Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary

It is early spring in “the Burgh”, and flower shoots are tentatively poking their way out of the matted grass... the birds have returned from the forest, or Florida, or wherever they go to hide out during the winter... Steelers fans are still heavily sedated to mollify the effects of “football withdrawal”... and on this, The Saturday Closest to St. Patrick's Day – a legal holiday in Pittsburgh! -- there were already green-clad and thoroughly drunk 20-something louts staggering up and down my street and shouting at the top of their lungs at nine this morning. (There is a certain class of local people who avoid hangovers by just staying drunk. I think these were examples of that type.)

But more important than all of these is the fact that today is the first anniversary of my blog – yes, the one you are reading right now! And this is the 395th post, which comes out to slightly more than one per day – 1.08... ad infinitum – to be non-exact. And this surprises me as much as it does anyone else – especially people who have seen me at parties, where I either stand alone in martyred silence, nursing a drink and a plate of finger foods, or huddle in a corner with a fellow BAT (Borderline Asperger's Type) to muse upon the issues of the day and how “superficial and hollow” everyone else in attendance is. (Except that one "hot" babe over there, who makes it all worthwhile.)

So the bottom line is, this blog is my outlet, and you the victim (or beneficiary, depending). But more seriously, I get to say things that – well, not that I “can't” say in public, or person-to-person, but there is often neither time nor opportunity. Plus, so many of the people I want to share my thoughts with are many miles from here. So why not set out my ideas on a more-or-less-daily basis where they may be read and enjoyed at the leisure of whomever is interested, at a time and place of their own choosing?

Do I think – or fancy – that what I have to say is “important”, or “vital”, or that it will save the world? Not so much that as the fact that much of it is, let's say, newly-synthesized, i.e. I am juxtaposing things that, in the normal course of events, never get juxtaposed. Is this the “over-connectivity” I have occasionally criticized, as being a trait of the “paranoid type”? Possibly. But I prefer to think of it as “reading between the lines” of the daily press and the visual media, in order to figure out what is behind all the apparent chaos and randomness.

Let me explain. If you only take “the news” as a reliable and valid indicator of what is happening in the world and why, then it makes no more sense than a Jackson Pollock painting. Pollock “knew what he was trying to say”, but no one else did – or does to this day, more than likely. Well, world events, or “current events”, are like that – there may be something coherent and meaningful in all of it, but you'll never find out what that might be even if you spend 24 hours a day reading, and viewing, the “media”. Because all they are reporting is phenomena – and their own irrational, agenda-laden interpretations of those phenomena. An objective reporting of all the relevant facts is virtually impossible to achieve, except perhaps on the most local level... and the interpretation of those facts, if left to the average “media type”, would be like putting the court jester in charge of the king's treasury. So whenever you read, or hear, the term “news and analysis”, be certain that you're getting neither.

So what I'm trying to do is put my own spin – and it is a spin, I admit – on current events and other issues, topics, and trends. And I could be wrong, I admit. But in the process I find myself frequently saying things that no one else is saying – at least as far as I know. Does this make me a smart guy or a nut? I can't prove it either way. But I do love making connections – connecting dots – that no one else is willing or able to make. And of being a kind of "institutional memory" about things that everyone else would just as soon forget -- like the many, and massive, abuses of the Clinton administration. And I suspect, often, that their hesitancy is based not on invincible ignorance (although, heaven knows, there is enough of that floating around) but on fear – fear of offending someone, fear of winding up on the wrong side, fear of the Regime, but mostly fear of what will happen to their most basic, cherished premises about life, and the way the world is, and the significance of the human race, and their _own_ significance, if what they suspect, in the dark of night, is actually true. And this is, I suspect, a product of an underdeveloped sense of self. Viktor Frankl, based on his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps, developed a theory in which an essential resource for personal development, and even survival, is _meaning_. The ability to assign meaning, or significance, to one's experiences, and – by implication – to those of others, i.e. to events outside oneself, is a key element in mental health. Lack of meaning, on the other hand, can lead to actual insanity – or at least a high stress level, as witness all the soldiers who come back from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental problems. It's not so much that they went through hard times, but that those experiences had no meaning – or that they were unable to assign any. In other words, it was absurd – and not even the “creative absurdity” of Kierkegaard, but just a numbing, metaphysical and moral anarchy. Clearly, they didn't have the psychological or spiritual resources to come through that experience unscathed -- nor should they have been expected to! A strong spiritual side could have provided it – but that is the very thing most lacking in our modern society. We beat the spiritual impulse out of people through the public schools, the media, etc., then send them off to war, expecting that somehow they'll buck up and be able to handle it. But just the opposite happens – since a spiritual base is one of the major, and most traditional, sources of personal meaning that an individual can have. There are more rarefied sources as well, of course – things like “ethics”, family, race, ethnicity, national pride, and so on, but I don't consider those as reliable as a strong spiritual foundation.

So – after that slight diversion – I offer this blog as my own poor attempt to assign meaning to current events, and other things – and to share that, for what it's worth. If someone doesn't agree, then at least they've been forced to think a bit. Maybe they feel offended, or “confronted”, but that's a good thing too – it's the mainstay of group therapy, for example. “Assume nothing, consider everything.” Now this doesn't mean we have to _believe_ in everything, as Chesterton accused liberals of doing. We are free to pick and choose – but we _must_ choose (even if on a tentative, not once and for all, basis) if we are to go on living honestly. (I say “honestly” because the philosophical premises that most people rely on to even get out of bed in the morning are highly suspect.)

And what good is all this thinking, mulling, rumination, speculation? Other than assigning (tentatively) meaning, it's also therapeutic for the usual reasons – you know, that thing we call “venting” in the current parlance. And any respectable blog, to be worth its weight in electrons, ought to be fun (to both read and write) and frequently amusing -- and provocative. And it should “tweak” all the right people about all the right things – especially because we seem to have a habit of electing the most stuffed shirts and empty suits we can find to positions of mind-boggling power. Why, when there are so many perfectly normal people walking the streets, do we invariably wind up with leaders who are severely neurotic? That's a mystery. Why do we put people whose criminal impulses are barely under control in charge of our money, our economy, and our legal system? That's a mystery too. Why is our foreign policy run by people who dream of being Genghis Khan? Another mystery.

See what I mean? It all looks like total chaos. And yet things have a tendency to keep going in a more or less orderly manner – I mean, most people's everyday lives are not characterized by anarchy or by total chaos (except maybe mentally and morally). There is a certain predictability to things – but this defies all that we see on TV or read in the papers, where “reality is Silly Putty”, as Paul Krassner used to say. So one gets the impression, after a while, that there is something else behind all this chaos, disorder, and absurdity – something behind the political parties – something behind all the bogus rivalries and opposition – and, especially, something behind all the politicians and “leaders” who, frankly, don't seem to have the slightest idea what they're doing – or why – most of the time. So... is this “something” a person, a thing, an organization? Is it good or bad? Benign or evil? Is it even conscious, or is it more like a set of immutable (if undiscovered) laws? It is "karma"? Is it unitary, or a conspiracy, or simply a convergence of more or less autonomous, but like-minded, groups and individuals? Does it control our politicians, our legal system, our financial system, the media, etc. directly, or does it not even care (i.e. a policy of benign neglect)? And what are its goals? And who works for it – and do they even know they are working for it? And is there a core elite somewhere that is overseeing the process, and pulling all the right strings wherever and whenever necessary?

I have often observed that most of our “leaders” act more like servants than like anyone who is actually in charge of anything. They will say something, then retract it 24 hours later. Who told them to retract it? What would have happened if they hadn't? (Doesn't anyone else wonder about these things?) How about stories that hit the papers, or TV, one day, then disappear without a trace? Who called up whom on the phone and told them this was a non-story? It's things like this that provide clues – not so much as to who is really in charge but as to their priorities... what they consider important. Job One, of course, is to keep the public in precisely the right state of fear – as I've said before – combined with the right state of ignorance. Feed them enough information so they _think_ they know, and understand, what's going on, but don't ever give anything away that's of real value. You see, the old notion that “knowledge is power” is only half the equation. The other half is: “Other people's ignorance is power”. So one has to work both sides of the equation in order to gain, and keep, real power. Our media, riding on the “information revolution”, provide – as never before – an illusion – and a seductive one at that – of knowledge and information, freely available to all, through the airwaves and the Internet. But what it actually is is a towering monolith of ignorance and disinformation – an illusion that keeps people placated (or depressed, depending on how you look at it). The “top stories” get to be “top stories” because someone decides that is the particular medicine the public needs to be force-fed on that particular day. Then the “analysis”, or the “stories behind the stories”, come out, to provide even _more_ of an illusion of information – but those are produced by the Regime as well, and for the same purpose but for a slightly different target, namely the people who fancy themselves “informed”. Then you have the more scholarly, and “researched”, publications -- “opinion magazines”, "scholarly journals", and so on. But they are also, by and large, tools of the Regime. So where can one get at the real truth? Maybe from some paranoid nut case on the Internet, who spends every waking hour obsessing about JFK, 9-11, and so on? But perhaps there is more truth in their madness than in the even-toned, soothing sanity of the “network news”. My answer (like Mao's, except he didn't really mean it) is “let a hundred flowers bloom”. But in the meantime, be willing to, every day and in every way, read between the lines of current events. Why, for example, was Ron Paul treated _quite_ so badly by the media and by the major parties? What was it that he was threatening? Why are fringe religious groups – call them “cults” if you like – treated _quite_ so badly by our legal system? Why are our colleges and universities -- especially what are referred to as “public-funded” ones – such hotbeds of censorship and intolerance? Well, they're preparing the next generation to take over the reins of power, right? And we can't have any “discouraging words” floating around about the rush toward collectivism and totalitarianism, that might bruise their young and tender ears. Why do college and professional athletics get quite as much coverage by the media as they do? And what about “entertainment”? Isn't it all the modern equivalent of “games and circuses” (and yes, I am a Steelers fan -- mea culpa!)?

Do I claim to be able to “see through” all of this? Or even a significant portion thereof? No. But if one child can blow the king's cover by pointing out that he's naked, then maybe a few lonely bloggers can get a few other people thinking about what's going on deep beneath the surface of society -- somewhere down in the bedrock, where earthquakes originate. Simply knowing – or suspecting – the truth can be mighty consoling, at least for the person who does not opt for the "endless sleep" of public school and media-dependent existence. At least it saves one from wandering around with the usual vapid, puzzled expression that seems to afflict so many of our fellow citizens (and George W. Bush, for that matter). And that may be the only satisfaction we can hope to gain from all of this – but compared to the blighted ignorance that we are intended to have, it's a trove of riches.

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