Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Now Voyager

- Picture a deserted street in Beverly Hills. 2:30 in the morning. Fairy lights in the trees. An empty cafe terrace. I sit alone with my computer. Hearing footsteps, I turn to see a pretty young woman standing still, looking at me. She asks:
- Do you know when they open?
- Not for a couple hours.
- Do you have any money? Or food? Or marijuana?
- No. There's a little Scotch left in my bike bottle. Should I get it?
- Yeah.
- Sit down.
I fill for her the small plastic sample cup I had in my pocket. She asks if I mind her smoking. I notice her deeply stained hands as she lights up. You know the feeling of being floored by life delivering to you what maybe decades ago you'd told yourself would be just about the best thing you could imagine happening?
- I haven't yet been so lucky.
- Well, here before my very eyes was being recreated my favorite scene from my favorite movie, Jean-Luc Godard's Living Her Life. A young woman, after losing her job and place to live, both out of need for money and contempt for society slips nonchalantly into prostitution. She strikes up a conversation with the man reading a book in the next booth at a late night Parisian cafe. She asks if he'll buy her a drink. She asks him, if I remember correctly, why he's reading so late. He says it's his job. He's a philosopher. Though this cafe I'm at is closed and this is LA not Paris, and though no one in his right mind would ever give me a job as a philosopher and I'd be very surprised if she's an existentialist and not crazy or a drug addict, or both, this is my chance to play philosopher to a pretty woman mysteriously appearing out of the night. I ask her what's brought her here. Where is she coming from? She answers:
- Now, or in general?
- Either.
- Now, from the beach, Santa Monica.
- How long have you been in LA?
- Two, three days.
- And before LA?
- In Mexico.
- Where were you born, raised?
- Up North.
- Where up North? Seattle? You don't want to say. What were you doing in Mexico?
- Being a medium of communication.
- Communicating what?
- Solutions to the people's social problems.
- Do you have the solutions to their social problems?
- Not to put into words; but through my being there I express what needs to be done.
- Will you do the same here back in the US? What needs to be done?
- My generation is lost. Things will get better with this president I think.
She asks if she can play some music from YouTube on my computer. She calls up a video with lyrics of a rap song, words grunted out to a simple rhythm with the usual jerky violence, expressing the deep truth of the singer's own story, which is before he was weak and poor and now, look at him! He's rich and has what everyone else only dreams of, money, music, cars, and bitches, bitches meaning prostitutes, bitches being the generally accepted term for women in this art form. Why did she like this, I ask her. A generational thing, she answers. Sex, drugs, rock and roll: like the song, that's what's she's about. I tell her I don't miss a chance to interrogate anyone who admits  to liking our president. Last time was a wealthy woman in her late sixties, only hours before at Bristol Farms Market, the supermarket the cup she's drinking from comes from. I ask her how she knew the president was the great, heroic person she said he was, and she answered it was her intuition. What, I asked the pretty young woman, did she think of this rich old woman also sending and receiving communications by intuition? She doesn't answer; asks for another drink of whisky. I oblige, and ask if she'd like me to tell her about what I've been thinking about. Usually at this time I'd be reading, but tonight like she had I'd gone to YouTube and was watching a lecture by an historian of the Holocaust. His latest book argues that both our president and Russia's president operate on an assumption that history has ended or going nowhere. Progress was an impossibility. Not something new, rather what is the order of the day is to clear away the enemies to the perfectly good arrangements of the past. For us history has ended with the establishment of capitalism and democracy. For Russia history never should have begun, history should be done away with. Any society no matter what kind must be corrupt. Any society, Russia included, is the product of a fallen world. Only Russia as a spiritual entity was pure, and must be defended by using to the limit expertise in corrupt practice in battle against corrupt enemies both internal and external and their corrupt practices. An earlier book by this same historian,* a book I had actually read, explains how the majority of the killing of the Holocaust occurred in stateless places, in countries where through successive occupations national institutions had collapsed, leaving citizens without a nationality. People without nationality, stateless, were easily murdered. My guess would be this was because personal progress requires society. To understand others, in my own experience, I first had to understand myself, and to understand myself I needed to see myself reflected in the eyes of others. If the historian is right, depriving someone of participation in social institutions raises doubts of having a personal life, thus making that person a non-person, as easily killed as animals that are likewise non-persons. Easier, in fact, when the killing is done in the rehearsal of ritual, in which the killer, under attack from the existence of the non-person, who is an infection, part of an invasion, is an adulteration of the society; the killer loses himself in cleansing violence, and in the end his enemies are eradicated and he is reborn in strength. No actual murder is required to achieve the result of restored strength. Passively listening or remembering a story suffices. Merely imagining the story told in the company of like minded people works. The certainty of the greatness of their leader-story teller, presidents of the United States and Russia, seems to have been proven to the ritualist without need for them to point out a single actual deed or characteristic. Knowledge is ascribed to intuition. A sense that time cannot take us anywhere. There is no progress, only return to the purity of the nation or the perfection of achieved institutions, with the act of return justifying taking on any power and using any amount of violence. Claims made by totalitarian states about the nature of time, and ritual consciousness of the individual - that particular time consciousness, a timelessness from forgetting in rebirth - are closely related. So too is related the physics of our times - that however is being more and more challenged - in which the passage of time is said to be an illusion: the sense of now, of flow, of there being a one-way direction to movement, past to preset to future, all is a deception. In four dimensional space-time there's no special present, no flow, no direction to history. But when we look to time, and its progress, mysteries abound. What is time? Aristotle said: a counting of change. Every day the sun comes up. The counted repetition is time measured. But what about time itself? How can we be aware of time itself? What counts the moments of time? An Israeli physicist puts it this way:
Ordinary experience notoriously clashes with physical theory with respect to time. We keep feeling that time “goes by,” that there is a special “Now” moving from past to future, and that future events are born anew out of the present. These characteristics of reality are referred to as “Becoming.” Yet theoretical physics dismisses this so-natural impression as mere illusion, and for good reasons. Time is the parameter of all motion and change; ascribing motion or change to time itself is bound to run into absurdities. For example, if time flows, or if the “Now” moves, how fast is this motion? To apply such terms to time would entail a higher time parameter, which would in turn necessitate a yet higher time and so on ad infinitum.** 
Aristotle's full definition of time in the Physics is 'the number of motion in respect of before and after.' Time counts motion. What I was thinking this evening was that there was a natural sort of counting to consciousness itself: moving from action to thought, creative uncertainty to contemplation, from naming of the world, where each name was a repeated perception of the world that finally resulted in a habit of perception, to stopping of movement in the perception in the world of the thing named. In physics, a direction to time, progress requires causal determinism to overcome the tendency to disorder, that is, to entropy. But the determinism which takes the form of the search for knowledge is exercised on a world not yet of named things, a world where qualities are seen as flowing. When we speak, we begin in the unique moment now, unaware of how our sentence will conclude. We listen passively to each word seemingly being dictated to us, while the words spoken one after another with no assured grammatical connection or ending seem to flow into each other, and when the sentence is completed, progress has been made, action is complete, a meaning new to us expressed. If the consciousness of a no-history ritualist's, of someone whose sense of time has become fixed, is of intuition of communication, is the product of rehearsed passionate action or imagination, those who allow time to progress have an entirely different consciousness, one that gives them a sense of an unique now, of experiencing the flow of experience, of seeking understanding in the progress in knowledge towards an open future. I think it's possible to recognize right off people like this who are counting out time in its various phases of now, flow, and direction. Being aware of time's passage comes with the wish to seek the aid of others to make progress in the knowledge of life. Time's passage, knowledge, society all together;  a philosopher, a lover of talk, ready to learn from the company of the passing moment, at a cafe late at night with a lost young woman.

Further Reading:
The United States & Totalitarianism
Numbers & Numbers

Further Viewing:
A Speech To Europe
* Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder.
** Consciousness Makes A Difference: A Reluctant Dualist's Confession, Avshalom C. Elitzur