Saturday, August 6, 2011

know-it-all, know-it-not

Hard times do not always bring out the best in us. Sometimes it brings out what is plug-ugly and insanely simplistic and vastly cruel. But what is mysterious is always there for the taking -- whispering, "You think you know it all? Get a load of this!"

-- In the United States, the wealthiest country in the world, Standard and Poors, a rating agency,  down-graded American fiscal reliability to AA+ yesterday. It's the first time since 1907 that the U.S. managed such a nadir. S&P suggested that the political gridlock in Washington was largely responsible for a rating that implies a pervasive political irresponsibility. It's the kind of news that defies the usual understanding of news as something we can conveniently forget about as we make room for newer news. This one is in your face, on-going, affecting one and all, and providing another marker of the U.S. descent into third-world status and capability. The cruelty of what stock brokers and bankers engineer(ed) hangs in the air like tear gas.

-- In New Orleans, five present or former police officers were convicted yesterday in the deliberate and mindless slaying of two people during the aftermath of the 2005 disaster hurricane called Katrina. Their lawless brutality (one man shot in the back; another shot in the back of the head) contradicts the trust people hope to have in their police departments. Not that such trust was ever really on a solid footing (back-story police work is something any law enforcement officer can recognize as riddled with lies and illicit connivance), but the hope for a protected, civil society lingers. The horror of Katrina, like the horror of war, stripped away the patina of righteousness and revealed the ravenous horror that anyone might exhibit: I ... am ... god. Or anyway, that's what I imagine.

-- New assessments show that the Tea Party -- a term used to describe a variety of often patriotic, sometimes religious, and invariably simplistic people -- may be losing its luster after helping to steer Congress towards a largely-uncaring right and a gridlocked acerbity. Their inept and harmful simplicities seem to be waning as the ugliness of those simplicities becomes clear. But that doesn't mean that simplicities aren't still attractive.

-- In Houston, Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, an undeclared presidential possibility, is holding a gigantic rally of faith-based voters today. When the answers seem impossible, when the terrain becomes ugly and confused, go for God. "More than 1,000 churches around the country plan to stream the seven-hour event on the Internet." Oh Lord! I'm not sure which is more frightening, Perry's rally or the implications of a remembrance of America's atomic bombing of Hiroshima today. At least the bombing contains a straight-forward, unalloyed cruelty.

-- And yet whatever litany of cruelty is adduced in this life, whatever edgy fear and horror may arise, whatever simplistic misanthropy and cynicism may seem to provide a harbor and home, still there are reminders and hints that finding answers is a poor man's pastime... and acknowledging that what is unknown will always outstrip what is known is an important first step. Not that anyone has to dissolve into a pool of zombie ignorance, but to acknowledge and be at peace with our very simple ignorance is a good first step, I think. However much anyone knows, still 'knowing' puts limits on things and the question needs to be asked, "Are things really limited? Really?" And so, for example, I kind of like the story today of a strange orange goo experienced by an Alaska village. No one knows what it is. It sits in the harbor off the remote community of Kivalina. It doesn't seem to be petroleum-based. It doesn't have an explanation or precedent. Elders cannot remember a similar occurrence. Some of the goo has been sent off for analysis, but for the moment, the plain fact, the inescapable fact, the in-your-face fact is that no one knows. What is in your face has no explanation save what people who don't know bring to it. Fidget and squirm, apply to God or drop a bomb, free the cruelty within or assert a barely-investigated and yet ferocious political bias ... find meanings and explanations and espouse lofty or degraded points of view ... and still there is the orange goo of unknowing.

That and the courage and patience it takes to make an honest peace with it.

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