pseudoscientific genetic determinism and its cousins eugenics and eugenic-style theories, and possibly phrenology and physiognomy and phlogiston and phlat earth ‘theory’ and who knows what else) and, well, whatever flaccid insults help them feel turgid and ready to lash out violently — because manliness, to them, is not showing humanity, but is found in behaving like a rage-blind distempered ape.

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Gif: BoingBoing — full video: YouTube

They imagine that by naming themselves dominant and aggressive, that makes them paragons of rock-jawed will.

They have little clue what it really reveals: it doesn’t reveal will. It reveals won’t. A humanity-paralyzing fear of tomorrow, of today, and of anything that doesn’t cater to their fussy, prissy, whiny control-freak demands of reality. A boy-tantrum “I WON’T” to the inevitability of time passing. They’re pissed off that reality itself won’t cut the crusts off their PB&J like mommy used to, but insists on being reality.

The “f–k your feelings” crowd runs on the feeling that they are offended that the universe will not treat them like the little princes and princesses they know they are.

That failure of adapting to the facts of life is their motive force, just as gasoline is the motive force of your car: there are a variety of other ingredients and factors, some important and others not, but without gasoline and failure Trumpism Car DOES. NOT. MOVE.

Of course, that’s not what they see in the mirror.

 

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Screencap from Scooby Doo and the Ghoul School via Scoobypedia

Trumpites, just like “God Emperor Trump” mostly cast themselves as alpha-male towers of will (or equivalent, or admirers of same, when women) — an army to proudly march back into the middle of the 20th century. Or maybe the 19th or 18th, depending on the Trumpite.

As if a past can ever be re-lived. As if the past was ever half as idyllic and perfect as many of them seem to believe — and an awful lot of them can remember the middle of the 20th century.

It is, after all, the land of their childhoods, the land of their childish dreams and childish ambitions. It is an age of shelter for many, even those whose childhoods were difficult or even abusive — what comes after, dealing with the adult consequences of childhood deprivation and/or abuse, often seems even harder than childhood, especially to the adult living it in the now.

And the remembrance of childhood is veiled in the ignorance of the child, and that is hazed by the passage of decades as well as the bitter demise of childhood dreams at the hands of reality — and both white male Boomers and GenX, key Trump demographics, had big dreams that died hard. Dreams of privilege expanding endlessly, dreams of unlimited world-altering success, dreams of the industry and union driven white middle class boom of the 1950s trending up, up, forever up, three chickens in every pot and three cars in every McMansion garage on a solid acre in the suburbs with a tall white privacy fence and a dog and a cat and 2.5 children educated at the highest standard in the world.

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The original McMansion production line: Levittown!

Only, the Boomers grew up to be Yuppies and ‘vulture capitalists’ and GenX grew up to build the dot-com boom and bust and found the ‘gig economy,’ and the ‘leaders’ of both have spent, collectively, the last 40 years gutting that goose that was laying the golden eggs, haven’t they?

There were a lot of rich guts in the American goose. Gutting it has taken a long time. But the work is almost done, now. What do you do with a fowl once you have it gutted?

You cut it into pieces and fry it, that’s what. It’s delicious.

Then you throw the bones away. Might take another 40 years to get there. And the process is part of the problem. The Boomer and Gen X gutters know they’ll almost certainly be dead and gone by the time they’ve gnawed this goose down to the greasy bones.

And here they are, writing and tweeting and bitching and Trump-voting away, flailing about wildly for someone else to blame. We (white male GenX, of which I am one) aren’t about to blame ourselves collectively. We’re all about ego and the importance of the individual, by which we mean ourselves, singular, not any other white male of our generations and certainly not any other individuals beyond that demographic. I, me, me, I. And if something is wrong you must be to blame and that’s why we have Trump yelling at his fans to ‘knock the shit out of’ people who dare voice dissent and why we have ideological zealots stabbing people for not agreeing with their politics (yes, enforcing the ‘correctness’ of their politics by killing those who disagree. Or, in milder form, by calling them rude names on Twitter.) and attacking people for having brown skin or the ‘wrong’ religious/spiritual/ideological/scientific/educated beliefs and knowledge.

Let’s go back, for a moment, to that perceived childhood idyll they’re so hot to “take our country back” to.

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An article from the Atlanta Black Star that has proven all too prescient. You should read it.

For me, childhood was the 1970s. In my memory, there’s sort of a glow around those years. That glow is the better side of my childhood. A glow of carefree play. What did I know or feel of the ugliness of the war in Vietnam or the national humiliation of Richard Nixon or the horror of Kent State?

 

Little or nothing, of course. I was a boy, a poor boy to be sure, but one who was wandering field and forest of rural Wisconsin with a faithful dog at my side. I was concerned with wading in creeks, gathering hickory nuts, snacking on wild apples and plums and berries, climbing trees, playing games with my friends, reading books, and so on. I wasn’t watching or comprehending much of the news.

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The author, sans dog but you get the idea.

The 1970s were no golden age, to be sure. But they look a bit gold to me when I remember them. Because I was a child, and the cares of adulthood were not yet upon me. The 1950s are no different. Or the 1930s, or 1990s. Wherever your childhood is.

Trumpism is no yearning for utopia, and it is no brave embrace of the hard work of making a better tomorrow. It is a fleeing in the hopeless direction of lost childhood. It is a cowering. For tomorrow is always uncertain, and doubly so for those who wish, uselessly, to live in the past.

The thuggish threats and violence and posturing with gun and fist are not strength. They are the bared teeth of the rat backed into a corner — only the Trumpite corner is built of fear-rhetoric and scaremongering taken to heart by the fearful. It’s not real. But more than imaginary, it is a huge corner packed full of a whole chaos of rats constantly telling each other how hellish and awful life and the United States and the world are. And no matter how much the rats tear into each other, no matter what other of their fellows they manage to bite, what they rage against is impossible to bite, because it is tomorrow itself, and the blood they taste is their own.

They’re raging against the only true constant in the universe: change itself. A constant that nothing can turn aside, delay, or even touch.

And, perhaps fittingly for the generations of Boomers and GenXers that are the meat of the ranks of Trumpism, their idea of a better world is an action B-movie. No actual leaders, just stars whose charisma is a scriptwritten Hollywood facade of strength, whose power is all spectacle and cheesy one-liners and costumery (Mike Pence and Scott Walker on Harleys, anyone?) whose will is the will of the moral and ethical and emotional weakling: the temper tantrum, the uncontrolled rage, the urge to mass murder with big guns and exciting stunts and technicolor explosions, and of course lots and lots of angry, violent intimidation.

Bully tools, but played out in real life instead of the theater.

Yearn for an angry, bloody version of childhood all you like, Trumpites. That way lies chaos and loss and disappointment. Adulthood can be quite a bit more boring, with its reason, and compromise, and sometimes painful ethical choices, and hard work, and compassion. But one way leads into a better future for our children, and one leads into Lord of the Flies for children of all ages, even the balding ones with deep crows’ feet.

 

Relax, Writer!

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Poor Bodhidharma is really getting a workout.

 

I have a certain amount of trouble relaxing. Burning some nice incense is one of many ways I attempt to deal with that; as you can see, my incense burning dish really gets a workout.

 

It’s more than a problem relaxing. It’s a manifestation of my inner perfectionist. I have seen other writers mention their own perfectionism, and it usually relates to editing and re-editing their written work into oblivion, and them being afraid to let it out into the world, terrified that there will be an error they’ve missed, or an imperfect expression.

 

That’s a concern that I share, though not strongly. Of course I worry that I’m sending a story out to an editor or into self-published distribution with a glaring mistake, a gaping plot hole, a patch of ludicrously overwrought prose, or something similarly embarrassing. But it’s not a huge worry for me. I can hit the ‘send’ or ‘publish’ button without losing sleep.

 

For me, it’s about feeling that I’m not doing enough. When I have a great writing week and produce a ton of good work, I end up thinking about how much more I could have produced if I had somehow made more time for writing. When I have a crappy week, I feel like I’m Atlas and I’ve just dropped the world on my toe, and it has promptly rolled away threatening to flatten a bus full of nuns or something. It’s just terrible.

 

And it’s counterproductive. My gawd, it’s counterproductive. I’ve lost sleep over the perception of lost writing production or lost brainstorming time (and therefore lost ideas), then spent the next day feeling crappy and sluggish because I haven’t had enough sleep, which means that I produce little or nothing that day, which means that I feel even worse about my now two-day-old string of lousy production, which means…

 

Vicious circle.

 

Worrying about how much more I could do leads to doing less. It’s really very simple.

 

It’s another thing altogether to remember this when I’m feeling like I’m not doing enough. But I keep reminding myself, and I get a little better –a little, tiny bit better– as time passes.

 

I figure by the time I’m 150 I should have this whole ‘relaxing properly’ thing down pat.

Getting Over Being Profound

Sometimes I bog down on my blogging or my fiction writing through a desire to be profound.  Lots of people want to be profound.  We want people to pay attention to us, we want to be important, we want to be recognized.  More to the point, I want to be important and paid attention to.  Especially paid; I am attempting to earn some money through my writing and I find the notion of being paid to write attractive.

But I was talking about getting over being profound.  I have a bit of perfectionist in me, so I want everything I say or write to be profound.  In fact, I have more than a bit of that perfectionist in me.  But the fact of the matter is, nobody is profound all of the time.  Wanting to be profound, to be perfect, holds a lot of people back from doing what they dream about doing, from chasing their dreams.  Because failing is scary, and the possibility of being laughed at is really scary.

Take a minute and look at some people whose work you respect, who you think caught at least a little bit of their own dreams, who have had some success.  Take a look at Bob DylanRobert Frost, Isaac Asimov, Ansel Adams, Andrew Wyeth, anyone else who took a flying leap at some corner of the world of the arts and did good.

Was everything they did profound?  No.  Some of it was good, some was amazing and profound, some of it was not so good.  In fact, some of it sucked.  They were successful in large part because they kept doing what they did even when someone said it sucked.

That’s a lesson so obvious that most of us have ‘learned’ it hundreds of times over.  We’ve heard it in one form or another so often that it has ceased to be meaningful signal and has become noise.

It’s not noise.  Stop hearing it and listen to it.