Dream with a message after an old friend’s death

At dinner last night I had a text from the older brother of a long-time close friend I had to finally write off not long after my father died in April, 2005.   Sudden heart attack and the guy I’d known quite well since we were teenagers was gone.  The brother and I agreed to talk today, and I’ll call him in a little while.  I remember our last chat, after their beloved mother died.  

The brother, although very aggravated by his aggravating youngest brother, was in despair for my one-time good friend.  “He’s a total mess, he’s falling apart and you’re the only friend he has,” he told me, though it had been about nine years at that time since I’d last had any contact with the now recently deceased Mark.  

I got a short (by his standards) convoluted email from Mark a few days before the memorial service for his mother.  I should dig it up to give you a taste of how his marvelous mind worked, even though one’s not supposed to speak ill of the dead.  Let’s see, ah, here it is.  You know what?  I’ll put it as a footnote [1].   I had a few laughs just now reading Mark’s oldest brother’s great deadpan reactions to his brother’s long coiling, uncoiling and recoiling emails, including this afterthought:  

One more thing,  Mark is staying with me for a week, commencing this coming Monday evening.  So,  feel free to come hang out, ought to be a barrel of laughs.  

The middle brother apparently simply hit delete whenever a long email from Mark arrived.   Scroll down to the footnote if you want a taste of Mark’s ornate writing style. 

Their mother had completely understood when I told her, more than a decade earlier, that I had finally reached the breaking point with her demanding, unhappy, angry, critical, other-blaming, eternally nickel and diming youngest son.  She thanked me for staying friends with him far longer than anyone else ever had and asked me only one favor: if he contacts you to make amends, please leave the door open to him.   I tried to hold up my end of that bargain, though, admittedly, I had little patience for the guy’s couple of characteristically odd attempts over the years.  He’d coined the phrase “idiosyncratic riffing patterns” to describe a great guitarist friend’s unique improvisational style.   It applied to nobody better than it did to Mark himself.

Anyway, I suppose it was thinking about Mark’s death, the end of his sixty-five years of mostly suffering, that led me to dream the dream I had last night:  

The wife of the California harmonica player who recently wrote me off after decades of friendship had apparently put her foot down and told her husband to stop being an asshole, that I was coming to visit and he simply had to accept that she and I were going to remain friends, whatever he thought about it.  He was obviously unhappy with the arrangement, but as the house, the expensive stereo equipment, the BMW sports car and everything else was paid for by his wife’s inheritance, he couldn’t squawk too loudly.   So he set conditions as soon as I arrived (and his wife was out of earshot):  you do everything I say, you don’t talk to me unless I talk to you first, you ask permission to do anything, etc.   He reiterated these rules a couple of times during the dream visit, anytime I presumed friendship.  I woke up realizing again that you can’t mandate somebody stop acting like an asshole.

Trying to overlook asshole behavior does not work in the long run.   I tried it for a long time with a mentally ill friend of many years.  We agreed, as a condition of our reconciliation, not to talk about his vicious wife, Hitler, who had broken up our friendship for a year or two at one point (it had a happy ending, they eventually divorced).  After we renewed our friendship (years before the divorce)  she crept into our conversations a couple of times and in the end, the brilliant but crazy bastard orchestrated some other escalating, irrefutable cause for our falling out and this time I had no choice but to go with it.

Mark was a very intelligent guy, also very talented– he was an accomplished guitarist– both finger style and flat picking — wrote many tunes, music and lyrics, and played the piano with some degree of self-taught virtuosity.   He was an excellent photographer, with a great and unusual eye, and, out of the blue, did some whimsical small paintings at one point in his adult life.  He was also, surprisingly, an excellent cook.  

At one time he had a good sense of humor, some of the best laughs of our high school years I shared with him.  There was one scene, in the home of our tormented friend Jeff (who eventually gassed himself to death in his parents’ carefully prepared garage), where we laughed longer, louder and more uncontrollably than any other time in my life that I can recall.   And you don’t forget a thing like that.   We were literally rolling on the floor laughing our asses off, ROTFLMAO!   Now I’m the only one alive who can remember that hilarious scene in Jeff’s parents’ kitchen.

Good to remember these things as I prepare to call his oldest brother, a guy with an excellent, dark, sense of humor himself.   Reading over our emails back and forth just now, the ones we exchanged prior to the memorial for their mother, I had a few laughs at his unsentimental and spot-on observations about his brother.    It was hard to have infinite patience for Mark, though that was what was required.  The only person who seemed able to do it was their mother, Sophie, a remarkable soul any way you look at her.    Oy vey.  

If you want a little taste of how Mark’s unique mind worked, and a glimpse at the complicated, endlessly compounded tragedy that was his life, read the footnote — written a few days before the memorial service for his mother, right before I sent him a personalized copy of my memories of his mother Sophie (linked above <– and here too, fine…).  Mark’s style is probably not for everyone.  And in fairness to him, you need to picture how devastated he was about his mother’s death when he wrote the sample below.

Hey there — well here’s one exquisitely stanky hanky . . . . and I just want to check in with you, if there’s the slightest chance that my read of the situation is wrong, which could have very sad & profoundly tragic dimensions. You may have heard, there’s an upcoming NY memorial gathering for my mom. Several people have said to me — in light of your appropriateness to be there — “just let it go . . . . reach out.” To which I could only respond — first — that it’s never been me holding on to anything to begin with, this split was all your choice, so there’s not even anything for me to let go of . . . . and second, that I’ve already tried reaching out, repeatedly , and got no response. So I finally had to give up, as eventually it could only be taken as the very manifestation of the resoluteness of your choice, the confirmation. The art of answering without answering. Which was further seemingly confirmed by having received no personal reach-out in this, the most ultimate of moments.
But I’ve certainly had my experiences of the same reality being experienced completely differently by the two people involved (the source of so many problems & tragedies on this stinking planet), and if there’s the slightest chance whatsoever that that might be the case here, it’s too big and fraught a thing not to give you the courtesy of checking in on. And this is one situation where, contrary to how you’ve previously characterized me, I’d gladly welcome being absolutely wrong. But it’s not a thing for sugarcoating, I guess it’s a simple “yes, you’re right about the resoluteness of my decision” — or a not-so-simple (to-follow-up-on-but-I’m-willing-to-try) “no.” If it’s the first, well, then, so be it, but you’ll hopefully understand why I can’t even consider extending the invitation that you otherwise so rightfully deserve. Two of the very stankiest of hankies ever dealt me, at the very same time? Unthinkable & unbearable. There’s already more agony on this overflowing plate than it can barely hold.
Given which . . . if it is in fact the second, there’s still highly uncharted & choppy waters to immediately set forth on to see if it’d even lead to a place where, even then, the extreme existential discomfort factor could be mitigated to a level bearable enough for this most vulnerable & raw & emotional of events.
So this is me, reaching out . . . .

You don’t need information!

It is better simply to believe that those who run things know best and will tell you everything you need to know.   Once Donald Trump manages to get the WALL built, in spite of the obstruction of even people in his own party, the problems we face here in divided America will all be over.   That and locking up Hillary Clinton, and Ilhan Omar, and several other very nasty and divisive women and their “male” enablers.  Done and done, everyone will be happy, except, of course, for the haters, who are NEVER happy no matter what. 

Seriously, every oppressor, (every overbearing asshole, for that matter)  in history has first controlled the conversation by removing any “inconvenient truth” from it. This is the very first lesson in Authoritarian 101, remove anything harmful to authority from the conversation.  Look, if you can eliminate fact-based “dissent” that takes care of most of the problem.   Simple.  Just make them shut up, criminalize them, lock ’em up.   Don’t allow books like Dark Money, Democracy in Chains, Dirty Wars, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, How Fascism Works, A People’s History of the United States, to be published.   If they already exist, take them off the shelves and burn them, quietly, secretly, just get them out of circulation.  Make examples of a few of the leaders, the more grotesque the example the better, and the rest will fall into line.  Most people are not heroes.

I once read sections of Frederick Douglass’ autobiography (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave) to my class of third graders in Harlem.   They were shocked, had never heard any of this shit.  Couldn’t believe blacks allowed themselves to be treated that way.   They were outraged.  One tough kid, speaking for everyone, said if he’d been there in Africa he would have killed the slave kidnappers.   The class agreed.  I had him and the five other toughest kids stand up and come to the front of the room to play the Africans.  I then chose two of the smallest, most timid kids in the class and cast them as the Europeans intent on collecting slaves.   The class was relishing the confrontation that would set history straight. 

As they were about to begin I said, as if in afterthought, “oh, wait, you’ll need these,” and handed each of the frightened Europeans a rolled up piece of paper. “Those are your guns,” I told the class.   The two slavers smiled.   The Africans wanted their guns but I told them in those days Africans didn’t have guns.   Then they stood fifteen feet apart and began acting.  The hideous truth became clear as soon as the first African stepped up to tell the slavers to fuck off.   The room got very quiet as a supremely disquieting light went on overhead.

Without this obvious detail of gun vs. strength and courage alone you can build a whole story about the docility and inferiority of a people who “allow” themselves to be enslaved.  And killed, literally by the millions, during the long, cramped, stinking voyage from the life you knew to a life as a piece of property in the service of some god-fearing “white” person’s limitless wealth.   The Middle Passage, as the infamous trans-Atlantic voyage is called.

The suppression of important factual detail is essential for any narrative that justifies brutal inequality, persecution, tyranny.   In your personal life, notice how anyone who has ever sought to exploit you will always pressure you not to reveal the shameful details to anybody.  If you tell somebody, you’re some kind of rat, unmanly, a cowardly weasel who can’t simply be sodomized and take it like a choir boy.   My brother-in-law reminded me of this several times over the years.

In our neoliberal order only monetary profit has real value, increasing personal wealth is the only overarching goal.   As our recent liberal presidents have all done, you can support the civil rights of homosexuals, the rights of all minorities to be free from discrimination, the right of a woman or girl to seek an abortion if she needs one,  the right of every child to have a free, quality public education and also the right to live in a nontoxic environment and work at a safe workplace, the right not to be randomly mowed down by a maniac with a military assault rifle.   All these things are generally considered “liberal” positions and things that most Democratic (or “Democrat”) politicians support.  At the same time, as a neoliberal, you back policies and laws that make things easier for the wealthiest, and for those powerful, eternal, real-life vampires, corporations, to do what they do best: “create wealth”.

The only fly in this otherwise soothing ointment is that horrific systemic inequality flows from these practices.   If a small group owns almost everything, there is a gigantic group that will have to make do with almost nothing.    Call it the “free market” if you like, and forget the whiners who complain that those who pay the biggest price have nothing to say about the quality of the freedom they receive.    

There was a worldwide effort, started around the year 2000, the Millennial Development Goals, for the wealthy countries to greatly reduce poverty and hunger in the “underdeveloped world” by 2020 (if memory serves).   It turns out that all of the aid the wealthiest countries provide to the “Third World” (the global south) amounts to a tiny percentage of what is extracted from their governments every year just to pay the interest on the debt owed to the wealthy creditor nations for “development” loans.   Everybody wins under this global system, except for the one or two, or three, billion worldwide who live short, miserable, insecure lives of want, including unbearable hunger. 

The numbers did not look good for greatly reducing the metrics of poverty by the specified date.   So really smart people began tweaking the metrics (as American lawyers tortuously tweaked the definition of “torture” a few years back).  It turns out hunger numbers can be reduced by an impressive margin, with the stroke of a pen, if you define hunger as “severe and persistent malnutrition, less than 1,200 calories a day, that persists for more than a year.”   Heh, you see what we did?   If you get a good meal every ten or eleven months, problem solved.  We have now lifted a billion people out of hunger!  Have a blessed day and please continue your charitable giving.

The devilish details of this worldwide anti-poverty program are set out in an early chapter of a troubling book (sent to me by a friend)  called The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets, by Jason Hickel.   I don’t have the book with me at the moment, so that quote about hunger, although true in essence, was pulled out of the memory hole.   The caloric number may be off, but the money shot is that hunger, as defined by these do-gooders and for purposes of creating a more uplifting narrative of success, must be persistent and last for at least a year to make the cut as something wealthier people need to feel any urgency to do anything about.  

Hickel states that the amount of food discarded daily in wealthy countries would, if somehow put into the hands of the starving, immediately solve the world hunger problem.   World food scarcity is not the result of actual scarcity, but of institutionalized not really giving a fuck about literally billions of starving people you will never see.   Go figure.

I am constantly reminded of this suppression of information needed to make informed, moral decisions, having grown up in a family where certain truths were never mentioned.   Thirteen years before I was born, in the region the family came from, everyone was murdered.  Our entire family, outside of five or six who came to the United States before the restrictive immigration law of 1924, slaughtered.   Not something that could ever be discussed because… oh, just shut up!   A father who was always angry, it turns out, had good reason to be disturbed, he’d been despised and whipped in the face since infancy by the violent little mother who called him “Sonny”.    He should have sought help, but he didn’t need to whine to some shrink like he predicted his children would.  End of fucking story.

Do you want to live in a world where you’re not allowed to know any unsettling background on anything that ever happened, anything that is happening now, anything that will happen in the future?   If you do, rejoice, there is nothing to think about!



Some Days are Just Depressing

I don’t mean that the day itself is depressing.  Today, for example, the sky is a perfect blue and the greenery out the window is lush.   As Sekhnet’s mother used to say, about someone who was kind to her “she couldn’t have been nicer!”.  Today, for example, really couldn’t be nicer.

Still, drinking my coffee, looking at the headlines, considering various things on my mind that weigh on my life (seeming estrangement from certain loved ones, for example) — and without the balm of work (and pay — pay is not to be sneezed at) to otherwise occupy the sullen mind– I feel a bit of depression well up, like the stomach acid I’m churning with this strong black coffee on an empty stomach.    I know what you’re thinking: Christ, man, have a piece of toast with that coffee– or better yet, some steel cut oatmeal.

I sip the slightly bitter (OK, bitter) brew and consider things about my life that are not quite right.   There is no bot that can help me today, certainly not at the moment.   If suddenly 10,000 people read one of these posts today I’d feel a surge of transient hope.   After all, if your “platform” attracts a million eyeballs a week, chances are you can get a book deal, since publishers look at that when considering who to give a contract to.   If you get a book deal you can, you know, get an advance to write the book.   Paid!    We are trained that way, to react to positive reinforcement (and money is that), one reason our LIKE/LOL culture is so seductive. 

In the relative silence of this room where I type, the only real sound my fingers clattering on the keys, it is easy to imagine the best, and the worst.  Certain days are just depressing– fact of life.   On those days it’s much easier to imagine the worst than the best.   Trying times, yo.

Denial or Contentment

I consider myself a student, learning something cool is exciting to me, even at my reasonably advanced age.   I try to learn what I can, understand as much as I can digest.    Much as I often devote myself to trying to master facts, read critical histories, acquire actual knowledge on which to base my strong opinions, I also see more and more that the world we move through is ruled by emotions, not facts, history, the wisdom of the ages.  Emotional learning is as important as anything, more important than most things, in fact, but it can be tricky, since we have mainly our feelings about our emotions to go on.

We are always at the mercy of emotions, our own and the emotions of others.   Emotions are beautiful, terrible, life-affirming, deadly, limitless in their kinds, shades and intensity.    There is nothing inherently good or bad about them, for the most part — only the actions (or inaction) they cause are of urgent concern.   Our feelings are the biggest part of what makes us human, what makes us hopefully humane.  It’s better to be motivated by feelings of empathy, mercy and generosity, on balance, than by selfishness, ruthlessness and jealousy.  The mind comes into it, always, to justify the moral correctness of what we already feel.   Who wants to feel like a selfish, ruthless, jealous person when they can feel virtuous instead?  [1]

It is an idea, seized by emotion, that animates all human belief and action.  One of the cruelest things you can do to somebody is destroy their idea of real hope for anything better.   This was the central tragedy of my father’s life — true hope had been ripped from him as a baby.  It is the idea of being able to improve our situation that sustains us in our worst moments.   Remove this idea and you’re done.    The ideas we embrace are crucial to how we live.

There are countless examples of how this idea framing shapes the emotional world, and human history. Take a look at Mein Kampf for one example.   In his chapter on Vienna, its author describes how logic and reason, in the crucible of the “poisonous snake” that was the city of Vienna, finally convinced him of a truth his tender heart did not want to consider: that Jews were the cause of all of the evil in the world and must be exterminated.   Fair enough, if you believe that shit.   Millions did, millions do.

My mind turns to politics when I think of examples of this idea/ feeling connection, since we’re living in emotionally-charged, pivotal, make-or-break times, close to where the world was in the 1930s with the additional pressures of an overpopulated natural world on the verge of vast climate catastrophe and global capitalism running nakedly amok, in the name of unlimited profits for the few while increasing billions have little or no prospect of anything good.    You’ll forgive one more “political” example and then I’ll turn to my larger point.

The radical right’s ascendance in America in the last few decades was founded on their shrewd understanding of the principle that ideas lead to emotional acceptance and then to unified political actions.   You frame the discussion, change the way people are talking about things, get public opinion on your side, et, voila, representative government is the real enemy of the People.    

It may be the same government that sent federal agents into the most overtly racist states to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan and stop a century of terrorism, that passed laws banning child labor, created standards for workplace health and safety, created a vast infrastructure that facilitated great wealth, passed laws designed to remedy centuries of racism, sexism and xenophobia at law, created food and drug safety agencies, an agency to protect our environment and one to protect citizens from financial fraud, administers vast medical programs for veterans, poor people and retirees, created a social safety net for children and old people, on down the list… this same democratic government is a tyranny that brutally coerces people to give up their most important possession–  liberty.   The essential liberty not to be coerced by majoritarian mobs for the benefit of “takers”.

Frame anything strongly, particularly to someone already inclined to believe your story,  and you will see emotions confirmed, certainty and vehemence increased.   The entire debate is in the framing.  Guns — constitutionally protected freedom.   Guns — murder weapons regularly in the hands of murderous maniacs.   Abortion– the vicious murder of unborn souls, an abomination God hates more than He hates homosexuals.   Abortion — a difficult choice women often agonize over but something preferable to bringing a rapist uncle’s unwanted baby into the world, or dying in childbirth.    Global warming — a vast conspiracy of freedom-hating Takers who just want to punish wealthy Job Creating Makers.   Global warming– increased atmospheric CO2 levels, largely the result of a century of burning gasoline and our vast meat/dairy industry — warming the earth quickly with disastrous and readily perceivable results: wild fires, droughts, floods, other catastrophic weather events, mass extinctions, etc.

OK, that’s enough of the political applications.   What I am really thinking about today is our moods, my mood.   The ever-shifting continuum of how we feel about the things around us, what we’re doing, the progress we are, or are not, making. Talk to me Monday and my idiosyncratic life is impossible to justify.   If I am such a good writer, why am I not seriously figuring out how to brand and market my work, get paid for it?   Where is the line of customers telling me how important my writing is to them?   I look at my seeming paralysis about doing simple things, like spending thirty minutes a day taming my uncontrollable desk and kitchen table.   What the fuck is that about?   That thought’s enough to send me into a funk, on a given day (though not enough to spur me to action organizing my jungle of papers).

Clearly, logically, if I spent even fifteen minutes a day going through that haystack of papers, shredding most of it, within a few days I could have the full use of my kitchen table, my desk, find my passport, the extension to the adapter for my laptop, missing photos, that roll of orange cloth tape I’ve maddeningly lost, other things I’ve been unable to locate lately.   Can’t seem to do it.   Once in a while this irrational paralysis torments me, colors everything in my life, makes me appear monstrously weak to myself, terrifying to Sekhnet.   I see the world through this vexing inability to do something every idiot in the world knows how to do and I feel bad.  At the same time, I clearly see that it is one perspective, and a merciless one at that, causing me to see my life so harshly, if not entirely unreasonably.  On a given day we may feel discouraged or encouraged; on discouraging days, courage is hard to find.

Talk to me Tuesday and I’m relatively carefree.  I have reason to be.   I sleep almost eight hours most nights, spend an hour or so every day walking, often in parks, have a few good friends, a loyal life partner, and many things I love to do.  I’ve become good at a number of these things I love to do (which tends to happen with things you love, if you have the time to do them).  

If you love to draw, and have all of your favorite drawing tools at hand, and paper you like– shit, that’s a blessing that’s hard to explain.  Same with a musical instrument you can pick up and make sing.   Bending the strings to give the instrument a beautiful voice  — what could be a more blessed thing?  I also write almost every day, a contemplative stretch of a couple of hours that makes me feel productive and very blessed indeed.   Whether there is a God that blesses us in these moments, or a spirit, or someone named Dave, these are all net benefits, blessings of life, doing things that bring us pleasure, that allow us to see our progress.

An idle thought started me off today, idle, though also tricky and maybe important — how much of my good feelings on a good day are the result of simple denial and how much is actual contentment with my, admittedly, unconventional, random, disorganized-seeming life of chronic non-achievement?

It’s very easy to see the denial in somebody else.   They might tell you they are not angry, then suddenly refuse to interact in a friendly way, then fly into a rage when asked about this, then admit that maybe they were a little angry, then tell you again that they are not angry — you are.    This is classic denial, and easily observed in the world.    Our current president is a reflexive practitioner of this — he says something, denies he said it, is shown a video of himself saying it, claims it’s a fake video, says the opposite, then says the original thing.  It’s all the same.  Whenever somebody points out something that might annoy, anger or embarrass you just say “you’re lying.  I never did what I just did — you did it, ass-breath.”

One thing I learned from a very scary period of waking every day in a black hole, seeing no way out (not strictly the case unless you wake up in an actual black hole, held prisoner by some sadist or some State):  the inescapable black hole is in your mind, your spirit, your feelings.   It is your feeling of being in a black hole, not an actual black hole you are forced to stay in.   It’s very real when you wake up in it– nothing could be more real in that moment than your certainty that you are trapped — but it is a feeling of being in a desperate place, as opposed to a physical reality.  

The phone could ring, a familiar wise-ass on the line, and you will find yourself falling right into the rhythm of the familiar wise-ass chat. End the chat and fall back into your black hole, as often or not, but there is a lesson in knowing we have some control over the feeling.   Next best thing is simply remembering that these feelings generally pass, as long as there are enough good things in your life as well.

We are all of us alone, fundamentally, particularly in the moments we feel desperate.   We, and everyone we love, we all must die — a terrible thing to consider. Does feeling a sense of connection with a writer who touches you qualify as a denial of your essential apartness, the unbridgeable actual gulf between you and the mind of the writer, or is it part of a larger sense of connected contentment as when you discover something new and familiar at once?    

A feeling of connection is better than isolation, in most cases, so why not smile when recognizing the brilliantly expressed humanity of a Shoshana Zuboff, an Isaac Babel, a Steven Zipperstein?   This abstract feeling of community is a great thing, it imbues us with admiration for our fellow beings and hope for the future.   The lack of this feeling, a sense of eternal, existential disconnection, is at the core of every destructive movement in the world.

You feel isolated, you have no prospects of anything much better, you are suffering alone and you are going to die.   The world is ruled by (insert your hated group of powerful psychopaths) and you are utterly helpless against it.  You need to take these horrible feelings out on somebody.    These strong feelings will cause you to look for others who feel this way.   There are literally millions of them.  You can find their avatars on-line.     There are no guarantees on the internet, of course, boys will sometimes find themselves talking to a fifty-year old pervert who calls himself adorable twelve year-old Vicky.   Part of the danger, but not that much different from being in a crowd of fist-pumping fans who do not stop to think about what they are actually cheering.

Contentment is sometimes elusive.   I am not content when I see all the horrible things done in my name, when I consider the sick values promoted by the exceptional society I am part of, when I feel myself treated unfairly, when I think of the misery sadistically inflicted by the spouters of meaningless slogans.   When I see the pugnacious face of thirty-three year-old Jewish Nazi Stephen Miller.    I can’t be in denial about any of these feelings, and I can tell you about any of them in detail and why I feel that way.

On the other hand, when I find the clip of Nature Boy on youTube is in the key I know it in, D minor, and I can immediately play along without having to tune the ukulele, I’m quite content.   If it’s in E minor, I’m content. G#minor… less content. 

Or maybe I’m in denial.  So many of us are. 


[1]  The obscure Colorado libertarian school Charles and David Koch attended (after their graduate degrees at MIT) for some lectures and later funded was devoted to the idea of liberty and the righteousness of the born-powerful.   Its founder and head lecturer taught that the “Gilded Age” was actually the greatest period in American history, there was no shame in using brutal advantage to increase your own vast wealth, and that the “Robber Barons” were, in fact, heroic builders of our great nation, the greatest Americans of all time.  

RIP, David, give my best to Roy Cohn.

A few last thoughts from Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

which I must transcribe for you now, since the overdue tome I’m holding on to must go back to the library now.  Shoshana Zuboff writes: 

As Hayek [Friedrich Hayek, influential radical free-market economist – ed.] told Robert Bork in a 1978 interview, “i’m operating on public opinion.  I don’t even believe that before public opinion has changed, a change in the law will do any good… the primary thing is to change opinion…”  [1] 

Indeed, and this has been a longtime project of the movers and shakers of the radical right for literally decades, since at least 1978.  Changing public opinion needs to be everyone else’s project now, and going forward.

Shosahana Zuboff:

When I speak to my children or an audience of young people, I try to alert them to the the historically contingent nature of “the thing that has us” by calling attention to ordinary values and expectations before surveillance capitalism began its campaign of psychic numbing.   “It’s not OK to have to hide in your own life; it is not normal,” I tell them.  “It is not OK to spend your lunchtime conversations comparing software that will camouflage you and protect you from continuous unwanted invasion.”  Five trackers blocked. Four trackers blocked.   Fifty-nine trackers blocked, facial features scrambled, voice disguised.    

I tell them that the word “search” has meant a daring existential journey, not a finger tap to already existing answers; that “friend” is an embodied mystery that can be forged only face-to-face and heart-to-heart; and that “recognition” is the glimmer of homecoming we experience in our beloved’s face, not “facial recognition.”  I say that it is not OK to have our best instincts for connection, empathy, and information exploited by a draconian quid pro quo that holds these goods hostage to the pervasive strip search of our lives.  It is not OK for every move, emotion, utterance, and desire to be catalogued, manipulated, and then used to surreptitiously herd us through the future tense for the sake of someone else’s profit.  “These things are brand-new,” I tell them.  “They are unprecedented.  You should not take them for granted because they are not OK.”   [2]


[1] p. 520   

[2]  p. 521

from The Age of Surveillance Capitalism:  The Fight for A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power     (c) 2019  Shoshana Zuboff  —  published by Hatchette Book Group

 my “review” of this masterpiece by Shoshana Zuboff

The Right to the Future Tense

This is from Shoshana Zuboff’s important “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”.  These first few paragraphs of the chapter called “The Right to the Future Tense” leaped out at me as a profoundly evocative description of a writer’s world:

I wake early.  The day begins before I open my eyes.  My mind is in motion.  Words and sentences have streamed through my dreams, solving problems on yesterday’s pages.  The first work of the day is to retrieve those words that lay open a puzzle.  Only then am I ready to awaken my senses.   I try to discern each birdcall in the symphony outside of our windows: the phoebe, redwing, blue jay, mocking bird, woodpecker, finch, starling and chickadee.   Soaring above all their songs are the cries of geese over the lake.  I splash warm water on my face, drink cool water to coax my body into alertness, and commune with our dog in the still-silent house.   I make coffee and bring it into my study, where I settle into my desk chair, call up my screen, and begin.   I think.  I write these words. and imagine you reading them.  I do this every day of every week– as I have for several years, and it is likely that I will continue to do so for one or two years to come.

I watch the seasons from the windows above my desk: first green, then red and gold, then white, and then back to green again.   When friends come to visit, they peek into my study.   There are books and papers stacked on every surface and most of the floor.  I know they feel overwhelmed at this sight, and sometimes I sense that they silently pity me for my obligation to this work and how it circumscribes my days.  I do not think that they realize how free I am.  In fact, I have never felt more free.   How is this possible?

I made a promise to complete this work.   This promise is my flag planted in the future tense. It represents my commitment to construct a future that cannot come into being should I abandon my promise.   This future will not exist without my capacity first to imagine its facts and then to will them into being.  I am an inchworm moving with determination and purpose across the distance between now and later.   Each tiny increment of territory that I traverse is annexed to the known world, as my effort transforms uncertainty into fact.   Should I renege on my promise, the world would not collapse.   My publisher would survive the abrogation of our contract.  You would find many other books to read.  I would move on to other projects. 

My promise, though, is an anchor that girds me against the vagaries of my moods and temptations.  It is the product of my will to will and a compass that steers my course toward a desired future that is not yet real.  Events may originate in energy sources outside my will and abruptly alter my course in ways that I can neither predict nor control.   Indeed, they have already done so.   Despite this certain knowledge of uncertainty, I have no doubt that I am free.   I can promise to create a future, and I can keep my promise.  If the book that I have imagined is to exist in the future, it must be because I will it so.  I live in an expansive landscape that already includes a future that only I can imagine and intend.   In my world, this book I write already exists.  In fulfilling my promise, I make it manifest.  This act of will is my claim to the future tense.  

To make a promise is to predict the future; to fulfill a promise through the exercise of will turns that prediction into fact.  Our hearts pump blood, our kidneys filter that blood, and our wills create the future in the patient discovery of each new sentence or step.   This is how we claim our right to speak in the first person as the author of our futures. (…)


from The Age of Surveillance Capitalism:  The Fight for A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power   (pp.   329-330)   (c) 2019  Shoshana Zuboff  —  published by Hatchette Book Group

 my “review” of this masterpiece by Shoshana Zuboff