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Monthly Archives: December 2017

A final list of things for 2017.  §

So that I don’t end the year on that last abortion of a post (told you it would get out of control, and likely not for the better), I’ll end with some things instead.

  • When you reach a certain age and level of uncertainty, everything around you in your everyday life begins to look like an oracle, even if you’ve never previously been superstitious. This is not limited to copies of the I Ching or Magic 8-Balls &c. I’m not talking about my life. I’m talking about life.

© Aron Hsiao / 2004
  • I can do academic discourse and rigorous writing, sure. I did it well enough to get a Ph.D. and have some stuff published and teach a bunch of classes. But at the end of the day, I never found it all that persuasive or interesting. The evidence—yes. The writing—no. I feel as though given the uncertain nature of the universe and the openness requirements of creativity, resonant writing and thinking requires a certain amount of speculation, flow, hyperbole, figurative language, and intuitive phrasing. Nothing truly insightful can come from the academic use of human language.
  • Note that the previous paragraph refers to human language because in fact non-human languages, which are mostly formalisms—I’m thinking, for example, of mathematics, lambda calculus, computer code, etc.—are highly poetic and persuasive, despite what people imagine. In fact, I think that’s the mark of a gifted coder—he or she finds code to be beautiful and poetic and surprising and ambiguous despite precision.
  • Coke makes sugar-free cherry versions of both Diet Coke and Coke Zero. Neither is available anywhere in two-liter bottles for some reason, which means that I only get to have them on special occasions like New Year’s Eve. There are very few special occasions any longer on which I’ll have an actual drink, despite my love of whisky. These days I’m mostly a teetotaler (oxymoronic phrase?). Anyway, even diet soda is supposed to be verboten, so I’m already in the red as far as my own better judgment goes.
  • There seems to be a profusion of articles on New Year’s Eve parties and party culture this year. I have to admit, I’ve never been in a public place or at a widely attended party when the “ball dropped” to mark the moment. In fact, I’ve left a bunch of them about a half-hour beforehand, not to return. When push has come to shove, I’ve always realized at the last moment that I really preferred to be alone to watch one year give way to the next. It’s a meaningful moment, and I struggle to do meaningful moments with other people, who always seem to cheapen them.
  • Were it not for the particular cosmology, I’d probably be either Catholic or Orthodox by now. Were it not for the lack of any particular cosmology, I’d probably be either a Buddhist or a Taoist by now. Instead, I am nothing-in-particular, or (as I tell my kids) perhaps everything-at-once.
  • I killed a twin-barreled Slava 2427 movement this fall trying to regulate it. Moving the regulator sent the hairspring into all kinds of shocking contortions that I did not expect. My eyesight is not good enough any longer to see a hairspring with the naked eye, and I am unwilling to buy a monocle as of yet. Live and learn. I have another 2427 movement on the way. I am trying to persuade myself to make an attempt at a movement swap. But I am a bit scared to try it.
  • Once, I was a pirate. Then, I was a monk. The kids at grad school first time around said I was a rock star. I felt all of them. I was so many years in the groove, my groove. I am no longer in the groove. I don’t think I can find it again before some sort of transformation that I am, as of yet, unwilling to surrender myself to. Everything that I have written lately is me dancing around this fact.
  • I may be the last end-user on earth still backing up to DLT on their own PC in their home office. But I need some way to preserve 200,000+ photos for posterity. What I’m missing is offsite storage in case of fire or flood. The lack of it makes me more than nervous.
  • Football season came and went and I barely noticed it. I crave the day when I can enjoy it again. I suspect this won’t be until retirement. If I am never able to retire, it will likely be never. (I will likely never be able to retire, if I’m honest.)

© Aron Hsiao / 2009
  • The problem with me as an entrepreneur or a retailer is that it’s the craft, the one-piece-at-a-time that excites me. I don’t want to sell 10,000 wristwatches, because I couldn’t know all of them intimately. I want to sell ten of them, or even one of them, that I made myself, one tiny step at a time. The problem with my love of craft is that I also very much want money. Craft and money do not go together, ever.
  • I got a tiny condenser mic for free that I can place against watch cases to run them through a regulator and analyze their movement properties. The joy of seeing those numbers on the screen is incredible. I keep running analyses just to see the data. Sometimes on the same watch over and over again.
  • The love of data has been with me forever. Problem is, it’s small data that I love, not big data. Once again, love is not where the money is. It must be an incredible blessing in life to love something that is also lucrative.
  • The third hardest hardest thing in life is to express how you really feel in writing. The second hardest is to admit to your own self how you really feel. The hardest is to notice it at all in the first place. There are a few choice souls with genes that somehow invert this logic; for these rare and special people, they are the third, second, and first easiest things in life, respectively. I have been lucky enough to know more than one of these people. I admire them so much it makes my teeth hurt.

Goodbye 2017. I mostly hate you.  §

This post worries me because either nothing will come out or everything will come out. Either way, it won’t be pleasant or comfortable or properly cathartic as a result.

But oh well.

— § —

So. End of 2017. How did it go? Depends on how you evaluate your years.

  • If years are to be measured by the best things that happen in them, then this year was lukewarm. The things to be thankful for are the Thanksgiving-style boilerplate. Nobody died. I have a roof over my head. I managed to replace the upstairs carpet with plank flooring. We had some everyday-style good times—trips to the aquarium, nice birthday parties, etc. That’s not nothing. Yes, it’s boilerplate to say “didn’t live under a totalitarian regime, ate well, everyone stayed dry and went to school,” but it’s nothing to sneeze at. At the same time, relative to other years I’ve had, the list of “highlights” is short and the peaks are shallow. Biggest highlight is probably Molly, our now one-year-old pit bull girl, who we adopted at the end of February. She has been a terror, but also lovely. Around the same time, dear daughter won gold in the state Taekwondo championships. That’s also good. On the other hand, it’s been nine months since those highlights, and those are really the only two. Other than that, a pretty big dry spell on the “best things this year” front. So overall, lukewarm year.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017
  • If years are to be measured by the worst things that happen in them, this year has been shit. Car wrecked in March. Company got acquired, position to be end-of-lifed soon. Son had to have surgery. My older pit, who the kids love, has arrived at “these are the final months, if not weeks, of his life” status and vet expenses are now in the thousands. The first Christmas tree this year dried out and dropped all of its needles within days, despite watering. Replaced it. The second one dried out within a week or so and will have dropped all its needles soon. I’ve never lost even one prematurely before, but two? Christmas is over, so the need to have a green tree in the living room has passed, but it’s emblematic—normally when I undecorate and take the tree outside first week of January, it’s still green. This year, shelled out twice, had to redecorate, and still didn’t even make it as far as Christmas without browning. Meanwhile, nothing on the horizon to look forward to. Everything that is currently foreordained is a bringer-of-suffering. And there are no particular pokers in the fire that might pay off and lead to good things. That’s how 2017 has been. The “insult to injury” factor has been high. So overall, shit year, one of the worst ever.
  • If years are to be measured as an average of the good and the bad, well—take the two above. Whether as mean or median, the average for this year has been significantly worse than neutral. As a mean, pretty damned negative as a matter of preponderances, though shy of catastrophic. As a median, with early and fading highs offsetting many more recent lows.

As I allude to above, the hardest thing right now is knowing what’s coming in 2018, and not only not being optimistic, but in fact being full of dread.

— § —

This latter item speaks to a larger sense of malaise and the point that I occupy right now in the geography of my life.

I have not historically been someone given to dread. I have been the one that others found to be irritatingly optimistic and determined and confident. Even if things were bad now, I could eventually make them better. Nothing stays bad forever. There is always a way. I refuse to give up. &c.

I think, big picture, that this is the first period in my life during which I feel as though calls to long-suffering and to endurance are apropos. There is little else to do.

Some might say that I’ve lost both some confidence and some swashbuckle, and I don’t seem, amidst all the rising action, to be able to regain it. Some measure of my famous resilience has been lost. Okay, some large measure. Age and experience are having its way with me. Reality, too.

I have no illusions. 2017 was bad, but barring a miracle, 2018 will test my ability to cope and to survive with self and mental health intact. But time stops for no man. Certainly not for me. So 2018 here I come, whether I’d prefer to or not. (The answer, for the first time ever, is not.)

— § —

When I was in my pre-teens and teens, there was a period during which it seemed as though everybody died. Great-grandparents. Grandparents. Uncles. School friends. Non-school friends. Parents’ friends. And so on.

During the pre-teen period, this march of death also involved a lot of hospital and nursing home visits, and I became rather practiced at carrying coffins. Apparently I was the sort of kid that every family wants to have carry their loved one from church doors to a hole in the ground.

By the time my teen years hit, I was tuning it out. My instincts were clawing and tugging at me to go in some other direction—any other direction. I was young. I was supposed to be all about the beginning of life, about adventure and mountains to conquer, not about nursing homes and funerals and somber, public, formal discourses on years and persons past with eyes cast downward and hands clasped on lap.

© Aron Hsiao / 2002

I just… stopped going. To the funerals. To the visits. When my childhood dog, who was officially mine and to whom I was very attached, began to get old, I tuned him out as well. I was just not going to do “old” any longer. I took an apartment downtown while I went to university. When my parents had him put down, I didn’t comment on or think about it, or return to visit. I was not going to visit. No more death.

I went off to grad school. Other pets died while I was away. I didn’t have to worry about it. I either avoided—or did not happen to have—any person in my circle dying on me between the age of about twenty years old and now. One exception—another uncle. I did go to his viewing, though not to his funeral.

I didn’t talk to anyone. It’s not so much that I wouldn’t have known what to say as that I had said it so much as a younger person that it had taken on a kind of rote quality and I couldn’t and wouldn’t have actually felt it any longer, so it seemed like the wrong thing to do to actually say any of it.

So I just stood around in silence and played with my kids while all the funerary sociability went on around us.

— § —

I registered another domain name last week. It was in one of my highly motivated “I’m going to start a retail business because I have all of the skills and knowledge and dammit this time I’m going to make it work and become an entrepreneur” moments. These tend to last approximately one to two days at most.

Long enough to take the first steps and “launch” a project. And then… motivation and project fade.

This is a far cry from the guy that wrote seven books and got a double-B.A., and M.A., and a Ph.D. I used to pride myself on the fact that once I started something, I never gave up until I saw it through.

It’s as though with the end of marriage, the biggest “see it through” in my life has undermined that characteristic. Now I feel as though I see the fallacy of sunk costs and “realist” evidence of why I shouldn’t go through with things everywhere around me.

So yes, gung-ho for about six hours. I work myself almost up into a frenzy; I registered this domain and within an hour or two I had opened a ticket with the registrar and host to ask why, oh why, had it not propagated yet. Of course the official line is 24-72 hours, but everyone knows that on today’s Internet it usually takes within the hour when someone registers you. Where was my new DNS lookup? I was ready to get started, stat!

Now it’s about 36 hours since the registration come through. I got as far as some initial coding. And then tapered off. And now I declare a fizzle.

— § —

Preciptating factor: my eleven-year-old pit went into an Addisonian crash. This is not actually the result of Addison’s disease, but rather the opposite—a couple months ago he was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease due to a tumor on his adrenal gland. Too much cortisol, leading to a lot of symptoms of general decline.

As a result, over an expenditure of nearly $3,000, we’ve slid him into treatment with Trilostane, which inhibits the normal functioning of the adrenal glands (which is fine, because the adrenal glands aren’t functioning normally), ideally stabilizing in the correct range his hormone levels.

He’d been doing about as well as I’d expect at his age and had lost things like the cortisol-induced pot belly and stumbling, but about a week ago his appetite started to taper down. I had an expensive blood test already awaiting results from the vet, so it seemed as though there wasn’t much to do but wait. Everyone was gone for the holidays, after all. What is there to do?

But night before last, he went from “a bit lethargic” and “doesn’t want to each much” to “just plain out of it and not eating or drinking” over the course of the night. So yesterday morning I spoke with the vet first thing.

Took him in right away to do some up-to-the-moment blood testing. These results came back the same day and showed that he was in the middle of a crash; his cortisol levels had fallen too low, his adrenal glands had been too attenuated. They had me rush him back in for an intravenous drip, which he was on for four hours.

Then they sent me home. I’m instructed to try to get fluids and electrolytes into him, to adjust his Trilostane dosage significantly downward, and to let them know if any of the symptoms of the crash recurred.

So far today, he’s doing better. He’s still lethargic, but he’s not out of it; he lifts his head and looks at me when I speak to him, he willingly went on a walk, and he has eaten some amount of food and is staying reasonably hydrated.

But he is not “himself.”

Or rather, I have to admit that he is. He is old. He is dying. The latter is true of all of us, of course, but it’s the combination of the two that matters. The former makes the latter real.

This is who, and how, he is now. The cranky-but-loving, highly protective dog I’ve known for years is not coming back; this senior dog in his final dotage is my companion until he isn’t any longer. Time is moving on, and soon, so is he.

I haven’t prepared the kids properly. I don’t think. I actually don’t know how to prepare the kids properly. I don’t know how to prepare myself properly. I stopped knowing how to prepare myself properly for anything the moment I initiated the nuclear chain reaction of the summer of 2015.

Since then, I have been uprepared for everything in life. I remain that way now.

I haven’t even managed to install a CMS on the new domain, much less a cart, much less do any design work. Much less think about inventory and actually selling anything.

It’s a project aborted, for the moment. But then, life often feels like life aborted, for the moment. I am two years into metaphysical crisis and not emerging yet.

— § —

We don’t do metaphysical crises in our culture.

© Aron Hsiao / 2004

We specialize in “moving on.” We are chronically unprepared for life’s tragedies (which is part and parcel of why we imagine them to be “tragedies” at all), but it doesn’t matter in a way because we also don’t give them any ontological credit.

That is to say that—for example—when a family member dies—even a human family member that’s been around for the better part of a hundred years—we don’t have any practices for mourning or transitioning or remembering. All of that stuff is immodern; all of it is too histrionic for us. Or maybe, if we’re honest, it’s too painful for us, and one of the utopian cornerstones of all of modernity is that suffering can and should be ameliorated by any means necessary, and increasingly, we believe that we have the means.

We are the emotional Bionic Men.

So a death in the family? Professionals deal with the impending death for a decade leading up to it. We only have to deal with it when we visit once or twice a week for an hour, and even then not with the messy stuff. It’s a conceptual decline; the incontinence and catheters and plasma drips and druggings are concealed for us.

We experience the approach of death as a weekly appointment in professionally cleaned, conservatively decorated rooms in which we chit-chat idly about things that don’t matter (because to actually turn up at someone’s nursing home and say, “So you’re going to die soon, let’s talk about that since it’s what we all need to deal with” would be considered not just rude, but in fact beyond any bounds of imaginability; it’s just not done in our society, no how, not ever).

Then, when death happens, we peek at the body. “Oh, look, they’re dead, ugh, herzschmerzen, etc., a few silent tears and words of hope and let’s try to move on.” Then, we withdraw. We don’t actually have to manage the fact. The cold, physical, hard fact of death. It’s not a task for us. We just do the brief peek-and-weep. Hell, they could be sleeping for all we know. They look the same as they ever have. We don’t have to actually lift the dead weight, figure out what to do with it, nurse it along toward the grave one horizontal surface at a time, aware of things like infectious capability, decomposition, and the logistics of burial.

We call being on the phone with a professional and making another credit card payment (the same physical act that we use to buy a Diet Coke at the 7-11) dealing with “the logistics.” We don’t have a word for dragging the body around until it’s safely in the ground, then covering it all up again. We certainly don’t organize village bonfires or do communal periods of mourning or anything like that. People say things like “I buried my husband this year” when in fact what they mean is, “I think I saw him dead for about five minutes in the hospital and I cried some, in a controlled manner, and then for another half hour in the funeral home and I cried a little more, even more controlled this time; then, someone else buried him and a placed a stone with his name on it that I didn’t see made over a hole in the ground that presumably contains him, though I couldn’t conclusively prove it; I paid the bill with my American Express and then bought a lot of wine and joined a widows’ organic cooking club.”

The entire experience of death for us consists of a couple hours in the funeral home and another hour or so in a cemetery, during which we do mundane things like pay bills and eat Costco food or other mass-produced croissant sandwiches while wearing department store clothes.

Then, we move on, because naturally it’s bad to “get stuck” and fail to “move on.” At the same time, they tell us that it’s important to “grieve” but of course they do not by “grieve” mean “quit your job and change careers” or “wail and refuse to eat for weeks until you are on the brink of death yourself” or “refuse to leave the side of the body until they drag you away and then refuse to leave the grave site, rain or shine, for months” or “continue to talk about how much you miss this person for ten years to follow and talk of nothing else.”

No, by grieve, we mean “sigh a bit and tear up just enough that everyone knows our heart isn’t made of stone” and then “make bad purchasing decisions for a while and maybe lose our temper a couple of times and if really necessary, join a support group of strangers where we go over abstract ‘steps’ of grieving in more periodic one-hour formalisms and have more Costco sandwiches with them each time.”

All that death when I was a kid and I’ve still never dealt with death. I’ve never held a dead body. Oh sure, I’ve “carried a body” publicly, by which is meant I’ve carried a large, highly polished box with a handle while wearing a suit and a flower, marching along with a bunch of other people I only superficially know who are doing the same.

But let’s be honest. A body? Have I held a dead body in my arms? No. And I won’t until my older dog dies, sometime in the coming year, hopefully later than sooner. He will be the first.

And I haven’t talked about death. Not much. Not about the actual fact of it, the details of the dying, the state of being dead, the actual down-in-the-dirt-nitty-gritty. We talk about football games or the last presidential election at length. But the dead? As the dead? Not a “spirit” or a “memory” or a “presence” or a “towering figure” or “stardust” or any of that stuff, but as the actual corpse that is now there decaying that was previously alive and a familiar and beloved one of us? Ugh, that’s not nice. “OMG. OMG. Noooo!”

— § —

But this isn’t about death.

We do the same thing for every single major life event. Birth. Adolescence. Graduation. Marriage. Divorce.

We mark none of it with anything but a brief, formulaic consumer event. None of it.

When we say that we mark an occasion, what we mean is that we set aside an hour of time to be attended by an aggregate of individuals who barely know each other, speak about it as a group in euphemisms and pay something to a catering company and something to a decor or flowers company, and then go our separate ways. After that, we expect the life event to be referred to sparingly and judiciously. Maybe someone buys someone a watch—say, for graduation—or a rose. Is there an initiation? A period of transition? Any liminality whatsoever? Any ceremonial recognition by a strong-ties group? Any significant, inflective change in roles or statuses? Never.

We don’t do real, proper rites of passage in our culture, because rites of passage imply a revolutionary, irreversible, born-again change of identity in a person.

© Aron Hsiao / 2002

Our entire metaphysics is a utopian, progressive one in which human identity itself is the single stable, inviolable quality in the universe—who were you “born as?” Who is your “true self” that needs to be “expressed?”—and in which we will arrive at a world without suffering once we finally enlighten ourselves and these stable identities are universally “equal” and “honored.”

The idea of the protein, inviolable, essential self, of an identity that arrives from the heavens as-itself, can never change, and commands respect for that reason—is the transcendental basis of this utopianism, which takes the place of God as the guarantor of all hope—and it can only be protected if people are not understood to become someone wholly different at multiple points in their life. We can only mitigate against this possibility—the shattering contrary truth—by preventing people from actually undergoing life-changing and self-altering transformations.

So we’ll reduce everything to “an hour with audience and podium in honor of…” and make sure that preceding or following this hour, nothing much is out of place in everyday life. Everyone must still go to work. Everyone must still buy milk. Everyone who doesn’t needs a therapist. And we ensure that during this hour, we are amongst at least a few strangers who know little about us, encumbered by milquetoast formal norms, and that our rate and qualities of consumption as a group remain essentially unchanged—so that any tendency toward disruption in identity is smoothed out and estopped during such “rites” rather than—as has traditionally been the case throughout human history—the opposite.

If it sounds as though I’m having a bit of a crisis about all of this, it’s because I am.

I have known for years now that I have stopped believing in this metaphysics. I do not believe in the essential self that is at once a priori, immutable, created, and expressed. I believe in the biological self, which today most disclaim as irrelevant and a kind of non-self.

To have an identity—to actually become essentially human beyond the biological self—one must experience the full richness of the human life cycle, be subject to radical shifts in narrative arc and self-conception as a matter of the strange interactions between history and contingency, always with one foot in non-self biology and the other foot in minimal agency in the face of social forces.

What do you do once you realize that you and most others are biohistorical non-selves in an ideological world of self-presumed authored-yet-immutable selves? When your entire belief system is changing under the weight into—you don’t know what?

And once you begin to realize that you are not yet, in this calculation, properly human and never yet have been, and that you can’t be until you experience real joy and real suffering and real change, until you hold the bodies, and let the events turn you into someone new whom you never were before and never (after the next event) will be again… How do you go about becoming human?

The path to arrival there is verboten, prohibited, closed to us by social mores. The law and the culture implicitly says that we must be an auteured-yet-eternal self, largely a matter of comportment, consumption, and conscious essentialization day after day using the best tools available (these days, Amazon.com and Facebook). It implicitly prohibits in so many ways clinging to a combination of fundamental biology and the embraced-and-suffered flow of history as “self” (and decries any acknowledgement that concedes that the largest fact about you is your biological existence, that vast majority of your time on earth will be spent as a corpse, that no-one you love will likely ever hold, because that’s not what loved ones do in our society, and so on).

— § —

Hell of an end-of-year post, no?

2017, I hate you. Honestly, I do.

2018, I am not disposed to care much for you either. We’re already on bad terms.

Me, I don’t believe in you. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think you can accomplish things. It means that I don’t think that you exist. I think that you’re believing a lie about yourself told to you by capitalists, faithful utopians, and people afraid of endings—the lie that you exist, always have done, and always will do, as yourself.

I don’t know where the road ahead lies. I know logistically. I know that I will have to find a job. That I may not be able to work from home again. That I may become poor or unemployable—after all, I’m aging and in our culture that’s an unspoken sin for reasons that this post ought to make obvious. I know that I will hold, at some point, the dead body of my beloved dog. I know that by the end of 2018, I will not be familiar with anything in sight in my life, including myself. I know now, as awareness has finally broken through over the last couple of years, that I will be someone entirely different. A different self. And that that’s acceptable to me, even desired, as a part of being human—even if it’s socially unacceptable.

I know that I’m afraid. But also that like infantry fodder to the front lines, I’ll press on, because that’s what you do, jaw set. When I was a boy I used to wonder why all of those soldiers in the trenches didn’t just go home. Some adults still wonder that. Sometime in my late ‘30s and early ‘40s I have come to understand it.

You do not have a choice in life but to have courage and march ahead to your doom. Trying to avoid the front lines gets you nowhere, because the front lines are everywhere, and so is change, and so is death. Applying the patina of well-packaged consumer products to entire lives, as we all do, accomplishes nothing but alienating ourselves from our natures—as broken, changing, inessential creatures who love and hate, who are made of meat, who aren’t rational and can’t—not to mention won’t—ever be carried beyond this or made perfect in our lifetimes.

They died in the trenches because it was a better hill to die on (so to speak) than sitting in silence in front of a television set after years of taking but not talking about heart disease medication. They died in the trenches because there, their bodies would be held and would matter and would be given the respect that they were due—the respect of acknowledgement and concession to what is—rather than being silently handled by strangers and machinery, then silently stuck in the ground while everyone proceeds not to speak of you much, and certainly not of your death, for the rest of forever.

— § —

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

About 70 percent of all self-help literature comes down to extended exegeses on this concept.

You have to “take risks” if you want to “get anywhere.”

This isn’t entirely correct.

© Aron Hsiao / 2004

Not just any risk will do. What you must do is “risk yourself”—your identity, your essence. Understand that if you are to live during your forty or sixty or eight years, you must actually die innumerable times along the way—cease to be, become someone else entirely, come to terms with your impermanence and your inessential nature.

And in fact, it isn’t a risk. It’s an unavoidable eventuality. The lack of gain comes about when people spend all their time trying to paper over the changes, rather than actually grieving and them bearing them. Not grieving as in Costco sandwiches and sighs and paying a stranger to be your therapist. Grieving as in “never getting over it.”

People say that if you “never get over it,” you’ll never properly live again.

They have it exactly backwards. Until you can “never get over it” and accept this fact, you’re neither properly yourself (whatever that happens to be at the moment), actually alive, nor actually human.

“Getting over it,” whatever it happens to be—birth, death, marriage, graduation, hiring, firing—is a way of being a nameless part of the Amazon ecosystem. The part at the end that does the first step in the recycling (otherwise known as social-metabolic) process in which consumer goods are turned into refuse in advance of recycling.

— § —

This year:

  • Crashed beloved car, got new car
  • Hit the financial wall
  • Lost company, with job to follow in 2018
  • Son had surgery
  • Daughter became state champion board breaker
  • Kids began to conceptualize the broken state of our “family”
  • Got to spend time with both of my oldest-friends-on-the-planet
  • Got a new niece
  • Accepted that I am not the same person that I was
  • Beloved dog began the long march toward death
  • New dog, his spitting image, joined the family
  • Took approximately 55,000 photos
  • Read maybe 25 books

Next year:

  • New job, possibly new career
  • Many things come to a crisis point
  • No idea what will follow the crisis points
  • No idea who I am to be
  • Will lose my older dog
  • Will likely lose stability once again in family life
  • Will either find a new metaphiscs to hang on to or will lose mind

Happy new year.

I finally figured out the real reason why The Last Jedi pisses me off.  §

So… More on The Last Jedi.

Yes, I realize that I’ve already made two posts about it and that’s too many, especially for someone that isn’t a rabid Star Wars fan, necessarily, but even given what I’ve said before, this film has continued to bug me for some reason—enough that I began to suspect that it wasn’t just about the cultural dimensions that I discussed previously.

And tonight, it hit me just what was bugging me. And now I realize that others, no doubt professional film reviewers, have probably pointed to this already, being far more attuned to the craft of filmmaking and screenwriting than myself. But better late than never.

Here’s what has been bugging me, and why you shouldn’t go to see this film: it has contempt for its audience.

Why do I say this? Because it intentionally, repeatedly wastes the audience’s time. In fact, the entire thing appears to be designed to waste the audience’s time.

In yet another moment of being bugged tonight, I started mentally going over the major plotlines once again and as it turns out, every single one of them is a “shaggy dog story.” That is to say that every one of them ends with a “ha, fooled you, that didn’t matter” from the director. Every one.

The giant quest for Luke? When we finally find him, he’s quit being a Jedi. And then he gets killed off. There was no point to it. And his lightsaber and all of that build-up about it? As soon as it’s handed back to him, he tosses it without fanfare into the ocean and we never see it again. “It didn’t matter, ho, ho; sort of sorry (but not really) that we suggested it did!”

Snoke? Big, bad evil guy that we assume we’re going to get backstory for and that will be a part of things going forward? “Ha, nope, fooled you, he was nobody, we didn’t ever have a story for him, and now he’s dead.”

Rey, the new young female (presumably) Jedi? “Ha, nope. Turns out she’s literally a nobody. Betcha didn’t see that coming!”

Kylo Ren is the new Darth Vader mask guy? “Ha, nope! Gotcha again.” And then we spend time on how he’s actually going to turn to the good side. Watch for it… watch for it… watch for it… “Ha! Nope, psych again! In fact, he’s neither good nor evil, just another mixed-up nobody!”

The giant casino story? Politics and quests and chases and… “Haha, boom, you sat through that for like forty minutes just to end on a punchline about how you’ve been fooled thinking that any of it mattered. It didn’t, ta-da! Totally irrelevant. But we got you to give us your attention for a long-ass time about nothing at all! Tee hee!”

Budding romances everywhere? Chemistry and tension building? “Whoops, nope! Why do you keep getting fooled, silly? Zero romances here. We were just toying with you.”

All the references to Darth Vader surely matter, don’t they? “Nah, it was just play acting; no importance. Gosh, you’re gullible.”

Well surely the resistance will escape largely intact so that we can have a continuing story, yes? “Not really, ha. Why are you still asking these questions? This is too easy.”

Basically, not a single thing is left to “matter” at the end of the film. Every last thing that we’re instructed to pay attention to… is tossed aside with a wink and a “gotcha” once we’ve spent (too much) time investing in it. So why is there a film?

Over and over, this move happens. Apparently meaningful reference. Build-up. Build-up. Build-up. Climactic moment that leads to further development? Big fat NOPE! Dismissed! You’ve been had, sucka!

And then at the end, you walk out with a vague sense of deflation. Only now have I finally realized that the reason for this is that not a single thing mattered. Nothing that we were shown was important to or relevant to the story. And when that happens, you don’t have a story. What you have is the feeling of having been taunted—“Oh, let me tell you a story… A long time ago, far, far away, there was this immortal demon, see…. and he liked to have scrambled eggs for breakfast! Ha! And in a neighboring kingdom, there was a beautiful maiden locked up in a tower where she was away from her loved ones and from the sunshine… so she went to the shelf, got the key, and let herself out! Ha! And overhead, on the very last day of the year, the sky suddenly filled with dragons… because a bunch of kids made dragon kites as a school project that day! Ha!

And so on.

Occam’s razor ruled the day in this film. Nothing was a big deal, everything turned out to suggest that this story is a non-story and always has been.

The justification for this seems to be that there was a desire to “subvert expectations.” But this wasn’t done at the level of plotting—twists or surprises—but rather at the level of plot itself, as in “you embarrasing fanbois actually expected there to be one… so let’s subvert that expectation, shall we?”

Those responsible seem to have forgotten that if nothing ultimately matters and all was actually much less than we thought it was—indeed, everything was mundane and nothing in particular happens at the end of the day, despite what we were initially led to believe—then there’s no reason to write and tell this much-built-up non-story.

And the fact that this film does exactly that, and at the same time that there’s another film in the works when there are now zero things open or at stake in the ongoing plot arc of the series… gives one the intuitive sensation that you’ve been duped and someone thinks you’ll be easily duped again, and that there is more than a hint of passive-aggressive malice behind it all.

In retrospect and upon further reflection, I don’t hate this film “as a Star Wars fan” because I’m not necessarily all that much of one in the grand scheme of things. No, I hate this film because:

  • Its moment-by-moment is little more than progressive virtue-signalling
  • That like so many other things poo-poohs the idea of heroism or morality
  • And in the larger sense, it actively seems to intend to show contempt for me as an audience member

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think that the film unintentionally reveals a kind of distaste that the writer and director, as well as all the other executives involved and indeed Disney itself, have for their audience.

I don’t think it’s was conscious or intentional contempt… But it’s there.

You don’t take someone’s money and time just to taunt them and throw it away with a snicker unless you really don’t think much of them and want for some reason to piss them off and bother them.

So don’t see this film. It’s not just that it’s a waste of your time; it’s that it’s been fundamentally designed for some reason to be a waste of your time, and to rub your nose in the fact that you’re such a rube that you’ll put up with such treatment. It’s like being laughed at by a cabal of ironic hipsters who think they’re smarter than you are, even if the only meaning in and of their lives is a ruthless sense of irony and an ironic retro beard resting on some ironic retro flannel. You’re there to be sardonically mocked and they think you won’t notice.

If you’re like me, you probably won’t at first, which makes it all the worse; you’ve placed your trust in these people, and they have betrayed it and imagine that this is some sort of cool move. You’ll leave feeling troubled and deflated, and only as time passes will you gradually find yourself feeling offended—totally apart from anything having to do with “Star Wars” as a brand and as a mythology, and entirely as a matter of the structure of the film itself.

There is something rotten in Hollywood these days, and this film is a good example of it. If I was going to be crass, I’d say that they’re all pissed off over there at the deplorables that buy tickets to these kinds of pulp films and they think we should all be watching more intersectional, justice-oriented fare. So they decided to justice this one up while at the same time structuring it in such a way as to poke us in the eye with a hot, fiery stick, because that’s what serves us right in consumer America, bunch of deplorable assholes that we are.

Am I reading too much into it?

Maybe. But then… when you structure a plot as a series of shaggy dog stories, you leave yourself open to having the audience read anything into it that they are inclined to read into it, because you didn’t bother to put anything in it yourself.

I am a very competent seer. I am a far less competent doer. I need a mentor. Stat.  §

I am an insights guy. I am ahead of the curve, and always have been. A man before my time. A person whose ideas are on the cutting edge, etc. Some key examples:

  • In the ’80s when no one even knew what the Internet was yet, I started a software company called UNIT to build social networking tools for the coming TCP/IP (i.e. internet) world. I created the ONAS (OS Network Access System) project to bring BBS-style social interaction to desktop TCP/IP computer systems over telnet for, essentially, friending and chit-chat. Of course, WWW didn’t exist yet, but it was clear to me that real-time networked interaction about a million informal little things between average people would be a thing. People didn’t understand what I was trying to do. Why bother? Email and UUCP existed already, as did BBS systems, and only a handful of pocket protector wearing uber-geeks cared. Why would anyone want what I was building, especially when it was for an obscure networking technology that only universities used and that required very expensive computers and networks? My suggestion that eventually everyone would have TCP/IP in their bedroom on a megabit connection? Ha! Dream on, kid. The average person will never find this stuff to be cool. People are embarrassed to admit that they even know how to use a computer. There could not be anything less “general public” in the world. My project was a labor of love; it never generated any money. It was never finished. The code still lives around here somewhere. It’s written in C. Not even ANSI C. This was the ’80s. It’s in K&R C. I aborted at about 80 percent complete (core libraries and platform working, UI mostly done) because it was clear to me that I was spending a lot of time on something that I had no idea how to turn into income and that I struggled even to explain to people; it was also clear that I had no plan for what would happen in that “???” step between “finish writing software platform” and “profit.” More on this general inability later.
  • In 1992, I adopted Linux almost the moment that it was released and began to evangelize and write books, saying that Unix-like operating systems would be the next big thing in computing and that the multiuser-multiprocessing-networked operating system model would be the future of home computing. There were a lot of people that thought this was nuts—what’s the need for any of this in a personal computer? Remember, the PCs of the time had no preemptive multitasking, no security model, no concept of user identities, and no networking. By the end of the ’90s, I had been completely vindicated. By the early ’00s, every computing being shipped had a minimal multiuser, preemptive multitasking, and security model, as well as a complete and robust TCP/IP stack—even in the home.
  • In the late ’90s I ditched film photography altogether, tossed out my negatives, and began to say to people that digital photography would completely displace it, not just as a matter of initially capturing moments, but also as a matter of archiving them, and that the big problem and space of innovation would not be imaging (which everyone presumed would never catch up, but I never had any doubt about) but in fact how to curate, store, database, and transmit or preserve these new archives, especially once everyone was a photographer that could produce thousands of images a month. Nobody took this seriously. At the time, the best cameras were just under one megapixel, they were expensive, and storage requirements were minimal, so the idea that it would be a tough job to store the ten tiny digital photos taken by the ten geeks who actually had access to a CCD imager in an elecronic device, or that there was some worry about society losing access, long-term, to its own visual archive, seemed off the wall. Well, it wasn’t.

© Aron Hsiao / 2001
  • In 2001, this very website provided detailed “wish list” specs for a device that I thought could dominate the world. Not just the tech world. The world world. At a time when people thought that touch computing and portable computing were niche concepts at best, and PDAs and computers were understood as entirely separate markets, I called for a device that was both highly personalized and a full-fledged computer, that fit in the palm of your hand, instant- or always-on, with a high-resolution, full color touch display, a built-in full-bore web browser, no requirement to use a pen or pointing device, no physical keyboard and no buttons except for a power button, complete networking rather than “plug in and sync” data, a serious camera, microphone, speaker, and video processing, a large amount of processing power and memory, flash media storage slot, running full-fledged Linux or Unix under the hood, at about six inches by four inches or smaller and very lightweight, with a full day of battery power and mobile networking for Internet data and VOIP. I even began to imagine that I could hack one together with spare parts and other devices that I knew about—but I lacked the funds to do it. All the pieces, however, existed in one form or another in already shipping devices, albeit in rudimentary form. In short, the imaginary device that I described—which seemed ridiculous at the time in light of prevailing industry pundit analyses—was what we now know as a high-end smartphone. I described a phablet. An iPhone 6 or 7 or 8 Plus. Or a Galaxy Note of whatever generation. Take your pick. And I was right, it did come to dominate the world.
  • In 2004 during my first stint at grad school, I earned a lot of smirks for wanting to marry the analysis of (1) contemporary public policy, (2) religion in the culture wars, and (3) ethnonationalist sensibilities. These were three different things and I was an “unserious” person who hadn’t done my homework for trying to glue them together. I did ultimately write my thesis and earn my masters degree, but people whispered about me and tsk-tsked. Now? Gosh, Donald Trump got elected, the nexus of alt-right, evangelicalism, and traditional subcultures in the U.S. has given us Steve Bannon and Roy Moore and they’ve become hot topics of debate and national deliberation, and by god what the pundits are talking about is how these figures are promoting a new ethnonationalist understanding of politics and society with eschatological overtones. Who saw that coming? Well, I’m sure there were a few others here and there, but also—me. Except I couldn’t make hay with it at the time; instead, people snickered.
  • In 2006 to start my second stint at grad schol, I wanted to study two related points as pressing matters of public policy and social research, namely, (1) social media as a coming force and organizing principle in society, and (2) the fact that all of this social and interaction data—and the society and interactions themselves, as embodied things—would be sequestered away in proprietary databases, marking a dual crisis for public policy and social research: the transition to new forms of society at the same time that they lost all publicness (of process, of data, etc.) under current legal and regulatory regimes. This time, I wasn’t just laughed at (keep in mind, this is before the release of the first iPhone and before Facebook opened up to the general public, rather than being a closed environment for students at participating schools); rather, I was actively hated by many in the faculty. Who knows how I actually got admitted. But in any case, so far as they were concerned, I wasn’t doing sociology or public policy, I was a computing and technology geek trying for some unexplained reason to secret these obscuritarian things into the discussions held by The Serious People about how to run society. Not only that, but the computing and technology stuffs that I was talking about were imaginary, pie-in-the-sky, flash-in-the-pan bullshit “products” (if we could even deign to call them that) that nobody cared about and nobody would use. Certainly not normal, healthy, commonplace members of society. I almost got tossed out of my Ph.D. program multiple times. Names were called. Crusades against me were launched. I was again described as unserious and not a real social researcher, only this time in much less flattering terms. I had to make presentations to representatives of deans and provosts to try to justify my silliness and why I ought to be allowed to stay in. And of course now—in 2017, post Donald Trump and Russian Meddling and lalala—everyone is talking about how social media and technology have transformed the way in which society, governance, public policy, and public deliberation happen, and in the wake of these events, pundits within the academy and outside of it are finally starting to wake up to the idea that we don’t have any idea what happened or have the tools to research, understand, or influence these public processes any longer because all the data is proprietary inside Facebook and its peers.
  • In 2009 I ditched Linux after years of being an evangelist and told everyone that the general-purpose computer operating system was done; Unix had won, but in the process it had also receded into the background. Its “small-u Unix” centrality to smartphones was where things were really going, not the “large-u Unix” in fully articulated computing environments like desktops and LANs. There was no reason to work on “maintaining an OS install” any longer or to worry about desktop applications, integrated computing environments and windowing systems, etc. I switched to Mac OS and using a minimal set of applications and stopped working on any kind of scripting, development, and so on, in anticipation of Mac OS becoming an appendage of iOS and the mobile ecosystem. Nearly ten years later and here we are—Apple is unifying the app ecosystems of iOS and Mac OS, desktops and laptops are dead in the water in their traditional understandings, and the need to own a “computer” has been entirely obviated for most consumers. Once again, people thought I was insane early on. Now my position is the taken-for-granted one.

I’m tooting my own horn here, yes. And there are more examples, but I won’t belabor the point. I see things. I understand things. I am an astute student of society. I make connections and have insights somewhere between 10 and 20 years ahead of the curve. That’s great.

Here’s what’s not great, and where I don’t toot my own horn. I lack any skill or mechanism for turning my insights into success or benefit for myself or for anyone else. If it is laudable that I can understand things in advance and enjoy some accuracy in predicting social trends, it is less laudable that I lack the talents to actually turn these predictions into any sort of prescription or plan for what is to be done, much less execute on such in order to serve society or to serve my family.

I have never managed to:

  • Convince anyone of any of my insights before they became self-evident years later
  • Start a business around any of them
  • Bring a product to market
  • Launch a research or activist project to study them or ameliorate the problems that I forsee

In short, I may be insightful, but I am completely, catastrophically ineffective.

This is not as a matter of not having tried. I started multiple businesses in the ’80s and ’90s. All failed. During my stints in graduate school, I tried to build alliances and launch projects; I approached people and institutions and tried to secure funding and access. I secured nothing. I got the degrees, sure. I didn’t manage to launch the research centers, the collaborations, the working groups.

© Aron Hsiao / 2008

In more modest efforts, during my teaching years, I failed even to successfully pitch classes to ultimately be offered on these topics. My proposals were met with silence or even ridicule; I ended up teaching the 101s and the 201s and the 301s and so on. So I couldn’t even “profess” as such about what I knew.

In fact, my entire professional life—the things that I have managed to accomplish and to be compensated for—has been mundane. I’ve been a small-time role player, a small time adjunct professor, a small-time trade nonfiction writer, and a small-time middle manager on small-time teams.

I went to grad school twice because I naively assumed (an assumption that I gradually weaned myself from by midway through my Ph.D.) that if I had fancy graduate degrees, that would somehow go some way to giving me a platform of authority and access, somehow, to leverage in pursuing and communicating about these things. Of course, that was not the case. That’s just not how it works. The degrees do not automatically open a space for you, of any kind, business, teaching, research, or otherwise.

In short, I often feel as though I understand a great many things, but I simply can not get things done or make things happen in relation to these understandings. So in the meantime, I support myself by being a boilerplate writer of things that other people ask me to write, and a competent computer operator doing computing tasks that other people need done, as I have always done. My vision is better than theirs, but somehow I work for them and often do work that I don’t quite believe in because others, with less vision, are managing to drive revenue sufficient to pay someone (e.g. me) while I have never managed to do this.

Now, rapidly heading into my mid-’40s, I am struggling to figure out what changes I need to make to myself—what I need to learn and develop—in order to:

  • Become an entrepreneur and bring products to market
  • Start businesses to address needs and niches
  • Build coalitions and launch projects
  • Do anything of practical value to leverage the insights that I seem to have

Because it is worthless to be “right.” Worthless to me and worthless to everyone else. Value only exists if I’m able to do something about it. To date, I never have been, and time is running short for me to figure out what, precisely, my failing is.

But there is no history of this kind in my family or in my social circle. We are merely “thinking people.” The processes and methods of “acting” in society are foreign to us—so I do not have a base of experience, mentorship, or know-how to draw on. I have only the vague idea that there are obscure and magical skills and practices that I do not posses that are “active” ones. But what they are, in day-to-day behavioral terms?

This eludes me.

And I cannot seem to find them documented anywhere.

There is a basic set of social (I mean this in the broad sense) skills that is lacking, and I am of the impression that these are not formally taught, but are the products of informal, environmental socialization practices in circles in which they obtain. But to find them? To find such an environment?

I don’t know where to start, nor do I have the sense that I will recognize them or it once spotted; I may well have passed such entirely over multiple times in my life without even realizing it.

This is my current quest: figure out who knows how to effectively act, rather than merely “see” and “say” all the time, then learn from them.

— § —

As an aside, perhaps before year’s end I’ll manage to make a post containing my predictions for the next 10-20 years. I have a few.

Is it good or bad that my musical tastes haven’t changed in 25 years?  §

More thoughts here.

It takes a certain amount of life experience to properly value a laundromat.  §

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was the first Hemingway story that I ever read. This was in high school (ninth grade perhaps?) and it left sufficient impression to cause me to read virtually everything else that Hemingway had ever written.

This is not a post about Hemingway, my favorite author though he may be. I’ve written enough about him elsewhere.

No, this is a post about laundromats and about clean, well-lighted places.

In particular, it’s easy to lose sight of the general lack of them in your life, particularly when their quantity has dwindled to, say, zero.

— § —

By this time of year, I have usually begun (often so far ahead of time as to be embarrassing) an “end of year thoughts” post. It sits unpublished in WordPress starting maybe in October, or maybe in November, and then evolves.

I edit it as thoughts occur to me, as events play out. Sometime in late December, late one night, I finally sit down and really crank on it in anticipation of publication. These posts mean absolutely nothing to anyone, of course, except for me. They mean a great deal to me, which is why I spend time thinking about and revising them.

Except this year. This year, it’s December 22nd and I haven’t even begun. This isn’t merely atypical for me, this is unheard of.

— § —

2017 has been a bear of a year. An absolute bear. Layne Staley once famously sang the line “Somethin’s gotta turn out right…”

Having had faith that the reception this line met was well-placed, I’ve continued to imagine that the worm would turn throughout the year. Naturally, because I acted out of character and tried to maintain a little faith, it didn’t.

And I’ll be honest, things continue to look bleak. There are rocky shores ahead, and I don’t know precisely what my strategy is. Okay, let’s be fair and say that I haven’t one.

— § —

“Chop wood and carry water.”

Once you get past “somethin’s gotta turn out right,” that’s when you get into “chop wood and carry water” territory. When the idea that if you can do nothing else, you can continue to do the basics, come hell or high water, develops a new kind of resonance.

It’s when you are reduced to chopping wood and carrying water that you finally appreciate, for the first time in your life, clean, well-lighted places and the expression of disciplined, pure-hearted toil that is their existence.

— § —

I’m sitting in a laundromat with the kids right now because there was too much laundry to do at home, and there are very large machines here that enable one to do very large amounts of laundry very quickly.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Filling in the backstory on this is left as an exercise to the reader.

The kids are doing their online reading homework, assigned by the school. They are sitting north and west of me.

I am sitting at an iPad, where I intended to sit down and actually begin a year-end post. But I am still unprepared to confront this year in its entirety. Part of this is because while a lot of undesired things began in 2017, they will not finish until 2018.

Meaning that a catalog of everything that happened this year won’t be so much as a “bad things that happened” post as it will a “unavoidable bad things to look foward to” post.

And who wants to write something like that?

— § —

It is increasingly necessary that I recover some optimism. Mojo, if you will.

Even if I’m not writing a year-end post just now, I am at the very least sitting in a clean, well-lighted place where someone else has chopped wood and carried water ahead of me.

If I am to return to the frame of mind in which I allow myself to expect, once again, that somethin’s gotta turn out right, time spent in places like this, sitting quietly at a keyboard, is a necessary beginning.

Others are picking up on The Last Jedi’s politics, too.  §

Though they seem generally more laudatory than I feel:

What The Last Jedi and Cat Person Have in Common
The Last Jedi Will Bother Some People. Good.

The difference between these authors and me is that I think it’s a bad idea to make everything political, including shared mythologies. I thought it was a bad idea with the NFL, and I think it’s a bad idea here.

Once the factions start warring to factionalize the few remaining things that an entire population shares… well… the entire population soon shares nothing.

And what we have is warring factions.

The best diagnosis of our political moment that I’ve read.  §

“From this self-laudatory funhouse has emerged a host of cynical entrepreneurs, each with the same approach to our dismal, fractious moment: Take no prisoners, brook no opposition, and never, ever step away from the umbrage. These people end their sentences with “Really.” or “In 2017.” or “Let that sink in”; they pepper their analyses with eschatology; and, as is apt for a cult, they are promiscuous with their accusations of heresy. Like Lewis’s busybodies, they are convinced to a man that they are saving the country, and insistent that the dissenters are miscreants or weaklings. They have little sense of history, no instinct for context, and no meaningful faith in the system they want to save. They are marching in an army, and damn does it feel good.”

This comes from Charles C.W. Cooke over at National Review (and before you start, yes, I read National Review; I read a whole list of rags on the left and right religiously, including DailyKos, where I’ve been a participant for going on 15 years). The money phrase?

“…they pepper their analyses with eschatology; and, as is apt for a cult, they are promiscuous with their accusations of heresy.”

Religious thinking captured the Right sometime during the Reagan years. It captured the left sometime during the Obama years. It has only tightened its grasp on each side since then. For the entire polity, we are living in end times, trying to save the world.

Of course given climate change and the antibiotic crisis, this could well be true—but ironically, these actual concerns are amongst the last on either side’s list and have little to do with what’s going on, so they will not be addressed.

Why the backlash? With The Last Jedi, any remaining remnants of old order have been swept away.  §

More on The Last Jedi. I’ve been trying to distill my reaction to something more concise. Here it is.

The original Star Wars films valued the following:

  • Wonder
  • Good and evil
  • Destiny
  • Elites
  • Social scale

This new film concerns itself with:

  • Irony and cynicism
  • Shades of gray
  • Agency
  • Equality
  • Individualism

Let’s unpack this a little bit more.

The original films played it straight with the idea of edification and teleology, taking for granted and exploring an essentialized understanding of good and evil as phenomena linked across social scales. In this relationship, some people—people who are simply more than or better than others—have particularly important roles in an all-encompassing story whose consequences will far outlive them, making their choices and behavior evidently more meaningful than most—which is shown as tragic but also necessary and as the way things have always been.

The most recent film is cynical about both the ideas of edification and teleology, in the traditional senses of these terms. It consciously rejects essentialized understandings of or even a belief in good and evil, particularly at the individual scale. It also rejects the idea that anyone is of greater importance in the grand scheme of things than anyone else. Nobody is “more than,” and the important things about individual choices aren’t anything to do with how they answer to history, but rather how they answer to themselves and their immediate interlocutors. Answering to history is what people who are too full of themselves do, and is the epitome of self-granted privilege.

— § —

When put this way, it’s clear why some are calling this the “social justice warrior” Star Wars.

Lucas’ vision has always been a highly conservative, ultimately classical one, in a sense a battle of the gods over the world inhabited by the non-gods and an exploration of what it means—and how hard it is—to be a god, destined to sacrifice yourself to your innate greatness in one way or another for those who are simply not as great.

But Johnson’s vision is progressive and contemporary. There are no gods, and the idea that there are is little more than false consciousness. What it’s hard to be is a regular, rank-and-file nobody-in-particular messed about by people who imagine themselves to be better than anyone else and who take liberties as a result. They’re not making sacrifices so much as they are the beneficiaries of privilege who as a result have mistaken themselves for gods and who don’t like losing it. But they have used said privilege poorly in ways that have harmed others, even while clinging to it, and the potential for this harm is why privilege is unfair and should not be allowed to go on. They imagine “history,” which doesn’t exist, all while trampling on “personal stories and experiences,” which are all that matter.

In a very real sense, Star Wars has been the last pop-cultural holdout of a way of looking at the world that takes much from religion and traditional Western values and cosmology, and that has seen these things as ennobling.

But Star Wars has now converted to the contemporary side—democratic, individualistic, anti-privilege and anti-elite. In a very real sense, Star Wars has taken up the culture wars, against a unified understanding of history, against religion, against the traditionally privileged, against nobless oblige and the very ideas of “ennoblement” and “edification,” belief in which has become a sin. It is very much on the progressive identity politics side of things.

In short, what is the true false consciousness? Is it the idea that good and evil don’t exist and thus don’t have to be dealt with in the end? Or is it the idea that they do and that some are called to do this dealing?

Here, “fulfill your destiny” has been traded in for “check your privilege,” Wagner and the classics department for Octavia butler and cultural studies. This is bound to generate a decent amount of resentment, even if people aren’t clear on why, particularly given our political moment in the world.

Most friends are mercenaries, including you.  §

About 95 percent of social life in modernity is people paying (in one way or another) for other people to be their friends (in one way or another). This is how a whole bunch of the social system works:

  • Business and employment
  • Production and consumption
  • Medical, dental, and mental health
  • Politics
  • Most acquaintances and friendships

People who are very good at buying and selling their friendships and their feelings become very, very successful and powerful. People who aren’t—no matter their other skills—don’t.

© Aron Hsiao / 2004

This is how postmodern capitalist society makes up for the radical isolation of radical individualism—everything is transactional and every transaction involves some measure of implied regard and interaction. Since trying to have friends without wealth at stake is considered to be both taboo and embarrassingly naive, everything becomes way of buying and selling friendship. Placing the proper value on friendship, and providing the right amount of friendship for the value delivered, are understood to be right and proper everyday practices.

As an aside, this is why there are so many people in this culture who so hate their families and family time—because it is aggravatingly anachronistic. Since nobody has paid anything, nobody has any leverage over anyone else in family contexts. The average “who, me?!” manipulator can’t stand that. And nearly everyone is an average “who, me?!” manipulator now.

Don’t tell me all of this isn’t true. Peeing on my leg and telling me it’s raining stopped working about three decades ago.

Like progressivism, The Last Jedi goes down easy… but leaves a bad aftertaste.  §

Why didn’t I like the latest Star Wars film?

Because it’s overhwhelmingly a film of the moment, and it wears its politics on its sleeve.

The most indicative moment probably comes late in the film when a character inserted essentially to be Asian, female, and cheerful and not much else says, in a throwaway line with her dying breath, something like “We won’t win by fighting against anything, we’ll win by fighting to save what we love!


And more to the point, entirely out of place. Her character was completely out of place—the bubbly differently abled body-positive high school girl of color who’s generally clueless about conflict in the world but that’s okay because all are welcome in our circle—in the midst of the hardened, constantly beseiged, hardscrabble-death-star-destroying Rebel Alliance (which is of course now, regrettably or gleefully, depending on which side of the political aisle you’re on, “The Resistance”). And the message is even more out of place than her character is. Comrades are dropping like flies around her in the midst of a hellish, multi-generational war against a totalitarian galactic power that is suposedly all these people have ever known amidst their terrible lives on inhospitable planets. And she’s all alone. And her job ain’t that great. And she’s gonna die young, never really having lived. And she’s there because it all sucks so bad that it’s worth any sacrifice to try to destroy the basic order of the galaxy to try to change things. And she’s only just met Flynn.

What, pray, is it that she loves so much—that she is trying to save—exactly?

It’ll tell you what she loves. That 100% organic, progressive, eco-friendly attitude that she’s so careful, thanks to our hero the director, to virtue-signal. You know the one, it’s an inch deep at most, obscures deep resentment and fear on the part of those that express it, but nonetheless keeps them talking about “the power of love” decades after Lennon was killed in front of a hotel in New York and despite the fact that they hate as many things as much as anyone else, and probably even moreso, but can’t say it because that sort of un-PC speech is verboten beneath their hardened, glassy faces of joyous progress.

The rest of the movie is much the same. There’s no good and there’s no evil any longer, even on the light and dark sides of The Force, so Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren are both just… troubled. And because we shouldn’t judge, one isn’t even more troubled than another. They’re simply differently troubled, that’s all. And Rashomon and two equally valid but different and totally understandable points of view that are deeply felt, of course and that must be validated or bad things will happen, because it’s really invalidation that’s the source of all the ills in the world. The same for everyone here. And anyone with the slightest bit of masculinity is, of course, a buffoon. The ladies, naturally, are wise and strong and rule, but only—only if they wear organic fabric earth tones and hand-crafted silver-and-crystal jewelry of the sort that you might find at a Sedona craft fair. Even high-tech stuff looks as if it were hand-made by tribal elders using traditional indigenous tools.

Not only that, but we get meditative astral projection, predators going vegan, a transparent critique of the military-industrial complex, ideological populism, and a lot of runaround to make these points, besides.

Star Wars fans are upset about this film because there are precious few places any longer to talk about the problem of evil in the world. Religion is out, now being seen as mere “bigotry” and most in our population have become disconnected from it anyway. The question of good and evil is now seen as a prejudicial framing that comes from those who fail to be empathetic—to try to understand others. There are also precious few places today to escape what our politics has become (and if you want to know what it’s become, just re-read everything I’ve written so far; forget about issues of life and death and nation and just focus on Burning Man style virtues, and you’re there).

And so naturally we get a film in which the good guys are also bad, religion (even one based on something as apparently powerful as The Force) is explicitly described as an immoral failure, the bad guys are tortured hipsters with daddy issues who just need someone to care, you shouldn’t eat meat even if you and your species don’t have the right teeth for anything else, post-menopausal granola women are the best suited to “humanely” rule because they don’t bother to explain things to toxically masculine men, who of course suffer from the “flyboy” malady of testosterone insanity and thus wouldn’t understand, and so on.

Sorry to sound like a philosophical prude here, but whatever redeeming qualities Star Wars has ever had—and all of the reasons for which it has for so many years been in tension with Star Trek—have been about its embrace of the foundational concept that evil exists and is categorically different from merely “uncomfortable” or “sad” or “distasteful” or “troubled,” and that and the quandary for those who are good—many of whom may also indeed be and often are uncomfortable or sad or distasteful or troubled, yet not evil—is and forever will be to figure out how to fight evil without becoming fundamentally evil in the process. This is one of human history’s classic—and mostly deeply bothersome—questions.

Johnson doesn’t buy that line of thinking and so he goes all DailyKos on us and tells us that no, in fact evil people are just hurt and misunderstood, good people are all murderers given the right circumstances, but they don’t want you to know it because they’re oh-so-judgmental, and religion on the first hand and a general lack of diversity on the second are the real problems in the world. What we need isn’t to fight, but to wear different clothes, listen to women and minorities more, be done with philosophy, which is just another word for religion, and just love each other. All you need is love, man! Just love! Oh, and an end to all the stuff that isn’t love, like eating meat and being masculine and calling some people evil and trying to fight them. I mean, that’s just bigotry.

May The Force be with you, especially if you do yoga and meditate at the Zen temple with the other overpaid white folks that shop at Whole Foods and that understand that chakras beat psalms any day of the week.

I’ll say it again: Vomit.

— § —

And now I’ll say it less snarkily.

The first Star Wars trilogy was interested in characters, yes, but as deadly serious participants in a morality play that encompassed things larger than any individual. Empires and movements, social conditions, the same questions of the relationship between individual and society and society and ethics that plagued all of the 20th century, and about which we, too used to use language like “good versus evil.”

Now Tarkin has been replaced by Hax, Admiral Ackbar with Laura Dern in an evening dress, Vader with Ren, and deeply difficult civilizational questions of morality with merely “ambiguous and that’s okay” questions of individual psychology.

In short, Star Wars has lost everything that we have, after long being one of the last pop-cultural repositories of these things.

It’s our loss.

In the early morning hours, you can pretend it’s 1981 again.  §

Thing 1:

I’ve taken to waking up sometime around 2:00 am every day and going back to sleep again around 5:00 am. This has happened organically, and it’s not the first time it’s happened in my life, either.

If I had to estimate, I’d say that on balance I’ve maintained this schedule for most of my life, and that it has been far more common than the periods of “regular sleep” here and there, the most recent of these following becoming a parent having been the longest and lasted several years.

I think it happens because, quite simply, I love the early morning hours so very much. Being awake between 2:00 am and 5:00 am is utter bliss.

Everything is quiet. The world is yours. No one will interrupt you for any reason. Anyone that’s expecting anything of you isn’t expecting it between 2:00 am and 5:00 am. There is no need for manners. There is no need to self-censor. There is no need to negotiate with everyone else to be yourself, nor to explain yourself or defend, justify, or apologize for your idiosyncracies.

These are the only hours during which there is no penalty for being alive, and I relish them.

— § —

Thing 2:

When I was a young child in my first few years at school, it seemed as though everyone was “middle-class.”

This was the early 1980s, and there was a kind of homogeneity to the students in my public school that we didn’t think about much. We all had two-parent households. We all had houses that had a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom for the parents, an additional one to two bedrooms for the children (with sharing, where necessary), and the lucky ones had a second bathroom and a second car, while most had one bathroom and one used-but-reliable station wagon somewhere between five and ten years old as a family car.

All of us had a few toys, but not too many toys, ate mostly home-cooked meals that were nutritious and usually balanced but by no means organic, usually consisting of staples from each food group. We all had clothes that were from department stores—Sears, K-Mart, Gibson’s, J.C. Penny—but they were generally not new for long or very often, as we received clothes for Christmas and Birthdays and were expected to make them last a year or two. If they developed holes, those holes would get patched or stitched up.

Everyone had a dentist and a doctor. Everyone had a parent who worked a job that provided insurance.

And all of the families were on a budget. Everyone knew that they—and their peers—had parents that worked hard to “make ends meet” with used station wagons, dining out and movies reserved for a few special occasions per year, and absolutely no luxuries like vacations. The concept of a big-screen television set was ridiculous—a waste; the concept of a family without health and medical insurance was equally ridiculous—surely someone in the house could get a job of some kind.

© Aron Hsiao / 2002

The yards were all the same—a square patch of lawn, roughly green, roughly even, a tree or two. The older kids in the home would mow it. The younger kids would weed and water it. It didn’t look like a golf course, but it also didn’t look like tundra.

We often knew where our friends’ parents worked. Someone’s middle-aged dad might be a grocery bagger full-time, and we’d see them when we went to buy peas at the store. Someone else’s dad might be an engineer, someone else’s dad a bus driver, someone else’s dad a bank teller, and someone else’s mom a teacher or a seamstress-tailor at the fabric store. These were all solid, “middle-class” careers for middle-aged people—things you “could do for a living” to “support your family,” and all carried with them dignity and entitlement to respect.

I don’t know any people like this any longer. They gradually disappeared over the late ’80s and ’90s, and seemed to become extinct entirely by the mid-’00s.

All of the careers I just named are often part-time, contract, or temp careers now. None of the people in this neighborhood, or in my parents’ or siblings’ neighborhoods today, is “middle-class” in this way. There are two classes now.

The first class doesn’t budget because they really don’t have to. They manage their spending, yes, but it’s more a matter of “financial planning,” “good investing,” and prioritizing their consumption. They live in large, many-bedroom houses with manicured yards—each idiosyncratically different, well-landscaped, and decorated—that are cared for to perfection by paid landscaping contractors that appear once per week. They have very large 4k HDTVs in the living room, in the den, in the game room, and in the master bedroom. The kids each have their own room, and in these rooms each kid has their own 36″ HDTV, their own iPad, their own laptop, and a large number of toys. They have every satellite TV and every streaming service under the sun—Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and several that no one’s ever heard of. They have gigabit broadband. There are a foosball table and a vending machine (it’s really just a fun fridge; it doesn’t require coins to dispense a drink and you have to refill it yourself) in the den. There is a trampoline in the back yard, not standing on top of the lawn, but in fact level with the ground, installed over a deep pit that is paved with concrete to control dirt and make cleaning easy. It’s next to the small pool. Everyone wears mall and designer clothes. The kids all get salon haircuts. And have braces. And have had their teeth whitened. The parents both work either in senior management or are “enterpreneurs,” which in both cases means they largely work on a computer all day, as these days managers do not directly interact with employees much and enterpreneurs don’t start shops, but instead found e-commerce or software-as-a-service businesses. Everyone has the latest model iPhone and a major-carrier unlimited plan. Everyone’s had the same phone number for years. There is a roomy two-car carage that holds a mom’s Lexus and dad’s BMW—if mom and dad are still married. Often, they’re not, and each parent has a matching version of this home-yard-car combo in adjacent neighborhoods.

This first class calls themselves “middle class” but they’re clearly not. In the early 1980s, anyone looking at their home, amenities, and lifestyle would assume them to be wealthy at the least, and quite possibly “very” wealthy indeed.

The second class doesn’t budget because there’s no point. They don’t have credit, they won’t be able to pay their bills no matter how they slice the numbers, and they’re relying on public assistance and assistance from private charities and NGOs to get by. They won’t save, and they’ll never plan or invest. They live in apartments, usually two to three per year due to a mix of serial evictions and decisions to “get out” of the worst places, which tend to have a high rate of drug-using occupants or insect infestation. They have one HDTV, usually larger than they can afford, the large room nearest their apartment’s front door. It’s only able to show something every now and then, when “the cable is hooked back up again.” They play in the public parks when they can get there, but they often can’t because public transportation is hard to use and their unreliable twenty-year-old discontinued make-model cars are usually either trapped at the mechanic while they “try to come up with the money” to get them back following repairs or are rapidly repossesed due to highly unfavorable loan terms when they took advantage of the “zero down, got-a-job get-a-car” deal at the local “old parking lot full of older cars” dealership. But those are the only dealerships and loans they can access. Everyone wears clothes from Wal-Mart. Nobody goes to the doctor. Nobody goes to the dentist. They don’t know what an orthodontist is. There’s only one parent at home, and nobody knows where the other parent is—they haven’t been heard from in a long time. That one parent works any other job around (and sometimes two or three) doing anything that does *not* happen on a computer all day. They do it on a part-time, temporary, or contract-only basis. That one parent also has the only mobile phone in the house—a low-end, pay-as-you-go Android phone bought at the local convenience store that doesn’t hold up well, which is fine because they can only “afford” to have a phone some of the time anyway, and these low-end phones, carriers, and plans don’t stay compatible or in business very long. It’s hard to stay in touch with this family because their phone number changes several times a year and the parent in the house is almost always at work anyway, though they never seem to have enough food, money, or time to live much more than a barely-scraping-by life.

This second class calls themselves “middle class” and they’re also clearly not. They would look at the life shown in episodes of Roseanne as something they’re hoping to aspire to, someday when they’re able to “get back on their feet” and “stabilize things a bit.”

There are very, very few people in between these classes today. It just doesn’t look at all like it did when I was growing up in the ’80s.

— § —

It’s between 2:00 am and 5:00 am that this entire second thing doesn’t matter and disappears into ephemera for a while.

And that’s why I love that time so much.

Both progress and reaction are eating themselves.  §

I’m exhausted by our political culture.

Not just that, but I don’t believe any of it.

I don’t believe that:

  • There is a rape culture
  • The Democrats are plotting a communist takeover
  • White supremacy dominates American life
  • Lascivious women enjoy murdering babies
  • Christians want a Theocracy
  • Academics want to brainwash young people
  • etc.

Virtually every last thing that every last activist argues these days is utter bullshit. It’s all nonsense. Left and right. It’s all made-up fairy stories. How did we get here? I have no idea.

We should be worrying about:

  • Nuclear proliferation
  • Climate change
  • Income and wealth inequality
  • The end of work

Instead, these things barely even merit a mention. By either side.

I think this is what happens when you take a population, and you eliminate from their lives:

  • Religious cosmology
  • Strong social ties and stable families
  • Communities of tradition
  • A great men and great works arc of historical knowledge

Left without these things, people have no way to situate their own lives in relation to the ontological world. Meaning inheres in nothing; they have nothing to cling to but their own identities, which are based entirely on things intrinsic to them, largely physical attributes and thoughts (e.g. opinions).

So they must act on these and defend them to the death, because to fail to honor them is to threaten the only sense of meaning that people have.

The average American right now desperately needs, but does not know that he or she needs:

  • A god
  • A stable family that they can’t escape
  • A community that hasn’t changed
  • A narrative, rather than totalizing or historicist, view of history

They’re like kids. They need structure and discipline to be imposed upon them. They need to be brought to heel, be told the stories, and be tested on whether or not they can repeat them.

They will respond like kids do—with rebellion and then, later, with secret gratitude.

Freedom has become the enemy, because freedom is another way of saying “I’m afraid. Please tell me that someone stronger and wiser than me—but who will protect me, rather than hurt me—is in charge here.”

It’s the reaction to Cat Person that’s most revealing—and sad.  §

All this sturm und drang over a story that has nothing particularly remarkable to show or say.

Women going all #MeToo not realizing how misplaced this sounds when referencing a woman who is the actual aggressor, who initiates, and in which we (thanks to the omniscience of the narrator) actually get to see her explicitly and mentally consent. Men getting all hurt when in fact the man suffers almost not at all and loses almost nothing at all, then acts terribly in the end.

Both characters in the story are dishonest, manipulative narcissists mainly in love with themselves, and whose losses and suffering amount essentially to ego bruises after a considered effort to exploit someone else as means to inflate said egos.

Who the “someone else” was hardly mattered to either of them; it could have been anyone. Neither took any steps to actually know the person, nor showed any restraint in using them despite not knowing them in the least. The point wasn’t to actually engage in real terms with another human being, it was to leverage a fellow human being as yet another consumable resource in entirely inward-facing self-identity-building. The only thing that either had on their mind—happy and not happy—was their own selfhood—said “selfhood” being the poison that is destroying modernity, the runaway Hollywood-level success of Zen in America notwithstanding.

In short, what nobody’s saying is:

  • Both of the characters in the story are consenting adults, and both are horrible, selfish people with no integrity who have no business being allowed out into public.
  • All of the readers who identify with either character reveal themselves to be horrible, selfish people with no integrity who have no business being allowed out in to public.

If you identify with this story, as woman or as man, you ought to be embarrassed. You have just outed yourself; you don’t see human beings across from you at the table. And your chattering about the story on Twitter or Facebook or wherever is merely you promoting you, justifying you, building you, asking for social currency for you, etc., all without any regard for anyone else—just like these characters with which you so identify.

So many essays on “why this story went viral” and all of them got it wrong.

The real reason that it went viral is ironic and darkly hilarious. Even a send-up of hand-wringing narcissists impatient to place themselves at the center of the universe gets hand-wringing narcissists impatient to place themselves at the center of the universe all hot and bothered.

Yet another (literally) “self”-serving, disgusting, misguided pile of self-expression animates the same old self-serving, disgusting, misguided national public.

Two selfish people date. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t go well. Both end up primarily bothered by how this affects themselves. Selfish national public says “OMG, #MeToo!” And all of it is fiction in service of the self.

Film at 11.

Things.  §

There are two kinds of immediately impending things.

Those that come hurtling toward you in time, hit you full in the face, then recede rapidly into history, and those that are always immediately impending but that never seem to arrive, permanently darkening the horizon wihout the possibility of catharsis.

Death is the most obvious of these, but there are many others both grand and mundane.

— § —

There are two primary versions of Santa Claus for kids in contemporary culture.

Larger-than-life Santa has a flawless, extravagant red suit, gleaming gold-rimmed spectacles, a pure-white beard of glossy hair, curled to perfection in bobs that go nearly down to his waist. He has one major line, which is “Ho, ho, ho!”

Hearth Santa’s suit is rumpled, as though he’s been wearing it for years, his spectacles are actually just eyeglasses, his beard is real and has all of the kinkiness and uneven color of an actual gray beard, and it ends about four to eight inches below his face. He doesn’t have lines, he has conversations with kids.

I prefer the latter.

— § —

People say “don’t judge” as though it’s some sort of taken-for-granted moral value these days.

I prefer to judge openly. “Don’t judge” leads us to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, because what it really means is “I forgive my own sins and the sins of those like me,” not “I forgive the sins of those who are not like me.”

“Don’t judge” sounds as though it’s about tolerance of others, but in fact it’s merely and only about insisting on the moral defectiveness of anyone who doesn’t tolerate me.

Like everything else in contemporary society, it is narcissistic.

— § —

There are two strains of MGTOW, the loud, reaction-formation one that paints billboards and has bad manners and an aggressive, punitive agenda, and a quiet one that goes largely unnamed.

The first one is getting all the press these days, but I suspect that the second one, which used to be called “confirmed bachelorhood,” will be a much bigger deal when the history books on this half-century are written. It’s not an activist creed like the first, but rather a live-and-let live perspective on gender and relationships that sees with clear eyes the fact that in our current cultural configuration, men and women do not make each other happy, and when in close quarters impose significant—even catastrophic—risks and costs on one another that perhaps ought not to be rationally and can not be wisely accepted by either.

This second version of MGTOW, which is MGTOW in the literal sense only, rather than a brand, is the product of reason and maturity in light of social conditions, and is related to a similar brand of WGTOW that, unmarketed, has been going on for some time now.

There is only one kind of complementary heterogender relationship right now that works well—that in which there is a mutually understood and accepted imbalance of power and authority that is significant enough to render the relationship one of husbandry. Of course, in such instances, the hammer in the relationship, whether man or woman, quickly learns two things: (1) anvils are not much better company than pets, and (2) they are significantly more expensive to maintain and care for.

— § —

Identity disruption is empirically seen to be the cause of a number of mental health and life-arc maladies, but the proposed cure—the construction and support of stable identities—is incomplete.

This latter cannot be achieved self-referentially—that is to say that one cannot form a stable identity sui generis. Because the fertile ground that produced any one can and will continue to produce others in response to stimuli and to circumstances; gardens that grow vegetables well inevitably grow weeds well. That is the nature of unmanaged fertility.

We don’t like objective foundations or collectively normative metaphysics, but without them, identity is an unstable quantum—that is to say, quantized and infinitely and suddenly variable—property.

People will not find mental health until they are defined either by a God or by a stable circle of others who impose an identity upon them. Identity freedom and self-definition aren’t merely myths; given human biology and nature, they’re mental disorders.

All of society right now is engaged in “Please, mental-illness-for-all—it’s ethical!” activism.