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Sunday, November 13, 2011

11/11/11

In Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate on 11/11/11 in 2011, costumes were the norm in the evening as revelers celebrated the numeric convergence. I suspect that unlike the Chinese, the Europeans were struck by the convergence itself, rather by any good luck attached to the numerology. I myself was struck by the convergence alone. Both at 11:11am and 11:11pm, I was surprised that other Americans around me seemed to be either ignorant of the alignment or utterly indifferent to it. It occurred to me that just as a given time-date system is artificial, so too are human cultures—which include political and economic values that are stitched together by leaders who peddle meaning to the masses. Both our systems and our ideologies are all too limiting, yet we can find meaning in them. Perhaps this is ultimately why we have them and the leaders that trumpet them or suggest new ones. I contend that 11/11/11 too plays into the human instinct for sense-making, especially in terms of visual and cognitive symmetries.

At 11:11am on 11/11/11, I limited my “celebration” to sending out some emails to some friends and a general tweet to mark the moment for posterity; curiously, the people around me did not seem aware of the convergence. At 11:11pm, I was at a bar/restaurant listening to a band of old geezers play classic rock (and, sadly, a few Jimmy Buffett songs) from the 1970s. The only convergence in the 1970s was inflation and unemployment in the double-digits. In spite of my protestations, even the people I sitting with seemed utterly indifferent to the coming convergence—even as I took off my watch for emphasis! Still nothing—like watching a train go by on its own momentum. A few people across the room were checking their cellphones and blackberries, but, alas, for more pedestrian purposes than to keep an eye on the coming cosmic convergence. As I rather blatantly went to the lighted doorway to better see my watch at “the moment,” I felt utterly alienated from my own people. It was a case of the one and the many.
When the moment came, as I watched the five numbers on my digital watch all briefly display “11,” I felt like I was on Mars enjoying the thrill of my own private “Earth” moment while the Martians continued to sip their red brew. No, I was not drinking so I did not really think I saw aliens (they are all in Arizona, after all). Rather, I was struck by the divergence in values even amid the convergence in numbers. There wasn’t even a clock in the room! Had I been the manager there, I would have tried to arrange a date-time digital “clock” on a screen. Would the people have counted down the seconds? Would they have paid any attention to it? Walking back to my seat, I wondered whether I wasn’t some reincarnated European reborn in the Midwest as some bizarre joke from Descartes’ divine deceiver, or perhaps I was over-estimating the Europeans’ interest in the convergence. Perhaps it’s simply that I’m too innately unique—a man destined to forever be without a country.
About thirty minutes after 11:11pm, I was chatting with a middle-aged man who had been fired as a band teacher at a local high school. Our conversation came around to political economy. “Greed is good,” he stated in perfect seriousness with his eyes as though bullets aimed directly at me. I reacted as if I had been stunned by a taser gun. No wonder the guy’s students obeyed him. As for the gaping inequality in wealth in the U.S., he insisted that people should be allowed to accumulate without limit—even when they already have tens of billions of dollars. “That’s what America is all about,” he nearly shouted above the din of the band. How dare this even be questioned! The man was indeed voicing values held by enough Americans that he was expressing a major strand of American culture that I could not dismiss as an aberration or quirk. When I claimed that representative democracy itself could be at risk if private wealth gets even more concentrated in a few hands, he replied that the rich would never let America be ruined because they have a vested interest in the system. “The rich created this system,” he reminded me. Sure enough, the delegates at the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787 were creditors deeply concerned over Shays’ Rebellion over debt that had just occurred in Massachusetts a year earlier. That the debtors had fought in the war without being paid yet they still had to make payments on their farm debt made no nevermind to the “Founders.” Was American founded by selfishness and greed? The former band teacher replied, “Yes, of course” as if there were no a thing wrong with that. I was absolutely stunned. I felt like I had been transported to Mars. I countered that even if a bunch of rich guys founded the United States, greed can result in people acting against their own self-interest, paradoxically as they are narrowly obsessed with it. “America can collapse from its own weight on top,” I added as though it were a fact. As I said this, I had already concluded that I was horribly at odds with a major plank in the American lexicon—namely, that economic liberty should not be limited, even at hundreds of billions of dollars being held by one person. In fact, the lack of limit, even when a constraint would be for the good of the system itself, is held by many as a virtue—something to be proud of. That a signature of greed is its lack of limitation is no problem because greed itself is a virtue. I found myself as though I were visiting another planet, though this time without even my own private amusement in watching 11’s match up on my watch. Beyond the cultural ideology, I saw in the leader of the band a sordid selfishness that could only be utterly unapologetic given its nature. All I could say was, “Well, we just disagree. Have a good night. Nice to have met you.” I wondered if the rest of the world had come to say the same thing to the American “tourist” (i.e., ideology) even while admiring our political stability and wealth.
Of course, people can get carried away not only with power and money, but also with convergences such as 11:11 on 11/11/11 in terms of luck, causality and metaphysics. In this respect, American culture is more solid than, say, that of the Chinese. As David Hume argues, we do not understand causality as much as we think. Hence, superstition is as though a perennial temptation—especially in religion, where the lapse is almost always invisible to the beholder. In numerology, the number one represents a beginning or gateway. Having several number ones presumably reinforces the validity of the “beginningness” quality. In other words, the “vibrational frequency of the prime number” increases its power such that its attributes are multiplied.  In the case of the number one, the attributes of “new beginnings” and “purity” are significantly magnified in power in 11/11/11, presumably reaching its zenith at 11:11 (a.m. and p.m., or just once on the 24 hour clock). The fallacy, which I suspect took hold in China, is to say that the increase in power means that there is more apt to be a beginning empirically and even metaphysically. We can resist this temptation to get carried away with even rare line-ups in our own systems, which, after all, are artificial because they are invented and instituted by people. In other words, even though it is a human instinct, sense-making need not over-flow and eventuate into metaphysical significance. We cannot say that acknowledging 11/11/11/ opens up a gateway in one’s life. Rather, a person can actively start something irrespective of the numbers, even if only by spotting and seizing an opportunity.
A numeric alignment can hold its own significance within its own system for the human mind. That is, the significance can be felt even as it is known to be contrived and thus arbitrary from outside the system. As I stood in the lighted doorway waiting for my watch to briefly line up its various numbers to 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 as the rest of the room was fixated on the band (or the walls, or themselves), I presumed no metaphysical significance at all in terms of some beginning about to occur in my life; rather, it was the convergence itself—the fleeting and rare alignment—that galvanized my interest. The sudden turn from 1999 to 2000 was a similar sort of significance in terms of numbers in a particular dating system. People did not need to presume the issuance of a new era or good luck to get excited at 11:59pm on December 31, 1999 about the next minute being so different. Yet was it? Something can be felt as significant even as it is known to be arbitrary, yet such significance can be easily relegated.
Admittedly, it was more difficult to get excited about New Years’ Eve in 2005 or even 2010, given the significance of 2000. Similarly, on 11/11/11, a sense of complacency could have set in regarding convergences of ones. The year 2011 alone contained an extraordinary number of them:
1:11:11 on 1/1/11     
11:11:11 on 1/1/11      
 1:11:11 on 1/11/11     
11:11:11 on 1/11/11     
 1:11:11 on 11/1/11       
11:11:11 on 11/1/11
1:11:11  on 11/11/11      
11:11:11 on 11/11/11 
However, how many of these did the average person observe? I myself completely missed 1:11pm on 11/11/11 even though I was fixated on 11:11am and 11:11pm. I must have been “out to lunch” at 1:11pm. Although it would be 100 years before 11/11/11 would happen again, it would be “only” 10 years and a few months before 2:22pm (forget 2:22am!) on 2/22/22. Technically speaking, missing a “2” (2/ rather than 22/) means that the multiplied power of the “2” will be somewhat less. Trinitarians will have reason to get excited over 3/3/33 at 3:33pm, which will be the day after Ash Wednesday in 2033. However, the number of 3’s is one less than the number of 2’s in 2/22/22. Barring significant life-extending advances in medical science, 11:11 on 11/11/11 in 2011 was the best it could get in terms of the number of numbers in a numeric date-time convergence for those adults who happened to witness that convergence.
That this topic holds any significance whatsoever is I suspect due to the propensity of the human mind to seek and admire order. In terms of symmetry alone, the eye naturally gravitates to 1111111111 rather than 1645564336. The gambling machine that has three windows with a variety of pictures spinning around, we are naturally astonished when the same picture is shown in all three windows. Even so, three lemons does not mean bad luck any more than three apples means good health in the coming year. 11/11/11 is not an alignment by chance, even if the Gregorian calendar itself need not have been adopted when it was. Even so, the planned or arranged alignment, being both of, is inherently pleasing to the eyes and holding significance to the mind, especially if the convergence is rare and fleeting. It is as though everything makes sense, but only for a moment and then it is past. In fact, it is this basic feature of the mind—that which I call the sense-making instinct—that is the basis and appeal of a leader’s vision to followers and an organization or society as a whole. The social reality that is formulated and preached is like a series of ones in a chaotic world of fractal order and disorder.