Spent yesterday bike riding around the Cupertino / Mountainview / Menlo Park area. I was thoroughly beaten down and exhausted by the end of it, by which time I’d been at it for over twelve hours including the long drive. This distresses me greatly, because my bike computer showed just over forty miles and my daily record is twice that. The most likely conclusion to be reached is it’s seasonal out-of-shape-ness, which isn’t so bad. Next most likely conclusion is that I’m getting older…which is dreadful, of course, because that means it’s the Grim Reaper getting ready. Maybe not breathing down my neck, but getting closer. I’m sure as I get out more, my endurance envelope will be pushed, like it is every year, and by Labor Day I’ll be up to my old records, maybe breaking some of them.
Common sense says, though, that it isn’t all of one of these things and none of the other — it’s a combination. Winter blahs, and age. There is also the fatigue that was going on when the bike was stationary, strapped to my trunk. I-880 turning into a parking lot. Zero miles an hour. Take it from me, the legs may not be pumping and the butt may not be taking a pounding from your seat, and perhaps your bod isn’t working its way through the fluids…but it still wears on you. It wears on you quite a bit.
The real story here is the vivid cultural contrast that came to my attention once I was pedaling around looking at the locals in action. People-contrasts fascinate me. I’m not sure why. Like Uncle Wally used to say, “Morgan, the world is divided into two kinds of people; the kind that go around dividing everyone into two kinds of people, and everyone else.” Let me explain the contrast I saw. I get upset with myself when I pull out the smart phone to make sure the road leads to where I think it will lead, and then find out yes, there was no need to question it in the first place. That really bugs me. It isn’t just because the GPS app runs down the battery quicker than anything else, which it does. For the next mile or two, all I can think about is: Before I had a GPS app, I wouldn’t have needed to do that. What about people who still don’t have smart phones? Are they better with their directional senses than I am? Wouldn’t they have to be, later if not sooner?
Maybe I should go explore some vast, new, uncharted territory and leave the godd*mn thing at home?
There’s a word for this:
degeneration, decline, or decrease, as from disuse: He argued that there was a progressive atrophy of freedom and independence of thought.
This is in a stark contrast to what I saw all around me. Not only systems everywhere you looked, with the growing personal reliance on them, but an eagerness to embrace that individual-to-system relationship and the growing dependence that goes with it.
This is not a new idea, or realization. Two years ago, George F. Will wrote about “why liberals love trains“:
So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.
Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons…The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.
To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles…The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
So yesterday’s epiphany didn’t have to do with progressive/collectivist masters cudgeling the human-cattle onto the cattle cars to be managed and moved around. It was more about the human-cattle’s tolerance of the situation. The eagerness to accept it, in fact. And not to avoid paying for their own birth control, or any other burden, but rather — if I’m understanding this desire correctly — because it is seen as the next stage of human evolution.
Some people think this is really cool. Sometimes right before they make dreadful movies that disappoint everybody:
Early in The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan tells Boss Nass, “You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of you will affect the other. You must understand this.” This line perhaps best encapsulates the entire arch of The Phantom Menace (TPM), if not the whole Star Wars (SW) saga. Symbiotic relationships, which Qui-Gon Jinn defines for his young ward Anakin Skywalker as “life forms living together for ultimate advantage,” are an underlying theme of the movie. The interconnectedness of all things is perhaps the definitive idea behind the Force, that mystical energy field which binds the galaxy together.
Last place I worked, made a point of mounting hand sanitizer dispensers on the walls of the corridor, so that people could take a squirt on a whim. It was supposed to be about preventing the spread of germs, and thus, sickness. I’ve always had trouble accepting that. You can pick up a bottle for yourself, for under a buck. Keep it in your purse if you’re a chick, or in your desk drawer if you’re a dude. Problem solved. Why does there have to be yet another system, forming yet another symbiotic relationship with the humans benefiting from it and subject to it? You could make the argument that with preventing the spread of germs, the whole thing is about prevention and practice, and with the dispensers mounted on the wall people are more likely to use them. This makes sense. I think there’s some of that going on. But I also think, the system/individual symbiotic relationship is the point. Some people have to have it. They lust after it. They crave it.
No wait. You “lust after” and “crave” a romp in the sack, or maybe, the next potato chip in the can. This goes deeper even than that. It is a whole different way of looking at the universe and all the living things in it. It is a whole different way of living life, and thinking about it. It is a different way of envisioning our goals, throughout that life. A different vision for our ultimate objectives. You see, the whole thing is not just about progressives flipping their Archimedean levers. To many among us, an opportunity arises for yet another system forming yet another symbiotic relationship with its individual participants, and the reflex arises: Get it done! It is, to coin another Star Wars reference, our dessssssssstiny.
Isn’t that what all the arguing is really all about? Isn’t that what ObamaCare is all about? Isn’t that what “Don’t need a gun, call nine one one” is all about?
Those “others”…the people across the “net” from me, who are not in the one-of-two-groups that claims me as a member…the ones who would roll their eyes and shake their heads unbelievingly at my idea of trekking out into a new frontier with the GPS device left at home with a “Why in the world would you do that?”…would reply that, once the symbiotic relationship is there, it just makes sense to acknowledge it and be aware of it. This, too, just makes good sense, and I have to agree with it. But I’m not writing of the desire to be aware of it. I’m writing about the desire to form it where it does not yet exist.
I see it as a flaw of thinking, similar to the flaw of thinking in the cargo cults. Picture a caveman living the better part of a million years ago. If he wants honey, he rips open a beehive and just lets them sting him. We are not like that, of course; we buy our honey in the store, and we have toasters for the bread on which we will be putting the honey. And GPS devices. Also, the experience of being stung by every bee in the hive, could easily kill any one of us. We’ve evolved, gained some technology, and allowed some abilities to atrophy. We are “better” — but — the caveman could do some things we cannot do. Just as, back in the day I might have found my way through the woods without a GPS device, and today, I’m not quite as internally capable. I have more stuff. But I am less capable.
Therefore, the thing to try to do — in my world — is to come through the experience with both things: The internal abilities and the cool tools. Both objectives can be serviced, but not at the same time, so this requires tacking back and forth. Isn’t this why people go camping? Some of them? But everybody does not look at these things the same way that I do. They’d say, of the caveman…yes, but we have the honey, and the toaster, and the GPS, we are better people. And the conversation goes circular: Yeah, but the caveman could rip open the nest and just let the bees sting him. Yeah, but we can do more things, we’re better. But he was stronger. Yeah, but we’re better. But he was stronger. But we’re better.
There are people running around out there, who seem to think this is the point of evolution: To build systems, with which we will form these symbiotic relationships, and allow our natural skills to atrophy. They work very hard at it and they pack a whole lot of influence. You see it in the little things. You see it on the bike trails, the way the bike trails are built, the amenities they have to offer. Like, for example, doggy poop baggy dispensers. For me, this inspires the same question as the hand sanitizer dispensers. Why does everything have to be in a dispenser? Why not pack what you need?
So I’m left with two concerns here. One, that the other side is winning. I suppose that’s distressing to everybody, just as it’s distressing to realize we’re mortal and getting older and losing our natural abilities as we get ready to take the dirt nap. In the same way we’re naturally wired to be revolted by death’s embrace, even knowing it’s inevitable, we’re naturally wired to hate to see the other side win…and, look around, everywhere you turn there’s some dispenser. Everything is becoming kiosk’d, or dispensed, or dispensed from a kiosk. The other thing that concerns me is, on this collectivist/kiosk other side of the fence, I’m seeing wrinkles in the logic that simply aren’t going to be ironed out. They are unworkable contradictions. The kiosk-people believe, we are in a process of continual, linear evolution, which makes us more sophisticated, and better, and more capable with every generation. But it is an important and inseparable part of this evolutionary process to become unable to do things for ourselves that, previously, could be done. I’m sure they’d reply that the human capability is not in a state of recession, it is actually in a state of ascension, but the reliance on a common system is being incorporated into it. Strength is not being diminished or nullified, it is simply being relocated outside of the individual. Where it belongs! Or something. Again, there is some good sense in what they say. They have a point, but there is some nonsense in the mix, because the point relies on the notion that self-sufficiency is an irrelevancy, in fact, may be a hindrance.
The trouble with that is that self-sufficiency has a lot to do with this increasing sophistication, this improved state of personal knowledge that they seek. The two cannot be separated the way they seem to think they can. If I do get lost in the woods, I’ll know more about those woods after I’ve managed to find my way without a GPS, than if I’ve managed to do it with one. The knuckle-dragging caveman who doesn’t have a toaster, in addition to being much tougher, knows more about bees than most of us do. You may say we are becoming stronger by externalizing our strength; but it is silly to say we are becoming more knowledgeable and sophisticated, by outsourcing our understanding and knowledge. And they’d never say that. But that’s what their argument is, when you get down to it.
You can even get them to acknowledge it, if you try, and make a point of being politically correct about it:
Indian Chief “Two Eagles” was interviewed by a government official, “You have observed the white man for over 90 years. You’ve seen his wars and his technological advances. You’ve seen his progress and the damage he’s done”.
The Chief nodded in agreement.
The official continued, “Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the white man go wrong?”
The Chief stared at the official, then replied,
“When white man find land, with Indians running it, no taxes, no debt, plenty of Buffalo, plenty Beaver, clean water. Women did all the work, Medicine Man free. Indian man spend all day fishing and hunting, all night having sex.”
Then the Chief leaned back and smiled, “Only white man dumb enough to think he could improve system like that.”
Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes.