Uncertainty

The morning we picked Evan up from his summer camp a few weeks ago I asked him if he ran out of books to read which he usually does. He said he had but that he was reading them all again. Most of what he reads is of the minecraft fiction crap genre. I was about to snidely comment why anyone would read something like that twice when he said “Dad, I reread The Disappearing Spoon. I understand the Bose-Einstein condensate”. “So what is it?” I asked. “You know what Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says. If you keep cooling down matter, then near absolute zero the atoms almost stop moving and therefore almost have no uncertainty related to their momentum. So the atoms increase the uncertainty of their position by appearing bigger and overlapping into one another.”

Bose predicted this in 1920. A couple of scientists got the Nobel Prize in 2001 for experimentally proving this. Twenty years later my eleven year explains it to me. When I was eleven, I hadn’t even heard of the Bose-Einstein condensate. Kids today are smarter. They have a much better understanding of science. Yesterday, we walked around the Harvard campus. Vivian and Evan played between the giant sycamore trees while Jo and I strolled along the banks of the Charles. People in the buildings around us and in places like this around the world toil away to advance our understanding of our world, even if it takes one hundred years for that knowledge to trickle down to into our consciousness.

I am sitting in an airbnb in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is gently raining outside. Yesterday Alu drove up from Wakefield. We dropped Jo off at the airport for a quick trip to Nebraska. The kids are keeping themselves busy indoors today. The average waiter in this town is smarter and better educated than me. It feels like a good place to be. Then I come across a story in Fox News. It was a rant from someone called Bob Schneider to his 940,000 twitter followers about Covid vaccines. I’m quoting from Fox. “Just say no… And keep saying no… Over half of the U.S. population is continuing to say no to this unapproved experimental gene therapy! ‘My body, my choice!'”, adding the hashtag, “2nd Amendment Is For This.”

It isn’t just that the kids at Harvard and MIT are smarter than Bob. It’s that Bob, bless his heart, and I live in different Americas. Just like the four blind men who observe an elephant and they all arrive at different incorrect conclusions, Bob and I can no longer agree on the nation’s history or purpose. George Packer recently wrote about this in the Atlantic: How America Fractured into Four Parts. I find his thesis very interesting. His four Americas have nice names, but don’t be fooled. Each hides something ugly. Here is my synopsis, but you should read Packer’s article.

Free America is the remnants of Reagan’s America. In Free American the myths of the self-made man and the western pioneer are alive and well. In Free America we’re individuals. We have a chance to make it. Get government out of the way (but not in the case of women’s wombs). Cut taxes. Deregulate industry. All are welcome to pursue happiness. Cloaked in the language of individualism, Free America pulls back from public investment and common good. There is no glue to hold individuals together. Government is hollowed out. When Walmart and Amazon push mom and pop businesses out of main street and into bankruptcy and when global trade moves manufacturing jobs overseas, corporations benefit, communities die. In Free America the marketplace is the final arbitrator of value. Free America appeals to people who have already made it, even on the shoulders of their long departed great grandparents. Free America is the promised land.

I have lived in Free America and snagged a crumb or two with the blessings of Ayn Rand under the watchful eye of Bill Gates (the capitalist, not the communist vaccine guy) and Alan Greenspan.

Smart America is born from the democratization of higher education in post-war America. This is the America of college educated un-unionized professionals in technology, medicine, research, design, consulting, law, the media. They populate the ivory towers of higher education. They trust in globalism and the free flow of capital and people around the world which they believe will eventually benefit everyone. Smart America welcomes new ideas and a diversity of people and thought (up to a point). Smart America relishes yoga, sushi, espresso, crossfit, shopping at Whole Foods. Smart America is cosmopolitan and multicultural. Smart Americans could be from anywhere. Smart Americans are the meritocracy. In Smart America your skills alone determine your rewards. Smart Americans intermarry each other and raise their kids and do all they can to pass on their advantages to their children. In doing so they create a hierarchy just like the robber barons they replaced. A child today who is not from a family of college educated parents is almost as disadvantaged as he would have been 70 years ago.

I identify in multiple ways with the Smart America of Clinton and Obama. If the opportunities are truly equal, the results will be fair.

Real America is Sarah Palin’s America, hardworking religious patriots living in the mythical heartland, toiling away with their hands in factories and mills, growing our food, fighting our wars, fixing our cars, the salt of the earth. Real America is decent people who help their neighbors. Real America is white non-college educated Christians fucked over by free trade and immigration. In Real America experts and elites are full of shit and science is irrelevant. International organizations and treaties are bad. Real America is religious. Real America is proud. Real America is not open to new ideas. The identity politics of sex and idea of systemic racism are utter nonsense in Real America. God, guns, and liberty (of the Don’t Tread on Me type) come before equality, democracy, and even truth. Smart America who has no need for patriotism has yielded it to Real America who then clothed it in stark white Christian nationalism. But Real America is not just a rebellion against Smart America. Free America’s misadventures in Iraq, the financial crisis of 2008, and libertarianism have failed Real America. The bankers got bailouts. Real America got foreclosures. The only thing that trickles down is shit and opioids. Politicians since the ages have praised Real America. But Donald Trump’s insurrection finally gave Real America a way to participate in self-government.

My relationship with Real America is dubious. I fail to intersect along any of the three main dimensions. I’m non-white, college-educated, and non-Christian.

Just America is Packard’s fourth and final faction. Born of injustice that traces a direct line to the shame of America’s original sin of slavery (ignoring the other original sin of genocide for now), Just America is a young angry reactionary revolution. Just America is the fight, not the aspiration. Just America views us through the lens of race. Incremental change hasn’t worked. Rosa was supposed to have sat, Martin walked, and Barack ran, so we could all fly. Smart America didn’t fix anything. Instead, schools suck, prisons are overflowing, the police is rotten. Free American’s free-wheeling capitalism is marginalising communities and destroying the planet. Just America is in the lived experience of being alienated and subjugated by a dominating discriminating exploiting culture day after day after day. Just America is in finally saying enough. Just America is in the language and identity of oppressed groups. Equity, not equality is the answer. Reason, objectivity, rationality, and individual freedom are oppressing powers. Just America sees nothing of value to save in America, nothing to redeem. Just America defunds and topples and riots.

I am hopeful of Just America. But more than that I am scared of Just America and its new forms of discrimination, new hierarchies of hate, new structures of separation.

Will the four persons who have visual impairment, out of their own free will, in the quest for the bigger truth, and because God wants it so, and also for justice for past blindnesses, just get their fucking shit together so that they can see the elephant. Or is Heisenberg on to something bigger than the mere secrets of the universe. Is uncertainty all that there is?

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