Monday, July 21, 2008

Clyde List Editorial on The System

When J.C. Smock (our town founder) came here by covered wagon, everyone told the time by merely looking at the Sun. The evidence for it being 12:00 or 9:00 or 6:00 was clear and obvious. So obvious that only a crazy person would disagree. If the depot agent at Seattle looked up at the sky and decided it was exactly Noon, then it must be Noon everywhere. Who could argue?

Then we invented trains.

Trains were constantly bumping into each other because they could not agree on what time it was. And so the train depot at Buffalo New York was built so that it had room for three clocks instead of one. Each one was off by a matter of minutes from the others. Boston, Atlanta, or Portland would agree about who was right... except that the trains kept bumping into each other anyway. Salvidor Dali (1904-1989), who was widely believed to be crazy as a hatter, could only look at the conclusion these cities had arrived at and wonder: Why only three clocks? Why not one for every person on the planet? His famous melting clocks painting makes the point.

104 Head-On Collisions in One Year!
In 1875 alone, 104 head-on train wrecks were reported, due to America's failure to agree about what time it was. In another part of the world, there was a person who was a child about then. He received a toy compass for his birthday. He spent the whole day walking around with it, fascinated. "I realized then that there is more to the world than meets the eye." Albert Einstein (1879-1955) later confessed. Einstein's theory about clocks, space and time, was the result. (If you can explain it to me, let me know.)

Today, the world desperately needs to see behind the blank wall we keep bumping into. In the 19th Century it was the Space-Time Continuum. But what is this thing right now that keeps getting in our way? On Mondays, leading experts express confidence in the economy. On Tuesday, the same experts express astonishment at how "we haven't found the bottom yet." Kaiser Wilhelm saw into a pit as bottomless as this when he ordered a train to appear and was told he --even He, the Emporer of Germany-- could not make it happen. Ronald Reagan thought he could fix the economy by making equally bold pronouncements about what life is all about. These leaders may as well have been the Persian Emporer Xerxes flogging the sea with heavy chains in order to make it behave the way he wanted it to.

The sea we flog today is different. The dragons and whales have disappeared and the possibility that the world is flat instead of round and that we might drop off the edge no longer frightens us. Instead, we have the back of our folding money to inspect-- a sea of mysterious symbols and patterns and images which every citizen today has forgotten the purpose of....

Meanwhile, on a cheerier note: Before you leave, Check Out Sherwood's Railroad Story!


Anonymous said...

The American economy is in a mess because we are involved in a useless war! The policies of this nation are bad because of greed, greed, and more greed! That is why we are in this mess and anyone who cannot see that has not read "The Emperor's New Clothes!

jaycee said...

See? You're doing it again. We point fingers at Greed and agree the riddle is solved. A few decades ago the majority of us were agreeing with Aynn Rand: It was government regulation that was the problem. Greed was good!

Anonymous said...

Greed is not good

Lilly Morgen said...

As a time traveler, I see us on a roller coaster ride. Remember the 1920's? How does this time period compare with the 1920's? This is real forensic history for ya. Start some theories and compare and contrast.
I believe if we really study history, we could actually solve our social problems

jaycee said...

We invented railways. Railways reinvented us. It's a well documented story. However, nobody remembers what we were like before the invention of money. Money has been around so long people will even argue that it is a natural resource, like gold or silver. When economists talk, they sound a lot like alchemists-- always explaining why this or that "fundamental law" works now and then but not always. Any conversation about money quickly crosses the boundary between truth and fantasy. Just look at the bank notes in your bill-fold. The intricate, interlaced curlique designs are straight from the world of fantasy and superstition. How much sense can we ever make of such a fanciful object?

Clyde said...

Another thing about both time and money is that they have to do with numbers. Numbers are diabolical. They are pure fantasy, existing nowhere except in our heads. And yet, at the same time, they obey laws that are as unbreakable as steel. If you have ever noticed how the simplest numerical calculation can go on forever (e.g. the amazing Mandelbrot set) it can keep you awake at night.

"How can such an amazing construct amount to nothing?" you wonder. People who have lost everything in the Stock Market have experienced the same phenomenon. It all looked so real.

Sherwood said...

The current economic crisis keeps taking me back to an incident I encountered when I was a senior in high school, many years ago. I was in the Class of 1962. The Class of '62 has been identified by sociologists as "the last of its kind." My class mates and I grew up in tough times. I never worked as hard in my life as I did when I was a child. My friends and I did work that is only done by illegal aliens today. We worked in the fields, like Mexicans, all summer long. It was very hot, tiring work. My own mother said, before she died, that she had never seen kids work as hard as we did. But then again, she was forgetting the hardships she faced on the prairie-- worse than anything I could have imagined-- before the Industrial Revolution made work so much easier.

One day, the Class Advisor of the Class of 1962, called us all together. He said he and the high school faculty could not figure out the Class of 1963, 1964, or 1963, who were currently enrolled at the school. He said he had never seen anything like it. He said all they did was goof off. Their own parents were encouraging them to make one big joke out of everything he and we (the Class of '62) held sacred.

The answer to the riddle, as it turns out, was the fact that these brats had been raised during the afterglow of America's great "victory" in World War Two. (Actually, the real war was between Russia and Germany, and Russia won, but that's another story.) Their parents had survived not only WWII but the Great Depression and now they were re-living their childhood by showering their children with gifts just so they could see the joy in their faces. Oh yes. The 1950's were a delightful time to be a kid (unless you were a kid old enough to be drafted into the military and facing the appalling onslaught of Red China's military might, but that too is another story).

Now the American economy has collapsed because there's nothing left to run the country except you, you lazy bastards who have never done a day's work in your life... and don't tell me you "work" when you run around all day in a clean dress shirt and tie. It's time to get new politicians, the kind that tell you the truth. All you're getting now is computer generated flattery, and it's not going to save you and your children from the world your parents and grandparents knew oh so well.

Clyde List said...

Woah, Mr. "Sherwood." If you could stop talking long enough to do some light calculating, you would realize that these "brats" are grandparents now. They have realized (a few of them anyway) the folly of their ways. It's their grandkids we should worry about now. All authorities report that today's high school sophomores and freshmen know that their standard of living is going to be lower than that of their "bratty" ancestors. They form a very sober and hard working and politically tuned-in constituency today. They made Mr. Obama famous, for example. He wouldn't be anywhere near the White House without them.

Clyde List said...

I'm adding this note on October 11, a weekend when the stock market's behavior has been compared to the Crash of '29. The media are using the word "panic" a lot. Interesting word, "Panic." According to Merriam-Webster, the word panic is a thing "of or relating to the god Pan." According to a website on Greek mythology, the unseen presence of the god Pan "aroused feelings of panic in men passing through the remote, lonely places of the wilds. [He] was depicted as a man with the horns, legs and tail of a goat, and with thick beard, snub nose and pointed ears." There. Perfect! A snapshot of what is bedeviling you if you own stocks right now. This dirty little minor deity can make you act as though a hurricane, volcanic eruption, nuclear meltdown, were happening all at once. And it's all about something we invented. A bunch of numbers. Hardly worth the attention of a god, even a minor one like Pan.

Sherwood said...

And so here we are. The date is March 29, 2009. Some experts dare to suggest the 2008-09 Recession is ending. It may only be beginning. Can't be sure. We only know one thing for certain: Anyone who argued that Social Security should be privatized has been silenced for good. So there has been some progress in our thinking.

Stay tuned.

Sherwood said...

And so here we are, one year later. It is now 2010 instead of 2009 or 2008. The DOW has ended above 11,000, which is almost where it was when (what's starting to be called) The Great Recession began.

What has changed? I notice that the workers are no long expecting a two week vacation as soon as they've loafed around at their desks for less than two months.

Hmmmm. That's a step in the right direction. Maybe things will work out. We just needed to get some religion. Maybe that's it. It's just like in colonial times. We needed to get some religion.

Clyde Ray List said...

The space-time problem posed by steam trains is not solved yet. The word for today is "technium."

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