The AIPAC Conference, 3/1-3/3, 2015
Musings of a teacher
"Virtual" is a difficult term to define, especially in the modern phrase, "virtual reality." Of course, by the time kids are in middle school they know what virtual reality is, but ask them to define it. Then ask yourself. In this essay I've assembled what knowledge I could about "virtual reality" and the role the concept plays in modern society. At the end I relate what I find to our conception of the terrorist group ISIS.
In my case it's sporadic and unpredictable, the current urge coming this morning at the Van Nuys Keyes Toyota where I'm waiting for my 2007 Camry, so that I have to write this on my cell phone, an aggravating process in terms of proofreading, but the urge is strong, pushing me into stream of consciousness mode, probably the default mode of my brain anyway, and I want to present the salient sensations of my holiday season, starting with last night, Christmas day night, when Susan and I saw the new Hobbit movie, a creation beyond the book, sensual and gorgeous, seductive as Tolkien was 40 years ago when my friend Steve in Berkeley who opposed the Vietnam War said Tolkien had solved the problem of war by making clear distinctions between good and evil. I felt Tolkien's magic again last night as war loomed between the Good (intensely beautiful and pure Humans and Elves, in alliance with grumpy yet righteous Dwarves) and the Evil (reptilian humanoids, orcs and their ilk, deformed, perverse in the thrall of sadism and hatred). There was much beheading in the movie on all sides, and I thought of ISIS and wondered if Steve would agree with my musings about the impulse to war the movie generated in me. I wanted to be swinging a sword, chopping Evil into bits. Who would not want to fight for the Lady Galadriel or the re-born King Thorin, off the charts virtuous and noble? The movie, which was expertly done in 3-D, the CGI visuals a work of art, was fictional propaganda, inspiring me to drop everything and enlist in a non-existent army. In the parking lot after the movie I said to Susan, "I want to go to war against the Darkness!" Of course, although the parking lot was dark per its being 7:00 pm, that was not the Darkness in question. What was the Darkness in question? Unfortunately that was back in the movie theater. How about the psychopaths of ISIS? Aren't they dark? Don't I want to fight them? Well, I wonder if I can express a thought of such complexity on a Droid that makes proofreading a form of torture similar perhaps to waterboarding in that you can survive it then have people laugh at you for calling it torture. I will not be a crybaby so here's the complete thought: Tolkien wrote about pure Evil and pure Good, and these are not things of this world. Do we have evil in our world? Yes we do. It is evil to behead people who are circumstantial bystanders to your situation, post recordings of the beheadings on Youtube and force everyone to go to war with you when war is just about the worst idea among humankind's current options. Ok, I hear some conservatives with whom I have sparred in the past moving in for a kill. I pray that my Droid will carry me through and permit me to formulate the completion of my thought (though I expect the reader has already determined agreement or otherwise) because for many years I have taught teenagers that an incomplete thought is, well, a sort of Pure Evil because the Darkness can turn an incomplete thought into anything it wants, so then I lift my mighty Droid to the heavens, pray for The Force (which also promises a return to a theater near you) to descend like a cinematic bolt and guide my numerous corrections and re-writes, and I forge on! Here it is: We have pure evil and pure good poured into our mix like streams of black and white paint, flowing everywhere, sometimes congealing in concentrated and seemingly pure forms, as when a sadist consumes human pain for sustenance, or when someone helps someone when no one is looking and there will be no credit, but those are local accumulations of black or white, and they are not pure. Where on the spectrum are people who love the TV show "Criminal Minds," or James Patterson novels, because they're drawn to stories of beautiful families tormented and killed? What does the Lady Galadriel read? Would she like that Patterson book where the two cops keep a harem of kidnapped women in their basement to torture and rape? What if Tolkien wrote that the Lady Galadriel relaxed the night before the clash of the Five Armies by reading that book? Tolkien would not write that because Pure Good does not indulge in schadenfreude. Do orcs have families, children they love? You would think so because otherwise how would they reproduce? But Tolkien gives zero consideration to that question because love of family is not of the Darkness. Conservatives about to pounce take heed: We still need to kill or otherwise impede everyone in ISIS, since they cause harm and misery with no chance of building a better world out of it, but we should not go to war against the Darkness defined as entire populations, because entire populations are not Dark, anymore than they are Light. In other words, if we go to war in the sense of becoming a mobilized community reveling in its virtuous charge, we will be ignorant pawns in a much larger game. I always thought that when Bob Dylan was old enough that I didn't have to be jealous of him anymore I might quote him, and that day has come: "You're only a paaaaaaawwwwn in their game!" That's the game in which general warfare of the sort we might end up calling World War III, if it comes per the apparent current plan, will not be a fight between Light and Darkness. It will be Darkness itself, at least for those caught in the midst of it, not for the fortunate chess players watching from a distance. For them it will be Pure Light, the end of the masses of humans gumming up the works, the climax of the Industrial Revolution in which, as Aldous Huxley foresaw in "Brave New World," humans will emerge from test tubes to fit jobs in a corporate, highly efficient society. In this society there is no more war, dramatically less pain and suffering, no overpopulation, easy sex and mandatory recreational drugs. Hey wait a minute, is this the Darkness? I have to admit it doesn't sound entirely bad. But that's my point. Anyone who enlists now in a War Against Darkness will lose big time: you'll lose your whole life with all its Goodness, as will likely your enemies. For readers wondering what exactly I propose, here it is: We turn governance of the species over to groups of smart people who are, as much as possible, not sadists or insufferable narcissists. Caveat: these groups of smart people do not cover up their existence or lie about what they are doing, but say things outright. The nation-state system, so clearly incapable of figuring out the current mess, concedes governing power to these groups of smart people. The smart people enact the following measures, which apply to them as well:
Isn’t it odd that a word can be bad? Odd, that is, that the word itself is bad, not its referent. And odd that there’s no clear logic behind the bad word’s badness. For instance, “murder” and “torture” refer, in most people’s minds, to bad things, but the words are not bad. The word “fuck,” however, is bad, though it doesn’t refer to anything bad in an absolute sense.
Susan and I fell into three free nights at a time-share in Havasu City, a sprawling collection of townhouses and malls on a gentle bajada leading down to the Arizona (eastern) shore of Lake Havasu, which straddles the southern California/Arizona border.
Not really: Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, when you stand before God and He sees you, really sees you, not normally a "happy" experience. Before the last (second) Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE., the temple contained a physical space for the Yom Kippur meeting with God: the "Holy of Holies," in which a high priest or (according to some traditions) a common person who represented everyone, entered the space, where this person would be joined by God. Today, at least before we fight World War III to get the space back, we must conceptualize that space, and each Jew is supposed to enter it on Yom Kippur to confront, or be confronted by God.