The End of Modern

This blog/website is a gift my wife gave me for Christmas 2016.  This is my first attempt at a blog post.  It may turn out that I have no talent for this as I have learned over the course of this year that there are a number of things I always assumed I was good at that I have no talent for.  If so, over time it will just fade away.  Now I am using it as a substitute for my journals.  I have been persistently, if not obsessively, journalling  since before I left my small college in Maine in 1978.  I may quote from those journals from time to time in these posts.  Strangely, this process seems to be a deconstruction of my own life. That can lead to an unfocused exploration, but the act of writing down that examination provides at least some editorialization which can help focus those thoughts.  I am starting this blog with no desire but to use it for the purpose of clarifying my own thoughts.  In itself that may lead to what reads as a pulp novel and may garner some attention, but I am not yet trying to find a way to make a living from this hobby.

I’ve worked in the San Francisco market as a statistical programmer for about 30 years. Once I was at the San Francisco Examiner building  on Fifth and Mission to purchase an historical copy of the Chronicle.  As I entered the building I immediately thought of how Herb Caen would go to work each weekday in that building and managed to make a celebrated life by generating nothing more than his daily musings about life.  I longed to have lived that life.  In those days it was possible to get a sponsor to bankroll you to do that.  There were many such columnists around the country; Art Buchwald in DC, Mike Royko in Chicago,… In the newspaper business, being awarded a column like that was a great honor.  But, of course, it is an honor that is bestowed after years of service, dedication and diligence to the newspaper industry, years I never spent.  So here I am buying that honor with money earned from years programming for companies fighting to hold market share against each other.  That’s the problem with markets; nobody wins unless somebody else loses.  The point is; if there is no interest in this blog it will come to an end.  But it is amazing how cheap it is to start.  For about $100 I have the domain and three years of access to it.  I’m pretty sure being Herb Caen’s sugar daddy cost the Chron a lot more.

I want these posts to be about the broadest ideas that pass through my head.  I think they will gravitate towards preventative medicine and Public Health policy because those are the topics to which  I am most drawn.  My dad died when he was 54.  I am turning 60 next month and I am still able to jog several miles and recover quickly. I spend a lot of time wondering why that is.  On the brightest days I resolve to continue my dedication to the  Plant Based Whole Food lifestyle that I believe has sustained me.  On the darker days I feel he was the luckier of us.

I’m afraid my broadest idea is on the darker side.  Anyone who has been peripherally associated with computers is aware of an event that is called the, “Singularity.”  It’s a term stolen from science fiction that postulates the time at which computers will have as much functional power as the human brain, and it is estimated to occur in 2030 and is sometimes thought of as apocryphal.  Movies have dealt with the theme from Blade Runner to Her to Ex Machina.  These speculate what the world will be like when machines attain some level of consciousness, and, in some sense they also deal with what happens to humanity as a result.  My life spans a good deal of the twentieth century.  It was a century that was generally concerned with Modernism and the modernist movement.  That movement began with James Joyce.  The last play I acted in was a production of Our Town at Colby.  Thornton Wilder’s plays are also analyses on modernism.  The Skin of Our Teeth was once accused of being a wholesale theft of Finnegan’s Wake.  After reading Wilder’s  preface to Our Town, I developed the idea that modernism was concerned reconciling the singular experience of life  with the universal aspect.  he put it like this:

Every action which has ever taken place – every thought, every emotion- has taken place only once, at one moment in time and place.  “I love you,” “I rejoice,” “I suffer,” have been said and felt many billions of times, and never twice the same.  Every person who ever lived has lived an unbroken succession of unique occasions.”

And it’s that paradox that most modern art has tried to address and reconcile.  In the late twentieth century a rejection of the idea of universal concepts began.  All life geared towards putting the singular aspects of the individual in perspective.  Suddenly it was not possible to separate a person’s thoughts and actions from the experiences and history that precipitated them.   This was a new way of looking at humanity.  If we could be reduced to a series of responses to stimuli, then we were really very little more than very complex biochemical machines.  When I was back at Colby there were discussions in the dorm rooms at night about whether man was just an animal or if there was something extraordinary about him.  The implication was that the human species had been touched by some entity like a god that set it on its course to do remarkable things.  Today the discussion seems to be whether man is an animal or just a complicated machine.  The modernists would argue that the noblest actions would try to reconcile those opposing viewpoints.  I’m afraid there may be no modernists left.  I’m pretty sure there will be some space dedicated to that paradox if and when this blog continues.

Mark Covello
Monday, December 12, 2016
Pacifica, California

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