17 January 2013

Yule 2012 Recap: More like an Antichristmas

Having been away from blogging for most of last year's second half (due in large measure, first, to a fairly serious illness, and second, to a semi-major relocation), my one wish is that I could have come back to it under better circumstances. But recent events in Connecticut and elsewhere left me in anything but a Christmas-like mood.  I’ll do my best to make up for lost time, though I can hardly guarantee even the meager results my limited lot of readers have come to expect.  

Indeed, some of the sharper among them may be quick to point out that even seemingly idyllic Nativity narratives (“ideal for children”) are no strangers to the massacring of innocence. At least, however, in the case of Matthew’s Gospel the perpetrator was a king madly unsure of his crown, whose pretext was a kind of paranoid expediency; it wasn't, say, a former Temple student seeking posthumous glory as a mass-homicidal pervert. In any case, thank Heaven we don’t have mass-homicidally insecure absolute despots running around modern America. We have other kinds of despots, and I suspect sufficient historical hindsight will reveal the alarming extent to which they’ve come to permeate both our public and our business life. But as for outright insanity, both our methods and our candidates for madness differ notably from those of Herod’s time.  

In fact, what it seems we’re discovering these days is that potential loons – and of course I do mean even the dangerously loony – can turn up practically anywhere. And often say and do the darndest things. And not least the kids among them. If only the militarily criminally insane were found just in kings’ palaces. Or on the front lines of intimately vicious civil or covert or guerrilla wars. The scary thing is that, however few and statistically “irrelevant” these mad avengers remain, nowadays they’re at least as likely to descend on movie theaters, shopping malls and primary schools as on gang-warfare-ravaged slums. Weirdest of all, they don’t just deposit themselves in clean, leafy suburbs to do their dirty work. They’ve even been known to grow out of them.  
And I just can’t seem to get over the shock. Indeed, despite the "measured" tone of my last post, I'm not even sure I want to.

It may well be, of course, that I’ve bought into our national myths – of by-golly-gee-whiz American innocence – far more than I realized. Mind you, I can easily excuse anyone being shocked to read of these vile things happening in, say, some peaceful town or village, far removed from labor strife or civil war, in the middle of the American or British 19th century. Or even in either of those countries’ hideously socialist mid-twentieth centuries (wrap your brain round that paradox). There's one thing, however, that in any case should NOT shock me. It is that an America like our modern version – a nation so not only self-destructively busy, but almost honor- and duty-bound, as it were, to make money any envelope-shredding way it can – has come to think nothing of polluting its own wellsprings. That an America like ours should deem it, at worst, a sad but inescapable necessity to waste, neglect, abuse or corrupt its own, well, literal American innocence. Whether by means of the latest simulated-reality videogames, or via some other cutting-edge mode of media rabies. As if children were, you know, nothing much in themselves. At least nothing much worth worrying about, so long as no pervert physically bothers them ("Why, kids practically raise THEMSELVES, don't they?"). Nothing more than so many Lockean blank pages, on which we more seasoned ones must ("for Liberty's sake!") be free to write every manner of social rottenness and filth and horror. The better, of course, to initiate them into all the rigors and terrors of the “real” world:

“After all, it really doesn’t matter what we expose them to, or how early; I mean, whatever doesn’t kill them only makes them stronger, right?” 

Right, then:  so let’s say my security-guard uncle had to live well into mid-life before he had the dubious privilege of seeing human brains or entrails splattered on a classroom window. Am I supposed to consider it a mark of social advance, that in a generation or two that initiating age is as likely to be five as forty-five?

More clarity on this in a few days (I hope). And sorry for the graphic note on which I ended. I clearly have some things I need to work through.

13 January 2013

Sandy Hook Notwithstanding

Call me a hopelesssly muddleheaded optimist (never mind for now what other epithets I may have earned).

It's just that the older I get, and the more I see of "Life" so-called, the more I'm persuaded that most people essentially want to do good. If not exactly to be good (which can be a very different thing in any case). At the same time I'm also struck by how often we mortals are surrounded by, if not saturated with, some really screwed-up notions of what good is, and how it ought to be done. In fact, more and more I'm inclined to wonder if the most perennial routine moral problem we humans face is not people who are bent on doing harm, or who don't care a damn - or are incapable of caring - what harm they do. It is rather the utter cluelessness of the rest of us who try, or purport, or presume to deal with the various potential and other harm-doers.

But now try to imagine, if you can, that more of our "great and good" people were to become actually serious about doing good well, for a change. And not just doing it passionately, or exhaustingly, or expensively. Or even expertly. What might be an outcome?

Surely, at very least, we'd find ourselves paying a rather closer and more respectful - perhaps even humble? - attention to individuals themselves? While channeling somewhat less of our usual reverence to the procedures, programs, systems designed to manage (= warehouse) them? Might we be rather more attentive to individual specifics, rather less beholden to, or besotted with, generalities? In short, rather more reverent - at least the Jews and Christians among us - of the things God has made, a mite less worshipful of the products of our own tinkering?

I'm not saying even a bare majority of us would necessarily agree concerning what to do about this or that individual. At least not right away. But I do suspect that more than a few good and talented people - each in their respective ways, and according to their respective schools and disciplines and training - would become vastly better at recognizing the point(s) at which cognitive or perceptual impairment veers off into mental derangement, and mental derangement teeters on the edge of moral depravity.

Of course those points would vary, again, from one individual to another. (Thus raising the inevitable questions of manpower and availability. On the other hand didn't Somebody, once upon a pre-automated time, have something useful to say about plentiful harvests and shortages of labor?)  Hence my original emphasis on attentiveness, and in particular to those immemorial complexities in any living thing that predate our busy hands and brains and procedures. Along with its implication that, before we can look at any one or any thing in terms of what we can make of it, or ought to make of it - before, indeed, we decide we ought to make it into anything else at all - it might behoove us to spend a bit more time understanding what it is already. And since our various warehousing systems, theories, programs, etc, are almost by definition more concerned with the use ("What can we get out of it?") than with the knowledge or the intrinsic value of any creature, frankly I'm at a loss to understand just how they're supposed to do that. Or at least in a way that actually lightens the burden of our omni-expanding security procedures? As opposed to our usual pattern of making them still heavier? Or more obnoxiously invasive? Or more behavior-monitoring (or even -modifying?)

Just a thought.

03 January 2013

Modern Idealism (and its discontents?)

For all the chicanery and skulduggery of our modern US politics and finance, I firmly believe - and will argue to anyone's face - that these are fiercely idealistic times. After all, it takes a truly rare and ferocious idealist to be prepared to stab his friends, his colleagues, his family, his country in the back for the sake of a principle. Yet it has been done, and I'm told on more than one occasion.* Even to the extent of the idealist finally sacrificing his own health, sanity, or peace of mind to his Immortal Dream of - what? The perfect program? Or company? Or lobby? Or (gun-free or gun-ridden) political/economic utopia?

* And arguably by a growing number of key political and economic players - though so far their efforts seem largely confined to intermittent Russian roulette games with the Nation's credit rating, geopolitical credibility with allies, etc. 

Or, if nothing else, to his cussed sense of being right. Anyhow, here’s what I suspect many of our modern idealists – both public and private and even not-for-profit – are thinking (if only they could dare say it): 

“Please understand me: This task, this project, this program, this agenda, this enterprise, is so vital, and so worthy of our utmost sacrifice, that we’re not going to be satisfied with anyone doing merely his or her respective best. Do you understand me? We’re not going to settle for just doing our best. We’re going to do it RIGHT. Even if it kills us.” 

That last sentence, of course, being the only part they don't dare say. Not yet, anyway.

Now here's my question: Suppose the odd chance that there are, in the mid-to-upper reaches of today’s global society, even a goodly handful of bright, gifted, powerful, successful and extremely influential people. All of whom are prepared to make themselves and others mortally wretched for the sake of something they believe to be good in the long run (“maybe not in this generation, or the next one, or even the next . . .”). And that the great majority of them are not confirmed bachelors or celibates or monks, but go on to have children. And that these same children proceed to grow up, after a fashion. Or at least grow out of what was likely in any case a not terribly happy childhood. If gifted and highly respected individuals are willing to kill themselves and others very slowly, as it were, for the sake of the ultimate wealth or growth, or progress, or human perfectibility, then why does it surprise us that other gifted, albeit sorely neglected (misnurtured?) individuals, should fantasize about killing and dying very quickly, for the sake of the ultimate lunacy? And are even more and more prepared, it would seem, to act on that lunacy?