Astonishment, Large and Small
Noticing If It Is Still Possible
A recent PNAS article describes research findings on the causes of human happiness that seem pretty self-evident to me. When government at any level helps people, there is more happiness and when it doesn’t, especially when governments stop providing help they once provided, there is less happiness.
I’m pretty sure there is also a group of people who become unhappy when they see happiness increase through government helping. There are many reasons why and they don’t matter. What matters is that what makes many, maybe even most, people happy invariably bums some other people out.
Astonishing Bite #1, then, is the reigning Autocrats of Austerity, the IMF. finding common ground with most humans — and the PNAS findings — over the UK Government’s decision to hand 50 billion pounds in the form of tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country.
The IMF saw that the new UK budget would mean less government help, which is IMF’s go-to strategy. We now know IMF has an implicit Happiness Floor, which UK tried to slip under.
The UK Government immediately responded to torrents of criticism by saying, ‘we know what we’re doing.’
The worldwide securities and currency markets immediately responded by making $500 billion of UK wealth go poof.
Astonishing Bite #2 has a tough act to follow, but that’s 2022 for you. And the simple fact that the Nord Stream pipeline blew up isn’t astonishing at all. The President of the United States promised on February 7, 2022 that Nord Stream would be toast if Russia invaded Ukraine. So that takes some of the surprise out of it.
What’s astonishing is that no one is astonished. This act of sabotage is not quite as big a deal as, say, the asteroid that may have hit earth and snuffed the dinosaurs — but it has similarities. One is that the gas being released in large quantities is several orders of magnitude more awful than your normal everyday awfulness.
And come on, folks, no matter what your beliefs, the Big War Still Going On and the way ‘sanctions’ are being used already had Europe paying double and triple to stay warm. Before the real cold has even made an appearance.
Hoping for Peace that could bring Nord Stream to the rescue? Boom.
Maybe we make our own narratives of false flags or autocratic spite and madness, but none of them will warm people or cook their food. Mostly we’re, like, ‘this is total bullshit, could you put an english muffin in the toaster for me while you’re up honey?’
Local astonishment is not as compelling and must be recounted briefly and with panache as long as that’s still ok.
In the spring of 1970 my friends and I were deeply engaged in our first inde media production — an LP Record of alt-entertainment. Somewhere in the middle of our obsession, Cambodia Spring broke out at Kent State and Jackson State and everywhere the protests felt like the fabric of society was coming entirely undone.
For a period of several weeks, every day was astonishing and we protested along with most of the other students and faculty at our little Quaker college. We also produced The Record — made 500 copies after hours at Columbia Records with insider help. We also made 500 album covers. The front cover, by Michael Humphries, is the illustration at the top of this article.
I do not have the illustration now because that album was the launching pad for our fame, which was our basic plan.
I have the illustration because a small group of people who went to the same college enjoyed The Record and for reasons unknown decided to bring it back to life after more than 50 years.
It is mildly astonishing that someone would do this.
What makes it Astonishing Bite #3 is the timing, how it might fit into my creative threads, which are more or less still The Record. We made our own kind of media without permission then and I’m back to doing exactly that full-time now post-career.
The Record had a protagonist named Rooter and we didn’t use him for a Heroes Story. We told his story, all mixed up with human history. Told what we thought was his story anyway. Maybe Rooter can set us straight in VR.
Not everyone was a protestor during Cambodia Spring, even at a Quaker college. Some approved of the war and the strategy. Some were irritated that their studies were interrupted.
Those divisions exist today. People who came of age during “the sixties” are in their 60s and 70s now and some of them wield extraordinary power. Justice Alito (age 72) was among the irritated and he still is and it shows.
Some High-Ranking Military Officers also have a different view of War but they usually keep it under wraps.
Astonishing Bite #4a is that Air Force General Mike Minihan decided to fully unwrap at the recent Air & Space Forces Association’s Air Space & Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.
He said we are not ready to meet the looming existential threats and he said being ready means being ready to kill them all.
“Lethality matters most,” he said. “When you can kill your enemy, every part of your life is better. Your food tastes better. Your marriage is stronger.”
Astonishing Bite #4b, to me, is his certainty.
Plato devoted a chunk of The Republic to showing people that they don’t even know who is their friend and who is their enemy — it’s not obvious. Maybe friend and enemy are not fixed and inevitable categories.
General Minihan is so sure he knows who his enemy is that he’ll kill millions of people to save on couples’ therapy. Don’t look at me. I didn’t bring marriage into a discussion of carnage and suffering. The guy over there who is so sure of himself did.
I don’t know what makes a person feel this way, but something did.
I write about VR and Meditation and other topics I have no standing to write about on Medium and Substack.
I have a black belt in learning and I’ve been meditating for so long you’d think I’d be enlightened but I’m not.