Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Monthly Archives: July 2020

A population that doesn’t know what “2 + 2” is actually referring to can’t beat COVID.  §

Here’s the thing about COVID-19 in the United States.

Another complete lockdown would help numbers somewhat, just because there are a lot more places that people can’t go. But unless there is a legitimate locked-in-home order with enforcement teeth, we’re not going to beat this thing.

Why?

Because Americans will continue to go and hang out with their friends, socialize with their families, hold parties, and so on. Because they just don’t get it.

We have an entire society that has never made a chair out of wood. Never spent time in nature—real nature, without pavement and amenities, where cars can’t go. Never repaired their own car. Never tried to grow crops. Never had to face and contend with the hard truth that nature is nature and does what it does, and that there are forces that are beyond us.

A large majority of Americans will inevitably say, “yes, yes, COVID, lockdown, I know, but this is a really important party” or “but this is a big deal of a conference” or “see, my extended family always gets together in September like this” or “yes, but this is just neighbors talking to each other, a policy that banned that would be asinine” and so on.

Some people suggest that “they” won’t get it “until” some of them come down with the virus. This misdiagnoses the issue.

They won’t get it even if they come down with the virus, not until and unless they find themselves on their death beds. Some not even then.

The problem with Americans is that they don’t understand, at a fundamental level, that not all things are customer service or policy problems.

Even when they do end up in the hospital with COVID, a large segment of the American population will stare physicians in the face and ask to speak to the manager. They’ll still be pleading their case.

“No. It’s not okay. I refuse to be sick, I was going on a completely legitimate vacation. It was planned a year ago, before COVID. I couldn’t just cancel, I’d have lost all that money. This is ridiculous. It isn’t fair. I want to speak to someone else. Who’s your supervisor, get them in here now! You make me well again or change the diagnosis, I was not violating social distancing, my vacation was planned before COVID, dammit! You tell your manager I’ll sue you into oblivion if you don’t handle this differently!”

They really, really don’t understand.

This is the hidden underside of living in a first-world “service and knowledge economy” where all real, physical things and expertise reside overseas.

The population literally can’t conceive of physical realities. Everything is a decision by the management.

People really do think that they can turn the COVID caseload around with protests and civil disobedience. Or maybe by suing it in court. Because everything is just words. Everything is just policy. That’s all they’ve ever experienced in their lives—the physical reality just takes care of itself if the policies and the words are right, and if you have enough clout or enough money.

Until now.

And that’s why the US is where it is.

When afternoon light comes through an east-facing window and hits a white wall, it makes gray.  §

There is so much noise in modern life.

There is an incredible amount of noise, really.

Aural noise, visual noise, olfactory noise, tactile nose… a general level of background noise that is shocking once you notice it.

Thing is, it’s hard to notice. I only notice now because the room that I call my “office” has recently been moved as we remodel the house to accommodate new bedrooms as the children get older.

And so I sit here, in an only partially “done” room, with white walls and an empty desk and a few books. All of the “optimizations” made to the space over many years, which often involve additional items, gadgets, connectors, cables, fixtures, and so on—as well as several lights in several areas of the room to illuminate key things or spaces—they are not here yet.

Instead, everything is a tad gray.

And very quiet.

And there is a decent amount of space.

And it’s just me and a keyboard and a screen.

— § —

I’m not sure I’m doing the right things with my life.

To clarify, I’m quite positive that I’m not doing the things that I wish I was doing, but that’s a separate question.

In general, I tell myself that I do what I do out of a sense of necessity, responsibility, and expedience. I tell myself that what I do must be done, and that this is the way of things.

Sometimes, I even look sideways a bit, mentally at least, at all of the people out there that aren’t holding up “their end of the bargain,” whether in personal life, in family life, or in society more broadly.

But then there are times like now.

— § —

When a room is empty, when all the noise has suddenly been attenuated a bit, you are brought back to a deeper reality in a very visceral way.

With Twitter in front of you, you never ask things like, “What does it meant that I am sitting here, alive? And what should I do next.”

It’s hard to ask yourself questions like that in a typical office, even if there isn’t a Twitter or a Facebook or a list of work tasks in front of you.

Such questions can only be noticed, hanging in the air as they always do and always have done, when there are no things and no people immediately calling for your attention.

They are quiet questions.

They don’t yell.

— § —

In the modern era, we have an incredible dispersion of incredible tools. They multiply everywhere. They fill our sights and our lives with facility.

We use them to make carnivals where we then play for hours, weeks—maybe months, years on end.

We don’t generally use them to make anything.

So much for Heidegger’s building and dwelling.

It’s life as a visitor’s event. You go on a quick tour, try out all the little rides and shops and possibilities, never really paying attention to any of them.

— § —

There is this tendency in modern western society to say something about the Buddhists when talk goes in this direction.

Lots of people now have Buddha statues in their houses and books by the Dalai Lama. Often, they are impossible to get along with.

Usually, they are as shallow as puddles on pavement.

They’ve consumed it like they’ve consumed the rest, and they’re carrying it with them like a Bloomingdale’s bag and showing off their new threads just a bit.

— § —

Every now and then, the kids ask me what my favorite color is.

I always say the same thing.

“Titanium gray.”

There are still deep discussions on key issues happening.  §

Just not, perhaps, in the halls of power or in the kitchens of the public.

But frankly, this is where our discourse should be.

Even if you abandon your father to wash curtains you won’t run out of things that need to be done.  §

There are so many things that you think over the course of the day, little thoughts as you go about your business, that cause you to say, “Ah, that should be in my next blog post!” And you craft sentences to come before them and sentences to come after them, and then paragraphs to come before them, and then paragraphs to come after them, and you envisage perhaps even an entire series of related blog posts on what is rapidly becoming a sprawling, interconnected set of topics, and you begin to feel quite satisfied with yourself and your plan.

And then the end of the day arrives and you’re actually sitting in front of keyboard and monitor and you have no recollection of what, exactly, any of those thoughts were, because sometime around the time you were doing dishes, or perhaps washing the shower curtains, or perhaps climbing about on the roof to replace the cooler pads, you became entirely preoccupied with the task at hand—and that was that.

Oh well.

— § —

Once you get into the “I’m doing things that need to be done” flow, the only way to exit the flow is a conscious exit. That is to say, you have to do what is ultimately a vaguely unsatisfying thing: say to yourself, “I’m not done, but I’m stopping anyway.”

This is of course because the list of “things that need to be done” can not, ever, for any reason, be exhausted. And once you are in the flow and making steady progress, there is a momentum that carries you forward, and if you don’t consciously stop, you can go on straightening pictures and cleaning toilet handles and sewing torn clothes and washing windows until you’ve not slept for weeks and drop dead despite yourself.

— § —

I have never hung any of my degrees. I have two bachelors degrees, a masters degree, a doctorate degree, and an endowed award from my discipline. In a way it feels strange that I’ve never hung them, and I do have, in the new office, space on the wall where they could conceivably go. I mean, I did earn them and they represent many years of my life and a significant dimension of how I got to be who I am.

On the other hand, it seems strange to hang them given that I’m no longer in the field, am no longer a classroom professor, do not research, do not publish, have in fact not seriously thought about any of these topics in more than half a decade.

— § —

How do I feel about that?

I still don’t know. I don’t have the existential pain that some have when they leave the academy. The fact is that I was not all that happy with what academic life was turning into in my case. There are a number of digressions that I could make here, but suffice it to say that I didn’t like where academics seemed to be going, I didn’t like where my discipline seemed to be going, I didn’t want to make the sacrifices that would lead a broken culture to take me “seriously” as a candidate for bigger and better things, I was losing the appetite to live in poverty and destroy parts of my life in order to publish, and—of course—at the time that I left I found myself going through a messy divorce and custody battle.

So academic life wasn’t really on the cards.

But how do I feel about it now?

Fact is, I only came to work in upper management in business by accident. I was, in fact, headhunted, and when presented with an exit ramp given all of the circumstances outlined above, I took it.

— § —

I am, however, troubled by the fact that there are things that I can do and things that I can think that will never be of benefit to anyone—by the fact that I’ll do a pretty vanilla job in a pretty vanilla industry probably for the rest of my life. That’s not to say that things would have been any better in academics—they wouldn’t have. Not as it is currently constituted. It’s broken, thoroughly broken, like so much of the rest of our society.

I suppose I find myself thinking that it’s a shame that there isn’t some other academic constellation or universe out there (“academic” probably being the wrong word here) where I might do some good. At the same time, I long ago lost my youthful sense of initiative. All those thoughts that I had a decade ago about perhaps getting together with a handful of other endoctorated radicals to start some “new” sort of organization that was the Humboldtian university without actually being the Humboldtian university, well… those thoughts now just tire me out.

I recall once again (and each time with greater amazement than the last time I recalled this) that my dissertation chair once told me that at his advanced age, he still wasn’t “tired” at all, that he still had “a lot of energy.”

I’m half his age and I’m exhausted. I don’t have energy.

Note that I’m not referring to physical energy here. I do taekwondo. I can hike for miles without stopping and have by now remodeled god knows how many rooms in my house singlehandedly, alone, late at night.

What I don’t have is mental and spiritual energy.

I am lacking a cause and my conversion story to it. Once that cause was knowledge. Then I learned that I was being fooled about the nature of knowledge in contemporary society, and I still haven’t recovered.

— § —

At times, when I’m busy puttering around the house “doing things that need to be done” I wonder what it would be like to be a teacher of students again. There are times when I think, “Oh, I could dip my toes back into that. I could teach as an adjunct, now in even more places than I did in the past, given the amount of new knowledge and experience I’ve gained in the private sector and the things I’ve learned about how my discipline relates to and interacts with others.” But then I think better of it.

I don’t think there’s any way to make the world a better place by teaching right now, at least not institutionally. The institutions are morally bankrupt, across the board. They are machines for the corruption of students and the destruction of society, little more, and probably even less.

At times I also think that I ought to reach out to my department chair.

I am possessed now of that disease that one catches when too much time has passed between the last time you spoke to someone that has been important in your life and the present moment. Rather like the fathers who abandon their children—only in this case, it’s the opposite. As an academic “child,” I have abandoned my academic “father.”

I go over entire speeches in my head, ways I’d try to explain the lack of contact and my abandoning the discipline without telling him.

It wasn’t just the divorce, I’d explain. I’d become disillusioned with the whole thing—with the ideological forces at work, the quality of the students, the quality of the research. I’d come to feel that the academy was doing more harm than good. I left to get my bearings. I’d explain how the impact of his suspicious posture toward postmodernism and “luminaries” like Foucault had grown ever more important in my life, how I understood more and more with each passing day how right he’d been. How sorry I was to have spent so much time arguing otherwise, how much more I wish I’d listened early on to what he was trying to tell me.

I’d explain how all of this meant that I needed to go away and think, to get away from the academic life I’d been embroiled in since I was fifteen years old, and how I still am not entirely sure that I feel settled about all of it.

I’d also express my thanks for everything that he did for me, and apologize for not making more of that investment.

But I never actually write or call. Because I don’t know to what end I open that relationship again. Where does it go? Nowhere. I’m living a non-academic life and there are a lot of things that need to be done.

— § —

My direct supervisor at work, who happens to be the person that runs the company, keeps telling me that I need to take time off. He’s right.

The problem is that there’s never a good time to take time off; whenever I take time off, double the work will confront me when I return. But yes, I need to take time off. There are many things that need to be done outside of work, things that are languishing, that are forgotten, that are urgent but also very, very late.

Moving to this new office has been one of those things.

But there are any number of ways in which I’m living in a kind of stasis. Not in terms of my age, which continues to advance apace, but in terms of the configuration of my life and values.

Problem is, I don’t need something like a week off. I need a sabbatical. I need five years away at a monastery to read and reflect and tend a little patch of flowers.

That, however, really isn’t on the cards. There are two kids that require a father to live a reasonable life (bet you’ve heard that is never the case and, in fact, isn’t even really possible, but it’s true) and there are of course too many things that need to be done.

So I’ll just postpone the “read” part to sometime (hopefully) before I’m dead, and I’ll do the “reflect” part as I do dishes, wash shower curtains, climb about on the roof to replace the cooler pads, and so on, writing long, insightful blog posts in my head full of startling yet inevitable parallels that illuminate things about my life and the moment in which we all find ourselves—and then I’ll lose sight of them again, not publish them, and write posts like this one instead.

Time passes slowly at first, and then all at once.  §

It’s 1:23 am and for the first time in nearly ten years, I’m writing from an office that is not “my office,” a room in the house where my work and work equipment have lived since we arrived in Utah in 2011.

The feeling is a strange one. The desk is different. The position of the screens is different. The sound is different. The room also faces a different direction (east, rather than west) and somehow this also changes this considerably at some ineffable subconscious level.

The last office was the office in which I finished my doctorate, did my final teaching, became a marketing person and then marketing management, got divorced, spent countless hours with my kids. There were many naptimes, writing projects, tragic phone calls, and hours spent with (now dead) pets there. Some of the best things I ever thought I thought in there.

New room now.

Kids are getting older. One will be a tween in a moment. She carries a phone already. It’s been ten years since I last taught in New York. It’s been twenty years since I finished my undergraduate degree. It’s been thirty years since the first time I set foot on a college campus for class. That’s a long time, and it all passed in a flash.

This isn’t an original post, but that’s okay—it’s not really meant to be. It’s meant to be a bookmark and a kind of prayer. Whether that’s a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer to ask for blessings, or a prayer to seek guidance… who knows.

I’ve never been much of one for schedules and calendars—one to plan my life out to the day, or even the month. The upside is that there is a certain amount of freedom (from multiple things) that results from not doing this.

The downside is that you don’t ever know what’s coming next, or when—you never celebrate your “this is the last time I’ll” moments, because you don’t know they’re the last time until you look back and say “Wow, that was the last time I… I had no idea then that…”

I don’t know whether it’s healthy or not to always move on without much in the way of ceremony or celebration of what one is leaving behind.

But that’s sort of how I do it. I don’t spent a lot of time on goodbyes, to circumstances, to things, or to people. I just don’t, even though sometimes I wish I had afterward, upon reflection.

I don’t even know what to say.  §

Looking over the wreckage of our culture, and of our civilization right now, there’s only one thing to say, I suppose:

“The emperor has no clothes!”

The “woke” activists have no clothes.
The “freedom” activists have no clothes.
The Republicans have no clothes.
The Democrats have no clothes.
The business owners have no clothes.
The wealthy have no clothes.
The middle-class have no clothes.
The poor have no clothes.
The scientists have no clothes.
The laborers have no clothes.
The leaders have no clothes.
The followers have no clothes.

Black lives matter? All lives matter? No lives matter!

This giant cluster of a year has taught us something: we’re all liars, and we’re all failures.

Never has the Judeo-Christian morality been needed by so many, yet embraced by so few.

What a mess.

Oh yes, I’ll say it:

BLM is a crock.
MAGA is a crock.
“isms” are a crock.
“phobias” are a crock.
It’s all a crock, and all these people are mad.

Mad, mad, mad, mad, mad as hatters, every last one of them.

I always knew, and people just thought I was a misanthropist. But I always knew. Everyone should have always known.

About the evil—the evil yoga teachers, and the evil historical preservationists, and the evil community organizers, and the evil business tycoons, and the evil teachers, and the evil students. It’s a land of evil and deceit.

Oh, I know how this sounds to everyone. But it’s not me doing the “I’m going nuts” thing. If this sounds nuts to you, you need to look around and realize that the emperor has no clothes. Not the good emperor, not the bad emperor, not the wise emperor, not the idiot emperor, not the good people, not the bad people, not the wise people, not the idiot people.

All of them.

All of them have no clothes.

You have all gone mad.

Am I so sane? Probably not. But at least I can still see that gravity causes apples to fall, rain makes things wet, and bullets are harder than breath.

I appear to be the only one left, or at the very least one of just a handful.

No, the end of the world isn’t nigh. But the end of the West is here.

Anyone who thought I was joking or crazy may want to reconsider.  §

I’m not happy to have been right.

And contra those who are saying that:

  • The pandemic is almost over

  • The political upheaval is burning itself out

I am sadly confident, based on data from scientists and from my own eyes, that we are only seeing the beginning.

In the United States of America, the pandemic slowed for a moment but has now returned with fury, and in a far larger number of places, making any further containment that much closer to impossible.

We’re now in worse shape than we were when we locked everything down (I can’t remember by now whether I even posted about it). People say we don’t have the political “will” to lock down again but in fact it’s not a question of will.

There is, in fact, no governing authority with any actual power at the moment. People just don’t realize this because the governing authorities have sensibly refrained from attempting any governance or enforcement at the moment—either of which would reveal complete impotence and the fact that the public is ready, able, and willing to topple them—and would put the final nail in the coffin of the republic.

As it is, they’re hoping against hope that somehow this will all blow over and they can silently start giving orders again, and that when this happens, the public will start to follow them again as if the first half of 2020 never happened.

They won’t. It did.

The west as a civilizational impulse and as a culture is now in full-scale retreat, even as it is also undergoing a full-scale 180-degree reversal in cultural values.

If you doubt this, you may have missed the part where “protestors” (read: revolutionaries) have begun to place eight-foot guillotines outside the homes of wealthy folk like Jeff Bezos. Or where in my own neighborhood, the same have begin to shoot into the windows of passing cars (with bullets, not with cameras), presumably out of sheer rage that the drivers of said cars are driving somewhere unrelated to the revolution rather than—you know—also shooting.

Or the part where cultural elites at major publications like the New York Times have begun to rehabilitate Robespierre, saying that what he did was rather glorious and all for the best in the end, as you’ve got to chop off a few heads if you want to arrive someday at utopia. You don’t believe me, do you? Google it. And count the number of “important” people who repeated this.

When I posted that the coming times were to be “unimaginable,” I bet you weren’t thinking that our best and brightest would be embracing the guillotine and saying that we’d all previously got it greviously wrong about the Reign of Terror.

No, as Dave Chapelle recently suggested, the streets are “speaking for themselves,” and as usually is the case when this happens, it is not a virtuous thing.

We have the perfect storm. One pandemic exploding and another on the way (you thought I’d forgotten about the new swine flu epidemic taking hold in China, didn’t you), two generations of individuals who have been raised to believe that to be made to feel “discomfort” is a capital offense, an elite happy to throw in with mayhem and murder of the public because the public gave them Trump and Brexit, an ignorant public that were already at historic levels of financial ruin before the pandemic thrust them into historic levels of unemployment and economic collapse, and a complacent bourgoisie too afraid of falling, in all of this, to the level of the plebes to have any interest in preserving their integrity and refusing to go along with things rather than simply proclaiming “viva la revolución!” and laying down prostrate to literally wash the feet of the new Robespierre forces.

No, we’re going down.

And people will again think me crazy to say that I’m writing every post now as though it’s my last because I legitimaly don’t know what’s going to happen over the coming months—particularly as we head into “election season” (does anybody imagine that this will proceed without bloodshed at this point?) later this fall—and I also have no idea who will remain alive and free after the fact.

This is just the beginning, folks. I’ll repeat myself:

Tomorrow will be beyond imagining.