My Point Being: Some Kinda New Year

Posted on: December 31, 2018, by :

It’s the morning of New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow, the date changes to January 1, 2019. Sure, this is all arbitrary. We could call it August 10, or April Fools’ Day or Cinco de Mayo. It’s just another day, except that this one is loaded with our emotional baggage around the passage of time. Birthdays and anniversaries are the same way. So be it. The biggest impact for most of us is that we’ll probably forget at least once and input “2018” for the year on whatever form we’re filling out instead of “2019.”

There are some rituals that go with this arbitrary change of the calendar. One is resolutions. I don’t do those anymore, because, well, why? You can resolve to do something any time you want. Another is looking back at the past and forward to the future. I don’t really go for those, either, since the only time I control is now. Besides, the future is determined to an extent by what’s happening now (barring the occasional future black swan – again, out of my control). So I woke up this morning and felt like talking a little about now. I feel like I know something about it, at least from my perspective.

I was going to post this on LinkedIn, but I don’t know that anyone there would understand, or care. So it’s here. You can take or leave it. Here, in no particular order, are my observations.

Chickens are still coming home to roost

We continue to fulfill Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting something different to happen. We want more, waste more, and keep waiting for the next big thing. Meanwhile, we ignore the little thing that is this moment. with all its dangers and opportunities.

While we pretend – that the things we think we’re recycling are actually being recycled, that debt (public and otherwise) will somehow take care of itself, that we can wish all our risks away without managing them – the chickens keep on coming home to roost.

Still crazy, after all these years.

Most of us are the slaves of fear

There’s a little walnut-sized doodad in the back of the human brain called the amygdala. It’s where a lot of fear and pleasure impulses sit. When stimulated the amygdala triggers emotions like wanting to fight or run. Under normal conditions, the brain’s frontal lobe steps in to moderate the impulses. But when your amygdala is bombarded by fear-mongering messages, that moderating process gets overwhelmed.

In an age of information, information is a weapon and stoking fear and anger is like the nuclear option, going straight at the old amygdala. Advertisers and politicians have been playing these war games with us for generations. Now, with social media, we can wage information war with each other if we choose. We’re creating a culture like the one James Michener described in his book about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It’s one in which all the living and many of the dead are incriminated through fear and shame. There’s no secret police doing this to us. We’re doing it to ourselves, and to each other.

I think I finally figured out Donald Trump

Yes, the 800-pound orange gorilla in the room.

Since Mr. Trump became something more than a real estate speculator and reality TV huckster, I’ve been trying to understand him. First, I thought he was just crude. Then I thought he was the Antichrist. Then I thought it was like that episode of Star Trek where aliens kidnap Captain Picard and substitute a replica who acts stranger and stranger so the aliens can see what it’ll take to make the crew mutiny.

Now I liken the president to the San Francisco Bay Area anti-hero protagonist in the Steely Dan song “Kid Charlemagne.” He found the magic formula to hook enough people on what he was selling to corner the market.

“Didja feel like Jesus?”

Even as they depended on him, though, he also became dependent on them. In the end, there won’t be enough of them to sustain him as he wants – needs – to be sustained. Now, he’s hogtied by the contradiction in terms he has made of himself. He cannot be “Mr. Art of the Deal” and “Mr. (I alone can) Fix It” at the same time. The only question that remains is whether he will go all-in and try to take over the world, or whether (and how soon) he will meet Kid Charlemagne’s fate:

“Is there gas in the car?

Yes, there’s gas in the car!

I think the people down the hall know who we are.”

Is there hope? Of course, there is! We can start now. After all, it is always now, and it always will be. Happy New Year.

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