Lucifer Jones

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dissonance & Faith

Dissonance is a keyword in the story of my life. For me, it is the experience of living the truth of the false claim that blue is not blue. It is the experience of the epistemological nightmare, of hearing people tell you after you have explained something profound with precision that you have nothing to say and are at any rate incapable of saying it.

I have, like you, wished that I could read people's minds and that they could read mine, because I hate dissonance. So writing has become an indispensable part of my life. I have, in my adult life, always considered myself a writer - a writer for people and for machines with the emphasis on people. In every opportunity to write software for machines, I have always discounted the value. Software that doesn't engage the end-user was never interesting to me. The machine was a logical substrate. It was never my desire to escape the complications of humanity. In fact, I never grew to learn enough of the mathematical universe to appreciate the ability to get a computer to think mathematically, nor enough about any scientific discipline to feel rewarded by shaping the computing tool. What I have learned instead are matters of finance and ethics.

Roger Ebert writes about the experience of being mute and of being blind, and then conveys a letter sent to him by someone rendered mute by surgery. Both the blog entry and the letter are longish, but I understood them implicitly. In my ethical journey, the first intellectual country was characterized by the landscape of race. What I discovered early on was how the hunger of those wanting to understand and sympathize led them to jump to whatever seemed to lead them to a proper conclusion, to forge instantaneous brotherhood at the first hint of commonality. But this kind of sentiment was never sufficient to bear the burdens of reform implicated by the scope of anti-racist politics and action. Most everything became symbolic. The dissonant supply and demand of dialog on the matters of race in America sometimes ossified over time into the kind of hostility that could be called racism. That characterizes our epistemological nightmare well, because it isn't true racism but most people do not possess the words to make this clear. They only possess the sentiments appropriate towards the ethics of anti-racism. Smarter folks substitute culture for race and welcome culture wars often to the point of the political and the politics of difference underlies a great deal of what sparks frustration in American public life. This is all dissonance to me. It is dissonance until it is crime.

I don't believe that man is a social animal in the way many do. I think that we are evolutionarily hardwired to be constrained in our affairs to Dunbar's Number. Everything else is maintained by hegemonic forces and, of course, ignorance & incuriosity. You have your number of Facebook friends, and that's about it. You either fit the profile of the person you always wanted to be or you suffer from the ignominious underachievement. You don't need to communicate to more people, and in fact you cannot. You can only be leveraged by the impersonal, which means you will be interpreted. The French have a verb for that. Connaitre. Connaitre is for people. Savoir is for things. Both verbs mean 'to know'. When you write a program and compile it, the computer knows what you are telling it - almost instantaneously. Savoir. You, on the other hand, will be interpreted.

You will be interpreted.

Interpretation is imprecise, and there are for humans very distinct advantages to being interpreted. For in dissonance is the ability to play both sides of the coin. Human social identity should be worn, as James Baldwin wrote, loosely like the clothes of the desert. Give a little room for the mind to shape the body. Let some ambiguity in. We don't want to live in a bot-mediated world. We want to live in a world where we have permission and license to be what we want to be, to go where we like and to behave as we please. If we strive to achieve a precise goal and redefine ourselves in pursuit of that goal it is only to ultimately attain that freedom. At least, that's my philosophy. It is about the Dosh Point.

Next year I'll be 50. I'm slimming down and realizing that I look more like I did at 35 then at 45. I've been a bit too chubby for a bit too long. Dr. Sakurai tells me, even after I shed 20 pounds this year, that I'm too fat. He's over 80 years old, so perhaps I should listen. Do you see all of these unambiguous numbers? Why do we try to express ourselves that way?

Dissonance is a permanent factor, and I've been thinking about the epistemological problems of the age. It's a constant itch for me since I have continually evolved my thinking and so span political, geographical, religious, class and racial lines. I've gotten to the point at which I'm convinced that I have achieved a level of mature wisdom which is the result of years of writing and thinking. I've more than done my 10,000 hours on the blog, writing for people. Now I get people. I am people. People are me. Like Chaka Khan. No, actually deeper still without the flash, like the people who wrote it. Ashford & Simpson.

Humans have faith, but they often forget their faith in themselves, in humanity. We need to interpret each other with faith in mind. Then the nightmare dissolves.


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