Y2K

A family vacation to Myrtle Beach, sometime in the mid-sixties, it’s the longest ride of my life up to this point. My little sister and I are doing puzzles or reading books in the back seat of our Buick Invicta and Dad calls back for us to look over his shoulder at the mileage counter. We watch for a couple of long minutes and see an eight roll into a nine and then a row of five nines, the last one red, roll over to 00000.

The Buick must have been ticking over to 40,000 or maybe 30,000 miles. And we saw it happen.

I suppose Y2K means nothing to the salamanders and the fruit bats — I’m pretty sure they use a base-four counting system — but you have to be as dumb as John Rocker to pretend this new years’ doesn’t mean anything. I’ve been feeling it coming in the pit of my stomach for months, honestly, as though it were a big rubbery sci-fi creature, The Millennium Bug. I feel like there’s something I should be doing.

Imagine the black and white midwest town in the creature’s path, citizens scurrying everywhere, and one lunatic is ranting into a bullhorn. He’s got no wife and kids, no shop to close up, he just feels compelled to yell instructions, and that always helpful phrase, "Do not panic!"

So forgive me, and as soon as you get bored, hit that delete button. I won’t be offended.

I have some sort of a point to get to, but this is a rant, so let me take a side track here: Isn’t it delightful that this particular millennial panic isn’t being fed by medieval superstition and blind religious fervor but instead it’s the offspring of the most modern and profound product of civilization since the concept of taking turns? Our lazy programming habits, and our thinking machines’ loyally diligent processing habits have actually posed a credible threat to fulfil the most elementary of prophecies. Ya gotta love the irony, (and I mean that in a non-Alanis way).

Like me, have you considered the idea that it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to us if having to trudge down to the river to wash our faces and having to burn our PC Warehouse catalogs for warmth should bring us to a sharper understanding of how far civilization has brought us?

And if the world doesn’t end Friday night, God will have missed a great chance to laugh at us novice patriarchs and matriarchs slipping and falling on our collective ass. And for our part, after having come so close to shooting ourself in the face with our shiny new weapon, we may have learned something about the arrogance of science and technology, not to mention about how important counting is.

Back to the point: Since we find ourselves passing one hell of a big milestone, I feel like we might want to put down our puzzles and books for a minute and take a look at where Daddy is taking us. I just don’t get the feeling that we as a society are really thinking about this much.

"Everybody stay calm!" But I can’t help but notice that no one’s driving. Who in power on this planet is someone we trust to make wise decisions for the good of the world and our society? Bill? Pope JP? Allen Greenspan? (The only leader who’s wisdom I appreciate right now is the Dalai Lama, and he’s got precious little power.) If there are no wise leaders because power is more decentralized these days and, in a sense, we’re all driving; I can accept that. But still, don’t we all agree that the democratic system as it runs right now is a big disappointment? I wish our political parties would take more initiative to clean up campaigns and bring candid honesty to the table, too.

And if we’re all driving, I can’t help noticing that our commercial news media, the "eyes and ears of the world" are about as good as Laurel and Hardy in helping us chart an informed course; unless that course requires up-to-the minute information on the latest plane wreck, where the DOW closed today, or Darryl Strawberry’s drug test results. If our news media are our windshield, we should congratulate ourselves on having learned to stay on the road by looking at mostly billboards.

A recent case in point is coverage of the surprisingly robust demonstrations at the Seattle World Trade Organization talks this fall. Our mainstream media brought us plenty of footage and verbiage about the renegade vandals. But where was coverage of the on-going and destructive economic scenarios at the root of the whole brouhaha? What brought the other tens of thousands of conscientious citizens into the streets to peacefully weather pepper spray, truncheons and rubber bullets? It wasn’t the profit motive. (I guess there just hasn’t been much on the PR Newswire about slave labor and forest destruction these past few years.)

I shouldn’t complain. During periods when I’m not being "entertained" I do notice that we’ve come a long way. Really. In just a few thousand years our little species has made so many leaps and bounds out of the jungle, we can hardly even remember how it feels to club a rabbit to death. I, for one, particularly appreciate the development of modern medicine, the ball point pen, and controlled fermentation.

But does anyone wise or intelligent stand at this M&M milestone and say, "Well, this is great. Let’s just keep going like this"?

My point isn’t that our leaders aren’t wise and that the system needs revamping; no, wait, yes it is. I think it’s time to bring a thoughtful discussion about more modern social systems into the Zeitgeist. (I love that word.) I don’t think we need new policies, we need a better system. A new car, not just a new driver.

The anarchists are not just lunatics and our disaffected youth are not just spoiled. There are millions of educated and enlightened people who realize we’re on the wrong path altogether, and there are millions more who are turning away from society as a whole because there’s no part for them in the play. I’m not sending this screed as an attachment, because I don’t want you to have to worry that it’s a computer virus. Who writes computer viruses, for God’s sake? And why?

Bear with me, just a few more paragraphs and then we can all have cake.

I never cease to be amazed at how many educated and intelligent people have a rabid and blind faith in the Free Market to solve all ills. Communism was a pretty bad idea, but that doesn’t mean we have to turn the reigns of power over to King Midas. Until we graduate from this plutocracy we’ve built (look it up if you need to) we’re doomed to a world of more luxury SUV’s, second homes, environmental disasters, and World Wrestling Federation. You don’t have to be a monk to see that what we need here in the land of plenty isn’t more tools and toys, we need to help each other raise kids who don’t feel the need to use deadly force to settle playground disputes.

I don’t think it’s really appropriate to pat ourselves on the back every time our GDP rises if the products of our public schools actually frighten us. Our "developed nations" are gleefully ignoring the basic needs of our ignorant, our inefficient and our young as though they were contagious and somehow deserve to be poor and stupid. We don’t just need campaign finance reform, we need a full scale change in attitude.

It’s similar for environmental policy. I suppose our leaders come from the not-too-distant past when the biggest challenge was harnessing nature. But look around, we’ve harnessed it. Sure, it bites back, but we’ve got the upper hand now. It’s time to back off.

And don’t even mention God. So many of us have such a bad taste in our mouth from all the white lies and false authority the religious ruling class doled out, people I know are afraid to say grace at Thanksgiving. It just isn’t cool to believe in anything remotely resembling God anymore. I think we need to be more courageous about exploring a more enlightened belief structure and more open minded about a broader understanding of consciousness and awareness. (In a nutshell, that’s "Hey, pick a religion, maybe a new one, and cut me some slack if I think we’re all telepathic.")

Finally, I know I’m raving like a revolutionary, but I’m not at all saying we need to toss it all and start fresh. I’m saying let’s do a little more thinking about our world and do those little things that we each have to do. (Picture me now with daisies in my hair.) Sure, positive change will happen eventually anyway, but we might as well start now.

Listen, if you’re going to stick with the status quo, you run the risk of being left out in the cold like a Loyalist in New England.

Let me know how you feel about all this. And please forgive me for my strident attitude. I know I should be telling you what I did for summer vacation and wishing you a happy holiday, but I’m kind of in a cranky mood. You can blame it on that.

What follows this note is a little something by Yeats. It reflects a more ominous view of Y2K than I have, but I like it. Maybe read it twice.

I wish you a Happy New Year, honestly, with all my heart. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Let me know how things are going.

Kurt

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spirtus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W. B. Yeats