Friday, August 04, 2017


I’m having a little trouble keeping up with the shifting reality of this August.  After a week of nearly intolerable heat — unusual for us — I went to bed last night in a temperate atmosphere worthy of a light comforter.  At 3AM I woke smothered by a smoky hot air.  I turned on a fan.  At 8AM the wind came up, a cold wind but still life-threatening for fire fighters where the big conflagrations have generated what are called “pyrocumulus” clouds, also "flammegenitus".  They form over volcanoes.  All the windows are still open, so wind sweeps through, revolving the unplugged window fans through thick red light, slamming doors.  Half the cats are missing, but I have no idea why.  The three house cats plus Duckie, the pariah, are here and want to be held.

All this disquiet fits with philosophical ideas about changing times, full of uncertainty and dislocation.  Our ways of thinking have shifted culturally and somehow it fits with the political news that is coming out of Washington DC like . . . not quite a forest fire or high wind, but . . .  war potential.  The bottom line of Harari’s idea — that we now think in numbers and binaries — is related to the idea that the only true consensus in the world is that money systems rule.  Trump’s real doom began a few years ago when treaties voided secret money stashes, like the famous secret numbered accounts in Switzerland shared by tyrants and criminals.  While Putin could hide his money, Trump could hide his indebtedness, creating a partnership synergy between two traitors.

Today’s quote on “” begins as follows:

from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. The dominant languages of the world today are those of bureaucracy, machines and mathematics, and they have gradually changed the way humans think and view the world:

"In the brain, all data is freely associated. When I go with my spouse to sign on a mortgage for our new home, I am reminded of the first place we lived together, which reminds me of our honeymoon in New Orleans, which reminds me of alligators, which remind me of dragons, which remind me of The Ring of the Nibelungen, and suddenly, before I know it, there I am humming the Siegfried leitmotif to a puzzled bank clerk. In bureaucracy, things must be kept apart. There is one 'drawer' for home mortgages, another for marriage certificates, a third for tax registers, and a fourth for lawsuits. Otherwise, how can you find anything? Things that belong in more than one drawer, like Wagnerian music dramas (do I file them under 'music', 'theatre', or perhaps invent a new category altogether?), are a terrible headache. So one is forever adding, deleting and rearranging drawers.

"In order to function, the people who operate such a system of drawers must be reprogrammed to stop thinking as humans and to start thinking as clerks and accountants. . . .The most important impact of script on human history is precisely this: it has gradually changed the way humans think and view the world. Free association and holistic thought have given way to compartmentalisation and bureaucracy.

“. . . A critical step was made sometime before the ninth century AD, when a new partial script was invented, one that could store and process mathematical data with unprecedented efficiency. This partial script was composed of ten signs, representing the numbers from 0 to 9.

"Although this system of writing remains a partial script, it has become the world's dominant language.. . .”

"More recently, mathematical script has given rise to an even more revolutionary writing system, a computerised binary script consisting of only two signs: 0 and 1.”

This is entirely opposite to the system of meaning developed by Lakoff et al and their approach to thought through metaphor, which is my own deeply rooted way of thinking (dragons and opera).  When I went to seminary, I was lost for a while because theology is a system of logic and numbers.  I learned to imitate that, but then I learned that it can be discarded.  Unless you’re a bank clerk.  

For a few months I worked as the cashier in the Permit Center of the City of Portland.  I was VERY bad at it, but my predecessors were a sweet woman so anxious that she ended up with double tills, one of which she balanced on her own time by staying after work, and a woman who turned tricks on her lunch break.  I was useful largely by rethinking the protocols, like removing the combination of the safe from above the safe.  We weren’t really functioning until we hired a woman trained by German banks when she was married to a soldier assigned there.  She made me a form to fill in at the end of the day and then I could balance the till.  She also set our too-creative computer techie on the proper track. 

Personal experience has taught me the importance of both numbers and metaphors, but it also has shown me that most people “do” one or the other.  The majority these days do numbers.  Life is a Green Stamp book to them — point systems with occasional prizes.  Schools teach them this.  It is the first step towards prosperity that minorities take.  Some become near-Rainman in number nimbleness, though they generally remain poor at theory and concept.

What will happen when the binaries begin to convert us to bitcoins and block chains?  I predict an underground of barter.

We are finding out what happens when we lose a consensus of idealism and trustworthiness.  The bureaucrats of drawers that make the country work must simply ignore the madman in the Oval Office.  People are advised that Missouri — not Mexico — is too dangerous for travelers to visit.  There is no one to harvest crops, no one to serve meals at resorts.

Reservation institutions are just now understanding and acting on business basics: stability, trustworthiness, clock and calendar awareness, convenience.  Still, I ordered a book from the school district a month ago, the check was cashed, but no book arrives.  I call now and then and the order-fulfiller says she is dependent on a techie who is missing.  There is a new superintendent.  It’s regime change.  The whole world is thrashing their way through regime change.

What’s the metaphor?  Nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  And a stiff red wind blowing through, making the chairs stir.

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