Really, they are. Our civic spaces are mis-led and full of anger, some of it even righteous. We have fouled our species’ nest and are ignoring the smoke curling out of its edges, and don’t know what’s awaiting when we fall out of the tree. I’ve been sad a lot.

For days at a time, even. I get up and find myself barking at my children for the smallest sins; just a shitty mood that I can’t shake. Introspecting, I see that I enjoy my job and get along with my family and am loved enough and have enough others to love. I like my car and my bike and my city and my garden. And eventually I had to admit that it was the lousy state of the world dragging me down.

What to do about it? You can’t and anyway shouldn’t face away from the world. We need to keep finding the courage to face the truth and work on mending what’s broken. Because in my heart and my mind I actually really don’t believe this is Ragnarök; we are not (quoting Tolkien’s Galadriel) “fighting the long defeat”. There are paths to better places and whether or not the pain and injustice and filth are our fault, finding those paths is our responsibility.

Gubeikou · Or 古北口 — it’s a town northeast of Beijing on a not-particularly great section of the Great Wall. It has a temple for the Goddess of Mercy.

Temple of the Goddess of Mercy, Gubeikou

The temple is well-maintained and the offerings fresh. That’s a no-brainer — would you prefer a just or a merciful deity?

Why am I sharing this? Just a reminder that the world, uglified though it may be this year, contains wonders; the hope is to lighten a rotten mood if only my own. What we are trying to save is worth saving! See those paintings on the Goddess’ wall? They were said to represent her attendants and are worth a look.

On the wall of the temple of the Goddess of Mercy, Gubeikou

That said… · In another part of the world, the country next to mine, sixty-five million people think Donald Trump is just fine and will probably think so again in 2020. In my own country, a morally-hollowed-out leadership is probably about to punch a bitumen pipeline through the walls of sanity to the Pacific to increase our share of carbon loading even as the carbon numbers attain levels never seen in our (or any) civilization. I could enumerate bad crazinesses in lots more timezones, but why? Anyone who troubles to find out knows.

I find it hard to deal with the fact that, and I’m phrasing this as gently as I can manage, a substantial proportion of the population seem ignorant, bigoted, and mean. Perhaps the natural proportion of Deplorables has been made larger by dysfunctional media. I’d like to believe that because media are fixable but endemic mean-spiritedness isn’t.

Horrorshow · In Hong Kong, lining up for the Star Ferry across the harbor, among more tourists than locals since they put in the subway tunnel, I came face-to-face with it. In a party of otherwise-unexceptionable Americans, there was the #MAGAhead with That Hat, waddling, empty-eyed, enormously obese; folds of fat hanging out of the bottom of his golf shorts. In the warm wet Chinese air I couldn’t dig up a sane way to react or even a sane thing to say because, frankly, murder was uncoiling at the back of my brain. Fortunately for that dude, I’m a grown-up.

More temple walls · The ones without paintings are a canvas for nature to write on.

Shadows on a Chinese temple wall

Across the Pacific, nature writes in big letters. Here, from left to right, a Douglas Fir, a Western Redcedar, and a Western Hemlock.

Trees on Keats Island in Howe Sound

Get out of their way, leave them the fuck alone, and they’ll do fine. In my heart I believe that if I could learn to listen slowly enough, they’d have things to say that we’d benefit from hearing. We need to do more getting out of the way.

The Second Coming · It’s really the biggest threat. I’m talking about these lines from Yeats’ poem:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

It’s so easy to say “Screw it, what can I do?” and change the channel. Let’s not. Let’s drink beers and sing songs and share pictures and sign petitions and get arrested where it might matter; Let’s bathe shameless in our world’s good things but never say “Screw it”, because those good things are worth, at the end of the day, dying for.

Wet poppy flowers

Our times are kind of particularly fucked up just now. I’d like to wear that fact like the poppies wear the raindrops. They’re tough generalists and will probably outlive Homo sapiens for a while, whatever dumb-ass things we do. But let’s try to stick around and keep them company.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: atotic (May 18 2019, at 22:39)

That's one grumpy post. Sounds like you are upset about rise of the mean populism, and global warming.

My best defense against being depressed about this is doing good, and understanding that we've been through worse.

For global warming, I keep my footprint light, cheerlead others fighting it (Musk!), and donate to scientists looking for solutions (James Hansen!). Youth gives me hope here, for them it is a fact of life, and they will fight it.

For mean populism, first thing is to stop giving them your attention. They gain power every time they distract you from doing good, or ruin your morning in Hong Kong. Focus on those doing good, and having positive ideas about the future. For me, that is Fairvote, Parkland kids, Justice Democrats. Young people will win (by default, but they can still use our support).

If all else fails, long term perspective helps: world is a lot better off than in 1939. In a worst case scenario, Earth might have a hot few 1000s of years, and then it'll be back to the usual climate cycle.

One thing I thought you'd have an interesting perspective on is tech's impact on society, in particular social media. I grew up believing that computer technology is generally good. That belief has been shattered by seeing first hand how social media can radicalize a 13yo. I now view tech as a great force that has no moral value system. The problem is that its amorality is also a value system that it imprints on its users. And that is a problem...

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From: eerie quark doll (May 19 2019, at 20:47)

I agree that the network tools which we've provided to people are a real problem; i only slightly hesitate in suggesting that they're a main vector for the large issues of global crisis (inept, dangerous, governance; disease transmission; climate change; ...) Now that this, too, is out of Epimetheus' jar any paths which feature an informed debate on policy, to paraphrase Zeal and Ardor, ain't coming back.

I have no doubt that there have always been humans that are incapable of analytical reasoning and obstinate despite clear evidence to counter their opinions, but i suspect that for much of history we've benefited from the sequestering of them as geographically local population minorities, with little to no means of external communal conversation, and employing the successful screws of shame.

Unfortunately, we've now provided them with the network tools to convene populous into cliques. The anonymity to speak freely emboldens their beliefs, and the undefinable cardinality of the actual masses lets outsiders and those-on-the-fence believe they are likely more numerous than they actually are.

Despite being clearly incapable of modifying their opinions, they are empowered to steer the political ship.

We would never allow such a system to dictate the construction of dams, bridges, trains, airplanes (oh Boeing...), ... and yet we do in something which is a far larger juggernaut capable of magnitudes more damage.

I see of no solution in a form compatible with democracy (representative, direct, or otherwise,) and this gives me the feeling of an Autumn leaf tumbling to the ground.

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From: Chris Lindley (May 20 2019, at 04:58)

You've put on paper what I've been feeling since the Brexit vote in the UK. It's all pretty depressing, and what makes it far worse is that I've changed from somebody who believed in the best of people, to a cynic who believes that a majority have an unashamed lack of education and care little for people who know what they are talking about. It does not bode well for a turnaround. Still it got me politically active for the first time in my life which helps.

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From: Dan (May 20 2019, at 07:28)

Thanks for writing, Tim. I feel the same way but I haven't been able to put it into words quite so well.

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From: Doug K (May 20 2019, at 11:39)

I like the goddess of mercy and her attendants..

"For children are innocent and love justice; while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy." G.K. Chesterton.

Dr Marvel (that is the real Dr Marvel, @DrKateMarvel) wrote in Scientific American,

"We can have a topia, an ordinary future where we go about ordinary lives in cities on stilts, missing what we’ve lost but looking forward to better things. There is light in the future that doesn’t come from burning."

I try to remember this..

The other consolation is that the area around Chernobyl is now a wildlife refuge, where the populations of everything not human are flourishing. So when we're gone it's likely the rest of life will do just fine. That is a sort of solace too: though I am grieved for my children and their generations.

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From: Bill Anderson (May 21 2019, at 15:08)

sven birkerts - @svenbirkerts:

"The world is a den of thieves, and night is falling. Evil breaks its chains and runs through the world like a mad dog. No one escapes. Therefore...[L]et us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. It is... not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world."

I. Bergman

/another little gem from Twitter

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From: Tim (May 21 2019, at 17:24)

Thank you for writing. These are indeed hard times, depressing and potentially demotivating. There are also good things pushing up through the stinking morass. Children and youth protesting in London for the planet. People reaching out to refugees. Open source projects ...but it is not obvious whether we will make it out of this. Thank you for expressing well what a lot of people feel.

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From: Ben (May 23 2019, at 08:07)

"...would you prefer a just or a merciful deity?"

That was the part of your post that stood out most to me. I guess it's clear that a large proportion of the world thinks that a deity is necessary to lift us all out of this but what a contrast between the one vs. all others...

In your writings in this space about Jesus of Nazareth I don't know that you've addressed his claim to be God. The Bible supports that from both Old and New Testaments (prophecies about him in one, epistles teaching about him in the other) and he said that he was the "only begotten" son of God, that he was completely righteous, yet that he came to Earth to die for the sake of us all, who were wicked. The epistles call God "rich in mercy", and Romans 3 says of Jesus:

"whom God set forth as a propitiation [an atoning sacrifice] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

I think about this simply, that I don't have the capability to generate, by my preferences or point of view, my own truth about the afterlife or the rest of reality any more than I can generate my own truth about whether if I run out on the interstate in front of a truck I will walk through the truck or be killed. Many distinguishing elements of Bible-based Christianity vs. any other religion there are--a couple being that its founder is said to be alive, having risen from the dead, and that it says God (the only true and living God) is both just, and merciful.

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