Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The First Loser

- Did you hear? They found a dead girl in the trash behind Jerry’s deli.
- When?
- Early this morning. And last Saturday when they came to work at Coffee Bean there was a body lying on the sidewalk.
- Dead?
- Yes. On TV every week now there’s a report of the police killing someone, usually black.
- Last night at Starbucks, at closing time, one of those who live on the street came in. He dug a crumpled dollar bill from his pocket, asked for coffee. The girl behind the counter said it was $1.95. He turns out his pockets. He has no more. $1 only. The girl repeats he has to pay full price. He cries out, “I’m trying here.” Her coworker appears, confirms full price is required. Behind us in line is the nurse who comes in with a trolley every night getting drinks for the intensive care unit at Cedar Sinai. She says she’ll pay. He's handed his coffee and told he has to go. He gets angry, shouts, not understanding that it is past closing and everyone has to go, everyone except the three Sheriffs deputies that also come in every night at this time. One deputy shouts back at him: Leave! Another deputy laughs, warns 'We’re all going to be on YouTube tonight.'
- What happened?
- The intensive care nurse gently urged him out.
- Probably saved his life.
- Probably. Have you seen the new guy? Comes at night to Ralphs, sits on the stairs up from the side street to the parking level, surrounding himself with dozens of little bottles filled he says with detox juices.
- White guy?
- Black. Claims to be a music producer, been in L.A. five years, worked with many famous acts but his accounts receivable is backed up, he expects substantial amount of money, until then…
- Sits on the iron stairs up to Ralphs all night. Maybe he’s the killer, maybe he's the guy on the street the police kill next. How does he look?
- Take a look for yourself. He’s there now.
- Maybe later. What’s happening with you?
- I got my first death threat. Sent from a little used Google Plus account. Not really a threat, more like a heart-felt wish: 'Hope someone kills you soon.'
- Why would someone want to kill you?
- It was a comment on a story I wrote about Donald Trump.
- What will you do?
- Nothing. I feel like I’ve finally made it. I’m important enough to kill. The paparazzo who comes here tells me that after I’m dead they’ll all remember me by my bike locked outside.
- Don’t joke. It might be serious. There is a killer on the loose in the neighborhood.
- The world is a world of killers. I think we’re entering into a period of realism in which the structure of human life is becoming clear. We talked about indifference, the people living on the street in Westwood.* Some are gone, dead or dying in hospitals. Some are still there. They’re the ones we Americans like to call 'losers': they go along with the idea that everyone must have a role, they don’t want more from life than money and power. Until then they study to play the role they have been given by fate, they work out where to go at what time. Bad as things are, they’re confident of the future and of themselves.
- Losers we have contempt for, for the role they accept. So we’re not indifferent to all of the people on the street, only those who have no role. Police have the power to do away with them. The rest of us have no feeling at all for them, only a conviction they don’t belong and the world's better off with them gone.
- Yes.
- And you? Do you have a role?
- I’m proud to say apparently not: If people want to kill me, it means I’m among those with no place in life. I'm not even in the role of loser, the object of contempt. I'm open to the violence of anyone interested in relieving themselves in that way. Though to be fair there's this man who comes in here, a retired real estate speculator, friend of the Guru. He says he’s afraid of me, I’m poor and have too much confidence. According to him if I were rich I’d be another Hitler.
- You told me about the Guru, he and his gang pretending to be orthodox Jews, going to temple in the morning visiting prostitutes at night. Can social roles really be so important that we kill those who don’t have any, either by our indifference, or with the police?
- Yes, absolutely. The more we see the world as a world of things, the more we focus on improving the technology of things, the more we see people as things useful to other people in the way things are useful.
- How do we see the world as not of things?
- From the beginning, both in the West and the East, there's been an attempt to answer that question with metaphor and story.
- Why can’t it just be answered directly?
- Because of language. Language uses nouns and verbs, things and actions.
- So maybe that is the way it is.
- No. Our thoughts don’t work that way. The world we see is in flux, a movement out of which we draw out things in movement when we want to talk about or do something. Heraclitus called this necessity a 'sacred disease'. The I Ching put the situation like this:
[Separating itself out, the hard rises to the top, and in doing so provides the soft with pattern;] this is the pattern (wen) of heaven. It is by means of the enlightenment provided by pattern that curbs are set, and this is the pattern of humans. One looks to the pattern of heaven in order to examine the flux of the seasons, and one look to the pattern of humans in order to transform and bring the whole world to consummation.
- I didn't understand a word.
- Here's Helaclitus again:
Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things.
- He's meeting straight on the 'sacred disease' of words. Anything that changes in response to the world cannot be accurately defined in isolation from the world. We have a sense of ourselves in movement, changing in relation to the world; repeatedly responding to the world we learn about the world. Because we change and the world changes (gives us different responses to our differing responses) it makes no sense to talk about ourselves as things.**
- If we aren't things what are we?
- We don't ask "what". That's the point. We move. We see a pattern to our movement. We aim to get somewhere.
- Where? And what is this 'we'? You told me don't ask 'what' thing but what am I supposed to say to ask my question?
- We can identify repeated paths of change of relation to the world.
- What in relation to what?
- A cell joins with other cells into an organ, and it finds itself part of new activities. Athenian citizens joining together in assembly gain new opportunities of social life.*** A child moving its hand over a toy experimentally in time learns to see it, and in addition to what it could do before now can identify and play with the toy. We're talking about things here, using words that name them: child, citizen, cell, but things in the process of change in reaction to other things that change.
- You said that. The truth is we still see things, but focus instead on the pattern of their changes. That, according to Heraclitus, is wisdom, gets us to the heaven of the I Ching. I got it. When we talk about ourselves in our roles, we are locking ourselves down in relation to other locked down things of the world. We don't lay down a pattern in our story, we don't get to heaven. Is that what you mean? Maybe it is more clear now that we make a sport of killing people without role, but it doesn't seem like anything new to me.
- It's not. We see it in our founding myths.**** Adam and Eve are thrown out of the garden of Eden, rebelling against god just as he intended.
- Why?
- Because they are made in god’s image and god is not obedient.
- God doesn’t play a subservient role. He doesn’t play any role.
- Exactly. Adam and Eve break the rules, act independently, get thrown out. They’re punished by having to painfully work the land and punished worse by being locked in a hierarchy of social roles, woman subservient to man. But what happens then? Their first boy becomes a farmer, their second a shepherd. Note that a shepherd does not work the land, does not stay in the same place, a shepherd manages a community of animals. God likes Abel’s sacrifice better, despite the fact Abel has evaded the ancestral punishment of being tied to the land and its pain. Cain goes crazy, and like our police are drawn to kill those who live without social role, he kills his brother. And what does god do to Cain? Sets him off to wander the world with nothing, no herd of sheep, no community to be the managing spirit of.****  When Cain complains everyone will kill him, god establishes him in stable social role by marking him with a sign of his protection, warning of retribution should something happen to him.
- Cain is the first loser!
- He has his role wandering endlessly and uselessly like the people of the street. No one will kill him.

Further Reading:
Killer Metaphysics
The Way And The End
Political Correctness
Consciousness (For Sale)
Process Philosophy
Donald Trump
* Indifference
** Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges – at certain times and places – that being which says “I.” - Julien Coupat (presumed), The Coming Insurrection
*** Prostitution, Employment, Slavery
**** Eve In The Garden Of Eden  
***** Bringing Back Stray Sheep