Meat, Meat, Meat (Food, Sex, Death)

Death doesn’t scare everyone.  Millions of Americans look forward to death with all their heart, and not because they find this life deplorable.  They simply want to hang out with all the cool, dead Christians they’ve always dreamed of meeting or seeing again.

I’m not interested in talking about death this week, though.  Maybe some other time.  I’m interested in fears which share the same dark roots as those of death, but which more icily chill our blood, fears which turn the most stouthearted Southern Californian into a simpering coward, desperate and ashamed.  Like all terrors, these fears inspire feelings of profound anxiety, hate, and prejudice, thus spreading misery and contempt throughout society.  I’m talking about black evils, one must conclude.  I’m talking about the closest thing around to a real Satan, two things Southern California fears more than cancer.

I’m talking, of course, about food and sex.

Bananas make people hungry.

I. Food, Sex, and Death, the Meat Triplets

Upon consideration of food, sex, and death, one finds them interlaced.

The human body’s response to the promise of sex mimics it’s response to the fear of death: sweat, tension, heightened blood-pressure, elevated rate of breathing, diffusion of endorphins, et cetera.  Sex’s primary purpose is to fight death by creating and celebrating life.

Food is tied to death, too, as we only eat recently deceased plants and animals.  We ingest ebbing life to keep from dying, and also enjoy the taste.

Our biology also blends food and sex.  The tissue which forms our lips is hyper-sensitive and found also on the nipples, the head of the penis, and the clitoris only.  Breasts, an important erogenous zone, represent the original food source for all humans.  Oral sex is ancillary to reproduction, yet ubiquitous.  Food-play fetishism has existed for millennia.  We could go on for pages.  Mary Eberstadt writes, “. . .ordinary language itself verifies how similarly [food and sex] are experienced, with many of the same words crossing over to describe what is desirable and undesirable in each case.  In fact, we sometimes have trouble even talking about food without metaphorically invoking sex, and vice versa.  In a hundred entangled ways, judging by either language or literature, the human mind juggles sex and food almost interchangeably at times.”  There are whole books on this stuff.

In addition, whether eating, fucking, or dying, most animals feel compelled to do all three in relative seclusion and safety, and will react violently to an interruption of any of them.

Cucumbers are for eating

Squash. It's for eating.

Horror movies showcase the Meat Triplets gorgeously.  Watch any old scream flick, and you’ll see a delightfully predictable pattern.  First, the director excites the audience with an attractive woman, and she makes everyone sweaty and anxious.  At the height of this sexual tension, the antagonist enters the scene and massacres somebody in a gruesome gush of gore.  The audience’s sweaty sexual anxiousness allows a seamless transition from lust to fear, and this startles everyone.  Following the carnage, a common gimmick is to cut to a knife carving roast beef, or some such food, at which the audience laughs because it is ironic to think of the newly-mutilated characters as dinner, which in many horror films they have literally become.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula could not exemplify the triad better.  The Count lures his prey with an uncanny sensual charm, plants his lush lips on their naked necks, and feeds on their lifeblood, himself of course being undead all the while.  The food-sex-death relationship may be the secret to the popularity of the vampire legend.

Was it fear of death that led to our terror of food and discomfort with sex?  Maybe.  But it had a lot of help.  Let’s see where our trepidations come from.

II. North Americans: the Anti-Pleasure People

Many are condemned to repeat the past for having forgotten it.  Sure, we remember The Scarlet Letter, by Hawthorne, and The Crucible, by Miller.  They bored us in high school.  Do we consider those sexless Jesus freaks our great-great-great-great-great grandparents, though?  Not usually, and that’s because there’s like, sooo muuuch time between then and now.  I mean, seriously, the people who fashioned North American culture bore little resemblance to the ostensibly sex-crazed fatties we’ve become.

We wear entirely different hats, for instance.

The progress of the American people as illustrated by the marked difference in hats.

The American people were made up of four major groups, including the Quakers, the Puritans, and the Scotch-Irish, as well as some indentured servants and disenfranchised rich kids from England.  Of these larger groups, only the Scotch-Irish did not have wickedly sadistic punishments for open sexual behavior.  They learned to beat fear into their adolescents to keep them safe from the laws of Puritan communities, but considered premarital pregnancy rather hilarious.  From these jolly warmongers many American wedding customs are descended.  Scotch-Irish weddings were lavish, expensive, wild, and occurred roughly between 18-25 years of age.  Sound familiar?

The Quakers and Puritans, of course, were Christian extremist groups comparable to the jihad-waging, fatwa-declaring Muslim extremists of today.  Quakers imposed prison sentences for extramarital and premarital sex, and Puritans executed adulterers.  Quakers thought sex sinful, so many went celibate.  Puritans thought the body sinful, so they scorned pleasure.  Puritan legal records show that men have been jailed for flashing a smile in church.  Fun-loving, affectionate people, those pilgrims.

The pilgrims weren’t violent, though, not against one another.  The Scotch-Irish, now they were violent.  They had left their homeland in order to escape generations of borderland warfare.  Their horses and their guns constituted the most important possessions they owned, and their home lives blended familial love with casual violence in a way that is now illegal in most states.  We must ditch our inherited fear of pleasure, because violence and pleasure are inextricably linked.

Violence and pleasure, anyone? These four chaps knew how to have a good time (from Kubric's "A Clockwork Orange").

Stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, and angry dogs lay down.  Break someone’s nose at the dinner table, and suddenly nobody has much appetite.  Violence destroys pleasure, pleasure evaporates violence. . .

America sure seems violent these days.

Nothing obscures the solution, though: a little pleasure goes a long way.  If the Trenchcoat Mafia had been getting laid on Friday nights in the back seat of a Chevy like many of our parents were at their age, those disgruntled kids would’ve had better things to do than gun down their classmates.

Maybe we’re less hedonistic than we think.  Maybe we really are our fathers’ sons, our mothers’ daughters.  Maybe we’re still having expensive, drunken weddings at too young an age to be married, even after all these years.  Maybe, just maybe, we’re sexless, angry religious fanatics who would rather watch people on television beat the shit out of one another than find someone sexy and copulate.

On the other hand, maybe we are the captains of our own destinies.  Fuck antiquity.

III. The Sex-Crazed American Epicure

Were I you, I’d say, “What fear of food?  You think Americans are afraid to eat?  Have you met any?”

While it’s true that we eat plenty of garbage in the good ol’ U.S. of A., one has only to examine the tastes of any region to notice that our eating proclivities exhibit a remarkable tenacity, an almost rabid resistance to even the smallest alteration.  Cultural norms cause the bulk of this aversion, of course, but a propensity to stick to cultural norms is nothing more than a twig off the xenophobia branch of the ethnocentrism tree.  Ethnocentrism — as anyone can tell you — is nothing more than canned fear.

Carb's, starch, gluten, preservatives and pesticides: with your mouth full, no one can hear you scream.

To see this applied to our diets, follow the disgusted faces of your countrymen to their sources of revulsion.  Texans would rather die than eat tofu.  Midwest farmers might call the N.S.A. on anyone eating kafta or felafel.  And here, in Southern California?

Oh, baby.  Southern Californians are afraid to eat anything.

Eggs are good for you; eggs are bad for you; eggs are good for you; eggs are bad for you.  I’m not worried, myself; I’m on a macrobiotic diet consisting of mostly grains.  Exactly one glass of precisely red wine is good for expectant mothers, but coffee mutates fœtuses.  R.B.S.T. makes ten year olds grow mustaches, grow tits, grow ten feet tall.  Fast food is dog food.  Hot dogs are lips and assholes.  There’s pus in milk, listeria in cheese, mad cow in beef, trichinosis in pork, salmonella in eggs, insect parts in peanut butter, and enough pesticide on fruits and vegetables to poison the populace of Paraguay.

To combat these culinary evils are our So. Cal. dietary defense forces, the vegetarians, pesca vegetarians, lacto vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians, and vegans.  These troops remind us to neglect certified-organic foods; they’re not really organic; the only way to be sure is to buy at the farmers’ market, except that you can’t really be sure there, either.  Bytheway, free-range is not really free-range, so the best bet is to cut out eggs altogether.

We consider anything that touches a surface other than a sterilized plate contaminated.  Even our toddlers practice their own forms of dietary paranoia and follow five-, ten-, or thirty-second rules.  One never knows, though.  A chocolate chip cookie dropped to the playground concrete could carry cancer.  Bubble gum, on the other hand — you can stick that pretty much anywhere and resume chewing at your leisure.  Gum has antibiotic properties.

All of us here in Los Angeles have a little list we add to and subtract from according to hearsay and newspaper articles.  Eat this sometimes, eat that never, eat this other thing every third morning in order to guard against Bavarian eyelid syndrome.  We know which companies to trust, which ones to keep an eye on, and which ones to spread bad press about like wartime propaganda ministers.  We also wash everything, wash it in scalding water infused with antibacterial, environmentally friendly soap.

And when I say everything, I mean everything.

Some fine, downy hair visible at the nape of her neck. That'll haveta go.

It should come as no surprise that our anxiety about food mirrors our anxiety about sex.  We spray the poisons off our bodies once a day as though we were suspect crops, using antibacterial soaps fundamentally indistinguishable from that which we use for our dishes, soaps which deplete the epidermis of natural sebum which naturally lubricates and conditions our skin and hair.  Knowing our bodies have been sterilized daily doesn’t make us feel handsome, pretty, or sexy, though — merely not-revolting.  I remember learning in college during a non-verbal communication class that the least-attractive scent according to a poll of women was men’s cologne, the most attractive being by a large margin, soap.

We’re so uncomfortable about our bodies today that many young men shave their chests, those symbols of masculinity so desired in the disco era, and many young women won’t go on a date without having shaved — well, everywhere.

We have bigger problems than a soap fetish, though.  Toby Young writes that young men are too busy styling their hair to want sex.  Kathleen Parker says feminism has outright neutered us.  I don’t know if sexual paranoia causes this hyper-vanity and gender confusion or is being caused by them, but they’re certainly not helping.  We’re terrified that our cocks are short and our boobs droop.  We’re convinced that they should be shaved, dunked in sanitizer buckets, and covered up with Gucci until the lights go thankfully out.

The man's man.

Emasculation and anxiety over our bodies may make up some of our fear of fucking, but not all of it.  We’re taught that we’re going to make babies unless we use five types of contraception.  The rest of the world would rather give up oral sex altogether than feel it through cellophane, but dental dams are a way of life for many Americans.  Abstinence education still happens in high schools, too, during which undercover Christians tell students about how glad they are to have gone celibate, because anyone who exposes an erogenous zone to the open air is sure to contract gonoherpasyphilaides.  We eat it up and pay no mind.  Our Puritanical past has imposed many other norms upon us as well, norms such as premarital monogamy.

In America today, premarital monogamy occurs tout de suite.  The trend among teens in the 1950s was to date different people until a clear standout appeared, at which point a decision would be made to go steady and halt other romances.  The Beach Boys sang, “None of the guys go steady, ’cause it wouldn’t be right to leave the best girl lonely on a Saturday night.”  Four decades later, twelve-year-old girls are getting into fistfights because someone looked at their crush.  This instant ownership occurs at the moment digits are exchanged.

Not long ago, the traditional courtship ritual began with flirtation and moved to polygamous dating, then monogamy, then the traditional promise ring, then engagement, and then marriage, which I remind is the official American signifier of expected romantic loyalty.  Romantic loyalty is extorted de facto from our amorous partners in American middle and high schools now, and many, many Americans marry people having loved (or god forbid, having fucked) but one or two people, hardly enough of a sample base to make informed decisions regarding whom one ought to swear one’s eternal fealty to.

He: "That Johnny kid ever talks to you again, I'll slice your nipples off while you sleep." She: "Sounds fair. Bytheway, I don't think that Jennifer girl from 2nd grade will be coming to school, anymore..."

Now, I truly detest statistics, but information on human sexuality comes in numbers (probably owing to its close ties with psychology, that contemptible exercise in neologism and self-important taxonomy).  I apologize for the following paragraph.

The Kinsey Institute says, roughly 66% of Caucasian women and 48% of Afro-American women in college have never masturbated.  35% of American men aged 18-39 don’t masturbate at all.  43% of fellas and 67% of women think about sex occasionally throughout the month, while it occurs to only 54% of guys and just 17% of girls on a daily basis.  Considering the health benefits of sex, this behavior runs counter to typical Southern Californian attitudes regarding physical health.

Studies have significantly linked sex to the following health benefits: stress relief, bolstered immune system,  burned calories, lower risk of heart disease, better blood pressure, increased blood flow, increased oxytocin levels and intimacy, stronger self-esteem, pain relief through the release of endorphins (including the curing of headaches), reduction of prostate cancer risk, increased muscle tone, fortified bones, healthier sleep, increased life span, increased clarity of thought, and healthy, balanced increases in testosterone and estrogen.

For a culture which produces six-hundred-million dollars worth of certified-organic health food per year, Southern Californians sure aren’t paying much healthy sexual attention to one another.  Perhaps we see Megan Fox acting in “Transformers” more clearly on our high-definition televisions than we do the girl next-door sunbathing on her front lawn.  Perhaps our sense of American individuality has run amok.  Perhaps we’re so stigmatized by social influences that we can’t feel our sexual urges, anymore.  Whatever the reason, Southern Californians seem shitty at getting one another off these days, and that’s stupid.  After all, we’re pretty attractive on the whole, we seem to appreciate our health, and we laughingly seem to consider ourselves rebellious liberators of the American spirit.

Doing something positive: almost as fashionable as abstaining from something negative, and a good sight more fun.

If we really want to be the free-spirited rebels who frighten people from the Midwest by starting new sexual revolutions, we’re going to have to knock off this vanilla bullshit and start living our lives, again.  I’ve never seen so much agnostic religiosity in my life.  Man, even the 1920s had more action than So. Cal. does these days.  Flagpole sitting — now that was an extreme sport.

No, really.  We’re fucking boring.

Time to relax, Los Angeles.  There’s no reason we can’t stop treating every girl or guy who strikes our fancy as some kind of last-ditch effort, every date a business proposition, every name in our little black book a natural resource.  We’re getting wistful about our glory days thirty years too soon.  All of us have a favorite outfit that gets far too little play on weekends; why not dunk ourselves in sanitizer, shave everything, zip that motherfucker up and show middle-class society what kind of trouble we can get into?

I respectfully suggest we stop daydreaming about plastic surgery operations, stop pretending that weight training at the gym justifies our fucked-up addiction to the great indoors, stop proselytizing about which fodders one should shovel down one’s gullet (the word should is always suspect, anyhow).

Quit cowering in corners, and crown your humanity.

You have a zit on your nose?  So-fucking what.  Nobody gives a damn about your stupid nose, even if it’s 12 feet long with 12 pimples and 12 warts on it.  In fact, if it were that awesome, we’d probably like it more.  It’d give our strip-mall-beige lives a little color.  Have you gotten fat?  Yeah?  Hairy?  Old?  So-fucking what.  Stop pretending LOST is the most exciting thing on planet Earth and ask somebody to dinner.  Your husband or wife, maybe.

There’s some pretty decent and affordable sushi around here these days.  Get the high-grade saki, it’s worth it.  You can make out with your dinner date afterward, too, you know.  Make your lips tender, but firm, and don’t shove your tongue all around his or her mouth.  You’ll have already tasted the sashimi by then.  Go dancing at a club that plays all that top-40 music I can’t stand, especially if you don’t know how to dance.  Get right in the middle of that scene and start shucking and jiving like an idiot.  Shakespeare’s fools weren’t just ridiculous, they were wise.

But for the love of God (big G) please stop taking yourself so goddamned seriously, Southern California.  Go have a slice of pie.  Go on.  Even if the glaze does have gelatin in it.  Be a madman.  And don’t be so ashamed of your body; it doesn’t look so bad.  I personally guarantee that if you get naked on a webcam and throw it online, you’ll have paying customers within 30 seconds who’d knife homeless people to get you in the sack.  Strange to think about, isn’t it?

You’re beautiful human being, so stretch your legs and live a little.  I’m not advocating total promiscuity, I’m suggesting a re-evaluation of our national fear of ourselves.  A little food, a little passion, a little conviviality, and we’ll have you patched up in no time.

Fuck Avon.  You look great.

With vice and good intentions I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!


Disinformation and You: a Love Story

Politics offend me.  What is it about government that causes such horrendous emotional amplification?  Whenever someone posits a political opinion at the beer-talk table, others hurry to kill or die for their disagreements.  This rash Friday-night idiocy once disgusted me, but the contempt I’ve felt for such reactionary exchanges has frankly become condescension.  My knee-jerk reaction to deeply concerned, utterly serious political conversations is to make sarcastic, snide remarks against the childish manner in which these discussions are generally conducted.  For “In a Real World. . .” though, this would be too easy, and would say too little.

Rather, let’s have a look at modern society’s treatment of world politics and see what remains to talk about afterward; though I must say I find talking about politics. . .  Really fucking embarrassing.  So, this doesn’t leave the room — OK?

I. Hooray!  Disinformation Is a Way of Life

It is irrational, pompous, and presumptuous to think one holds enough dependable information to come to veracious political conclusions.  For this reason, I’ve always fantasized a president’s first day happening something like this:

“Would you like some water, Mr. President?”

“Oh, no. . .  I mean — no, I’ll drink it straight.”

“Don’t feel bad.  Clinton passed out when he learned George Washington still secretly headed the executive branch from his empty crypt behind the White House.  It gets everybody, the first time.”

“It — it wasn’t the Washington zombie, so much.  I had anticipated that.  I just hadn’t expected his bionic life-support to look so much like, like — like Angelina Jolie.”

“Yes, well, President Washington picked up cross-dressing in the 1940s.  Who d’you think got J. Edgar Hoover into it?”

OK, so I may be exaggerating.  The basic idea is about right, though.  If there’s anything I feel secure in, it’s government secrecy.  I doubt they give Obama the code to program the White House’s TiVo.  Governments cover up everything, and that really shouldn’t be news to anyone.

George Washington presiding

Washington, D.C.: more secrets than a legion of adolescent girls. Why is President Washington's crypt empty, again?

Since a government’s first priority is to cover its own ass, it may be expected to take measures to cover said ass.  As these measures protect the government best when they’re also least conspicuous, governments hide, obfuscate, and divert attention from these measures.  I will call this activity by its classified codename, Operation Chickenshit.

Civilians interested in Operation Chickenshit must contend with its wily evasive maneuvers.  Working daily to suppress the news are hundreds of wildly clever, obscenely educated, anonymous Chickenshit agents with indescribable power at their disposal.  These suits work long, well-paid hours to shut up all so-called “sensitive” information except that which has been manufactured to obscure or omit the truth.  News sources can always be expected to omit more than they include.

As any half-blind, half-deaf White House attendant can tell you, politics happen in limousines and restrooms, not on the floor of the chamber of the House of Representatives.

So, intrepidly armed with watered-down news influenced heavily (and occasionally outright controlled) by Operation Chickenshit, we form entire political belief systems to wear as fashion accessories, then impose upon one another what we consider informed opinions.  We’re like arrogant little gourmands judging the dishes of a feast by reading the conflicting reviews of food critics, without ourselves having the slightest ability to taste any of the food.

Oh, like your concept of world government is gonna make it past this guy intact. Yeah, right. And there're like, a bazillion-dillion guys like him working in propaganda. Come on. Get real.

For some reason, though, people take it for granted that politics may be wholly grasped and engaged in by any flag-waving prick on the street.  Often, poli-sci hobbyists sneer at religious fanatics who argue over the nature of God (big G) because it seems ridiculous that so inconsequential a being as a human might measure gods.  These same detractors, although reasonable in their scorn, consider it well-within their own reach to discern the clandestine movements of governments, governments with the power to order the invention, construction, and execution of nuclear submarines, stealth bombers, and surveillance satellites orbiting planet earth.  These same self-important armchair philosophers (yes, I realize I have named myself) pontificate at length about exactly why American troops invaded Iraq.  I contend that, beyond the existence of troops there, very precious-fucking little can be known from a civilian perspective.

The purpose of their (or any military’s) mission will never be understood by any one civilian, agent, or president.  This is because the matter has causes too large, too plentiful, too varied, too far away, too long ago, and too inexplicable for any single person to know at once.  George Herbert Walker Bush may know what Reagan was doing in Nicaragua, but he can’t know which multinational corporations were pulling strings in drug cartels, nor what was motivating the contras to clean and oil their assault rifles, kiss their loved ones goodnight, and go dutifully to work.  That sort of information can’t be garnered through wiretapping any more than the quality of a novel can be ascertained through the study of sales statistics.

Our great-grandchildren will have it fed to them by Operation Chickenshit in high school, though, all tied-up in one neat, tidy little paragraph between what transpired in New York one fateful autumn day, and the election of America’s first Afro-American president.  And that, my friends, provokes me to laughter.

Columbus

America protected the Western world by invading the Middle East, does not influence Central American politics, and was first discovered by Christopher Columbus (Great Amer. History textbook, Ch. 1, 5, 15; Questions 3-12, due Thurs.).

To understand the height of conceit one must obtain to insist that one comprehends politics, one has only to consider the possibility that momentous events have secretly occurred.  Have people simply disappeared in large numbers?  Of course.  Have foreign governments been hijacked by the surgical placement of agents within?  Of course.  Have technologies been developed, the use of which would horrify the contemporary mind?  Of course.  Have the people of the world been permanently convinced of a lie so egregious in its enormity that dissolving it would result in nationwide rioting?  Of course.

It’s conspiracy theory, one would say — to which I rhetorically remind: have conspiracies transpired in every government since the dawn of civilization?  Of course.

Governments, in fact, are mere conspiracies in full bloom.

II. All the President’s Men

A conversation criticizing political conversation can’t be without mention of political leaders.  An inordinately large portion of such talk orbits the actions of presidents, congressmen, representatives, and governors.  Little talk is made of mayors, though, unless one’s current mayor has become embroiled in a fiasco of some kind or other.  We do not seem as interested in the non-scandalous activities of our mayors as we are in the minute-to-minute business of our president, and that’s strange, because the mayor is a person we can shake hands with if we don’t mind hanging around city hall long enough, someone whom we can speak directly to at council meetings and press releases.  The President is someone whose very existence can only be verified by very few people, as few people can get close enough to him to collect a priori evidence.  Most people see a president on television and automatically “know” that he exists, presides, and impacts lives as surely as a sledgehammer affects furniture, even though the vast majority of people see no more of him than the constituents of Oceania saw Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984.

I do not mean to place the President in the same box as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, because that would be way too much fun would sound counter-intuitive; however a rational, realistic reassessment of his function seems necessary.  Before we begin, however, let us take stock of some other positions in U.S. government.

Presidents

Who's this, the real President of the United States? Don't be ridiculous. This is the shadow coach and assistant shadow coach of your kid's soccer team. I have no idea who runs the White House.

Of the government of the United States of America, there are: 9 Justices of the Supreme Court, with a total of 37 clerks; 100 people in the Senate; 435 people in the House of Representatives, not to mention 4 delegates and 1 resident hotshot; 18 current cabinet members, not including the Vice-President and the Speaker of the House.  Also unofficially affecting our government are: 12,553 registered lobbyists in Washington, and an innumerable amount of pressures from Wall St.  To be perfectly textbook about it, there is also a Constitution governing all of this, having 7 articles and 27 amendments which are ostensibly inviolable.

There is exactly 1 President of the United States.

While it would be naïve to say that the Chief has no real power (as there are over 1.6 million veterans of the Middle East conflict who assure us he does) it would be equally silly to consider him anything but a single part of an enormous, plunging political machine with enough gathered inertia to operate without outside instigation for centuries.  The American government is also the result of centuries of social and economic structuring that occurred in Europe and elsewhere.  Small dominoes, then big dominoes, then gigantic dominoes fall in a neigh-endless march through our past, present, and future, and of these most American presidents represent a shockingly small fraction (there have been 43, by the way; considering our nation is only 2.35 centuries old, that’s a notable diffusion of responsibility).

What this means to me — and sometimes I feel the pariah for it — is that the President is no more than an eddy in an immeasurable whirlpool, a momentary breeze on the outskirts of a tornado, a glowing rivulet crawling slowly away from the fiery flow of a massive volcano.  This doesn’t change his relative importance, though.  Recognizing him as such merely places him in perspective, but this perspective is necessary to keep one’s balance when discussing politics, and especially when speaking with one of the countless political zealots who love to talk about presidents the way music fans love to discuss the individual members of a band.  Which of these incessant chatterers sounds more pretentious is anyone’s guess.

On 22 December 2009, Lord Vader and his stormtroopers rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange, thus greatly simplifying 218 years of American politics.

The emphasis many place on the relative success or failure of a certain president cannot be fathomed.  Changing a president amidst all the above influences and excitedly expecting significant change does not show the scope of reason befitting a literate adult.

Swapping out presidents is not like rebuilding the engine of your car — it’s like changing the oil.

The main function of the executive branch is the same as the king’s function in chess, which is to distract attention from the rest of the board.  All the actual action is really taking place among the knights, bishops, rooks, and pawns, but the largest portion of any country’s populace is mostly uneducated and entirely uninitiated, and therefore lacks the tools to correctly appraise its leaders (largely why countries need government in the first place) so the president and his cabinet provide a sort of sitcom for all the uncreative types to cheer for or bicker about, vote for or demonstrate against, and generally spend all their mental energy spinning their wheels on.  Meanwhile, the brains of the constituency watch and laugh, watch and cry, or place a thoughtful finger to their chins and say, “Shit, even I can do that,” and throw their hat in the ring with the other candidates.

III. Election Day Apathy: “Ooooh, Goodie!”

So what’s an American to do in November, roll over?  Oh, hardly.  Some things can be researched to a point of relative certainty on the local level and are worth acting upon, and other things on the global level are almost certainly so, such as the existence of troops in Iraq at the moment.  If it suits us to vote on this basis, then we can feel fairly certain that someone will tally our ayes and nays.  And there are the civilly disobedient routes of expression, also, lest we forget.

There are ways to understand governments, too, if one rejects the impulse to think in terms of pundits and parties.  A man would do better to examine himself to find hard evidence of what a government is, would do better to examine his neighbors, and if possible, the people in other counties and states.  If one wishes to understand American government, one should begin with the American people, and end somewhere in China, Africa, or the Middle East.

In other words, a worm may understand the tree through a thorough study of the apple.  Should the worm develop an avid interest, the apple’s seed should afford all the wonder and mystery inherent in this universe, more than enough to internalize the complexities of the tree, and, who knows?  Perhaps even a thing or two about what it’s like to be a worm.

And there ain’t nothin’ Operation Chickenshit can do about that.

With Frank Incense and Mirth,

-BothEyes

True, False, Fuschia!

When it’s done well, conversation’s an art that impresses me more than anything in the world.  Humans learn all sorts of fascinating minutia while tooling around the world they inhabit, and some of them have a good sense of humor.  There’s nothing like talking with someone who can make you laugh and teach you things at the same time: gossip, trivia, history, world culture, current events, important and unimportant things, inexplicable things, and things as mundane as what happened on last night’s episode of “Whatever.”  Hell, people can even provide an intuitive guess at things they don’t know, which, after some cross-referencing with other people, usually becomes one of our educated guesses, and upon which many of us regularly depend.

In Southern California, however, we have a treasured tradition of attempting to convince one another of our ideas and opinions.  We squabble over the quickest route from A to B, and exhort one another with banners and bumper stickers (especially around election time).  Even our fucking tee-shirts bear the slogans and advertisements of our favorite points-of-view.  In popular gathering places, the usual discussion happens in every color of the rainbow a thousand times over:

“Yes, it is!”

“No!  It isn’t…”

Lou Pinella

Bears don't look like this unless they're going to maul each other. This peaceful show of aggression is a purely human trait.

All this shallow bickering should have stopped in grade school, but our social development is arrested by our earnest desire to help — at least, that’s the noble reason I’m giving for it; pride in our powers of perception fuels arguments at least some of the time.  Note also that there are excellent reasons to argue (see How to Refrain from Being a Dick for some examples) even though the bulk of arguments are bunk, but one must grow accustomed to the presence of contradictions and paradoxes in this life, and our desire to work together for the perpetuation of circular arguments seems to be one of them.  More on paradoxes later.

What reasons exist for giving up the incessant “tastes great / less filling” sort of tennis match and resuming less-combative conversation?  Read on, o’ my fellow friends of the Friday-night beer talk, and we might find a way to shut up our faces long enough to finish a watery American lager.

-Standing by One’s Opinion Is Vain

It’s a strange culture we live in.  We’re expected to be modest yet confident, friendly yet assertive, firm yet yielding, a list of directives that sounds like a good kiss.  It’s a fine balance, and in that balance we’re taught that “Your Opinion Matters!” even while all opinions are “like assholes: everyone’s got one and they all stink.”  I saw the former on a poster in a mall, I think.  My grandfather used to say the latter.  Who would you listen to first?

It’s true that everyone has opinions, though.  There’s little way around that, and if everyone has them, then one person’s idea is worth about as much as another’s, since even a so-called good idea can potentially be had by someone else.  Most people don’t argue other people’s points of view in an argument, though, and I find that extremely telling.  We’d often benefit by relating someone else’s point of view, rather than something we cooked-up ourselves, because one can’t be accused of arguing out of pride when the argument posed isn’t one’s own.  I’d be happy to give you my stepfather’s opinion of the New York Yankees, for instance, because I’m not a sports fan and there’s little danger that you’ll think me very serious about myself.

Stacks

Zillions of pros, zillions of cons -- dreamed up and written by the most erudite people on earth. I'm sorry, what were you saying?

I’d also be glad to give you Marcus Aurelius’ perspective on willpower, Anselm’s ontological proof of the existence of God, Fuller’s evidence that the world needs communism, and other trite epiphanies, but please don’t hold me accountable for relating them!  They aren’t my fault.  They were written years before I was born.

Appealing to the authority of famous smarty-pantses of the world is a notorious logical fallacy — in other words, quoting Albert Einstein doesn’t make one’s contention correct — but it’s much less vain than presuming others should accept your opinion simply because you’re so fucking cool.

It may be that one’s own opinion is most politely stated as a question, like, “I wonder if Iggy Pop isn’t better than David Bowie?” but we can’t always talk that way, so it’s important to remember the following.

-Everyone Is the Center of the Universe

Nobody can have any point of view but his or her own.  Everyone is the center of their universe.  They don’t know what your universe is like, and you don’t know theirs.  The universes may have commonalities, or they may not.  Regardless, my daily evidence suggests that I am the most important thing to myself so truly and consistently, that even my most heartfelt principles and ideals are only worth dying for because, hey, that’s my opinion.

If I allow that you humans are like me, and that you are centers of universes, too, then there’s no fucking way I’m going to convince any of you of anything (unless of course I say something you almost agree with, anyhow, or simply hadn’t thought of yet).  It’s especially difficult to convince others of something they do not readily believe since the proliferation of Grandpa’s opinions-and-assholes principle, the aforementioned proverb our culture developed to devalue any and every opinion from Kant’s Categorical Imperative to the capitalism of Carl Karcher.

"Egocentric," by Tyler Philips. The question is, does the mind's eye emit, permit, or permute?

We’re partially convinced everyone else is wrong before we even arrive upon a topic of discussion, and that’s not surprising; we were there to witness every time we were right, and we partially doubt (or forget altogether) many of the times we were wrong.  Who, after all, can argue with the center of the universe?  Besides, even if Jack were to convince Jill of a certain idea, Jill would merely be placing her own judgment of Jack’s reasoning before and above his idea in question.

One can’t accept or deny an idea as logical or illogical without presuming a presiding authority.  Parents discipline their children out of an inability to dethrone the god who refuses to recognize Dad or Mom as a sovereign leader.  Obedient children obey predicated on their own decision that doing so produces favorable results.

-Everyone’s Opinion Is Justified, and Everyone’s Reason Is Erroneous

It seems certain that all opinions have the same subjective value, but ideas backed by logic or reason have quantifiable, given parameters by which they must be measured.  In the case of the subjective, we are almost always correct and justified (we earnestly do feel that X is Y); in the case of the objective, we are almost always incorrect and unjustified from the largest perspective, because we know too abysmally little to state things as universally, absolutely true, and can only be correct in small, easily defined, easily proven and quantified matters, such as arithmetic — and even then, paradox shows that we are wrong from other perspectives.

Paul

This fool on the hill sees the world spinning 'round. It's not surprising that he's the center of the universe. The surprising thing is, you are.

To illustrate the futility of solid logic on a universal scale, consider some rudimentary arithmetic: good ol’ 1 + 1 = 2.  Given that we will use Arabic numerals and some other laws previously agreed-upon, this is going to seem standard, true, and inarguable.  The answer, however, is vulnerable to alternative interpretation due to the accepted meaning of addition, and of “1,” itself.   If one were literally added to one other, then the result should be a unification of these two separate entities.  In math alone, we agree to call this unification “2,” but linguistically, philosophically, or metaphysically the logic falls apart, because a uni-fication must result in uni, the Latin word for one.  From these points of view, anything added to anything else will result in exactly one new thing, and we happily operate in a world where these two conflicting perspectives are both true at the same time, never questioning either of them.

The desert is hot?  It’s an icebox compared to the sun.  Your OJ too sweet?  It’s entirely sour when opposed to honey, and honey’s still bland compared to a mouthful of refined sugar.  Everything’s validity or value depends on scale, context, and relativity, and for this reason everything is true, and everything is false.  Proving anything one way is the silliest thing in the world to achieve, because there are an infinite number of other perspectives, each of which may equally prove or disprove it depending on what you’d like to accomplish.

From the broadest perspective, in other words, absolute truth is as arbitrary as the selection of a crayon.  And I want a fuschia dinosaur.

The coup de grace is really brutal, though: even upon reaching a stable, static, universal truth, we find that the entire universe is in constant flux, rapid change, turmoil, decay, permitting, emitting, transforming, creating, destroying, and “moving on,” as Stephen King put it once, so that any true answer was only true for that universe at that time — and that was some time ago.

Forest Entropy

Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart. -Tyler Durden (Chuck Palahniuk)

-A Somewhat Oriental Alternative

My opinion is that contradiction and paradox are the bread and butter of the cosmos.  If I may be allowed to appeal to some authorities, quantum physics (and several other religions) agree with me, not to mention Ken Wilber, who looks so cool you just know he’s hip to his shit.  There’s nothing wrong with being wrong.  We’re all wrong.  I’m wrong right now; just ask all the people who stopped reading halfway through.  When people respond to a question, “Hmm, well yes and no,” I hear the warm laughter of oblivion and smile inwardly, but when I hear people insist that they know what they’re talking about, I have to laugh at myself for having absolute confidence that they should not be so confident.

Habitually trying to convince others to change their opinions is not only futile in the long run, it’s also genocide against the opinions you don’t hold.  Who wants everyone to agree with one another?  That kind of peace and harmony sounds fucking beige.  The only reason I have no contempt of those oh-so-cooperative insects, ants, is that deep down inside, I really believe they’re all arguing over the appropriate size food granules should be for carrying back to the nest.  It’s one of the interesting things about them.

There’s nothing wrong with letting the Rolling Stones be better than the Beatles, so long as the Beatles are also better than the ‘Stones.  I prefer Fitzgerald to Hemingway because I’m fairly certain that Hemingway is better.  Sometimes I wonder, perhaps I have never been very enthusiastic about sports teams because both sides of any game is a fleeting moment in a fleeting century, a single strike of the paddle in a ping-pong tournament played on a cruise ship which rounds the peninsula and disappears into the mist, forever.  Hell, sports teams don’t even have the same members game-to-game, let alone season-to-season!  People will wear the same logo on their cap from kindergarten to their own funeral, though, and some of them will be buried in it.

That, dear fellows, is what it means to try to convince people of things.  It’s insisting that the fluffy, domed cloud up there really is a turtle because that’s the way you see it, and because you’ve seen a helluvalot of clouds, by god.  My favorite part of all, though, is the hypocrisy involved in writing this piece, hypocrisy which will also be necessary to criticize or pontificate about it.  Hypocrisy is the sudden realization that one is the person whom one has chastised.  We define ourselves by standing out in contrast to others, and that makes us all identical in our hypocrisy.  How cute.

The trick, then, is to simply avoid the hypocrites who really seem passionate about their-slash-your point of view, right?  We can do that, can’t we?  Then we’ll have peace, a much more apathetic, blasé temperament all-around, and that’s something for us all to work toward.

So, until someone comes up with a better idea, I remain

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

*Note: The artist featured this week, Tyler Philips, may also be found at his design company, Circuit 26 Design.

How to Refrain From Being a Dick

“Judging people” has a very unfashionable connotation these days.  Nevertheless, it’s not only something everyone does, but an important part of life, a tool with which we sculpt our own personalities to best reflect our ideal persona.  Being “judgmental” is considered ugly and rude, but we’re constantly asked to judge whether someone else’s behavior were appropriate or not, and if we’re expected to do that, then how can judgment be ugly?  Well, it’s ugly whenever we unfairly conclude something, of course.  That’s precisely when judging the behavior of others makes us an asshole.  It therefore becomes a man to consistently check his judgment of others for inconsistencies such as hypocrisy, unfairness, or just plain ol’ meanness.

I try to catch myself when I think something uncool about another person — preferably before I say it — and this self-censorship is part of how I try to be cool to people.  However, I also feel that I owe society a little vigilance in holding my friends and neighbors accountable when I calculate their behavior to be assholey or dickish, and in mentioning similar judgments to other people when appropriate — you know, in order to spread the word: “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but notice that what you just did makes you look like a huge asshole.  You should knock that shit off.”  Being nice to everyone all the time seems injudicious, seems to perpetuate unwanted, uncool behavior in society [see “A Hurried History of Pagans and Pulpits,” if’n you’re inclined].

Moe was such a dick, they even circumsized his hair.

The difficult part is knowing which behaviors to encourage and which to discourage, or, colloquially speaking, what makes a guy become a dick.  This week’s “In a Real World…” attempts to provide a lenient and justifiable guide to judging other people (but is really only a 10-dollar-word version of a shit list).  I apologize for electing myself to the position of Grand Inquisitor, bytheway, but we agnostics and atheists need a little guidance, too.  Besides, I didn’t come up with this stuff; it’s not my idea; it’s merely my best synthesis of things society seems to think at-large.

I.  Behaviors, Knowledge, and What People Have Commonly Known

The most important thing to understand — and this is crucial — is that nobody is or is not a dick.  People merely do, or refrain from doing, dickish things.  In order to know which activities are cool and which are uncool, we must know to what extent we may hold people accountable, for people live their lives according to what they know (or think they know) and it’s not reasonable to hold everyone accountable for not knowing everything.  It becomes our job, then, to make a reasonable list of things people can be expected to know and understand.  I won’t do this arbitrarily.  Let’s look at what people have commonly known through history, and we’ll call it common knowledge.

Makes sense to me to start from the late nineteenth century.  That’s when public schools started in the United States and institutionalized knowledge, making it “common,” so-called.  Before public schools, most people knew some folk medicine, some folk music, some recent history, how to mostly practice their religion, and the appropriate ways to perform their mostly menial jobs.  That’s most people, mind.  News came word-of-mouth, superstitions were widely believed and practiced, and one’s reputation in the community meant more then than one’s criminal record or credit score does today.  Note that rudimentary logic, reason, and rationality are not here featured, yet people somehow managed to treat their favorite same-skinned neighbors civilly.  If pretty much everyone can be expected to know how to be nice, therefore, then the question becomes: to how many people?

The Industrial Revolution needed workers who could sit down, shut up, and ask permission to urinate. Open for business.

It makes sense to me that we can expect a completely uneducated person in America to operate on a level consistent with the above knowledges.  When I’m in a particularly rural area with little technological industry (the same industries which necessitated American public schooling to begin with, you see) I do not call a man a dick for failing to understand that we civilized folk don’t use one word or another anymore, or that his neighbor is probably not going to a hell when he dies, or that going slow in the fast lane hinders my progress and wastes my precious city-boy time.  He doesn’t know the things I know, therefore I consider him cool by what I can only approximate to be a standard typical of his culture.

That’s very important, too: understanding that our culture (and its subcultures) is not the arbiter of cool will keep us from being a dick from alien perspectives.  Ethnocentric people don’t usually give a fuck about outside perspectives.  That’s why they end up getting caned in Shanghai and cussed at in Paris.  Of course, it’s also why Westerners are occasionally beheaded in the Middle East: from our perspective, religious fanatics are total dicks.

II.  The Least a Person Can Be Expected to Know

Literacy, history, the arts, science, math, and other high school subjects were not commonly understood until roughly the nineteen-forties, and even then we must confine this newfound understanding to centers of urban civilization.  Today in Southern California, however, all of these subjects are taught in public schools, and we can expect even the worst student to grok the most-basic gist of them: science says, causes have effects; math says, everything affects everything else; history says, people really like to hurt each other.  Understanding any one of these can teach someone to stop being such an asshole.

Gandhi stated simple, logical reasons for not acting like a dick. His goofy smile is a side-effect of enlightenment.

Is even this basic knowledge needed to escape being a dick, though?  That wouldn’t follow; it’s very easy to imagine a friendly ignoramus, after all.  They abound in literature as gentle giants and wizened, elderly farmers.  The knowledge base requisite to avoid being a dick must be smaller than this, and I suggest the following standards:

A. Colloquial etiquette and civility

B. Simple Logic (“if this, then that”)

A working knowledge of etiquette and niceties typical of one’s region seems a good place to start, but we’re going to need civility, too, which I’ll define as a simple deference toward one’s fellow man.  Without a little etiquette and civility, one is certain to act like a dick sooner or later (and probably sooner).

To exemplify a lack of etiquette, if someone rockets the snot out his nostril with a firm blow while in line at Starbucks, he or she is going to disgust everyone, and that’s going to hurt his or her reputation, especially if snot spatters the the top of some little kid’s head.  As for civility, double-parking makes a good for-instance: there’s nothing more dickish than for some cocknose to take up two parking stalls in a traffic-choked part of town because he’s just too busy to take ten seconds repositioning his car so that someone else can use the other space.

It can be argued that etiquette is ancillary to civility and need not be mentioned.  Upon broad examination, though, one finds that these cousins are too independently important to be combined.  Following etiquette usually keeps one from acting uncivilly, even when one’s inborn civility tends to be found wanting.  For example, my dad drops the occasional racist joke — but that doesn’t mean he double-parks in Little Saigon.  He’d never be able to live with himself.

A logical badass doesn't double-park.

The knowledge which ultimately decides how big a dick someone will be from day-to-day, though, is ultimately that of simple logic.  A man without logical aptitude is incapable of seeing that, if he shits on his next-door neighbor’s welcome mat, he’s likely to smell it through his own open window.  A person lacking basic “if this, then that” understanding may become enraged and violent at the ravings of a transient hobo, or pick a fight with someone over an ex-lover (emphasis on the prefix: ex), or fail to see that volume and repetition rarely aid one’s argument in a debate.  On the other hand, the possession of active logic can and most-often will lead to polite, friendly, and decidedly less-dickish decision making.  Logic probably won’t teach you to open doors for ladies (an arguably outdated custom, anyhow) but it may lead you to smile more, use tissues when blowing your nose, and refrain from double-parking, lest you want your paintjob keyed.

That’s all I think a person needs to know in order to keep from being a dick: civility with a dash of etiquette, and simple logic.  Nothing more.

Now, I’m not the sort to state a bunch of principles only to finish without having left a handy tip or two, so what follows is intended to aid the reader in his or her quest for coolness.  You’re welcome!

III. What You Have No Business Expecting People to Know

Some may find themselves getting carried away in their estimations of others.  This condition is rampant among certain groups of people (especially the youth, as well as many of my dearest friends) and is an understandable side-effect of the assessments all humans must naturally make of their conditions, including the actions of fellow humans in close proximity.  Many branches of knowledge are unnecessary to keep from being a dick, though, yet are consistently roped-in with the exceedingly small number of things one could rationally expect to be “common knowledge.”  A few examples follow.

The (once) popular game which made (not) knowing everything totally (un-) fashionable!

A. Fine Art, Appreciation or Execution of

Amidst the constant din of advertisement and pop-culture, it’s unrealistic to imagine anyone could form a cogent idea of what constitutes real quality in the arts, be they musical, visual, literary, or otherwise.  If you call someone a dick for enjoying the homely, modest pleasures of Taylor Swift’s melodic country tunes because, fuck, you’re surprised anyone could find pleasure in such utter simplicity, I’ve got news for you: that innocent music fan is not the asshole in this example.

B. Fashion

Don’t like her shoes?  Well, where were you to help her out when she blew sixty bucks on them?  You dick.

C. Much of What Is Taught In High School

As far as I can tell, most people spend much of high school trying to escape the slings and barbs of all the immature assholes on campus.  That, combined with a few years of disuse and intellectual decay is more than enough to obliterate many of the details gleaned from an American high-school education.  If someone forgets who fought the War of Eighteen-Twelve, it’s OK to inform them, but don’t call them an asshole.  You might just become one someday, some day very soon, in fact.

D. Philosophy, Government, Religious Studies

Almost everyone has a favorite one of these.  Each is much, much, much more closely related to the others than may appear at the outset — even across the branches — and their worshipers have a habit of accidentally becoming assholes in their righteous quest to vanquish those whom they view to be assholes.  Regardless the potential veracity of your particular passion, it’s just a few interesting ideas.  Don’t be a dick.

E. Any Knowledge One Could Pay Someone Else to Use

So, what if your friend can’t change the oil in his car?  Can you sew a fucking blanket?  Can you catch a stupid rabbit?  Good luck surviving your first natural disaster.  Asshole.

IV. How to Pinpoint, Within Reason, a Dick

The only definitive way to note dickish behavior is by observing selfish, uncool activity.  However, certain traits which often accompany a terrific want of reasoning faculty are visible even from across the street, and it behooves the reader to acquaint himself or herself with them in order to decrease the likelihood of abetting, encouraging, or becoming the victim of, an asshole.  If for you this sounds too much like judging a book by its cover, as the cliche goes, please imagine any important piece of literature, The Diary of Anne Frank, for example, with the cover of a typical dimestore romance novel, and explain to me why it doesn’t have one — the publisher would almost certainly sell more copies with all that cleavage and flowing hair, after all.

By Kurt Vonnegut

AThe Eyes

You’ve probably noticed a certain dullness in the eyes of your slower-witted neighbors.  While a lack of education alone does not make a person a dick (see above) it does increase the likelihood.  Slowness or laziness in the eyes may denote a lack of purposeful seeing and searching, a sort of disinterested passivity about life and the surrounding world.  If passive thinkers act like dicks, it’s probably not because they mean to be, it’s just that it hasn’t occurred to them to give a fuck about you.  Besides, who the hell are you, anyway?  You think you know me?  You don’t even know me!

B. Gaping Mouth, Poor Posture, Other Signs of Habitual Relaxation

It takes energy to be cool.  One may argue that in the long run it takes less energy than is needed to be a real dick, but on the battlefield of life, some people just can’t be bothered with courtesy.  This is the guy who’ll casually drop his litter on your front lawn, keep your misdelivered mail, block your car in the driveway, blab sensitive information, or “forget” to return borrowed items.  We all do stupid, inconsiderate shit like this sometimes — but some people do stupid, inconsiderate shit like this as a matter of course.  Avoid like the plague, son.

C. Failure to Produce Supporting Information On Proposed Points of View

The most remarkable aspect of the true dick is an uncanny suspension of disbelief.  A real cocksucker can hold any point of view he likes without feeling any compunction to find reason in it whatsoever.  These winners say things like, “It just is,” and, “See?  I’m right, huh.  Ask this guy.  Aren’t I right?  See!”  Ask them why they think their team is gonna go all the way this year, though, and you’ll hear more cutting-edge statistics than the WTO has compiled over the last decade.  Even this is not enough to convict them of being assholes, though.  You have to wait until they say something really offensive.  It usually takes ten minutes, half a beer, or one unit of patience less than you have — whichever system of measurement works for you.  Play it safe I say, and politely withdraw at the first sign of unsubstantiated bullshit, or you might get some on you.

*        *        *

I do hope that this little tutorial has elucidated some of the complexities involved in not being a dick.  It’s one of the most important skills to hone as a human being, and a difficult one for many people, impossible given certain situations.  Perhaps humility comes with increasing effort as one achieves more throughout one’s life, but somehow I don’t think so.  With a little consideration, anyone can act as nice as he or she would like to act.

I like the word consideration: it has the denotation of purposeful thought and the connotation of politeness, a perfect marriage between logic and civility.  Even if we’re pretty cool to one another, we can always do a little bit better, and personally, I like doing better than usual.  People like that, and people smile when they like things, and as far as I’m concerned, anything like a smile to pretty-up this overdeveloped parking lot is a good idea.  So be cool!  Be considerate.  But above all, don’t be a dick.

We friendly bastards are ever-vigilant.

Earnestly and Bemusedly Yours,

-BothEyesShut

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