Love Thine Enemy

I hated my parents. I hated my school. I hated the cops. I hated all authority. 

I hate anything that imposes limits on me, that gets in my way.

I hate disease, I hate that death is inevitable, I hate the laws of Nature. We all do. We all hate our parents, we all hate our Mother.

What goes up must come down. Hate that!

I hate that people form mobs and go after scapegoats. I hate that I have been a scapegoat, and may be again.

Hell is other people. I hate ‘em.

I hate suffering. Life is suffering.

And yet. See what happens when we overcome our limits?

See what happened when humans developed antibiotics, thereby evading a longstanding limit of Nature? Now humans overpopulate a still-limited planet, destroying vast swathes of wild habitat and species.

We developed industrial machinery, freeing ourselves from the limits of manual drudgery. Now we are captives of our own technology.

We domesticated animals and plants, freeing us from the vagaries of hunting and gathering. Now we lack purpose and meaning, as our animal instincts are continually frustrated.

We created writing systems, evading the limits of our very limited memories. Take that, Nature! Now we live in a mediated cultural hallucination.

Without limits, we create hell on earth.

We need everything we hate, to push against. We need gravity, to push against this Earth even though we want to fly. Imagine if we conquered gravity. Our muscles would turn to jello, our bones would weaken, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves as we floated about. Pushing, tension, resistance, opposition: we are built for this. We are built for limits. We are made for enemies.

Without enemies, who are we?

Children of parents who fail to set limits, who can’t tolerate their children’s hatred, become narcissistic monsters. 

Atheists wonder, if God is such an asshole in the holy scriptures, why do the religious praise and worship Him? God certainly behaves like an Enemy, what with the plagues and commands to violence and contradictory imperatives and impossibly confusing directives and nonsensical rules and vindictiveness and punishments. Thus, to love God is to love thy Enemy. To love thy Enemy is to love God. If God is all, He is evil as well as good, limits along with freedom, hate along with love. To know Him is to love Him, and hate and fear Him too.

I love mine enemies, for giving me something to hate. Without enemies, whom would I hate? Myself? That would be much worse. I’m built to hate something, better it not be me.

Children hate their parents, especially their Mothers. It is a natural phase. As I become more like the Mother myself, I am more able to love my hating self, and the hating others, all we hateful children, mine enemies. Love thy enemy as thyself: we, who know what hate is, already do. 

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Heterodorx

Hey TERFs and Trannies! That’s my signature greeting on Heterodorx, the new podcast I’m doing with Corinna Cohn. Our first episode was recorded Friday evening, after I’d biked 30 miles and hiked two, so I wasn’t at my most articulate. We had some technical issues, including my cat, Lola, rubbing her head against my mic, causing loud horrible noises we couldn’t remove due to recording everything on a single track. Our next episode should be better. Still, I like this first foray, and hope you listen.

Heterodorx podcast

Heterodorx web site

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Collective Senescence

When I learn a new song – something I do unconsciously, every time I am exposed to new music – is some other song erased in my memory to make room? No. I seem to have unlimited capacity for memorizing music, even as my memory is like a sieve elsewhere. How does my brain do that? Does it re-use existing pathways, or create ever-more byzantine new ones? I imagine my mind’s architecture as ever-expanding fractals, filling the same space with more and more curves and crevices.

The older I get, the more byzantine my mind’s labyrinth, all to store the unceasing stream of new information. Now, when I forget the name of something, I imagine the word stuck in a crevice of the fractal. When I was younger and my pathways less intricate, there weren’t enough curves and bends for words to get caught. Now they snag on every corner.

What is information? In my life, it includes experiences. Every day is different; every day impresses new memories. Do the old ones disappear? Certainly my memories are difficult to access, especially names. But I know they’re in there somewhere. I’ve had deeply stored knowledge return to consciousness when revisiting geographical places, homes I’d been in before but never thought about since. If you asked me to recall my friend’s house in San Francisco between visits, I’d have come up blank; but revisiting, I knew where everything was. I took delight in long-buried memories flooding my consciousness as I rode a bus from the airport to the Presidio two years ago. Sometimes that visit felt like walking through my own dreams, geography and symbols shaped by my lifetime of accumulated experience.

Then there is the information of stories, words, music, numbers, images: Culture. Culture is collective, a living thing like a tree or forest that grows in the soil of human minds. Cultural information is experienced through exposure – reading, listening, tasting – and stored in everyone who experiences it.

How many songs will I store in my lifetime? How to even count? Some of them are surely buried too deeply in my mind to recall at will, but they are still there. All that information embedded in our minds’ labyrinths, that we are not aware of, is what Jung called the Collective Subconscious. Like the webs of biological life on this planet, they are too vast and complex for us to comprehend. We are only aware of a tiny bit at a time.

As I age, I find comfort in routine. Every day resembling the next makes memory storage easier. A curve of the fractal is already structured to store much of the day, with only a few details to be slotted elsewhere. Too much information at once can be traumatic. Moving house is traumatic for me, having to learn a new space. Moving to a new region is more so: having to make new friends, locate new food sources, learn new roads. Moving to a new country is more traumatic still, with new regulations, currencies, bureaucracies, and, most daunting of all for an older person, new language. All of these require new memory structures, new tunnels excavated in the catacombs. A young mind, like an “uncarved block,” takes this on with relative ease. An old mind has already been carved to delicate tracery, every branch with more branches, like the fragile intricate lace of an autumn leaf. Carve more into that, and you’ll tear a hole.

Even without trauma, the mere accumulation of experience over time leads, inevitably, to structural collapse. From the outside, this may look like senility. I increasingly believe that senility is an inevitable phase of consciousness. Live long enough, you will develop dementia. At least that’s how it looks from the outside; I don’t know what dementia is like from the inside, although I’ve read some reports from writers in its early stages. Surely some of the “blocks” our experience carves are more robust than others; a crumblier material may suffer early-onset dementia, while the most solid will die of other causes before their veins of memory fractals become to fine to sustain.

But what of our collective mind? We store information collectively too, as Culture. An ever-expanding human population is one way to increase storage capacity. But consider that many of us are storing the same things: the same languages (the number of living languages is decreasing even as the population increases), same songs, same movies, same stories. This is due to media. Literacy/writing was a great early cultural storage invention, allowing far greater numbers to be exposed to the same information. The printing press increased this exposure exponentially. Then phonographs, movies, radio, and television, leading up to, of course, the Internet, the greatest information-exposure system ever created.

Many of us, like me, spend hours a day “scrolling” information online. The density of words, pictures, and sounds is…well, it’s insane. Individually, I am storing this stuff; it’s shaping my neural pathways in ways I don’t know. I may not know exactly what it’s doing, but I know it’s doing something, accelerating the rate of tunneling of my memory labyrinth, increasing the complexity of my mental fractal. If I am wasting my attention on social media, it is because there is a cost: every stupid piece of (mis)information, adds that much complexity to my neural pathways, that much fragility to the overall structure, and brings me that much closer to senility.

Likewise, collectively, we have massively increased our exposure to information. Our collective memory structure, whatever it is, is collectively growing ever-more complex.

Collectively, we are becoming senile.

Complexity is fun (beneficial, desirable) for a while, but eventually and inevitably it leads to collapse. I’m not against complexity; it’s inevitable. Culture is a life form, and all life forms die. There is no way to stop this. Death is a consequence of life; dementia is a consequence of consciousness.

 

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Witnessing a Miracle

The COVID-19 pandemic is a miracle.

I mean this in the biblical sense. Biblical miracles are horrific, bringing death and destruction. The Ten Plagues of Exodus were miracles, or at least “wonders.” The miracles of Revelation are even worse.

A miracle isn’t a fluffybunny event. It is an act of God.

The COVID pandemic is a power greater than ourselves. We can’t stop it; we understand very little about it. It brings us to our knees.

I am in awe of it. I have watched humanity killing the planet my whole life, with obvious warnings of dire consequences. But this Spring’s COVID shutdowns were the first time I saw humanity do anything about it. It was short-lived, but amazing: flights grounded, industry slowed, pollution abated enough to reveal long-hidden mountains for the first time in years.

All of that ended after only a few months. Nothing to see here, folks; go back to paying attention to MONEY. And so contrails again fill the skies, mountains retreat back into smoggy shrouds, and the gears of commerce grind away.

Biblical miracles are famously unheeded, which is why it took all Ten Plagues for Pharaoh to relent. God issues clear commandments; humans don’t follow them. This is the whole story of the Old Testament. Even after occupying the Promised Land, the Hebrews can’t get their shit together, and Jerusalem falls over and over again. The New Testament is no better, especially the ending.

The COVID-19 virus makes its demands pretty clear: Avoid crowds. Stop industrial slaughterhouses and factory farming. Don’t go to (non-essential) work. Spend time with your children; actually raise them. Stay home from school. Stay home, but go outside; look at the sky, feel the sun, breathe the fresh air. Attend to Reality over money. Don’t go to bars, don’t party, don’t crowd into spectacles like sportsball. Calm the fuck down. Take a goddamn break from your hyper-consumer lifestyle.

We still need food and shelter and medicine, the sustenance and maintenance of our lives, and the virus doesn’t seem to have anything against these. The virus clarifies what is essential and non-essential. It turns out much of human activity isn’t essential. We already knew that; the virus urges us to stop denying it.

The pandemic makes another biblical suggestion: a Jubilee cancellation of debt. We can’t stop the gears of commerce, we argue, because we’re all in debt – if we don’t earn money, we will die! Our society won’t forgive debts, but what if we simply froze them, until a vaccine or cure is found? A year (or however long it takes) out of commercial time. Don’t end, but suspend the non-essential economy. All debts, for everyone, everywhere, frozen*. A global time-out. That would be a miracle.

I don’t believe in the biblical god. But I do believe in Nature, and natural consequences. The coronavirus is just one of many disastrous and inevitable natural consequences of human activity. Animal agriculture and overpopulation and global industrialization will do this; it’s a wonder it’s taken so long. It’s also a wonder how gentle the virus is, all things considered. It could have been more like ebola, with a much higher death rate. Plagues of the past have been far deadlier. The Black Death killed 50% of some European regions. We are getting off lightly here.

My response to this miracle is awe. Others respond with denial, or panic, or exploitation. So it has been written; so it ever was, and ever will be. I have long felt like I’m living in a dystopian novel, but right now I also feel like I’m living in a biblical prophecy. What a wonder, to witness these times!

*What about money to run the essential services? Our economic system accumulates vast reservoirs of money in billionaires. If these reservoirs can’t be used, then what exactly is this system for?

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