Feb. 10th, 2016

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I took some time the other day to not look at any screens. It's a little unsettling how rarely I'm alone with just thoughts anymore - so I tried it out to see if I can think anything good.

So here is the tree and the fence. The tree comes from a seed, a seed has all the material it needs to replicate the parent organisms to create another tree - fashioning water air and soil into a big substantial object. Well - not so much an object. Another organism. The seed recapitulates the tree ad infinitum - or as close to the infinite as we can proximately approach. The tree doesn't have a purpose, it's just alive, and living things don't have purpose, they replicate themselves for as long as they can, approaching the infinite.

There's the fence though. The fence is wood, it's made of trees, possibly many, maybe even trees from far thrown parts of the world. It's entirely possible that the component trees of the fence have come from lots of different states or even continents. It's possible. The fence is wood and represents a kind of end-point of the tree. The tree starts as a seed, it may grow to a tree & assuming it does, it may exist as a tree for hundreds of years, and then it might be turned into something else - a fence. The fence will stand for maybe a dozen years - maybe fifty years, but it will be a fence for as long as it can be said to be anything at all. The fence doesn't replicate itself, it's a dead end. It's dead - inert and doesn't have any direction beyond this, its final state.

And I thought about this - and how we look at the fence and the tree and say the former isn't natural, the tree is natural, the fence isn't. Nature is everything that wasn't made - I've heard that definition before, but it always seems blithe - a bit foolish. People are natural and we made the thing! Why is that unnatural. But go back and go back to prehistory and recall that people existed for a long time without material culture. Material culture - of which our culture is a part & a descendant - it's full of these dead ends - things with a narrow purpose that become obsolete before they become anything else.

So I realized then that material culture is made up of these hacks. Hack the tree & make a fence, it's a workaround and a handy mechanic, but it leads to these dead ends, these single use items & really, all of civilization is made up of hacks - tricks to get around extant constraints. And the compounding of these workarounds creates more and greater dependence, not just on the hack itself but on all the mitigating bug-fixes that surround the initial work around. We figure out how to grow the plants we want and make reliable food all the time - and then there's a contingency of too many people, so we figure out how to make use of excess people by creating public works, and then we figure out how to plan out those works and on and on - the compounding complexity based on this one quick-fix solution from long ago.

I suppose catastrophes and revolutions are sort of predicated on this scaffolding having feet of clay - if there's a disruption in food, then the surplus of people become a real problem - they might go to banditry or become invaders or refugees. In a few cases some piece of material culture has multiple uses - can be hacked and hacked again. Grain, I think is a big one - alchohol. You can make so much from cereal crops but probably the most important thing is beer. Not just because I sure like beer, but because it can be stored and won't go bad or else, not as quick as bread - and then it's purer than the water you're likely to find, less diseased. It's pretty important that there's beer - it's the unsung sine-qua-non of all civilization and I think about that for a minute, and digress into weirdness - wondering if the uniqueness of beer, of alcohol & it's effects on people - if there's no analogous circumstance, say on another planet? To me that's the solution of fermi's paradox. But right, that's a silly aside.

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