A few weeks ago, while our car honked its way through dense traffic in Delhi, I imagined an Onion headline: American Visitor Seeks To Explain What He’ll Never Understand About India.
By the norms of traffic laws in countries where people tend to obey them, vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the dense parts of Indian cities appears to lawless. People do seem to go where they want, individually and collectively, in oblivity to danger.
Yet there is clearly a system here, in the sense that one’s body has a circulatory system. Or a nervous system. Meaning it’s full of almost random stuff at the cellular traffic level, but also organic in a literal way. It actually works. Somehow. Some way. Or ways. Many of them. Alone and together. So yes, I don’t understand it and probably never will, but it does work.
For example, a four-lane divided highway will have traffic moving constantly, occasionally in both directions on both sides. It will include humans, dogs, cattle, rickshaws and bikes, some laden with bags of cargo that look like they belong in a truck, in addition to cars, trucks and motorcycles, all packed together and honking constantly.
Keeping me from explaining, or even describing, any more than I just did, are the opening sentences of Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet:
Shortly after dawn, on what would have been drawn in a normal sky, Mr. Artur Sammler with his bushy eye took in the books and papers of his West Side bedroom and suspected strongly that they were the wrong books, the wrong papers. In a way it did not matter to a man of seventy-plus, and at leisure. You had to be a crank to insist on being right. Being right was largely a matter of explanations. Intellectual man had become an explaining creature. Fathers to children, wives to husbands, lecturers to listeners, experts to laymen, colleagues to colleagues, doctors to patients, man to his own soul, explained. The roots of this, the causes of the other, the source of events, the history, the structure, the reasons why. For the most part it went in one ear out the other. The soul wanted what it wanted. It has its own natural knowledge. It sat unhappily on superstructures of explanation, poor bird, not knowing which way to fly.
So I will disclaim being right about a damn thing here. But I will share some links from some brilliant people, each worthy of respect, who think they are right about some stuff we maybe ought to care about; and each of whom have, in their own very separate ways, advice and warnings for us. Here ya go:
- Yuval Noah Harari: ‘The idea of free information is extremely dangerous’, by Andrew Anthony in The Guardian.
- Creed of an American Grand Strategist: I am a great power. And so can you! by Thomas P M Barnett, on his blog.
- Headed Toward Collapse, by John Robb, on his blog.
- Everything by Umair Haque on Medium.
- Q is Military Intelligence and Turn Them Off: The Coming Colapse of the Fake News Media, by @MartinGeddes
Each author weaves a different handbasket we might travel to hell, but all make interesting reading. All are also downbeat as hell too.
My caution with readings that veer toward conspiracy (notably Martin’s) is one of the smartest things my smart wife ever said: “The problem with conspiracy theories is that they presume competence.”
So here’s what I’m thinking about every explanation of what’s going on in our still-new Digital Age: None of us has the whole story of what’s going on—and what’s going on may not be a story at all.
Likewise (or dislike-wise), I also think all generalizations, whatever they are, fail in the particulars, and that’s a feature of them. We best generalize when we know we risk being wrong in the details. Reality wants wackiness in particulars. If you don’t find what’s wacky there, maybe you aren’t looking hard enough. Or believe too much in veracities.
Ed McCabe: “I have no use for rules. They only rule out the possibility of brilliant exceptions.”
We need to laugh. That means we need our ironies, our multiple meanings, our attentions misdirected, for the magic of life to work.
And life is magic. Pure misdirection, away from the facticity of non-existence.
Every laugh, every smile, is an ironic argument against the one non-ironic fact of life—and of everything—which is death. We all die. We all end. To “be” dead is not to be in a state of existence. It is not to be at all. Shakespeare was unimprovable on that point.
To some of us older people*, death isn’t a presence. It’s just the future absence of our selves in a world designed to discard everything with a noun, proper or not, eventually. Including the world itself. This is a feature, not a bug.
It’s also a feature among some of us to, as Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”: always interested, always open to possibilities, always willing to vet what we at least think we know, always leaving the rest of existence to those better equipped to persist on the same mission. So I guess that’s my point here.
Basically it’s the same point as Bill Hicks’ “It’s just a ride.”
*I’m not old. I’ve just been young a long time. To obey Gandhi, you have to stay young. It’s the best way to learn. And perhaps to die as well.