Friday, March 20, 2009

Thank You Battlestar Galactica

In the beginning, Roddenberry's vision was "To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before." Battlestar Galactica completes the arc by actually doing it. They pushed the envelope like no one has before, not even J. Michael Straczynski. For me, no movie or tv show and very few books/works of literature have ever sustained this level of inquiry into the nature of our existence as Battlestar Galactica has. It felt as real as life, and just as messy with all its shades of grey. They took life as it really is and treated it, and the audience, as adults with functioning brains. I cannot thank you enough for that.

So, I give Ron and David and all the cast, crew, and everyone involved with this project my deepest thanks and appreciation.

As I watched Part 5 of "The Last Frakkin' Special" the words of Shakespeare came to mind, that:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

This reminded me of a conversation I had the other day. Too many people impose their own views onto life and then wonder why it disappoints them. What they don't realize is that living is its own communal project in the way a truly great play or movie or tv show is a communion of fellow humans who come together to create something that gives expression to the true magic in life. If only real life could be like that where people give their best everyday so that our endeavors would produce works of magic whether one works at a hotel, a power plant, in city government, or in entertainment.

The one difference between doing a movie, a show, or a play, especially the really good ones, and everyday life is the level of emotional involvement the cast and crew have with each other. To act is to open oneself whereas normal life is about armoring oneself. But if we were to open ourselves in real life who knows what magic may come. The only problem is that real life does not come with ready made partners except our families and our families may not be such good partners. Hm. What a conundrum this is that acting for all its emotional risks is actually far less risky because real life has no script and few willing partners. No wonder many shy types end up in acting. It is the one field where emotional safety is paramount insofar as the role and the project are concerned. If only we could do more of that in real life. Maybe then we might actually feel the magic that is real life.

I will miss you Battlestar Galactica and all who brought it to life, a very richly textured life. Thank you one and all!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reality vs Ideology

This entry from Sharon Astyk at her blog Casaubon's Book highlights the difference between my approach to dealing with people and our collective relations versus someone who wants to impose their own version of the way things ought to be.

While I understand the desire to have things be a certain way and for people to act/behave a certain way, when you need to get things done this approach is not always the best way to get there.

More importantly, it fails to acknowledge reality, meaning that people are what they are and wishing them to be different is simply pissing in the wind. Not only that, imposing one's own view on others ignores the two-way street of being imposed upon. In other words, Do (or not do) to others what you would have others do (or not do) to you.

All human relations, in fact just about everything in life and nature, is about accommodation. We make adjustments in the way we deal with each other based on each person's uniqueness, idiosyncrasies, and quirks of personality as we encounter them in our interactions.

Sharon's post highlights exactly this point as the roles between her and Eric are changing as their circumstances change. Incorporating new knowledge is the hallmark of learning and adaptation is the hallmark of evolution. In the days to come I hope that humans get better at dealing with reality instead of continuing to impose their ideology on that reality.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Importance of Focus

I think it's time to start to focusing on the genuinely important facts of life in these latter days of empire. Anyone who is paying attention already knows the criminality of what is and has happened in our country and on our planet. Providing innumerable examples of more of the same does nothing to get people to prepare for what lies ahead as the whole Western Imperial Project unwinds in the face of global economic meltdown, peak energy, and massive climate changes. More importantly, it fails to direct people into the activities that will sustain life at the local level, the level where it really matters when you are cold, hungry, and need a safe place to sleep.

No, I'm not thinking about some post-apocalyptic dystopia. I AM thinking about what happened during the Depression which was real. And about Dmitri Orlov's description of what happened in the former Soviet Union when people had to fend for themselves which they were used to and we aren't making what we face that much worse.

However, of greatest importance going forward is not so much about our material comforts as it is about our social and spiritual connections with each other and those around us at the local level. Preparing for the great unwinding will necessitate recovering our lost humanity in a similar vein as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol." As Mencius said, "commiseration is the beginning of humanity." Without the ability and capacity to commiserate we are not fully human for it is only in adversity and suffering that we can know the pain in anyone else's life. And as Dickens said through Marley, "`Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. `Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'"

What this means is that the shelter we will need most is in each others' hearts for it is only in opening our hearts to others that we can build a real community based on cooperation to fulfill not only our physical and material needs, but our most vital need of all: our spiritual need for genuine acceptance and communion with others rather than the petty gratifications of the ego. The shallowness our existence is being revealed for what it is in these times of great anxiety and spiritual dissonance. The great work ahead is to forge real bonds with our fellow humans so that no one is left out, left behind, or forgotten. The only exception are those who forfeit their place in community by refusing to cooperate within it. Our safety and our future can only be found in each other as we learn once again how to be true human beings.

This is my focus. That the empire is crumbling is a cause for celebration rather than one of consternation. In this regard I am of the same mind as Henry David Thoreau in "Walden" when he says, "And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter — we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?" On the other hand, we need as much repetitionof the work ahead and how to get there as we can get to overcome the work of Edward Bernays and his creation of the "Century of the Self."

To that end, let us use all our online and real world resources to help each other rebuild community rather than stand in thrall at the crumbling of empire and the end of the dystopia it is has created.

The Poverty of Imagination

by James Kunstler

A striking poverty of imagination may lead to change that will tear this nation to pieces.

Venturing out each day into this land of strip malls, freeways, office parks, and McHousing iPods, one can't help but be impressed at how America looks the same as it did a few years ago, while seemingly overnight we have become another country. All the old mechanisms that enabled our way of life are broken, especially endless revolving credit, at every level, from household to business to the banks to the U.S. Treasury.

Peak energy has combined with the diminishing returns of over-investments in complexity to pull the "kill switch" on our vaunted "way of life" -- the set of arrangements that we won't apologize for or negotiate. So, the big question before the nation is: do we try to re-start the whole smoking, creaking hopeless, futureless machine? Or do we start behaving differently?

The attempted re-start of revolving debt consumerism is an exercise in futility. We've reached the limit of being able to create additional debt at any level without causing further damage, additional distortions, and new perversities of economy (and of society, too). We can't raise credit card ceilings for people with no ability make monthly payments. We can't promote more mortgages for people with no income. We can't crank up a home-building industry with our massive inventory of unsold, and over-priced houses built in the wrong places. We can't ramp back up the blue light special shopping fiesta. We can't return to the heyday of Happy Motoring, no matter how many bridges we fix or how many additional ring highways we build around our already-overblown and over-sprawled metroplexes. Mostly, we can't return to the now-complete "growth" cycle of "economic expansion." We're done with all that. History is done with our doing that, for now.

So far -- after two weeks in office -- the Obama team seems bent on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable at all costs, to attempt to do all the impossible things listed above. Mr. Obama is not the only one, of course, who is invoking the quest for renewed "growth." This is a tragic error in collective thinking. What we really face is a comprehensive contraction in our activities, especially the scale of our activities, and the pressing need to readjust the systems of everyday life to a level of decreased complexity.

For instance, the myth that we can become "energy independent and yet remain car-dependent is absurd. In terms of liquid fuels, we're simply trapped. We import two-thirds of the oil we use and there is absolutely no chance that drill-drill-drilling (or any other scheme) will change that. The public and our leaders can not face the reality of this. The great wish for "alternative" liquid fuels (bio fuels, algae excreta) will never be anything more than a wish at the scales required, and the parallel wish to keep all our cars running by other means -- hydrogen fuel cells, electric motors -- is equally idle and foolish. We cannot face the mandate of reality, which is to do everything possible to make our living places walkable, and connect them with public transit. The stimulus bills in congress clearly illustrate our failure to understand the situation.

The attempt to restart "consumerism" will be equally disappointing. It was a manifestation of the short peak energy decades of history, and now that we're past peak energy, it's over. That 70 percent of the economy is over, especially the part that allowed people to buy stuff with no money. From now on people will have to buy stuff with money they earn and save, and they will be buying a lot less stuff. For a while, a lot of stuff will circulate through the yard sales and Craigslist, and some resourceful people will get busy fixing broken stuff that still has value. But the other infrastructure of shopping is toast, especially the malls, the strip malls, the real estate investment trusts that own it all, many of the banks that lent money to the REITs, the chain-stores and chain eateries, of course, and, alas, the non-chain mom-and-pop boutiques in these highway-oriented venues.

Washington is evidently seized by panic right now. I don't know anyone who works in the White House, but I must suppose that they have learned in two weeks that these systems are absolutely tanking, that the previous way of life that everybody was so set on not apologizing for has reached the end of the line. We seem to be learning a new and interesting lesson: that even a team that promises change is actually petrified of too much change, especially change that they can't really control.

The argument about "change" during the election was sufficiently vague that no one was really challenged to articulate a future that wasn't, materially, more-of-the-same. I suppose the Obama team may have thought they would only administer it differently than the Bush team -- but basically life in the USA would continue being about all those trips to the mall, and the cubicle jobs to support that, and the family safaris to visit Grandma in Lansing, and the vacations at Sea World, and Skipper's $20,000 college loan, and Dad's yearly junket to Las Vegas, and refinancing the house, and rolling over this loan and that loan... and that has all led to a very dead end in a dark place.

If this nation wants to survive without an intense political convulsion, there's a lot we can do, but none of it is being voiced in any corner of Washington at this time. We have to get off of petro-agriculture and grow our food locally, at a smaller scale, with more people working on it and fewer machines. This is an enormous project, which implies change in everything from property allocation to farming methods to new social relations. But if we don't focus on it right away, a lot of Americans will end up starving, and rather soon. We have to rebuild the railroad system in the United States, and electrify it, and make it every bit as good as the system we once had that was the envy of the world. If we don't get started on this right away, we're screwed. We will have tremendous trouble moving people and goods around this continent-sized nation. We have to reactivate our small towns and cities because the metroplexes are going to fail at their current scale of operation. We have to prepare for manufacturing at a much smaller (and local) scale than the scale represented by General Motors.

The political theater of the moment in Washington is not focused on any of this, but on the illusion that we can find new ways of keeping the old ways going. Many observers have noted lately how passive the American public is in the face of their dreadful accelerating losses. It's a tragic mistake to tell them that they can have it all back again. We'll see a striking illustration of "phase change" as the public mood goes from cow-like incomprehension to grizzly bear-like rage. Not only will they discover the impossibility of getting back to where they were, but they will see the panicked actions of Washington drive what remains of our capital resources down a rat hole.

A consensus is firming up on each side of the "stimulus" question, largely along party lines -- simply those who are for it and those who are against it, mostly by degrees. Nobody in either party -- including supposed independents such as Bernie Sanders or John McCain, not to mention President Obama -- has a position for directing public resources and effort at any of the things I mentioned above: future food security, future travel-and-transport security, or the future security of livable, walkable dwelling places based on local networks of economic interdependency. This striking poverty of imagination may lead to change that will tear the nation to pieces.

My 2008 novel of the post-oil future, World Made By Hand, is available in paperback at all booksellers.

Popularized at WorldNewsTrust from Clusterfuck Nation.