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!

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A Very Special Christmas With BothEyesShut

My readers tend to develop a vivid impression of me rather early in our relationship, I must say, and I can’t blame them.  I mean, this is far from the most pandering blog on the Internet, and I sure haven’t sugared my opinions for anyone, so I suppose forming an opinion of me is a little like sizing-up the character of a covered pie; if you get two or three slices of blackberry, you naturally presume that the rest will not turn out to be cherry, apple, or peach-pecan.  In my estimation, this is as it should be, but I must say that I believe my ideas to be independent of any personal touch on my part — that is, I hold current points-of-view based on their logical likelihood to me at present, and consequently I have no pride or ego invested in themso many things I say can be construed as perpendicular to one another, incompatible, or schizophrenic.  I know that.  I accept that.

It may well surprise many of you, then, that of Christmas I consider myself a fan.  There are many such proponents who cheerfully advocate the holidays, and if you count yourself in this number, please trust in my sincerity and continue without trepidation.  This is not a trick, nor sarcasm, nor an insidious ploy to make fun of churchies.

For my friends whom have already begun to feel somewhat betrayed, however, remains the following, which is a brief account of exactly why I feel enthusiasm for such an obviously materialistic time of year.  People have raised eyebrows, so I feel an explanation is in order.  So merry Christmas!  And don’t worry; I won’t get all warm and fuzzy on you.  This shit is much too deliberate for that.

The Coca Cola Santa campaign, 90 years old and joyfully roaring.

Alright, so everybody knows that Thomas Nast dreamed up the American Santa way back during the Civil War, and everybody knows the story about Coca Cola’s campaign to show their product as a winter beverage, about how the campaign successfully launched old Sinter Klaus’s own career here in the states.  That’s not too interesting, really, unless it’s news to you; you can get it here from the horse’s mouth if it is.  Maybe you should.  It’s important to know where our gods come from.  What people don’t think too much about, though, is how much more important Santa is to society than many of our other icons and symbols.

For instance (and if this paragraph is a low blow, I apologize) the crucifixion of Christ is an important symbol of selflessness for billions of people.  Christian culture sees the crucifixion as a magnanimous act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of mankind, but Santa’s a more suitable symbol for selflessness than Christ is now.  It’s hard for agnostics like me to see the crucifixion as a glorious gift, because believers seem much more impressed by Mr. Jesus’ sorcery, his famous trick of rising from the dead like some bearded zombie and ascending into heaven after checking-in with his friends than by his being gracious.  I try to never judge a philosophy by its misuse, though, and the truth is that it’s self-sacrifice that allows for so-called salvation in the Christian system, redeeming the world “by the blood of the lamb” like a clinking Hefty bag full of empty Corona bottles at the local recycling center.  The Catholic church did a number on the Christ story by putting so much emphasis on miracles over the last seventeen-hundred years, though, mainly in a bid to win converts, so the best symbol for selflessness that humanity had, the Christ figure, has been pathetically reduced to an icon of — shudder — forgiveness, which is not only condescending to non-believers, but accusatory, as well.

Santa, on the other hand, stands for selflessness without complexity or complication.  He is the spirit of charity and cheer, of belly laughs and granted wishes.  Not to be outdone, he’s also an arbiter of morality, rewarding goodness in our children no matter which family standards outline it.  Hell, even if you were bad this year, Santa’s still going to leave some coal in your stocking so you can have a warm Christmas morning.  Everyone except a very self-righteous few can celebrate him without checking their church manual for oversights, and everyone with an inclination to be good to his or her fellows can respect an example of selflessness like ol’ Saint Nick.

Life: it ain't wonderful because it has a happy ending.

Selflessness is not a joke, bytheway.  If you’re surprised that I back Christmas in spite of its  materialistic dark side, consider the importance of social grace and the rewards of a diminished ego.  We are much less independent of one another than we pretend.  Alienation from the society of humans means madness or death, as does any sufficiently vast divorce from other forms of life such as plants and animals.  Consider how arbitrary our independent self-images are!  Where do you think your body is divided from the world?  At your skin?  What about the hairs on your arm — are those you, too?  How about the sebum and moisture that your skin produces to protect and lubricate itself, is that you?  How about once it evaporates?  For that matter, think of the air we breathe.  Is that oxygen you when it’s in your lungs, your blood, your brain?  When you breathe out, is that breath of air you?  Oh, I get it, it’s you when it’s inside you, but it’s not you when it’s outside you.  Remember though, everything that makes you up and keeps you alive originated outside of you.

OK, OK, this is all physical, but what about your thoughts, your education, your words; they all started with you, right?  No?  That’s interesting.  And when you speak, those thoughts, those ideas, those will die with you, right?  From nowhere to nowhere?  No?  And economies, and global infrastructure, and the capacity to drive alongside thousands of people every day without an accident, these things clearly show that humans are independent of one another, I suppose?

Nope.  No way.  We can’t even really tell one another apart without drawing lines “somewhere,” without giving names to things that never a name did need, without choosing cliques in high school, professions in college, and political bumper stickers in November every four years.  Oops! I thought you were a friend of mine; you have the same haircut.  We do everything in our fucking power to make it look like we’re individuals, but you know the truth.  We’re all leaves on the same tree, and that’s where selflessness comes in.  You see, selflessness achieves on purpose what evolution attains by accident: a better humanity.  So yeah, I’m on Santa’s team.

I don’t need to be more precise, do I?  For further study, see Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” pictured above.  Don’t watch it if you’ll need to feel macho or Nietzschean at any point over the following few days, though.  Trust me on that.

Oh, and a very merry Christmas to you, too.

What of all the buying and selling, marketing and wanting, though?  Yeah, it’s definitely part of the season, no doubt.  Still, when I think of Machiavellian corporate fucks sitting around long tables in black leather chairs and talking about how to harness the holidays for the best of their companies, I don’t think of them as evil, nor as the dark high priests of the almighty dollar (no more than usual, anyhow).  They do these jobs the rest of the year, too, you know.  It just seems blasphemous in December because Christmas is about giving, and the corporate fucks go to great lengths to ensure their commercials engender as much desire and selfishness as possible.  Their jobs seem very out of place during Christmas, perhaps, constantly vying for your purchases, but the real responsibility for making the holidays a beautiful thing lies on the traditions of your family.

Listen, if you’re distraught because the Christmas bonus didn’t come through again, or Uncle Hobart won’t drive to San Diego to see the kids, or yes-I-know-what-I-said-about-charity-but-he’d-just-buy-beer-with-it, then you’re living too close to earth.  Earth is cold and hard, and that’s not what Christmas is for.  We have eleven months a year to fixate on our shortcomings and the meanness of life.  Can’t we at least pretend to be better people between Thanksgiving and New Year’s*?  Christmas is an italicized opportunity to be cool to people.  If buying gifts for your friends and family seems like a pit battle at the stock exchange, then you’re fucking doing it wrong.  A wise man once said: to the pure, all is pure; to the base, all is base.

Yeah.  That’s so goddamn true.

So anyhow, merry fucking Christmas!  You people are completely awesome.  To drop the showman shit and be honest, I can’t tell you how many interesting people I’ve corresponded with as a result of “In a Real World. . .”  I’d bid you merry Christmas anyhow, and I’d say nice things, too, but it makes it real easy when being polite and being earnest do not contradict one another.  You know what I’m talking about?  Of course you do, you beautiful bastards.

Seriously though, merry Christmas.  If I see you out, be sure to introduce yourself.  First round’s on me.

All My Best,

-BothEyes

*See earlier post, “Actors are Schizophrenic,” on the topic of pretending to be other people

Stale Loaves, Gamey Fish, and Feeding More than Five-Thousand

How exactly does one appeal to the masses of humanity?  What’s the secret recipe to make culture go pop?  Is it a common ingredient, a hermetic principle, or what?  I mean, it can’t be all that complex; just look at the people who’ve accomplished it.  In this week’s “In  a Real World, This Would Be Happening,” I want to attack the glamor of being the name on everyone’s lips.  Let’s see what the experts have to say.

Andy Warhol

“In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes,” said the man, and boy was he right.  If you haven’t been world-famous yet, then you haven’t wanted to.  Andy Warhol learned how to do it more than three decades before Internet fame was available.  His magic trick involved taking images most people were already familiar with and painting them numerous times on a single canvas.  He raped popular culture, using everything from movie stills to canned soup labels, and when people decried him as a charlatan, a fake painter, he laughingly agreed with his detractors, saying that his paintings had absolutely no artistic value, that art itself had no value, and that an artist is someone who makes things people don’t need.  He said finally, “I’ve decided something: commercial things really do stink.  As soon as it becomes commercial for a mass market, it really stinks.”

I’ve learned this, too, but it’s only recently that I’ve begun to suspect that perhaps this is more than a simple opinion, that perhaps widespread acclaim really does harm a thing.  However, not all things seem susceptible to this form of corruption, only works of art.  I say so for the simple reason that non-artistic things like tools and such are used by everyone in proportion to their usefulness.  Nobody uses washboards anymore, because washing machines are much more efficient.  Everyone uses wheels to move things around, because wheels are exquisite at rolling.  In fact, they are experts.

But wouldn’t it be cool to use a washboard to clean clothes in the sink?  It kinda would, yeah, but our crappy modern clothes wouldn’t stand up to the scrubbing.  And wouldn’t it be chic to have a working bicycle with square wheels?  You bet.  Jean Paul Gaultier would have his brand stamped on one overnight if it were possible, and then he’d charge $15,000 for it, and you know what?  It’d sell.  So it seems that living contrary to popular culture has artistic merit.  Andy figured it out as a painter in the 1950s and made an entire career out of thumbing his nose at the rest of the artistic community, merely rendering silly commercial icons and symbols into fine art, and now he’s revered as one of the most important artists of all time (though not with art history intellectualites).  He’s the biggest pop-culture painter in the history of pop art.  In fact, he’s sometimes called the father of it.  Goddamn, irony can really make me smirk.

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde

Oscar Wilde said the same thing Andy did, that “All art is really quite useless,” and also that, “The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.”  Well done, Sir, well said indeed, but what signifies good art if it is all useless?  The number of its admirers could gauge the quality of our art for us, couldn’t it?

Marketing giants sure want it that way.  They would have us believe that popularity is the barometer by which all art should be measured, but not because they have a solid, philosophical reason or honest, subjective opinion on the matter, but rather because they do want to sell as many of their products as possible, and since any one product is going to look and act precisely the same as the others once we get them home, advertisers want it to be a sign of quality that we all have one, rather than evidence that we haven’t been thinking on our own.  They say that Britney Spears is a genius; they say you can tell by the millions of albums she’s sold.

On the other hand, making money is a rather obvious purpose, a typically modern use for a thing, wouldn’t you say?  And if Britney is useful to the corporations, then Oscar says she is not art.  What about Andy, though?  Andy said to the media once, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”  Yeah, but Andy painted Campbell’s soup cans and laughed at his buyers to the media.  His joke on the art world was his true art.  His lifestyle was his true art.  His paintings were like the stage magician’s wand, which when waved about would distract the audience from what the other hand was doing — namely, anything it (he) wanted.

Wilde’s “intense admiration”

The other half of Oscar’s quote could be true, though.  What if excellent art could be measured not by the number of its admirers, but by the intensity of its fans’ admiration?  It’s possible.  If it were true, the corporations sure wouldn’t like for it to get out.  Could you imagine?  Imagine legions of soccer moms and old ladies taking down their Thomas Kinkade paintings and re-framing various images they found at the local bazaar, and why?  Because they like the way they look hanging there on the wall, that’s why, and because nobody anywhere else has got one.  It’s unique.  It’s unique, and for some reason, that’s a good thing, but you sure can’t sell it.  It’s hard to manufacture unique.

I’m not here to figure out exactly what makes good art, though.  That was Aristotle’s thing (the nature of quality, I mean) and he never really nailed it down; I’m arrogant, but not so conceited that I think I’m going to define it in a Wednesday morning web log.  I wanted to find out what it takes to produce mass appeal, and so far I’ve only figured out that people have been fooled into buying things based on their popularity.  This is not going to work.  Quickly, let’s go, let’s go.

Jackson Pollock

This is Jackson Pollock’s work.  It’s called “Galaxy,” and I think that’s fitting.  It looks — something like that.  There are two immediate reactions to a Pollock piece.  Sometimes people say, “Say, that’s a pretty thing,” and other times they say, “Hell, I could do that.”  You know what?  It’s true.  Even a 4 yr. old can do it.  They can do it and make thousands upon thousands of dollars.  This approaches an answer to our problem, which was, how does one go about garnering mass appeal?  How does one snare the positive attention of millions of common people?  The answer lies in a suggestion.  I’m putting it in bold so it stands out to my casual readers.

What if people are commonly of bad taste, whereby corporations sell things of bad taste to satisfy an enormous consumer demand?

Were it true, then it would cause a tailspin of poor taste and reprehensible artistic values after a decade or so.  Consumers would allow marketing geniuses to tell them that mediocre artists produce works of enduring quality.  The public would come to believe that every new thing that everyone purchased had intrinsic benefits because everyone had purchased one.  That’d make selling things to the people even easier, because excellent things are much more rare than commonplace things; it’d be far simpler to convince people that auto-tune makes a song more fashionable than talented vocalists can, whereby great singers wouldn’t have to be found in great supply; it’d be much more straightforward to make splatter paintings more fashionable than, say, expressionism or pre-Rafaelite art, because then big business could have toddlers create a steady stream of high-demand products, pre-framed and ready for their place on the living room wall; it’d be a cinch to sell children’s books to full-grown adults if the adults were convinced that adults everywhere were already reading them.

The real cover of Harry Potter VII, and the pretend cover for adults.

On this last score, one wonders, “Is it necessarily so that great children’s books are poor literature for a man or woman?”  It’s a fair and fine question.  I think that if the reader’s comprehension of the literature is at a child’s level, then children’s books are perfectly appropriate to help him or her learn to read books which deal with mature ideas and circumstances, books written with magnificent poetry and masterful turns of wit and cleverness.  Is it too harsh of me to suggest that adults who read children’s books should be ashamed of themselves unless their reading comprehension is at a child’s level?  Nope.  Here, look: Rowling’s publisher released a second edition of Harry Potter VII, one with a big-boy grownup cover on it, so that mature fans wouldn’t have to be embarrassed for reading baby books in public.  If they’re ashamed of themselves, why should I go easy on them?

Alright, then, we have seen that corporations produce second-rate, mock-up, or ill-suited art for the ignorant masses, and that they manufacture ignorance to boost sales.  Rowling’s people know Harry Potter is not suitable for adult reading, so they facilitate the retardation of adult literacy by disguising consumers’ laziness as a respectable literary endeavor.  Fine.  I believe now that I have an answer.

In order to appeal to the masses of humanity, one need only produce something as near as possible to what most people are already interested in.  The largest number of people is the most homogeneous; the largest number of people is the most average and mediocre; the largest number of people is the most unsurprising, the most unoriginal, the most lacking in ingenuity.  In other words, in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator, one need not trouble oneself; one need only have something truly unimpressive to offer — and the truly unimpressive are sure to snatch it up.

Can it be said that mass appeal actually harms an otherwise quality work of art, then?  Certainly.  Many great works of art stunned and offended audiences because they were innovative and ingenious.  If everyone had accepted the punk rockers, the movement would have been dismantled.  If all the Thomas Kinkaid sort of fans had suddenly found an interest in dadaism, the dadaists would have had to try something else.  If the people who dress unfashionably suddenly donned Gucci and Prada, guess which designers wouldn’t get invited to the next show in Milan.  Can it be said that popularity actually harms art?  Why not, when things like fine art, influential music, and classic literature are continually thrown over for cheap, flash-in-the-pan imitations?  If the people of mediocre taste, values, and education find something irresistible in a certain thing, then the art itself becomes an accomplice.  It’s guilty by association.

This brings us to the final irony, and to me, the funniest.  I’ll let our pop-culture authority close this chapter by elucidating:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.”

-Andy Warhol

Have It Big: a Varied and Vociferous Vocabulary

The F-Bomb: persona non grata.

The last time I remember being slapped by my father, I had spoken out-of-turn to him at the dinner table.  I was thirteen or so.  The conversation went something like this:

“Damn.”

“What did you say?”

“I said damn.  Sorry.”

“That’s too bad,” he said.  “I thought you had a bigger vocabulary than that.”

I was going through a phase at the time.

“So,” I said, “if I took that word out, my vocabulary would get bigger?”

Wham!  I hadn’t seen it coming, even though a blind man could have, and it hurt.  He didn’t answer my question and I didn’t ask him why he hit me.  It was a concealed incident like a covert military action in a third-world country.  It was neatly concealed.  It was politely concealed.  And the question posed to my father, to my society, slipped into quiet obscurity like a sailor’s fumbled cigarette.

It’s a question I still pose to certain people — a very certain sort of person who disdains some words because they are considered bad, immoral, or vulgar, yet has retained the capacity for reasonable discourse.  So far, nobody’s done anything but agree with me that using fewer words must result in a smaller vocabulary, but strangely, no one’s ever argued to me that the resulting vocabulary, while smaller, is still better somehow.  Certain people must believe so.  No one’s ever told me so, and for a long time I wondered why.  This week’s “In a Real World This Would Be Happening” discusses the causes of small vocabularies through the history of cussing, rails against the wagers of the war on words, and champions that holy grail of English, the Largest Vocabulary.

With no further ado, let’s get the fuck on with it, shall we?

BibleSTUDY_000

Rich people don't need real jobs.

Throughout history there have been people who decide how you need to talk in order to look cool for the rich pricks in power.  This verbal prejudice trickles down to socialite fashion fucks, magazine-cover types who also decide you need to mimic the way the rich pricks talk to look fashionable.  Let’s have a look.

*        *        *

We don’t have to go all the way back to 3,000 BC like we did in last week’s piece.  No, the good words versus bad words war wasn’t in full swing until Latin became a language known only to the clergy, pictured with their favorite books above.  In medieval Europe the churchies had control of the Western world’s knowledge and money.  Nobody but the rich could afford the time necessary to read, or to learn to read for that matter, so the only people who had any education outside their family trade were churchies, most Catholic.

Well the Catholic church had decided that Latin was the Holy Language, so these rich bastards hoarded all the sciences, maths, philosophies, histories and what-not and made sure that they had perfect control over it by speaking and writing in Latin, a language nobody but churchies could understand.  In England and France the language was that of the indigenous people, the common speech, and the Largest Vocabulary of the common people included all the same “bad” words we use today, like arse, cock, cunt, et cetera.

Of course the churchies had need for alluding to these grand specifics of anatomy just like anyone else, and they used their own ecclesiastic lingo to describe them, ergo: anus, penis, vagina, from the Latin.  This trend continues today, as anyone can see.  What can get a person sued for saying aloud at his or her workplace in Anglo-Saxon is perfectly fine in Latin.  You can tell your boss to self-fornicate.  It’s fun.  People get a kick out of it.  Try telling him to fuck himself, though, and you’ll get fired for speaking such vulgar language.

Oh, that reminds me.  That so-called “vulgar language”?  Yeah, ‘vulgar’ comes from vulgaris.  It’s Latin for ‘common’.  So the next time some old bat tells you the movie had too much vulgar language for her liking, just remember: she’s echoing the disdain of rich bitches who found last year’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” too provincial! filthy! so — so — so common!

72 names! God is HUNG.

Now one of my favorite inconsistencies concerning the church’s war against the Largest Vocabulary is the name of the Judao-Christian god, who goes by the ingenious name, God.  In the early days of worship, the only word that was a sin to speak was the Holy Unspeakable Name of God, so you had to say the Holy Unspeakable Name of God, or HUNG, for short.  Of course, the Jews have 72 holy names for God, all of which come from their holy books, and I don’t think they are all bad to say — just HUNG.  Why?  Because it would be vain to try and label an omnipresent being like a god.  That’s why Moses commanded his crew to stop using his Lord’s name in vain: naming God was logically impossible to do, and diminutive — therefore blasphemous — to try.

But churchies today use “God” all the time, calling him by name just as if he were “Mike” or “Bill” or “Bob.”  Churchies today have reams of other words you shouldn’t use and topics you shouldn’t talk about, though, and preachers warn congregations against reading from strange doctrines and fraternizing with non-believers, effectively censoring all manner of information but their own single-minded, near-sighted interpretations of a single text, their Bible, which is already a selection of books from a much larger selection of books, thus censoring the largest portion of Hebrew thought and theology before the churchies even get started censoring everything else.

The next time you take shit from some self-righteous religious zealot, ask them what it means to “take the Lord’s name in vain,” and while you’re at it, ask them what God is.  When they regurgitate the line that God is love, tell them, “Nope!  God is HUNG,” and revel in your superior Sunday school skillz.

Russian snobs: voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

Following in the footsteps of the medieval churchies were the aristocracies of the 19th century.  At that time the richies had moved from Latin to French as their code language, because the population of France in the sixteen-hundreds had been the largest in Europe, which had its lasting political effects.  To be fashionable, one affected une air de francais, so one was expected to speak in French.  Once again, if you weren’t in the know, then you weren’t allowed into the party, so we get such endlessly annoying historical crap as the great Russian dynasties speaking French to one another in books like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and at diplomatic foo-foo balls such as the one pictured above.  Of course, in neither language did these fuckfaces take advantage of the Largest Vocabulary.

Can you imagine going to a party and getting snubbed when all the fashion fucks start speaking in a different fucking language from a different fucking continent?  Ah bien, très désolé (gee, I’m sorry).  Vous êtes un bâtard (you are a bastard).  Baisez-vous (fuck you).

God I feel so cool when I speak French.

Modern codebook of secret handshakes and passwords. Shhh!

But the 17th century had other lasting affects, too, such as the development of etiquette in France.  This is another damned password used to separate the aristocrats from the common people (vulgar people, don’t forget).  The French courtiers had absolutely nothing to do but amuse themselves in those days, and they amused themselves mainly with drinking, fucking, and making up complicated little fads to differentiate themselves from the middle and lower classes.  Once again and of course, they did not use their Largest Vocabulary.

“Look!  Bertrand’s wearing his ruffles agog!”

“Dear me, can one wear ruffles — agog?”

“Indeed!  Oh, I quite like it.  I think I shall turn my bourdalou buckle to one side.”

“But Marie, simply all of Paris is wearing them to one side — hadn’t you heard?  Oh, it’s positively how it’s done this season.”

“And you never thought to tell me?  How gauche!”

“Well I–”

“Hmph!”

“Well!”

Marie has been wronged, for sure.  I mean, how is anyone supposed to look cool without a friend on the inside to alert one to sudden changes in the language of fashion and the fashionable language?  I mean, look at these secret signals:

The blade of the butter knife is to be turned inward and closest to the plate on a folded napkin.  A man’s shoes are to be matched to his belt and briefcase, his tie matched to his handkerchief which is also a patterned, folded napkin.  A woman’s heels are matched to her purse and hat band, and she must have her initials sewn onto a lacy handkerchief so that she may snare cute, rich, fashion-fuck boys by the well-timed drop of a monogrammed folded napkin.  Hundreds and hundreds of little passwords, and any tiny slip would give a vulgar person away as a poor bastard from no wealthy upbringing at all.

Today, these passwords include firm handshakes, the car-salesman eye-contact contest, and the utterance of corporate lingo like “proactive,” “touch base,” and “on the same page.”  But the real victims are teenagers, trendy little dickheads and posh little cunts.  They don’t even know how pathetic their fashion-groveling looks to nerds, dweebs, geeks and weirdos who don’t fit in and don’t want to, who don’t vote for homecoming queen, want to be cheerleaders, or try to look like the cutey pies on the cover of Sixteen magazine.  Sad, sad, sad.  What do you think: nature, or nurture?  Either way, it’s a shitty way to treat the offspring of humanity, mindfucking them like that, even if it is just the backlash of 600 years worth of class warfare.

No. Really.

The stinking relation between fashion and censorship is only a matter of degree.  Some words and discussion topics are unfashionable enough in wealthy circles that these jerk-offs can actually look cooler to their friends by banning certain words and themes from society.  Tipper Gore made the Parent Music Resource Center in 1985 because she thought Prince sang about sex too openly, something the Catholic church made uncool hundreds of fucking years ago.

She’s responsible for the “Tipper Sticker,” that insulting little rectangle of hate that says, “PARENTAL ADVISORY — EXPLICIT LYRICS,” which is now a music industry standard.  Last I heard, Walmart doesn’t even carry music with the Tipper sticker on it, and I know my mom used to throw away my cassettes and records if the local youth minister told her they were of the devil.

The war on the Largest Vocabulary steals our fucking music, goddamnit.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s reason enough to want to cuss as much as I can fit into a cohesive conversation.  You know what I want to do?  I wanna make a sticker that says, “CONSUMER ADVISORY — INSIPID LYRICS,” and plaster them all over the pop industry, all over the country music industry, slap one on every worthless, safe little Miley Cyrus album produced for blonde daughters and make the independent record stores boycott them.

But of course the boycott wouldn’t be necessary, because those stores don’t carry that nonsense.  I guess their clientele’s too — highbrow?  Elite?  You bet your fuckin’ ass.  That’s the kind of knowledge money can’t buy.

Hooray! Hooray for cussin'!

Words have meaning dictated by context; everyone knows that.  Out of context, they’re like nails without a hammer, like paints previous to their painting.  To get excited over words because they are “cussing” is to show ignorance of, or disrespect for, denotation.  Cussing is just an American Mid-Western mispronunciation of cursing, not a group of unspeakable words.  “Fuck you” is not a curse cast upon someone’s head like some hick pagan voodoo juju.  “Fuck you” is not cussing.  “Fuck you” is an open threat thrown right into your enemy’s face, the way we like it.

So join the ranks of the fully vocabulated!  Use euphemisms in making fun of aristocracy, and vulgarisms in defending Democracy!  Embrace neologisms and thicken that dictionary up.  Slang is fun!  Ever notice how the people who get offended by the words you use are people you wouldn’t want to talk to anyway?  Fuck that medieval bullshit!  Drive their linguistic prejudices back into the Victorian Age where they’re still fashionable.  Defend porn as the front line of free speech, attack censorship and disinformation in all their forms, and never, ever, ever forget the most important principle, the most invaluable precept of all. . .

Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

Sincerely and Utterly,

-BothEyesShut

A Hurried History of Pagans and Pulpits

I found out at a tender age that Mr. God created heaven and Earth in the beginning, and I’m very amused to read that this was probably a mistranslation.  If the hereafter actually exists — which it really, really may, you know — then this little verse that kicks off the epic bestseller creatively titled The Book (Bible in Greek) may be one of the biggest SNAFUs in history.  I gotta tell you, the blunders of humanity at large make me all soft and warm and bubbly, and this one has had me in stitches for a while.  It’s especially funny because fans of The Book will denounce the discovery out of hand and pretend it never happened rather than embrace the more likely translation, and the cosmic goof of human existence will have provided me with yet another vaudevillian pratfall.

I am not an enemy of the church, however — regardless of what they think of me — and have constructed as a display of my good will a handy crash course of the world’s major religions for those who may be shopping for some inner mysteries, eternal life, or ultimate truths.  Can we be friends again, gods?  No just and sensible deity worth worshipping would refuse a hand outstretched in peace, would it?  Of course not.

So come on in!  Have a try at dividing by zero in the zoo of zen, or a shot at real godhood down in the annals of Hindu cosmology, or a bite at the ol’ apple of knowledge as described in The Book itself.  It’s the arcane arcade, where every player gets infinitely more than three lives, so hur-ray, hur-ray, hur-ray, the show is about to begin!  Welcome!

<curtain>
Paganism: chaos and hijinks

Ah, paganism.  Paganism is actually the religion of non-Christians, so-called from paganus in Latin which basically means “hick” or “hayseed,” and represents all those real old pantheons found in ancient Greece, Rome, Norway, England and Ireland, though these are only examples.  The earliest religions are pagan, and many pagan festivities and belief systems have survived so that we may enjoy them in their modern forms today, such as Santa Claus, Halloween, painted Easter eggs, and New Year’s Eve parties.

Since pagan religions are real, real old and real, real numerous, not much can be said about all of them as a group without treating them unfairly, but the original all-powerful awe inspirer deserves at least a paragraph of homage.  Before Moses was parting seas, before Mohammed was praying in caves, and way before Joe Smith was digging golden plates out of a hill in Wayne County, New York, the supreme life of the party, Pan, was causing your daughters to bed with passers-by in the foliage amidst confusion and much merriment.  Having discovered unto himself the powers of creation and destruction (pangenitor, panphage) he did the only thing an immortal can be expected to do: he went about amusing himself to assuage the boredom inherent in a flawless existence without end.

His main symbols were good music, good food, good wine, good sex, and good pranks, and rather than having arch-enemies to fight with, he merely contended that they were lies and did not exist.  And what were these non-existent enemies, you might ask?  Reason, logic, and death, mainly.  Gee, good thing we don’t have a church of Pan, anymore.  The neighbors’d call the cops on that sermon before the keg was even out.

Hinduism: just try and exclude yourself -- just you try.

During the reign of Pan and somewhat more Southeasterly, the East Indian people started figuring some things out about the universe.  They figured out that it was unified, infinite, and duplicitous, for example.  They called the illusion that humans believe to be reality “maya,” and described the true reality as a network of interlocking gemstones, each reflecting and being reflected in all of the others.  This meant that everything was a god or goddess and just as holy and deserving of reverence as everything else, which made sense to them because everything was unified and connected in Universe, anyhow.  They also saw a hell of a lot of death and birth in that dangerous and fertile country (hundreds are washed out to sea each year in the annual monsoon alone) so the reincarnation idea had to come pretty early, too.  There wasn’t any goodness or wickedness in the Hindu belief system, because everything was holy.  Even today, any god you can invent will bless your days and be worth your prayers, because everything is holy.  Oh, and in case no one told you, you are Hindu, too.

“No, I’m not,” you say.  “I’m Catholic.”

But the Hindu smiles patiently, chuckling, “Ah, but you are Catholic Hindu.”

“But I, I am an Episcopalian.”

“Ha ha, yes; you are Episcopalian Hindu,” he informs you again.

You see, since the Hindu pantheon includes all possible deities, they see all the other gods and beliefs as Hindu, too.  The idea gets better when you know that the Rig Veda was written circa 1200 BC, a full millenium and a half  before The Book got published, so much earlier that every religion in the hemisphere borrows from it and shows ancient Indian influence.  We’re all a little more Hindu than we knew.  Go figure.  I want twelve arms.

Buddhism: because all you need to know you learned in kindergarten.

Among the ideas that sprang from that old-tyme religion in India is Buddhism.  The Buddhist mythology has to do with Siddhartha Gautama sitting beneath something called a bodhi tree and achieving enlightenment, which apparently has less to do with light and more to do with weight, though Sid wasn’t too clear about the actual nature of this achievement.  He taught eight ways to reach perfection by pointing to the spokes of a wagon wheel, told everyone that they were already perfect but had forgotten, and insisted that contentment was better than happiness.  He had four truths altogether, one of which was the wagon wheel stuff.  When you laid them all out, they went something like this: life is pain; pain is forgetting that you’re perfect; and if you stop trying to be what you already are then everything will be fine — oh, and check out this wagon wheel.  What’s that?  You want a book?  To heck with that!  No holy texts in Buddhism.

So everything’s fine.  Relax and enjoy your enlightenment.

Added bonus: do you know where the Dalai Lama said the world’s best Buddhists were?  Southern California.  If you figure out why, then you really may be enlightened.  Good for you!

We don't need but one god; just make 'im real big, is all.

Now while the Hindu religion is getting off to a roaring start and the Buddhists are in their infancy, the Jews of the Middle East are compiling a very, very impressive mixture of history, mythology, and theosophy which most of us are somewhat familiar with, being this book with the creative title that I’ve mentioned.  The most innovative bit about it is the monotheism, which means they only have one god.  Why only one god, you may ask?  Why only one, indeed!  Well, it makes perfect sense that of a crew of gods one ought to be more badass than the others, right?  And it follows also that it’d make the most sense to talk directly to the head honcho than to some lowly petty sergeants, right?  And that’s how this worked out, presumably.  Besides, you can always say that the little immortals are mere branches from or organs in the big-immortal-spirit-deity thing, anyhow.

The Hebrews included all sorts of things in their bestseller, The Book, too.  There’s a whole bunch of mythology in there, complete with magic Gandalf staffs and seven-headed dragons, music for the groove-minded, lusty poetry (dude goes on about his wife’s tits like you wouldn’t believe), fortune cookies such as, “Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman,” blood-spattering war stories, cute, quaint children’s fables, reams of condemnation for the enemies of swell fellas everywhere, and — everybody’s favorite — prophecies of the future!  Oh, and bytheway, the Hebrew Tanakh is about ten times longer than just The Book, so if you thought I was just talking Sunday school stuff, you’ve got a lot more reading to do for homework than you bargained for.

Added bonus: kabbalah is super, hyper, mega, über interesting.

If you don't pronounce it "dow," then you're imbalanced.

Meanwhile this guy Lao Tzu goes around saying a string of words like, “In-out, back-forth, up-down, yes-no, good-bad, hooray-hoorah. . .” and finally gets somebody’s attention.  It seems he is saying something like this to a border guard on his way out of China to go off and be very mystic and wise somewhere and grow a long thin mustache, and the border guard begs him to stick around long enough to write these magic words into a book.  Little bit later, bang, out pops the Tao Te Ching, Taoism is born, and Lao Tzu bails out over the mountains, never to be seen again.  It’s all about “the way,” and the way is about flow, balance, change, and nature, it would seem.  Taoism doesn’t get any more complex than that, and it has one of the most poetic holy texts around.

Added bonus: the Tao Te Ching is short enough to read in one sitting at Starbucks.


Zen Buddhism: they meditate on nothing by not thinking. Really.

Meanwhile some more and a few hundred years later, Zen Buddhism sprouts out from Taoism.  The god question usually gets started, “Where do we come from,” and ends with whatever X thing you’d like to suggest, but Zen Buddhists take it one step farther.  They say, “OK, well what came before the first thing?” and you have to look at them all weird and say, “Well — nothing, of course.  X was the first thing, remember?” at which point they say, “Well then maybe we should be trying to get closer to nothing.”  Then, you say, “What?” and they say, “Exactly,” and that’s more-or-less how Zen works.

You know the sound of one hand clapping?  Zen.  If a tree falls in the forest alone does it still make noise?  Zen.  And then there’s the story of Zhaozhou, whom was asked, “Does the dog have Buddha nature?” to which he answered, “Mu,” which means no, the dog does not, and yes, the dog is zen at the same time, because mu means both ‘no’ and ‘nothing’.  One guy gets enlightened when he puts his sandal on his head and walks out.  Another guy says the Buddha is five pounds of flax seed.

Zen Buddhism is my unofficial favourite.  It’s so awesome, I had to spell favorite with a U.

Added bonus: the symbol for zen is a big paintbrushed zero, usually in black or red.  Effing cool.

Christ. What a guy.

So then Mr. Jesus comes around, and he’s got this strange idea that you should injudiciously love every Tom, Dick, and Harry who strolls into your yard.  Previous to him, some jerkoff cruised into your part of town, you did your best to chop off his ears and nose, send him home ugly enough to keep his pals from wanting to pay a visit to you.  Now things are different, though.  Now, if your neighbor sets fire to your house, you’re supposed to help him fan the flames; because, you know, that’s going to teach him by example to be nice to people.

Oh.  And Mr. Jesus is God, Jr.

Well lo and behold, this idea of Mr. Jesus’s really takes off after the government tortures and kills him for it, and since he is Jewish, people start getting into the Hebrew book he was brought up with.  This is pretty handy because he doesn’t even have to write a book of his own (though some people do throw some of his quotes together and slap it on the end to give the whole thing a little authenticity).  Then a college boy named John gets around the Mediterranean quite a bit, and it seems he knows quite a few languages, so he sells Mr. Jesus’s lemme-help-you-burn-my-house-down philosophy pretty well.  And then there’s this serial killer named Saul who was fairly famous for being a fucked-up character until Mr. Jesus says he should take “Paul” as an alias, after which Saul/Paul turns out to be a very fine orator indeed, so after Mr. Jesus is slaughtered Paul gets the crew together and makes a name for Christianity. . .

And then everybody else and their mother edits and revises this stuff for two thousand years, effectively watering down and mucking up the hard work of the college boy, the serial killer, and Mr. Jesus himself.  Thank god I’m my own editor.

Islam: more prayers than you can shake a crusade at.

Then comes Islam, and Islam is pretty cool, if not too different from Christianity.  Like Mr. Jesus, this guy Mr. Mohammed decides that god has more to say than what is in the Tanakh and The Book, and goes into a cave for six months to think about it.  Well, he comes out with god’s instructions for revising the old Hebrew religion into something called “submission,” or Islam, which his friends write into a “Koran”.  As you can see from the above picture, it’s a pretty good name for it.  Anyway, Mr. Moe gets a decent-sized crew together and conquers Mecca, because it had never liked him.  Mecca had never liked him because it has this black rock that people have been paying money to visit because they think it fell from heaven, and Moe never liked idols, so his new instructions from god talk a lot of trash about that.  It’s a little fuzzy why Mr. Moe then decides to require all Muslims to travel to Mecca in order to visit the black rock at some point in their lives, and also to point themselves toward it when they pray five times a day, but whatever, it’s his religion, not mine.

One cool trick Muslims do is Ramadan, this month when Muslims are supposed to keep from eating and drinking anything while the sun is up.  I’ve done it before, and I can tell you, it changes your head around harder than an acid trip.  Lasts longer, too.

Added bonus: Korans are by far the coolest-looking holy books going.  If there were a holy book cocktail party and all the holy books were invited to come over for martinis, the Koran would show up in — like, I dunno — Versaci.

If Mary were this cute, no one would believe the virgin part

Just like Mr. Moe, and around the same time, some other guys start editing the Hebrew stuff.  It prolly went something like this:

“OK, so we worship God.”

“Yeah.”

“. . .and God is this Jesus guy the Romans nailed up a while ago. . .”

“Yeah.”

“. . .and the chick who made God never fucked nobody to help her do it?”

“That’s the story.”

“Well — hell!  What’re we doin’ praying to anybody but her?  Seems like she did all the work!  Besides, if she can make gods and stuff, she must could do all sorts of things!”

“Hmm. . .  I reckon that’s about right.”

And that’s the story of Catholicism, except that there are some people they start calling saints who can do magic tricks, but only in one school of magic or another.  For instance, St. Timothy is the patron saint of bellyaches, St. Bartholomew is the patron saint of twitching, and St. Monica is the patron saint of wife beating.  No, I’m not kidding.  And St. Christopher used to be the patron saint of traveling until too many hippies started carrying his emblem, prompting the Vatican to drop his ass from the liturgical calendar and the official list of saints like a bad habit.  Still not kidding.  Hey, that’s how they roll in Italy, man!  You know who makes the rules.

Added bonus: you can do just about anything you like and be Catholic; they have this confessional deal going which is a sure fix between you and god, and they’re pretty elastic on all sorts of sins ranging from child abuse to alcoholism.

Excalibur in Las Vegas -- or, the Temple in Salt Lake City.

The next editor and revisionist of the Hebrew stuff is Joe Smith, usually called by his full first name to give it added clout.  Joe found some golden instructions in a hill in Wayne County, New York, and these told him what to add to The Book to get the fresher, more correct perspective.  There’s an American prophet involved, too, who goes by the unlikely name Moroni, and an “American Moses” named Brigham Young.

There are some interesting cultural attachments that come with Mormonism, AKA the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Moroni, his dad Mormon, Joe, and Brigham Young being the late saints they mean) such as its infamous reputation for abetting polygamy, ties with the occultist Freemasons, and the so-called “Mormon Murders”.  They don’t drink coffee, and they like modern-looking castles with lots of bright light shown on them.  My dad’s Mormon.  He’s OK.  I don’t think I’d follow anybody named Joe Smith across a wild continent, though.

Classic J.W. Painting Depicting All the Fun They Get When They're Dead.

Last on the list of editors of the old Hebrew stuff are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who started as an active team of Christian-pamphlet-hander-outers.  They came up with their name in the 1930s and split from the other non-Catholic sects because they, the J.W.s, didn’t think they should celebrate Easter, Christmas, or birthdays.  This distinction has signified the religion ever since.  Why not, you’ll need to be reminded?  Because these celebrations are pagan Pan parties, that’s why not!  And also because J.W.s are absolutely certain that the end of the world is right around the corner — which to be honest, it always really might be — so they earnestly want God to know that they’re doing their best to not fuck up.

As the modern version of the quakers, J.W.s have the least fun of all religious people, but they win the Consistent Belief System Award among the Christians, and they get to meet lots of people.  Still, I wouldn’t date one unless she let me make my own annual celebrations.  I’d have one in spring called Teaser, one in winter called Mistcrass, and one in September called Me-Day on which I would celebrate everything but my birth and death with much dancing and inebriation.

This is L. Ron. I kinda like his book, but I got it for .50¢.

Far from merely revising the battered, overused, over-interpreted Hebrew stuff yet again, L. Ron Hubbard just fuckin’ made up his own.  In case you’re unaware, you’re living on a planet with millions of alien ghosts who were blown up seventy-five million years ago on this planet by an entity known as Xenu.  Xenu was about to be impeached or something from the throne of the Galactic Confederacy, so he rounded up his constituency, laced them around volcanoes, dropped atomic bombs into these volcanoes and detonated them simultaneously.  The ghosts cause most of your internal conflicts and are called Thetans, but you can pay money to the Church of Scientology for lessons in ridding yourself of their influence  and the secrets to becoming what they call a “clear”.

The Xenu history is made available only to top Scientologists after considerable financial contributions and was kept secret until court documents containing this information made their way to the Internet.  L. Ron has been quoted many times saying, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction.  If you want to get rich, you start a religion,” but the (very) persistent rumor is that Hubbard started the religion to win a bar bet with R. A. Heinlein.  Whatever.  Tell you what, though: I’ve only read the first few chapters of Dianetics, but they had more useful philosophy than you would think, considering how bat-shit crazy the culmination is.  Don’t give them your money, though.  Seriously.  Don’t be stupid.

Added bonus: L. Ron hung out with Aleister Crowley!

Ah, we've come so far. The church of the future. Zoom.

Well, here we are at last, the pinnacle of world religion that is modern Christianity.  In America it’s mostly unified now to the point where the Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and non-denominational Christians can’t tell one another apart anymore, nor say why they belong to one sect rather than another.  They’ve got a The Book that has been through sixteen centuries of editing, revision, and translation, they’ve changed their clothes, music, and churches, and they’ve founded their first wildly successful nation through the wholesale slaughter of an indigenous people, so at long last the old Hebrew traditions are here to stay.  Modern Christianity is popular, highly marketable, and comes with a built-in social life for new converts whose existing one is either an empty room or a clan of bad influences (non-believers).

This is the sort of thing I grew up knowing, just like millions and millions of other kids.  I had preachers on my TV, God in my music, and bumper stickers on my car.  Hey, it’s an entire world for billions of people!  Don’t laugh.  Some people never see pornography or read Friedrich Nietzche.  Some people really do avoid R-rated movies.

The truth is, though, all the inner mysteries of Pan and Ein Sof and Mr. Jesus and Augustine et cetera are all intact and pulsating with real, honest-to-god wisdom that can whisper to you the secret of life right between the pages of their respective books, but you have to be able to ignore the slogans printed in faux eXtreme! lettering on tee-shirts, the weepy fanatic babbling, the misinformed sermons, the various anachronistic prejudices, and other such bullshit that keeps people from seeing world religions as anything but a sales pitch and a bad joke.  If you can do that, then there’s a lot of really, really interesting shit out there, and I’m telling you, if you think you’ve got nothing to learn from Shiva because your man is Jesus, or nothing to take from Buddha because you voted for Mohammed, or nothing to glean from Lao Tzu because Moses really turned you on, then you’re pretty arrogant for a guy who proudly calls himself a ‘believer’.  Go ahead.  Step outside.  The world won’t bite you any harder than you’ve already been bitten.  And besides. . .

You can always bite back.

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