no limits

One thing trafficked in frequently these days – maybe the thing most frequently sold to us rubes – is the increasingly threadbare notion of “no limits.” They may not use those exact words, but they say the new iPhone 6s will do more, faster, better than any iPhone, or any other phone out there. Which might even briefly be true, but the hard limits of network and processor speed and  memory quickly outweigh the wow factor.

A phone is new for about a day. Then it’s 24 months of $30+ bills for something that is unlikely to get you a better job, a better relationship, a better anything. But we believe, or sort of believe, in the same way we used to believe a new car could solve our problems.

Still, maybe having something positive – no matter how false – in our lives that promises no limits is necessary, because on the other side of the ledger, no limits is a concept that is scarily real.

A Russian airliner crashed in Egypt Saturday, killing 224 people. The New York Times reported many of them were young families on vacation. A branch of the Islamic State claims responsibility, but it doesn’t look like they have the capability to do such a thing, so they may have taken credit for something awful that was not their doing. What is this?

What this is, is a world in which the wheels have come off, there are no adults left to settle things, and it’s every man, creed, political party for him or herself. In such a world, you shrug and say “Sure we did it. Because we’re right and no one else counts.”  In fairness, not much is new – for most of human history, there haven’t been any adults in the room, just brute strength and weakness. But imperfectly, sometimes – not often enough – we managed to get past that in the 20th century.

And the hits keep coming: a couple of mass shootings back – it’s easy to lose track – President Obama decried how routine the whole thing had become, from the grief of the relatives to his words to the reaction of the anti-gun control side. The shootings are no longer anomalies; they’re more like a constant, sick-making infection. Today, for instance, there’s “1 Dead, 1 Hurt” in a university shooting down south, my local paper says. It’s a Sunday so it might get a little more attention than usual, but it won’t be that big a deal on the news tonight. And there will be some “we’re so bored with this we can barely deliver our lines” business about it being a mental health problem not a gun problem, and how more weapons on campus is really what we need.

(Edit – Foolish me. I didn’t bother to see whether there were any other mass shootings this weekend and completely missed the one in Colorado Springs Saturday in which a gunman walked down the street, shooting people with a rifle until he was killed by police. Just another weekend afternoon….)

Finally, the New York Times has a fascinating investigation up about how big companies have systematically opted the rest of us out of the justice system – at least when it comes to suing the companies for wrong-doing – by forcing us to agree to binding arbitration when we do everyday things like sign up for a credit card or cable TV. This is, the newspaper points out, a historic change in the way civil law is carried out, as well as being a royal screwing of the public – and it has happened in plain sight, in all those agreements you click through to get to whatever thing it is you need to buy, to get.

You can take these few examples, and the many, many more piled up behind them every day, week, hour, as a test, an effort to find out just how much we can take, a “How low can you go?” Some Neuromancer-era bored scientist at work. That’s one option. But the other argument is that the people at the top of things understand how broken it all is already, and either aren’t able to stop, or see an advantage in not stopping –  an “if climate change is inevitable, why not burn more gas?” sort of thing. And “no limits” refers to depravity and poverty and the painful recognition that this just isn’t going to get any better.

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