Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Final Solution: Debatable

Do you find yourself looking at life as a succession of events which have to be gotten over with? It’s a dangerous way to live for the simple reason that the minute one sickening challenge is over and you think you’re on the open road, you’re likely to face the disappointing fact that something new is about to propose itself. There seems to be no time in which you’re ever allowed to lie back and relax. The problem with this way of thinking may reside in the fact of initially wanting to postpone the feeling that you're alive to another day, month or year. The fact is, as odious as anything is, it’s all you really have. Many people watching the Trump Biden debate  couldn’t believe their eyes. There was the feeling that they’d been cheated into watching something that was not only a waste of time but also exhausting, dispiriting and enervating. Some may have even felt like giving up. Debates are usually places where you have the opportunity to see the human spirit soar. Hearing a gifted orator like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama provides an endorphin rush. You often find the cadences of their words infusing your speech. The first Trump Biden debate was a little like something out of childhood. Remember when the horizonal or vertical bar would interrupt your viewing of the TV and you’d have to wait for the television repair man (a now obsolescent profession in the age of cheap flat screen TVs). The experience of the debate was also like that of static interference, where you can’t hear due to background noise. Adaptation is the name of the game. Rather than waiting for the atmosphere to clear, you’ve got to find a means of embracing the discomfort. It’s a little like the experience of a new art form in which the expected catharsis is slow in coming.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Final Solution: Fear

Fear is a Janus-faced emotion. It naturally provides a survivalist function. Without it there would be no warning of danger. There are people who suffer from a condition (congenital analgesia) in which they're unable to feel pain. However, what seems like a possible benefit can naturally have pernicious results. Bone breaks can be the result of not being able to monitor blunt force trauma. A person lacking in fear may evince an enviable impregnability and ability to proceed but the inability to feel often leads to a kind of obduracy and at the least insensitivity to others. Remember Spock on Star Trek, a force of good who was robot-like behavior gave him a consoling stability? Still he was lacking in certain intuitive abilities and in particular empathy. It’s nice to be imperturbable if you’re piloting a plane, but extreme equanimity can be oppressive once you’re on your way home from the airport. Wearing a mask and maintaining a distance should are common sense behaviors that even a cool dude like Dirty Harry would abide by. Fear on the other hand can take on a life of its own, manufacturing its own logic, rules and behaviors that have no relationship to a sober perception of reality. There are many things to be afraid of, particularly amidst a pandemic, but the perception of danger can be so great and ubiquitous that one may literally step into quicksand while trying to avoid a pothole. Free-floating anxiety which seeks an object to attach itself too, is an ailment unto itself which can leave a legacy of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Final Solution: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Remember Hannah Arendt's "the banality of evil?" Without bowing to the enemy, there's an Eichmann or Donald Trump, in all of us. That may explain the confounding nature of his appeal.  In this case the genocide involves the denial of an almost biblical plague that has affected the one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries of the world in a particularly potent way. Speculators on the intentionality of God with respect to man, might even say that Americans are being punished. But amidst all this you have a person who claims that coronavirus is like the emperor’s new clothes. It’s not really there and if it is, it’s going to go away and if doesn’t there will be a vaccine that will cure it before you can say boo. The idea is that to say something is to make it real. That would be a seemingly easy enough premise to disprove. However, the icing on the cake is that even though facile and hopeful iterations may be disproved, one after the other by spiking case counts and death, the baseless cheerleading continues to be swallowed hook line and sinker by a base that's now thrown a conspiracy theory into the mix. Those who criticize the leader are part of a deep state which practices pedophilia. A cartoon vision of reality predicated on magical thinking has now became the lingua franca of American political discussion with in fact Michael Caputo, assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, perpetrating the idea that his colleagues were like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers ("Trump Health Aide Pushes Bizarre Conspiracy and Warns of Armed Revolt," NYT, 9/14/20). Quick fixes. It’s not the message but the messenger. To what lengths will a population go, in terms of denial, to believe in a Second Coming?

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Final Solution: Pere Ubu

Ubu Roi (woodcut by Alfred Jarry)

Whimsy is an emotion that’s hard to call up and even remember. Flights of fancy seem to reside in some dusty archive containing characters like Jeeves the famous butler immortalized by P.G. Wodehouse. Satire has a different taste. Today, almost all of it is reserved for our current Ubu Roi, Donald Trump. As you may remember Afred Jarry’s character was a primitively drawn despot also known as Pere Ubu who liked to get his way. You think of whimsy in Victorian settings which provide the stability and structure in which outlandish characters and their cousins, dandies and flaneurs, were subsidized by aristocracies in Hyde Park or on the Boulevard Haussmann. One feels wistful for the days when the world could afford imaginative flights of fancy, without the constraints and mandates to usurp some force of black shirts on Harleys creating litanies of ritualistic violence. Whimsy is a product of a cultured universe of repose, the world of the “effete” which Vice President Spiro Agnew, an earlier form of our present hoary figure, infamously attacked. Agnew got into trouble because of his tax problems, too.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Tempting Fate

Alcatraz Island (1895)
Houdini pulled off a number of escapes and then there are the famous prison breaks, mostly recently the one engineered by two inmates from the Clinton Correctional Facility a notorious maximum-security prison in upper New York State. When you look at some of these fortresses, it’s astonishing that anyone could have engineered their freedom and, of course, there was the breakout from Stalag Luft III, documented in The Great Escape (1963). All of these required ingenuity, bravery and above all an uncommon tenacity and perseverance. However, how does one escape the self-fulfilling prophecy that’s often one’s own existence? How's it possible to derail the train of determinism by which past experience incarcerates the present? Oedipus famously brought about the thing he most feared by trying to avoid it. He never would have found himself at the crossroads, where he murdered his own father Laius, unless he were trying to escape fate. Perhaps the reality of life itself is more benign. Some people rise above their circumstances. Despite having grown up in broken homes, with drug-addled parents, they go on to live useful and productive lives replete with satisfying relationships and families of their own. But many are lured back to the darkness of the underworld, and end up bringing down those around with them. Orpheus was told not to look back. Yet he couldn’t control his desires, something for which he and his beloved Eurydice would suffer for eternity.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Final Solution: The Guns of August

There's usually one day that hearkens the end of summer. It’s a little like a supernova, one of those luminous celestial events in which an exploding brightness heralds a black hole—one final effusion of nature, bright, crisp and short-lived, at the end of which begins the (down)fall in which the leaves already turning brown, begin to crumble and die on the ground. Later, with winter the branches will be barren. However, in this season of turmoil with a delusory quiet characterized by the honking of gulls and Doppler effect of luxury cars disappearing along an old country road, it’s truly the calm before the storm. Barbara Tuchman famously coined days marking the onset of World War I, The Guns of August and now with the start of autumn, increasing violence in the streets, the threat of a contested election and the fear of a second spike of coronavirus accompanying the normal flu season, the dark clouds that loom on the horizon can be belied by a simple full moon illuminating a clear night sky.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Annals of DSM: Cell Shocked

photo: MikroLogika

Humanity can roughly be divided into two categories: people talking on their cell phones and people talking to themselves. There are also folders v. crumplers, but that’s another phylum. In the beginning of the cell phone era, it could be disconcerting to see someone talking animatedly on the street. This period of history coincided with the deinstitutionalization of many mental patients so if you didn’t notice  someone had something in the palm of their hand, you might easily mistake them for a psychotic individual hearing things. The fact that many cell phone users now use earbuds and don’t even hold a device has revived this confusion, but the problem has also come full circle. In fact many people who you see talking on their cells are indeed talking to themselves. They’re on them so much, they've begun to live in a solipsistic universe in which their view of so-called reality is mitigated by an electronic medium. You see the same thing going on with the profusion of individuals who're constantly photographing and inventorying  their experience (usually with their iPhones) rather than living it.