Lucifer Jones

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joy to the World

I read somewhere that Christmas isn't mandated by the Church as a high holiday. It's truly not a solemn occasion. If you think about that which might be a co-opted pagan celebration, this one has probably been the one that most often does not use Christian symbols. Happy Birthday Jesus doesn't quite fit so much as Happy Birthday Baby Jesus. And so the word Joy best describes what this time of year is all about. Joy to the World.
It's not actually even a message we Christians are likely to be known for. There's always an evangelical hook in there somewhere - or for me in my blend, a Jesuit mind trick. Proper Christianity challenges your mind and soul, but in late December the challenges are more about getting a parking space and all other sorts of preparation for joyous celebration. This year we got duck.

Right now, everything is as perfect as it gets. All the family phone calls have been made and all the news is good. People are healthy and in good spirits. Them that had no jobs, now got jobs. Some travelling has been done and old faces have been seen, warm embraces had in defiance of winter and quiet talk over hot drinks have given us another chance to pause, smiling and look down at the table for that moment when we say to ourselves nodding, "that's really good". The confessions are done as well. People like to come clean around this time of year. According to the guy on the radio, almost nobody breaks up on Christmas Day, but starting at Black Friday if your affair is in jeopardy, be prepared to handle the truth. The truth is that we know and we admit it finally, that human beings can be awesome, and sometimes we have to just let go of our fears and tell the honest truth. We play that game when the family is in a good mood and as parents we promise to forgive confessions of mischief - we call it BOL, for blurt out loud. Blurt. That's a good and giggly word. You just can't wait to talk about everything so that you can tell your good news, and feel good and prepare for the joy.

There's a kind of inevitability about Christmas joy. This year it was a long time coming. As it turns out, I'm between jobs and have had lots of time to think about other things, a good seven week sabbatical it turns out. Christmas couldn't sneak up on me this time; it felt like it took forever to get here. I started singing carols in public last week, and although I didn't burn a CD for the car, I did have it on the home system. The first thing I did yesterday morning was I listened to several renditions of O Holy Night. Whitney Houston, Celtic Woman, Celine Dion, Susan Boyle, Charlotte Church, Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood, NSync, Alicia Keyes, another Mariah Carey version. Right there in bed on my iPhone via YouTube. No matter how many times I listened to it, I still love the song. I still don't know all the words, but man when they get to the 'fall on your knees' part, it just melts me when they do it right. And yeah I have to say, Mariah does it best. You know the words are coming, and it still gets you in the gut. Advent. What a wonderful word.

We're at that family age with three teenagers. They know what they want, we know what to get them. It's wonderful watching all the bubbly subterfuge as we raid the bag of ribbons and wrapping paper. Everybody snatchs the roll of scotch tape from my desk and scampers off to their rooms to wrap another gift. We color code the sticky bows, if it's red it's mine. It seemed to take almost no time at all to get the tree and decorate it and now it's surrounded. There have been sleepovers and videogame parties. We baked cookies and made many runs to the stores.

.and that's all I'm writing this morning...

Merry Christmas, and may your thoughts be more coherent and complete than mine. Pass the eggnog.

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.