On Dark Age

Youth ends all at once, not gradually. It is a fact I wish I could at least have been informed of with conviction by someone, when I had youth left, even if I would have learned nothing from the warning and it would not have changed the way I lived one bit. I could only have understood its truth, as I surmise most people do, only after my own youth was gone.

It is as if one is standing in front of a door which one has left ajar and which leads into a room containing items that one has assumed the responsibility of inventorying for some unknown purpose. There is a clipboard and you hold it, in perhaps a self-important manner, checking off the items as you find them. Then, unexpectedly, your work is interrupted by some importunate pleading behind you, and you turn your head to it, to deflect its demands until you finish with this task of which you were just in the middle, until momentarily budged by this premature entreaty on your attention.

In responding, however, your feet have moved and so your body stands in a twisted awkward position which requires some torque to stay steady until your posture and previous business are resumed. You stand your ground against this invasion of your composure, you temporize to it: “Just let me finish this”, etc., not knowing who or what it is you’re talking to.

Then, thinking (incorrectly) that you may pick up where you left off (it occurs to you now that you had enjoyed the task even though it might have seemed less than ideal work), you turn back and see that the door has shut. You’re nonplussed. How did that happen? Was there a breeze? Did I leave the window open inside? Of course I did. There was so much air and it was blasting so hard on the glass that I could not avoid letting it in. And it was warm, gorgeous air. I wanted it all over the room.

Now it comes to mind that you cannot remember when you were last inside the room feeling this air susurrate and wash over you as if you yourself were exalted and were being anointed. Or when you picked up this annoying clipboard. Where did it come from anyway? And why do I have so little real memory of what it was like inside? I was just looking right into it. When was I last in there? Why was I not in there just now?

And you recall with faint dread that while you were occupied in fending off the trivial intrusion behind you, you had heard a single clicking sound which had not then registered too explicitly in your conscious mind. It was the door, of course, not slamming itself shut, just coming drolly to a standstill. Flustered, more because your previous rhythm had been dislodged than because of the new obstruction, you take hold of the knob and turn, but it does not move. What? You check your pocket for the keys. They’re not there, a thing you realize only after trying every other key on the key chain you had, whereupon you see that there is not even a keyhole on the door and you remember that you never had a key because you didn’t think you needed one.

Panic begins to shimmer inside your ribcage. You shout: “Does anyone have the key?” The door suddenly looms and you glance nervously at the clipboard, which you still hold dutifully, where it was just a moment ago when you were prepared to recommence your blind labor. But wait! You notice now the list of items, the things that you had just been checking off as you matched them to the contents of the room even though you have no memory of its contents and the only vision you have of the space behind the door is that of total emptiness. But the items: they are your years, you see, as the door swells larger and the space outside of what is behind it where you stand grows even darker than it was before, a detail you had not previously observed.

You laugh bitterly, putting the clipboard down, and you sit on the floor, against the door, in the dark. You sit like that for a long time, seeing nothing. Then, more time brings a nether penumbra of light from behind the door, softly flushing into the night around you. You see now that the quantity of light has not actually changed, you are only acclimating. Getting up and walking away from the door, you proceed into the glow, though you can’t see far, surer of foot.

On Conspiriority

Revelations of wrongful official secrecy and its abuse by powerful political and economic organizations can have as a byproduct a politically debilitating effect that is contrary to the effect one would expect to occur when secret, unsavory official acts are divulged. Instead of using the new knowledge to become more effectively politically engaged, one may become liable to the perpetual surmise that while each new layer of exposed reality may provide a more complete picture of reality than what came before it, the picture is still not as real as it would be if another layer of reality were peeled away.

This frame of mind obviously can be psychologically exhausting, and it is wasteful for other reasons that may be imagined, but it is at least logically justified. If, for example, one discovers that the CIA used the Contras to bring cocaine into the United States during the 1980s in order to finance the Central American war then being fought illegally by the Reagan administration, it might be paranoid, but it is not unnatural, to think: “If they kept that hidden successfully until now, what else could they be hiding?” The danger is that one may never be able to accept any evidence of reality as definitive enough to be able to believe in it or act upon it: something else, always hidden, and probably important, must still be taking place out of view. Thus real political conspiracies beget conspiracy theorizing.

Facebook Leave

I was on Facebook until a few days ago, when I finally closed my account after two years. In shutting it down, I made the terrible mistake of making a declaration to all of my Friends explaining to them why I was leaving the forum. The temptation to declaim, despite my better judgment, was irresistible. I never had a chance to comply with my first thought, which was to go away quietly, into what Aldous Huxley termed a “decent obscurity”. The Friends with whom I had friendships did not need to hear my reasons, they knew them already, and the Friends that remained did not care what my reasons were – or I had no cause to think they did – and I had no right to harass them. But I still wanted at least some of the people in the second group to hear my opinions, and perhaps also to stay in touch, although I knew that that outcome was unlikely. They weren’t close friends, but on the whole they are people I respect and who I would like to take some interest in my mind.

Sure enough, I flubbed. The message, depending on how well you knew me, was sanctimonious, insulting, simplistic, off the mark. I realized this almost immediately. I wanted to take it back but just as quickly knew that I could not. It was there to stay, forever, to taste like old water, and for the national security agency to pluck for safekeeping.

Therefore, this is not what I wrote:

Friends . . . Groups . . . Newsfeed! I’m leaving Facebook in a few days. I wanted you to know. I’d close my account now but I want to make sure you get the message. The thing has been on my mind for a while. I suppose I’m doing it for several reasons. The precipitating cause, however, was not the latest ballyhoo over Facebook’s newly revised privacy policy, which I’ve never understood, and I don’t think I’m meant to understand, but reading Frank Rich’s recent piece in New York magazine about the decline and fall of privacy generally. His analysis was incisive, but annoying and wrong, in that he took up the popular media line, embraced unfortunately by “cruise missile” liberals everywhere (e.g. Bill Maher), that the general public is basically responsible for its own predicament of being too transparent – a case of blaming the victim that found me grinding my teeth and growling bitterly at my lowest octave, not least because it tended to undermine Edward Snowden.

But not all of my reasons are political. I follow the news. I am not so naïve as to think that if I stop using Facebook but continue using Gmail the National Securitors will not be just as far past my sphincter as they were before I left the FB. One problem at a time, I suppose. In other respects, I view this act as one of striving toward greater simplicity, revisiting a certain condition of my mind that I once knew better by keeping at bay at least some of the incessant deluge of media washing over us all, among other things, and an experiment with freedom: can I live without this very peculiar and not completely satisfactory communication medium? Piece of cake right? To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “And so on.”

There are two impressions I do not want anyone to be left with after reading this post. The first is that I am somehow taking a position of moral superiority in relation to any of you who might, and I expect probably will, choose to stay here. That is not what I mean to say. I recognize that there are valid reasons, personal and professional, for sticking with Facebook, and I would not presume to judge anyone for seeing the matter differently than me. Believe it or not, despite what I just said, I am not so sure, objectively speaking (assuming objectivity exists), that the reasons for dropping off necessarily outweigh the reasons for staying on. Admittedly, I find the issue complex.

The other impression I do not want to create is that, in deciding to drop off, I have engaged in some kind of balancing analysis with respect to the value of the connection I have here with all of you, and concluded that continuing to maintain the connection was not worth it. I know that it could appear that way at first glance, but I believe that this dichotomy is a false one, one of the meddlesome artefacts that Facebook has introduced. The reason I am posting this, after all, is to leave open the possibility of our maintaining a connection like the one we have had here, albeit through different means.

I’ve said enough. My email is wortmanberg@wort.com. I’m also requesting yours, if I do not have it yet. If you’re on this list, it’s something I would like you to pass along, but I’ll leave that up to you. Take care for now, from here. Visualize my profile picture jumping off the blue crossbar down the newsfeed scroll, and disappearing.

P.S. Please forgive the awfulness of this as a mass message. There was simply no way I could write individual variations of it upwards of 75 times, even with cutting and pasting.

The things we wish we’d said.

On Physiognomy

A person exists in the world physically as well as mentally. That person’s physique and face make impressions on others who observe and perceive those outward traits. These observations create certain reactions in those others which then work on the person having the (apparent) traits. Given this procedure, which must certainly take place, it is not insensible to think that over time the person with the physical traits being observed will develop mental traits which roughly correspond to how they perceive those traits to be perceived by others. In turn, the people observing the physical traits will develop more ossified impressions of what a person must be like based on how that person looks, or based on how another person looks with a similar appearance. And so on. The process must take place mostly unconsciously. Nonetheless, the original error of physiognomy was not to suppose that there was a correspondence between inner character and outward appearance, but that the mental trait behind the physical appearance occurred in the “mind”, as the repository par excellence of character, rather than in a person’s social experience.