Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Burn the damn thing down"

"Everything is melting in nature. We think we see objects, but our eyes are slow and partial. Nature is blooming and withering in long puffy respirations, rising and falling in oceanic wave-motion. A mind that opened itself fully to nature without sentimental preconception would be glutted by nature’s coarse materialism, its relentless superfluity. An apple tree laden with fruit: how peaceful, how picturesque. But remove the rosy filter of humanism from our gaze and look again. See nature spuming and frothing, its mad spermatic bubbles endlessly spilling out and smashing in that inhuman round of waste, rot, and carnage. From the jammed glassy cells of sea roe to the feathery spores poured into the air from bursting green pods, nature is a festering hornet’s nest of aggression and overkill." -From Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia
The world we live in is constantly melting. Sometimes the change is fast and sometimes it's slow but it never stops. It seems helpful to say "the external world" is what's changing while the "internal world" stays constant but even that isn't true. Our physical bodies are constantly changing too - cells are dying and being replaced.

The way to survive change is to adapt, which sounds duplicative. Adaptation is just more change right? Sort of, but for the sake of this essay, change is out of your control while adaptation is in your control. The key part of adaptation is intentionality. A human or animal makes intentional changes in order to survive. The crazy part is that change and adaptation occurs simultaneously. Your skin cells are dying while you are intentionally putting on sunscreen to protect those exact cells, and it repeats and repeats. But all this complexity makes one's head spin. Let's limit the thought experiment to the "external" world changing and the "internal" world adapting.

You are faced with change. The best case scenario is you can simply add/subtract and achieve suitable adaptation. Say a computer program is missing a needed feature, so you add a few lines of code and you're done. Say a wrestler needs to lose weight to compete at a certain weight class, so they shed as much water from their body as possible. This is a simple answer to a simple problem. Usually the problems are not so simple.

Usually the problems, the change, requires a combination of destruction and creation to achieve suitable adaptation. It's a process of busting apart the old and building the new. Again, ideally the old gets completely carted away and the new is completely fresh. You demolish the rickety old hospital and build an entirely new and modern one in it's place. But all this takes resources and resources are not always easy to come by.

So what if you have limited resources and your problem is not simple? You break apart what you have and put it back together in a novel, better way. You fuse/split/intermix/rearrange your old systems into new systems better suited for the environment. This is the cycle of destruction and creation, of analysis and synthesis, of survival, and it continues indefinitely.

Col. John Boyd was a US fighter pilot who thought a lot about change and survival. Aherants of Boyd's philosophizing use the phrase "building snowmobiles" as shorthand for adaptive change. It stems from an illustration Boyd used:
"Imagine that you are on a ski slope with other skiers. Imagine that your are in Florida riding in an outboard motorboat, maybe even towing waterskiers. Imagine that you are riding a bicycle on a nice spring day. Imagine that you are a parent taking your son to a department store and that you notice he is fascinated by the toy tractors or tanks with rubber caterpillar treads.

Now imagine that you pull the ski’s off but you are still on the ski slope. Imagine also that you remove the outboard motor from the motor boat, and you are not longer in Florida. And from the bicycle you remove the handlebar and discard the rest of the bike. Finally, you take off the rubber threads from the toy tractor or tanks. This leaves only the following separate pieces: skis, outboard motor, handlebars and rubber treads. what emerges when you pull all this together? A snowmobile."
Notice how in this scenario there is an arbitrary line limiting the extent of destruction. When Boyd mentions disassembling a motor boat, he doesn't say to crack open the motor itself and take it apart, lug nut by lug nut. He says to re-purpose the motor as a prefabricated unit. That is the limit of destruction. Could an even better and more adapted solution be attained by disassembling the motor itself? Maybe, but maybe that's way more work. Mostly, it works well to draw a line of destruction, keeping useful pieces in-tact and moving forward with them.

Truly, the limit of destruction is proportional to the extent of required change. To root out a problem, you need to dig down at least far enough to fix it. Too little destruction and you're still stuck with no snowmobile. There is also a point of no return. Once a thing has been broken down too much, it simply can't go back together as it was before. The scenario where the problem is too deep is a recipe for utter destruction. An overgrown forest producing an epic wildfire. What was lush and growing before ends up as a pile of ashes. The baby goes out with the bathwater. If a thing's problems run deeper than the point of no return, it must be reduced to ashes. If not, disassemble the system enough to eradicate the problems and re-assemble.

Our country has major problems right now. The good ol' US of A is due for adaptation. Recently, SecDef Mattis candidly said: "our country right now, it's got some problems, you know it and I know it." The question is, how deep do the problems go, how much do we have to destroy to fix them? There are those who have a solution at the tip of their tongue, namely to burn this whole damn thing to the ground. Some of those people are quiet, they dream of the apocalypse from their disheveled dorm room, face bathed in the glow of their yelling smart phone. There are those who are actively ripping at the foundations of our greater society, and no one seems to be telling them to stop, which says something in itself.

Change is absolutely going to happen. But we are not past the point of no return. We still have solid, functioning units to move forward with. Some destruction is necessary, but complete destruction is not. Let's pull things apart intentionally and put them back together thoughtfully, please. Dear god, please.

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