Duck! and Gather

The Unknowability of the Future

Posted on: February 21, 2009

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Interesting how I coud have predicted much of general contours of the coming days, and yet have so little clue about just what these days hold for us. Maybe that’s why I like the Death Cab for Cutie song I cited in the last post.

As I noted, the lyrics of that song are about a California wildfire. If this was 1989 or 1999, the song would be about just that. But this is 2009. So the lyrics resonate as a foreshadowing of the coming days:

[T]he northern sky looked like the end of days; The end of days. A wake up call to a rented room, Sounded like an alarm of impending doom. To warn us it’s only a matter of time. Before we all burn. … We bought some wine and some paper cups, Near your daughter’s school when we picked her up. And drove to the cemetery on a hill, On a hill. And we watched the plumes paint the sky gray, And she laughed and danced through the field of graves.  There I knew it would be alright. …. But I couldn’t think there was anywhere I would have rather been: To watch it all burn away, To burn away. … The firemen worked in double shifts, With prayers for rain on their lips. And they knew it was only a matter of time.

Words that precisely capture the mood of the nation in this, our last Winter of “normalcy”. For awhile, at least.

But that’s about mood. There’s no details there. i.e. Exactly what is going to burn? What exactly will “burning” look like?

These things are unknowable. While the broad contours of the future may be predictable, the details are random.

The best we can do is follow the exhortation of my college basketball coach. When playing defense, he would say, over and again: “Keep your head on a swivel”. He meant that we should keep looking all round us, and be aware of everything going on. And this reminds me of something a gun instructor once said.

The late 1990s, between my two marriages, was my “experimental” phase. Basically, I used that time to try out shit that I knew I would probably never try again after remarrying and my life returned to normal. You know, trying out stuff like flying airplanes (without reading the manuals), adventurous dating, and drinking to excess.

Well, one of those “experimental” things I did was to attend a 4-day hand-gun training class in the desert outside of Bakersfield, California. The class was a gift of a friend — a mild-mannered, gun-nut. He said: “Hey, Peter, why don’t you join me?” I said: “Why not?”

Now, realize that I’m Canadian and believe that gun possession in the post-modern world is nutty. Particularly, possession of hand guns.

But there I was, in the summer heat, on a desert compound, going through the hand-gun training paces. Turns out, I was one of the worst shots there. I never could figure out whether I was really a bad shot, or whether I just didn’t want to be a good shot given my politics. Doesn’t matter which is which because, as I said, I think guns are stupid.

But one of the things I remember from that class is an instructor, a former cop, who told us that we should approach all public situations with a sort of “Code Orange” awareness. You know, look all around you, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious.

In the late 1990s, standing in the midday desert sun, listening to this, my thought was: “These people are paranoid nut-jobs. Better not make any false moves.”

Actually, the people there were very nice, and eminently normal. So normal, in fact, that that is when I formed my belief that America will never be rid of guns. Guns are as integral to the fabric of America as the freedom of speech.

As I’ve said to friends since that class, the First Amendment is about our right to say whatever we like. And the Second Amendment is about our right, if the government stops listening to what we say, to pick up guns and make it listen. 🙂

Anyway, long digression to say that today, in 2009, I’ve come full circle. I’m now heeding that cop’s advice. Keeping my eyes open in public areas. Tuning my attention broadly. Having my radar up.

It’s an odd life. Maybe we’ll get used to it.

for the money has gone too far

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