Talking that Old Mannishness

The most disturbing thing Granddad told me, Grammy would not lie to SS Natzis about hiding Jews in his basement. He said it as a compliment. My grandparents held that Kantian/Christian ideal to never ever lie, an authoritarian, fear based dictum.

The way he put it, “Your grandmother really straightened me out.”  He did not frame it as “the categorical imperative,” or to do unto others. Instead he explained his (die rather than lie) reasoning with this anecdote:

“I hit my sister. I was about five years old, and she told our mom. She asked me, ‘Did you hit her.’ And I lied. I said, ‘No.’ And she said, ‘I believe Tommy because Tommy never lies.’ After that I never lied again, because I felt so bad.”

Guilt so profoundly pricked his conscience (he claimed) that he never lied again. Still he’d often lie for a joke. He’d recite famous poems, smirk and say he wrote them: “My Way” as sung with loathing by Frank Sinatra, or “Tyger” of illustrated story book fame, or “If,” Kipling’s better known companion to “The White Man’s Burden,” and on more serious notes he’d repeat certain ancient myths and fables as facts.

Old men (one saying goes) are repositories of bad ideas. I feel myself entering a new stage in life, and I feel old. I’m not. I still have a good 60 years of kicking to do, if I’m as lucky as Granddad. But I see one of my childhood friends posted a “crusty old veteran” meme on social media. He’s 30ish, like me, rounding the bend, probably sees retirement (from the Marines) through his sights.

Wow, I kind of regret not sticking in the Navy. Ten years ago I could have gone to shore duty, done college at Florida State, maybe even made it into BUD/S. My youthful exuberance, the alcoholism, the idealism, the fractious outrage over how it cost a million dollars a day to send our battle group cruising to chuck bombs at foreigners. Now I’m jaded. I just want to learn to fly a helicopter, shoot guns for fun, and buy a house where my kids can grow up.

I suddenly enjoy cliche. I think irony´s lazy. It’s a way of saying nonsense without taking responsibility for all the time you wasted being clever and not offering any solutions. It’s selfish. If you take Dan Carlin’s martian perspective on human history, we’re all gooey aliens, fighting to share the resources we have now, working (sometimes killing each other out of hubris or neglect) to make more cool stuff.

Everyone could live comfortably, if we cared enough. But the variables are too disparate, and I’m pretty sure that AI is a false hope. It’s easy to forget how bound we are by time and space. If everyone had nothing to do, if all our needs were met by digital slaves, we’d still want to do something. Besides there's so much work to do everywhere. I don't need to look past my kitchen to find good work to do.

Stressed by chaos and uncertainty, it’s easy to just look longingly toward death, and maybe selfishly hope that everyone goes together. My friend’s father posts hopeful incantations for the apocalypse in his Facebook feed, public prayers for Jesus to return soon. You’d think instead he’d want his grandchildren to enjoy a full and prosperous life. If this mortal coil continues even past consciousness, why does predicting the end matter so much? I remember his good humor outside of church, his obsession with saving the unborn and perplexing propensity to sometimes suggest that death and slavery might be justice. God moves in mysterious ways, etc. Yet, it’s hard to know what to call it.

In As You Like It, Shakespeare describes life in seven ages: (1) the ¨mewling and puking¨ infant; (2) the ¨creeping¨ schoolboy; (3) the ¨sighing” lover; (4) the ¨jealous¨ soldier; (5) the ¨severe¨ justice; (6) the ¨shrunk shrank¨ Pantaloon; (7) ¨sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything” Second Childishness. I think I’m moving from lover to soldier, or maybe visa versa.

I’m trying to get back into the service, the National Guard specifically. I love America, and I have more to give. It’s not looking good. I won’t lie. I smoked weed. There’s video somewhere. For this, and because I tend to run my mouth, someone will probably soon find me unfit for further civil service. I know a few fine folks who felt the sharp edge of the razor, got their civil service ambitions cut short, found solace in opiates instead of success. I’m currently subjecting myself to some scrutiny and embarrassment, but (hey!) I’m living.

Granddad had a good story about getting rejected from WW2, 4-F, for a heart murmur. He says he almost killed a recruit at prom for making fun of him. Here’s the audio:

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So Granddad said he would not lie to authorities because lies make him uncomfortable. Well, I don’t think that’s moral. I’m not knocking him for it, but if he’d lived in Germany he’d have been a Natzi, or at least complicit. So, life is complicated, and spreading freedom, welfare and happiness is not so easy.

Some folks, standing up on the moral high ground, see me as complicit in the death of 100,000+ Iraqis. I guess I am. I mean, I not only voted to extend the war in Iraq by voting for Bush in 2004, I provided material aid 2007-08.

Whatever you believe, we need to learn to treat each other better. Our current ethics cause serious injury right now on earth. It doesn’t really matter if you think you’ll live forever. Life is more than a flash in a pan. It’s this moment. It’s consciousness, and this might just be all we get.

Sure, in the wake of the violence, Americans took advantage of the chaos to lay oil pipe and take a cut off the Iraqi crude. But I don’t think that was our military purpose. Somebody’s gotta get that oil. It keeps the lights going so we don’t get raped by fools and charlatans in the night. The fallout was just the market talking. Right?