August 17, 2003
NEO (lithic) conservatism?
Northern California is considerably cooler than the East Coast in summer -- and MUCH warmer in winter. When I left the East Coast in late July (and on the drive all the way across the country) it was swelteringly hot. The Bay Area weather, on the other hand, is beautiful, 70-ish, and just gives you that feeling of not needing to have a care in the world. (Not, that is, until neurotic uptight East Coast types like me come charging in with gratuitous observations....)
And then I read about New Yorkers hating Southern Californians, and Northern Californians hating Southern Californians.
Might I have a word on this subject? I lived on both coasts for many years, and I consider LA to be a sort of home away from home. Thanks to two very dear friends in LA, I have two places where I can crash whenever I make the 5.5 hour drive from here to there. I have spent a lot of time in LA on business over the years, and not only do I not resent the place, I would move there in a heartbeat, and needless to say prefer it infinitely to the East Coast.
New Yorkers may not like hearing this, but the East Coast consists of more than New York. Philadelphia, where I failed to grow up, hates New York with the a bitterness which reminds me of the French. That's because Philadelphia is America's Founding City, has old, prestigious money, and is tormented by a mindset which seems perversely proud of its provincialism (which of course can never be called that). This hatred spills over into New Jersey, part of which "leans" towards Philadelphia, and part towards New York. Yet Philadelphians and New Yorkers each feel far superior to New Jerseyites.
But both Philadelphia and New York (and their NJ satellites) unite in hatred of California. The "hatred" between Northern and Southern California is a joke compared to the attitude of the East Coast towards California.
Do you think California could care less? Sure, there are political differences, but the only fault line in California which strikes me as genuinely bitter also exists all over the country -- and that is the vexing, worsening tension between urban and rural peoples. There is a an ill-defined yet fundamental incompatibility which gets worse and worse. City people want laws and restrictions and taxes, then they flee to more pastoral areas upon which they then inflict more laws and restrictions and taxes. Libertarianism with a small "l" is becoming the only option -- for California and for the nation. Very, very dangerous thinking; Jesse Ventura was getting close; is Arnold smart enough to pull it off? Am I allowed to speculate about these things?
Sorry folks; I just smelled the beginnings of a rant. And this is Sunday, so I really ought to stick with nice, safe things.
Like the weather, perhaps?
(Yeah! Weather -- or not.)
Here in California (especially in the Bay Area) there are really only minimal seasons; it is mostly the same year round. In fact, I was last here in December, and it was not much colder than it is now. Not that that is a representative sampling of these times of year; it just shows how meaningless are the "seasons" around here, and how genuinely random are the weather patterns. I have long believed that people are affected by the weather. When you live in a culture that thinks along seasonal lines yet you live in a season-less area, you become different. I have known people from the East Coast who hated it here precisely because of the absence of seasons, and the ubiquitous rain and fog. Those who love that tend to have a live-and-let-live view of the world. This is slightly different from the "I've earned it!" retirement mentality of Floridians and Arizonans. But I think it goes a long way to explain why it is that Bay Area residents are as eccentric as they are. It also helps explain some of the difference between Northern and Southern Californians. Mystical fog versus fun-in-the-sun...
But the East Coast! Man, they are as mean as scalded cats over the weather, because they have to stay indoors in the summer, and indoors in the winter, and spend Spring and Fall getting ready for (or catching up on maintenance caused by) severe hot or severe cold. Year after year of snow-shoveling, ice-salting, suffering in the heat, and fighting hordes of summer insects, well, these things just don't warm them to California's Northern mystical-fog or Southern fun-in-the-sun mindsets. Nor are they happy about the fact that Californians just don't suffer from power outages the way they do on the East Coast. They secretly think Californians need a good wallop on the behind -- another earthquake, a Tsunami, at least a good stiff drought!
If weather can influence such cultural phenomena, then what about genuine environmental stresses? My philosophical comrade Justin Case is completely sold on the idea that many events in human history can be explained by comet and meteor impacts. I have seen enough of the evidence to conclude that it is at least plausible, if not certain. Long ago I learned that a big one had done in the dinosaurs. But what I had not realized was the frequency of much smaller (but substantial) impacts. Some of them left craters which are only now being revealed, while often times other meteors and comets explode into blasts of gravel-sized, dispersed debris. Large surfaces of ground are scorched, rock is melted like glass, lakes and oceans boil, fire and brimstone literally rain down, and gigantic tidal waves are caused when the damned things crash into the sea. Several books have been written on the subject which I have not read (one by a guy named Bill Napier stands out); apparently it has escaped the attention of historians that there are common denominators in the simultaneous demises of multiple cultures and civilizations during the same time periods.
I know very little about this subject but I can readily see why it won't receive much attention in the major media. Right now the big money is on global warming, which finds strong emotional appeal among the egocentric guilt-mongers who enjoy blaming progress and technology for everything, and see us as dooming the planet. Anything which demonstrates our ultimate insignificance, and instead shows the real power of nature, is to be shunned, silenced, even censored. Besides, the solution (yes, there is one) is even more threatening to the liberal/green point of view. Many of the scientists who have studied this phenomenon agree that we stand a damned good chance of being able to deflect future impacts by standing ready with large thermonuclear devices, which could divert the meteors from their course long before they pose a threat. Existing technology could be further developed which could spot not only the bigger rocks, but the smaller ones which currently escape attention. (Which is bad, for if a smaller one hit Manhattan, it would be a big-time disaster.) Liberals, of course, would object to the development of any technology that might also be used to defend us against missiles. Why?
Is defenselessness a state of grace?
Frankly, I would not expect to see much interest in this emerging topic from conservatives either -- and certainly not from moral conservatives. Too many of their favorite Biblical stories could be explained by meteoric impacts. And if these things in fact hit earth randomly, then religious people are hard-pressed to explain why God would "do" such a terrible thing. And if he would, why would he "strike" a Siberian forest in 1907? (Duh! Obviously because of the bi polar bears.)
Why, if God had any sense, he'd hit the evil San Francisco with a Big One! (And if God strikes some other place, that's only because the people there were too tolerant of places like San Francisco...)
I was quite surprised to read the statistical analysis of the relative danger posed by these things. We have a 1 in 10,000 chance of being killed by a meteor! That is substantially greater than the odds of being struck by lightning, bitten by a snake, dying in a plane crash, eaten by a shark, or even killed in floods, or tornadoes. Yet we are far more concerned about these other dangers. Why? Because, not only don't we know about the meteor risk, but we do not have any control over them, or so we imagine.
These things are called NEOs. (Near Earth Objects.) Only the big ones attract much attention, but people forget about what can happen if even a small one hits the right area. Even without it doing any direct damage, the indirect damage can last for many years. Just look at that silly Kaaba stone, which continues to stir up millions of militant Muslims in Mecca!
The late Stephen J. Gould, while accepting the evidence for NEO impacts, thought it was distressing to the human psyche for people to consider that outer space might be responsible for major events in earth history. Liberals and conservatives alike cling tenaciously to the idea that man is responsible for his problems, and that the solution therefore must lie in getting power and making men behave properly. Even our beloved Thomas Jefferson stated (when told that a meteorite had crashed into an area of New England):
I would more easily believe that two Yankee professors would lie, than that stones would fall from heaven.
Is this stuff more important than hegemonic differences between Philadelphia versus New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, or East versus West Coasts? Common sense would suggest that there is an awful lot of stuff out there which might easily crash into our planet. An asteroid (1994 XM) recently whizzed past within 104,000 kilometers of earth! My cars have more mileage on them than that, so we aren't talking light years here; we are talking driving distance.
Justin Case dragged me up into the Berkeley hills for a star-gazing venture. University employees had set up high power reflecting telescopes for the public to use, and I looked at a number of planets. Most fascinating was the moon, which was so bright that it hurt my eyes. What did I see? A bunch of craters. It doesn't take much imagination to extrapolate from this visible data.
You don't even need to be a rocket scientist.
Still, people are not likely to get terribly excited about any of this, because they are much busier hating each other over things like the weather. If you think about it, though, it makes a lot of sense to hate people who don't have to experience your own misery. Thus, we hate people who have nice weather while we suffer, who pay no taxes while we shell out huge portions of our income and live in fear of an IRS audit, or who vacation in Bali with a "significant other" while we struggle to buy clothes for the kids.
When collective misery intervenes, people are temporarily distracted from blaming each other, until a scapegoat can be found. Cataclysmic events -- even if naturally occurring -- traditionally invite scapegoating. Things must be made someone's fault, whether directly (global warming, pollution, stupidity, failure to take action, or simple greed) or indirectly (man pissed off God and was punished).
The former explanation can be found in conventional media. The latter is in most of the religious texts. Both explanations fill a similar need. Not a natural human need, so much as a need (by the purveyors of the explanations) to control.
That's too bad, because there are a lot of people who might enjoy knowing that some things are beyond anyone's control.
And not anyone's fault.
posted by Eric on 08.17.03 at 03:27 PM
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