"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, September 12, 2020

My father's blind date with Leonard Cohen's Sister

his was not as a young man; my parents were married when they immigrated to Canada. It was shortly after my mother's passing, which would have been 1990 or '91.

The date must have been arranged through some network of Jewish widows and widowers in Montreal.
My father was an arrogant self-absorbed person at the best of times, his main charm being as a raconteur. He had a repertoire of stories and jokes, but a hard shell beyond that point and an astonishingly complete lack of human empathy. As he got older, he lost the knack of being a good center of attention without picking up any skill at paying attention to others. So I'm not surprised there was no second date.
I found out about it because my father asked me if I had "ever heard of this Leonard Cohen", which shows how well he knew me. I had collections of his poetry from when they were small runs on a marginal press in Montreal. He's been a huge influence on me all my life. I allowed as I had heard of him.
When my father found out Esther was related to someone famous that he had never heard of, he was eager to meet the fellow, but Esther said "well, he's a very private person" or something to that effect.
A few years later, on a pilgrimage to City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, I picked up a recent volume of Leonard's and chanced to mention my father's blind date to the dude at the cash. He said "wow, so Leonard Cohen could have been your uncle!"
It was a confusing observation, but I'm good with it. Leonard Cohen is my contingent imaginary uncle. I feel even closer to him now. But just the same I'm glad the poems about my father never got written.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

What I want to know

Some crackpot opinions if you'll bear with me.
A tea bowl from the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, 16th century, repaired using the kintsugi technique, which involves gold powder. DADEROT/WIKIMEDIA/PUBLIC DOMAIN ===
Basically, pure capitalism and pure communism are well-nigh indistinguishable - both can work pretty well with responsible people in power, but not otherwise. Vast systems with complex hierarchies and powerful leaders emerge in both. Bureaucracies thrive. The differences become more symbolic than substantive. Pure capitalism and pure communism are similar not only in their result but in their deontological prespective. They start with a set of principles, and emerge with a set of rules, rules which they firmly believe to be in the best interests of humanity. But here's the problem: it's all too easy in these rule-based systems for power to be captured by irresponsible people, at which point all hell breaks loose. In practice are also fundamentally agreed in their belief that the fundamental question of human governance is economic. They simply come to diametrically opposed positions on the question of "property". Now, many would be in accord with me when I say that the truth must lie somewhere between "everything should be property" and "nothing should be property". But it seems a bit surprising and radical nowadays to say that it's the wrong question. I'm not sure many would agree with me on that score. But hear me out. I suggest that the fundamental question of human governance is not economic at all, though. It is ethical. Are the people with the most influence good people, or are they selfish fools? After all history isn't written by the rule set, it is written by the people who are most adept at influencing the system that results from those rules. "Left vs right" is simply a distraction from "right vs wrong". The answer to the ethical question, in a given polity, seems almost perfectly orthogonal to the question of economic organization or political tribe. There are "good kings" and "bad kings". Good mandarins and bad. Good commissars and bad. Good billionaires and bad. Good presidents and bad. "In what system by what means did you get to power?" Perhaps it doesn't matter. History cares whether you and those around you had empathy for the world around you after you achieved it, or not.
But also, perhaps making systems *too* rule based leaves too many opportunities for sociopaths to find loopholes. I mean, there are just some things we shouldn't put up with, whether the rules successfully accounted for them or not. ===
"Whoa, whoa, what I want to know, is are you kind?" - Robert C Hunter