Easing Explained


Language is difficult. It’s a thin and precarious bridge stung between people. We often take it for granted. We operate, we have to, with some half-ignorant surety that our words mean something and that these meanings are solid. We act as if clarity is possible and we do this largely because we known that obfuscation is possible. We believe in clarity because we live with its opposite. It’s often easy to forget how difficult it can be for even just two people who speak the same language to communicate with each other.

In times such as these, fraught with desire and politics, when words take on more meaning than they usually bear, communication grows more difficult still. At the exact moment when we require complexity and nuance from our words, they fail us. It becomes harder to communicate with any complexity and nuance. Indeed, in situations such as these, our meanings might better be rendered in primate shrieks and soft cooing sounds. If these sounds are not our meanings, our meanings might still be heard as such.

Like everything else, language itself slows down. Words and terms must be circled back on and clarified. Here,in South Korea, we were told that social distancing was being “eased” and this was followed by a couple of days of debate about the meaning of “easing” and whether that word should even be used to describe these next few tentative steps. This confusion emerged even among people who share the same response and context.

When a word as charged as this gets exported into drastically different situations, such as North America, there is a whole host of other risks. What a North American might imagine “easing” to mean, the context they hear “easing” in, and the conditions they imagine “easing” can occur in are all radically different. Is “easing” a fantasy of an end? How does “easing” sound in New York? Las Vegas? What does it mean in these places?

Language is always difficult. It’s some sort of miracle that anyone ever even pulls off the trick of communication. Sometimes, I suspect that no one ever really succeeds. At best, we sometimes achieve an impression that we have deeply communicated when, really, our mutual misunderstandings have only proved functionally irrelevant and our paltry shared meanings and mistakes have shown themselves to be both compatible and workable. Most often, we’re just shrieking and cooing. That’s often about the best we can hope for.

Oddly, I have some faith in the ability of science fiction to help with this difficulty. As a genre, I think it deals much more in resonance than prediction and I believe these two things are often confused — usually to the detriment of the art. And I think that science fiction, with its weird imaginaries, works a lot better at communicating under stress than terms like “easing restrictions”, which are so subject to local interpretation. Science fiction also allows better organizing metaphors than “war.” Not that you would know this from a lot of science fiction.

So, I’m going to try to give you an idea of where we are here, right now, in Korea, using some fucking sci-fi talk. I hope it will help to clarify the situation.

Starship South Korea has suffered a disaster. A bad one. Bats. Not even space bats but just regular old bats that somehow stowed away from spaceport. These bats get into the fuel, mutate, and multiply like motherfuckers. You would not believe these bats. You have a single bat, make a single mistake, and you got a ship of pregnant bats spraying bat eggs all over.

The ship cannot be fixed while in space. Even if it could be fixed in space, we would need a lot of help from our fleet to do so. That’s not going to happen. All the other ships in our space fleet are suffering from the same sudden disaster. They got bats in the engine too!

This bat problem was made worse by some of these engines, which apparently melt-down at the mere sight of a bat, others which increase the mutation, and by some of the captains, many of whom got the job because their dad pulled a few strings or maybe their dad was a captain too. Some of these captains decided that a bat-nest could never threaten a starship’s engine. They basically tried to ignore the whole bat issue. These ships are now overrun with guano. In many cases, these other ships are getting it worse. Some of these captains have opened their airlocks and blown most their crew out the doors while leaving the bats clinging to the rafters. It’s a real mess. Bats? Who would have thought?

But, a few years back,Starship Korea had a possum in the engine room. Since then, it’s been thinking about these things. That space possum taught everyone to take these creatures serious and it meant there was some bat-proofing in place. The ship deployed its bat catchers early. Still wasn’t easy. We’ve managed to catch a lot of the bats and to suppress the biggest flames from the biggest fires. (Our captain’s hair is no longer a torch, for example.) But there’s still embers glowing, plasma flows flowing where no plasma should flow, and bat eggs all over the place — some of which are carried by the fruiting bodies of the people other ships have ejected from their airlocks, and others eggs which are just under the carpets despite the best efforts of the vacuum crews. But it has been a minute since an explosion. This is a minute that we need to use.

We think we’ve stabilized the structural integrity of the ship. Not totally and not well enough to continue through space. Maybe well enough to try an emergency landing. We’ve even located a nearby world that scans as possibly hospitable to human life. Possibly! If we can get down there, we can shut down the engine and maybe even get to work on fixing this ship and dealing with the whole bat problem. We can do more bat-proofing.

But we haven’t landed the ship. We’re only now attempting entry into that planet’s atmosphere. The ship might burn up in this atmosphere or just crash into the planet. Our landing apparatus is a little suspect and, on top of this, no one has ever actually tried landing a starship on a planet because it is a STARship not a LAND ON A PLANETship.

And this planet that we’re not even on yet? The air seems sort of breathable but there will be problems. We’ve also detected some very strange life-signs in the mountains. But we can worry about those after we land without exploding. Right now, that’s the problem.

So, yeah, it’s like restrictions have been eased (just a little) but this is about where we are – coming into an alien atmosphere at high speed. It’s risky shit but it has to be done.

Our command structure is competent and well trained, our crew is doing what it should. We’re listening to the experts, and following instructions. Accepting escape pods. We have communications up and working and we’re trying to share information, resources, and direction to this planet with other members of our space fleet. This could be going better.

For some reason, some ships aren’t answering hails. Others are claiming that they’ve found a bigger better planet, the greatest planet full of the best people, and that they are already living on that planet where they beam magic light into themselves to get rid of bat eggs. (We see no such planet on our sensors, have never heard of this light thing, and according to our computer printout, that ship looks like it’s floating dead in space and is very full of and totally overwhelmed with bats. The very best and biggest bats with the most eggs. You should see these eggs.) Some ships have decided that the crews who run the ship are expendable dead weight and might even be bats, and that killing their crew is the way to get rid of bats. Others seem to think that the bats will only attack their elderly, infirm, and weak, and advocate for eugenics by bat because it’s cheaper than bat-egg vacuums. Many ships just seem to looking for someone to blame.

Some ships have decided to fly their collapsing bat-filled ships straight into the sun.

Strange communications from those ships.

Their messages repeat “THE ECONOMY THE ECONOMY THE ECONOMY.” It’s the chant of a death cult that believes that the cleansing fire of the sun will burn away the corruption of the physical ship and leave only the pure spiritual essence of The Free Market. In retrospect, that death cult should have been dealt with long ago. Its members never should have been allowed anywhere near Space Fleet. Bribed their way in, is the rumor. Even at the best of times, they’re steering their ships towards every sun and black-hole they can find. And now we have to hear this final morbid chant from them. That too will need fixing.

But, right now, we just have to get through this atmosphere. After that there’s the landing. All these things will be triumphs and failures, endings and beginnings. If we even manage to land this ship without crushing it like a tin can, we can start wondering about the atmosphere and those life-forms in the mountains. What are they even? Reptoids? Humanoids? Bannanoids? Hopefully, we’ll find out. Hopefully, they’ll be friendly. With care, we may even manage to establish friendly relations. We’re going to need friends. Because this fucked up alien planet with its constant newt volcanoes? We’re going to be here for a while and we’re going to be here with bats. This is going to be our home. The ship might not be fixable, the bats might be here to stay. We’re going to have to learn to live with bats as best we can. We’re going to need all the help we can get and to give all the help that we can.

So better get used to it. Better learn to adapt. Better learn to like bats.

And I hope that clears things up. Hope it clarifies the meaning of “easing.” It’s trying an emergency landing on a strange new planet. In the meantime


–repeat message–

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