Sunday, August 1, 2010

I'll Go Riding

I am learning the ways that we fool ourselves as much as anything these days. As I wrote Thursday in Here Be Dragons, I am reading a book that is describing in depth the various ways that we avoid the truth of our unpredictable condition on the planet, and as well this book is describing all the falsehoods that we put in place so that the world does appear predictable. We demand predictable lives. We want to have control. We think that an uncontrolled life isn’t fair and we buy insurance so that we come out of an unpredictable “accident” all right. Insurance companies bet that these odd occurrences are so rare that they will make money hedging our bets.

So we know that the other stuff, the unpredictable stuff, does happen, but we minimize it, or some other ploy. Many people will risk it if they can, as I did in the nineties. I was working on contract and getting all my pay as a gross income. I had to do quarterlies to pay my taxes and health insurance was up to me. I couldn’t afford it. For most of ten years I did without. Then I was nearing sixty. I said to myself I will have to get some coverage. Then my boss hired me direct again as an indirect raise, giving me the employer health coverage. That’s how I came to have Kaiser Permanente insurance when I had my heart event. It was a $200 heart event, angioplasty, and stent placement. Even had they had to send me to another hospital for more advanced heart work, it still would have been in that range. This is where Kaiser Insurance shines. I am on several heart drugs, blood pressure and cholesterol meds. Kaiser shines there too.

There are professions engaged in predicting the unpredictable. They believe their own bullshit and we believe them. It is actually demonstrable that too much “knowledge” in a fundamentally unpredictable field actually makes it less likely you can predict well. This would be all about business, except it is not. When we marry, we are mostly all sure it is for life. Wrong. That happened to me after twenty years. Who would have thought? That woman sobered me up, then lived with me sober for another decade before she began to fail herself. Then in a few short years alcoholism forced our divorce and killed her. That is the situation that ruined our retirement, and has me in the pickle I am in now. I am quite close to not being able to work for reasons of health. I need five more working years, but I suspect I won’t get much retirement out of it anyway. It is just that this maxes out Social Security, and pays me nearly a thousand bucks more a month by working longer.

So you see, I know intimately how predictions fail.

I'll Go Riding

I feel cut off now,
at the knees at least, or topped
like a tree might be
thinking like you did,
approaching life so.

Instead, today I'll ride you
like a wild dragon,
like a dappled mare,
ride you into the heart's core
and beyond tall tales

into the truth of things.

June 22, 2009 12:24 PM


  1. We want to imagine we have control, as you say, Christoper, desperately and then the unthinkable, the unpredictable happens and we fall apart.

    That's one of the reasons I try to live cheek by jowl with doubt and uncertainty. But I also try to couple this with a sense of optimism so that like you I can ride with the dragons.

    Thanks for a beautiful and thoughtful post here, Christopher.

  2. You raise a farm animal for butchering but you are a kind and loving farmer. For a considerable period of time you care for the animal, let us say a pig or a number of pigs and treat them as pets, knowing that as you keep happy animals they will absolutely taste better when prepared for table. Because you are loving and know what you are doing and because you are willing to befriend them you raise really happy pigs in enough room that they can establish their toilet far from their food and have a great dust bath nearby and they treat you with trust.

    Then the day comes. They even quite willingly get in the truck headed to the abbatoir because you have never given them a reason to distrust you. They predict more of the same of course all the way to the butcher.

    This is actually a true to life story of my former girl friend who had a farm, raising pigs, ducks, chicken and sheep, all for food. It is a sharp illustration of the limits of induction for predicting what comes next. From the standpoint of the pig the rude end is far from their experience. So it is with us far more often than we care to know, even if we do not encounter the abbatoir that way. Many things really important to our futures are so complex or so truly outside our sphere that we cannot predict when or if they ever happen. Instead we insist that by knowing our own pasts we know our futures.

    Even worse, we tend to forget that we tried to predict yesterday what will happen today as more of the same and it didn't work, so we do it again. That is what we do unless we train, like you say, Elisabeth, train ourselves to remember and to know better.

    This isn't only bad stuff of course. My day today was quite pleasant but I had no idea when I got up that I would go on a short journey this afternoon. That showed up in the noon hour. I had plans. None of them got done. I even missed lunch.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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