Saturday, July 10, 2004

4 in the morning, 2004-style

I'm up at 4AM - not an unusual circumstance these days - nursing the baby, watching a Conan O'Brien rerun, typing up homework. Normalcy, at least for me, at least right now.

A moment later and my heart is racing, I'm holding my breath, and I'm frantically flipping channels trying to find out what the f***'s going on. Why? Because on the top of the TV screen, a nice little cryptic message has just scrolled by. "CIVIL AUTHORITIES HAVE ISSUED. TUNE IN TO LOCAL NEWS STATION FOR DETAILS" accompanied by the tell-tale emergency-preparedness buzz that we've been hearing on TV and radio stations for decades, yeah that one, the one that means an earthquake is happening, or the local volcano's erupting, or somebody's dropped a bomb on your local metropolis.

On the local news channels, I find infomercial after infomercial, no news. The 24-hour local news channel is breathlessly relating a local mystery, some guy has evidently faked his own death ... clearly not an emergency for anyone other than his immediate family.

So I carry my 1-year-old over to the other room, pick up the cordless phone, and, holding my breath, dial 911.

Me: "Is there some sort of emergency going on?"
Dispatcher: "Not that I know of, why?"
Me: "Well, they're showing an alert on the TV that says civil authorities have issued something, and tune in to local news station for details."
Dispatcher: "No, there's nothing going on."
Me: "Hmm."
Dispatcher (helpfully): "Uh, there was an Amber alert issued a few minutes ago ..."
(I momentarily try to remember whether Amber is a new terror alert level between Yellow and Orange, then recall that it's a missing-child code -- the name, not the color -- and has nothing to do with der Heimland.)
Me: "Oh?"
Dispatcher: "Yeah, I think somebody might have screwed up and hit the wrong button."

I picture a control panel in the local police station, with two big color buttons on it. Push one, an Amber alert goes out and maybe a missing child can be found; push the other and you've got mass panic. Nice.

While I've been on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, the alert has disappeared, the buzzing has stopped. I thank the dispatcher and hang up, not entirely reassured.

So. Good morning. The sun's rising, and everything seems normal. I've flipped over to the local PBS station and am watching POV, which is showing a documentary about an American woman photojournalist, covering the invasion of Iraq. She's young, attractive, female and white, which is I guess why we're supposed to find her more interesting than the brown, mostly male, Arabic people appearing on screen with her. My concerns grow wider again, no longer fearing for my immediate health and safety or that of my own family, able to worry again about my larger family, the human family.

Life in 2004.


At 7/22/2004 7:13 PM, Blogger Algernon said...

The real crisis won't make it to a newscrawl alert (of any color).

"The revolution will not be televised," as they say.

The real crisis is an insidious, incremental gnawing away at the foundations of humanity. The real crisis is slow-moving, subsonic, chthonic in its depth and magnitude, like the shifting of tectonic plates on the Earth.

The real crisis is a crisis precisely because it can't easily be recognized or quantified or appreciated and therefore escapes notice of the major media. It's not moving fast enough to merit their attention, it's not blatant or hideous or virulent or sound-bite-ready enough to capture the attention of our superficially tuned senses.

Make no mistake: its scale is enormous, its influence profound, yet our minds have not yet been trained-- attuned-- to notice it as it happens.

The real crisis is the slow, daily slide of consciousness into bestial oblivion by means of the dulling, hypnotic siren song of consumer culture. It is insidious because it is, at any moment, indistinguishable, by now, from the background noise endemic to modern life-- that daily assault of chaotic events and absurdities. It is the gradual, inexorable capitulation to mindlessness and meaninglessness.

The principles of social psychology tell us that you can get anyone to do anything given enough time and a few psychological tools (I don't mean drugs, but the consumer culture uses them in spades-- what do you think the sugarization of the American diet is all about?). Events that happen over long periods of time tend to escape the notice of our immediacy-trained minds.

How long will it take, for example, to move this nation from our present state of affairs-- civil liberties at risk, disintegrating communities, general apathy and non-participation of the electorate, etc.-- to a totalitarian regime? "Absurd!" you cry. "Ridiculous! It can't happen-- not here!" I know it can. Just make such a move in stages, over a generation or two, and you can pretty much get anywhere you want to-- especially starting with a populace already so effectively divided and conquered by consumerism, that hypnotic seductress that has transformed us from a nation of rugged, libertarian individualists to one of cowed consumers in just a few short generations.

The TV newscrawl, like a phantom premonition, hints unintentionally at the deep disturbance, like a twitching, troubled sleeper-- late at night, when the electronic media megaplex dreams its fitful, barren, digital dreams.

Make no mistake: the crisis is already upon us.

At 7/30/2004 1:46 PM, Blogger tess said...

"Events that happen over long periods of time tend to escape the notice of our immediacy-trained minds."

Exactly. Which is why, at first, it didn't at all seem strange to have a Presidential candidate promise, in his nomination acceptance speech, to "Listen to my military advisers" and "Appoint an Attorney General who will uphold the Constitution". Absurd, when you think about it, that these should be planks in any nation's (other than some banana republic's) election platform. Yes, folks, we are our own banana republic now ... or to be more precise, we are a corporate banana republic.

The image that came to mind when I read your comment was one that had some vogue during the heyday of the anti-nuclear age. (Oh yea, remember those weapons? Hey guess what, we still got 'em and so do they! Now we're only supposed to worry about them "falling into the hands of terrorists" and not the arsenals of thousands upon thousands that we all have had pointed at one another for thirty years.)

But I digress ... the image was of the "frog in boiling water". Gruesome, but apropos: apparently, some sadistic SOB's in lab coats once figured out that if you put a live frog into water and then turn the heat on, it won't notice that the water is boiling if you turn the heat up slowly enough ... it gets acclimated to its environment and doesn't jump out as it should. Somehow I get the feeling they were working in a lab financed by PsyOps. I can see the lopsided grin of a certain sitting VP watching from behind the one-way mirror ...


At 7/30/2004 10:15 PM, Blogger Algernon said...

I can't help but wonder about that frog. How ignorant was he? Science, in all its Glorious Skeptical Wisdom, makes some wondrous claims. The history of philosophy (from which our modern science emerged like the first waterlogged proto-amphibian from the swamps of a young Earth) is replete with what are today tremendously amusing stories of the odd conclusions drawn by hard-thinking ancients of avowed mental valor.

These frog-tinkerers (sadists? Please! This is Science after all!) did their gruesome experiments and then concluded that frogs aren't aware of the changing temperature. What do they know from frogs' awareness? They presume to know frog neuroanatomy well enough to make claims as to its function; but they are only guessing as to the frogs' experience.

I have to wonder if frog-reasoning goes something like this:

"These creatures are odd. They went to a lot of trouble to catch me but they don't eat me. What are they up to?.... Okay, back in some water now; that's better, though its rather bland-tasting ...... Hmm, this is kinda nice. A guy could get used to a nice warm bath like this here. Very kind of these white-coated primates ...... Aahh! The heat feels great on the ol' muscles. Trying to get away from these bipeds sure gave me a beating; this ought to work out the kinks! Maybe these folks aren't so bad after all. I'll have to remember to catch them a fly or two in thanks; if I ever get out of this place...... Holy Shit! It's getting a bit too hot for my taste! Hey, you guys----!!!"

I mean, what do we know?

Anyway, the object-lesson here is that we're not like the arguably ignorant frogs in the hideous experiments. Most of us really KNOW somebody's heating up the water. Granted, one senses an increasing ignorance in the younger generations-- history is not an interesting subject to them; it means for them simply anything before the internet. And they hardly speak with their parents. So naturally they are ignorant of changes over time.

Dust off your Orwell, folks. It's high time for a reality check....


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