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Monthly Archives: August 2018

(This is gonna be a bit of a grim one, folks. Don’t let it spoil your Monday)

Went to the museum last week. They have an exhibit on global climate change. Quite a relevant topic this summer.

The Holocene appears to be upon us. The energies we have unleashed in the past two hundred years are, outside of our intentions, warping the very earth on which we stand. The Earth’s atmospheric conditions now resemble those of several million years ago, prior to human existence. Seven billion people and more, growing constantly, shoving aside all else for our cities, our fields, our mines, disrupting all ecosystems. If all turns out for the worst, we face the Sixth Great Extinction.

And it won’t be any different from the other five.

Every so often, there’s going to be a mass extinction. It’s just how the dice tumble. It makes no difference if the medium is bolide impact, supervolcanic activity, or one oversuccessful species. All are the same thing, patterns of matter and energy.

There is nothing supernatural about humanity. We are the same, in essence, as bolides and volcanoes. The same rules of reality govern our biological behavior as govern astronomy and geology. If we put ourselves in a different category, it’s just pride talking. Our consciousness is not special.

Whatever might get wiped out in the coming centuries, life will go on. It’s difficult to sterilize an entire planet. Something will be left and it will evolve and things will continue, just like after the dinosaurs. The sun has about another billion years left before it turns into a red giant—that’s enough time to replay the entire history of life. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Don’t let pride of species fool you.

I’m hoping this isn’t the case. I want us to find another way as much as anybody else. But if it does happen or if it doesn’t, it will be according to the arithmetic of nature.

(It’s fascinating to think of another intelligent species, a billion years from now. By that point, there were be no identifiable trace of human culture. World geography will be completely different. But the geological evidence will be there, bizarre anomalies in the rock record. Perhaps their scientists will learn to look for it, will come to identify our population centers and perhaps a few other choice points. Perhaps they will wonder what we did, and what happened to us.)

Saw on Twitter:

If you want to find the history and book nerds in a room, just say, “It’s a shame about the Library at Alexandria.” The noises of anguish that erupt will ALWAYS give them away.

To be honest, on those occasions, I do make noises of anguish, but for reasons opposite to what most folks imagine them to be.

I once intended to write an essay about the truth of the loss of the Great Library, but then Tim O’Neill went and did so. I heartily urge all readers to peruse O’Neill’s work, and be relieved of the idea that there is anything enlightened about being upset about the Library.

A harbinger of an article in the The Atlantic today.

If you support marijuana legalization, as I do, it’s important to be straightfoward about this: the end of marijuana prohibition is likely to see a rise in marijuana consumption at all levels, including, as the article describes, addiction. Illegality, even ill-enforced illegality, has some limiting effect on an activity. When a ban is lifted, all else being equal, the banned activity will increase.

This is not a reason to not legalize marijuana.

After alcohol prohibition ended, the nation went on something of a fifty-year binge. In the Sixties, the Mad Men era, practically everyone had a cocktail in their hand. Drunkenness meant Dean Martin, and Dean Martin was funny. The old American tradition of temperance was dead. And so it went until the extent of alcoholism wrenched its way into public consciousness, via Betty Ford and many others, and our society started grappling with how much is too much (a conversation yet ongoing).

There’s a sea of agony concealed in the above paragraph. Bodies destroyed, accomplishments demolished, families rent apart. Alcoholism is a quiet, pervasive killer. That was the cost of Repeal.

And it was worth it. Because the problems of alcoholism are least out in the open, where a solution is possible. You’re not going to go to jail for having an illness. Organized crimes is not running rampant because of an illness; police and the judiciary are not being corrupted because of an illness. Legalization allows people to speak openly and honestly about what is happening. Prohibition merely conceals it.

There was one line that really stuck out:

Others mentioned the common belief that you can be “psychologically” addicted to pot, but not “physically” or “really” addicted.

Now this is true, to a certain extent. Marijuana does not have the same effect as opioids or alcohol, where the body begins to have a chemical need for the substance. But to say, as many might (not the author–she’s referring to others) that psychological addiction is not real addiction is to ignore the reality of the human psyche. The working of our habits is what makes us who are. The denial of that irks me in the same way I see “socially conditioned” used to mean “malleable.” Pleasure and pain, drip by drip, day by day, shape us. If we grow used to a way of life because it brings us pleasure, it’s very difficult to escape, even if it brings a high cost. We are material creatures, but we have a hard time accepting that. I think that as the decades go on, we are seeing a slow dialectic about the reality of ourselves and our relation to pleasure. The question of recreational substances is an important sector of that process.

This was a dream I had back in 2016. What with the continued protests against the regime, it seems appropriate to post it now.

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I dreamed I took political action. I drank a glass of water in the Tehran library.

Why this was political, I don’t know. For some reason, “drinking a glass of water at the library” had acquired overtones of opposition to the Iranian regime, and become a gesture of protest. So there I was, wandering around the stacks, a plastic tumbler full of water in my hand, waiting for someone to notice and wondering what would happen when they did.

Sure enough, a virtue monitor quickly pegged me. “Is that yours, too?” she asked, pointing to a crystal punch bowl of water, complete with ladle, that someone had left on one of the shelves. “No, no, this is all I have.” “Well, come with me.” She didn’t sound brutal. A little harried, actually. I guess there were a lot of us making this action.

As we went down to the processing room, I started to think what was going to happen to me, and how this was going to affect my wife and kids, and having second thoughts in general. Was this really the most effective means of protest?

We came to a window with a desk behind it, and another virtue monitor carefully recorded my misdeed, in pencil in an ordinary notebook. So far nothing bad had happened.

Then I woke up.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have formed what I’ve come to refer to privately as “The Aqaba Connection” (after the Gulf of Aqaba, on which both nations border) What, exactly, that connection consists of is hard to say. There is some loose diplomatic co-ordination. There are signs of outreach, like the new economic zone Mohammed bin Salman wants to establish across the Gulf from Israel. I guess the extreme theory would be that they are official secret allies, but I don’t think that’s the case—yet.

The force bringing them together is Iran. Iranian extension of force into Iraq and Syria has made historic dislike into active opposition. For the first time, the Islamic Republic has a line of communication to the Israeli border, through Iraq and Syria. A shaky one, to be true, but it’s there. If the Iranians want to attack the Golan Heights, they can.

Israel will not allow this situation to continue. For a while in April I honestly thought they might launch a ground offensive. They did not, and in retrospect that seems a little off. A ground offensive would be far too risky a proposition, and Israel has other avenues of attack.

For instance: it now seems that Israel and the Saudis have successfully brought Donald Trump onto their side. Maybe they’re bribing him, maybe they’re blackmailing him, or maybe they just have the Republican-stimulating juice he wants. The Aqaba Connection seems to have lobbied Trump to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions. At the same time, they’ve apparently been urging him to lift sanctions on Russia, in hopes that Russia in return will squeeze the Iranians out of Syria.

John Bolton this week said regime change in Iran is not a U.S. goal. I doubt that. Certainly, neither of the Aqaba Connection will feel 100% safe until the Islamic Republic is replaced. All three parties are hoping the resulting economic decline from the reimposed sanctions topples the regime. The trick is what happens afterwards. Will Iran become another Syria? The Saudis might wish they had stayed with the ayatollahs.

So I don’t expect open warfare at this point, with one hitch. If the militant wing in Iran becomes convinced they could lose either their foothold in Syria or their power at home, they might decide, out of desperation, launch an offensive against Israel. Like the Japanese in 1941, withdraw would be psychologically impossible, so attack is the only option. But that is unlikely to happen.

There was a time in this country, not so long ago, when the structure of generations made sense. To wit:

Elderly people were veterans of the Second World War, and their wives. From the tumult of their youth and the prosperity of their prime, they enjoyed the serenity of the golden Autumn of their years.

Middle-aged people had made the Nineteen-Sixties. Grappling with consequences of that era’s hedonism, they at the same time attempted to uphold its ideals while raising families and coming to responsibility.

Young people were those who grew up in the shadow of the Sixties, dealing with the wreckage of the new freedoms yet attempting to live out the promise that went before them.

This was a most vibrant arrangement, rich in sociological and narrative promise, and it bore much fruit for the republic. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the television program “Twin Peaks”, to give two examples.

But recently, it has come to my attention that the situation has changed.

Now, increasingly, Elderly people are those of Sixties, leading to, for instance, the spectacle of septuagenarian rock stars shuffling on stage in a grotesque parody of their salad days. Meanwhile their children have been forced into Middle Age, burdening them with responsibilities for which they were in no way adequately prepared.

Whereas the World War II generation is, by and large, deceased.

I don’t know when this change occurred. I don’t know who authorized it. I certainly wasn’t consulted. nor was anyone I know. Frankly, the entire situation is a disgrace, and it has gone on long enough. I intend to lodge a complaint. Manifestos and petitions must be pursued. I demand redress of grievance. Let no mistake be made: the country will be restored to the state it should be, and all made well again.