What if We Just Let Them Think They Won?

The United States is politically held hostage by tens of millions of people living in a delusional version of reality. No matter the facts staring them in the face, just a little less than half of the electorate seems to believe in an alternate universe in which Trump won the election, left-wing terrorists are destroying our cities, COVID is a hoax or an exaggerated flu, and white Christians are the most oppressed group in history.

So I had a thought.

Information silos, filter bubbles, and algorithms can obviously make millions of people believe almost anything. So if what the Cult of Trump needs is to live in a fake reality, well, maybe we can just let them. And then the rest of us can carry on with actual reality.

I turned this thought into a bit of speculative fiction.

* * *

After a hard day at work, Rick plops down on the couch and flips through his phone to see what’s new.

He’s a father of three, but two of the kids are grown and out of the house, and the other is out with friends. His wife, Danielle, is making dinner, which she always does unless she’s not feeling well.

Rick scrolls through his social media feeds and gets updated on some of the latest headlines. The border wall had just been completed, and the pictures were stunning. 30-foot high partitions, black as midnight, effectively invisible in the dark, but reflective so that the sun blazed in the eyes of anyone who looked at it from the right angle. Smooth, unscalable, and a true monument to America’s force of will against invaders. President Trump would be there tomorrow afternoon for a ceremony celebrating this achievement.

It’s a good time for this kind of morale boost, as China has made more threats against the United States, promising to choke the American economy while making incursions into our Pacific territory. And who knows when they might release another virus. The president has been undeterred, however, and Rick is reassured when he hears Trump call China’s bluff. You just try it, thinks Rick. See what Donald does.

It is 2023. Joe Biden is embroiled in several lawsuits over his attempt to steal the 2020 election. Hunter Biden is in prison in Moscow. Kamala Harris is still out there, working with AOC, Antifa, and George Soros (now 93 and obviously being kept alive with some kind of secret pharmaceuticals or cybernetic implants) to foment a revolution and take over the country. (No chance, thinks Rick.) Black rioters have nearly destroyed several major Democrat-run cities, so they are now being occupied by federal agents who are arresting criminals, guarding property, and saving the lives of innocent Americans. The president has forced Twitter to shut down for censoring conservatives, which is against the Constitution. Facebook has learned its lesson and now treats conservative voices fairly.

As he scrolls through his feed, Rick almost skips past a headline that said something about someone on Fox News saying something about Joe Biden. He reverses the direction of his thumb swiping to find the item. And there it is. The post reads, “Fox News Guest Says Joe Biden is Currently President!” Rick chuckles out loud.

“What’s so funny?” Danielle asks from the kitchen.

“Something really stupid,” says Rick. “Not important.”

It is stupid. Everyone knows that Fox News went off the rails back in 2020, and really couldn’t be trusted anymore, except for a few hosts like Hannity and Tucker. But what kind of delusional nonsense was this? Why would anyone say that Joe Biden was actually president right now? Some kind of hangover from the 2020 election debacle? The facts are the facts! Trump won the election, even though Democrats tried to steal it with loads of fake votes. But President Trump refused to concede, vowed to keep fighting, and eventually (and inevitably) triumphed in the courts. Thank you, Justice Barrett!

Some say that Trump is thinking about running for a third term. That would be just fine with Rick.

Danielle coughs from the kitchen. And then again, and emits a little bit of a groan.

Rick calls out, “You okay, honey?” Danielle had been under the weather ever since they went to that basketball game Danielle’s nephew was playing in. It was actually a really good game, and the place was packed! She probably picked up some bug going around.

“I’ve been better,” she responds. “I’ll lay down after dinner.”

Rick makes a mental note to check her temperature, and maybe his own. He’s not feeling so great either, but he’s never been one to admit when he’s sick.

Then he remembers what he was looking at. Right, that dumb Fox News person who said Biden’s the president. Rick taps on the item.

The post had been deleted.

That’s weird. Fake news never really goes away, does it? You just have to keep vigilant, and only trust the sources that you know for sure are giving it to you straight.

Rick thinks back to the border wall, and he smiles. Yeah, he thinks, Trump is doing a fantastic job in his second term. A third term would be just fine by him.


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My Old Enemy, Natural Selection

I’m beginning to hate natural selection.

I’m not talking about the theory of evolution as a scientific concept, I mean I am having some strong feelings about what a pain in the ass natural selection is to me, right now.

If you’re new to my writing, let me just give you a quick status report: my sense of self is kind of garbage. I’m not currently experiencing existential anguish, per se (but, you know, catch me on a different day and see what you get), but I am wrestling with a crisis about who I am and why I bother existing.

And a lot of that hinges on a deep, aggravating need for validation. I need other people to justify my existence for me. It’s a big reason why I was a professional actor, why I write, why I make music, and why I do pretty much anything else not directly related to my own survival or the well-being of those I love. I need to be told by The World that I belong.

For the last few years, I’ve been able to pin some of the blame for this on my autism, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 39. As you might imagine, someone with my particular neurological quirks might grow up developing a sense of alienation. That’s what happens when you 1) feel like you’re not the same as everyone else, and 2) are constantly told you are not the same as everyone else, often in very painful terms.

So of course I seek validation now! I’ve been conditioned over several decades to expect to be an outcast, to believe that any sense of belonging I do manage to experience is temporary and tenuous at best, and that I am not capable of judging for myself whether or not I possess sufficient value as a person to continue existing.

Damn you, autism!

The thing is, the need to feel belonging with a tribe is not particular to the neurodivergent. It’s hard-wired into humanity as a whole at the deepest levels. Many humans achieve this belonging rather easily (or so it seems to me). They provide value to their families and communities, they receive the benefits of being a part of those families and communities, and they are validated for playing their part in those social systems. They don’t have to think about it.

But threaten that belonging, cause someone to feel like their place in the tribe could be reduced or taken away, and see what atavistic shit comes up.

For someone like me, that sense of threat is ever-present, and I feel it on every level: I feel like humanity on Earth doesn’t want me, and I also assume I am perpetually on the edge of being rejected by the people Iove. Any minute now, they’re going to decide they’ve had it.

So maybe I feel this kind of alienation and anxiety more often or more severely than most, but all of us have it in us. We’re supposed to! It’s how early humans survived through our time as nomadic hunter-gatherers.

It was Robert Wright, in Why Buddhism is True, who clarified this point for me, that this anxiety over other’s opinions of us is all natural selection’s fault:

Why would natural selection design organisms to feel discomfort that seems so pointless? Maybe because in the environment of our ancestors it wouldn’t have been pointless; in a hunter-gatherer society, you’re pretty much always performing in front of people you’ll see again and whose opinions therefore matter. My mother used to say, “We wouldn’t spend so much time worrying about what other people think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” She was right; our assumption that people give much thought to us one way or the other is often an illusion, as is our unspoken sense that it matters what pretty much everyone we see thinks of us. But these intuitions were less often illusory in the environment of our evolution, and that’s one reason they’re so persistent today.

That’s right, natural selection wants us to be insecure.

There’s so much else that natural selection “wants” us to do that is ultimately harmful to us now. And it seems to me that so much of what we think of as human civilization and progress is really a big species-wide struggle against natural selection and all the things it pushes us to do against our own interests, from the desire to eat too much sugar to the urge to decimate nearby tribes and take their resources. Self-doubt is just one more thing.

I think natural selection and I need to have a talk. I need to thank it for getting us all this far, what with the conscious brains, the opposable thumbs, and whatnot. And then I need to tell it, honestly, that its time with me is over, because it’s holding me back from, well, evolving.

I need to remember that my ache for belonging, while exacerbated by my autism and other quirks, ultimately stems from an instinct that no longer serves its purpose, and that I am free to let it go. To be at peace with who I am and where I am, I think I to kick natural selection out of the tribe.


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Letting Go of Hope

I am trying to disconnect without isolating. I am trying to find meaning without validation. I am trying to unburden without irresponsibility. I am trying to be aware without being overwhelmed. I am trying to be at peace without being passive. I am trying to matter without having to ask whether I matter. I am trying to fit in without being too ordinary. I am trying to stand out without jutting. I am trying to have hope without being crushed by it.

Maybe it’s that last one that needs to go.

Derrick Jensen wrote a few years ago in praise of giving up on hope. He’s talking about this in the context of his struggle to defend the natural world from decimation by humanity. To me, it applies universally. It’s not even about rejecting hope, but simply not dealing with it one way or the other. Once hope becomes irrelevant, Jensen says:

…you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that giving up on hope didn’t kill you. It didn’t even make you less effective. In fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or something else to solve your problems … and you just began doing whatever it takes to solve those problems yourself.

This is not the same as hopelessness. Hopelessness implies defeat, pessimism, resignation to things getting worse. This is something else.

Here’s the part that’s both the most appealing about this idea and the most frightening:

When you give up on hope, something even better happens than it not killing you, which is that in some sense it does kill you. You die. And there’s a wonderful thing about being dead, which is that they — those in power — cannot really touch you anymore. … The socially constructed you died. The civilized you died. The manufactured, fabricated, stamped, molded you died. The victim died.

And who is left when that you dies? You are left. Animal you. Naked you. Vulnerable (and invulnerable) you. Mortal you. Survivor you. The you who thinks not what the culture taught you to think but what you think. The you who feels not what the culture taught you to feel but what you feel. The you who is not who the culture taught you to be but who you are.

As someone who has wasted so much precious life trying to define himself through others’ perceptions, who could not find any value in himself without the explicit approval of everyone else, this is tantalizing and bewildering.

When I was first wrestling with my identity in the aftermath of my diagnosis as autistic a few years ago, I thought it might be an opportunity to redefine who I was, to shed my masks, discover the person underneath them, and let that person live their life. The frightening part was not knowing who that might be, because the masks seemed to be as much a part of who I was as anything else.

Later, I began to take a more nuanced view. While I must still learn to accept my unmasked, unfiltered self, there is still power to be had with intentional masking, endowing myself with aspects of an identity in order to achieve the things my unmasked self might seek. One can adapt without self-deception. One can modulate one’s behavior without imprisoning oneself. One can augment, and those augmentations are under the control of the “true” self.

But whether one is masking, passing, augmenting, retrofitting, or what have you, I wonder now if it’s hope that is still an ingredient of falseness. Maybe I can’t get free of the fetters I’ve fitted myself with, nor the ones that the culture has clapped onto me, because I maintain a delusion that meaning, peace, and validation will still be given to me by Someone Else, by some force Out There. Maybe by shedding hope, I empower myself to provide it on my own.

“When you quit relying on hope,” writes Jensen, “and instead begin to protect the people, things, and places you love, you become very dangerous indeed to those in power.”

In my case, “those in power” are the imaginary blessings from an amorphous other. That’s what I’ve allowed to have power over me, the wish, the hope, that at some point I’d prove myself worthy to be One of You, worthy to belong to this world.

Maybe if I give up on hope, the ache for validation, the yearning to matter, will ease.

But that’s just a hope, too, isn’t it?


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Aspiring to Ordinary

I grew up under a strange and rather painful contradiction. Those who loved me told me I was special, that I had greatness in me. My peers told me I was garbage, that I was beneath them. As a result, I spent a lot of energy just trying to pass as ordinary, hoping that my latent greatness would get its chance to shine later on.

I guess I’m still doing that, except now it’s with the awareness that there’s a lot less “later on” left, and coming to terms with the possibility that the greatness is really more like “just-okay-ness.”

Devin Kelly writes:

Think of how young you were when you first thought you had to be the hero of your own story. I must have been barely older than a baby. My father called me maverick. It made me feel like a rebel. I wanted to be a star. I had to win at all costs. And yet: when was the last time anyone ever told a man to be ordinary? Think of the difference that would make, to begin to dismantle our need to be heroes, to finish things, to consider ourselves defined by accomplishment…

While no one is encouraged explicitly to be ordinary, it’s pretty obviously and vigorously implied. But I do not think we are ever encouraged to be extra-ordinary. We are told to excel, to achieve, to be great. Great, but not different. Be the same as everyone else, but be better at it.

What if you’re decidedly extraordinary, as in un-ordinary, but not quite great? Oddness can be forgiven if it comes with a superpower. You can be weird, sub-ordinary, if you truly excel at something. But not if you’re “just okay” at a few things.

Those of us who are weird and just-okay at things can be envious of the ordinary. Astounding no one, but not disappointing anyone either.

No one should feel pressured to be ordinary. But nor should anyone feel like a failure for not being great. What we should encourage in others, and aspire to for ourselves, is to be at peace with who we already are, and utterly free to discover what we might be.

We may discover more ordinariness. We may discover greatness. We may discover flaws and deficits. But whatever we find, we should be free to feel we are enough.

160,000

There were more than 160,000 new coronavirus cases today in the United States. In the span of 24 hours, a number of people equal to the population of Alexandria, Virginia were revealed to be infected. Yesterday, they hadn’t been counted yet. These cases, all 160,000-plus, are new today.

Tomorrow, there will probably be just as many new cases, if not more. These will all be from people who already have it, whether they know it or not, but will be counted anew tomorrow. We don’t know how it will compare to today, but it’s a safe bet that it’ll be another Alexandria, more or less. In one day.

What the hell is going on? What are people doing? I know there are more than enough deniers and reckless people who simply don’t care to keep this disease spreading. I get that people are being idiots and refusing to take basic precautions, having close indoor gatherings even when they know they shouldn’t. But 160,000 new cases in just one day?

Are people just getting together and hocking mucous-globs into each other’s mouths? Are people going around in public licking doorknobs and other people’s faces? Is there an explosion of meetings where thousands of people get together for casual, serial French kissing with arbitrary partners?

I get that we in the United States are screwing up this pandemic, I really do. But how can it be this bad?

And at what point does it become inevitable that we’re all going to get it? Are we already there?

Measured by how we are seen

This is from the eighth edition of the Near-Earth Object newsletter, to which you can and should subscribe, right here.

This project of producing newsletters and media at a somewhat regular clip, is still new to me, and I’m still trying to find the right mix of elements that make it really click. For my first video-cast-pod-thing, I chose to read a piece I’d written a couple of years back about how hard it is to put in the time, effort, and emotion into all this creative work, all the while knowing that it will reach only a handful of people. Of course one can’t know this for certain, but it’s a solid bet!

I think the cold reality of irrelevance has hit me a little harder this week, as the election receded from the top of my mind and I took a little time off work. When a room opened up in my brain, it was quickly furnished with feelings of futility.

I began reading How to Disappear by Akiko Busch this past week, and in the introduction she says, “It has become routine to assume that the rewards of life are public and that our lives can be measured by how we are seen rather than what we do.” As someone who grew up being utterly ostracized for how he was seen, and then later became a professional actor, and then later got into nonprofit communications, I think I’ve been conditioned to measure my value by how I am seen. I’m not sure I’d know any other way.

We’re all feeling fragile right now. The slow-moving coup in process makes it feel like we’re watching an asteroid that’s going to slam into us in a couple of months, and all we can do is watch it get imperceptibly closer day after day. The foundational things we’ve relied on to tell us who we are as a people look like they’re about to crumble. If they do, we won’t know who we are anymore. If they don’t, we’ll still know that we aren’t quite what we thought we were. We’re all facing an identity crisis.

So maybe none of us can settle our minds enough to find meaning within (or nearby) rather than without.

In my favorite novel, Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, the protagonist Erasmas, a sort of monk-scholar in training, is given an urgent bit of wisdom from his mentor, Orolo.

“That is the kind of beauty I was trying to get you to see,” Orolo told me. “Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways.”

Maybe if our identities weren’t so wrapped up in these performative digital spaces, we’d be handling things better right now. Maybe if I were better able to see myself as enough, if I were able to love the beauty that is right in front of me, perhaps I could more thoroughly cast out the ugliness in my head that tells me I am not and never will be enough.

But if I do that, then what will I be?

If you’re reading this, I’m so glad you’re here. You are part of a small group, and I appreciate each and every one of you.


More of Paul’s irrelevant-yet-immeasurably-valuable stuff

New post on how news sites’ homepages are covering the coup: “Homepage Hopping at the End of Democracy.

New video-cast-pod on Biden the caretaker, with some post-election thoughts as an addendum:

As always, if you find this stuff valuable, you can toss some currency my way. It’s totally okay if you don’t!

And thanks.

Homepage Hopping at the End of Democracy: How Are News Sites Presenting Trump’s Coup Attempt?

I have a bad habit. When big, anxiety-producing events are taking place (and they always are now), I hop around to different news sites’ homepages to see how they are characterizing the situation. My guts are in a constant, immovable clench as I doomscroll and site-hop for any new development.

Here’s what CNN’s homepage presented its readers this morning:

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“Akin to a dictatorship”! That should wake people up, right?

You see, it’s not just news I’m looking for. I’m trying to get a sense of how the major news organizations are presenting the story to their audiences. Republicans are trying to overturn democracy, and I’m hoping that our news outlets are making that clear, right away, without normalizing or both-sidesing.

CNN’s headline, while horrifying, at least told me that a mainstay institution of American news was getting the point across.

But then I remembered that most folks don’t go to news websites directly. Regular people who aren’t obsessed with this stuff don’t constantly refresh the front pages of the Washington Post or the New York Times. If they’re not just getting everything through social media, a lot of them are just opening their browsers and seeing whatever was already set as their default homepage. So how are they covering the coup?

It’s not as reassuring.

Here’s Yahoo News.

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It acknowledges the issue, but it’s framed as an ongoing contest, not a power-grab. Trump has a “new weapon” and insists he didn’t lose. Biden isn’t concerned. Yes, well, I am concerned.

Look further down the page, and what do they choose to highlight? Biden’s mask mandate idea and how he can’t actually enforce it. So right away we get “Trump says he didn’t lose” and “Biden can’t make you wear a mask.” Not encouraging!

Aol.com’s homepage, which is still Yahoo content, at least begins with “State election reports defy Trump’s baseless claims.”

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There’s also MSN, which is where millions of Edge and Internet Explorer users will get their first dose of news, and there’s no mention of the coup at the top, but some everything-is-normal coverage of a presidential transition, a little tiny dose of paranoia about Trump’s border wall, and something about the guy who played Ron in the Harry Potter movies.

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You get the point. While CNN—correctly, I think—presents the coup as the emergency it is, the news outlets that most regular people will probably get their information from are a mixed bag.

ABC News and NBC News both take the coup more seriously on their respective homepages. ABC gives context to Trump’s bullshit by showing that he always does this (as well as featuring the news of the recanted claims of voter fraud by a postal worker). NBC highlights the personnel massacre at the Pentagon, along with other problems caused by Trump’s recalcitrance. (Plus, further down there’s stuff about how great Stacy Abrams is.)

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CBS News’s homepage is formatted differently, highlighting whatever they’re talking about on CBSN, which, I assume, nobody watches (I could be wrong). But what did I see when I popped that URL into my browser? BALLOT PROBLEMS!!!

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Yes, it’s Puerto Rico. Now, you and I know that Puerto Rico doesn’t vote in the presidential election (and we also know that this is morally wrong). Regardless, any big-splash story about BALLOT PROBLEMZZZ only serves to feed the existing false narrative of a rigged election.

I was also none too pleased to see USA Today’s homepage, which seems to be stoking a lot of small fires without committing to one conflagration.

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The CDC is stumbling. The lieutenant governor of Texas is offering a bounty for evidence of election fraud. Trump “shakes up” Pentagon leadership. It’s not at all clear that these things are all part of One Unified Crazy.

Then I had to look at Fox News, because I am sure plenty of folks do make a beeline to that homepage for their dose of indoctrination. And it was not exactly what I expected.

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There’s Fox News calling Biden the president-elect right in its top headline! The propaganda arm of the GOP is saying, yes, this guy is your president-to-be, folks. As weirdly assuring as that is, it’s heavily saturated with reasons to be afraid of this new administration. “Controversial names”!!!

I mean look at those people hovering over Biden’s shoulders like a quartet of devils! There’s that crazy socialist lady Elizabeth Warren! There’s a Black lady right next to her! On the other side of Joe’s head is a Black guy! AND THEN ANOTHER WOMAN. CONTROVERSIAL!!! PERSONNEL IS POLICY!!!

As gross as Fox News is being, it almost feels like a return to normal…where normal isn’t very good to begin with.


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The Caretaker

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Photo: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When Barack Obama picked Joe Biden to be his running mate in 2008, I was delighted. I had always been enthusiastic about Biden’s as a political figure, and loved his role in the ’08 primary campaign as a no-bullshit happy warrior. (Remember “a noun and a verb and 9/11?” So great. And even better considering how far the subject of that jibe has fallen.)

While Biden’s persona and personal charms probably figured into the Obama campaign’s choice to bring Biden onboard, it wasn’t the main reason. To reassure an electorate that might be wary of an inexperienced, black presidential candidate, they put an elder statesman by his side, someone whose very presence vouched for the qualities of the man at the top of the ticket. There was no doubt that should tragedy strike, the next Vice President of the United States would be ready and more than qualified to take over. Not unlike George W. Bush’s choice to tap Dick Cheney in 2000, Biden would be the adult supervision.

Certainly, Biden’s trademark folksiness would help sell the Obama candidacy to those who might not be quite as excited about diversity and cosmopolitanism, by speaking to them in terms to which they could relate. But these were bonuses. In my opinion, it was all about the picture of the two of them together, the image of the exciting and untested buttressed by the familiar and trusted. The message was that Joe would look after Barack, and make sure the new guy found his footing.

(Honestly, I have difficulty trying come up with a presidential ticket in which the two candidates complemented each other as well as Obama and Biden did — save perhaps Biden and Harris, which I’ll get to in a bit. Bill Clinton and Al Gore are in the ballpark, as two ridiculously intelligent, relatively young southerners with diametrically opposing personalities that somehow clicked electorally. But still, almost all the pairings I can think of felt forced. Pence as a Christian bandaid for Trump. Tim Kaine as the blatantly inoffensive white male for Hillary Clinton. Paul Ryan as a youthful junior-executive sidekick to Romney. Sarah Palin…yeesh. And John Edwards as John Kerry’s personal TV ambulance chaser. God help us.)

It’s now fairly commonplace to see presidents task their VPs with particular portfolios, as a way of 1) communicating the importance of an issue by putting in the hands of the vice president, and 2) giving the poor guy something to do. But think of some of the things President Obama handed to Vice President Biden: Implementation of the Recovery Act after the financial meltdown, saving the auto industry, upgrading workforce training, addressing violence against women, cultivating and maintaining relations with foreign leaders, and the “moonshot” to cure cancer.

These were all caretaking roles. They conveyed a message: People who have been hurt, people whose lives have been upended, people who have lost jobs, people who have been alienated, people who are scared, people who are sick: Joe Biden is going to take care of you.

Now think back to March of this year. Biden’s campaign in the Democratic primaries had been shaky at best, and was being more or less written off, until his blowout victory in South Carolina. Coinciding with the sudden awareness of the threat posed by this “coronavirus” thing, Biden’s victory there seemed to change something in the very air.

Candidates began dropping out before Super Tuesday and endorsing him. I got the sense that they were relieved to do so. The coming general election campaign was likely to be the ugliest and most brutal in generations. The mysterious virus was looming. No one knew what was going to happen. With a sense of foreboding and anxiety that few could not have articulated at the time, the Democratic Party and its electorate turned to a father figure, a figure of stability, normalcy, and comfort. Someone to watch over them and take care of them. That was Joe.

The choice of Kamala Harris as Biden’s own running mate makes even more sense to me now, seen in this light. There was no shortage of brilliant, utterly qualified candidates, but Sen. Harris represented something I think few others could: As a social progressive with a law enforcement background; as a woman of a mixed ethnic background and the daughter of immigrants; as a stepparent in a modern, multi-faith family; and as a woman who pulls no punches for vice presidents, former or current; she is the future. She is, really, the present, but the electorate is not always ready for the present. By choosing her as his second-in-command, Joe Biden sets the stage for her ascension, and the ascension of a whole new generation. And he is trusted to do that.

I think we got Joe Biden at this moment because we are a nation in pain, wracked with fear and anger, unable to nurse our old wounds while triaging the new ones. To replace the current president, who seeks only to inflame every gash and tear every stitch, we need someone who will tend to us, heal us, take care of us.

I don’t think Joe Biden ever thought of himself this way, but this is the burden he’s been given, in his personal and in his public life. Time and time again, he has been asked to take care of us, and he always has. Election Day is about 55 hours away as I write this. If Joe Biden is elected, it will be because we needed him to take care of us one more time.

Equilibrium-plus

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This is from the sixth edition of the Near-Earth Object newsletter, to which you can and should subscribe, right here.

It occurred to me that one theme of the last few years, for me and perhaps for society in general, has been the pursuit of something like balance; a kind of tolerable, flexible equilibrium.

“Normalcy” is one of the ways we talk about it in terms of current events and public life, but with an understanding that the “old normal” isn’t quite going to cut it once we get through our current “new normal.” We want a sense of stability, but not stasis; there has to be both room for adjustments and the will to adjust. Steady forward motion with a few reasonable routes to choose from.

I know it’s where I am. I want to be engaged with the defining issues of our time, but not so much that I lose all sense of hope. I want to learn to live more fully in each small moment, but not to the point that I become oblivious. I want to marvel at how well my life has turned out, but not let myself off the hook for my mistakes, failures, and flaws. I want to be at peace with what I have achieved, but not fully accept anonymity and irrelevance. I want to feel that what I have, all I have, is enough, but not stop looking for greater possibilities.

Maybe that’s where the country is now, too. It seems to me that this is what the candidacy of Joe Biden has been offering us, and most of us are pretty pleased with it. Biden is offering, yes, a return to a kind of normalcy, but with a little extra kick. Biden is offering us what we had before “all this,” but a little better, and with an eye toward a little more. Not a lot more. Not revolution, not “change we can believe in.” It’s equilibrium-plus. It’s a balanced scale with a thumb at the ready as needed.

Biden is asking us to look at what we have as a country — in terms of our population, our institutions, our institutions, and our ideas — and decide that it is enough. Not to settle for, but to work with. We can take what we have, and use it to make everything a little better, bit by bit.

I suspect (though I certainly don’t know) that this is extremely appealing to most Americans. For progressives, it is an acknowledgement of what is possible, even if it doesn’t promise radical change. For sane conservatives, it assuages fears of some sort of sudden cultural upheaval. For everyone “in the middle,” for those whose sense of well-being is not tied to each new outrage-of-the-moment, it offers the comfort of the familiar, with a little optimism for steady improvement.

If Biden wins, I hope that we get this. Whatever happens, I hope I can find it for myself. Because what all of us need now, as individuals and as a civilization, is a little peace.

Interesting things: Two books of essays about totally different subjects have informed my thoughts here. More prominently, I just finished Heather Havrilesky’s What if This Were Enough?, which I wholeheartedly recommend. I’m also enjoying Michael Dirda’s Browsings, which is about his thoughts on books and other stuff.

Last week, I made a video out of the speech I wrote for George W. Bush in the event that Donald Trump refuses to concede a lost election. I’m pretty happy with it.

Also I have a video/podcast-thing on wrestling with my self doubt as I try to be a “real writer,” which also turned out pretty well. And it has fake time-travel.

Stay safe.

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