Elegy for String Quartet

One of the things I have always loved about classical music is its ability to reach into the human soul and evoke some of the deepest, most powerful emotions we can experience, over a tremendous range from joy to sorrow, anger to terror. It’s why there are musical scores for films that so often draw on classical themes and styles: they set the tone in ways that mere visual images cannot.

I’ve added a new work for string quartet on my music page, named Elegy, which is a lament for the dead. Glacially slow — only 40 quarter-notes per minute — in C minor, it has to be the saddest piece of music I have ever written.

I don’t often dwell on sadness in my music. I love minor keys almost more than major keys, but even the darkest minor key passages have a degree of energy and hope. This piece has some beautiful harmonies, but they are all heart-breaking.

I’ve never known where the music comes from, and probably never will. It seems to have little connection with my own state of mind. But some part of me is resonating with a deep grief that wants to be expressed, and it doesn’t feel like my own grief.

Listen, and let me know what you think.

Facebook Cleanse

I’m doing another Facebook Cleanse.

This is where I remove the Facebook icon from my browser shortcuts, and resist the urge to sign in to “see what’s happening.” Like any addiction — “habituation,” more accurately — it’s hard at first. I find myself reaching for the mouse, opening the browser, looking for the FB link, eager to distract myself from this or that … but the link isn’t there, and then I remember. After a while, I stop reaching for the fix. A little later, I stop reaching for the browser. And my spirit quiets.

What dragged me back last time was a responsibility: the local symphony posts its events on Facebook, which reaches a lot of people who wouldn’t be reached otherwise, though we haven’t been doing that long enough to know if it has affected ticket sales. I’m the guy that pushes the buttons and pulls the levers for the FB events. Hopefully, I will resist the pull next time: get the job done and get out.

What is so toxic about Facebook? A combination of paid advertising, paid trolls, and ePeople. ePeople are people freed of their human baggage: they are surfaces, shells, simulacra.

There has been a conceit among futurists, modernists, and philosophers that the whole problem with people is their animal nature. Since the Enlightenment, they have praised the mind over the body, and believed that if they could simply rid us of our animal lusts, we would automatically hew to our best natures, fit residents of a Utopia.

Facebook gives a clear indication that this is exactly wrong. Freed of our animal nature, we become the very worst versions of ourselves; we become offal in a river of verbal sewage.

When I’m at a local party, meeting new people I might find myself living amongst in a broader circle of acquaintances for a very long time to come, I watch my tongue. Most people do. I haven’t called anyone a “fucking moron” to his/her face in a very long time — if ever — even when the thought crosses my mind. I can’t recall the last time anyone has called me a “fucking moron” to my face, though I’m sure it’s crossed their minds, too. We are generally quite polite to each other.

Yes, there’s a level of fear in this. Fear that they will take offense and physically attack me. Fear of their disapproval, not so much their words as the contempt and anger in their eyes. Fear of the disapproval of others, who are important to me even if the fucking moron is not.

But there’s a level of empathy and compassion in this as well. With real people, I make an almost unconscious effort to see through to the person beneath the fucking moron exterior. More often than not, I’m at least partially successful. In the context of their animal nature, which must eat and shit just as I do, I see the commonality, and sense a bit of why they are what they are. Emotional damage. A hard life. Poverty. Ignorance. Propaganda. Privilege. Underneath, I see our shared primal, animal desire for very little more than a full belly and a spot in the warm sun.

I also see myself reflected in their eyes. My own emotional damage. My ignorance. My privilege. I always find it humbling to get to know other people.

With ePeople, all of the commonality and shared regard goes away, and all that remains are the ill-chosen words of a fucking moron — or a troll, or a bot, the former being a paid propaganda disseminator, and the latter being a troll implemented as an automated machine process. The fact that you can almost never distinguish an ePerson from a troll is an indicator of how empty the ePerson shell really is.

This is not new to Facebook. Its predecessor, the “bulletin-board chat room,” was also a nascent nightmare of verbal abuse, and the term “flame-war” comes from the behavior of people in the pre-Facebook chat rooms. These venues generally had a common acceptance of something called “netiquette,” a kind of “book of manners” to be observed in the chat room, and there were “monitors” who would summarily eject someone they deemed disruptive. Like the bartender who throws a mean drunk out of the bar.

Facebook is, in most respects, a failed Utopian experiment gone mad.

I find less of this problem in my monologuing here. This is more like correspondence, though targeted to an audience rather than individuals, and generally without feedback. It isn’t Facebook — it’s Mybook.

This illuminates perhaps the biggest difference between Facebook and this blog. I currently have nearly fifty “draft” posts for this blog. Some are no more than an opening paragraph. Some are half-done, some are finished. But I didn’t feel right about completing or publishing any of them, for various reasons. Instead, I’ve found myself, more and more, reactively venting on Facebook, and my words have been growing more snide, dismissive, and angry.

I need to cleanse my aura. And the simplest way is to avoid Facebook for a while.

Boardwalk and Park Place

Has anyone actually played a game of Monopoly to the end?

It never really happens, because at some point, people realize they will lose, no matter what, and they kick over the board, or go grab a soda and never come back.

But there’s this interesting point that happens just before that. Right toward the end of the game, it can suddenly become a competitive game of stealing money from the bank without getting caught.

Of course, the game never recovers from that point.

This is, of course, a metaphor for what has happened to the United States government: our much-vaunted “system of checks and balances,” our self-correcting republic, our “balance of powers.”

Once upon a time, our government was playing Monopoly. The game has changed.

Is God On Our Side?

No.

The only people who ever claim God is on their side, are people who already suspect they are in the wrong.

People who are doing the right thing don’t invoke God — they don’t need to. It’s clear to them — and usually to everyone else — that they are doing the right thing.

People who invoke God for their cause are invariably running a shady operation, if not simply working for the powers of darkness. They claim God is on their side to firm up wavering support from people who have already started to doubt them.

Where Does Wealth Come From?

All wealth comes from finding a new use for something that was already being used for something else.

Mining for gold digs up rocks that were already in use holding up the ground above them.

We brace the mine with timbers that served as the backbone of a tree.

Trees extract nutrients from the ground and carbon from the air, which were already engaged in their own chemistry.

Ultimately, we return to the soil, to feed the trees and hold up the ground.

Wealth is a great circle woven of many strands.

Two simple truths are obvious from this.

  • Wealth is relative
  • Wealth is temporary

Wealth is relative: its accumulation is always marked by a depletion elsewhere. We humans rationalize this away with elaborate fictions: that gold is more valuable than silver, that timber is more valuable than trees, that humans are worth more than the whole of the world, that some human lives are worth more than other human lives. We do this so that we may discount the wealth that is depleted as “worthless.” Common stone is worthless; an unlogged forest is worthless; an “undeveloped” ecosystem is worthless; a Muslim, or an African, or a woman, or a homosexual, or a homeless person is worthless. So taking anything — or everything — from what is “worthless” and using it ourselves is called “creating wealth.” But nothing is created, other than a rationalization.

Wealth is temporary: in the end, we all die and return to the soil. Our family lines fail. Our civilizations crumble, and are forgotten. Cities are reclaimed by forests. The land itself is recycled in the great, slow movement of tectonic plates.