About five years ago, one summer, we suddenly had earwigs everywhere. These are ugly bugs, though they’re entirely harmless. They speak to something ugly in the human soul. They have horns and spikes and crawl close to the ground, and they’re hard to kill.
They were everywhere, for a few weeks, and then they were just gone. And I hadn’t thought about them since; they had passed into forgotten history.
Until this month. Suddenly, five years later, without explanation, they’re back. They turn up in the dogs’ food dishes. Or crawling across the floor. Or on the wall next to the air conditioner.
I’d never expected to see them again.
— § —
Fifteen years ago, I drove home alone on Interstate 15 having left, for the very last time, my job at eBay. I felt wistful and uncertain. The future was unknown. I left behind friends and the only serious job I could clearly remember by that time.
Fifteen years. Between then and now, I moved to Chicago. Earned a masters degree. Wrote books. Moved to Portland. Then to Los Angeles. Won awards as an encyclopedia editor. Wrote more books. Moved back to Salt Lake City. Then to New York. Got married. Had children. Earned a Ph.D. Taught at New York University, CUNY, The New School, and a bunch of other universities. Moved across the country again to Provo. Became the public voice of a technology startup. Over half a decade, did countless interviews with Time and Forbes and Business Week and Inc. Magazine and Slashdot. Appeared on television and radio in and amongst moments of divorce paperwork and transcendental life changes.
My time at eBay all the way back in 2003? That, too, had long ago passed into forgotten history.
Until this year. At the end of 2017, my company was acquired by eBay. Once again I was an eBay employee, based at the same campus I’d worked at in 2003. Once again I interacted with faces I’d known all the way back in my twenties. Once again I’ve become habituated, over the course of 2018, to life at eBay.
And now, after all of those intervening years, I once again find myself facing the end of my time at eBay. Once again this end corresponds, intuitively, to the end of an entire phase in my life. Once again this Friday I will sign off for the very last time at eBay and say goodbye, just as I did all the way back in the late spring of 2003.
Once again I feel wistful and uncertain. Once again, the future is unknown. Once again, I leave behind friends and the only serious job I can remember by now.
— § —
They say that deja vu—the false sense that you are repeating an experience that you have had once before—is eerie and disorienting.
I think that it’s reality and history that are far more eerie and disorienting—in particular, the actuality that you are repeating experiences that you have absolutely, and not merely intuitively, had before. This is far more common than we like to admit, and it affects us far more deeply than we’re prepared to believe.
Our entire metaphysics, and our understandings our natures within it—as Benjamin points out—are predicated on a particular understanding of of time.
Who needs deja vu, the pale imitation, when it’s clear that we quite literally live out the same scenes over and over again, entirely beyond our ability to avoid or control them?
We either laugh about it or we avoid talking about it because if we were to seriously confront the question, we’d probably fail entirely to cope.
— § —
One of the strangest side effects of social media—and another that I didn’t anticipate as a young scholar—is the way in which it has created a deep suspicion of information and knowledge, along with a resulting paradox: the belief that enlightenment is positively and linearly correlated with:
That is to say that the presumption is now that apart from a handful of received truths, all texts and all information are false propaganda motivated by power interests, and thus, the less one reads, listens, and knows, and the more one holds tightly and uncritically to a few shockingly simple axioms, the more elite and educated one is.
In fact, it is assumed to be the truly naive and ignorant who—say—read books and enter into reflection. Such poor, credulous folk actually think that there is something to learn, rather than realizing that they are being manipulated by Nazis, Communists, and Inquisitors. Only the truly stupid, the easy victims that suffer from mental weakness and have been fooled into service by malevolence, believe in the actuality of nuance, the pursuit of truth, or the value of thought.
The good and the wise know that what we must all do is cover our ears, cover our eyes, and cover our mouths—to hear none of these lies, to refuse to gaze at lies lest we be seduced, and of course to refuse to recite anything anything beyond received canon, lest we allow ourselves to speak for Satan. We are living a new medievalism.
This is the state of things on the left and on the right. And of course, virtually every dimension of life now lives either on the left or on the right. One innovation of late modernity vs. the medieval universe is that the territory of the apolitical is the smallest bordered territory in the history of the globe, and it shrinks every day.
As a rule, we are given as a society to the suspicion that this is where Satan lives. At length, we will finally eradicate this territory, from which it is presumed that all heresies, including the heresies of nuance, truth, and thought, ultimately flow.
— § —
I spent the better part of the afternoon cleaning out (and up) my office.
At some point, while carrying a bag of trash out to the large can on the driveway, the breeze came up and stopped me in my tracks.
The sky was a bit gray—maybe the sun was behind the clouds—and the leaves on the many trees in the strip of land beside the driveway rustled as the branches swayed back and forth, a few inches at a time.
I froze. I froze because I was caught out of time. Which is another way of saying that it was a timeless moment. Which is another way of saying I’d lived that moment before—not just once, but many, many times, in almost exactly the same way.
Of course, we do this all the time without noticing it. We do the same things over and over and over again. We are so habituated to this daily or weekly repetition that we don’t notice how very strange it is for beings of limited lifespans to repeat themselves ad infinitum—we don’t notice that, in fact, our lives are far shorter than we think they are because at the end of them we’ll have lived, after all, only a tiny handful of unique days or experiences.
But when there’s a larger gap to break up the monotony, to shake us out of our blindness, we see: these moments are not fresh. Every day is not a new day. A person’s life does not consist of “homogenous, empty time” that is filled, as if by an auteur, with as yet unwritten scenes.
A person’s life consists of just a few scenes, by and large, the vast majority of which have already been revealed by the time one reaches adulthood, or certainly by the time one reaches middle age.
This is where the transition to gratitude in later life comes from—it is applause at a play that has already been staged and has completed the better part of its run. There is little left but to savor it, to appreciate it for what it is, because it has been written and performed already; each day is an instance of what already has been on previous days; it will likely not be otherwise, despite any attempts to innovate.
Time and human agency don’t work in the ways that we think they do, and we don’t respond to them in the ways that we think we do.
And when we capture a glimpse of the depth and entirely avoided beauty of these natures, it stops us in our tracks. But only for a moment. The show must go on, because the run has already been slated and tickets for the remaining performances sold, and as sci-fi often hints to us, we are strangely powerless, despite our best efforts, to alter what time—the universe?—God?—in fierce autonomy has already fully pronounced.
Ours is a role already conceived and staged. If we are honest with ourselves, we are forced to admit that we are not the playwright. We are not even the director.
— § —
Activism leads to ignorance and totalitarianism precisely because of a very human desire to avoid this fact—a desire that leads to its repression, which in turn requires the repression of a great deal—perhaps even an all-encompassing amount—of evidence.
We refuse to accept that the metaphysics with which we operate and are comfortable is incorrect, a wish rather than an actuality. In the pursuit of the homogenous, empty time that we are sure is our birthright, we begin to see conspiracies everywhere around us.
We erect elaborate imaginaries ordered around dark forces that are presumed to be working, always, to cause human suffering and to erase human freedom and flourishing from time. The promising emptiness of the future seems to have been filled by an elusive vandal or saboteur and our job is to ensure that this ne’er-do-well doesn’t foreclose on our infinite potential and infinite freedom.
Even the rustling of the trees becomes offensive, and anyone who dares to talk about it—or the earwigs—or the eBay jobs—or the ways in which every life is far shorter and far more determined already than we admit it to be—is a co-conspirator.
We ironically assert that philosophy and religion—who proclaim this vandal, this saboteur, to be the ghost of our own smallness—are wishful thinking. In fact, they are the antidotes to wishful thinking that we increasingly refuse to consume—that we can’t bear to consume.
And so in our particular time we use social media, the best tool ever devised to try to empty out time once again, to restore what we subconsciously believe has been stolen from us. The activists activize. The dogmatists dogmatize.
Everyone works hard to ensure that nobody reads a book or an article or gives voice to a thought suggesting anything other than that the possible grounds for utopia have been stolen from us, and that with indignation and a particular crusaders’ ethos, we can again restore the possibility of utopia to its rightful place in our wide-open futures.
— § —
Meanwhile, the same jobs come and go. We take out the trash, mow the lawn, clean the toilets, then do it all again. We drink and sing for the new year, barbecue for Independence Day, cook a turkey for Thanksgiving Day, and erect a tree for Christmas. We take the same photos again and again and again.
The earwigs come back. The wind rustles in the trees. We pretend to be blind through all of it.
And we meticulously avoid the obvious for the space of exactly one human life, reflecting now and then throughout that deja vu is so very weird and circular. We do this while we repeat ourselves. While time, which owns us, repeats ourselves. This is the secret underbelly of all of politics, including our own.
— § —
I know. Somehow with me it’s always about life, death, and time. Naturally, we’ve seen this movie before, too. I am what I am. As are you.
— § —
It’s not that time is coming for you. Come on—wake up for just a moment. Stop in your tracks.
It’s not that time is coming for you.
Time already came, long ago. You’re just waiting for the show’s run to come to an end. You know all of the scenes already and the ending, too. You’ve been performing them for years.
None of this, I realize, can actually be said. It’s all a conspiracy. And to say this out loud, or even think it, is to be “complicit.”
Which is why so many of us feel that it is absolutely imperative, in our era, to put the lie to this lie on Facebook. Freedom demands nothing less than that we formally indict—and do our utmost to convict—the wind.
I’m writing this on the Neo tonight because sometimes it just feels like there’s so very much noise in every other space, on every other device. The networked world intrudes even when it doesn’t intrude.
We don’t have enough “connection” in our world, and yet as the trope goes, we can’t disconnect either. I imagine this means that the forms of connection at issue are the wrong ones.
But whatever. I digress and I haven’t even started yet.
— § —
I haven’t touched the Neo in months, but tonight when I reached up to the top shelf and pulled it out, a dead moth fell to my desktop with a thump. One wing was still attached; the other wing slowly fluttered down and ultimately came to rest right beside it.
For a moment—so brief as to be almost imperceptible—I was made incredibly sad by this moth’s long-completed passing. By the fact that it was once a living creature. By the fact that it lay there so long, high on a shelf, in darkness, undiscovered. By the fact that it’s finally been discovered not by any being that can make use of it or that ever wanted to know it, but by a human that will, in short order, throw its body into the trash.
Then I remembered that it was a bug, and all of that disappeared. But for a moment—for a moment, I swear I felt so much pathos—and so much compassion for—this moth.
Meanwhile, I’ve just watched Molly (my dog) eat a beetle without ceremony, and I felt nothing. So whatever.
— § —
I was taken aback early this morning by the thought that the people that I know at my taekwondo gym, and see only in that capacity, are probably my best (not to mention only) local friends.
This has come up before. Other people—mostly women—and especially exes—have for many years told me that I need to make more friends. Every now and then, though not too often, I’ve reflected on this, but this morning I happened to see without delay just why I don’t have many local friends, and why it’s always women saying this to me, never other men I know or have known.
The reason is, quite simply, that men don’t have friends. This goes double for fathers.
This is often framed as some sort of homophobia, or as some sort of internalized form of gender oppression related to masculinity, but it’s actually much simpler than all of that.
First of all, men without children don’t have friends because they have girlfriends. The cultural judgment here is that a man who has a girlfriend but hangs around with other men is a jerk. Worse if he hangs around with other women. He ought to be spending time with with his significant other, and with her friends (as the old Spice Girls song suggests). If he can’t do that, he’s sexist or chauvinist, a cad, or at the very least tremendously selfish and insensitive.
And let’s be clear, we’re talking about “hangs around” because to sustain a real friendship requires time. Regular time. Like, hours per day multiple days per month kinds of time. Any man who invests in a friendship in this way will soon find himself without a significant other and facing rather a lot of judgment from anyone in his circle.
The only condition under which it is permissible for a man to have a friend is when he is single. However, when he’s single, befriending a woman (particularly in today’s climate) also invites judgment along lines of sexual culture. It’s not comfortable to socialize with women that aren’t significant others because every moment is fraught with risk and optics questions. Meanwhile, socializing with other single guys gives rise to an uncomfortable elephant in the room: “We’re both here, given social norms, purely because we’re single.”
It becomes impossible to decide whether you’re actually friends or whether you just happen to be single together and at a loose end, and that sort of “Are we really friends?” ambiguity is never conducive to intimacy or even patience. Guys don’t have patience for ambiguous situations; we generally want to resolve them. When we can’t, we tend to just blurt it out. “I have no idea whether we’re actually friends or just here because we don’t have a date.” “Yeah, I get you man.” “See you later.” “No doubt.”
Meanwhile, if you have children, friends are absolutely verboten to a man, for a variety of reasons:
You are being keenly and continuously judged on whether you spend your free time with your children. Fail to do so and you may soon no longer have them.
You are being keenly judged on the behavior of any friends that you have, which is a tremendous risk. Their behaviors and crimes become yours. How well do you really know your friends? Will one of them declare bankruptcy? Did one of them once hit a girlfriend? Has one of them been seen exiting a gentleman’s club? You may well find out about these things only at the moment that you lose your children because of “the company you keep.” Better not to risk it.
Then, there’s the direct issue—this behavior isn’t bad merely because of its knock-on effects. How much do you want any non-family, non-significant other adult around your children? Why, exactly, don’t they have a family? Why, exactly, do they have time for “friendships,” and what does this say about their safety around children?
Of course, there’s also the life-stage thing. Reach a certain age and most of the people your age also have families (and/or ex-families) and children. They don’t have any more time or risk tolerance for you than you have for them.
Which leads, finally, to the most important item. If you’re a man with children in today’s society, whether in an intact marriage or (doubly so) not, you don’t get to spend nearly as much time with your children as you’d like. At the very least, there’s work. Then, for divorced men, there’s the custody thing. A good deal of spare time, if not all of it, belongs to the kids, not to “friends.” The time in your life that doesn’t belong to your boss is severely limited. You want it to belong to your children or, barring that, to yourself.
None of the things above have to do with homophobia, and none of them have to do with machismo, “toxic masculinity,” or any of that nonsense.
If you doubt what I’m saying here, just imagine—for example—a single man who befriends a married couple with kids. He’s always hanging around with them all, he as the lone outsider, stopping by for random reasons to spend hours hanging out in the house with them. What do you think of him? Be honest. Or, imagine a divorced dad with small children who spends a ton of time hanging around with other single guys (because, of course, the non-single guys are all required to be with their significant others). What do you think of him? Be honest.
For men in our society, friendship with other men isn’t on the cards. It’s effectively prohibited—not by norms of masculinity that a man aspires to embody, but by the threats and failures of masculinity that society ascribes to him, regardless of who he is, whether he is single or married, childless or a father, and whether the hypothetical friends involved are male, female, or couple.
The culture is simply such that it’s frowned upon—and likely a significant personal risk—for an adult man to invest in “real” friendships of any kind.
Which is why men all seem to have “old friends from college” or “old friends from high school” that live several states, or at least several cities, away, that they get together with just a few times per year (or per decade). These “old reliable” friends avoid all of the problems above by not taking too much time and not being too nearby. They’re allowed.
— § —
There was some other topic that hit me a bit hard this morning, but now I forget what it was. I hate that—when in the morning I muse about a topic for an hour as I work distractedly on something else, thinking “by god, I have so much to say here, I could write a book”—yet by evening I can’t remember what it was in the first place.
— § —
A thing deserving mention: walking through a public space this afternoon, I saw a young girl absent-mindedly carrying around a plush fox toy.
Like the aforementioned moth, this generated a rush of emotion for which I wasn’t prepared.
First, I was filled with that swell of feeling that can only be described as “parentness.” It’s a strange mix of deep love, the tragic (you re-feel all of the times you couldn’t protect the innocence of your children or save them from little pains), and the beautiful (you are in awe of the sublimity of what innocence remains), all juxtaposed with the image of your own child(ren) that your encounter with someone else’s child brings to the fore.
I realized at the same time that I also felt no small amount of envy. Yes, envy. And loss.
It is rather too hard, and too bland, and too dark to be an adult in our society. To be straining to outrun terrible fates of all kind (financial, familial, career, etc.) every moment of every day, trying to keep a roof over small heads and so on. Okay, I’ll cop, I admit that this is likely not a problem of society per se but more of the reality of life on earth for mammals that must care for their young.
Such a sense of loss, though. That I can’t have such things, carry such things, tactilely or emotionally experience such things any longer. That I’m not capable of finding any joy in them any longer. There’s simply too much reality onboard.
I’ve heard that one of the things that happens to you as you get older—no doubt as the mantle of responsibility for others finally begins to fall away—is that you return to childhood and to exuberance and to innocence, rediscovering the ability to enjoy little, beautiful things once again.
I’ll hope that this is so. And if it is, I hope that when I get there, I remember to get ahold of a small plush fox, carry it everywhere, and enjoy it immensely in whatever time I have left before I die.
More realistically—I hope that I eventually get there at all. Our lot, as members of the not-elite classes, is often to die before our serious “they’re-depending-on-us” working years are even close to being done, leaving everyone in the lurch.
In which case there is no second childhood after all, which would seem to be transcendentally unfair.
At some level I suppose that’s what everyone is after out there, in the end—even the Nazis and the Bolsheviks, in their own desperately misguided ways. The possibility of a return to childhood.
When you can, of course, have not just little plush foxes, but also friends.
I am temporary.
So are you.
If you can predict the future, does that make you a genius or a fool?
Or is it actually neither? Is it actually more true to say that almost everyone can predict the future in certain important ways, and that’s why humans in particular struggle with life so?
Isn’t that the cause, for example, of the rising suicide rate, the genesis of “Spade” and “Bourdain” as stories? Were these not people who, able to see the future clearly, couldn’t cope with what they saw?
The “experts” suggest that the problem is that people imagine a future that isn’t real, but it dawns on me that this isn’t actually true. Rather the opposite—people may have all kinds of reactions to futures that aren’t real, but they carry on. What stops people dead in their tracks (forgive phrasing) is when they see a future that they know to be likely, or at least not very unlikely, that they don’t want or that scares them.
— § —
I remain quite sore from my first three days of taekwondo training. Historically I have not liked being sore following physical exertion, but in this case, I like it.
The people that run my dojang have become central inspirations in my life. A key reason for this is that they are neither social justice warriors nor movement conservatives. They are, in fact, not publicly political at all. Instead, they are friendly, pro-family, very pragmatic, very generous, very compassionate.
How is it possible that several someone(s) have so escaped our modern plagues? They are the only people like this that I know. It’s one of the reasons I like to go back so often. It’s like time travel into the past to go there—a past when we all had better futures.
— § —
Last night I read a Lao Tzu quote—not sure how accurate or where from—that sticks in my mind.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
I’ve read what amounts to the same thought on many other occasions, but the way it is formulated here seems particularly forceful and clear to me.
Or maybe it’s that I am finally ready to grok it? When the student is ready, the master appears?
— § —
It is a common human experience to believe that you have radically changed, only to discover afterward that in fact, you haven’t—what has changed are perhaps a few central thoughts and desires. The domain of things that have not changed includes:
Your coping mechanisms
Your identity for other people
It’s always a bit of a come-down to realize that what felt like a sea change in actuality changed mostly nothing about your real, as-lived life, even if internally it felt as though so very much had changed.
People who aren’t very self-reflective never come to this realization. They believe that in fact, they have changed completely, and that an unfair world refuses to recognize this change. This leads them precisely to intensify the habits, personality, coping mechanisms, and public identity with which they no longer believe it fair to associate them.
In fact, it is quite hard to change. The “change yourself” meme is misleading in that way. For all the sturm und drang, for all the difficulty presented by changing “yourself” (noumenon), it is far, far harder to change yourself (phenomenon).
— § —
For too long I have been living life as if I was on the lam. This is no way to live. Despite the above, let’s see if we can change it.
Yesterday I rushed the kids into, then out of, a restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City for lunch. Before that, I rushed them into, then out of Liberty Park. After the restaurant, we hit I-15 and I rushed them back to Orem for M’s sparring class. We were late. I told them it was my fault. It was. I can’t seem to catch up, even though there isn’t much to catch up to.
I am running behind. I have been running behind for at least two weeks because someone has modified what “day” means recently, and they are all now too short.
Time has been moving ridiculously quickly. I even took the week off thinking that doing so would give me more of it. It didn’t. I have had no time all week. The powers that be have taken time from me. Nothing that I need to get done is getting done, and I don’t theoretically even have all that much to do.
— § —
For at least ten days now, every night around the time when I start to press the kids to go to bed, I have been itching in every finger to write something here.
Every night I have fallen asleep as I read bedtime stories, etc. Every night when I have awakened at 2:00 am, as I invariably do, I have opened an editor window and stared at it in silence, not knowing what it was that I wanted to write.
Everything that a few hours before had been explosively trying to escape me was now missing.
In the middle of the day, there are a million things and no time. In the middle of the night, there is time, but without a single clear thing.
As always, I have gone back to bed around 4:00 am—recently, feeling bewildered each time.
— § —
Not for the first time recently, I woke up this morning feeling deeply apocalyptic. Almost in a panic. It is not a nice feeling.
It settles down a bit over the course of the morning, but on days when the apocalypse rises with the sun, it doesn’t ever quite go away, and I have to watch myself throughout the day.
Having a meta outlook on the world is not always a good thing, but when you’re feeling apocalyptic it’s probably the only thing separating you from self-imposed catastrophe of one kind or another.
— § —
I recently started training in taekwondo. I have gone to two classes at this point. I think it’s already the highlight of my week, if for no other reason than that it’s something different.
A good something different.
It has been a very long time since there was something different in my life, and the “something differents” that I last recall were not good ones. You might even say that they were awful.
There are a few other “something differents” now coming down the line over the next few weeks and months after several years of utter stasis, and they are also hard to face.
One good something different is something to cling to. Hi-ya.
— § —
My theory is increasingly that time speeds up precisely when you don’t decisively know what to do with it. It falls through your grasp like so much sand, lost forever. When you’re unfocused and unsure, there is nothing to really mark the hours other than the always inevitably approaching ends of transcendental things:
Summer vacation with your kids
Your current employment and living arrangements
The childhoods of your children
Your working years
Your parents’ lives
Your own life
When you don’t have any purpose for “today,” every life-event “someday” is drawn into relief. Today disappears in a flash of abstraction. What’s left are the bare facts of life.
You can’t subsist in modernity on the bare facts of life, because we’ve removed all of the tolerable, everyday ones. “Feed yourself,” which used to be a daily task to focus on, has instead been concentrated into a periodic mega-event that is a kind of threat—you only think about it and have to work at it in the catastrophic and unusual event that you can’t actually do it.
Such is the case with everything. The removal of all of life’s little problems, with which we have been so concerned since the Enlightenment, also erases most of the time that is life’s substance, unless you are able to find other little problems to make your own.
If you can’t, then all of the moments—hours, days, weeks, months, years, whatever—between now and then next problem—which of course is now invariably a large one, all the little ones having been ameliorated—simply disappear.
— § —
The British once tended to do deeply philosophical light television. We’ve done it a couple of times ourselves. Right now I am reminded of three programs:
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
Somewhere in the moral universe where these three programs touch is where I am living right now.
I hope to leave these environs behind, at length, because apocalyptic is, in the final calculation, just not all that nice.
— § —
Time is a lot of things:
And time… is always running out.
Find something to keep you grounded, they say. That’s good advice.
I just read this over at TAC. (Yes, I read TAC. Sue me. I read left rags, right rags, center rags, and just plain rags.)
“hen he writes in The Scent of Time that ‘The decay of time goes hand in hand with the rise of mass society and increasing uniformity,’ he’s not arguing that things are speeding up or accelerating in the modern world, but that time itself—a medium in which to pause, tarry, contemplate, and differentiate one thing from another—is being exchanged for instantaneousness.”
Like, OMG. I just, just wrote this the other day, right here, in different words. And it’s important. This is not some stray thought. And apparently this thinker thinks it’s important, too. A kindred spirit. How do I not know of and/or how have I never heard of Byung-Chul Han?
Is this what happens when you leave academics behind? You miss out on important things that happen after you left? Or has he been around forever and I just never knew because no academics know much of anything outside of a very narrow vertical any longer? Must find out. Must get his books and find out. I’m excited.
— § —
Meanwhile, I have finally caved to friendly pressure from all sides and will begin studying taekwondo on Monday.
This goes very much against the grain. I am already quaking in my boots. But dammit it is time I start doing things that go against my grain voluntarily once again. Because the biggest thing I’ve learned in 42 years of living is this:
You can either do things that go against your grain voluntarily, and benefit, or you can refuse and wait until the world forces you to go against your grain as a kind of penalty. Either way, you will do things that are outside your comfort zone. But if you do them yourself, things get better. If you wait until the world provides you with things that are outside your comfort zone, it is almost always because things have gotten worse.
So your best bet is to continually push yourself into new areas, which opens new opportunities, rather than waiting until the world pushes you into new areas as consequences of your inaction.
I know better than the way that I’ve been living. I know better but it’s been too long anyway. Call this a step of which only I know the significance.
The idea that time is God’s way of making sure that everything doesn’t happen all at once has been attributed to many of history’s most important thinkers. This suggests that whatever the source, we find something about it to be deeply true. It also suggests that at some level, modernity has broken time. Because modernity, increasingly, is precisely that state of being in which everything does in fact happen all at once.
— § —
One of the saddest truths about life is that while the distance from incompetence to competence is very large, the distance from competence to incompetence is very small. If you want to stand a chance, you must never stop clawing as the ground shifts underneath your feet; to hold ground is hard enough. To make it up again? Nearly impossible.
— § —
Metaphysics is that which is larger on the inside than it is on the outside. Empirical science is that which is larger on the outside than it is on the inside. That isn’t to say that empirical science is wrong, or that it’s useless. Only that its immense power comes from a very small actual territory; much larger territories remain to be explored—not in the universe, which is a human abstraction, but in fact in human being, which is—paradoxically—our most fundamental reality.
— § —
The left imagines itself to be fighting for a justice that it will someday bring about, while in truth it is fighting like a child for an immortality that no one can ever grant. The right imagines itself to be fighting for a freedom that is indispensable to human thriving, while in truth it is fighting for imprisonment within human mediocrity. We are told as we are raised that we are to fight “the good fight,” but strangely enough, almost no one in this era of maximum battle is actually doing it.
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Not so long ago, “this is not a pipe” was a scandalous thing to say. Now, it is absolutely mundane. Now, the scandal occurs when one has the gall to claim that “this is in fact a pipe.” Because everyone knows that only the straight, white, cis, male descendants of hundreds of years of colonialists would presume to see pipes. Not-pipes are laudable, but pipes and assertions about pipes? In pipes lies catastrophe. In fact, the road to hell is paved with them.
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In an age of the deterritorialized and the digital, it is the spatial and the analog that call to us the most. Being human, we want what we can have only in our dreams. Locality, continuous variation rather than discrete stepping, and immortality are our fondest dreams. It may still be possible to resurrect some semblance of the former. The latter has been misconstrued in our digital zeitgeist; hence the hospital and the yoga mat. We think ourselves to be either alive or dead, rather than on a continuum between the two, and with this in mind, we are more terrified than were the peoples of ages past. Perhaps in the era of quantum information, we will see ourselves to be alive and dead, mortal and immortal in a visceral way, and all of this will disappear. Perhaps we will also begin to understand that everything is also always at once true and false, but precisely not in the postmodernist way in which everything means nothing. Rather the opposite—every thing, every single thing, will mean every thing, every single thing, all at the same time.
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There’s that problem of time again. Modernity broke it, but perhaps it doesn’t matter if something is broken once you don’t need it any longer. I’m not sure I’m prepared to live in the quantum age, but I do suspect that in some ways it will be more human—and more divine—than the digital age. The digital age is an age of fragmentation; the quantum age promises to be an age of identity. In an age of identity, simultaneity makes perfect sense. All things are already always all things, and always were.
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I don’t know what all of this nonsense is all about. But whatever. I’m overwhelmed right now, this season—legitimately overwhelmed—for the first time in my life. I’m not seeking answers, and I’m not seeking questions. I’m seeking truth and a way forward. Any way. All ways.
This pits me decidedly against all of my intellectual upbringing, which was largely about the emptiness and impossibility of truth and the importance of the “sideways.” I even have a massive tome on the importance of seeing sideways on my shelf. I am tempted to burn it.
In the grand tradition of all that has been rejected by all that is presently holy, I paint a giant cross on my chest and yell, “Forward!”