Looking Backward

Steve’s feet sunk only slightly into the wet sand, just enough to feel it between his toes. Only the sound of the breaking waves interrupted the eerie silence. Not even a seagull graced the shoreline to provide a sign of life on the empty beach. As Steve pondered on the unusual emptiness, the shock of icy water hitting his feet jolted him out of his thoughts. He suppressed his reaction and continued walking, allowing the periodic flows to come and go over his steps, as if the ocean were breathing over them. It tempered the feeling of solitude, but only for a moment.

A set of footprints. Someone else had been on the beach. In the wet sand. Recently, since the tide had gone out. They extended southward, away from the houses and other signs of civilization. Nothing beside the single set of footprints. The lone and smooth sands stretched out as far as eye could see in both directions.

“There are no return steps,” Steve muttered to himself, “whoever was out here must still be on the beach.”

He took a step forward, almost involuntarily. A strange feeling compelled him to follow the footprints. Like the sound of the waves breaking and the crash of water against his ankles, the footprints failed to hinder the feeling of solitude. Step by step he followed them as the sun sank toward the horizon and the water shifted imperceptibly inward as the tide began to roll in.

Steve walked, lost not in thought, but in a strange thoughtlessness. Perceiving, not pondering. He was acutely aware of the water and the sand, the shifting tone of the sky as dusk approached, the houses no longer visible in the distance behind him. The angry sun beat down heavily on the sole trespasser in the void over which it ruled, as if bitter over its own impending disappearance at the rapidly approaching end of the day. Steve perceived but didn’t react. In his awareness without thought, he continued after the footprints, step by step.

He walked. He felt the sand between his toes. He felt the water washed away. He felt the non-presence of the mysterious person whom he compulsively followed, but who didn’t seem to exist.

The footprints shifted slightly inward, away from the water and away from the incoming tide. The mysterious being couldn’t be far ahead, but Steve still could not see him.

The sun hit the horizon. The footprints made an abrupt turn. Steve turned toward the water. Against the wide sun melting into the sea stood a man among the waves. As the icy water hit Steve’s feet once again, the chill ran up his spine and into his chest. He tried to call out to the man, but the mysterious figure dove into a wave and disappeared, just as the last of the sun disappeared below the horizon in a green flash.

Steve stood motionless, frozen solid. He waited. The figure did not rise back out of the water. He waited. The sky turned a deep blue and Steve could make out the first stars. He turned to head back. The squawk of a seagull interrupted the silence as the bird flew past Steve. He glanced back for a moment and saw the silhouette of a black dog in the distance.

After the sickness

My dear grandchildren, it is time you learn what happened when people started disappearing. They didn’t vanish all at once, you know. They began to flicker and fade away over time, as if they were a radio signal from a departing ship. The signal is strong and clear at first, but over time becomes lost in the static. So many people slowly departed this universe, and perhaps reality altogether, in this manner.

Naturally it was a frightening experience, even for those of us who remained. Those who disappeared were driven utterly mad in their final days. You have to understand, even our doctors didn’t understand what was going on, and a number of them picked up the vanishing sickness, too. I know of nobody who was cured before completely disappearing. I have heard of it happening, but if the cases were anything more than rumors, they were extremely rare.

I mentioned that a number of doctors picked up the sickness. In general, it seemed that the professional class was afflicted much more than tradespeople or unskilled laborers. And among professionals, perhaps doctors and engineers were the least affected. Scientists, lawyers, bankers, managers, and even teachers disappeared in large numbers. Virtually no politicians remained. Although the sickness was much less common among the working class, even they didn’t come out of the crisis unscathed. I remember old Joe, a plumber who used to live down the street. He was an alcoholic who regularly beat his wife. He got sick and faded away fairly early on in the outbreak. People began to say that it was those who had lost touch with reality who got the sickness. Maybe there is some truth to that. Almost no children picked it up, and the few who did were those who spent their time on smartphones and tablets.

Politicians? Smartphones and tablets? Yes, I realize those are strange concepts these days. We haven’t had much use for them since the outbreak. Or rather, we have been afraid of them since then.

Before the outbreak, there was a thing called government. It was an organization of people who made “laws,” rules everyone had to follow, and people who enforced those laws by capturing and punishing anyone who broke them. A government was necessary back then, because there were some few people who would steal, kill or hurt others, trick others to get power over them, and do other bad things. You can imagine it only takes one such person to ruin the peace of a community, so a main purpose of government was to discourage people from doing those bad things.

Even among those who didn’t do bad things, back then very few people would help out their neighbor when he was sick or hungry. Government sometimes tried to help people in trouble, but not always.

We have done well without government since the outbreak, but you can see that it was necessary before because of the nature of people. I don’t know if people can live without government when they aren’t terrified of an existential threat. Since your generation didn’t live through the crisis, it might be difficult for you to maintain the peaceful way of life we established after it passed. You might need to establish a government again. So you need to be aware of its risks and problems.

You have a lot of power when you are the one who makes the rules or the one who enforces the rules. Those who were or wanted to be rulemakers were called politicians. We had a government here that was set up in hopes of attracting the best people to government as a public service. We thought this a good thing because we had seen terrible things from other types of government, in which one person or a few people ruled for their entire lives, and in which rulers obtained their positions by birth or violence. Nonetheless, even in our system, power was too attractive to scoundrels who looked out for their own interests before the people. They would make laws favoring their friends and hurting the poor. Another class of people, lobbyists, tried to influence the politicians in favor of certain people, businesses or movements. Political movements tried to influence politicians by stirring up people to anger, so that they would pressure politicians to adopt certain laws. Things got so bad, that, as I mentioned, virtually no politicians survived the outbreak. As far as I know, no lobbyists or activists in charge of political movements did, either.

You learned about computers in school, right? We don’t use them nearly as much as we used to. Tablets and smartphones were small computers that were very common before the outbreak. Smartphones were small enough to fit in your pocket. You could play games on them, take photographs, watch videos, and communicate with people around the world on a world-wide computer network called the internet. The internet held so much promise, but boy did it bring out the darker aspects of humanity! People were so cruel at times that they drove each other to suicide. So much time was spent on pornography—I know you don’t understand the term, but it was an all-around degrading thing—and other things to satisfy one’s greed, lust, and self-interest. A concept called social media was the worst of it. People would mislead their acquaintances about how good their lives were, creating a never-ending competition of consumption and bragging that was perhaps more mendacious than real, but had the real effect of driving so many people, especially young people, into depression and despair. Not only that, but governments and commercial enterprises used the internet, and especially smartphones and social media, to track and monitor everyone. They became experts at using the information they acquired to manipulate and control people, without those people even realizing it.

Yes, it was incredibly convenient. People no longer wrote letters, because they could send a quick message or perform a video chat. People no longer visited the local stores, because they could order anything online and have it delivered to them–sometimes within an hour or two. So it sucked us in, and we were trapped in a comfortable, pleasure-filled hell. And in hindsight, a hell it was.

Yet we exposed our children to it from infancy. Even as some psychologists and other prophetic voices cried out against the harm we were doing, we convinced ourselves that technology was the future, and that our children needed as much exposure to it as possible to prepare them to get ahead in the world. We convinced ourselves that we were doing the right thing, and that the fact that these toys kept our children entertained so we didn’t have to give them our attention was just an extra benefit. We would never admit we were just lazy and self-centered.

I mentioned that the few children who got the sickness were from among those who spent most of their waking hours with these devices. Many other children also suffered even after the sickness was gone. They had become dependent on the gadgets and were too young to understand why they were suddenly taken away. They are from your parents’ generation, by the way. Your mom and dad can probably tell you more.

I don’t mean to trouble you with my warnings, dear grandchildren. I just want to help you understand why things are the way they are. The traditions of our community are based on experience. They aren’t arbitrary. And the disease that made people disappear was one of the most terrible experiences that humanity has gone through. Nothing quite like it had ever happened before, so I can at least hope it never happens again, but it has influenced us. It changed us. For the better, I hope, even though my generation, and to some extent your parents’ generation, will always bear the scars. Even though I think we are better people now, the pain, the existential dread, the sorrow never goes away completely. It is a part of me and everyone else my age.

I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t change the traditions. Every generation does to some extent. Some generations go so far as to throw out their past and culture entirely. And some things need to be changed. We once had a tradition, long before I was born, that allowed people to buy and sell other people. A stubborn resistance to change required a lot of bloodshed before that tradition was taken away. So my advice is to be open to change when necessary, try not to make it so people have to die for good change to be brought about, but also be cautious about it. But I don’t know if my advice is good. Constant uncertainty is one of the long-term effects of having lived through the crisis.

Do what you want, then. You now understand why our traditional ways of doing things are the way they are, so you can make informed decisions. Hopefully they will be wise decisions. Either way, your grandmother and I will always love you. Nonjudgmentalism is another long-term effect of having lived through the crisis.

Objective reality

According to quantum mechanics, a particle is in multiple states, called a “superposition,” until an observation (e.g., a measurement of its position or momentum) is made, at which point its wave function “collapses,” reducing the particle to a single state. A couple of years ago, physicists performed an experiment that showed that an observer could collapse the wave function of a photon, yet a subsequent experimenter could find the photon in a state of superposition. A writer for MIT Technology Review reported on this experiment and concluded that it means “there’s no such thing as objective reality.”

One could instead interpret the results as meaning that science is inherently unreliable, something we have known for some time already.

La urbo kaj la montoj

Hodiaŭ estas bela, klara tago en San Diego. Tra la fenestro de mia oficejo mi vidas, unue, la urbon, kaj je longa distanco malantaŭ la urbo montojn. Ho, la montoj! Kvankam ili aspektas kiel ombroj en la distanco, ili ŝajnas pli realaj ol la urbo. Ekde ĉi tie ili ĉiuj aspektas preskaŭ same, sed mi konas ilin. Kelkaj staras nudaj, kiel grandaj teramasoj. Aliaj estas vestitaj per de ĉi tie nevideblaj pinoj. Tiuj lastaj baldaŭ kovros siajn kapojn per neĝĉapo. Jes, ili ĉiuj apektas same en la distanco, sed ĉiu el ili estas unika, samkiel ĉiu homo estas malsama ol ĉiu alia.

Male, ĉiu konstruaĵego de la urbo aspektas malsame, sed ili ĉiuj estas same artefaritaj, makuloj sur la tero. En ili ŝrumpas la homaj animoj pro la nerealeco de la hodiaŭa vivo. Tia estas la urbo, la natura hejmo de kleruloj kaj profesiuloj, kiuj jam delonge perdis la saĝon. Ili arogas al si la rajton regi kaj gvidi la vivon de la kamparanoj kaj laboristoj, kvankam tiuj pli bone konas kaj pli akre perceptas la realon.

Ho mi estu fore de ĉi tie, mi estu en la montoj, kie la steloj vere brilas dum la nokto! En la urbo, la steloj mankas, dronite en la artefarita stratlumo. Tio estas ĝusta, taŭga bildo de la blindeco de la urbanoj, blindaj gvidantoj de la homaro! Ne, ne en la urbo kuŝas vera saĝo, sed en la freneza senhejmulo, la ermito kiu loĝas en la montoj. Sed la montoj ne estas mia hejmo, kaj mi ne taŭgas por la vera vivo tie. Post momenta revo la nuboj forigas la klarecon de la tago; mi memoras mian miopecon, kaj revenas al la nerealeco, al kiu mi apartenas.

Ŝpinado

Lastatempe mi eklernis—aŭ, pli bone, provis eklerni—ŝpinadon kaj trikadon. Mi sukcesis triki malgrandan trikoton, eĉ se ne tre bone, sed mi estas terure nekompetenta pri ŝpinado. Verdire, mi neniam estis tre kompetenta pri laboro per la manoj; tial mi laboras en oficejo. Tamen mi ne estas tiel facile venkita, do mi daŭre laboros kaj ekzercos min, ne nepre ĝis perfekteco, sed ĝis mi povos fari ion pri kio mi ne hontos!

Mia celo estas lerni teksi per teksilo. Malgraŭ tio, mi volis komenci per ŝpinado, ĉar mi scivolis pri kiel oni faris fadenon. Hodiaŭ oni faras ĝin per maŝinoj laŭ la plej nova teknologio, sed mi eĉ ne uzas radŝpinilo (eble tio estas mia problemo!); mi uzas—aŭ provas uzi—simpla spindelo en la manoj, samkiel oni faris dum miloj aŭ dekmiloj (aŭ eble pli) da jaroj. Kiam mi fariĝos almenaŭ iomete kompetenta pri ŝpinado, mi aĉetos teksilon kaj komencos lerni teksadon. Fakte, estas “gildo” de teksistoj ĉi tie en San Diego, al kiu mi aliĝos por pli bone lerni la arton.

Kion vi, karaj esperantistoj, faras kiel ŝatokupon?

Nobly

How you proceed must be as noble as the cause you seek.

The turn of phrase is fantastic. It lends itself to meditation, or to ponderous and solemn thoughts. It occurs in the middle of a discussion of people taking upon themselves the role of Satan, accusing others and thereby “causing jarring, contention and strife.” Moreover, the discussion suggests that this role is played even by people “who desire a good thing” and have well-intentioned hearts.

So what does the phrase mean? What is the cause being sought? Is it related to learning to live in peace with each other? What does “proceed” mean here? Is it our actions, particularly those we might think are productive in favor of “the cause [we] seek?” And what is “noble?” Is it intended to contrast with accusing and causing jarring, contention and strife? Is it related to “lov[ing] one another, not begrudgingly, but as brothers and sisters indeed?” Or to “align[ing our] words with [our] hearts?

“Noble” and its derivations appear in a few places in T&C. 138:18: “How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God than the vain imagination of the human heart?” 139:7: “[T]he pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under your hand.” 146:20: “[T]he truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent.” What does the word mean in those places? Is it related to its use in the phrase quoted at the beginning of this post?

Reforestation

I was looking into an idea that was put into my head by an acquaintance a couple of years ago: that trees attract rain. I wondered if this was true, and, if true, how it works. Certainly this may be a mechanism by which the desert could be made to blossom as a rose. What I have read includes an article in the journal Bioscience explaining for the educated layman a hypothesis about how forests may be acting like “pumps” that bring about rainfall, and an article from CIFOR (a forestry research organization) on the potential of forests to mitigate drought. I expressed the following thoughts on the matter on Facebook:

Trees’ complex interactions with the atmosphere can help prevent both drought and flooding. But you need a lot of them. One gentleman, who died well into his 90s in the early 2000s, recalled his parents or grandparents describing vast forests that covered most of the United States only a couple hundred years ago; they had been instrumental in cutting those forests down. (The term used was “rainforests,” but I am not sure whether we would use the word the same way today.) In hindsight, clearing large amounts of forest to make room for farms, ever so popular in the 1800s, was a poor decision. It may be that we would have been better served by clearing small amounts of trees as necessary, and developing methods of agriculture that coexist well with the forest.

It would be interesting if we could cover the country in forests once again. Doing so could alleviate part of the stress we have put on the climate, at least partially alleviate problems in water supply in parts of the country, and improve agricultural fertility in arid or semi-arid regions, which would allow for greater local self-sufficiency throughout much of the country.

The political right ought to see an opportunity for greater liberty and national strength by improving self reliance throughout the country, while the political left ought to see the environmental advantages of having to transport less food over large distances. The left should see forestation as a way to combat climate change, while climate-change skeptics among the right should still be able to enjoy the beauty and clean air provided by the ubiquitous forests. Moreover, greater local self-sufficiently would make it possible to reduce or pause travel between regions during a pandemic (such as at the present), slowing the spread of the disease while avoiding restriction of movement within communities. If an individual region is able to provide for its own needs, a temporary restriction on travel to and from the region, but allowance of travel within the region (to visit friends, local parks, etc.) may be more palatable to the general public than the restrictions against which they are chafing at present.

Indeed, fads like “permaculture” and “urban farming” attract adherents from both the left and the right, indicating that both take an interest in the environment and food security, though perhaps for different reasons. That should give reason for hope that there’s at least a small chance that we could persuade the nation (and the world) to undertake a large reforestation project. Perhaps such a project, by reconnecting us to the Earth and her natural cycles, would also improve our collective mental and social well-being.

The chance, however, is small: Good sustainable agricultural practices, the type that would coexist well with universal forests, are not nearly as profitable as the soil-depleting computerized factory farms of big agriculture. Either extensive community participation in local agriculture, or an acceptance of higher food prices, would be needed.

Liberty and life; captivity and death

The Book of Mormon uses the word “liberty” more than any other volume of scripture. “Liberty” is associated with “eternal life” while “captivity” is associated with “death” (2 Nephi 1:10). Curiously, famine and poverty resulting from a deprivation of liberty are poised to kill far more people than the deprivation of liberty was intended to save.

Although the Book of Mormon has examples of preserving liberty through a limited amount of bloodshed (see, e.g., Alma 20:12), it also includes examples of escaping captivity without bloodshed (Mosiah 11:10-11). It seems that the Lord would prefer the latter for us in our day (T&C 50:7). Either way, if we are not capable of living in liberty, forceful overthrow of the government would be futile, as it would merely lead us from one captivity to another; nor would it make sense for the Lord to give us the liberty that our lifestyle shows that we don’t want. At the very least, if we desire freedom, we should be capable of living and interacting with each other in a way that government is superfluous.

There are plenty of people laughing at those complaining about the loss of “mah freedumb.” Ironically, among those mockers of freedom appear to be many who previously complained about the current president being a dictator. Let them laugh, and seek to peacefully persuade those who can be persuaded to pray, vote, and live in a way that will bring liberty. That, it appears to me, is the best way to both stand up to and show love for those who use dishonesty and manipulation to try to keep the rest of us in captivity. To the humble, an honest voice will stand out against the ubiquitous deception.

A show of force is not necessary; brandishing weapons in front of government buildings will at best bring temporary results, and may backfire. There are other ways to boldly support liberty and life in the face of captivity and death. Abinadi, held in bondage, loved Noah enough to die for him, and as a result brought Noah’s people out of captivity and into a new life in Christ.

Social virus

The current pandemic has revealed much about ourselves and our relationship to the government and to each other. An already-existing wound has been deepened, and at this point it is unlikely that it will heal.

Conservatives’ eyes have been opened to see a government engaging in tyrannical overreach approaching the degree that conspiracy theorists have warned about: not just by liberals, but supported by conservative governors, and even an institution—the police—that they have trusted, praised, and upheld as heroes. They see liberals as foolishly supporting that tyranny, insufficiently self-aware to realize their bondage in the universal house arrest or the upcoming economic catastrophe.

Liberals’ eyes have been opened to see a conservative movement intent on activity that will kill people, and that the government must suppress the movement by force in order to save lives.

To conservatives, liberals are a threat to freedom and cannot be reconciled to reason. To liberals, conservatives are a threat to people’s lives and cannot be reconciled to reason. The logical conclusion for either side is that force must be used to bring the other side into submission.

The hatred may fester for a while, perhaps years, in mutual toleration, but without a fundamental change in people’s character, the inevitable result is going to be violence. Unless a group of people decline the invitation to hate those who don’t think like them, sooner or later violence will be unavoidable.

If you choose not to hate, sooner or later you will be hated for your choice. Choose it anyway. Love your neighbor, even when he hates you.