Monday, October 25, 2010

Assumption of Independence

As I watched the heads of industrialized nations gather on the steps of the Bourse de Bruxelles last Friday, posing for photographs, a man behind me shouted, "Follow your dreams!"
I wondered, Day or night?
Spokesman Saul Changoranatan, CEO of of Blodder, Marthian, and Bewomb, a venture capital firm that targets emerging geoengineering technologies, moved toward the microphone and declared, "Our shared dreams are soon to be a shared reality." Reading from prepared notes, he asserted that "the current crisis is an advantage. Current conditions present the human race with a once-in-an-epoch opportunity for renewal, positive change, adaptation, and growth."
I looked at the clock above the entryway. It was 10:14.
Few recognized that those words were the same ones uttered two weeks earlier by an obscure mechanical engineer in a speech he gave at a high school graduation ceremony in Cantansezia, Kansas.
It was Mel Thrattlingshire, an NIT graduate. I tracked Mel down at a cafe in Kansas City a few days later. "It was my daughter's graduation," he explained. "She was valedictorian, of course." He leaned back in his chair and smiled. "They actually read directly from my handwritten notes." He looked at the tablecloth, vinyl, with red and white checkers. "I was stunned. How did they get them?" He pulled a mechanical pencil from his pocket protector, grabbed a napkin from the dispenser and started to scribble. "Aha. See?" He held up the napkin. He had calculated that the dissemination of his ideas at the Bourse was equivalent to publishing four peer-reviewed articles. "It is working out well: I saved four years of research and writing and groveling before two rich benefactors." He tipped his head back and laughed. "I have the data right here in my wallet."
I leaned over to look. "It's empty."
The smile dropped and he leaned across the table and whispered, "It's a metaphor."
"And the metaphor?"
His eyebrows crossed. "Look, bud, we are at the threshold. We face a world with exponential growth in change, an explosion of possibilities. Anything can happen. And what is possible, if we persist, will be probable, and what is probable, given enough opportunity, becomes certainty." He scratched a large black mole on his arm. I thought that the mole appeared to move but he rolled down his sleeve. "Our dreams will come true; we will ascend."
I rubbed my eyes. To where? I noticed that the second hand on the clock on the wall was moving but the minute hand was stuck on 14 and the hour hand on 10. Forever was now and it wasn't going away soon.
He said that it was a daydream that started it all. "It was during a moment of silence at my daughter's graduation ceremony." Mel raised his arm and pointed at the wall. "I looked around at the auditorium in front of me, filled with thousands of teenagers dressed in the school colors. Everyone had their eyes closed and heads bowed. Nobody said a word. It was beautiful. And then all at once, they started to sing the school song." He cleared his throat.

Warriors brave and bold,
Fists raised at the sky
Victory is ours,
Victory or die!

He smiled broadly, looking at the sky out the window. He pumped his fist. "It was inspiring. That's where I got this idea." He paused and watched two men arguing over a parking space.
"What idea?"
"It's from this information age; it bombards us with statements, with ideas. Words everywhere, like gamma rays. The information increase is breathtaking. Did you know that an average man today hears more information in a day than an average man in the 1800's heard in his lifetime? You need to cut through it with a machete, it grows so fast." A buzzing noise came from the kitchen and he turned his head and cocked his ear. It was a radio announcing a severe thunderstorm warning.
He turned back. His glasses reflected the dark, cloudy sky and his eyes disappeared. "And it's diverging into two opposing universes of thought, like thought and anti-thought." He paused. "Sometimes..." His voice trailed away.
"Sometimes the spheres of thought balance out so perfectly that they cancel each other out and all you can hear is white noise - the background radiation." He looked up at the sky. "Like the pinging of Sputnik in your earphones as it sailed across the blackened heavens." He squinted. "A thousand miles overhead, so far out of reach." He looked at the kitchen. "So far..."
I watched as the two men continued to argue, shouting above one another. "Too far."
"So far away - that - that's when you begin to hear things." Now Mel, seeing my eyes switch between him and the two men arguing, looked at the clock on the wall. His eyes brightened. "We just need one more moment of chance, that's all. That will be our breakthrough."
He looked at his hands, folding the napkins on the table in front of him into ever tightening squares. "When two ideas collide, you get one stronger idea. When four ideas collide, you get two stronger ideas. So, imagine the strength of doctrine, the dominion of thought we have under these conditions."
"Strength - or haze?" I noticed one of the men shove the other.
"Strength. The bombardment of ideas, the mutagenesis of thought. Dialectic Steel. We are on an upward spiral." He sat up and swirled his finger in the air.
My eyes followed his hand but I felt myself getting dizzy. "You mean heaven?"
A waitress appeared at his side. "This isn't theology, this is empirical. It's the material equivalent, if you will." She asked for his order. Scrambled eggs and toast. Just water for me.
I put my face in my hands. "This sounds like an invitation to the Roman Games."
"Rome gave us a Republic."
"And Pompeii."
"Look, the winners got a crown and glory and a seat by Jupiter." He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. The two men were nose to nose. He sighed. "We get the equivalent."
I stared at his face. Now, nothing moved except a small blood vessel on his left temple.
He gave a slight nod, then continued. "Lincoln said that government accomplishes collectively what people cannot do individually." He pushed the salt shaker toward me. "So, collectively, we can accomplish anything." He pushed the tightly folded napkins toward me. "You see?"
I closed my eyes. "No."
"What we have in front of us, is a quantum leap forward, the cladogenesis of our species. It is our moment in time. We are at the threshold of reaching unity, of becoming one, a global organism, a pan-species."
"From static?"
"No, no - " he slipped forward in his chair. "It's music, really. It's collective consciousness and shared memory and common dreams and mass movement." The two men were now wrestling. A small crowd gathered and watched. A tow truck was pulling up alongside the cars.
Then one man threw a punch. Then the other. I turned my head. "What movement? You mean revolution?"
He laughed. "Speciation is not revolution. It's ascent. This is not a political act that saves us, it is a biological act." He sat up straight again and looked me in the eye. His glasses reflected the two men fighting, like a stereopticon. They both were defeating each other twice. His face began to swell. "Imagine the world of mankind sending sulfur dioxide balloons up into the upper atmosphere and releasing their gasses to dim the sun and cool the earth -"
"I -"
"Call it our Million Man Volcano." His face was red.
"But -"
"Or millions of windbreaks in the Gulf of Mexico to break up hurricanes - a public works project. Full employment. The Hurricane Nation."
"No -"
"Or millions of people cutting millions of acres of trees across fire-dependent ecosystems. Indefinitely! Save houses and everyone has a job. Call it The Human Firestorm. "
"You are -"
"We are - We, The Ecosystem. It's time. We have spent too many years wringing our hands, passively accepting whatever this planet throws at us. We have the can-do spirit. We cannot take this lying down. This is a call to action. We, an environmental re-evolution. It is certain to happen."
I had to look away. The two men were lying unconscious on the sidewalk. Hailstones, the size of baseballs, began to fall. "Yep."
"You see, when we work together, as a species, there is nothing that we cannot achieve. Collectively, this earth is just no match for us."