ICE STATION ZEBRA SURFACING FOR TRANSMISSION
27 January 2016
The Doomsday Clock is now sitting at 3 minutes to midnight but, then again, I’ve lived with the assumption since age 14 that it was about a hair’s width off if not 7 or 8 minutes past.
Pessimism? Some days. “Realism?” I really have no use for most people’s “realism”; it’s usually just an excuse for lazy choices and no effort. And, sure, there are those days I collapse in exhaustion and don’t plan out how to get things done as well as I ought; I lose my temper; people disappoint me; I disappoint me. Like the Steely Dan song “Bad Sneakers” goes:
“Five names that I can hardly
Stand to hear
Including yours and mine
And one more chimp who isn’t here…”
3 minutes to midnight, people. It always is. That’s why I make the attempt to adjust myself to the situation and not expect the situations to adjust to me. That would be the depths of blinding idiocy. In the end, I just don’t have the time to waste on my temper, disappointments, other people’s foolishness, anyone standing in the way of my small but essential mission on Planet Earth. Essential because, if I don’t do it, no one else will and no one else can do it quite as oddly as I can.
Square peg, round peg — the problem is, I’m not a peg.
I’m neither hammer nor nail; knife or meat.
I have chromosomes but I’m not them, as wrecked as that corkscrew DNA of mine is on paper. Besides, once I’m dead, my corpse will still have those same chromosomes, the same number. Theoretically, you could clone my body — you wouldn’t get me back, though (not that I expect anyone would want to do so; and I wouldn’t want to be cloned, anyway). No, I am my autobiography in the context of my history and circumstance. Just as you are. The chromosomes and genetics are just circumstance — the stuff we adjust ourselves to and create ourselves with.
Sometimes the circumstances are helpful — as in, cooperative with my plans — and sometimes they resist and I adjust accordingly. Eventually, at least. Acceptance is the only meaningful alternative in the face of some situations, people, attitudes. I can’t change any of them without their cooperation. So, I’ve just got to go about my business as effectively as I can. Or change directions. Or make the resistance my rock to push up that hill.
“Acceptance” does not mean “approval.” No, many things and many activities and attitudes violate many standards that I reasonably measure my life against and values I work to instantiate in the world. They are antithetical to everything I’ve struggled to learn and correct within myself, no matter how imperfectly. I disapprove of many things, argue against many things and ideas and beliefs, offer alternatives, and satirize some of those as acidically as possible.
Will it have an effect? It doesn’t matter. It makes me who I am to do these things, to bear witness, to bark out the warning little dog that I am. The barbarians may be within the gates but my job was only to warn of the approach, being a guard dog, not a war dog or a master of anything except myself.
3 minutes to midnight.
I read, as a child, that it took maybe hours for the bodies of the large dinosaurs to die even though their brains were disabled, say, in combat. Why? The bodies were so large that the signals sent from the brain took quite awhile to play out even after the brain was gone. But, then again, cut a chicken’s head off: It’s not huge but it takes awhile for its body to figure out it’s dead, too. And dinosaurs evolved into birds… but the point is, we may be 7 or 8 minutes past midnight, people. We may be already dead as a civilization — we’re just so intricate and byzantine in construction that the stuff that keeps us, as a people, held together in a culture and collection of subcultures may be already be fatally “gone.”
And that “stuff” is a certain core of values and ideas, interpretations of those, and belief in the interpretations through social institutions. We may well have “irony-ed” and “sarcasm-ed” and “distrusted” our way out of existence. And are just too damn amused to see it.
I’m unsure, but I fear I may be right. I thought about this hard for years before saying it out loud in 2008 on a friend’s porch one night. But I was drinking as was everyone and no one took me seriously. Lit another cigarette and let it slide… but the thought’s haunted me for years. Something very similar was probably haunting Nietzsche in his maturity before he lost his mind to permanent syphilitic dementia and exhaustion.
He was the watchdog sounding the warning nihilism was approaching but was optimistic new values could be created to replace out-of-effect ones. Ortega y Gasset, in the face of totalitarian communism and fascism, sounded the alarm that people were about to attempt to substitute science and technology for meaningful values.
Much less importantly, I’m here in the wreckage, the aftermath 80 years after Ortega wrote his essay on this topic, to bark that people chose to make nihilism a “style of living” and materialistic reductionism a pseudo-scientific dogma and, equally literalistically, to take up an anti-scientific religious fundamentalism and a legal theory called “Originalism.”
All that and world destroying technology besides. But all this technology is just the dinosaur’s dead body staggering in a pantomime of life, the headless chicken running drunkenly around the yard,
…Ideas which you aren’t paying attention to because they are not amusing, spectacular, or sexy as the cell phone you stare into: You can’t make “memes” out of them that will “go viral.” Legs are what we want on social media, right? Numbers, not qualitative gravity. Things that travel with the speed of push-button prejudice and half-second wisdom.
3 minutes to midnight.
Too much for me, all this. I’m just a guard dog, an underdog, largely an observer and a survivor. I get by being underestimated as my pedigree isn’t much. This means I’m not often noticed, much less heeded; but it does not mean I don’t see and know and put things together, if slowly. It doesn’t mean my small message doesn’t have an important core of truth beyond it.
ICE STATION ZEBRA ENDS TRANSMISSION