Things We Find Beyond Our Control

Here are a few: Covid, the climate, Putin, the Congress, guns, cockroaches, Mark Zuckerberg. This man is a disease, worse than Covid. I want to focus on him because Facebook (now renamed “Meta”) seems maybe, at last, to be losing its sway over our mindless populace.

The latest evidence came last Tuesday when,

with a single earnings report and a disastrous conference call, Mark Zuckerberg wiped out $240 billion in value from his company. Meta’s was the largest one-day loss by a U.S. company ever, and the ripple effects were closer to tsunamis throughout Silicon Valley. . . . Meta’s market value of $900 billion at 3:59 p.m., was suddenly worth about $720 billion just 30 minutes later—reflecting a spectacular 22 percent fall in after-hours trading for one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world.

The numbers here are amazing. “If the drop holds, . . . the company’s overall value, known as its market capitalization, is on track to drop by a figure greater than the size of the entire Greek economy, based on data from the World Bank.”

There are many reasons behind Facebook’s rout, the most likely being the company’s reliance on a business model that uses your personal data to fuel its targeted online ad sales. But most people (at least the older ones) don’t use FB because of its business model. They want to see the latest pix of their grandkids or exchange recipes. Who cares if they reveal their personal data?

The government, for one, is beginning to care about big tech dominance. For some months now, “both parties want to regulate Facebook.” There is even talk of international regulation. Investors finally came to realize that the Zuck has likely overreached himself with a concept that promotes virtual reality over reality.

Some of you know that I have two sizeable Facebook sites: one to promote my book on Charles Mingus, the other in my own name. Unless I were to set up an email newsletter or recast my blog on something like Medium, I don’t know how I could easily reach you all. I deeply wish I could ditch Facebook and find other ways to communicate.

Considering the other megamonsters—Google, Apple, and Microsoft—why can’t we finally find ways to curb their immense power? Are we so absorbed in the virtual world that we cannot conceive, much less institute, ways to deal with the challenges of authoritarianism and climate change? The whole move to replace the reality of our natural world with virtual reality seems to me a clear instance of escapism, a dodge to avoid commitment to the only life we have.

Bites That Itch to Be Scratched

I came home from a week’s vacation to find that cockroaches, at least four or five, had taken over my kitchen. Cursing and swatting them ultimately makes no difference, since they will thrive no matter what you do. Just stay out of the kitchen at five a.m.

Similarly, despite your insistent urge to scratch mosquito bites, you know that will only make them worse. The bugs continually remind us of our powerlessness over them. And of course they will be here long after we humans are swept away by climate change or another disaster.

For me and many of you, we now live in a world that seems driven by forces we can no longer control, if we ever did. Nature responds with unmistakable signals. So does Covid; so does our politics.

Trump, the biggest cockroach of all, has created a movement that will thrive even without him. His political opponents keep trying to find new kinds of bug sprays that won’t work. It’s like those who defend growing organic food by claiming they use organic bug sprays—a ridiculous contradiction in terms.

The planetary and political disasters we face are all man-made. They are a consequence of hubris—that is, trying to be godlike, flying too near the sun and, mostly, presuming that man’s law supersedes nature’s. We see it everywhere, from the proliferation of space and plastic junk to political movements denying the will of voters.

We are now in the process of committing one of mankind’s greatest acts of hubris ever in challenging the gods of nature. Climate change may be the final act in response to man’s defiance of the natural world. The punishment is going to be severe beyond our imagining. COVID-19 is a signal warning, its spread enabled by climate change.

I have been harping on this in the blog and referring to Amitav Ghosh frequently, as he is one of the few who sees the impending danger very broadly.

The hubris embodied in our myth of perpetual progress and growth has led modern capitalism to this state. Our myopic focus on extraction, deforestation, paving, overfishing, carbonizing (the list goes on) has made us blind to what we are doing to nature and what this disrespect will lead to. One who does understand this is Amitav Ghosh, whose book The Great Derangement I reviewed here last year.

Ghosh has a new one out, called The Nutmeg’s Curse, to be reviewed here when I finish it. Basically he argues that western colonialism through centuries of “omnicide” (murderous conquest and exploitation) has now brought us to a crisis not only of the environment but of our culture.

The same thing is true with the crisis in our politics and geopolitics. The recent ills that have come to beset us have a deep and complex history. The many racial, ethnic and religious conflicts, the flaws of capitalism—all comprehended in climate change—are confounded by the predilections of many who believe in lies, rumors and fantasies, and the propensity of tech and media to intensify them.

It would be nice to find a grand solution to all this confusion, but that doesn’t appear likely. Are the cockroaches really going to take over?