Sunday, May 4, 2008

Muddling Towards Mordor

No matter how I calculated it, I could not make enough, or pay enough taxes, to get the Bush tax rebate. So I’ll not be stimulating the U.S. economy any time soon.

People have a mistaken impression that authors are well paid. Most, myself included, devote a lot of time and effort to maintain the reputation of struggling artists. There is some small consolation in knowing that among those of us who starve are many of the best of this craft. There is seldom any correlation between talent and earnings — Monet but not Van Gogh, Handel but not Mozart, Stephen King but not J.R.R. Tolkien.

I spent last night re-watching the Fellowship of the Ring. I am the last person to buy a boxed DVD set, but I scraped together enough to get a used copy of the Special Edition that Peter Jackson has crafted. It is a new edit, more than an hour longer, and very, very fine. Were I on the nominating committee, I would put Jackson forward for the Nobel Prize.

Al Gore’s latest TED talk and revised slide show makes much of the idea of a heroic quest for humankind as the unifier of our resolve and redeemer of our fortune. It is a theme I have been sounding as well in the past few years, but Gore took it over the top, showing clearly where the limits lie. The TED talk ended up as the old Elvis, singing schmaltz on the stage in Vegas.

Gore served up the ignominy of our reputation to our descendants in time, something we sully more with each twist of an ignition switch. His point was that if we rise to the occasion they will sing our sagas in the council fires of Valhalla. It sounded suspiciously like dulce et deocorum est, pro patria mori and left an odd feeling in my gut.

Eventually I came to recall that I hold no malice nor low opinion of my ancestors, though they broke the Earth, planted corn, and burned and bled away the indigenous wisdom of the ages. And though they foolishly worshipped muscle cars and trips to Mars, we were an adolescent species, and we had to expect growing pains. Now, though, we are grown, we have been warned, and we must set aside those childish things and become adults. Al could have done worse than to remember the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, XIII:11.

On December 10, 2007, on the occasion of his receipt of the Prize, Gore said, “The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.”

Arwin says to Aragorn, “The shadow does not yet hold sway. Not over me, not over you.”

And so it is. We have yet to exert our genius as a species. When confronted with the choice of planetary life or planetary death, what will we choose? Will we choose? Or are we yet too young to be asked such a momentous question?

And thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.

Boromir pleads with Aragorn, “Have you so little faith in your own people? Yes, there is weakness, there is frailty, but there is courage also, and honor to be found in men. But you will not see that. You are afraid. All your life, you have lived in the shadow [there is that darned shadow again], scared of who you are and what you are.”

Dying, Boromir tells Aragorn, “The world of men will fall and all will come to darkness.”

“I do not know what strength is in my blood, but I will not let the city fall or our people fail,” replies Aragorn.

Galadriel proclaims, “You are a ringbearer, Frodo. To bear a ring of power is to be alone. … This task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.”

“Then I know what I must do… its just… “ Frodo stammers, “I am afraid to do it.”

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,” she urges.
After seeing this, I can’t help but begin to slide into a very black and white, good and evil, view of the world. Our simian brains, being more serial than parallel, like to simplify and standardize to speed neuron synapse processing — but this tropism holds a great pitfall. By simplifying, we become no better than George the Unready, painting our adversaries as “evil-doers” and piling karma on top of karma.

Still, it is hard to deny that Republican obstructionists, waterboarders and climate naysayers are indeed evil. Or the Blue Dog Democrats that lie down with them, for that matter.

Just don’t get me started.

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