Windows of Opportunity

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / NoHier / DDD / Modules / Rants /
@ K. 2004 06 01

Windows of Opportunity (Already Closed) (Or Closing Fast)

When I wrote Ivan Illich in 1970 to dedicate my life to helping him to replace schooling with his learning webs, I believed that a window of opportunity for reform was still open. By 1974 I believed that that window, if it had indeed been open, was now closed: probably forever. At some point it doesn’t matter if the smoker quits: the cancer is there: or on its way: inexorable.

Life is mostly missed opportunity.

One was my belief, the other is my belief.
But I claim no infallibility. You are free to believe that there’s hope. I hope you’re right: and I’m wrong. If only.
Back in the Thirteenth Century Roger Bacon [] wrote a play in which there’s a king, and a sorcerer, and a magic head. The king is given some choice. The Head says, “Time passing.” At some point the Head says, “Time passed.”
In Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence is the angel who saves Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey from suicide. Alternate universes blend with Christian theology, showing Jimmy Stewart as a Christ-figure: he suffers; but without his suffering everybody else suffers more: as Clarence shows by (demonstrating a power equal to if not greater than God’s by) substituting an alternate universe where the nice Bedford Falls becomes (the Hobbesian) Pottersville: where life is nasty, brutish, and short. As a result, Jimmy Stewart embraces his suffering for the sake of his loved ones: and (miracle) he stops suffering. Anyway, Jimmy Stewart and Clarence go to a bar when Stewart is George BaileyAlternate: the George Baileywho-was-never-born. The Pottersville version of the bar is owned by the familiar Nick: turned brute. GeorgeAlt says he’ll have a bourbon; “Clarence” shows veteran character-actor skills as Henry Travers wonders with Clarence’s whole being whether to have sarsaparilla, a pink lemonade, a Shirley Temple, or a raspberry gin fizz. Nick impatiently informs this fey that the bar is there for desperate men who want to get very drunk very fast. The bar isn’t a place for a Versailles fop to wonder which lace hankie he should drape how far from his pocket; rather a cog in an industrial machine that turns out drunks. The spirit Clarence and the spirit GeorgeAlternate are thrown roughly into the street. Clarence’s window of opportunity to show that he was another drunken clone and order Bourbon (bourbon neat, bourbon fast) had closed. Time passed.

Toshiro Mifuni’s title character in Sanjuro helps some young samurai to escape another trap. Auntie is in the group this time. They have to climb a fence. Auntie can’t climb. Mifune gets down of all fours so she’ll have a stool to step on: a ladder of sorts. Auntie won’t: she just couldn’t: it wouldn’t be “polite.” Sanjuro solves the problem by informing her that if she doesn’t step onto his back, the baddies, will come, and then, he, the puissant Sanjuro, will have to kill them all. How polite will that be? She climbs while the window is still open. Time passing.

Since the space program a few people understand a bit more about windows of opportunity than formerly. If the rocket isn’t launched within certain calendar times: relative to astronomical positions (in a moving, changing universe), then even a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars will not suffice to hit the target: Mars won’t be in our range. (Even a marksman has to shoot within the length his bullet can travel: if he can aim that far.)

Christianity offers a world view in which there are many many Damned. Yet anyone can become Saved by telling Jesus they’re sorry: they don’t want to be Damned, they’d prefer to be Saved. The Sinner has Free Will; Jesus does not have Free Will: he has to forgive you: even if you’re the one who stuck the spear in his side (doing him a favor, I suppose), even if you’re the one who killed a thousand Jews a day: and relished it. In the Bible, you had a very narrow window of opportunity to Repent: Jesus was coming right back. In the Christianity of today, you have all the time in the world: up until your Death. (And with people paying for masses for you in Purgatory it ain’t final even with your death.)

But as with the space program, science has made (some of) us aware of other windows. Once my late neighbor, Marty, realized she had cancer as well as emphysema, would it do her any good to stop smoking? No. Time passed. She could then smoke all she wanted to: it was too late for quitting to help. Once we’ve cut down all the forests and paved all the arable land, once photosynthesis dies in the North Sea, once there’s no more jungle, once twenty percent-, forty percent-, sixty percent of species have gone extinct … why we can always plant another tree, right? Buy a pet?

The problem there is that we don’t know where the window is, how big it is, how long it will stay open, if it’s still open … We may already be like Marty with her cancer. We don’t know enough to diagnose it. We don’t know what we’re supposed to be diagnosing.

(Oh, but surely the experts know.) (Those morons? You have to fail intelligence tests to stay in school long enough to become a recognized expert in anything.) (Of course the government can always fund some new field, promote some lifer in it, and get him to diagnose that we’re all fine: just hunky dory!)

It may be the weakest link which will break, but how do you know which link is weakest before it breaks? Which straw will break the camel’s back? (Actually, it may have been the sixth-to-last straw you placed: maybe the camel’s back would have broken anyway had you stopped five straws ago.)
Disaster signs of man overburdening his environment have been showing up for over ten thousand years (the Late Pleistocene Overkill, for example). Disaster signs of men becoming kleptocrats have been increasingly evident for roughly six thousand years (same age as the Fall from the Garden). Modern talk of liberty has escalated as kleptocracies remove its last shreds. (We didn’t discover Nature till we had already all but killed her.)

Only a few centuries ago the English lords told the Scots clan chiefs that the commons was theirs. Suddenly the chiefs were vastly richer than they had ever dreamed of being. The lords convinced the lairds that it was much more profitable to graze sheep on the land than to continue the subsistence farming that had been the commoners’ norm for ages. The lairds come down hard on their cousins: and the population trickled into the cities: where they’ve been futureless wage earners ever since. When the Scots fled to America, the majority went … to the cities: where they could compete to become futureless wage earners: with only a small advantage over the Irish, the Italians, the Blacks, the Chinese … and at a disadvantage to the English (and, somewhat, to the Germans). Meantime, back at what was no longer their home, the richest laird was a bumpkin compared to the English industrialist hiring the deracinated people (and turning them more sheep-like than the sheep!)
More and more, more and more of us live lives managed by lairds which are in turn managed by lords who are managed by … groups with the latest, most devious scam: the industrialists, the railroaders, Ford & GM, the software nerds … Does the government manage the telemarketers? Or is the government managed by the telemarketers? (and the nerds? and Ford / GM?)
FLEX / FIX offered a way out: not Illich / pk doing it for you; Illich / pk showing us how to do it for ourselves. Information: managed in no way but to keep it; an institution with no responsibility but to keep its integrity while gathering and distributing the information for those that request it. The institution doesn’t endorse the information; the institution merely keeps the information: guaranteeing (so long as some minimal infrastructure came into place) cheap, unedited publication, cheap, unrestricted dissemination, open access …
(One could use FLEX to lie: just as one can use one’s mouth, or the phone, or the postal system to lie. That’s not FLEX’s problem; no censorship is FLEX’s responsibility!)
Were the Scots commoners responsible for being moved off of their commons? (Ivan Illich says that we are responsible even for what is done to us!) Not as responsible as I find us to be for not supporting FLEX. Sure the public’s imagination had been stunted: thousands of years ago. But surely the public should have had some imagination left: some sense of self-preservation.

So now we have the internet: the (ahem) Privatized internet: the internet of spam and animated banners. Yahoo started off sounding like a little FLEX; now it looks like a big CBS. Amazon started off as a neat, efficient, courteous store; now it’s like an uncoordinated WalMart. FLEX / FIX offered all of those functions: and then some: offered them thirty-odd years ago! The school system, the universities, the Piggly-Wiggleys, the phone company, Ford, GM, and Cousin Charley’s Used Trucks, the government itself … could not have competed against a public armed with its own data base, its own publishing system … its own “libraries” as it were …
In 1968 I read ecologists saying that we didn’t know if or when photosynthesis in the North Sea could cease. In 1968 I heard Bucky Fuller say that we were in the (couple of) years that would decide — irrevocably — whether civilization survived or sank. Marty being diagnosed with cancer didn’t kill her that instant. She lived a few more years (in misery). But it was then past already too late! Maybe it was too late for us with the Late Pleistocene Overkill. Maybe it was too late for us when agriculturalists stole land from nomads (as well as from the herds, from the birds, from all-life … Maybe it was too late for us once it was a matter of course that a nation could coerce children into state-run schools, legislate restrictions with a rhetoric of freedom, switch police protection for self-reliance … By geologic time, ten thousand years of Last Days is instantaneous.
I know one thing: I, following Illich’s blueprint, offered a way out. Too few came with me for any of us to have succeeded in escaping.
Ivan Illich made the design. Many other thinkers influenced that design, including cyberneticists like Heinz von Foerster. But drawing the blue prints and actually trying to construct the door are two different things. Illich didn’t try to build the door: I did (Noreen, and Charlie, and others helping). Denis Detzel also tried to build the door: in the Chicago area. But I tried to coordinate the door builders: the Evanston Learning Exchange never answered a one of my letters.

(Getting one of their newsletters after I’d sent them six isn’t exactly feedback, isn’t adequate communication (though Don Lewis did phone me a couple of times: after we’d both gone kaput!) (I never phoned them! (Who would pay the bill?))

Though I wasn’t alone altogether in some senses, I feel altogether alone in most.
Jesus went to hell for three days according to the Nicene Creed. Why has pk been in hell for sixty-four years now and counting? Can there be one Saved person in Hell? Can there be dozens? thousands perhaps: but unable to find each other? unable to stay together if they do?
What if existence isn’t at all what Christians say but is instead something else that a quasi-Judeo-tradition could have said? What if existence is a pretext for a bet between God and Satan: Jesus failed to make sense to a human population: I bet [For or Against] Ivan Illich succeeding where Jesus failed. (Oh, and here’s a nice little nerd: pk. I bet [For or Against] him succeeding in actualizing what (Jesus and) Illich said.

OK, great. So why not kill me off in 1973: by which time it seemed clear that the Free Learning Exchange was losing as much momentum as it was gaining? (Jesus was killed within mere days of speaking in the Temple!) What profit, what even amusement, is there in making me outlive the failure? Time was passed, dammit! We’d missed the boat! (shouldn’t I have been sucked up into Paradise and surrounded by houris?) (Or would I have to have been a Muslim for that?)
There’s a Hollywood formula. The writer takes a guy, kicks him in the balls, and sees what he does. Ah, maybe that’s God’s wager!
I hope is a good enough pay off.
Time‘s passed, that’s for sure.

2006 01 08 The time of Jesus’ crucifixion was already way past time to jettison kleptocracy, to discipline governments, to prevent states from emerging. Maybe no window was ever really open: once people learn what large numbers ganged together can do, the cat’s out of the bag.

See Logic: Assumed Connections.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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