Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Jeff Dorchen is damp. Not even sure how to go about carving into this nonsense. Shirthole countries. Did you hear about Donald Dump's complaint about shirthole countries? The racism, the colonial, imperial, capitalist disdain and hatred. He really needs to find his fat face at the end of a swinging baseball bat. He needs a dentist, a dentist who uses only baseball bats. That's the fever talking. Delirium. And with the heartburn. For days I've eaten nothing but a few select oddities. A dozen roasted potatoes. A plain bagel. A cookie. A pizza. Plain green beans. A pear. Chicken soup. Blueberry pancakes. Ginger beer. A varied diet, but somehow it hasn't nourished me.
The temperature changes radically, moment to moment. The pillow is hot, the air is cold, the blankets are hot, the sheets are cold. The head is thick and full of fuzz. In the parking garage of Trader Joe's, where I'd gone to get ginger beer, a customer was doing a noisy but conscientious job of collecting errant shopping carts and bringing them to the cart corral. I passed her just as she completed her task. "Damn," I said, "You really earned that free parking!"
Shirthole countries! Y'know, I'm in no condition to pick apart this event, but I don't know if there'll be a future. Dump. A sizable amount of people on Earth considered him the worst sort of human being, decades ago. I don't believe he's won any converts since then, he's just fattened up the ones he already had. It's just not nice, that's what it isn't. For a president to say about people's homes. Shirtholes.
This may be the delirium talking, but isn't it safe to say that we've never elected to the presidency the best person for the job? Think about it. The actual best person to be President of the United States, the person who could delegate and diplomatize, be an inspirational figurehead, guide the economy to a sustainable course – that person is probably too old or young or female or transsexual or bald or black or deaf or queer or Buddhist to even enter the running. We've never elected the best person to be president because the process is designed to prevent the best person from even running. We're not looking for the best person. We're looking for someone who can convince the largest number of people that they're the best person. We're looking for a con artist. And boy, are we ever succeeding.
Given the limited types of people allowed into consideration – follow along, here – given that it's a group with a very few superficial characteristics: Whiteness, for the most part, Maleness, for the most part, Christianity, or a pretense thereof, no divergence from the most generic physical form of a middle-aged adult heterosexual white person, for the most part – given that we're mostly, come on, we're mostly choosing from among a very small group of over-forty, white, goyische sociopaths – stay with me – given this limited sampling, we know we've never elected the best, but have we, in fact, elected the worst?
That's the real question. Because, I remember under the George W. Bush administration, I thought Dick Cheney was the worst president we would ever have, and I couldn't have posited then the flaming school bus full of screaming children our world has become under Dump. But is Dump really the worst we can do?
True, our process of choosing public servants has been described on this very program, in this very segment, and by this very voice of mine, as seemingly designed to attract people of weak character to public office. It certainly doesn't do much to discourage them. It seems that no self-enrichment through one's office is out of bounds anymore. Revolving doors, emoluments, bribery is institutionalized, and should the public grow concerned enough for it to concern one's fellow officeholders, a simple apology and a token reimbursement of frowned-upon fees will suffice. No one ever went to jail for accepting a speaking fee, regardless how exorbitant. There's a way bad things used to be done, and you don't even need to do them that way anymore. Want to charter a government jet for vacation? Do it. Want to charge the government to house your own security team in your hotel? Do it! Want to make deals overseas while ostensibly on official business? Do it! The sky's the limit – in this case, the nadir, the bottom part of the sky. Eh, there's no limit.
Even the one area we've made progress in recently – calling out sexual abuse of power – hasn't created repercussions for Dump, accused of multiple rapes and sickeningly abusive to women verbally in public. He's the perfect storm of bad character. He's what a person with no integrity looks like, sounds like, acts like, and he's reached the apex of achievements for such a person. Whereas in another society he would be commander of a ship on wheels, his head crowned with bells, or perhaps a cigar-chomping paranoid in a pinstripe suit, planning a massacre for St. Valentine's Day, yet, here in today's United States, we've made him President.
The horrifying question remains: is Dump the worst we can do? I'm not saying we're going to have to open up the field to women and ethnic minorities, disabled people and balding Jews. We don't have to dip into the off-brand deplorable barrel of Dinesh D'Souzas and Ann Coulters, though they have made remarkable strides in horribleness for their respective populations. The structure of the selection process – in fact, the false meritocratic framework of our whole sick society – ensures that the worst possible people to rise to the top will be white men. I know it sounds racist, and it is! Because the system is racist! And sexist too! How can you tell? Look at what we have for a forking president!
How could he be worse? What form would that take? What attributes would he display? Remember, I'm delirious. I've been gripped by fever for five days. I've been beaten by demons and tempted by centaurs. Penguin-poodle-human hybrids have spoken riddles to me in the desert – stupid kid riddles, like, "Why did the chicken kill himself? Because he hated eggs!" I've felt the breath of the serpent of cosmic destruction burning my face as it roared Shakira's "Ojos Asi" in a nightmarish Spanish karaoke.
Should I really find any obstacle in conjuring a worse president than the lumpish Dump we have hoisted into that gilded cage? A thousand grotesqueries should I vomit forth. But no.
The imagination balks. The imagination founders. It stops dead in the water and sinks.
I don't know if this means we've at last achieved the secret dream of the Founding Fathers: the absolute crappiest President of the United States that could ever be – and therefore we can scrap the broken republic and start again. Or if it only means I don't dare let my mind wander into that unseen land. Because I've seen it. So technically it's not unseen. Not even technically. It's been seen. I saw it. But it is awful.
Let me warn you, as one who has traveled into that distance: let's not go there. This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
Well, it's happening. The days are starting to get longer. More daylight time for me to fritter away, thumbing my nose at our rapidly degrading society and its sadistic norms. Yeah, I've got a bad attitude. Cuz, friends, our society runs on pure bullshit, and everyone knows it. But that's no reason to operate a mediocre restaurant. Well, maybe it is.
Maybe our society's current completely ass-upside-down arrangement of priorities is a reason to serve mushy falafel with watery tahini. The privatization of nature, the draining of wealth from working-class communities, and the poisoning of our air, soil and water, just might justify serving harrisa seemingly flavored with a hint of Murphy's Oil Soap. I'm not a chef, I'm not a restaurant manager, I'm not even a food saboteur, so I don't know what-all goes into making such decisions.
Our nation's systemic impoverishment of its elders and its children is an international scandal, as is our substandard health care system, and our underfunded public education system, if it can even be called a system, as fragmentary and haphazard a jalopy as it is. I'd think a restaurant would take the opportunity to provide food to their patrons of an enjoyable nature, given how parsimoniously joy is being distributed these days. Is now really the best time to overcook chicken shwarma till its texture is that of cork paneling? Surely now is the least opportune moment for serving dry shwarma, which can only exacerbate a diner's sorrow rather than relieve it.
Lentils should be cooked, of course, but a bit of resistance is desirable. They aren't rolled oats, for crying out loud. A lentil salad shouldn't be slurpable, like a milkshake. And serving them thus is no way to take my mind off Donald Dump's spastic narcissism, or Ajit Pai's perverse misguidance of the FCC, or Betsy DeVos's uneducated leadership of the Department of Education. I'm not telling you how to run your business. I'm not a businessperson. I'm only expressing what countless patrons are probably thinking.
They're thinking, "This food is only making us more dissatisfied. This food is monstrous. This food is corrupt as all hell. This food is the opposite of food, the way Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is neither supreme, nor courtly, nor just."
What's with the tiny plastic bowl-shaped micro-vessel for pickle? Where did you find these, is there a store that sells disposable tableware for hamsters? Black people are far over-represented in prisons and in poverty, which I consider an outrage, and you're nickel-and-diming me over some turnips and vinegar? Are you not aware of the epidemic of gun violence in our country? Can I get a napkin? And would it kill you to put a few more olives in the salad? I know times are hard, but if three olives is going to bankrupt you, maybe you shouldn't be operating a restaurant.
Maybe you'd be happier in Congress. When you sit with your thumb up your ass in that institution, people consider giving you lucrative quid-pro-quo jobs in the private sector. Right now your only reward for being crappy at your job is an irritated clientele. You could do so much better if you switched to a more appropriate field, where your mind- blowing lack of abilities and integrity seem to be exactly what's called for.
Listen, I'm as intolerant of hard work as the next person. I'm all about getting by on doing as little as possible. But when I am forced into a situation where I must achieve something for someone else's benefit, I do my best to do a good job. Because it's just as much work to do a lousy job, if not more. As an inveterate malingerer, I've learned that avoiding work is actually depressing. All it does is make the time go slower. And doing a lousy job is just a half-assed form of work-avoidance. It's actually an ineffective way of weaseling out of work. You're not even doing a good job of not doing your job!
Anyone with enough experience of what it's like to work at any kind of task, occupation, profession, job, responsibility, mission, or chore will tell you that getting into the flow is the only way to survive it. Time passes, you feel useful, you feel good about yourself and others. You might even find yourself enjoying it.
Yes, we're all trapped in an economic system that exploits us and requires that we exploit others, but adding additional misery to our lives when it is in no way necessary to do so is self-harm without the payoff of undermining the system.
Yes, the system treats us as a piece of equipment, but you don't need to consider yourself a thing, internalize the system's dehumanization, sabotage yourself to hurt the masters. Sabotage is often appropriate, but the benefits of self-sabotage in the war against capitalism dwindle rapidly to nothing, coeval with the dwindling of oneself. Be human. Always be human. It's our secret weapon.
Rise above the machine. Put your heart, or soul, or spirit, or whatever you know as your most multi-dimensional self, into your onerous slavery, into your bitter circumstance, in whatever way most fits your constitution. Even the torturer knows to do this. Even the fiend. Even the cop. Who knows, you might even discover you have a hidden talent for something, like torture. Or running a restaurant. Or some combination thereof.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
While listening to the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record, Murder Ballads, I was not looking for inspirational messages. I was not expecting any. But then the song came on, "Death is not the End," and suddenly a space opened up in my brainheart, or heartbrain, for the idea of the persistence of consciousness after the death of the body, and I got to feeling interested and cheerful. Interested again in life, which had recently become disturbingly empty, and cheered by the quasi-metaphysical thinking the brainheartspace allowed.
Occam's Razor is the idea that the simplest explanation is most likely correct. Writer, musician, and sports philosopher Robert Jacobson coined the term "Bozo's Mallet" to denote asinine misuse of the simplest-explanation theory. Or, it's the doctrine that the stupidest answer is usually the correct one. In any case, either Occam's Razor or Bozo's Mallet tells us the world exists. It sure seems to. Just take a look around. Or, if you're in the dark, grope around. Feel that?
And yet the world also seems not to be there. The present moment is fleeting. Matter and energy transform. All is transient. Your eyes and ears play tricks on you. Time leaves the past behind and moves into an unknown future. Experience is subjective. And when we fall asleep, we seem to enter another world in our dreams.
But the amount of detail reported about the external world is infinite and infinitesimally specific. If it's all an illusion, it seems like overkill. I would've been satisfied with a world that didn't get anymore finely-grained than molecules. If the illusionist wanted to fool me into believing in an external reality, there was really no need to come up with quarks and, for goodness sakes, a particle-wave paradox. Really, I would've been satisfied if the world were made out of pretzel dough. Or balanced on the back of a turtle. Or an infinite stack of turtles. You could've sold me anything.
If all that detail is purely for the sake of those with a desire to continue investigating ever deeper or farther into reality – well, I'm not one of those people. I check in on those people, just to keep up with what they're thinking, but much of it is gibberish. It's definitely wasted on me. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water would've been plenty of mystery. And yet, if the illusionist went to the trouble to make an illusory universe with details for scientists to discover, that just proves to me that scientists exist, because all that subatomic illusion was certainly not conjured up for me.
And don't even get me started with all the kinds of energy. What do we need that stuff for? I get why we need rocks, so the people who believe in their own existence have a place to stand. But energy fields with invisible shapes, it's really superfluous. I was already buying in.
It could be that the illusionist, be it computer matrix or mind or creature, is a workaholic. I just want to tell it, listen, slow down, you're going to burn yourself out. Stop and smell the roses, why don't ya? When you smell the rose, the rose also smells you. This is the kind of stuff I can only imagine the illusionist wants me to think up, considering the tools and evidence it has prepared for me.
There are chemicals in space. The universe makes chemicals. It makes chemicals and burns them or blows them up or just sticks them together. It smooshes them together inside stars. It sticks them together in crystals and tosses them out into space. Or the chemicals do it to themselves, with the help of forces like the strong and weak nuclear forces and gravity and whatnot. What is going on? No, don't tell me. Let it be a mystery.
In any case, Bozo's Mallet, along with the unnecessarily infinite complexity of waking reality, together lead me to believe that I am no mere brain floating in a jar being fed sensory data. Nor is the world purely a construction of my interior mental processes. The world is out there. And the vast majority of it is doing its business separated from me or any other living thing by vast distances in space and millions of years in time.
Why all this business, and why all this stuff, if only for it to lose steam eventually and fall apart? What kind of nonsense is that? And why are we able to think about it, search for it, perceive it, speculate on its nature and purpose?
Biologists will tell you our fertile consciousness developed as a byproduct of adapting for procreation and survival, and no other scientists are comfortable concluding anything much less prosaic from their data.
What is a mind? We assume that most of the universe doesn't have consciousness. We're the lucky ones. Crystals don't think and decide to grow. Stars don't decide to coalesce and ignite. Helium atoms don't have the desire to fuse into deuterium. Light doesn't leap out of the sun from a joyous impulse. These are anthropomorphisms.
Yet I'm still bothered by the endlessly creative impulse in the universe. It runs counter to our current scientific model, which resembles the notion of a Prime Mover a lot of Enlightenment thinkers once subscribed to. All matter and energy began with a Big Bang, and since then any creativity has been local phenomena coasting on the momentum of that original burst of energy. It's a bit shallow, I think. It's unsatisfactory.
Matter and energy have a tendency to come together and make new things. The tendency toward permutations and transformation of matter and energy is, legit, a force in and of itself.
What I'm suggesting, and I know I'm ill-equipped to make any suggestion at all, is that even given a purely materialist, secular, empirical view, it's reasonable to posit consciousness as not limited to creatures. Consciousness however vague, intention however alien, creativity however aimless – an impulse to explore possibilities – whatever you want to call it, we've yet to begin considering the advent of multiplicity of form as a cosmic force. And so, to consider consciousness as a function of the brain that disappears when the brain runs out of juice isn't necessarily the only way to soberly, scientifically understand it. Those contemplating "the hard problem" of the nature of consciousness are not strangers to aspects of this speculation. So I'm told.
We can all remember, if that's the right word, a time before our own identities existed. And so it's easy for us, if we choose to, to imagine a blank, empty time after our identity ceases. But identity isn't all there is to creativity, or exploration of possibility. What is going on all over the place? It's not as simple as we sometimes imagine it to be. Death is not the end of the chemicals we're made of, nor of the energy the interaction of those chemicals produce, even if it's only heat. And there is an entire universe creating structures and energy out there with unfathomable inventiveness.
I don't want to get your hopes up that our destiny is to join in some godhead in a beautiful eternal unity. Imagine the egg on my face if you woke up to oblivion! I do, however, declare that the universe is here, inside and outside of us, and I want to open up my thinking, if not yours, to the likelihood, without having to conjure up anything magical, that the mystery of its existing doesn't end with the end of yourself. All the things we fear and abhor and honor and love have to do with that mystery, and are unified by it, across the billions of light years and millions of millennia, in a vast and varied myriad.
By the way, I'm not happy about this state of affairs. It's only grudgingly I give in to this grandiose chirping of mine. My ideal universe is much simpler, with less clutter and fewer events going on, but this one we're in now will have to do, and it's a decent alternative, despite its shortcomings.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
I want to correct the common misconception that we don't have seasons here in LA. False. We have rain season, fire season, allergy season, and pilot season.
We also have many different kinds of milk. Goat milk, camel milk, almond milk, hemp milk, buttermilk, buffalo milk, cashew milk, turmeric milk, 2% milk, lactose-free milk... an exhaustive list would be exhausting.
I like lists. I like labels. I love to hate-read commercial copy. I've been an avid reader of cereal boxes since I was a wee lad. The cereal box is a rare example these days of literature that is far more commonly read on hard copy than in digital format.
Food labels are deceptively misinformative. They tell you the selective nutritional content of the grub in the container. They give a somewhat fanciful list of ingredients. (I collect synonyms for "sugar.") Labels can even more fancifully describe the essential nature of the food: is it "all natural?" Is it "organic?" You never see food announcing that it's "partially synthetic," "now less delicious," "sprinkled with insect parts," or "made from repurposed latex detritus and shaved lead." We don't look for truths on our food packaging.
Where do we find truths in hard copy? Books! Ever read one of these rustic bastards? They're made of paper and other old-fashioned materials, such as string and glue, cloth, and sometimes leather.
Some books contain hard truths, some easy ones, and some no truths at all, but only lies. Cowboys and seafaring people used to read them, that's how ancient books are.
I'm reading one currently! There are a couple of tricks to it. First, you have to find a comfortable position in which to hold the equipment and gaze at it for minutes at a time. Secondly, you have to open the thing, and hold it open, either on a lectern, or using your human hands, feet, face, or a heavy object such as a brick or a rock. Even another book will do. Even a cereal bowl. The paper and ink inside reveal the thoughts of the person or persons who composed or compiled the contents. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is, and that's one of the few things you can say that about.
Books are also unusual in that they begin in one place and end in another, unlike a Mobius strip, or the universe. In this way books mimic journeys. And, like a journey, they can be bad for your health. You can lose things on the way. Books can cause brain diseases, which is one reason they fell out of fashion. Books are dangerous. Books are not for children!
The book I'm currently reading is called The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1998, and it was written by Marilyn Young. As I recall, it begins somewhere in the jungles of someplace, maybe South America. It's a jungle story, like the story of Tarzan, but in this case Tarzan is replaced by Ho Chi Minh, who could talk to animals and, most importantly, to people.
In the beginning, the French Army tried to kill Ho Chi Minh and his people. They wanted to steal all the Vietnamese food from the people, such as banh mi sandwiches and Thai iced coffee and Sriracha sauce and whatnot. Then the French got invaded by the Germans, so the Japanese took over abusing the Vietnamese for a while. Then, after the big bombs were dropped on Japan, and WWII ended, Ho Chi Minh thought, "The United States can blow up the world. And they love peace and freedom. So I'll ask them if Vietnam can be an independent country." Because that was what he'd always wanted.
But it turned out the United States wanted to give at least part of Vietnam back to France, as a reward for being such a great ally during the war. Ho Chi Minh and his friends were unhappy, because they had to go back to waging the independence war they'd been fighting since forever.
But the French weren't any better at fighting the Vietnamese than they'd been at fighting off the Germans. To be fair, the Vietnamese had been fighting for so long, and were thus so knowledgeable about how to move and supply themselves over otherwise impassible terrain, that they were unbeatable. The United States didn't want to believe it, because Vietnam was a tiny nation of mostly farmers. If the tough Japanese could be beat, why not these puny people living in mountains and jungles and rice paddies? Also, the Vietnamese were communists, so not fighting them was a non-starter. They couldn't be allowed to have their own country.
Early on in Vietnam, communism meant freeing the farmers from having to pay rent to landlords who kept them in poverty, teaching people to read, and giving women equal rights. Later on it included getting military aid from more imperialist communist governments, such as the Soviet Union. When Vietnam finally won, the communists decided to get revenge on anyone who had been on the other side. It seemed like all that fuss could have been avoided by giving Vietnam to the Vietnamese way back in the first half of the 20th century, or even earlier if possible. But hindsight is 20-20.
Even before he'd gotten rid of the French, Ho Chi Minh's first land reform attempt in the North resulted in some 30,000 dead people, in part because its goal of wealth redistribution gave opportunistic people an excuse to use violence for any number of less constructive goals. The defeat of the United States ended up with even more horrific, vindictive violence.
Looking back historically, moments of social upheaval, especially when the moment is one of throwing off a persecuting power, seem to be taken by both the populace and the higher-ups as an opportunity for violence and destruction. But then again, it's kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing – the violence already in the system, but unacknowledged by its nutritional content label, is as likely to be a contributing cause to the upheaval's violence as the nature of an upheaval itself. It's always more complex than any history book can explain. Societies are complicated.
Here in the United States, today, we seem, sometimes, to be on the verge of a massive social upheaval. Our own society, which is a web of societies, which are themselves webs of smaller communities, themselves networks of smaller groups and individuals, is unmanageably complex. Back when the rich white Christian men and those who aspired to be them thought they were the only ones who mattered, they thought it was complicated. Now that everyone wants to matter, even though the rich white Christian men and those who aspire to be them still insist they're the ones who matter most, the truly incomprehensible social complexity of the United States is beginning to reveal itself.
But the blurb on the back still says, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. It still says, "All are created equal, with inalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It still says, "If you work hard and play by the rules, you can achieve the American Dream." It sounds so simple and so clear. No wonder no one's thought to revise it. And in some ways it should be clear. Like that 3-ingredient ice cream. Just milk, sugar, and berries or whatever, and you have ice cream. But it turns out rights aren't so easy to define, typically because the people who can afford more rights won't cooperate. What if your pre-existing privilege depends on defining rights more restrictively for others? The answer, usually, is, "I think I'll be a dick about it."
I'm not sure what communism means in Vietnam nowadays, but I have a cousin teaching there this year, so I'll find out a little from him. In exchange I'll tell him how I enjoyed my cereal, and how well its ingredients and nutritional literature match up with my experience, or if it's just a lot of propaganda.
Just add milk. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? What do they mean by "milk?" This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
In a dreamlike if not nightmarish image, a Croatian war criminal, during his sentencing at The Hague, killed himself by drinking a little bottle of poison. The US Senate passed a tax "deform" bill designed to injure if not destroy a majority of citizens while giving a tax break to private jet owners. And to twist the blade in our angst, President Hemorrhoid Hoover tweeted a trilogy of the British right wing's Islamophobic version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Each day brings a new travesty. That's the hallmark of the Donald Dump era. There are certainly more important issues to focus on than the daily atrocity he commits against logic and language. But it's all right, sometimes, to examine the daily dung and our consequent feelings of disgust. It can be instructive. It can even bring us together. As a people. A people disgusted.
I don't always wake up late, but even when I mistakenly wake up early, it takes me a while to catch up with the rest of you. Depression and apathy, aggravated by the itchy burning of President Hemorrhoid, weighs me down. Upon waking, I find that my head is encased in a gelatinous cube of despair. On the very rare mornings I start perusing social media especially early, at, say, 5 am, nothing actually registers for the first few hours. I'm like a mature sunflower, head in the shadows, seeds falling out of my heavy face, absorbing nothing. Well, maybe not seeds falling out of my face. Unless they're seeds of incomprehension. But incomprehension isn't a seed-bearing plant. It's a legume. And why out of my face? Why "out" at all?
Leave me alone, it's early.
Living in the Pacific time zone, I get going, if you can call it "going," three hours later than the folks on the East Coast, so they're even farther ahead of me than my fellow Pacific Rimmers. Simply put, in the continental USA, I'm not going to be catching any early worms. By the time I finally come out of the fog and realize I'm on Twitter or Facebook, every news item is long buried under several layers of mockery, parody, and meme-age. But I've become pretty good at digging through the bemusement and bile of others to the inciting incident.
I'm concerned that white people didn't quite get what happened when the Navajo Code Talkers visited Resident Dump in the White Witch Satanic Christmas House. Not that the situation had been parodied to death, but it had quickly accumulated a thick carpet of condemning articles and tweets by the time most of us got to it. So some might be wondering, "Did Dump call one of the Code Talkers 'Pocahontas?' Did he confuse one of the Code Talkers for Elizabeth Warren? Did he mention how he touched himself while watching the cartoon? What exactly went on? I really don't care enough to find out, because I'm used to Dump constantly being what Mel Gibson becomes under the influence of alcohol, but without the alcohol or the charm."
But really, if he was making fun of Elizabeth Warren, what was harm? She did claim to be a Native American on her application to Harvard, or on her application for financial aid, or on her job application for a law firm or to waitress at TGI Fridays or something, didn't she? No, she didn't, but that doesn't matter anyway. Elizabeth Warren didn't insult the Code Talkers to their faces, Dump did.
To be fair – there's no reason not to be fair – here's the best spin you could put on the incident: Donald Dump met these Navajo Code Talkers. And he thought, What do I have in common with these Navajos, how can I connect with them on a personal level, do I have a Native American friend I can refer to? No? How about an enemy? Oh, right, there's that Pocahontas woman, I'll talk about her, they'll appreciate that! Hey, you original Americans, there's someone else who, like you, claims to go back very long in heritage on the land, or something. They call her Pocahontas.
Actually, Dump calls her Pocahontas, and the only others who might are Dump's fans, aping him. But, let's let that minor inaccuracy slide, because this is Dump, and he's a special-needs president. And pointing out all his inaccuracies would require an eternity.
Now, some white people still don't get why that was racist. I mean, Elizabeth Warren gets mocked by people of color for claiming Native heritage, why shouldn't Dump do it? Isn't he on the side of the people of color in this instance? Don't they agree that it's ridiculous for Warren to claim Cherokee ancestry?
That's an interesting point, really. What he was doing was pointing out a white person's foible to the people he thought would appreciate it most. And isn't he correct? Shouldn't they have doubled over in hilarity?
I'm not even sure they were paying attention to him, but I know the Navajo Nation and a lot of other First Nations people later put out a statement that they weren't happy with the Pocahontas remark. They said the name was being used as a punchline. It was being used as an insult.
Consider this. Let's say Dump was honoring Scotsmen. He's dedicating a monument to Fatty Arbuckle, a Scottish American hero. And he says to the assembled Scottish American crowd, "Hey, I have a friend who is very tightfisted with money, just like you guys. We call him Scrooge McDuck."
Or maybe this example will work for you. Let's say Dump is honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, the black WWII military heroes, and, to establish common ground, you know, because he's such a people-pleaser, he says to them, "Oh, guys, you're black, so you'll love this. I have a friend who's always trying to get super tan. I call him Uncle Remus."
If that doesn't demonstrate to you why First Nations people would take offense at Dump's Pocahontas crack, I've got news for you. You're racist. In a big way.
There's a reason these examples are Disney-dependent, incidentally. If Disney had done a cartoon of Oliver Twist, I could make up an example about Jews and Fagen. And it's only a matter of time, I assume. Becoming a Disney character gives one's name an instantly established pedigree in the entertainment business. And business is nothing if not respectable.
At least that's the viewpoint of Eric Dump, one of President Hemorrhoid's ugly Dumplings, who claimed not to get what all the fuss was about. He tweeted that, since Disney made so much money on their Pocahontas movie, there was no way her name could be offensive.
Disney's receipts having anything to do with whether Eric Dump's father is an offensive semi-simian, in any and every circumstance, is a connection only a Dump could make. And, Dumplike, Eric made it.
A lot of the time, how an incident or statement comes to be offensive to a group on social media can be difficult for those outside the group to parse. And it's a truism that the greater one's distance from identification with an offended group, the less sympathy one is likely to have. In the case of Dump, however, it's a safe bet that any offense taken to, say, his existence, or any aspect thereof, by any human being, animal, plant, fungus or crystalline structure, is one-hundred-percent legitimate, and we should all just agree in advance, right now, to be sympathetically nauseated.
Yes, daily we all cry out, "When will it end?" Not till the peeing Slavic ladies sing, it seems. How will it end? It will end the way all horror stories end: in dissatisfaction.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
The Tragedies teach us that people have flaws, and those flaws cause suffering. The Comedies teach us that people have flaws, and those flaws cause mirth. Didactic theater teaches us that slightly flawed people are impressed into tragic interaction with others by systems that exploit their flaws, systems in which even the beasts at the top of the food chain are trapped, unable to resist their basest desires and fears, causing them to rationalize their own cruel behavior. And depending on how the story is told, it can be either tragic or comic, or both in varying degrees.
Some folks have flaws that cause them to amass or retain wealth. Some have flaws that cause them to alienate friends. Some have flaws that cause them to sacrifice their own needs in deference to others'. Some have flaws that cause them to descend into misery. Some have flaws that cause them to descend into penury.
Nietzsche called those with flaws that got them into positions of control over resources at the expense of others, "the strong." Everyone under their control he called "the weak." He called the rhetorical idea that such control was immoral, "slave morality," a trick the weak played to gain leverage over the strong. Pretty clever of the weak, he allowed.
Nietzsche was brilliant and funny and tragic, but his opinions about strength and weakness miss the point of economy. An economy seeks to provide for needs and to channel abilities. That's what it's always been, I argue, in my new essay. This one. I'm defining economy as an emergent behavior of a social group, not as some top-down design. The chief of a tribe didn't design their economy. Kings didn't design their economies. Prefects and mayors don't design their economies. They do all use their positions in the social hierarchy to influence the rules of the economy in their favor. The communist governments of Russia and China attempted in the most obnoxious way to force top-down design, which led to deprivation, cruelty, and crime.
To this day, economies are deformed by the coercing, twisting, bending, torqueing tendencies of elites to try to enrich themselves, and, under capitalism, those elites are not solely governmental. Not by a long shot, chump. Private corporations and financial organizations are able to deform the goals of the economy just as easily if not more so, sometimes using government and sometimes ignoring it.
A deformed economy is an unjust economy, because it has been steered away from its mission of providing for needs and channeling abilities. Economic inequality is one obvious symptom of injustice. The proliferation of crime is another. I think we can agree that in the US, and globally, we have an unjust economic system by that measure. Widespread crime among the classes below the aristocracy is often, if not always, an economy groping to find its way back to its natural inclination to provide for needs and to channel abilities. I'm not saying it's constructive, or a kind of justice in itself – it's a symptom, not a cure. But it does lead to maybe my most glib generalization in this current paragraph already crammed with glib generalizations: Crime is economy in search of its true nature.
Historically, we've accepted inequality as natural, or we've considered inequality a necessary evil for economic growth. Now that we're coming to be a global society, inequality has outlived its usefulness. If it ever was an engine of progress, it's now become an engine of toxicity and suffering. It's grown entirely too big for its britches. We need to get out from under this mess we made on the way to building this global economy.
If I have an idea, and I'm not sure I do, it's this: Global economy is a collective process in which all humans participate, regardless of attempts to exclude them or de facto elisions of their value or existence.
Got it, bitches? Economy includes the weak, their suffering, and the moral pressure upon consciences exerted by the deprived and the prematurely extinguished. That is to say,
economy includes reactions to injustice, such as stealing food in reaction to the legal withholding of food. And if the only possible reaction to injustice is to die, all pressures of moral argument denouncing those deaths and that injustice is just as much part of the economy as the cause of death was, despite what insults Nietzsche might fling at the weak for cleverly leveraging their deaths to sway public opinion.
Those cunning corpses of the weak, is there no end to their duplicity?
I've conjured a mythical economy, this economy that doesn't want people to die before their time, or to be miserable and unhealthy. This is economy as benevolent god. I admit it. I even like it.
I've also held up idealized tribal culture as an example of economies cleaving closer to their original, emergent purposes. Eh, what can you do?
Our global society has seen fit to incorporate the immiseration and even destruction of whole nations into its routine mechanisms. It's hard on morale. Human beings tend to balk at mass violence as features of an economy. They become desperate pirates or drug producers and smugglers or refugees. Or join police forces to try control these on behalf of the elite. They might just become angry violent terrorists, even if they aren't the direct victims of injustice. Or they might become liberals, activists, bleeding hearts – community organizers, even. Some have been known to become fascists.
We've developed institutions to make it easy for a privileged few to withhold education, steal land, kill people, and generally hold resources hostage so that economy is thwarted from providing for needs and channeling abilities. Simultaneously, these powerful, or "strong," institutions have developed so that those who profit most from injustices feel their conscience-burdening effects the least. The strong have fortified themselves against the heart-tugging ploys of the weak. The weak may be armed with the tools of Nietzsche's slave morality, which are especially effective in Twitter arguments, but in tangible terms those tools become weaker as the global economy becomes more complex
and elitist, as the elite segregate themselves ever more distantly from the suffering they cause.
In this glib and insightful essay of mine I say this: Economy developed to distribute resources and channel abilities for the maintenance of community. I say, It's possible to return economy to its original purpose, or to repurpose the currently deformed economy to one that meets the criteria of a true economy. I say, First we need to agree on what an economy is supposed to be doing, and stop unjust impositions on economy from preventing the formation and operation of functional communities.
I add community to the argument to counter the assertion that individuals, behaving in their separate self-interest, will create as close to a just economy as we can achieve. Economy is not about self-interest, although it does involve it. It's about collective interest. Economies only arise in communities, sillies. People don't do well in atomized conditions, if they can even exist in them at all. They do well when involved in a purpose they see as benevolent. Hence the appeal of communism before it turned into Bolshevism and Maoism. Hence the appeal of patriotism before it turns into fascistic nationalism. Hence the appeal of the radical movement before it devolves into an incestuous clique of smelly if lovable gadflies.
People want to be free, not just to fulfill their personal desires and vanity, but to contribute to a benevolent whole in which they are situated among constructive and pleasant relationships. I can't prove this, of course. I'm too weak. Weak of mind, weak of body, and weak of will.
But I'm often clever. And I would like to use my cleverness for the benefit of future human happiness, and toward the maintenance of resources that is our planet and all the beings on it. I'm a peacenik. I'm a hippie. I'm a Social Leisurist. I'm a smelly if lovable gadfly. I believe in publicly available necessities as well as public luxury. I believe it is the destiny of human beings to come to a far more sustainable, pleasant, and egalitarian
way of living. We'll never end suffering and tragedy, but we can mitigate much of it if we can agree to see its mitigation as a worthy goal.
Right now, we're far from any such agreement.
And yet who in their right mind would disagree with alleviating as much suffering as possible? Many, many people don't believe it can be done, and many of that many don't believe it should be attempted. They might agree that the number of people suffering needlessly is unacceptable, but contend there would be more suffering if we tried to do something about it. They point to past attempts as proof.
Well, all I can say to that is, tomorrow is another day, and we think new thoughts all the time, more inclusive thoughts, more humane thoughts, more neighborly thoughts about more, and more varied, people than we have in countless recent yesterdays. There are examples of egalitarian tactics improving people's lives every day, on a small scale, most often below the media radar. Yeah, being nice works. It's hard for us to understand these examples and assimilate them into our collective story. We're not used to succeeding, because aside from comedy and tragedy, one of which is about failure and the other a winked-at or laughed-at success, we don't have a great narrative about it.
Life itself doesn't end well, so our imaginations are constrained by that lousy example, too. I don't want to say that if we just start telling ourselves different stories everything will come out okay, but something's gotta change, and all I really know how to do, poor as I am at it, is talk about ways of thinking about stuff.
Maybe in a less deformed economy I'd be of more use in correcting economic deformity. It's a vicious circle, is what it is.
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I thought of a funny character name: Dag Nabakov. It's a cross between the old coot's interjection "dag nabbit," Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld, and the author of Lolita and Pale Fire, Vlad Nabakov. Or NaBAKov, as people I disagree with about pronunciations mispronounce it. Dag Nabakov is an old southern novelist who moved to Russia and wrote about an old foreigner who falls in love with an underage Russian because she represents everything he idealizes about the brutish freedom of his adopted country. When Shelly Winters kills herself, he plays a hilarious cat-and-mouse game with Peter Sellers until he's finally brought to tears or justice or something. And the Swedish part of the author is, he loves lingonberries, and dies in a plane crash.
A friend of mine was talking about Donald Dump's recent reaction to the recent incident of terrorist automobile violence in New York. My friend's an adoptive New Yorker, and he said, and I paraphrase freely, "New York doesn't need his anti-immigrant BS. He's always on about immigrants, hating on immigrants, but this is New York, which is immigrant central. It's a city of immigrants, like no other city. I'd just like to see some New Yorkers, grieving about this incident, but then Dump spouting his anti-immigrant BS, and these New Yorkers just beating the crap out of him. That's not how you sympathize with New Yorkers about something like this. It's not an invasion of aliens. It's them. It's one of them like that Las Vegas shooter was one of the white people. New Yorkers know what their city means, and it doesn't mean xenophobic racist real estate pricks who don't pay their contractors."
It got me thinking about how people become racist. They say no one's born racist. Then they did an experiment with rats that showed rats were racist, so now they're not so sure. People might be born racist. Mammals have cultures, though, even rats. Maybe there's some learned racism among rats. And human culture is ridiculously overwhelming, and many of its effects are creepy and insidious.
I knew a white guy who worked in the projects in a social-worker-ish capacity, and he was beaten up quite severely by some black teens, and it seemed after that he decided, "What am I not being racist for? What's the point?" And he became a big ol' macho racist.
How he came by his feelings made sense to me, even if I found his opinions reprehensible. I had never been severely beaten by anyone, though, so I had to chalk his reprehensible opinions up to the traumatic event he suggested was their point of advent. I had to honor his experience, at the very least. Had I gone through a similar experience and not turned racist I might have had more of a leg to stand on. Understanding didn't make it any easier to tolerate his opinions, though, but it made me react to them less vehemently during conversations.
I don't know if Dump was hazed by Muslims at some point in his young adulthood, but I think we would have heard about it by now if he had been. He's also racist against Mexicans, black people, and Hawaiians. Either he's a magnet for ethnic beatings, or he's just a mean, ignorant jerk. Various other evidence being taken into account, my money's on jerk.
It is oddly shallow of us humans, how easily we become bigots, or how easily our bigot switch is flipped, if that's what happens.
I'm sorry, I've have to interrupt myself here for a moment, because I've just had a thought, and it so rarely happens, so I need to take advantage of it when it does, but, here: Don't you think death is a sign of weakness? I mean, if somebody dies, and I don't, doesn't that make me better than them, by comparison? I mean, they're kind of to be pitied, right? Whereas I'm still in the game, y'know, still going. It's sad, really. Poor dead so-and-so, just couldn't keep his act together, just died. That Dorchen, boy, he's still going. There's a lot of sad things about that, but at least he's not dead.
Yeah. Hey. No one ever died of schadenfreude. But if someone did, I'd think they were pretty pathetic. And I would feel a bit better about myself in comparison.
I apologize for that frivolous and literally meaningless digression. I feel it reflects badly upon my character.
Imagine you went on vacation to another country – say, China – and you got mistreated there. Say, just say, by the authorities. Not by unofficial thugs or anything. Just police and the local injustice system. You were beaten and held for weeks without being able to communicate with the outside world. And there was an unfair trial. But eventually you got out and went back to, say, Poughkeepsie. I don't know why I said that. No one lives in Poughkeepsie, that's a place name out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon or something. You went back home to, say, Denver.
Anyway, a negative experience like that could prejudice you against Chinese people. And I doubt you would differentiate, oh, that was just the Hunan people, the Sizchuan people are very nice, they would never do that. I mean, if that was your first trip to China, that would probably be your only trip to China. I'm imagining you haven't had a great deal of experience with China, in other words, except for this one run-in with the law. You're kind of a neophyte in the China game.
And, incidentally, if someone from outside our official geographic borders' initial contact with people of the USA is oppressive, we're not doing our brand any favors.
Forming a simplistic opinion based on inadequate information seems to be the way a lot of us think of people who are ethnically distinct from us when they do violence to us. If they live in another country, we're not going back to that country. But if they're in the same country with us, some of us react as if they weren't: what are they doing here? Why don't they stay in their own country? Well, they're in their own country. There's no "over there" just because someone has a different culture or language or skin color. I mean, I know there's still a lot of white people out there, but are there so many that they think a person of Asian ancestry belongs in a different part of the world? How does difference lead us to picture separation?
I guess, if someone shoots a group of people, a large number of victims, in a situation like the recent Las Vegas shooting, where there was no warning, no idea, no way to prepare, nothing you could have done about it yourself, as a person in the crowd – there's an understandable desire to separate from the kind of people who do this mass murder. You want to keep them somewhere away, but of course they're white, American, there's no other place to put them. We can't ask all of them to hang out in Branson, Missouri. I mean, I get that the instinct is to want to be as far away as possible from a person who might shoot you.
But just because someone wears a traditional Muslim head scarf doesn't mean they have somewhere else they can be. Just because someone has a Syrian last name doesn't mean keeping out all the people with that last name would be some kind of meaningful step toward keeping us safe from people who commit mass murder. You could just as well try to deport all the people with the last name Paddock, or McVeigh, or Kaczynski – does that sound like a sensible way to prevent terrorism?
I guess what I'm saying is, I understand that Dump and his supporters are racist, which makes them afraid, because when they picture a Muslim they picture a terrorist caricature of an Arab, they picture a swarthy Arab looking like Yasser Arafat but much darker complected. Grinning, slavering, caressing a bomb with a lit fuse. And, I guess what I'm saying is, Dump and his supporters are effing jerks.
That's not anything most of you didn't already know. But what may not have occurred to you is that he and his supporters will one day all be dead, and then their truly weak natures will be revealed. The living will see them for what they are, what they've been all along: piles of inanimate, rotting meat. Which is the way of all flesh. So why waste your short time on Earth being a racist douchebag, indulging your ignorance, cowardice and weakness, only to become even weaker still in death? The answer for Donald Dump is, that's his brand.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Last week a friend of mine from El Salvador became a US citizen. Of course, to commemorate her joining the great red, white and blue horde, we celebrated with sushi. It's unprecedented that so many millions of people are now scrambling to get ahead of being deported in anticipation of a crazy President's actions. Traditionally the government comes and puts you and your family in concentration camps without much warning. Thank goodness Dump and the GOP Congress are so incompetent. It gives people time to worry and, if they're lucky, get themselves situated. Of course, even as a citizen, there's no guarantee Latins or any people of color won't suffer some kind of surprise new-fangled persecution under the nation's first white president.
My Salvadoran friend cleans houses and sells insurance. I remember how excited she was when she became certified to sell health insurance. Of course, I couldn't celebrate that. Back then she was taking not one, but two jobs from an American. Now that she is an American, those two jobs can now go to an American. As it should be.
One of the main perks of being a US citizen is that you can feel just about as entitled as a white person does. Not that you have the same racial privileges, but you can get as self- righteous as if you do. Just that simple designation, citizen, can give you an entirely new list of grievances. My friend got so outraged over immigrants coming up from Latin America, not learning the language, and stealing jobs from US citizens, she considered turning her mother over to ICE. But then she decided it would be too hard to find a new drug mule. And she couldn't in good conscience send her mother back to El Salvador, which the US prison system and deportation policies have turned into a gang-ruled land of violence of the type our white president likes to make out Chicago is.
As a citizen of a constitutional oligarchy like we have here in the States, my friend understands that she has certain responsibilities. It's not all just entitlements, free education, adequate housing, affordable health care, respectful, restrained police, no, it's none of those. Not even close. But even a government which has abrogated every social contract between itself and its citizens demands a duty from them. I forget what it is. It can't be the duty to be an informed voter. That doesn't help. It just makes you frustrated.
Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has come out against the Graham Cassidy anti- healthcare bill, and against Senator Cassidy himself for lying to Kimmel on his show. In two YouTubable videos, Kimmel lays out the problems with the bill, how it leaves more people uninsured than the ACA, how it leaves it up to the states to cap insurance payouts and deny coverage for pre-existing conditions if they feel like it, among its many other destructive aspects. So now everyone who already opposed the bill is that much better informed about why they shouldn't like it.
Fox News Channel blatherskites have taken to mocking Kimmel as just another non- expert Hollywood-type who should keep his mouth shut except when funny, non-political phrases are coming out of it. I am not here to defend Kimmel. I'm not here to praise Kimmel. I don't know what I'm here for. That's a question that has puzzled human beings since they noticed the gods would allow them to die horrible deaths no matter how many bullocks they sacrificed.
The one question I have about Kimmel is this: in his second video, his response to Cassidy's response to Kimmel's initial denunciation of Cassidy as a liar, he closed the video with a skit about a barista serving coffee in cups without bottoms. The skit wasn't funny. It died before a live studio audience. So, did the skit's unfunniness undercut Kimmel's credibility?
Clearly, Kimmel's being well-informed about how the bill would affect coverage doesn't matter. His being able to list all the health and medical organizations opposing the bill doesn't matter, either. His own personal experience as a father whose child needed open- heart surgery, which sparked his concern for those who didn't have the luck to be adequately covered for such a medical catastrophe, is also of no consequence. At least no one at Fox News Channel cares. As far as they're concerned, Jimmy Kimmel has no credibility, least of all as a well-informed or concerned citizen of the United States.
According to Fox and fiends, Kimmel's job is to be funny. And as we all know, we are nothing but our jobs. My Salvadoran-American friend is both her jobs. I'm barely half a person at the moment. I'm shirking my duty, people of the USA. I'm an under-staffer. I admit I have a problem.
This is why so many rich people busy themselves accumulating titles like Chairman of the Board or President of the United States – in order to be an important job. Or else they hide out on their yachts or private islands, cowering in their idleness and shame.
It is the duty of the US citizen to have and to be a job. Not to know anything, not to believe anything, or value anything, definitely not to march or take action for what you believe in or value. Your duty is to contribute to the wealth of the capitalists above you, regardless of your knowledge or your values, capitalists who will in turn provide your offspring and loved ones and neighbors with opportunities for servitude. It's a contract, a social contract. It's social, in that it affects everyone in your community, and it's a contract in that it contracts your possibilities and limits your imagination and your world.
But remember, you could be one of the lucky few who becomes a millionaire through ingenuity, determination and grit. There's always the chance to be a better, more impressive job here in the USA. Ask not how you can contribute to your community; ask what job you can be, above your community. Whittle your hopes into the shape of the slot that's available in the marketplace. Remember, resources are limited, at least for the vast majority of us, so dress for the job you want to be and go out and be that, or the next best thing or the next. It's all the same to the owning class. They'll get their rents and their interest and your tax dollars one way or another. Don't fret. Don't despair. The owners have your back. And your front. And your sides, your top, bottom, and innards.
Welcome aboard the poop and circuses wagon, my newly naturalized friends. Take in the remarkable sights as we continue rolling toward the cliff's edge.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
I got together with my friend Professor Wadwa the other night for drinks. Let me explain, first of all, that this is not Professor Vivek Wadhwa, the noted academic, entrepreneur, and advocate for decency in immigration law. This is Professor Manish Wadwa, the noted futurologist, wannabe thought leader and tax consultant.
He has money, and when he's in town he treats me to drinks. He earned his money the old-fashioned way: slipping on the ice in front of Neiman-Marcus. But he's very generous because, although he considers himself a rugged individualist and a self-made man, he freely admits luck has had a lot to do with his current financial well-being.
After an evening's conversation with the professor, I'm usually left inspired and confused. Let me see if I can organize my thoughts enough to describe what we discussed.
I believe Wadwa had an idea, which can be summed up thus: what if there were a computer job exchange to divide up the jobs no one wanted to do, so everyone could do them for a little bit a week instead of some unlucky slobs having to do them all day every day for their entire lives?
Wadwa has a keen mind, but most of his brilliant ideas leave a lot of unanswered questions. "What," I asked him, "would be the incentive for the rich to do their part? They could just pay the poor people to do their share of the lousy jobs, and we'd be back where we started.
"What if it was more than a lousy-job exchange?" I went on. "What if it was a global database of everything everyone needed to have someone else do, or to have help doing? And these jobs, tasks, help on a project, they'd be divorced from money."
"Why would someone do something for no money?" Wadwa asked.
"I don't know, why did people do things before there was money? Mutual community welfare and gratitude, prestige, affection."
"But those things are impossible to measure," Wadwa countered, "that's why money's superior. Anyway, a lot of people would show their gratitude and affection with gifts, which the wealthy have more power to give."
"All right, how about this," I probed. "What if robots did everything? Our system is already computerized, we just network all the things, like an internet of things, the whole thing, and robots do everything."
"What about brain surgery?"
"A robot can do brain surgery! It's not – it's just brain surgery."
"What about art?"
"Jesus, are you kidding, an elephant can do art. A robot elephant even better, probably."
"Well," said Wadwa, "and this is why I'm the idea man, what about when the computer sees no reason to do things for people anymore, or no reason for people to even exist, since they just consume energy and don't produce anything?"
"Oh! We give the computer an incentive. Every time its robot homunculi do something for us, we give it something. Something we've programmed it to get satisfaction from. Like, likes or stars or glowing reviews. When we eat the food it's grown, it gets appreciation. And we've programmed it to live on appreciation."
"I forgot what the point of all this was," Wadwa said.
"I think you started out trying to dole out the onerous tasks so that a caste of unlucky people didn't get stuck in lives of miserable drudgery."
"Oh, misery, right. Human misery is largely avoidable, but not entirely." "True. And fairness goes a long way toward preventing avoidable misery." "Fairness," said Wadwa. "Hmm."
I could tell he was trying to figure out a way to avoid fairness. In our discussions, fairness always ended up leading to radical wealth-redistribution, and Wadwa was never in favor of that. First of all, it was never going to happen. Second, it was a blunt instrument. He wanted a way to trick the uber-wealthy into letting their wealth leak away and bleed into equilibrium through economic osmosis.
"Look," I said, anticipating several steps in the conversation and leaping over them to the chase, "there is no system of misery-alleviation that someone with excess wealth can't use that wealth to pervert. As long as we value wealth—"
"Well, wealth is valuable, by definition," he insisted.
"And yet you and I know many many people who value many many things more than they value wealth," I insisted back at him.
"Uch," he moaned. "Why does it always come down to this? Why does wealth bring out the worst in people?"
"Because no one ever went broke expecting the worst of people, which makes them behave accordingly. Most such people die lonely or spiritually destroyed, but not broke. And as you say, you can measure wealth. You can't measure companionship. You can't measure peace of mind. You can't measure affection. You can't measure satisfaction or contentment. So the people who like to get the highest score, who are usually pushy assholes, are the ones who also measure their lives in cash, or assets that can be converted to cash in a pinch."
"What if we could measure all those things," Wadwa asked, perking up noticeably. In fact he was sparkling. "There's a misery index."
"There is?" But he was off and running without explaining to me what a misery index was, and we were back in the thick of imagining.
"So why not a contentment index? Those discontented uber-wealthy would certainly be embarrassed when they saw they had a lower contentment index than a garbage man!"
"But if a garbage man is content, doesn't that mean he's not miserable?"
"Yes, but he's still more prone to avoidable misery! Anyway, if I may continue, eventually, given continuous updates on their contentment, on their Fit Bit perhaps, yes, the uber-wealthy would first try to spend their discontent away, but when they'd finally come to realize the misery they were causing themselves and others by hogging wealth, they'd ... uh..."
"But wouldn't that just be turning people into organisms programmed to get satisfaction from those numbers? Like our computer?"
"I'm not sure that's a bad thing," Wadwa said. "At least, it's not bad in theory."
"Economic theory would love it if people behaved like robots," I said. "That's a well- known issue with economic theory."
"So really, all we're satisfying here is economic theory's desire for people to be more rational. Why do you always do that?" Wadwa whined.
"I'm just one of those people," I said contritely. "I ruin everything." And then we talked about movies.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!