Four Facets of Forty (FFfF)
by Vinay Gupta • January 18, 2012 • Everything Else • 7 Comments
I think only somebody like me could decide to have a mid-life crisis. I’m good at crisis. I decided to have one of my own.
My life is, by any standards, a fucking mess. I finally found an image which really does it justice: I’m a chisel. A very hard, very flat chunk of grey metal that’s hammered into stone.
Facet One – my health
I got pneumonia in Colorado when I was about 30. Up until that point I’d been rock solid for about ten years. Haven’t been right since, and I haven’t fixed it. I’ve gotten slowly fatter and lost more lung capacity with each year, and taking the time out to make repairs has just never been a priority.
Think about that. Six months off, regular tai chi, maybe some acupuncture and odds-are that my body would reset the congestion in my lungs. It’s been ten years, and I haven’t got to it. I’ve made time for a withering look at every major planetary crisis we have, although I’m a little light on nanotechnology and geoengineering (fortunately that’s what Cascio is for dealing with, thank god) but otherwise, deep global coverage. And I’ve put off resting and taking care of myself for a decade.
That has to stop. I have to stop using food as a buffer for stress* and start actually doing the things I know how to do to take better care of myself.
This is going to mean shedding responsibilities and, occasionally, letting people drown because I’m too tired to catch them.
I’ve been Mr. Reliable for too long. New approach needed. One which prioritises sleep over saving the world sometimes.
* for stress read existential horror
Facet Two – beauty
I was never exactly good looking. I saw some pictures of me from around 25 recently, and the thought did occur to me that I’d been better looking than I remembered – and it was a long, long time ago. But that’s an aside.
What I really wanted to talk about was beauty.
At least two of the women I’ve loved and been loved by were beautiful in the most powerful way. I miss them. What I miss is not the simple sculptural quality of looking over at your girlfriend and thinking that god was having an on day when she was made, but something much more subtle.
Beautiful people care about themselves.
You don’t wind up without that kind of surface if you don’t care about it. It’s a constant attention to the body, to the emotions, to the environment, to good food, to rest, to many other things, that takes somebody who could be good looking, and turns them into somebody beautiful. It’s a practice, one might say an artistic one, and it’s something I do not do at all in any way. I occasionally dress appropriately, I play with images of myself and roles, but I don’t think I’ve invested five minutes in actually trying to look good in 10 years. And this is not simply about sexuality, but about an attitude to myself.
The thing about being beautiful is that it’s expensive and often very, very fragile. Hot is durable, beautiful is fragile, people in the worse conditions can manage hot. But beautiful, in the sense I mean it, is spacious. It goes away under pressure. Only the very, very best can maintain it without the underlying blowtorch heat, but it’s not sexuality.
It’s giving a damn, for years, about how you live in your body, and how your body signals the person you are to the world.
I let my ideas and my work do the talking, as is appropriate for a man of my kind. But, actually, to do the things I had to do, to become the person I had to be, I treated my body as a locus of action for my will, not an end-in-itself.
When I was very young, about 20, I fell under the influence of a famous curator Jasia Reichardt who suggested, with some seriousness, that I become an artist. I had a knack for form in computer graphics, and at the time, the early 1990s, people like William Latham were making serious strides.
But I was much, much better at technology, and it became the path not taken. I consistently wrote poetry occasionally for about 10 years, painted consistently for two or three, eventually getting about as good as a mildly talented 11 year old (but with a certain outsider ferocity) and just gradually, quietly stopped creating. I don’t think I’ve made a thing that was beautiful, rather than simply useful, in most of ten years.
I was shocked when I realised that. I’ve become a caricature of my younger self, not it’s expression. The useful bits of me have grown out of all proportion to my other potentialities, because the world needed me to be useful, and I did it the world’s way albeit exclusively on my own terms.
But in the final analysis, I made the same mistake as my old friend Brian. I became a human doing.
It’s too late to spend my thirties getting married and having kids. It’s too late to lose these capabilities and to not know what I know about the world. It’s too late to be a nicer human being. I’ve meddled in the affairs of gods, demons and kings for too long, and you can’t get the edge of the underworld out of my biography. I’ve spent too much time around death, as a bulwark of life. The price of being a bulwark is looking like a bulwark.
But I can make some time for beauty, and to create again.
Facet three – war
I recently said something new about war. The greatly esteemed Kevin Carson collected a series of statements and conversations from twitter, making an essay of a rather turbulent late night thinking session.
I’m grateful to Kevin for doing that, it might have slipped by without him. So what I said, roughly, is this:
- Government in democracies centralises authority in the elected officials representing the Will of the People, but this explicit centralisation of legitimacy is threatened by decentralisation.
- Network-centric war has a simple goal: a total comprehension of a transparent battlespace. To be efficient with such transparency, a hierarchy has to add more value than following the guidance of a chain of command costs in communications and centralization errors.
- In all probability, such hierarchies cannot add more strategic value than they subtract in network errors, which also kills democratic oversight of effective wars, by dismantling the the centralization of legitimacy.
To this we add a sub-argument from John Boyd, that to think clearly about war requires one to have an absolutely solid personal moral foundation for one’s fight. If we do not know that what we are doing is right, the analysis required for clear strategy also leads us to the conclusion that we are heedless murderers or simple evil, and what we know about human cognitive biases is clear. People will not ever come to the conclusion they are the Baddies if they can avoid it.
In short: you can have an accountable military, or an effective one. Groups like the IRA were never accountable to the populations they said they represented. That problem’s only going to get worse, and (for example) Special Forces in the US is in some ways being used as an answer to the costs of democratic centralization. But when one adds a “moral war” layer to this, the situation worsens dramatically: those who are convinced they are right and therefore require no oversight may also have clarity of mind based on moral certitude, while those who see shades of grey in their mandate may fog their thinking around the moral issues, and thereby lose clarity in strategy.
This is, as far as I am aware, new thinking about the interface between new military technology and democratic governance, although it applies old principles in thinking about war. It’s likely I’m retreading areas visited by some policy paper from 1985 – there’s always somebody but it’s dropped out of the debate as far as I can see. The precise dynamics of centralization and accountability in a netwar environment are going to be huge issues in the next year or two too: see Anonymous.
So back to the chisel: I’m good at this stuff. Somebody has to be good at it, and I am. I’ve made substantial contributions to thinking about security issues in several areas, and always towards safeguarding human rights. I can’t quit this responsibly, I just have to manage it.
Consider then, James Jesus Angleton.
Angleton was a true aesthete. He edited a poetry magazine that he himself hand-delivered to subscribers at all hours of the night.
He also ran counter-intelligence for the CIA and, according to Robert Anton Wilson, had President John F. Kennedy killed because he had earlier worked for the Soviet Union.
That, of course, is pure conspiracy theory, but it might explain his happy-old-man demeanour, while at the same time being written up in the history books as a miserable failure. Did Angleton have the last laugh?
Anyway, if Angleton can manage to go from a foppish fan of Ezra Pound to the man who killed the king and die with a smile on his face I’m sure I can square carrying tiny my share of the world’s troubles and keep my head together for the next few years.
The big new projects. Pirate Party Defence Policy Working Group which does what it says on the tin.
Edgeryders is a Council of Europe funded project on European social stability and options for young people who can’t enter society by getting a shiny new job and following their parents because they’re on about half the money our parents had. Now compare that to the seminal Framing the Collapsonomics Practice – we’ve “crossed the chasm” from being out in the woods, talking about the far future to working hand-in-glove with European-level government actors.
TRUTH AND BEAUTY (and don’t forget our video archive builds on the base established by Tea in the Park, an activity we did a couple of years ago where we had a picnic every Sunday for eight months or so, without ever putting up a web site. We just met, week after week, drank tea and got to know each-other. It meant spending a lot of time outside, too, getting familiar with a whole different perspective on London – as folks who were independent from the cafes and stores, with our own music and our newspapers and our thermos flasks, watching the spending world go by.
Truth and Beauty builds on that implicit base of “it’s almost like doing nothing, except that you get to know people really, really well.”
Time. We’re all too busy. We don’t really know even in our closest friends in the way that people who live in villages know their entire community. I got very used to seeing the same faces every few days when I lived in Cloughjordan and the work they’d done on community development there really paid off in huge ways in terms of quality of life and happy people.
So the next phase of TRUTH and BEAUTY is to bring back the Sunday Brunch, much along the lines of Tea in the Park, but this time with added… indoorness. I suspect if the weather’s nice we’ll wind up in St. James Park just round the corner a lot of the time, but we’ve got many months before warm summer evenings arrive so, until picnic season, Hub on Sunday afternoons.
First one will be this Sunday, and it’ll be a general get-to-know-you and thinking together on what we’d like to do with our Sunday Brunches at the Hub.
See you on Sunday! Shall we say, aspirationally, 11AM onwards?
PS: Truth and Beauty on Tuesday 24th will be Dash May (who badly needs to send me blurb!) talking about his artistic practice, including a lot of work on biological systems, and why the Axolotl (regenerating newt-like thing) is such a fascinating beastie.
PPS: I have decided to spend a chunk of this year learning to take pictures, and I promise-promise-promise not to just turn it into functionalist documentation of work. Promise.
David Bovill of Liquid Law
PPS: the point was that, at heart, nothing is wasted. It all comes around again.
Yes, you do that – look after yourself! daily tai chi, good food, find an acupuncturist and I’m happy to give or trade you a few breathwork sessions if that
Like you, I’ve seen 40 come. “Gotten slowly fatter” is a concept-trigger in my mind for a neolithic diet. Chances are, yes, the food is making you sicker, but not because you’re eating too much of it, but you’re eating the wrong food. The 80% problem comes from perpetual daily stress on the blood-glucose-insulin system from simple carbohydrates (grains and sugars) and a widespread belief that a “low-fat” diet is good for you. [If you have enough fat in your diet, you don't need the simple carbohydrates for energy anymore and you won't feel insanely hungry every 2-3 hours.] There are many government and non-governmental “authorities” complicit in promoting these neolithic ideas [farm bill subsidies for corn, wheat exports, rice etc.] The agricultural revolution in itself has painted us into the corner with 7-billion people on a hotter planet, many getting sick–all from their diet, year-over-year.
Please look up /paleolithic diets/ and compare them with what you’ve been doing all your life. Fueling the body with the wrong food is just an insidious slow death.
Wow, thanks for sharing this Vinay, especially the first two facets. What this post is sculpting in partnership with my subconscious has not yet coalesced into anything I can put into words. So just thanks.
While I agree with part of the sentiment about villages, I think it’s easy to romanticise these things. I know plenty of people in what pass for villages in England who have bugger all idea who else lives near them – I think you’re describing a vilage living community that is atypical for the developed world in the 21st century.
I’ve got a shitload of Boyd’s lectures downloaded in pdf form, and I need to start digging into them ASAP. About all I know of him is the OODA loop, as refracted through John Robb’s writing (although that’s a hell of a useful tool, as is).
Hey Vinay,don’t have a crisis. Just integrate. Macro and micro can be one cosmos. Beauty, as you imply, is not just skin deep. Connecting your global thinking with your moment-by-moment action is what’s really helpful and beautiful. For that you have to treat your own body as part of the system under scrutiny.
But you don’t need advice. I’m grateful for your honesty. Sorry I haven’t been at the Hub more lately. Wish I could be a better friend. In my absence I’m sending warm wishes your way.
Read the Long Telegram, George Kennan’s outline of what became the Policy of Containment, where the US contained the USSR and attempted to stop the spread of communism, rather than attempting to defeat and destroy them for *forty years.*
The US military predictive model was that inefficiencies inherent in a command economy would destroy Communism, and they *waited for forty years* for it to happen.
The patience and humanity of this strategy – indeed its *wisdom* – cannot be overstated.
This is what men like us did in the 1950s, Kevin.