The Lincoln Tunnel was a sublime passage. Terrifying to think of the worst case scenario, and glorious to think of the triumph over natural obstacles. It was both, as were all the bridges and tunnels into and around New York City. They all started in the human imagination and now made us physically more connected, so there was a spirit to these creations, as there were traces in all human creations.
It was his annual pilgrimage for research and inspiration, resuming after a two year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic – starting with the monstrous connective works of art that filled him with awe.
And that feeling of emerging unscathed onto the island of Manhattan was always a glimpse of the divine. You are blessed with an extension of your life, now go do well with it, it seemed.
Everyone on the island was starting to look like someone from his past. He guessed that happened the older you got, and went back to wading in the human energy of the world’s buzzing financial and cultural capital that floated on a thirteen mile long and two mile wide island, two hours from his home.
Post-pandemic, the buildings were still tall and domineering, the billboards fast and bright, and the cacophony of the street still stirring; but the human energy was lower. Less ambition and passion, more worry, more disillusionment worn on faces like errant remnants of masks they meant to remove.
And his nagging need to help fix it was with him as his only companion.
He would stop for the occasional person asking for help on the street, and after getting to know a bit about them, give them some small assistance, usually cash or food, while he himself appreciated and welcomed the struggle to be middle class, honestly. It was good, but inadequate … it might get some water out of the boat but the water was still pouring in. “So let me photograph and write” he thought. Maybe we can reach more through images and prose than silver and gold.
There was an answer to all of this, we just didn’t have it yet. It was easier when we just blamed the devil. God and America were all the answers and the devil and enemy nations were all the problems.
He thought about how blunt weapons used to be. Bludgeoning, then spears, stabbing, swords, then arrows, guns, and laser guided missiles and drones. Problems could be erased by force. What a crude philosophic technology, he thought – what cowardice from the pain of thinking and confronting human suffering. He imagined early mathematicians simply destroying problems they couldn’t solve, rather than figuring them out. It was an absurd, yet apt comparison.
He stopped seeing angels and devils in his teens, and adopted a position of agnosticism in spiritual matters. But as he ventured into politics he realized the same algorithm was at play. Two distractingly dueling sides – each the other’s devil in limited human perception. But training his own brain in agnosticism he soon realized it applied as a process to politics, and eventually all of life. With the help of a tiny think tank he named the more involved process “active uncertainty” – because we don’t know much, and we have to be proactive about it. We mostly don’t know, but we feel like we know. Like the dark matter of the universe we are suspended mostly in a virtual cytoplasm of uncertainty. And this seemingly terrifying realization eventually morphed into a comforting form of salvation itself.
Salvation because it was honest, so it had integrity. Salvation because it closed the gap of divine discontent. And salvation because it united every human being.
So he treaded the gummy sidewalks dodging people like a slalom course to Times Square, the mecca of the free market, and beheld the congregation. They weren’t kneeling or folding hands, but they were overfilling the collection baskets. Clad in brands like identity stamps, they indulged their palliative of uninterrupted pleasure until death. Give us your money and you will have joy. Give us your time and energy, your esteem, your intellect, and you will have constant pleasure, and no pain. The process of worship was the same internally, only expressed differently on the surface, where social pressure kept everyone to a material standard of worth.
God is not dead. God is money, again. I buy, therefore I am. This was philosophic technology. Taking the work of previous philosophers, updating it, and applying it in real life.
He wondered if most people knew that over the centuries the tallest buildings used to be the churches, then government buildings, and now office buildings. Painters and poets used to portray gods and angels, then kings and knights and now the self and celebrities.
Money’s pleasure, pills and prizes are the modus operandi to dwell in the 21st Century version of paradise.
Children in the past dreamt of holiness, then chivalry, and now wealth. But “wealth” isn’t the right word – it sounds too much like “health.” Toxic wealth, imbalanced, empty wealth that lacks nutrients for the soul is causing an illness in the citizen body. It’s easy for human beings to blur the line between ambition and greed he thought, and wondered how many knew about the philosopher’s golden mean between the vices and virtues that paralleled the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues. He wondered as he looked at the crowd waiting outside the device store like the proverbial golden calf.
All of these material props couldn’t exist without the biological and spiritual core, but they belied the invisible dysfunction that produced them.
But what would that world look like, in the “red pill” world of truth? No tall buildings? No billboards? No shiny new devices?
No, they would be here. But they would be symbols of truth, balance and growth of human intellect, not excess carnal pleasure. They would celebrate the homeostasis in the citizen body, individual and collective joy, not haves and have nots, legions of losers and a smattering of winners, on a hollow material level.
The tall buildings would be centers of thinking, learning, and community service. The painters and poets would portray all creators, contributors, and keepers of the balance. The ones that helped end war and poverty. The ones that helped every human being have the dignity of a home.
The bridges and tunnels were a mind boggling engineering achievement … and he couldn’t fathom how to begin such a feat. And yet most he talked to saw homeostasis in the citizen body, which he could imagine more readily, as more impossible. This is why we have to develop every human being to their full potential. We need physical bridges and tunnels, but we even more urgently need metaphoric bridges and tunnels between us to keep us connected and functioning in health, as one body.
The whinny of a police horse arrested his attention as he lined up outside The Majestic Theater on 44th Street. It was louder than police horses he had remembered in Philadelphia. And the smell of a halal food truck added to the completeness of the NYC experience. The blended languages and accents reminded him of how the different cells of the body might communicate. But the body had a universally compatible language that all of the cells understood in addition to their own.
He didn’t think watching The Phantom of the Opera would solve this particular challenge, but it would give him a clue as to how to keep a billion people voluntarily entertained while gaining insight that would build those bridges and tunnels; if not to Times Square, then to each other’s hearts and souls.