11 March 2020

The coyote has looked down

"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."

-- Tennyson, Morte d'Arthur

William Gibson has introduced the concept of the Jackpot, a slow motion catastrophe; people tend to focus on the apocalyptic parts, and not Gibson's description of why it's a problem.  The point is that it's not the catastrophe, but the lack of a present; if the future is built stone by stone out out of the past, the present, now, is when we set the stone down, and a fragmentary present with no agreed future means no one has any idea where to put the rock of the moment.  Whatever we're building, it's not a city, and it isn't built to music.  There can be no response to the catastrophe except confusion.

This really gets going in the Great War; three hundred years of horse, guns, and foot go away; three hundred years of naval warfare went away, too, with submarines and director fire control and oil-fired boilers.  Every certain thing about society went, too; you can't run an imperial power in the context of an industrial total war; the demands of industrial mobilization won't permit it.   Two generations later there was a brief stable future -- nuclear apocalypse, but stable -- and now that's gone, too; the Peace of Dives never imagined, but instead the triumph of Mammon and the valorization of greed.  Which is unstable; it's parasitism, and any unchecked parasite will kill its host.

Triage says, well, who will survive on their own?  who will not survive?  who can we save? and directs the treatment to what can be saved.

What can be saved?

Literacy. Civilization; the idea that you really ought to die of something other than violence, starvation, or ignorance.  (Ignorance is a wide country; not knowing to wash your hands would be death by ignorance.  So is a lack of effective dentistry, on a societal level.)  The increase of knowledge.  Peace as a concept.

Not knowing that you can have success, or control, but not both, that might be death by ignorance, too.

A larger future and nothing can change are antithetical; keeping the Oil Empire is impossible.  Keeping extractive capitalism, same; if you put an open-loop extractive system up against finity, the finity wins.  The people making the decisions are pretty uniformly committed to not letting anything important alter; they're mammonites, and the money keeps coming in.  That's where the absent future leaves the world; it's not difficult to imagine a future.  We could well enough get to work on the whole habitability thing, and have everybody be secure and prosperous.  But not if we're not permitted to alter the present, and we're not, because pretty much the first thing to alter is to say again that greed is a sin.

Remember that it's the present that counts; remember while burying the dead.  Promises of someday (we'll reduce emissions someday...) are nothing; do you feel the future getting larger here today?

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