Expect Little!

My mission to procure cigarettes and beer from the liquor store nearly ended in disaster one night last summer when a woman in a swell car almost ran me down.  She had responsibly checked for oncoming traffic — in the wrong direction — before executing her turn, and as she passed me our eyes met through the passenger window.  She looked at me as if to say, “oh! how long have you been there?” and I stood in the street, toes mere inches from her rolling tires, grinning back at her in frank amusement.

I should have been outraged.  I should have spit upon the hood of her car.  The thing is, I just didn’t feel any anger toward her at all.  I found it funny that she might have killed me outright and, altogether oblivious of her  manslaughter, simply gone on to shop at Target.

Was it remarkable that a person should make such a glaring error among the throngs of humans negotiating the myriad avenues and boulevards of Los Angeles County, thought I?  Oh, hardly.  In fact, only an idiot wouldn’t expect it.

Then suddenly, as I went on my way with a wide smile warming my face, I shrugged, and an epiphany descended upon me as if from heaven.

“Expect little,” I said aloud.

And I’ve been saying it every day since.

The obnoxious behavior of others is normal for human beings. Expect little.

Expect little is a prayer.  It soothes and calms.  It educates.  It’s an unlikely mantra which inculcates a sort of passive humility.

It may be a nice gesture to presume that everyone is endowed with friendliness, elementary skills and common sense, but it’s an unlikely supposition which can only lead to discontent.   One ought rather to expect little of others.  Hate becomes very difficult when people act in accordance with your already-low expectations of them.

It behooves us all to acquaint ourselves with the idea that humanity may not be cut out for greatness, not even in our own hackneyed estimation.

Expect little, friends, because the highest percentage of people is always more rude, stupid, and unkempt than the minority of well-mannered, intelligent, and hygienic people.  This is because exceptional characteristics are by definition above average — which is to say, that they are the exception, rather than the rule.  Expecting little from people allows you to be content with the way people actually are, and pleasantly surprised by above-average behavior, which is as it should be.

To expect excellence from people, on the other hand, is silly.  People have never been cool en masse, but mass media has programmed us to expect everyone to be beautiful, polite, and at least somewhat intelligent.  This is (ha, ha!) not the case.

Expecting excellence from people is not even respectful to them.  In fact, it’s condescending.  You aren’t so cool, yourself, you know, particularly from the perspectives of people who don’t live up to your high standards.  We — you and I — are not cool enough to expect good things from others.  We don’t even know what cool is, in the universal sense.

Let people be stupid.  Let them be themselves, for God’s sake (big G).  Let them be stupid today, because you’re probably going to do something stupid tomorrow.

Think you're especially brilliant? Wrong. Each of us is just as gloriously idiotic as the next. Embrace humanity.

Expect little, because you can quickly become depressed by the amount of people who fail to meet your expectations.  That’s not any good.  Discontent with others leads to treating people as though you do not like them around — which tends to convince people that you do not like them around.  Pretty soon, you find yourself without anybody around, and where do you suppose everyone has gone?  Why, into the next room, of course, where everyone is frowning in your direction and calling you an elitist asshole.

Of you, they would do better to expect little.

We don’t only have irrationally high expectations of people, though.  Occasionally, we even find ourselves angry with luck, itself, as if it were slacking or something, remiss in its duties, not paying close enough attention to us and producing the wrong kind of random event.   This is perhaps our most common madness.  Why should we expect good fortune from random chance?  Random chance is the one thing from which we shouldn’t expect anything at all!

The world’s smartest computer can’t make accurate predictions of what random chance will produce.  Why bother lamenting an unfortunate mishap as if shocked that it might inconvenience you?  Mishaps happen.  In fact, mishaps happen so regularly — and with such colorful variety — that we ought long ago to have stopped guessing what should or should not transpire within the course of a day.  However, the rusty computers between our ears are always half-dedicated to overestimating their ill-collected data and faulty projections.

You see, then, we even expect too much of ourselves.  We’re only human, friends.  Chase your dreams in earnest, quest valiantly for glory, and by-all-means be the change you wish to see in the world, as the neo-hippies say — but…

Expect little.

Luck of the draw got you down? Dice come up snake-eyes again? Take my word for it -- expect little.

Expect little!  Expect your neighbor to make too much noise.  Expect your boss to give you too much work.  Expect helicopter parenting, drunk driving, and repeat offending, often by the same culprits.  Expect your favorite band to use too much cowbell.

Expect people from poorly educated states in poorly educated countries to act poorly educated.  Expect people crammed into tight quarters with millions of others to develop hurtful prejudices.  Expect full-grown adults to parrot what they see in movies, in magazines, and in mainstream music, and expect their teenagers (raised likewise by televisions and gangsta rap) to be perfectly disrespectful.

Expect politicians to lie, and cheat, and steal, not to mention fornicate with people you’d rather they wouldn’t.  Expect people with guns (soldiers, cops, and criminals) to shoot people.  Expect druggies to do drugs and go about in public on drugs, and to act just as though they might be high on drugs.  Say to them when you see them shrinking from the demons down aisle nine at Rite-Aid, “Hello, druggie.  How do you do?”

Expect preachers to sin, marriages to fail, and sons and daughters to leave the family religion.  Expect athletes to take steroids, psychiatrists to prescribe poison, and models to mutilate themselves surgically.  Expect wonder.  Expect marvel.  Expect to be astonished at the spectacle in which every one of us plays a humble part.

In other words, expect people to act just as though they were human — but for your own sake as well as that of others, the next time your friend complains that a significant other has forgotten an anniversary, or that some ruthless businessman has destroyed the local economy, or that a hapless driver has run over his or her favorite author (ahem), just shrug your shoulders and smile sympathetically, offer a beer and say to your friend,

“Expect little.”

With a great big smile and my fingers crossed, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Four Things You Are Not

Having spoken with several acquaintances about concerns they have in common, I feel that I must explain some things.

This will not take long.

I. You Are Not Dumb

I’ve never met a stupid human being.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I see people do stupid things all the time, but that doesn’t make anyone stupid. They’re mistaken, not stupid. There’s an enormous difference.

I make mistakes all the time, and I ain’t stupid. In fact, I may even be mistaken now. For all I know, I’ve been sharing oxygen with morons every day of my life. I don’t think so, though.

There’s no such thing as a stupid person, only stupid decisions. The stupidity of every act is determined by the trouble it causes. That’s the secret of Mrs. Gump’s wisdom, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

The way I look at it, everyone’s his or her own sort of genius, and everyone screws up in different ways to different degrees. Some of us have educations, some don’t, all of us pulling bonehead moves pretty much all the time…

It’s just that some of our screwups stand out more, is all.

The next time you feel bad because you don’t know the square root of zero or the political term for “asshole” or the approximate population of Paraguay, just remember how easily you buttoned your pants this morning, then try training a dolphin to do it.

Yeah, that’s right. Not so frickin’ smart now, are you, Flipper? Brains the size of cantaloupes, my ass.

We're all geniuses. Or, at least, we're each as brilliant as everyone else.

II. You Are Not Strange

Never have I met an entirely strange and bizarre person.

Every human feels set apart sometimes, different than and misunderstood by surrounding people, but nobody’s too different from anyone else. This is because we’ve only got so much to work with, our hands, eyes, brains, and all that.

For this reason our situations can’t vary too much — but our own interpretations of our circumstances, as well as the circumstances of others, can easily fool us into thinking that the beautiful, young and wealthy sleep like babies every night, carefree and serene, without a twinge of the various pains we regular people feel. However, it is arrogant and juvenile to presume oneself in a class apart. No matter how a person may dress, talk, walk, or whatever, one thing remains certain: there is no escaping humanity. Once a human, always a human, and this means being part of us.

You can’t be weird enough to out-weird humanity. You are never the only one. Like it or not, whether you’re stressed about paying for something, tore-up over an ex-lover, or mortified for having been caught masturbating, you’re just like everyone else.

You’re just like everyone else, and that’s really not so bad, because we’re all just like you, too.

If that depresses you, though, maybe because you’re one of those drama club people who’s been wearing wacky hats to garner attention since high school, or maybe because you always thought you were super-duper special, God’s special little chosen one (big G), then, go get a new haircut. That always makes me feel like a new man.

Nobody's much different from anyone else, really, but never underestimate the power of a new haircut to help you feel like an entirely unique person.

III. You Are Not Ugly

I have never met an ugly human being. Now, don’t get me wrong, I see people doing ugly things all the time, the sorts of things people do or say which make them less attractive to me, but I’ve never seen anyone without beauty.

Physically speaking, beauty is fairly simple to come by. Humanity has invented for itself all manner of cosmetics, clothes, soaps, styles, and even surgeries for the beautification of the human form, and versions of these are available to just about everyone. Not only this, but even the most cursory spin around the seedier side of the Internet can confirm that pretty much everyone is the sexiest person on earth to someone. Nothing so subjective deserves to be taken seriously.

The problem is, so many of you out there have let Hollywood convince you that you’re shambling, horrific wrecks, and now you’ve forgotten how nice you look with your hair the way you like it. You’ve forgotten how nice you look in that sweater your ex- bought you for Christmas. You’ve forgotten how to stand up straight and walk like you’ve got someplace to go, rather than sliding down the sidewalks of America like bewildered clumps of moss.

You aren’t ugly. You just look like you think you are. Show a little respect to your body, and I bet you get to use it a lot more for recreation.

IV. You Are Not Going to Hell

Most importantly (speaking of gods) neither you — nor anyone else — is going to hell.

I know this because no loving creator would ever make imperfect people, only to sit back and watch them burn throughout all eternity for having made imperfect decisions. Now, if we’re talking about a wicked, sadistic tyrant with a chip on his shoulder and an insatiable blood lust, then maybe hell exists after all, but so long as you believe in an all-understanding, ever-present god who emanates love throughout the universes, you’re forced to accept that you are not going to hell.

You may, however, be going to a cosmic video arcade, where all celestial matters are decided according to who achieves the high score on Frogger, Asteroids, and Donkey Kong.

Ancient Hebrew mysticism has revealed that the apocalypse will be triggered when Moses prevails over the Holy High Score of Pac-Man set by John the Baptist in 1150 A.D.

So please, fellow humans, take a look in the mirror and see nothing more or less than what you happen to be: a powerful, intelligent, intuitive body organ of the universe, humming and thrumming, capable of godlike wonders of creation and destruction, given to acts of compassion, gentility, and grace far beyond anything described in any holy book, yet also bearing the potential to invent horrors yet undreamed.

I don’t care who you are; I can’t but be in awe of you. You’re human, for god’s sake. You can read and write, concoct a casserole, develop an opinion of modern theatre, alter your brainwave patterns through self-medication, communicate terribly complex concepts, drive a car, teach children to sing, engage in genocide against insects, play badminton, knot a necktie, walk in high heels, hum a tune, organize a spitting contest, pen a poem, flirt, flaunt, fornicate — all this while considering the implications of your existence in space and time and your relationship to the universe which birthed you.

Just admit it. You’re far, far more than you take credit for (and modest, too!) and your worst opinion of yourself is a nightmare from which you may as well awaken, because your shortsighted opinion of yourself is just as much silliness as anything else humanity has come up with, such as duck-duck-goose, Sasquatch, chewing gum, Teletubbies, or the Presidential election.

I don’t know what else to say, except that it’s time I stopped having to explain this rudimentary nonsense to people. You’re cool, OK? If we could all stop acting like winners and losers in some crucial beauty pageant, some apocalyptic talent show, a whole lot of this global tension would disappear in a puff of goodwill and self-recognition.

Stop it. Just stop it. Relax. Be amused. No matter how seriously you take yourself, this life is hilarious.

With faith in my fellows and well-meaning impatience I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

The Finest University in Your Apartment

The strangest thing about school is that everyone takes it so seriously. Now, don’t get me wrong, when you’re paying two-thousand dollars every three months or so, it’s as serious as getting heart surgery for your cat (which is cheaper, I think) but people don’t speak of vets the way people speak of universities. The way people talk about places like Princeton and Oxford, you’d think Jesus Christ had taken a leak on them on His way home from the bar.

There’s nothing holy about getting a college education. It’s much more respectable to get a damned library card.

Anyone can do exactly what they’re told to do for four years, or even eight, should one happen to be especially susceptible. Convicts and soldiers do it all the time. Consider, though, the steel nerves and iron will of the person who, having selected the maximum number of books allowed by civic law, swipes that card in the slot at the front desk like it’s the sword of St. Michael, and gloriously enlists in the war against his or her own ignorance. Sole commander! Solitary soldier! Persevering hero!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you — the autodidact.

Seriously, did you really finish all those books in high school, or did you study Cliff's Notes and ace the test? Exactly.

University students act much the same as grade-schoolers, eating fast food three times a day and loving it, their rooms like poorly maintained thrift stores, grumbling and shuffling their way to classes, yawning their way through hours and hours of mostly pointless homework. They have no love for their professors unless late papers are acceptable, and no respect for the authors of their books, because most of their books cost more than a decent video game and read like a real-estate agent’s pamphlet on recent foreclosures.

Appropriately, most graduates take from their schools a heartfelt, lifelong pride. In their school’s football team.

The brave autodidact, though, drives out of the way after work to visit the used-book store, where (wonder of wonders!) paperbacks of classic literature and manuals on electrical wiring peacefully coexist on majestic, dusty shelves, twenty-five cents a’piece. The autodidact’s bookshelf is an autobiography: The Hobbit (sophomore year); Dracula (junior year); Catcher in the Rye (senior year); The Picture of Dorian Gray over summer, Beyond Good and Evil in the fall, and so on, and so forth. The Idiot’s Guide to Carpentry sits on a sawhorse in the new shed behind the house. Medicine and Hydroponics lies beside a row of potted plants in the closet . . .

Having completed college, the graduate concludes his studies. Having concluded his study of Bauhaus architecture, the autodidact takes up arc welding.

The autodidact, rather than hoping that something comes of next semester’s required courses, selects desired knowledge like a street racer buying high-performance auto parts, plugs it in, and crosses another finish line in the grand prix of life ahead of the competition.

Meanwhile, grad students pay eighty dollars for some hackneyed hardcover book that’s three-weeks on back order. They’d buy a used copy, but the professor’s requiring students to buy the twelfth edition (there’s a new edition every year) and guess who wrote the damned thing? Oh, look, the professor did.

“I’m not learning anything from this stupid class,” one pupil complains.

“I know,” gripes another. “I can’t wait to get the hell out of here and go to work in the field, where I can actually learn something about being a psychologist.”

Three years in and well on their way to graduating magna cum laude, even the students know that if they really want to learn something, they’ve got to hit the library on their own. It doesn’t take long to figure out that learning to study from books in college is like learning to screw from porno on the Internet.

In many areas, there's just no teacher like experience.

Anyone can tell you, the aim of college is a higher tax bracket, not a higher education. That’s just something they put on their letterhead so Random House will give their professors a shot at publication. You can’t count on a random team of experts to tell you what you most need to know. They don’t know what you’ve got figured out and what you haven’t got figured out, and even if they did, their method of education is to force you to read their recommended books under threat of scholastic failure. That’s like force-feeding a teenager mashed peas because they’re healthy.

You know what you want to learn. You know what you want to learn, and you know right where to go to learn it: the goddamn library. You really wanna show off? Take four or five classics to your favorite bar and channel change for an hour or five. Socrates, or Hemingway? Even better! Socrates, then Hemingway! Learn Spanish. Learn graphology. Phrenology. Egyptology. Amaze your friends!

And if ever you do decide you need a college degree after all, take my advice . . .

Go easy on them.

With half a care and a whole smile I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyes

Cashola, Least Popular Kid in School

About two-thousand years ago, Mr. Judas Iscariot ratted out his good friend, Mr. Jesus, to the cops for thirty pieces of silver.  This trade (considered by other friends of Mr. Jesus an inexcusably irresponsible bargain) irreparably connected capitalism to Christianity, and in spite of much criticism, both merchants have been quite pleased with the results.  Their marriage has been a happy one for a long, long time.

They needed one another, the Almighty Dollar and the Son of the Almighty, you see.

When Mr. Judas figured thirty pieces of silver to be the going rate on friends, he unwittingly immortalized both capitalism and Christianity.  He proved to humanity that even gods have price tags, and in return, capitalism blessed Christianity with the crucifixion, a rather sloppy departure from the marketing campaign Mr. Jesus had previously implemented with so much success, but a now-famous stunt the impact of which has kept advertising moguls salivating for centuries.

The crucifixion of Christ could easily have sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles. They just don't make martyrs the way they used to.

Regardless of its obvious romance with cashola, though, the church maintains that its official doctrine regarding money is hostile: “For the love of money is the root of all evil . . . ” [1. Tim. 6:10].  This is unsurprising, because the greed of some few has been the bane of everyone else since cashola first came around, and besides, if there’s anything that particular holy text does well, it is appealing to the masses through ancient traditional cliches that most people presume true anyhow, cliches like, “Money is the root of evil.”

Everybody knows that cashola killed the video star.

Cashola is not really the problem, though.  Cashola, in fact, only barely manages to keep itself employed, because with an increasingly unstable value on the global market, and itself having no practical use except as a measurement for things which are useful — things which can, themselves, be traded — it would dissolve into obscurity were it not for the vehement and tireless support of the extremely wealthy, those persons whose continued existence has depended on their network of economic resources for generations.

What would happen to the rich if their cashola were stripped from them? The same thing that would happen to them if they stopped paying their security guards.

Of course, the pathetic fragility of currency mirrors the pathetic fragility of the modern human value system.  Modern society gives almost every obtainable thing and experience a cash value, so one must develop the “second sight” of a mystic in order to intuit the illusory nature of price tags.  This creates a self-defeating cycle in which blame can be placed on neither money nor consumers, because money lacks intrinsic value, and consumers lack the ability to discern the intrinsic value of anything else.

Cashola wasn’t ever meant to do anything but represent other things, real things of real consequence*.  When one becomes concerned with dollars, one does well to think of them in terms of man-hours.  For example, imagine that a teenager washes a car in thirty minutes for five dollars.  If he buys a cheeseburger for five dollars afterward, then he a washed a car and earned a burger.  Not five dollars.  A burger.

This seems elementary, true, but who doesn’t fall into the habit of measuring everything cash-wise, rather than by the actual qualities and attributes exhibited by goods and services for sale?  Whether the kid’s burger was worth the work is up to him, regardless how much it cost.  Publilius Syrus said in 100 BC, “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it,” ten glib words which nullify the value of currency as an absolute at every level.

"The value of a twenty-dollar bill, compared to the value of a lollipop, depends entirely upon the distance to the nearest candy store." -Chief Sitting Bull

Cashola is neither to be feared nor admired, studied overmuch nor especially regarded.  It’s a gauge that tracks where spent human energy goes, nothing more.  It’s a fucking thermometer.  It’s included in several games by Milton Bradley.

So stop it, all this yammering about financial wizardry and fiscal metaphysics.  My age group increasingly reminds me of Wiccans arguing over the proper way to conjure beings from the spirit plane.  Playing Parcheesi is more mature than keeping up with the Joneses, you goofballs, and a great deal more honest.  Have some self respect, for crying out loud.

Find the hilarity that is inherent in the concept of so-called financial security, or one day the joke may be on you — and you won’t get it.

With nothing up this sleeve and naught but wood’n nickels in the other, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

*It must be noted that the author does not believe in “things of real consequence,” and so should be considered disingenuous, as well as discredited.

Immortality, the Gift That Just Won’t Quit

The definition of death doesn’t hold much water, really, once all the voodoo juju is shaken out of it.  The harebrained doctors have one make-believe definition of it, the self-important scientists have another, and the whimsical believers have yet a third.  When one has faith in the existence of death, though, death can be a gateway, a rebirth, or even a redemption.  Anticipating death makes up the cornerstone of most world religions, while avoiding it remains the focus of most sciences.

– And that’s O.K.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those philosophies in and of themselves, but let’s eschew all that for the sake of conversation.  Let’s look at death without any allusion to typical, traditional beliefs.  What does death resemble, now?  A permanent medical condition?

Nevermind.  Let’s just say that death is a simple state of affairs that any doctor can walk up and diagnose, like this:

“Hey, this guy’s dead.”

Why, this guy's dead!

The doctor means that the poor guy’s lungs have stopped breathing and his heart has stopped beating.  That’s clinical death.

Most realists think of death as nothingness, bleak, black, and empty, which is typical of them; because if there’s any way to have less fun and be more boring, the realists will practically kill themselves to show you how.  Even so, most atheists and agnostics think this way about death, too, which is disappointing because as anyone can tell you, they throw the best parties, and therefore oughta know better.

“What happens when you die?” you may ask one of them.

“Nothing,” they say.  “That’s kind-of the point.”

OK Mr. Sunshine, but nothing is precisely what never happens.  There’s always something going on.  Besides, lots of things happen when you die.  When you look at clinical death, it actually mirrors the very early stages of clinical birth, so-to-speak, which normal people call pregnancy.

In the earliest stages of pregnancy, the fertilized egg (or zygote if we really must) has forty-six chromosomes, as well as its own unique DNA structure.  Anti-abortion terrorists are keen to remind us that this little eggy wegg is alive, and they’re not wrong.  In fact, scientists pretty much have to agree with them, because the zygote exhibits growth, metabolism, reproduction, and reaction to stimuli.

Apparently, the smartypants bigshot scientists have decided that a thing is alive if it’s got those four attributes.

What the zygote does not have, though, is a lung or a heart with which to satisfy the medical doctor’s requirements.  Its respiration has not yet commenced.  Its pulse is nonexistent.

“Why, this guy’s dead.”

“Now, you just hang on a second there, Doc.  We’re picking up growth, reaction, metabolism and reproduction.  This sonofabitch is alive.”

Great.  So the zygote is dead and alive.   Perfect.

Perfectly nonsensical.

Zombie Zygotes of the Living Dead

Why not, though?  When a guy looks at his arm, he thinks of it as a living part of him, right?  If doctors amputate it from him, then no one looks at it quite the same way.  It’s dead now.  The amputation was, as far as his body was concerned, a little death (or, la petite mort in French, which incidentally means orgasm).

Yeah, why not?  After all, when a pregnant woman feels her baby kick, she thinks of it as a living part of her.  If doctors deliver it, and amputate it from her, then no one looks at it quite the same way.  The baby’s alive now — even though the amputation was, as far as the mother’s body is concerned, a little death (or en francais, orgasm by baby).

Dead and alive, alive and dead.

The dead aren’t really all that dead, anyhow.  We eat dead things to stay alive, in fact — but only dead things which have recently become dead.  Dead things become more dead over time, and we can’t eat things which have been dead too long.

There’s not enough life in them, you see.

But just wait a damned second.  A little death?  More dead?  Death isn’t supposed to have all these degrees, all these shades of gray.

Silly-headed cynics and so-called realists step in at this point and remind us, “No, jerk.  Death isn’t in degrees or shades, and it’s definitely not gray.  Death is that certain change that happens in the instant that life stops for an organism.  Those four things you mentioned earlier?  Growth, reaction, et cetera?  The body can’t do those things anymore, so it’s dead.”

Yeah, alright, sure, Professor Killjoy, but from the broadest perspective, death doesn’t mark any significant change at all.  It’s just another change in an infinite pattern of changes — or, if you like, it’s another death in an infinite pattern of deaths.  Life, in fact, is what we call this infinite pattern of deaths.  Look:

Human life begins with an ovum and a sperm combining into a zygote.   This means the death of the ovum and the sperm, because they no longer exist as such; their chromosomes have been shared.  The zygote then begins cellular division at an extremely rapid rate, each division a little amputation (orgasm) from the parent cell, and these amputations are what we call growth.  When enough cellular carnage has occurred, the child is amputated from his or her mother, and soon afterward begins to eat dead things because of the life in them.

Dead things taste good.

Food is dead-ish

As the child grows, cells are born, grow old, die; are sloughed off, are excreted, are absorbed as more fresh dead stuff to nourish and prolong life.  Cells divide, and divide, and divide.  The lining of the small intestine is completely replaced over four-to-six days, you know.  The outermost layer of skin, or epidermis, every two weeks.  The hard structure of the human skeleton, every decade.  Even this child’s blood, just like the blood of every living person, is composed of red blood cells which live in the bloodstream for about four months before being replaced.

An elderly man of ninety years, therefore, has lived inside nine skeletons.  He has consisted of two-hundred and seventy human bodies’s worth of blood.

It’s all dead, though, remember?  We’re, like, hermit crabs or something.

Like our bodies, our minds unfold as a train of deaths and divisions, too.  Ideas grow and gestate, eating new information and transforming cold facts into newborn ideas, ideas which split and branch and grow of their own accord, just like a pride of lions flourishing from the carcasses of a few dead gazelles.  Sometimes ideas sprout from stagnant knowledge so automatically that our minds consider themselves inspired, but every new thought kills off an obsolete idea.

We grow and learn, shedding skin cells and obsolete ideas along the way like scraps of confetti following a parade, and when at the age of ninety we reflect on our adolescent selves, those teenagers seem long gone, long passed away, and the wistful feelings our memories evoke mimic those felt by mourners years after the funeral.

Death and life, life and death.

The thirty-year-old hermit crab and his previous shells

We still have no round definition of death, however.

Death seems no more than change and transition, and since change is an eternal constant, death must be occurring all the time.  If that’s so, then death as a single event does not exist.

If you think you’re going anywhere when you “die,” I’m afraid you’re horribly mistaken, as far as I can tell.  Nobody is going anywhere.  Nobody is going anywhere, and neither are the actions we are still making.  That the “dead” human mind no longer orchestrates these actions is inconsequential, since the mind was never orchestrating anything from the broadest perspective, anyhow, regardless of how intimately involved in the processes of the universe it seemed.

This will sound like glorious immortality to some and eternal damnation to others, so I guess that if you really wanted to you could call your opinion on living forever ‘heaven,’ or ‘hell,’ but don’t do that.  That’d be so tacky.

If all this sounds fantastic, consider that everything we are or will become was already here long before we were born.

All the material needed to put our bodies together had long been available before our births.  Our mothers merely needed to ingest some dead stuff and assemble it inside her.  The material to put our minds together had been here, too.  The elementary ideas, the deeper concepts, and the inner mysteries all, all, all had been waiting for our minds to ingest them and put them to use.  We were already here, waiting for assembly, just like The Great Gatsby had been when the Old Sport was alive inside Fitzgerald’s head, but not yet written down.

Sure, Dad can stick some spare auto parts together and build a car, but Mom can throw some spare body parts together and grow a person!

Cynics and skeptics will say, “An idea is not a thing, Sir,” and I must retort: well, where, exactly would you like to draw the line?  If Gatsby exists once he has been written down, what happens if the manuscript is destroyed?  — And if Fitzgerald writes him down again, is he birthing the same Gatsby?   What of publishing and printing?  Are all Gatsbys the same man, or different men?

Consider also the differences between brothers of the same family, raised in the same general time, by the same parents, on the same food, in the same area, with the same values, et cetera, et cetera.  One may grow up into a madman and the other a schoolteacher, but from the broadest perspective the difference can only be in human estimation, just like so-called death.  If we are arbitrarily, subjectively deciding what death is, then there really isn’t any such thing we can point to after all, is there?

In order to believe in death, one must think just like the doctors and scientists, coming up with their own willy-nilly criteria by which something can officially be called “dead.”  You may as well say that death is what we call the future, and birth what we call the past.

The Starship Enterprise notwithstanding, we will always be here, extant, just as we have always been here, and the proof and cause of both is that we can’t help but be here now.  There can be no escape.  We are captives of existence.  And why?

– Because the present time, nestled snugly between the past and future, between birth and death, seems very much alive, and it happens also to look very much eternal.

With much pleasure and measured amounts of pain I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

Oh, Yeah? Prove it!

Every experiment has significance, even the inconclusive ones.  When a team of smartguys at M.I.T. completes a study with inconclusive results, it reaches the ineluctable conclusion that another study is needed and immediately sets to work on it.  This testing can, will, and does continue until significant findings have been produced — er, that is — discovered.

Once significant results appear, the doctors conducting the study become proponents of it and publish these discoveries in remarkably well-respected journals.  These paperback journals are written in tedious, turgid English that is too obscure for the public to read, and have an average cover price of thirty American dollars, ensuring that the general populace gets no chance to join the conversation until it is Mickey Moused by Time Magazine and sold as an impulse buy at the grocery counter.

Hey, whatever.  At least mom’s getting in some string theory.

Journals cost upwards of thirty bucks, but at least they're jam-packed with ten-dollar words

As in all things in this universe, the idea proposed in this new study begets its equal and opposite, a second study which exists to provide an alternate scientific belief for anyone and anything negatively implicated in the first.

The satisfying thing about science is that it loves conflict.

Scientific prejudices appear out of this conflict, and because they are prejudices of science itself, the public presumes them factual.   From the broadest perspective, however, science walks in the well-trod footpaths of religion and theosophy.

When science decides that a certain quantum particle does not exist based on its failure to appear in tests, science is as faith-based as the creation myth of Genesis.  Science and religion have traditionally been rancorous archenemies, but this is a misunderstanding which, if one could get them talking again, could easily fertilize the most affectionate of friendships.

This animosity has been based on little more than a clerical error, anyhow.  Note how science and religion interplay in the following.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land called Berkeley, there lived a doctor of physics.  This doctor believed in a certain particle he called the God Particle, and hypothesized that it existed everywhere and had an effect on everything else.  So the doctor wrote a paper and was granted funding to perform experiments in a very special place with very special equipment, and after three months of rigorous, painstaking trials, the poor doctor was forced to concede that no evidence of his God Particle had surfaced in any tests at all.

To the scientific community, this absence of evidence presents hard, objective proof that Doc’s God Particle does not exist.  Even if they add the word “theoretically” to the conclusion (as they do with the theory of gravity, which they still can’t fucking figure out) they still use the test as a quotable citation in papers arguing that the particle is a fantasy of the doctor’s.

To be perfectly clear: in popular science, the absence of evidence can prove that a thing does not exist.

How’s that for self-satisfied conceit?  They can’t even plumb the depths of our ocean trenches, but they’ve got E.S.P., telekinesis, astral projection, sixth senses, prescient dreams, and automatic writing all figured out.  How?  No evidence, that’s how.

Oh.  Well, shit.

Scientific evidence shows that there is no scientific evidence that scientific evidence is scientifically evident

Now, let’s say that following the most costly failure of his professional career, Doc is forced to return to teaching at a preparatory high school for rich kids, which amazingly enough also happens to inculcate Catholicism.  In this private school, Doc is lecturing about the existence of God during a religious studies class, when suddenly a particularly cynical and sarcastic student raises her hand and demands to know how it is that anyone can feel sure that God (big G) exists at all.

Well, this is the question for which the course entire exists, and so the doctor puffs up with dignity and conviction, and with great certainty informs his students that in all the centuries and centuries of assiduous scientific research, and of all the brilliant, most well-respected minds throughout history, not a single person has been able to prove that God does not exist.

To elucidate: in matters of religion, the absence of evidence to the contrary can prove that a thing does exist.

– And though science and religion may fixate on the same piece of evidence (that nothing has appeared in tests, in this case) they both exit these experiments feeling assured that their hypotheses have been logically supported, because objective reason has its roots in language, and language happens to have more than enough elasticity to correctly describe a single concept with two definitions, each the perfect opposite of the other.

As violent and arbitrary as this arrangement may seem, the truth is: the common person likes it fine.  In fact, practically everyone hates unchallenged assertions, even the people making the assertions, themselves.  Something about our nature causes us to see polar opposites in everything, and something about our minds causes us to invent contrary concepts for every conceivable idea.

Humanity likes nothing until it is contested, enjoys nothing better than a contest

It is this facet of the human personality which affords us such colorful figures as the venerable Flat Earth Society, which still maintains that the globe is flat; the irreproachable Tychonian Society, which avers that the sun orbits the earth; and one mad Dutchman at the University of Amsterdam, Erik Verlinde, who asseverates that gravity is, in fact, fictitious.

If the ever-patient and magnanimous reader finds the Flat Earth Society amusing, then the reader is hereby urged to consider that most contemporary physicists believe Dr. Verlinde’s theory to have very convincing implications, and that gravity is merely the effect of a universe maximizing its entropy, or disorder.  The concept of gravity as a universal power will probably not exist for our children.

Q: If gravity, of all things, really is a red herring, then how incredible and fantastic are groups like the Flat Earthers and Tychonians, really?

A: Every bit as credible as a science journal, just as veracious as a leading theoretician, and equally as trustworthy as the supposed date and time of the reader’s birth.

Lo, and behold the clerical error of which I spake: if science and religion could leave the protection of their podiums for a second, they might each glean a mutual respect for the irascible plight of the other, which is that they are both sadly, obviously, and pathetically full of shit.  Not one or the other.  Both.

Yes indeed, we like the results of our experiments best when they are disputed.  Should science publish a study which shows conclusive evidence on any topic at all, another science immediately sets out to prove the opposite.  The people of the world want every perspective sullied and watered-down, pushed and contested until a ninety-nine percent probability has its back against the fifty-fifty wall, precisely where we want it.

We want it balanced just so, because we like to choose sides as if they were baseball teams.

– And once we arbitrarily pick a team, we commence to argue, and bitch, and dispute for it as though our evidence were, after all, indisputable.

Even incontrovertible evidence meets with reasonable opposition

Evidence is stupid, anyhow.  It’s usually statistical, which as anyone can tell you is the most insidious form of prevarication.  For some reason, intelligent people appeal to the authority of statistics all the time and require the same of others, which is doubly asinine, as these egghead hotshots know full-well that appealing to any authority is a cardinal logical fallacy, and exponentially more so when the authority in question is an invariably inaccurate numeric representation of an actual, physical chain of events, collected from a sample base which even under the most fastidious methods has no chance whatever of accurately representing some other, similar yet different thing at an entirely different point in time.

As the British statesman, Benjamin Disraeli, once said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Most experiments require a test group and a control group, too, but like gravity and statistics, there’s no such thing as a dependable control group, either. The very act of including it in a study changes its natural state.

An excellent example of this occurs in quantum mechanics, in which certain particles exist only in patterns of probability — that is to say, they are probably there, or probably not-there, never certainly so — and these patterns of probability change according to which researcher happens to be recording the data.

If one supposes that fifty scientists conduct the same study, their findings will generally have an acceptable margin of error, each doctor achieving his or her own individual result.  The only difference between this margin and a larger one is that we declare the former admissible and the latter inadmissible. Experiments cannot gauge truth in objective reality any more than a preacher can divulge so-called Ultimate Truth (big U, big T) from a holy text.

Humanity finds evidence-for, and evidence-against, and ultimately judges its (supposedly) objective reality with the subjective whimsy of an adolescent girl deciding between prom dresses.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the world calls evaluation by evidence.

Weighing all evidence with the most discerning of eyes, the prom date is an apotheosis of adjudication

So all evidence is meaningless, then? All results, experiments, and hypotheses, nothing but evaporated time and energy?

Not at all. Just because there’s no such thing as True (big T) objectivity doesn’t mean one can’t create it for oneself or support it for others. We arrive at many, many decisions on a regular basis which matter to hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and we put our faith in evidences in order to do so.  Truth is easy to arrive at in a box.

One has merely to define the box.

Contrary to an extremely annoying popular belief, though, there is no such thing as thinking outside the box, because from the broadest perspective nothing makes any sense.  Logic only happens within defined parameters.  One can exit one set of rules and enter another, more comprehensive set, but there’s always another box containing all the smaller sets to prove that they are infinitely short-sighted and presumptuous.

The important thing is to remember that we’re basing it all on faith.  Nobody knows what’s really going on.  The passionate stupidity of thousands of sheep in innumerable American religious flocks has allowed science license for abject arrogance.  The truth is, though, any honest scientist will tell you that science has no positive idea about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

That’s the slippery thing about Ultimate Truth (big U, big T).  It’s only true if it does not conflict with the properties of the universe — and the universe is in constant flux.  In fact, the only known absolute constant is the transitory nature of everything.  This means that even should an Ultimate Truth surface, it could only be ultimately true for an instant before becoming outmoded to newer, emergent properties of existence.

Mr. Jesus may very well have been the way, truth, and life once (or maybe is due up in a few more centuries) but neither he nor anybody nor anything else can be a static ultimate truth in an anti-static reality.  A more likely solution is that universal truth changes for each individual thinker, so that one’s universal truth may indeed be found in Biblical scripture at a certain age — and this is boxed-up objective truth, no less true than death or taxes — but neither before nor afterward.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Cor. 13:11).

Yeah, that’s right.  I can quote scripture.  It isn’t blasphemy when it’s true.

So perhaps we all have some real thinking to do, eh?  Perhaps it’s time to grow up.

Where does one stow an outgrown worldview?  Under the bed, next to the Tinker Toys and Legos, obviously.  Right where it belongs.

With glasnost and much cheek I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyes

P.S. — Nowhere in this piece will the magnanimous reader find the word, “ontology.”

Stumble It!

The Saintly Altar of the Altered State

I.

The human brain, contrary to what mom told us, is not a miraculously engineered wonder of the Western world.  It’s miswired, misaligned, and mistaken much of the time.  Many charlatans — or psychologists if one prefers — believe that the brain’s first experience, birth, permanently damages it.  Birth is violently traumatic, and both emotionally and physically brutal.  In response to high levels of stress such as this, our brains shoot us up with adrenaline, hydrocortizone, and steroid hormones (glucocorticoids, if you really want to know) which means our first birthday present is that we get to enter the world innocent, healthy, and high as fuck.

– And that’s OK, because if it weren’t for altered states of consciousness, we’d have no genuine experience of this world’s completely random nature at all.

Since we can’t be born every time we want a fresh jolt of reality, we spend the rest of our lives self-medicating.

Holistic medicine the old-fashioned way

The brain operates a crackhouse in our heads, producing such heavy hitters as dopamine, a natural upper which makes us talkative and excitable, endorphin, an anæsthetic which has three times the potency of morphine, and serotonin, a mood enhancer which makes us act and feel like hippies.  Most of the meds recommended by school psy-charlatans for depression or anxiety alter the amount of serotonin produced by the brain.

These mind-altering substances have side effects which can prove worse than the emotional irregularity they medicate, such as violent tendencies, hallucination, depersonalization, derealization, psychosis, phobias, amnesia, and obsessive compulsive disorder — and that’s just for the benzodiazepines.  We don’t hit heart arrhythmia until Eldepryl (™).

Sexual dysfunction and gastrointestinal distress commonly affect patients taking Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs.  Pop-culture knows this hip family of psychomeds well, which boasts such rock stars as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.  Approximately twenty-two million Americans take these drugs every day, or statistically, every fourteenth American one encounters on the street.

So, the next time you’re shocked at the number of complete assholes you meet in a given day, remember that fourteen percent of America hasn’t taken a shit in four days and hasn’t had an orgasm in months.

Without sex and regularity, anxiety patients feel much better

II.

If the human brain were able to regulate its chemicals, nobody would recommend cooking up meds like Prozac and Paxil.  Since science has proven that many do not, though, society accepts these meds and also allows for a margin of error in prescribing them to healthy people.  Many groups in the United States froth at the mouth over the prevalence of drugs such as these — as well as that of other mind-altering substances, both legal and illegal.

One might as well try to place the entire nation on a single diet as try to stem the amount of self-medication engaged in by Americans, though.  Seventy-two million of us diagnosed ourselves and regularly took some sort of alternative medication in 2002.  The rest of us might not consider ourselves medicating, but we do, of course, and not just the usual Tylenol, Robitussin, and Pepto-Bismol, either.  We purposefully alter our brain chemistry all the time.

Over half the population of the U.S. drinks coffee on a daily basis to take advantage of its stimulant properties.  Sixty-four percent of us drink alcohol, perhaps to counter the tension from all our coffee.  Twenty-two percent of us smoke cigarettes to relax, especially while drinking alcohol or coffee.  Approximately eighteen percent smoke grass.  That’s without even discussing all the more-inventive drugs, such as LSD-6 and MDMA.

In addition to all this we must consider the oceans of so-called “health nuts.”  Fitness fanatics come in various degrees of seriousness and mental stability, from the casual weight-lifter to the manic Olympic triathlete, and nary a one of them considers himself or herself a drug addict.  Nevertheless, the scientific community established long ago that physical exercise heavily affects hormone, endorphin, and serotonin levels, and also that addiction to these natural substances occurs easily, naturally, and predictably in lab rats.

Since these highly addictive endorphins target all the same opiate receptors, 24 Hr. Fitness can be considered the modern American opium den.

Portrait of the American Addict

III.

We certainly do like to fuck with our brains.  Who can blame us, though?  As aforementioned, we’re the inheritors of broken machinery, the unhappy inhabitants of chaotic mental domains which do not even function in the haphazard, unpredictable way they should.  Humans fix things.  When a shoe comes untied, we tie it.  When a brain comes apart, we glue it together with whatever we happen to have on-hand: coffee for fatigue, whiskey for tension, tobacco for anxiety, what-have-you.

When we tinker with our minds, we’re seizing temporary control of our neurochemistry.  We don’t drink alcohol in spite of its tendency to impair our judgment; we drink it precisely because it impairs our judgment, and unlike other mind-altering addictions such as — oh, I don’t know — television, say, we know exactly how our brains will change when we indulge.

Humans have used mind-altering substances since the dawn of time.  Beer, alone, has a documented history going back six-thousand years before Christ.  When we look at our ancestors from so long ago, though, we can’t help but notice that their uses for beer, wine, tobacco, drugs, et cetera extend far beyond self-medication.  Of course, they were used for recreation, but the original use for most of these so-called vices was for creating an appropriate environment for religious and spiritual rituals.

The Greeks drank wine to evoke the ancient god, Dionysus.  The Jewish tradition of the Passover Seder requires four glasses of it per person.  Five-million Hindu sanyasi sadhus smoke hashish to repress their sexual desires and aid their meditation.  Over fifty American Indian tribes practice Peyotism today, a religion centered around ritual use of natural mescaline, which they use to communicate to the dead and to various deities.

These people aren’t balancing their serotonin — they’re putting gods on speed-dial.

Not seeing angels and demons, yet?  Here, drink some more of this.

They're gateway drugs, alright

IV.

These days religions get a bad rap.  Atheists can say the bad reputation of spirituality reflects its failure to cooperate with contemporary Western civilization, sciences, paradigms, and increasingly agnostic peoples.  Religions themselves, however, deserve no animosity.  One cannot judge a philosophy by its misuse.

Religions originally appeared because humans became convinced of evidence alerting them to other beings, other worlds.  Rituals appeared because humans wanted to commune with these other beings, other worlds.  Mind-altering substances proliferated in rituals because they provided sufficient evidence of their usefulness to millions of adults with brains the size of canteloupes.  We no longer use these drinks and drugs to speak with gods, though, because so many people these days seem to think they can do it without spending beer money, and many others don’t think very much of the idea of talking to gods, anyhow.

In other words, lots of boring self-styled “realists” think those other beings, other worlds never existed in the first place.

The funny thing is, everyone on planet Earth believes wholeheartedly in lots of things that don’t exist.  The value of currency, for example, is absolute balderdash.  It is valued for its various markings and symbols which invoke the names of people who lived hundreds of years ago, and which declare mottos and oaths in ancient, dead languages, markings and symbols which cast an enchantment over both buyer and seller, and in this mutual confusion one can purchase an automobile with nothing but decorated scraps of parchment paper.

There is no difference between the purpose of the markings on a dollar bill and that of the markings inscribed within a sorcerer’s sigil, or those upon an altar, or even those upon a WELCOME mat.  We live in a world of our mind’s creation, and everything real to us has been made real by us.

How did we miraculously make reality real?  Easy.  We simply named it that, like we did the table, the chair, and the dust bunny.  “Reality,” we said, “thou shalt be real,” to which so-called reality said in its easygoing way, “Alright,” and that was that.

The unreal didn’t mind being left out at all, though, because all of a sudden, it didn’t exist.

Wait, did you guys see that -- or am I crazy?

V.

So, here we are, then . . .  Nothing is real, and nothing is unreal.  Quite a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into at this point, and we’re very proud of it.  Naturally, we’ve taken the next step and done what any bipedal, cerebrally cortexed hominid would do in this situation: we’ve become ontological agnostics.  We don’t know what truth is, where to find it or how to prove that it’s there, but we believe in it all the same, bumbling about like the decorated surrealities we are, chasing after decorated scraps of parchment paper, and taking turns chastising one another for having faith in decorations.

What arrogant, blustering bastards we all are.

But how can we escape this cycle of idiocy?  How can we step from delusion and credulity into anything but delusion and credulity, if everything we know seems illusory and incredible?

Beer.

Cold, crisp, clean — beer.  And pills.  And smokes.  And coffees, wines, and liquors; buttons, tabs, and capsules.  Strenuous, extended exercise.  Yoga.  Za-zen meditation.  Brutally sorrowful dramas, uproariously hilarious movies.  Bitter, hate-filled debates.  Violence.  Pain.  Exquisite, sin-soaked and passionate pleasure.  The sweetness of selfless generosity lifetimes long, the glorious splendor of victory in competition, the self-righteousness of upbraiding one’s brother for having fallen from grace.  Mind-altering substances, mind-altering experiences.

In a paradoxical word, we can step away from the illusory by taking a break from reality.

In a life where nothing you think real can possibly exist, a world of erratic change and nebulous phantasms, mind-altering substances and experiences offer the most realistic opportunities available to a human.

– But of course, one could just go on as a believer . . .

With a glazed look and a raised glass I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

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