{Vernation}

i am

these days it appears

attractive to young men

attracted too, of course, but that’s not news

and not newsworthy: young men are

attractive

by definition

even people who aren’t generally attracted to young men can see this 

and even if they can’t see it, they are still

attracted to them

irrespective

their gender their inclination their

orientation

their emotion their wisdom their inhibition, their assessment of any given

situation:

whether they want to or not and believe that they are or that they aren’t

people

all people

are

always

attracted to

young men

(except those few who are not and they are few and are not and are therefore the

exception.)

the rule

is confirmed

what’s new is that more than before

more than ever

as far as i ever can tell

(and often i can’t)

or recall (and i could if i would)

men half my age or just slightly older or occasionally just slightly younger still too

come to me, seek me out

not i them

of the men i have met, spoken to, spent time and been with lately

most, though not all, have been those 

that are half my age or slightly older or on occasion slightly younger even

and who have come to me, sought me out

not i them

this flatters me, of course, maybe honours me, but more than that does it

fascinate me

because i don’t do anything to attract them, not 

consciously: if anything i do the opposite

i grow a beard 

i wear a jacket left me by a friend more than ten years ago, which was vintage then

my shoes are worn out and my jeans

though skinny

threadbare

i don’t go to the gym i don’t wear my lenses i don’t 

cultivate 

a young voice or vocabulary

yet 

young men

more than they ever have done before, even when

especially

when i was their age

come to me, seek me out

i don’t go after them. on a park bench at a party in a bar

even online

i mind my own business more or less

i say hello maybe, or

greet a smile with a smile

but that’s it

i don’t do anything more; maybe

that’s what it is

maybe that’s what makes me

suddenly, perplexingly

attractive 

to young men: it may be that

in the past, when i was 

their age

i was just trying too hard to be

something, someone, some other 

person than the one that they saw

because they saw through me then to me now

and now

what they see is what they get

and if they are friendly and kind and intelligent too

(apart from being attractive: being young, they’re always

obviously

attractive)

i see no reason

why they shouldn’t get

what they see if

what they see is

what they desire

is life not give and take after all and are we not in it

to share of ourselves

as we lose ourselves in each other?

 

my summer of love leaves me warm hearted light headed and simple of soul

there is 

so much 

delight

in being

human

Design

Sedartis thinks we are far from doomed as a species. That, he makes me understand, is the good news. The bad news, as far as he is concerned, is that we are hopelessly inefficient. We evolve, but reluctantly so, and so slowly. He makes me feel this is my personal responsibility, and in a way it is: we have some ten, twenty, thirty thousand years of civilisation behind us, and we still allow ourselves to be stuck in our ‘from zero’ troubles: the wars, the bloodshed, the struggle for survival, the hunger, the despair, the fighting each other over trivial issues and slices of land, the ideological battles, the religious zeal, the blind and wilful stupidity.

The blind and wilful stupidity. That, above all, is a crime. Sedartis doesn’t mince words when he thinks his essential thoughts:

‘Stupidity is a crime.’ Not, he hastens to add—aware and fearful in equal measure that this part of his thought may get lost, and he now forever be misunderstood—‘not,’ he emphasises, ‘not the crime of the stupid. You cannot blame the people who are imprisoned in an unevolved mind for being stupid. The responsibility for allowing the perpetuation of lethal stupidity—the kind of stupidity that leads someone to speak of “deplorables,” which is undiplomatic, but contains an essence of truth—lies with the educated and the informed much more than with the trapped; the leaders much more than the followers. Unless you’ve been given a taste for learning and an insight into what insight opens you up to, you cannot —not unless you’re exceptional—rescue yourself from stupidity. Dullness of mind begets dullness of mind, enlightenment enlightens, it has ever been thus.

‘But,’ Sedartis continues, with a note of concern that troubles me just as much as his observation: ‘your problem is not that you don’t have wisdom: you have it in spades.’ I like the way he uses the word ‘spades’ in the context of ‘wisdom.’ It seems incongruous and grounded both at the same time. ‘Your problem is that it reaches nowhere near far enough fast enough, and you allow the majority of your species to treat it with disdain. You grow entire generations in whom nine out of ten individuals don’t ever entertain any notion of wisdom; don’t even know what it means, let alone recognise it as something that might just be worth aspiring to.’

I realise this is true. And sad. Who even uses the word ‘wisdom’ and doesn’t inwardly smirk? Have we lost, entirely, the way of the wise?…

‘Your problem is that you have to keep starting from scratch. Every human born has the potential to be wise and enlightened, gentle and kind; generous, strong, humane and embracing of human nature as well as of nature itself, though evolved from the baseline of simple survival. And yet only a fraction reach their potential.

‘Never even mind your developing nations, the poverty stricken and the destitute—why are they poverty stricken, still, why, after all this time, after so many centuries of science, of progress, technology, wealth, are they still destitute, why?—never even mind these (and they are your responsibility too), but your most advanced societies, your richest and best connected: you still allow half of their populations to get to the point only where they can barely fend for themselves; where they still feel they have to fend for themselves. How is such a thing possible?’

His inflexion tells me that this is no rhetorical question. It beggars belief, I know, and I wonder. Often. And I know Sedartis thinks me these thoughts in response to my puzzlement at where we are.

‘Your problem is you keep having to start from scratch.’ I appreciate the nuance. ‘Every single individual specimen of your species is born with an empty brain. It’s a beautiful thing, this potential, this clean slate, this Innocence Innate; and you think of it as inherently human, because it is.’

I believe it is. This Innocence Innate: it is inherently human. Could we love our children, if it weren’t so?

‘It’s also incredibly inefficient.’ This, I fear, may be more bad news. Sedartis thinks not, he thinks it a challenge, he wants to convince me that this is not a good thing nor is it a bad thing either, it is just a thing, and one we need to embrace:

‘If you want to advance to the next level, if you want to take your next major leap, you are going to have to do something you may think of—paradoxically—as inconceivable, but that will become as normal to you as walking upright and speaking in sentences has become normal to you now: become hybrid. With your own invention, information technology. It is part of you already, you created it: far from being separate from or alien to you, it is you. Augmented intelligence. You’re already augmenting your physical capability all the time, you’re building body parts, you’re transplanting at will, you’ll be printing organs ere long. You shy away very briefly before you embrace the advantages of a body that works, and overcome any squeamishness you may have about manipulating what you were given by nature. Your next step, unless you want to stay stuck in this repetition of ‘from zero’ learning—which entails all your quirky, adorable failings—is to tap your brains into the network and allow new generations to start from a base above zero.’

That, I instinctively shudder, is surely wildly problematic. ‘Indeed,’ thinks Sedartis, ‘it is. Your ethical challenges have just gone exponential. You have a task on your hands; there is no way around it, because this is as inescapable as reading glasses or pacemakers were at their time, and you’ve quite readily got used to them too; but this is a step of a different magnitude, and, beyond magnitude, of a different kind altogether: you will have to think about what you want your species to be. You have to actually, consciously, define what it is to be human.

‘Shudder you may, and recoil for a moment, but then you have to get over yourself and grasp this nettle like all the others you’ve grasped, and take your people with you. Allow not half of you to be left behind and become the servants—the, dare I say, slaves—of those who push forward. Allow not your species to be torn apart into two, three tiers with some going all the way, and some being left stranded, and some unable, unwilling or unallowed to proceed, simply because they do not understand. If they understand and choose different, that is another matter. But help them at least understand. You’re on the brink of a development that will set the tone for the next few hundred, maybe few thousand years of your species. Do this well: you have everything riding on it.’

Do this well…


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12 The Sultaness (Revisited)

She doesn’t leave me alone, this woman, plausibly because she’s so womanly. With a regrettable paucity of experience, I retain an abstract notion at best of what Woman is. Or Man, coming to think of it. In all likelihood and compared to most, I retain a largely abstract notion of what anyone is. Are we human? Or are we dancer.

I imagine her on a mountain of cushions, brushing her hair. A dwarf eunuch wafting air upon her with a Pergamon fan. As I enter the room – is it a hall, a tent, a boudoir? – she looks up at me with an aloofness that is both superior and benign. She doesn’t know who I am, and neither do I, although she has spoken to me already, in mysterious ways.

Woven into the pillows are the sorrows and tears of the virgins that were slaughtered in vain and the hopes and aspirations of their betrothed princes, kept and murdered as slaves. I hear the din of the bazar and I smell its scents which are, as expected, exotic and I hear the muezzin’s adhan. This call I heed, though I am not a believer, and leave her waiting, once more. She knows, and stifles a yawn, but inwardly she delights.

It occurs to me that it does not matter. It matters not why The Sultaness has taken up residence in my mind any more than it matters why I have come to Istanbul to encounter my thirty-years younger self. It matters not that I make no sense to myself at the moment and it matters not that looking at George here who is me at the age of about twenty, I can’t be in Kingston-upon-Thames at the same time, and it never ever mattered what I was going to go there for in the first place; or second, or third.

What matters is just that I don’t get these next fifty seconds wrong. If I don’t come up with a question that has at least some weight, some inquisitive purpose to it, he’ll not only think me lame but he’ll be bound to query my motives. And although I know and remember myself as someone who will for as long as possible give anyone the benefit of the doubt, I also know that once that bond of trust is broken it cannot be repaired, not easily; maybe never. I don’t want to let myself down.

And so asking him how he is doing, or where he is from, or what he makes of this city, or where he is headed next, or how he enjoys his Mojito, none of these will do (although I am in fact interested to know how his Interrail trip ended up landing him here on the outside edge of Europe, and what might have happened to his friend, and which friend it was, since I clearly would know him; but that also holds me at bay: I should not enquire about our mutual friend, as that would very obviously demand some explanation). Nor do I want to ask him some random question, such as what is the meaning of life, or pretend that there is some information he has that I need to know, or anything utilitarian, like where is a good place to eat. (Besides, we are at a good place to eat already and I know we both are creatures of habit, so unnecessarily asking for a different one would make me sound either disingenuous or stupid.)

I wait until he has taken another sip from his cocktail – only now does it really occur to me that’s what we are doing: drinking cocktails – and ask him, ‘where do you imagine yourself in, say, 30 years from today.’

No sooner have I spoken these words than I realise just how absurd this is: thirty years from now I’ll be eighty and he will be fifty; what is he supposed to answer? Will thirty years from now be thirty years down his timeline, or mine? And won’t that depend on how the next fifty seconds, and then fifty minutes and maybe then fifty hours pan out?

I sense that my reality is about to implode, when he does something unexpected. Having been him, it shouldn’t come unexpected to me; having been him I should have seen this coming, in a more normal situation perhaps even remembered, but he nevertheless catches me out and fairly floors me:

‘Here,’ he says, laconic and calm, with his innocence and nascent wisdom and a curious sparkle in his eye, ‘talking to you.’