Archive for September, 2011

I’ve used this phrase — crisis of consciousness — and seen it used numerous times. Still, I doubt that most folks know what it means even as a proposition (assuming some agreement or consensus can be reached). Consciousness is recursive, folding onto itself like a hall of mirrors or an infinite regress, which makes it impenetrable to the average thinker who experiences consciousness first-hand but cannot describe it without resorting to meaningless soundbites and platitudes, usually religious, or worse (among more subtle thinkers), concluding that consciousness may not even exist. For those of us determined to make some sense out of the subject, often coming at it through an interdisciplinary approach rather than the favored neurobiological explanation, the crisis occurred when we stopped being in or of the world, experiencing reality through an integrated identification and empathy with the rest of creation, and began to be on the world, holding it at a conceptual distance and learning to manipulate ideas, processes, and materials. This may be more readily recognizable as the subject-object problem, a longstanding philosophical conundrum, or the related mind-body problem.


Plan of Action

Posted: September 12, 2011 in Culture, Debate, Politics

The Tea Party has been active for long enough now that most everyone who’s paying attention has developed an idea what it’s really about, or alternately, what it really wants. (Slightly different search strings will return hundreds of thousands dozens of unique results.) Perusing the search results turns up a few themes about the really real truthful truth behind the Tea Party. Let me propose another.

Most of us have participated in discussions where people simply want to give voice to their opinions and personal anecdotes, sometimes recognizing and infrequently admitting they may not be in possession of rather sensitive, protected information that would reasonably inform their opinions. Put another way, people want either to vent or to empathize with each other. This is especially important when there is no possible apparent solution to the problems under discussion, which is often the case with political and cultural debate. Then someone with a connection to the information holders and decision makers enters the picture and attempts to translate opinions and anecdotes into policy, a platform, or even a workable proposal. However, since the underlying objectives are so different, creating a plan of action is an obvious recipe for failure. This is the nature of much though not quite all activism, of course: plowing ahead with demands but without knowledge or operational control of an institution, whether it be a parent-teacher association, school board, town hall meeting, nonprofit community group, or political discussion. The dynamic springs up just about everywhere because people have strong vested interests and experiences related to any given institution or governing body but few concrete details of the long-term objectives and (paradoxically) day-to-day workings that drive policy decisions — especially financial ones.

With the Tea Party, members can sense that their heads are on the chopping block, though the axe has yet to fall. It’s about that ugly political football that keeps getting punted around: entitlements. Entitlement programs were set up to care for people during times of hardship, a sort of social safety net that established a lower threshold through which no one should fall. But those programs have fallen prey to a variety of failures, as aged institutions do. The biggest one is simple demographics (exploding rolls or payouts combined with diminished inputs) and the second biggest is the absence of political integrity needed to address the problems effectively, which has persisted for generations. One catastrophe after another has made too abundantly clear that governments at all levels are flatly unable to care for the citizenry and probably don’t even want to anymore. Rather, the overwhelming message has been, “You’re on your own. Good luck!” mixed with “but still pay your taxes … and in the end, please slink away and die quietly without causing any fuss for the rest of us.”

The Tea Party is not the only demographic to sense they have been abandoned. Youngsters know it, too, though they typically can’t articulate it too well (if at all). The notion is beginning to dawn on the middle-aged middle class, too. Folks really just want a voice in the conversation, knowing that most activism results in absolutely nothing. But several someones somewhere heard the kvetching and sought to make a grassroots movement out of it. Then it was coopted, as dissent eventually is. Some few are calling for serious, violent, destructive resistance, perhaps leading to revolt and then revolution. It might happen, but I doubt it. I’m not even sure it’s something to be sought. I suppose if a coherent, coordinated plan of action does emerge, it would be better — even if it fails — than rolling over and dying already.

Life on Two Wheels

Posted: September 1, 2011 in Health, Idle Nonsense

I’ve spent a great deal more time on my bicycle than in my car or on public transportation this year. The bike used to be mostly about training for participation in triathlons but has now become my preferred mode of transportation for trips under 12 miles or so, especially when it’s just me. A summary of some of the things I’ve learned seems appropriate.

The biggest surprise is that biking in winter is tolerable, perhaps even desirable. My lower threshold is about 25 deg. F. right now, but that might go lower. I had read enough at Bike Winter to understand that accommodations to the cold were effective, especially considering that once out and moving the body generates its own warmth, but I hadn’t built up the nerve to try it out until this year. As winter approaches, I will retest the experience and see how I hold up.

The second biggest surprise is that I really dislike riding in moisture, whether hot, moderate, or cold. When it’s dry out, the roadways are continuous hazards, with lots of traffic, debris, and unevenness. But when it’s wet out, it’s not the rain falling on me but the stuff kicked up by the bike that is so awful, depositing a layer of crud on just about everything. In addition, the road surface is obscured by standing water, which makes maneuvering even more difficult. I haven’t yet tried biking in the snow, but I can’t imagine it’s better than rain or its aftermath.

The third surprise is that now that I’ve been commuting on the bike more frequently, I no longer arrive at my destination (or at home) completely worn out. I’ve never been a terrific athlete in terms of speed or power, but I have good endurance, balance, and body control. When I first got earnest, a five-mile trip could easily destroy me. Now, I can take 15–20 mile round-trips in stride. It’s still a serious effort, but I gain energy by using energy. I do tend to arrive sweaty and unkempt, but if I need to be presentable, I work out changes of clothes and access to facilities in advance.

I’m a novice when it comes to bicycle mechanics and maintenance. (Just discovered recently that my new helmet had a visor stored in the main body, which I subsequently mounted on the front where it belongs.) I’ve had three blowouts (the last two days ago) and numerous slow leaks in the last year. Luckily, none were too serious an inconvenience. I also installed racks on my two primary bikes over the rear wheels, which allow me to transport a modest number of things with trunk bags or panniers without resorting to wearing a backpack. I haven’t attempted any serious grocery shopping using a bike, as space is limited and everything is jostled pretty strenuously.

Lastly, the feeling of freedom and wellbeing that I get riding the bike creates a positive feedback loop. I’m not using fossil fuels, I’m not really contributing to traffic density, and I’m not reliant on public transportation, which is increasingly sketchy in Chicago due to budget constraints and service cutbacks. Defensive, low-risk riding is always in the front of my head, since the likelihood of a crash is best understood in terms of when, not if. How many more years I’ll be able to commute this way is up for grabs. I’m already much longer in the tooth than most other riders I see out there. But while I can, I expect to remain committed to my life on two wheels.