Looking out our collective bedroom windows, the world might genuinely appear to be fashioned out of constants, cruel and cold. Things of permanence abound. Street lights, buildings, cars, skies, trees, and mountains… Surely, we must live in The Truman Show where everything has always been exactly as it is today and the eternal stars revolve around our every waking breath. For parts of human history, that’s certainly been the presiding belief; a belief bordering on reality. The circular expressions of time of Ancient Chinese and Ancient Egyptian societies reflected exactly that.
But is that our lived reality today?
Surely not, we say, as we look down at our handheld screens! We’re so obviously inundated with an endless whiz-bang procession of dazzling new technologies (and notifications about what those new technologies are doing round-the-clock), that surely this moment in history is like no other moment before. Surely we’re charting terra incognita like ol’ Chris C! And yet we forget Zheng He. We forget the Norse. If we ever even knew… For most of what’s “new” has its inevitable roots and origins much older than we commonly believe. Sometimes new technological breakthroughs are decades or even centuries in the making. Think of the air plane, train, automobile, or Internet. Even Bitcoin’s origins date back to Mondex, DigiCash, CyberCash, and others from the 1980s and 90s, if we discount 15th century donut-shaped Yapese rocks… Y’see, the world is so much older and slower than us flash-in-the-pan humans like to think.
Not that I’m here to shit on a considered degree of lazy thinking; laziness is both powerful and useful! Selectively, of course. While it’s comforting and convenient, energetically efficient, and even absolutely essential to our day-to-day functioning that we assume that very little of the world changes on a given day, the fact of the matter is that we’re surrounded by variables, and not just on-screen. Variables that, sad though this may be to admit, were created by people no smarter than ourselves and depending on the exact individual reading this sentence quite possibly by people a lot less so.ii
We need look no further into the annals of history for useful examples of this than today’s shopping malls. With pre-vaccine COVID throwing a wrench in many a routine, my own little family’s included, and with the mercury hitting its usual mid-February -40ºC right on schedule, I’ve found myself with the boys at West Edmonton Mall burning off steam two consecutive weekends in a row. This isn’t particularly novel or unique as a way to spend time for many local families in the winter – this is a consumerist culture in the middle of the low arctic after all – but there are a staggering number of random and non-sensical variables present at the mall that are at least unique to this time and place.
For example, pedestrian bridges are closed, seating areas are verbotten, store capacity is severly limited so queues out the door are the new normal, and walking paths are divided into explicit directions. And for the most part, you don’t even need security to enforce this nonsense, the strong retards of national socialism are all too happy to lend a hand to the dumb yids who kant reed 2 gud.
Anyways, in case it wasn’t abundantly clear as to my parenting philosophy when it comes to rules,iii I’m not a huge fan, and doubly do when they’re other peoples’ patently illogical bullshit rules. So when my kids glanced over at me with one leg over the guardrail at the shuttered mini-golf course, silently asking if they could swing the other leg over and run around the empty terrace, who was I do deny them, when instead I could be their lookout man? When they ducked into the unsupervised back entrance at the Lego store to look and play around, did I yell at them to get back to where they were “supposed” to be, or did I pretend to look at the window displays so the half-clueless staff could assume my boys were with another family and leave them alone? When they walked around the temporary guardrail on the pedestrian bridge and had the whole thing to themselves while hundreds of onlookers watched, did I scold them for their disobedience out of some feigned embarrassment, or let them play on a perfectly safe and perfectly lovely bridge that was open a few days ago and will be open again in a few days?
“But Pete,” you screech, “someone in your position should be setting a good example for your community! What if everyone did that?!” Not that I’m such a huge Kantian, but if we take the categorical imperative to “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law,” what’s the harm in a lot of people having a little funiv in the midst of a pandemic, particularly when there’s so little liberty, so little opportunity, and mental health is at such a premium? Doesn’t mental health matter too?v Besides, what’s mental health anyways if not successful adaptation to an ever-changing world, one full of mostly flexible “rules”?vi
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- Perhaps this is the writer’s fate to write and rewrite the same thing over and over, iterating and iterating until a subject can be iterated no more. ↩
- I’m paraphrasing Steve Jobs from memory here. Of course it’s quite convenient for him to make sure assertions. but few of the rest of us can look down at quite so many worms from our soaring heights as that particular eagle. ↩
- We make deals in our house, not rules. Deals have consent, buy-in, understanding, and negotiation. Rules are top-down “because I said so and fuck you”, which are about as appealing to me personally and about as useful to my children in their future adult lives as paper grocery bags in a rainstorm. Deals take more time and attention to establish, but what, like I’ve got better things to do than be a wasp husk? ↩
- A little fun != raves and other superspreader events!!! ↩
- Speaking of mattering, it strikes me that BLM would be a much less controversial branding exercise if it were simply called BLMT (T=Too). At the very least, BMLT would make ALM a less plausible retort. ↩
- Can we ever really do anything more than once? ↩