The planners get embarassed when the plans go wrong

14 04 2009

Do you remember the story ‘Harrison Bergeron’? A dystopian bit on an egalitarian future in which every, last, bit of life was planned and coordinated by, hm, I guess the government.

I think I read it for an undergrad pol sci class; I probably have the story stashed away somewhere in my files. (Yeah, I know: hanging on to undergrad files. Well, I did. Some of them. So fuck off.)

Twenty years, and that story stuck with me—perhaps because of the finale, in which our hero skittles a bucket of marbles across a crowded platform or sidewalk, disrupting what should have been an orderly commute.

At least that’s what I remember. Why bring it up now? Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con had a bit on ‘Nemesis Visions‘, i.e., a great anxiety about what could happen. He cribs from James Poulos (no, I dunno who he is), who states that To qualify for nemesis status, a vision must be coherent, compelling, and viable on a mass scale. Rod feared the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (don’t ask, but if you want to know, check out Philip Rieff), and others worried over the loss of Absolute Truth or the triumph of Absolute Truth.

My Great Anxiety/Despair? I offered my worries over the closing of the society, that is, that unpredictability and uncertainty will fall to ever-greater administration and planning, and a sense of wonder or unfolding or just not knowing will be snuffed out.

As I noted, I’m not against planning for specific programs—hello, universal health care!—and I’m the kind of chica who, for example, created a list on tasks to finish before her spring break concludes. I like to be on time for appointments, carry a Swiss Army knife, and am the person who will always have band-aids, ibuprofen, acetominophen, and tampons on her, just in case.

Still, there’s a difference between trying to keep my shit together and, as I noted, a general ethic which requires that every aspect of life be managed. I try to keep my shit together precisely because I expect things to go to hell, and I want to be prepared. And while it’s annoying as hell to have one’s plans fly apart, it’s good to be reminded that just because one’s afternoon or whatever went off the rails, one’s life continues, unabated.

Or, to sum up all the wisdom that can be contained in a bumper sticker: Shit happens.

The general ethic of planning, however, is designed to forestall any kind of shit happening. In fact, a sense of moral wrongness attaches to not knowing exactly what is to happen next.

What are you going to do with your life/When are you going to get married/When will you settle down/What about a pension/What about kids/How are your kids spending the summer/What about building a resume/How will you ever get into college/What do you mean you don’t know/don’t care/it doesn’t matter. . . ?!!!!!

I hope you know that this will go down/on your permanent record/Oh yeah/Well don’t get so distressed/Did I happen to mention I’m unimpressed?

Yeah, I could have gone with a disquisition on Arendt, but I think the Violent Femmes struck exactly the right attitude.

There’s a longer post lurking within this one, on the melancholy proposition that, maybe, this long moment of openness, begun around the time of the Scientific Revolution, is coming to a close. And perhaps it is. But as long as there’s a world, there is possibility.

And marbles. Damn, I really should rifle my files for that story.

Advertisements