Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Here and Now

My previous post had a particular catalyst, and it might seem like it had overtones of scorn for people of my parent's age, but it was more the opposite: more of an observation that this dichotomy of experiences leads to a sort of critical disconnect. It was brought about by anything but scorn, but from more of an appreciation and an understanding of what my father and other men like him accomplished.

This is because my father just died, and I have been going through his writings, and his friends' writings, and reflecting on the span of his life before and well after I was born.

He went to school in th4 time before television, and decided early on to pursue journalism, the print medium. For the first few decades of his life, it was the primary means for conveying information and entertainment to the widest possible audience.

It was a medium which had definite rules, the rules of style and grammar, and one could learn those rules and be successful.  Who you were, what you knew, was reflected in how you wrote.

Also, in that  time during and just after wars, the nation valued, revolved around, really-- a sort of military style of organization, where clear orders cascaded down in a well understood chain of command. These orders came by mail, and over the phone, and never in computer code.

I want to think about that for a bit. In that time, the sort of literal interpretation and precise execution that people had to demonstrate and practice is the sort of behavior that, today, we rely on getting from computer-based systems.  The sort of blathering that I'm indulging in right now, the stream of consciousness drivel and spew that millions of people mutter into the aether on a more and more constant basis, this is all facilitated by orderly and predictably acting systems that put it where it should go without human intervention, for perusal by any number of thousands or millions (or in the case of this blog, handfuls, a fair percentage of whom are likely bots), that should care to see it.

In my father's time, this did not occur without the care of an author, who then submitted his work to an editor for rigorous revision, styling, layout, proofreading (this is in the rare case that it was solicited and/or not rejected)... all performed by almost literally an army of specialists working to meet a deadline that must be met, in order for the people who then set the type and operated the printing presses to make it happen on time.

 Now, despite the rules and guidelines could be learned and followed, it also required that people who did not _hate_ the way one followed those rules would not be encountered along the way, or the writing would never see the light of day.

The thing I imagine my father found particularly odious about today's think-it-and-post-it culture, was that the dues that had to be paid in order for a writer to reach any audience were dear indeed. The equivalent of "blues dues". You had to prove you loved the written word and cherished the idea of being one of its custodians.  Because, always, that was the highest height you could aspire to and attian, to be a mere custodian: the great ideas already having been written by the masters centuries ago.

And in making this occur, much of the rigor and precision we expect from machines, the majority of which we now delegate to machines, was the sole responsibility of the humans organizing and executing the task.

As usual in this blog, I fail in capturing what I want to say in a coherent and orderly way, because I am undisciplined. Right now, a glut of ideas and impressions about humans rendering service to one another, and in pursuit of that fulfilling themselves and moving to some kind of higher plane rush in, thinking about my father's military service... he actually went so I would not have to, you see. And his father did the same for him, but due to overwhelming odds and conditions, his father did not succeed in it the way my father did. But, on the other hand, he would gently disabuse me of any notion that either of them were seriously considering their unborn progeny at the time. And then, again, that is the whole idea of war: you are doing this awful thing so it will not have to be done again.

But... I'm undisciplined, because my tather's quest was to slow down these impressions and carefully fit them into the schema, template and meter of a standardized, valued and marketable style. Moreover, to have these impressions about whatever thing he might be assigned to write about. And not too many of them! For god's sake, make it follow a line and exit in a way that left that line shimmering in the reader's mind like the wake of a boat on a smooth...

So I sit marveling at my father's life, and his hopes and dreams, and his accomplishments, and his love and his struggle and his infinite care and patience and unbelivable courage and strength.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Then and Now

My father was a writer and editor. He studied his profession as he worked at it, always reading about writing while writing, and working with other writers to improve his skill. He worked in the publishing industry in NYC, during a period of time that could well be called "The Golden Age" of book publishing, where a new literacy after WWII begat hordes of new readers, especially women and young people, and new college aspirants. It was a time when men chose a profession and worked to pursue what they saw as its fulfillment, and when a current position did not indicate a direction towards professional fulfillment, then they switched to one that did.

So the formula, maybe amazingly to people in the current working generations, was to get an education in the field you were interested in, use that to get in the door at a company you wanted to work for, and then work for that company as long as you wanted, adhering to their ruleset and culture, unless you felt you weren't getting what you wanted in terms of career advancement. If that occurred, you would submit a resume' to another company that did the same thing, and go work for them, often for considerably more money.

People didn't consider that their company might be acquired and they might be part of a "consolidation" and then be "laid off for business reasons" regardless of how well they performed. People didn't really consider that their skills might become obsolete or less useful. There were in some ways many more rigid constraints (who did not go to work at the office in a jacket and tie?) but in other ways much more freedom-- business agreements were sealed over lunch in ways that might now seem shady or "exclusive to outsiders".

Why? Because there were fewer people that were talented enough to perform well in the positions that were needed to be filled, because the nation was growing by leaps and bounds in the 1950's and 1960's. So your place in your field, in your profession, was not just a career, it was a dot to be connected to in an expanding network that was fueled by inexpensive resources and clear purposes. If that dot wasn't there, the network couldn't operate as smoothly, in a time when phone calls, typed correspondence and dictaphone-transcribed memoranda were the means for business.

In addition, to have a savings, to have a pension, nest egg or solid investment was a luxury. Investing in the stock market was a perilous endeavor for only the most savvy and wealthy: your money would most likely grow, yes, but shares went up pennies at a time over years for the most part, and only large amounts of shares would yield significant dividends and increase in value.

It strikes me that part of the opening up of the investment sphere with 401k plans and personal electronic trading is one of the reasons that the individual who has an idea that their career would carry them on an uninterrupted pursuit of increased means and professional excellence for a lifetime would today seem somewhat delusional. Shareholder value, increasing shareholder value, has become the corporate mantra. And because almost everybody is a shareholder, almost everybody has a stake in it.

So if your career path is torpedoed by a merger or acquisition, if your company is sold or broken up at a key time in your lifepath because the executive leadership sees a unique opportunity, it is part of the larger scheme that you may well be benefitting from as far as your investments are concerned. That stock that you bought, or that was invested in for you, that suddenly went up and bolstered your nest egg? Well it might just be a legion of laid off workers toting cardboard boxes full of office knick-knacks that was responsible for that. Yes, it doesn't help you with your current bills, but you see, it is still value, still money, still generating prosperity.

Instead of working towards a better grasp of one's profession and more proficient performance, then, are more people working to understand what's going to happen next, to get an idea of when to bail, or when to hang on and reap a severance package? And with each bump, with each stranding or rough landing, with each time their 401k screams down through a scorching re-entry, are they becoming more and more hardened, more and more cynical about any ultimate benefit to working at all?

Maybe more odd, are we realizing that the people who are old enough to be our parents  and who own, run and sit on the boards of today's large corporations and in the seats of government, grew up in a world that was completely different? That maybe some, or many, or even all of them still see the world as being that way?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Subtractive interpretations, Simple minded extrapolations, this and a $1 will get you an inexpensive beverage.

"Subtractive interpretation:" is the basis for how we perceive everything. I know that humans filter input in order to survive, probably every living thing does. Plants accept certain wavelengths of light in order to photosynthesize and reflect others, that's why they are green. Animals have sensitivy to the olfactory and visual signatures of prey, predators and poisonous non-prey.

In addition, actual senses have been evolved in order to increase senstitivity to certain input so that it is more difficult to ignore, and decrease senstivity to other input in order to prevent overload. So filters are applied at a hardware sensory/biological level and at a software psychological/social level.

People "see what they want to see" because what they want to see has been conditioned into them. The concept of who and what attempts to control this condition and for what purpose is the source of a lot of conspiracy theories about capital "T" Them, and there are various unsavory aspects to how conditioning is applied in advertising in an attempt to drive consumer behavior, but the fact is that the application of these subtractive filters is essential to being functional and it happens constantly, for the simple fact that not everything can be as important as everything else.

Society also strongly encourages certain filters based on a person's role. A young person may be encouraged to sleep and eat well and to be extremely active and "industrious" when awake, in order to maximize the potential for successful material endeavours. They are encouraged to be socially interactive and inculcated with an elaborate set of rules for interactions. The reason for this is to be materially prepared for social engagement which leads to marriage. "Engagement" is a word presenting the image of gears whirling, then synchronizing, then finally meshing in the industry of marriage.The whirling man gear synchronizes with the whirling woman gear and they exchange and potentiate power, which in turn is conveyed along various pathways to society as a whole, particularly through financial driveshafts as they merge and divert resources in order to fulfill family pattern programming. But point this out to the couple planning to be married, they see none of this is happening, they are simply fulfilling their wish to be married and you are being a nuisance. Then, once they are married and have their first child, they are not able to sleep or eat well despite the fact that their industry is required to work even more effectively due to this utterly unproductive new consumer, and to point that out would render you callous and unfeeling for cute little babies.

But that is the point of some of this conditioning, is that it is exactly "right" up til the point to which it achieves it's goal, and then it is oddly meaningless and no longer useful. Extrapolated absurdly, all of the conditioning that may have assured you wild success as a human in society becomes worthless on your deathbed while your sled is being burned in the big fireplace.

I think that electronic music, of course especially industrial music, expresses this well in an abstract way, with a good level of irony. I understand that electronic music for most people who like it is what they just dance to while they are pursuing their own programmed desires for various things that have more to do with their social conditioning, but to me the appeal of the sounds is this reminder, and the experimentation with it is a way to get outside and redefine the filters that separate "noise" from "music". Maybe being creative, being an artist is a large part of that, recognizing the filters, taking them in hand and adjusting them, showing people that they are there, and presenting that realization.

And there is a biological mechanic in all of this. The woman has biochemical programming to attract a male in order to produce and rear offspring, and the male has biochemical programming to mate. The institutions of macro society apply a great deal of effort in controlling this programming in order to bring about the previously described meshing because of course it a) generates big dollars and b) ensures the continuity of (a), but there is tradition and family and all the rest as well.

We tend to think of certain primitive cultures as being archetypical and "pure" models of early societies. with the "simple" building blocks of individual, family, clan and tribe. The gears and shafts are less complex, the goals fewer and more essential. An individual is enmeshed into family automatically, his role is imparted, and he or she fills it. The role one plays in the family depends on gender and order of birth. The range of societal roles individuals and families plays in the scheme of clan and tribe are more limited and the benefits are clearer:  procuring food, providing physical security, preparing food, and participating in making decisions are activities that everyone participates in and has knowledge of. Specialized roles and people providing training in these are limited:  treating illness, conducting ceremonies, creating tools and artifacts. But even so, there is a significant amount of cultural and social training and programming that occurs within this "simple" model: everyone has a set of taboos, hierarchies, and rules of conduct that they must adhere to. It's a big deal to start a family.

What is "the state of nature"?  Ok, Adam and Eve story, where there are two people and one rule (which the two people ultimately break, but that is literally another story). All Adam was supposed to do was to name things, and all Eve was supposed to do was to multiply. They had one rule, not to eat the fruit from a certain tree. We literally, positively absolutely don't know why they weren't supposed to eat that fruit, and neither Adam or Eve asked God why and we can't trust the devil's veracity (by definition of that character) as to the reason.The story has been twisted in popular interpretation, negative filtering/reconstruction in full force, to indicate that the first two humans didn't have 'carnal knowledge' prior to eating the apple and that is what they got from eating it, but that is utter bullshit: it is very clear that they are told before all of that to "be fruitful and multiply" if you read just the beginning of the story it is an easy proof.

But the idea here is that is as simple as it gets, one rule, and one goal per person. It seems that, maybe, had the one rule not been broken, after Adam and Eve reproduced, their offspring would share their relationship with God and get similar instruction on what their one task would be.

Modern people don't like the story of Adam and Eve, because it is not scientifically viable and people get angry at people who keep insisting it is, and I get a little angry at them too because I think they're being stupid, it's not the point of the story to provide an accurate actual account of primordial history.

It's a great story, because taking it apart provides so much for thought. For example, was Adam and Eve's _real_ sin to not ask the angel who delivered the warning about not eating the fruit "why can't we eat the fruit?" Just think, if they asked "Ok, we hear the punishment is bad, but why can't we eat the fruit?" At that point, the Creator had just got done doing beautiful, amazing creating and was being very loving and cordial, and seemed very happy with them. Seems like he would have told them. Maybe they would have been satisfied.

But the whole point of course is to demonstrate human nature. No matter how many kids Adam and Eve might've had, you'd be reading begetting afer begetting thinking "any minute now, one of these bastards is going to eat the fruit and boy, we'll find out if it really does do [whatever]" because you know human nature. I really enjoy thinking about that story, so much happens there. The whole idea of two simple people being in contact with the Creator and still ignoring what he said seems at once so stupid of them and still so accurate.

Here's another extrapolation, if the role of "Eves" is to convince "Adams" to do evil's bidding, then do Adams ever owe Eves anything? All of the excuses for every cruel thing ever done to any woman right there in that interpretation, and it is the example of the negative effect of biased religious interpretations in a nutshell, plucking one thing out of context and magnifying it. That's another reason modern people don't like the whole notion, it makes me mad too.

Another extrapolation, less extreme, let's see: if Adam was a modern man, and Eve did something to cause him to lose his nice place to live, go from being literally the richest a man could be in the world and ruined his stature forever, would he stay with her? I mean, Eve basically does something that you'd say "if you were the last woman on earth I wouldn't hang out with you" and she IS the last woman on earth, (the only woman) and she talks him into screwing up EVERYthing. But... he not only stays with her but has kids with her. What an IDIOT. And they are a super dysfunctional family: one of his sons kills his other son, and of course it is hard to ignore the whole inbreeding implication. As long as you're inbreeding and killing, throw that bitch Eve off a cliff for destroying your life and marry one of your daughters, hell marry them all if you want. An entire Jerry Springer season right there.

Nobody seems to question why they stayed together, though, and it tends to resonate with an idea Adam was a really a nice guy who was just a little gullible, and that he understands that Eve was really pretty much the same way. Other than screwing up the prospect of eternal Paradise on Earth for all of humankind they are mostly a lovable couple. It was the serpent's fault after all, to trick Eve just to put us where we are today. It seems easier for me to get mad at Eve, or at Adam for being coerced by Eve. That's interesting, I tend not to get mad at the serpent, who is really the enemy here, making up stories that intentionally mislead people.

Anyway, if you have a $1 you can get an inexpensive beverage now.