Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fun House Centrifuge

One of the fond memories of my childhood was the Fun House at the now defunct Geauga Lake Amusement Park. My recollections may be murky, since they come from experiences 50 years ago, but as I recall it there was a spooky dark portion with moving floor boards and strange sounds that you had to go through either to enter or exit the place. Then you came upon a wall of mirrors which distorted you in hilarious ways so your legs were super-short and neck elongated, and many other variations. Eventually you were inside, and for kids it was a blast because you could stay as long as you liked.

I'm not sure what all was in there now as I think back. Maybe this is where the penny arcade was, I don't know. What I remember most is the slide and the circular wheel ride.

The slide was made out of wood, had multiple lanes and as kids we would run up a long flight of stairs to the top where you grabbed a gunny sack and sat on it like a sled, zoom. The slide was wax polished like the lanes of a bowling alley and must have been steep enough to give you a good rush without being scary. There were humps and contours to make it interesting so that it was not just a straight chute.

The circular wheel was like a centrifuge, something like a flat merry-go-round except run by a rotor beneath the floor. You did not see anything except the circular polished wooden board. Even a small child could grasp the principle of the thing. As the wheel was set in motion and went faster and faster, all the kids would try to hold on but with nothing to hold onto they would be flung in all directions.

As we got older we understood that the best way to stay on for the longest time possible would be to get into the precise center. Even then, one's irregular body mass distribution would lead to the inevitable, being discharged out of control from the whirling surface. Perhaps even worse is getting really successful at finding that center spot so that you get dizzy and sick from being on there too long. But you seldom got that center spot because there was a line and you were competing with a couple dozen other kids who crammed themselves onto it as densely as able.

This image of the wheel flinging kids off in all directions came to mind as I have been reading about and observing some of what is happening in America today. Protests are one thing, but total chaos makes people insecure. At a certain point mobs can only be subdued by excessive authority. Nobody wants that, but they do not want the chaos of the mob either, and no one wants rampant guillotine bloodletting. So we have to figure out how to get along.

The problem is with the wheel spinning faster and faster we're all being thrown in a variety of directions and the things that once unified us (the American dream and confidence of a better future for our children) has flung us into the sideboards. There's no doubt that a lot of people are frustrated. We don't know what's true. We don't know who we can trust. We distrust those who tell us to "trust the process." But then what?

In the Fun House you don't have to get on all the rides. It can be entertaining just watching the expressions of those having fun. And even watching the Occupy Wall Street antics can produce some entertaining images, but it is my recollection of the May Day riots in Washington that not everyone there has the same agenda. Some are opportunists whose only aim is to make trouble. As I hitch-hiked back from the antiwar protests of May Day 1971 I was picked up by two students from Antioch and an older fellow whose only aim that day was to "get cops" and do some damage. The cops were brutal, and the violence terrifying for a young innocent, but the protesters were also naive. And this time around I'm not hearing anyone offering a sensible solution because the center of the maelstrom this time around is an undulating abstraction, an emotion, a loss of hope, a rage against the machine.

I guess we'll see where it all leads but to be honest, I've been in mobs and I'm not really sure how much problem solving a mob can really do.

In the meantime, just a little something to think about.


LEWagner said...

I've read a lot of people complaining that the goals of the Wall Street Occupiers "aren't defined". Now you criticize the movement as "a mob". I have yet to see any reports of police with skull fractures or ruptured spleens from "the mob" beating on them, however, only the other way around.
The General Committees of all the Occupier movements (all the ones whose minutes and statements I've read, anyway) emphasize non-violence above all. Non-violent movements through history have been plagued not only by anarchist trash, but even more so, by government-paid provocateurs, hired to make a peaceful, focused group of people look like a "mob", and to "justify" the police denying the people their Constitutional rights. Using the word "mob" to characterize the entire movement is painting with a VERY wide brush.
And so many people seem to be having a hard time figuring out what the occupiers' goals are. Oh, it's all chaos, it's so unfocused! Well, geez, even from over here, I can look at the signs the people are carrying, saying stuff like "Tax the rich", "Regulate the banks and corporations", "Get the money out of politics", "Stop illegal foreclosures", "Verifiable paper ballots instead of hackable computer voting", "Stop the wars of aggression", "Don't bail out Wall Street, bail out Main Street", "Transfer your funds from Wall Street to Main Street", etc., etc., etc. -- and it just amazes me that so many people just can't seem to figure out what the Occupiers want. "It's just all so vague ..." they mutter to themselves, as if they can't read the signs, or even better, look up the minutes of the meetings and the published goals of the General Committees on the Internet.
You say a lot of the people are "frustrated". I would guess that someone in your position may be "frustrated", but I know for sure that there are millions out there who are far beyond frustrated, and are *desperate*. They don't know where their next meal is coming from, or if they will have a place to sleep tonight with winter coming on. Let alone not having any disposable income for entertainment or even for emergency medical care.

LEWagner said...

As far as "We don't know what's true"? Well, if that's so, then perhaps we should do some research. A person can find out a heck of a lot of what's really going on in the world by doing some honest, open-minded research. Look at some documentaries on that link I sent you a while back, for hours and hours of in-depth histories of behind-the-scenes America. First-hand films of witnesses to the JFK assassination being interviewed before mysteriously "committing suicide" or "dying in a road accident", films of high-ranking engineers discussing the physics behind the collapses of 3 buildings on 9/11, films of documented and even admitted US involvement in overthrowing elected governments worldwide and replacing them with US-friendly dictatorships. These are films backed with real-life live-on-the-scene video, plus interviews with involved people of all ranks, each telling his/her own side of the story. Some of these characters contradict themselves from interview to interview and sometimes even from sentence to sentence.
"Oh, we can't know who's lying", and lamenting that we'll never know the truth somehow reminds me of Pontius Pilate. How can anyone NOT know that the US is considered an aggressive "rogue nation" by most of the world, and as a dangerous police state for most of the 99% within the country.
How can anyone NOT know for sure that the Reagan promises of "trickle down" and "deregulation to help companies grow so they will hire more people" have proven to have been huge lies? And that the money has instead moved from the bottom to the top, with NO increase in US employment as promised by the tax-cut and self-regulation proponents?? Instead, there has been "outsourcing", and near record unemployment. Even the infrastructure is going to heck under these policies.
And as I've pointed out before, "free-trade" is NOT even close to free for the small entrepreneur -- just try buying a case of Pepsi and reselling it by the can, and you'll very soon see the REAL "free market" at work in America.
If you're not sure of the truth, or who's lying, well, the above is an easy example. Anybody who calls the US system a "free market" is lying, because it is NOT free.
Saying something is so, when it is not so, is a lie, and yeah, we DO know that for sure, even with all the obfuscation going on in the world.

ENNYMAN said...

Good points. The "mob" reference in this instance was to the Occupy Oakland activity earlier this week.

When I was at May Day in '71 the training of groups was emphatically to be non-violent. The police had no such training and many were gleeful at the opportunity to crack heads. As I sought a safe place to avoid a good head-cracking I saw people attacking police. The comparison with that anecdote is to say that young people were told "the police will not hurt you." I think some who said that gave the young protesters false optimism.

All this to say that the violence and vandalism at Seattle did not surprise me, because when you get a crowd it can be transformed into a mob by a vocal minority, which I saw first hand, not in D.C. but at Ohio U.

re: chaos and authoritarianism, I am here applying a principle of bipolar management where extremes result in their opposite and eventually the opposite needs to move the other way.

I agree with many of the slogans of the movement and am curious how it will be achieved. That will be the most interesting part here. We're so splintered, and everybody has a background that is different and different agendas so that from what direction will a spokesperson come who does not represent an agenda?

ENNYMAN said...

I concur, there is a difference between frustration and desperation that many frustrated people do not comprehend.

LEWagner said...

"We're so splintered, and everybody has a background that is different and different agendas so that from what direction will a spokesperson come who does not represent an agenda?"

There is absolutely no one, except perhaps someone who is in a coma, who doesn't represent an agenda.
Even Wall Street has its own agenda, generally stated as "Maximize Profits" (no matter the means or the consequences, including wars, we can lie about those).
Are we to blithely accept THAT agenda for fear that in theory someone may come up with something even more inhuman?
Nah, as far as myself, I'd rather protest that agenda, and then if somebody else comes up with some other stupidly greedy or violent crap, I'll reserve my right in advance to protest that, too.
That doesn't make me a part of "a mob", not whatsoever.

ENNYMAN said...

I am not trying to label the movement a mob. I think I would like to warn against it becoming a mob. Calling it a mob is inaccurate and not helpful... but warning against chaos is necessary. The film Gandhi offer many good lessons in this regard.

My comment about being "splintered" and "backgrounds" comes from having visited the Occupy Duluth site this weekend and talking with a fellow who comes from a libertarian background but was opposed by a couple guys from the union. The union guys are in bed with the democrats so will we see a true liberation from political power struggles? The system is broken... I am watching to see what happens next. I prefer not to see violence.