"We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another, unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made of layers, cells, constellations." - Anais Nin
(A tip o' the hat to Emma Alvarez Gibson for this one)
by Damien Williams, a follow-up to Life in the so-called space age
Come close and I'll tell you a secret.
The Breaking Time is really just the continual state of the post-Lapsarian condition. Everything we are and everything we do is a result of the Fall of Man, and that Fall makes itself evident in everything we ourselves create. All decay, all rot, all moral failures and lawlessness, all attempts by mad to trespass into God's domain with works like artificial intelligence, artificial life, and genetic manipulation are just the side-effects of humanity's experience and expression of evil; today is God's Judgment.
This is what I would tell you if I were a fundamentalist Christian-- that we are all sinful in some basic fashion (because of some basic action), and that nature has infected everything we do. But I'm not a fundamentalist Christian, so let's try something else.
The Breaking Time is just the precursor to the coming of the Messiah, and the fulfilling of YHVH's ultimate covenant with Man. We must strive through, as best we can but also spur on progress toward the time when this Messiah will make itself known. As such, we tolerate lawlessness, immorality, and decay, as we know that it will bring us closer to the time of Messianic Fruition.
No? Okay, how about this:
That which we call "evil" is really just the effect of the workings of evolutionary biological processes, selfishness, procreative need, tribalism, and the insular nature of the preferred size of human social groups. The only thing that exists which can rightly be called "evil" are those forces of ignorance which lead us away from inquiry and scientific understanding, and those forces must, indeed, be stamped out and shown as false, broken, harmful, and dangerous, at all costs. Only then will the true nature of the universe be able to be known, free of antiquated moralising and repression.
What about this: The return of Maitreya has meant that there will be a world-wide awakening of consciousness, and His work must be helped along by those willing to make the world over in fire, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to survive these end times.
It's 1979, and the Southern Baptist Convention isn't that terribly different from most mainstream Christian denominations: since the '50s, it's become increasingly liberal, embracing modern scholarship and social stances while moving away from Biblical inerrancy.
That summer, in Houston, everything changes. Fundamentalists, angered by what they see as repeated betrayals of the church's founding principles, bus in supporters. Instead of a genteel administrative process, they've treated the SBC apparatus the way a political machine does; organizing relentlessly with an eye to seizing as much power as possible.
It works. The moderates and liberals are routed in an "orchestration from the sky boxes." With their victory, the fundamentalists gain access to thousands of churches to spread their views, along with control over universities, media, built-in loyalty and a budget to use for whatever else they want to do. The SBC has remained conservative to this day, and the 1979 takeover played a major role in making the religious right-wing a political force. With the SBC in their grasp, fundamentalists had a foundation to back the efforts of previously scattered fringe groups.
It's 1896, and the Democratic Party is largely a conservative organization, dominated by the "Bourbon" wing and Southern aristocrats; there hasn't really been a major liberal faction of the party since the 1830s. President Grover Cleveland is such a perfect Gilded Age fat cat that Ayn Rand will later swoon over him.
But things are changing. The Populists have made gains throughout the Midwest, including voting friendlier Democrats into office on fusion tickets. While much of the rest of the party is divided, a young congressman, William Jennings Bryan, spends the year-and-a-half leading up to the convention getting to know the delegates and leading the populists to control the endless ground-level meetings that the party's elite assume will turn out in their favor. Instead, Bryan and his allies aimed, in his blunt words, to "organize and take charge of and control the policy" of the party. That summer, hundreds of new delegates pour into Chicago. "They are assembled now," Bryan thundered. "Not to discuss, not to debate, but to enter up the judgment rendered by the plain people of this country."
He rallies them with a hell of a speech and the left wing takes control of the Democratic institutions. The Dems don't take the presidency, but the populists still remake a major political party. While its power has waxed and waned, since 1896 the Democrats have always had to deal with a progressive faction in their midst. The Bourbons were furious — they considered the populists an illness — but the virus had already taken hold.
An institution is, at heart, just a name and a structure attached to resources. That's it, and it means that determined groups of people can infect them until they turn into something very different.
Coilhouse commanders Nadya Lev and Meredith Yayanos. Image by Star St. Germain.
Last Wednesday, Coilhouse, "a love letter to alternative culture" magazine and blog near to my heart, announced an indefinite hiatus. Nadya Lev and Meredith Yayanos have both been struggling with health issues and "in its current form, Coilhouse is not financially solvent."
Yeah, I teared up.
For five years the Coilhouse crew produced one of the most beautiful, unique creations to grace the ever-evolving media landscape. If you're interested in alternative culture or simply love good writing, check out some of their greatest hits. There's a few of my pieces in there, along with a lot of incredible writers grappling just about every subject under the sun. Their amazing print issues are also available as free pdfs.
My final piece, a personal take on alt culture's relentless spirit ended up being the last before their farewell, something for which I'm honored beyond words.
Coilhouse gave me a chance when I'd not had much published outside of local reporting. They were willing to say things like "hell yeah we'll give you a column on deviant sci-fi!" which, believe me, is not something a writer hears very often. They pushed me hard, with honesty and respect, to expand my perspective while improving my craft. I was far from the only one.
Thank you, Nadya, Mer, and everyone else involved. You've already made the world a better place. I thank Coilhouse for how it's helped all of us who came in contact with it, and I look forward to its revival.
The other evening, I was visiting my friend David Gray (who designed our logo) and we stumbled upon one of those terrible documentaries on the Pyramids that channels ostensibly devoted to learning regularly churn out.
Inevitably, these documentaries bribe a good actor to lend their authoritative voice to narrating a torrent of pseudoscience, coincidence and insinuated bullshit that basically boils down to "humans with such simple tools couldn't possibly have built such wonders! It must be aliens!"
I've always found these documentaries particularly loathsome because of how badly they underrate human capability. At their heart is the same insulting assumption as the "nobles must have written Shakespeare" tripe: poor or primitive people can't possibly create amazing things.
David, who expected a more historical look at the topic, grumbled and turned it off. Within minutes, he found this:
That's Kelvin Doe, a 15-year-old from Sierra Leone who's built his own batteries and transmitters from pieces he salvaged from the trash. He's even founded his own damn radio station.
Awed, we watched for a while, before David finally spoke.
"And that," he said. "is why we can build the f'ing pyramids."
Taking the week off so a batch of important pieces don't get lost in the holiday rush, so I can relax a bit, and to make the vats of secret recipe mac n' cheese that my friends are completely addicted to politely ask for every Thanksgiving. Here's some Charlie Brown and crew from back in the '70s to tide you over until we get back to dissecting the future.
A meditation on bursting bubbles, from Alice Lyons:
Now things get interesting — and complicated. An excellent map by Chris Howard
Longtime readers will know of my absolute loathing for the surprisingly enduring Red State/Blue State meme. It's a dangerously simplistic way of looking at what's a much more varied body politic.
Enter this map from Chris Howard, which not only divides votes in the last election by county and shades them on a spectrum of red and blue to represent margin of victory, but also shades denser counties darker, showing clusters of support. It's one of the best representations of the actual political divides out there, especially the urban/rural divide.
There's been a lot of talk over the role of urban voters in securing Obama's re-election. Emily Badger, writing for The Atlantic Cities site, posits that the same density shown on the map "requires a different kind of politics."
Perhaps, but it's worth noting here that one of the biggest on-the-ground political fights in cities, especially ostensibly leftists strongholds, is over density itself.
From the Bay Area to D.C., the battles continue, especially as plenty of planners diagnose a multitude of restrictions on density as a major reason why many desirable urban areas have costs-of-living that make it difficult for the working class to scrape by.
There's an error in thinking of political idelogies as running neatly along a spectrum. They're more like galaxies, with diverse systems of thought coalescing around a common core, especially when a bigger enemy is around. Populations that may vote the same way in national elections regularly engage in brutal fights over whether tall buildings are allowed in their neck of the woods.
In this case, density advocates place a higher priority on the need for more affordable housing and a form of infrastructure they see as more sustainable, while seeing communities as flexible entities that can accommodate changing populations. They tend to place more trust in numbers and urban planning types to shape future growth.
Neighborhood activists, meanwhile, see established local character and the ability to veto developments that might change it as more important than increasing the housing stock, perceiving community identity as more fragile than their opponents. They tend to trust local activists and small "d" democracy over planners and studies.
This fight can get extremely nasty once disagreements about centralization, visceral feelings of territory and class divides enter the mix.
Back in 2010, I wrote at length about Asheville's version of this struggle, and the pattern repeats itself in other liberal havens too. Ostensibly, the progressives on either side value both affordable housing and neighborhood character.
But in reality cities can have large amounts of new development of the type density advocates want or they can have every new building finely tuned to fit in with the existing neighborhood. They can not have both, so this fight rages on.
If the aftermath of 2012's political battles shows a growing urban electorate shaped by the perspective of density, and if shifting political realignments put those voters up for grabs, expect this war to gain national prominence.
If we're all done shaking off our election day hangovers, here's David Ferry with some wisdom: