When I was eleven years old I was taken to the hospital for an elective appendectomy. It was my introduction to the American healthcare system.
Last week I filed my 2019 income tax forms, paying times what Trump paid in 2017, thus interacting yet again with our tax system.
Between these two events many decades of living have intervened. Inevitably my involvement with these systems will terminate with death.
Such thoughts give pause—or a rear-end kick—now that a global contagion rages on, climate damage is threatening to result in massive animal and plant die-out, politics appear to be leaning so far right that bizarre, paranoid conspiracy theories and science disbelief are seizing population sectors, human inequalities seem to be increasing, the Amazon rainforest, our carbon dioxide world control center, is being desecrated, international contentions and small wars rage on……it’s a disquieting time. Millions are now living in lockdown and warding off fears—about sickness and economic disaster— with televideo binge-watching and social media and digital converse. Yet they, we, are still isolated or actually alone.
“…science, too, as a narrative form”
The human brain evolved over many thousands of years primed for expansive and formidable adaptation. Creativity and the search for novelty has pushed us through barriers that are physical, social and even psychological. But we are burdened and limited by the things we cannot narrative. Being fundamentally narrative beings, animals that can not think or dream or imagine without enclosing all that in explanations or stories or theorems or even mathematical formulas that codify narratives. Science rescued us from levels of ignorance and mythologizing that would have held us back, even as we seek explanations and thrust forward leading with our craving for novelty and our inherent creativity. But science, too, as a narrative form. Even our ever-expanding knowledge of the universe is delivered as a narrative, from the first book of the Bible and farther back to the ancient Greeks and farthest back. But where is our narrative brain, our great evolutionary prize, leading us?
When I was given ether as the anesthetic for my appendectomy at age eleven, I woke in a torrent of terrifying hallucinations, like a dream that was more real than any nightmare. I was spinning in a centrifugal whorl, being pulled and stretched further and further as I spun in what seemed like endless space. As the spin increased its speed the tearing and stretching, like some medieval torture, became increasingly painful and frightening. I awoke screaming and thrashing like a wild animal chained. That experience has never left me. Probably induced by the neuropsychological effect of ether, that hallucination ensured my belief in the creative potential of the human mind as well as the narrative impulse that shapes all experience.
Which takes me back to the present. Poised what seems like a very steep precipice, America could topple into the kind of ruthlessly manipulated, re-narratized, information bounded and controlled form of governance that almost every country has, at one time or another, immersed inself in.
Which takes me back to death and taxes. Is the drive to massive disorder that seems now threatening, inevitable.? Does Rome have to fall again and again? Is a new dark age due to befall us, we who brought it on?
Give ourselves a break. Do us all some good.