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Fiddling While Rome Burns
Nero fiddled while Rome burned: so said a bunch of Roman historians. Nero set the fire himself said some. GB Shaw joked that this caesar did it as urban renewal: old Rome was too messy to fix: burn it and reboot.
That’s how I feed about this world that I’ve failed to communicate with for most of my three-quarters of a century: what shall I regard as my fiddle? my keyboard? my procrastinations? my sudoku? But let me step immediately to a point you probably don’t see coming: With Nero, with “history”, in Tacitus and Shaw, “facts” are being argued, someone is posing as understanding what’s going on: humans are imagining that they’re competent to, structured to, understand what’s going on. If the king can’t explain, and the king’s courtier can’t explain, then Marx can explain, or Einstein. That’s what we’re taught: if we don’t accept Marx’ explanation then we switch in Carnegie. You don’t become king, you don’t remain king, if you don’t assume that understanding is not only possible, but general. That was my assumption in 1965 when I tried to explain Shakespeare’s Sonnets to my professors, to my students. I believe that if A, B, C didn’t recognize what I saw to be true, then H might, or Q. That was my stance in 1970 when my Free Learning Exchange offered in unsupervised, voluntary internet of data bases — give me the resources, especially some unerstanding, and I’ll renovate the world, bring down the vertical, enable the horizontal. I understand what Ivan Illich is saying: then, if not ABC then R, S, or T may understand what I’m offering. One snowflake becomes core, then another joins it, then you build a snow ball.
Some people seemed to understand what I was saying, doing, trying to do: they didn’t give the money but they seemed to understand, waiting to see if other people gave the money … But now I don’t believe that. Now I believe that it’s unlikely that anyone understands, and if one does, no one will understand him, or: understanding won’t kindle: and if it starts to, some corporatists, some alpha magician politicians, some Big Brother teacher cops will interfere, scatter the incipient understanding. Sustainability and profit are incompatible: and the profiters will scuttle all sense.
One trouble is that a kleptocracy — rule where much if not everything is stolen — land, ideas, culture — is that we’ve followed civilization for 10,000 years, imitated Rome for 2,000+ years of it. (Rome you see is the idea among people with a standing military, that if Caesar goes up into Gaul and sees the Celts making a good thing of a salt mine, then the thing for Caesar to do isn’t to say, Hey guys, mining salt, now neat: how can we help? No, Caesar conquers the Celts, takes over the salt mine, doesn’t let the surviving Celts anywhere near the Roman administrators!) (Notice: I offered my internet in 1970: it was to be horizontal, voluntary, no authority except to keep it free from supervision. The US, the world’s institutions didn’t discuss it with me: they created their own internet, vertical, pretending to be horizonal, knocked me down again for good measure, and dragged this censorable internet over the kleptocracies of the world like a fishing trawler killing everything on the bottom, murdering the oceans to harvest a bluefin tuna or two.
So: see? I might as well fiddle! Maybe get some pleasure from helplessness. It’s a bad fuck, but try to come anyway.
Burn it and Reboot
We can’t help it, we assume that causal intentions are: possible: reliable.
Did Jesus on the cross really still imagine that he was helping anything?
now: scrapbook style, editing later:
I have troubles of my own: chronic poverty, routine sabotage (by people who don’t know they’re saboteurs! all they know is they’re normal and I’m not them: smite the queer! (no matter how heterosexual he obviously is).) Currently for example: FL has denied my drivers license because of lies NJ is telling: bureaus are Nazis listening to Nazis, not to “Jews”.
Note my identity with persecuted minorities. (No minority is more persecuted than honest reformer.)
My girl friend has problems. Skipping the big ones I zoom in on something trivial but current: her car wouldn’t start this Saturday. We diagnosed a bad battery. Now it’s Monday and we’re both still stuck: her son is missing a job to help, the son’s girl friend is starting a new job today, much needed, can’t get to it … Run around like a chicken.
This morning, bright and early she phones to report. But the power goes off! Her phone has been unreliable the five years I’ve known (and loved) her. Mobile phone whacko, landline kaput … I’m trying to tell her over a bad connection, a connection that breaks several times, with me unable to tell whether she’s hung up on me because my voice is beginning to squeal as she doesn’t understand the point I’m trying to make to her about using my battery charger.
I sit here, helpless. I don’t know what if anything is working, so much is not working. Is the phone working? Will the car start? Are we working? our relationship? Is her car trouble not only going to deprive me of my usual quota of hugs for this time of year when she’s local, not in Nova Scotia? Is her car trouble going to screw up her son’s new income hopes? and his girlfriend’s brand-new much-needed job, supposedly starting 9 this morning? Could her whole neighborhood be having power problems? (Is my neighborhood about to follow?)
I remember vividly some blackout in NYC in the 1960s. Wow, did we have times. Unfortunately, it got fixed: and here we are, still here, a half century later. The utilities learning a little something, but did the society?
I call her back, I get her recording, I leave a message: Is it the end of the world? (I hope.) But let me hug and squeeze you one more time first. No: that’s too rational: on the battlefield the shell doesn’t wait till you’ve read your letter from home before it leaves a red mist where your face had been.
If the world ends would we know it? Or would we need aliens visiting, like in my first novel, to know it? they knowing it, not us. A God-function, you see.
It’s completely wrong to think of Nero fiddling. Nero wasn’t in charge. Maybe he fiddled because he understood he wasn’t in charge!
I believe lots of the Caesars were smarter than we think, they understood how helpless they were: all that power, but no power to do what they really wanted.
But you know what I really want? I don’t want to fix things like God-the-Clock-Maker: I want my dream of horizontal many-too-many communications to come true on its own: I want it to be some change in the population, not made by me!
I want Jesus, just as he croaks, to think, Wait, maybe these morons, these people with their thumb in their ass, standing down there, maybe they did learn a little something: maybe now they’ll stop standing with their thumb in their ass. Maybe they’ll … croak.
I wrote half of the above this morning before I became aware that Woody Allen has now also fiddled with Nero.
The points about the helplessness of Roman emperors was made by historian Michael Grant, in more than one book. They could rape and murder, but not restructure the kleptocracy. Some of the caesars were intelligent: very: they went nuts: quite natural. I know how they felt!