Social Animal Network

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We’re inherently social. It is imprinted in our nature to bond, communicated, and organize as packs. This trait, the instinct to gather, seek out each other’s company, to seek approval, to argue, I would argue, is as much a distinguishing species characteristic as spots on a Dalmatian, and is one of the reasons for the explosive growth of Facebook. We, each of us, need to be part of a tribe, and when the tribes were destroyed by the onset of modernity, they awaited a mechanism to be reunited. Think about it –up to the 2000’s, people had to rely on the usual methods of connecting with their old tribe –telephone, email, actual contact which relied on deliberately remembering to keep in touch which none of us were really good at. The casual intimacy of living in a village with a commons, of having a favorite popular coffee shop, a dorm common room, when you move on the people you said hello to moved on as well. Now they follow you forever in Facebook.

It may or may not be a good thing, because if you have a village, even a virtual one, there will be a village idiot or two (I may be the village idiot). I have become reintroduced to my best friend from kindergarten and there are eerily similar things that we are passionate for –coffee, scatological extraversion, and Apple worship, that brings daily a smile. The shy quiet girl who sat in the back corner of high school English class turns out to be a world class smarty pants –a nicely maturing red wine with a kick in the middle and a lingering finish. I’ve even made new dear friends among friends of friends. They occupy my particular village, some I speak to every day, some every once in a while. It’s the tribe I’ve accumulated over the decades.

It also has implications beyond the sharing of holiday pictures and links to funny cat videos. It returns us to a kind of social organization that was only possible when people physically lived in villages and neighborhoods. The outside world is invited in by the denizens of these villages, but the human tendency is to be insular within the family, the tribe, the village. It may not seem like a big deal to us living in a constitutional republic, but when Facebook is available to those living in places less free, their time amongst their friends must be as important as air and water. Facebook has created a virtual planet for us to inhabit, a brave new world.

Hunger Games -Apocalypse by Reality Show

The YA category has always been a repository of anxiety and zeitgeist. Now that the age of wizards is officially over, popular literature and Scholastic Publishing need a new hero and that comes in the form of Katniss, the heroine of the Hunger Games trilogy. This past several years, we have been visited by the end of the world in various forms -robots, zombies, flu, tidal waves, asteroids, and the old standby, nuclear annihilation. The last has been updated and promoted by candidate Newt Gingrich in the form of a high altitude EMP blast -a monstrous static discharge that will fry anything silicon, but I digress. The Hunger Games posits a dystopian future where the US is no more, and ruled by a west coast totalitarian state subjugating 12 districts of North America, enslaving the population and stripping their labor and resources. To remind them of their subjugation, the 12 districts are expected to submit annually a boy and a girl as tribute for the Hunger Games -a gladiatorial survival game to the death, televised in reality show style to the entire nation.

This current generation of youth does not know a time when 1984 was both a year and a warning, and I’m glad that totalitarianism is being reintroduced through literature and not the end of a gun. The brilliant thing about Hunger Games is the marriage of fascism and mass media, and in the the world of the Hunger Games, this exists in a vacuum of the internet. When televisions have only one channel and only the nomenclatura have access to telephones, when minor infractions are punished by death, and everyone is kept pliant through hunger, control is easier and really harks back to a time before the internet and reality TV which had its final days during the Reagan administration. It was a time when everyone watched network television and the population hadn’t balkanized into special interest groups. In fact, the Balkans had yet to balkanize.

The warning then is twofold -the hazards of resource depletion and collapse, and the loss of freedoms. We are being challenged at this time with the loss of habeus corpus for American citizens and the erosion of freedom represented by various efforts of telecommunication and entertainment providers to throttle non-commercial internet traffic. These things are happening and bring us a bit closer to the world of the Hunger Games.

I highly recommend the series -it’s mesmerizingly addictive, and my 9 year old, my wife, and I are all obsessively reading it this holiday season.

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The Perfect Game

Wakond Club No. 1, from blue tees, May, 2011

The perfect game in baseball is a rarity among rarities. Only a handful of no-hitters are seen in a season of baseball, but the perfect game of 27 consecutive outs and no base runners has been achieved only 18 times in baseballs modern era. In golf, the perfect game is all 18 holes played in par or better, and it is a seemingly reachable perfection. Like a dangling fruit just out of hand’s reach, par golf sits there printed on the score card. For the majority of golfers, it is as unattainable as pitching in the major leagues.

The quixotic and perverse nature of golf is that anyone with the means can play a round where a professional tournament is held (aside from uber private locales). And during that round, the average golfer may get a glimpse of perfection in the form of a par on a famous hole, a perfect sand blast to within a foot of the cup, or a chip that clatters against the pin and settles into the hole. These transcendent moments of golf perfection are gobsmack hits of opium for the golfer that brings the poor hack coming back for more. On the score card though, these bright spots of perfection are just holes in the roof letting in shafts of celestial light. I used to keep a golf log, and over the course of two years, my best scores on every hole on my home course resulted in a perfect 72. It was in me, but I suppose I never let it out.

Woe betide the golfer who yearns for more and tried to do something about it. I have finished reading the testimony of John Richardson,  who did such a thing and is the proselytizer of the perfect. His book, Dream On: One Hack Golfer’s Challenge to Break Par in One Year (link), is an engaging story that requires golfist faith -the faith that the honesty of the player is a given and that his tale is as true as a score card submitted for handicapping at the clubhouse. It is no big fish story, John’s tale.

I find a lot of things in common with John. We are of similar age growing up in areas where golf is part of the social mesh -me in North Florida, and John in Northern Ireland. I spent many years at the now defunct Baymeadows in Jacksonville, Florida, dreaming of playing with the best while struggling to break 90. Both of us admired Seve Ballesteros and his swashbuckling approach to the game. Both of us gave up golf to become working adults -me to go to college, medical school, and postgraduate training, John to work at becoming a successful  entrepreneur. And both of us took up golf again at similar points in life, after marrying and starting families.

What is different about John was that he took his obsession and channeled it into a deliberate path to perfection. At  the start, he struggled to break 100, but within a year, he broke par. While it was no surpise, the ending of the book in the kind of ethereal round of golf that all hackers dream of, the tension and drama were there nonetheless. The great thing about the book is not necessarily the end result, but the year long journey he took. John proved that all the well worn excuses that golfers have about themselves -including mine about not letting myself be scratch, are mistaken justifications for continued hacking. In fact, whenever he fell into a rut, it was revealed to him that it was a swing error, something as elemental as grip, posture, stance, and alignment, and not always his negative thoughts. That is correct -it’s not your negative thoughts, but instead bad form and lack of practice that leave your game rotting at bogey or worse.

He does seek professional help -and I have taken this advice by taking my first lesson with our amazing new club professional, Mr. Aaron Krueger. He also sought clinical motivational advice -not a shrink, but very close, because a golfing rapture is limned by golfing madness. And he practiced. A lot. Particularly his short game.

This is like one of those miracle baseball movies you can get where some average Joe all of a sudden is throwing heat in the big leagues. I read his book with the same suspension of disbelief that I have for big fish stories, with golfing faith. It gives me hope, and a renewed sense of purpose. So what does it all mean?

I will hereby publicly declare my intention to break par by the end of next season (October 31, 2012) and bring you along with me. May good golf come walking with me and endow my ball with angel wings.

Afghanistan’s Only Golf Course

From Evernote:

Afghanistan’s Only Golf Course

I came across this wonderful archive article in the New York Times about the only golf course in Afghanistan. I hope it is still open. It’s proprietor is clearly a golfist, and yearns for the day that will allow young Afghans to play golf in peace.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/15/world/asia/15afghan.html

Extreme Golf

I took tax day off and played a round during an ice storm. Good for building character, playing in inclement weather is useful in testing your game against many more variables than just the usual yardage, light wind, lie, elevation, incline, etc. Add to it slickness of grip, 35mph prevailing winds, stinging rain and sleet, and hypothermia and you have a sport -Extreme Golf.

The Turkey

The grocery store turkey’s evolution from the wild turkey is an echo of our journey from our wilder, free-range origins.  The wild turkey, whose intelligence caused Benjamin Franklin to recommend it for our national bird, is a far cousin of the overbred, overmedicated artifice that is the plastic wrapped bird that you plunk into your grocery cart. In the passage from our free-range origins to our over-cultivated existence, are we just overbred, overstuffed turkeys? Three things confirm this: the outsourcing of our basic food functions, the reduction of work into processes, and no reduction of stress from our surrender.

Outsourcing of Basic Food Functions

The wild turkey is known to be the most cunning of birds, requiring stealth and deceit to bring it close enough for a shot. I would assume the human in the original state of nature to be no different and no less intelligent. The urban legend is that the domesticated turkey is so stupid that they can’t be left out in the rain because they look up when hit on the head with raindrops, subsequently drowning. While this is untrue of domesticated turkeys, it may be true of domesticated humans, Homo sapiens sapiens familiaris.

We use to hunt for our food or gather it from the fields and forests. At a critical point, we domesticated the game and started farming the fruits and vegetables that sustained us, creating enough surplus calories to sustain larger populations that could then specialize in crafts, trades, and services, to where eventually the majority of the population could outsource food production to a minority of the people. If you’re lucky, you can buy a luscious apple out of season brought in by jet transport directly to your Costco from the Antipodes. This is not too much different from the turkey who willingly or unwillingly entered into the similar bargain with humans. In doing so, the turkey increased its population to an estimated 660 million turkeys currently in the world –technically a raging success on the chromosomal level. The outsourcing of the finding of food proved to be a Faustian bargain for the turkey whose life is rendered short and brutal. Depending on your outlook, the human bargain is no less Faustian because there are 6.8 billion humans, the majority of which now depend on this outsourced food production. If you are reading this on the internet, you are clearly benefiting from this arrangement. The recent economic downturn shows how easy it is to fall from the grace afforded by this system. If you can’t afford the fancy fruits, vegetables, and viands, you are stuck eating the processed corn and petroleum byproducts offered as stock feed for the masses.

 

Reduction of work into processes

Somewhere the idea of work, trade, and craft as virtuous activities became lost as the management professions became elevated. I remember having dinner right out of college with a bunch of young lawyers and consultants in Boston, none over the age of thirty. All were entrusted in some way with managing, valuing, judging, and giving advice on billions of dollars, thus affecting the lives of many people. None of these guys had really worked a day in their lives (including me except maybe stocking groceries throughout high school), but were clearly inside some kind of membrane that separated them from everyone else who did have to work for a wage and save a lifetime to afford a lifestyle that these young men were having straight out of college. One boasted that the yearly return on their fund outstripped the gross national product of whole countries, reaching for some kind of irony that I used to think was cool and now I think is depressing.

I have nothing against capitalism, and know second-hand through my parents and my wife’s parents the horrors of totalitarian communism, but there is a problem when theory trumps practice. Business management allows the reduction of any human activity into processes. The inputs and outputs of these processes can be tabulated, analyzed, and optimized. The logical end result is a human worker confinement pen like the factories in Shenzhen that make my gadgets –the workers live in dormitories adjacent to the factories allowing them to run 24/7. What we are witnessing is the ongoing triumph of totalitarian capitalism, and we’re going to either compete with China on their level or borrow furiously to maintain our relatively luxurious, free-range confinement pens. Neither is palatable to a country having just ended America’s Century in the dust cloud of falling towers.

 

No Reduction of Stress From Our Surrender

The majority of us don’t worry about food because it’s always there in the mega-mart, piled high and cheap. By surrendering our food production, we give up a load of stress but gain new ones. The ancestral stresses of hunger, climate, fear, and disease have been swapped for financial, social, and domestic stress. We outsourced our security functions to the local constabulary and our military, but rather than bask in security, we worry about terrorists at home and an endless war abroad. This stress is basically the same stress that the Thanksgiving turkey feels confined to a few square feet among thousands of other turkeys. That turkey fears not the fox, coyote, or bear, but it must feel something is terribly wrong with its world.

 

Taking It Back

The populist anti-elitism that elevated the dancing Palin against far more qualified, limber, and graceful competitors bears poorly for America’s continued excellence. The problem is not with the elites, but with the complicity of the turkeys in their continued confinement. Rather than cheap corn and petroleum based feed, they should demand the variety of diet that was available only two generations ago right out of small family farms and home vegetable gardens. Rather than dismiss food reform as the socialist dalliance of elitists, people should confront the source of their predicament.

The second half of this is the realization that the solution to outsourcing is In-Sourcing –which means work. It means that the service industry jobs that move quants and utils over the intertubes must be abandoned for work, trade, and craft. It means taking it down a notch as a society and lowering expectations while elevating living. It means a lot more people working in food production and repopulating small towns. It means reconnecting with community and family rather than moving every three years from Charlotte to Atlanta to Houston to Tampa to Denver. It means sweeping, hoeing, weeding, hunting, fishing, gathering.

Worse catastrophes have happened to people –go ask the Carthaginians when you’re in line in purgatory. People want a return to the past, to the golden age of the 50’s and early 60’s. What we’ll get is the 1920’s and 30’s. If you aren’t Howard Hughes, it’ll be a lot of work after work, with canning in the fall.

 

The Flood

Genesis 9:17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

As the waters rise, as the scientists warn, as Greenland is growing its own lettuce for the first time, the response from many Americans is basically some variation of the above verse from Genesis, where God reassures Noah that, no, I will not fill the world with water and make every living creature live on a Neolithic barge. Again.

The Reverend Timothy Keller, PhD, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NY, NY, wrote a wonderful essay on threading the needle between modern science and orthodox Christianity (link to essay http://www.biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf) where in a style which I learned to appreciate, he spells out the basic problems in a tripartite apologia –his preferred format for preaching to the yuppies. He writes:

Question #1: If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?

Answer: The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.

Question#2: If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?

Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world- view.

Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.

The response from the bench is predictable as this dispute between literalists and the interpreters predates Christianity. This dichotomy is likely a manifestation of human speech and all the neurologic wiring that entails. I can imagine this conversation between Erg and !Kerg, two chatty Australopithecines.

Erg: When the great Mother cried her tears and made the seas in ten days and she laid down to become the great Mother mountain yonder, that would mean that she would have had to cry about 1/10th of the volume of the world’s waters in a day… That’s a lot of water. Could this mean that a day in Her time was much longer than a day is now? Could this mean that she was much bigger once and made bigger tears and shrank to become the Mother mountain? Could…

!Kerg clubs Erg.

The commentary from the literalists on Dr. Keller’s essay ranges from, “…Professor Keller is trying to square the circle…[scripture quotes]…and therefore the day in Genesis is clearly 24 hours” to “club!” While I concede that many New Yorkers would welcome the opportunity to live in the belly of a whale, most thinking people scratch their heads and think that Hansel and Gretel’s cannibal witch is far more grounded in reality than a cetacean studio.

The fact and reality of science and modernity puts a great deal of pressure on an unchanging orthodoxy. Those most willing and capable of thoughtful change are never in the majority. The Malthusian concept could just as easily apply to this: the educated breed arithmetically while the orthodox breed geometrically.

Time and again, when learning and education flower, the bright lights of the world are drowned out by a flood of fear and ignorance. The execution of the Chinese scholars, the torching of the Alexandrine library, the sacking of Irish monastaries, Galileo, Darwin, and Rushdie –these are the normal patterns. When the creators of South Park have to stop their series mid-season to be censored by the orthodox of several religions in a country that places free speech before all other rights except the right not to have Congress establish a state religion, it confirms that before the great flood, there is an even greater flood of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and incivility.

May God keep you and bless you, if you so tend to believe.