Immortality, the Gift That Just Won’t Quit

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

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

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

“Hey, this guy’s dead.”

Why, this guy's dead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why, this guy’s dead.”

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

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

Perfectly nonsensical.

Zombie Zygotes of the Living Dead

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

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

Dead and alive, alive and dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead things taste good.

Food is dead-ish

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

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

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

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

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

Death and life, life and death.

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

We still have no round definition of death, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With much pleasure and measured amounts of pain I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

The Saintly Altar of the Altered State

I.

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

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

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

Holistic medicine the old-fashioned way

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

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

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

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

Without sex and regularity, anxiety patients feel much better

II.

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of the American Addict

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're gateway drugs, alright

IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V.

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

What arrogant, blustering bastards we all are.

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

Beer.

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

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

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

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

With a glazed look and a raised glass I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

THUWH9S5JMPC

Books, Part of This Nutritious Breakfast

There isn’t a community in this nation which doesn’t prefer an hour at the gym to thirty minutes in a library.

Americans would admit it freely, too. If Gallup polled them, Americans would say, “Well, yeah. Wouldn’t anyone rather look like Marilyn Monroe than think like Ben Franklin? I mean, come on, that’s easy.”

These priorities are, as Robert Frost once called them, sincerely fucked-up. It’s sound reason for health-conscious people to concern themselves with their intellectual diets and exercises at least as much as their physical ones.  It’s good logic for health nuts to care about their educations as much as their caloric intake.

The dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle worry many Southern Californians, as well as other folks both domestic and foreign, but those concerns present nothing like the Faustian hellscape that is an intellectually malnourished way of life.  The mind deserves at least as much attention as we pay to our diets.

No amount of crunches will give them that, "I drive responsibly" look.

I.

The mind is easily dismissed, because the mind is hard to describe.  It’s an abstract concept.  Nevertheless, people have cause to worry about exercising their minds just as they fret over diets and exercise, because the mind and body are degrees of the same thing. Neither mind nor body means anything without the other, just like hot and cold, or far and near.  Degrees of the same.

This is not a Taoist argument about balance, though. This is a statement rooted in thousands of years of philosophy, thousands of years of brilliant thought.

These thoughts began when someone tried to find the mind. Where it was he or she could not say, and neither could anyone else. No one, in fact, has ever been able to pinpoint the mind satisfactorily, beyond the assertion that it is inextricably braided into the physical brain.

Now, if there is no known location for the mind, why not presume it made of the same energy and matter as everything else in the world? If the mind were nothing more than an effect (and cause) of physical activities of the brain and body, nothing would remain unexplained, nobody would need to wonder where the mind were located, anymore. More fun than that, though, and much more amusing, it would destroy the divide between body and mind, and anyone in search of health food would need to consider whether chamomile tea might not be healthy.

Chamomile promotes drowsiness, you know, and thereby hinders the mind’s ability to concentrate.

Chamomile, the thinker's devil weed.

Consider the relationship between physical actions and abstract ideas.

Should one decide to flip the bird, one begins by willing the fist to extend the middle finger. The question is, at what point does the incorporeal idea become flesh hard enough to physically move the finger? To answer, one must arbitrarily choose a point along the path from thought to action, and the transformation, so-called, happens too rapidly for anyone to discern a difference. It is as though the action itself contained all the desire, will, and thought that had ever been involved. Ideas and actions are, in the end, inextricable from one another.

It remains possible that our thoughts may be nothing more than the streaming recognition of all our potential actions.

For Batman once said, “Of what use is a dream, if not a blueprint for courageous action” (Batman, the feature film, 1966).

Modern science has corroborated the mind’s influence as part of the body. Harvard’s Dr. Langer successfully showed that housekeepers who merely considered their jobs differently as they went about their duties lost significant weight, as well as ten-percent of their blood pressure. Studies at the Cleveland Clinic recorded participants increasing their muscle strength by thirteen-percent in three months, not by weight training, but by simply imagining themselves doing the exercise for fifteen minutes per day, five days per week. Not to be left out, Drs. Yue and Cole of the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Iowa say, “Strength increases can be achieved without repeated muscle activation. . . The results of these experiments add to existing evidence for the neural origin of strength increases that occur before muscle hypertrophy” (J Neurophysiol. 1992 May; 67 (5): 1114-23).

If this evidence for the intimate body-mind relationship does not weigh enough, consider also: thinking has not only the power to slim us down, but also to fatten us up.  How many calories are in a Snickers bar craving?  Some.

I'm training for the Olympics.

II.

A key reason to favor intellectual exercise over physical exercise is that the earnest pursuit of reason results in the adoption of healthy practices. Active mental lives regularly lead to active physical lives, provided that one’s studies are not allowed to grow too narrow or repetitive. Students of geology or ecology soon deposit themselves on a hike outdoors. Fans of philosophy and poetry, likewise, soon learn to disdain the confines of buildings. Sociology and anthropology fanatics soon find themselves moving about society with the lithe grace of a politician.

No true student of philosophy needs to be told that natural foods nourish better than artificial or chemically treated foods, and indeed, it is likely the growing illiteracy rate among American adults that has allowed such rudimentary lapses of judgment to begin with.

The pursuit of athleticism, however, hardly ever leads to intellectual pursuits. One has merely to look at the workout habits of the typical American to conclude as much: one hour on a treadmill daily, staring at a mounted television while listening to Lady Gaga on headphones, followed by three hours of television in bed to reward ourselves.

As a society, we once walked for miles on a regular basis. We used to read while we walked, too.  We did so often enough to form a cliche now long-forgotten, the careless reader blindly turning a corner, running headlong into someone important, someone attractive, or someone dangerous-looking.

“Oh! Excuse me!” the clumsy reader would say, to which the bulldozed pedestrian would reply,

“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”

This peeve of society no longer exists to interrupt our afternoon strolls, however, because hardly anyone walks anymore — and even fewer people read. What readers and walkers do exist, certainly do not do them at once, anymore, and this is yet another example of how our intellectual divorce from the physical realm has affected our daily lives.

Abraham Lincoln's clumsy travel habits earned him the nickname, "Absent-Minded Abe," which he lamented until stumbling into John Wilkes Booth in 1865. "Why don't you watch where you're going?" Booth reportedly said.

People interested in their health had better to start a reading habit than a calisthenics regime or a dieting plan. Calisthenics have little to do with one’s quality of life outside of physical fitness. Granted, staying fit and feeling healthy present one with many important benefits, not the least of which being longevity of life, but the benefits of intellectual fitness far outstrip those of a merely athletic lifestyle.

An educated autodidact takes interest in more of the world around him or her, experiences epiphany on a regular basis, and usually gets the joke (even when the joke is not funny).  What good would it do to live for a hundred and fifty years, if all the intellectual stimulation one managed in all that time were counting reps and calories?  Physical exercise for its own sake feels good — right up to when it hurts — but also involves hours of terribly boring repetition.

Boredom is the agony of an intelligent mind beginning to atrophy, just as aches are the pain of muscles gone unused.

Dull people suffer from boredom like victims of bone cancer.  Note the torture children experience at the mall, shopping for school clothes with their mothers.  They don’t know enough to entertain themselves with what little stimulation exists for them in that environment, so the effect is like that of sensory deprivation.  One might as well blindfold them and bind their hands; they’ve absolutely no idea what to do with themselves.

We secretly replaced two of these bored athletes with two complete morons. Can you tell them apart?

The difference between a child and an adult is, the child will gladly, eagerly find a way to entertain himself or herself.  A dimwitted adult, too far gone and having lapsed into perpetual complacency, grows so comfortable with boredom that he or she can tolerate hours upon hours of commercial television programming, finding no irony in laugh tracks and APPLAUSE signs, predicting the plots of show after show, and repressing occasional surges of distaste, disgust, and boredom with the nimble dexterity of a catatonic ninja.

Stupidity is a vicious circle this way.  The dumber one becomes, the more content one is to become an even bigger idiot.  As the light goes out from behind the eyes, the person in the dark back there has a dwindling chance to figure out what makes life so generally unbearable for them.  If one believes that this ignorance is truly bliss, one is horrifically mistaken.

To return to comparing mental health to physical health, an intelligent yet obese person will need to contend with deadly health concerns — and also might suffer from nightmarish, excruciating social repercussions — but he or she will have logic to resist exacerbating these issues, at least.

An uneducated, unintelligent person (even if blessed with good looks, adequate finances, and loving friends and family) still must survive and endure the following hazards of their fatuousness: irresponsible contraction and communication of disease, increased likelihood of incarceration, hampered ability to communicate, vulnerability to cons and scams, misinformed belief systems, haphazard parenting skills, higher unemployment rate, drastically lower income, poor decision making, higher risk of mental illness, self-inflicted illness, incautiousness and injury, unchecked emotion, social ineptitude, confusion, malnutrition, bewilderment, laziness, haplessness, recklessness, and a nigh-infinite parade of other easily supposed hazards.

Sure, obesity can cause pulmonary hypertension, but stupidity can cause a lawn chair to resemble aircraft.

Cancer is cause for concern. Idiocy, is the bane of our existence.

III.

It will occur to the casual reader that since intellectual exercise seems so much more crucial to a long, healthy life than physical exercise, some logic must exist for the favoritism of Southern Californians and others for the latter.  How in the world could so many people ignore the obvious dangers of watching too much television and reading too few books?  Granted, the media does everything it can to keep people out of libraries, into strip malls and reclining armchairs, but other reasons exist.

Studying up after a long period of laziness remains many, many times more difficult than losing weight or getting ripped.  A little willpower allows access to a proper diet and calisthenics routine — but willpower alone will not help an illiterate person put the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius to use.  Rob Cooper lost three-hundred pounds in two-and-a-half years, but the ability to read influential works of literature or contemporary science journals takes years of formal education, followed by several more years of diligent bookworming.

These studies aren’t just difficult for an aspiring collegiate, though; they’re also dizzyingly excruciating for a dullard to endure.  Dieters have hunger pangs to contend with, and joggers must overcome both pain and fatigue, but neither of these agonies can match the psychological horror of limitless boredom.  Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read any books last year, which means they found no joy in turning the pages of Harry Potter, Salem’s Lot, or even their Bibles or Qur’ans.  For an uninitiated thinker, completing even so accessible a text as Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is as difficult as scaling a sheer wall, and less enjoyable than staring at one.

Perhaps this accounts for the dull look in their eyes.  Maybe staring at walls is the secret addiction of idiots all the world over.

Melissa's bedroom wall has been on the N.Y. Times bestseller list for eight weeks running.

There’s also no immediate monetary profit in engaging new intellectual pursuits.  Most people need to clothe their children and put gas in their car.  They don’t have time to sit and read Chaucer unless someone will pay them for their time.  Even if college educations result in lucrative jobs, they neither put food on the table at home, nor pay for themselves, in the meantime.

This makes reading very unfashionable in places like Southern California, where a successful, meaningful life is measured in terms of material wealth.  Everyone in Southern California knows or has met a member of the modern aristocracy who accumulated the entirety of his or her wealth without even a high school diploma.  Few remark that these people may lead valueless, colorless lives fraught with confusion, disinterest, and despair.  Few question whether raising children, attending churches, or advancing careers can supplant an earnest search for one’s own meaning in life.

An intelligent, educated person with debts to pay, has debts to pay, as well as an appreciation for the horrors and beauties of the world we live in.

An unintelligent, uneducated person with money — has money.

Perhaps the most pervasive cause for the preference of physical health over intellectual health, though, is a social divide between jocks and geeks which prevents a natural exchange of information, information jocks desperately need about the use of books, and information plenty of geeks could use about the use of barbells.  Idiots don’t hang out with intellectuals, because educated types make them feel stupid and insecure.  This aversion suits educated conversationalists just fine, too, because they’re tired of having to explain to drunk people in basketball jerseys that comparing political figures to Hitler doesn’t facilitate a mutually beneficial discussion.

With a social disparity this extensive, it’s hard to imagine anyone over thirty spending some hard-earned Monday Night Football time learning to play chess, instead.  With great hope and trepidation, though, one must presume that it’s happened somewhere, sometime, and that it just might happen somewhere again.

Having pounded a creatine shake, a Monster energy drink, and three shots of wheatgrass, this valiant bro opened his game with a variation on the Ruy Lopez.

IV.

Today, universal health care stands out as Washington’s most ambitious undertaking in decades.  In time, the White House might be able to pull it off, too — but what about universal education?

The so-called public option for educating our citizens doesn’t even bother to hide its own shame and self-loathing, anymore.  What if one’s intellect really does matter at least as much as one’s biological health?  That would make the problem of national obesity look like a pebble beside the Himalayan catastrophe that is our national stupidity.

It’s amusing to consider that universal health care could make an effective political smoke screen, if the categorical failure of Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation were ever to draw unwanted attention.  In the years to come, our life expectancy may exceed all expectations, affording every uneducated American an additional ten, twenty, or even thirty years of bad decision making.

Feeling fit and staying active isn’t a silly prospect; it’s an important part of being human, but a healthy physique alone does not a fulfilling, rewarding life make.  It behooves us all to balance our time in spin class with our time between the pages of something thought-provoking.  It is childish to pretend that looking good and feeling good supplants the need for imagination, contemplation, and meaningful dialogue.  Flexed guns and a washboard six-pack can’t govern anyone’s life.  They help a black v-neck tee-shirt fit more fashionably, but what has good fashion sense done for us, lately?  We’re sexy enough, for Chrissakes.

Were there research available on the subject today, it’s likely that stupidity would prove more responsible for a shitty sex life than outmoded fashion sense ever was.  Decent fucking requires a modicum of know-how.  No amount of salon time can make up for a person’s inability to locate a clitoris.

MacGyver. You can bet he never needed a paper clip and a ballpoint pen to find a clitoris.

Put your bullet-shaped helmet away, o’ legion of spandex-clad bicycle enthusiasts, and pluck up a volume of Bukowski.  He’ll keep your interest for an hour or two, I swear.  And roll up your spongy L.A. Fitness brand yoga mat, o’ acolytes of spirituality through weight-loss programs, and fetch a copy of Huston Smith.  Everything you ever wanted to know about humanity’s search for its soul is there.

It’s time to stop overpaying our athletes and underpaying our teachers, overvaluing our blockbuster hits and underestimating our modern classics.  People of great intellect aren’t having a hard time getting laid, they’re having a hard time finding other intellects.  It’s time to re-evaluate the amount of attention we pay to our physiques when we pay so little attention to our minds, and it doesn’t take a Mensa award-winner to see the American reasoning faculty drying up like a dessicated chunk of cacti on a cracked stretch of desert highway.

Evolution’s the great equalizer, though.  If there’s any truth to it at all, then it won’t take long for all the athletic ignoramuses to jog, hike, and bike straight into traffic or off of cliffs, and the rest of us will have more than enough time to take up aerobics.

With total amazement and utter stupefaction, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

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!


Hippocrates and Dionysus Fistfight In Heaven

I lost faith in doctors when I was thirteen or fourteen.  I had gone to my physician for a checkup I needed in order to compete on my swim team, and he looked up at me with consternation upon seeing a scab on my leg where, a couple nights before, I had heated a knife and sliced out a dime-sized cluster of warts, these ugly little growths I’d felt self-conscious of all my life.

“What is this?” he asked.

I told him.

“Ho!” he said.  I’d never heard a Vietnamese man say ‘ho!’ before. “That was very heroic of you — but we have stuff for that.”

His tone gave me the impression that he was insulted, but I didn’t understand it at the time.  I bet he thought about how contaminated my surgical conditions had likely been, and how lucky I was to not have gotten an infection.  I bet he thought about how clean and modern and painless and simple it would have been for me to just dial up the hospital, wait on hold, make my appointment, clear my schedule, keep the appointment, wait in the lobby, get the bastards removed with dry ice or nitrogen or whatever they’re using now, and finally pay for whatever fees and salves I would then have to pay for.

Or, I could heat my pocketknife over my bedside candle one night while I was reading in bed, slice the fuckers off, and go to sleep.

Yeah.  I stand by my decision.  Well done, teen me.  In case you’re wondering, there’s no scar and they never came back.

Doctors: can't live without 'em; can't shoot 'em.

In assessing modern medicine, I keep Andre Gide in mind.  Gide wrote a book called The Immoralist (among other great works) in which he castigates the relevance and inherent paradoxes of morality, and I quite liked it in my early twenties.  He used to hang around with Oscar Wilde, too, whom I greatly revere, and they used to exchange axioms and epigrams together.  Most readers will recognize his most famous one, the witticism which I use to remind myself of my principles in judging many things, and particularly medicine: “Believe those who are seeking the truth.  Doubt those who find it.”  The suitability will not be immediately clear, so allow me to explain.

In math, science, architecture, the arts et cetera, no respectable professional will say that the absolute answer has been found to any question in his or her field.  This reluctance results from the extremely rational fear of the next expert proving the assertion incorrect by the simple application of a different perspective.  Until recently, physical science considered material things solid; now these things are known to be particles in a mostly empty void like stars in space.  This new understanding changed many things in math and natural sciences, and many people were made fools overnight.

What allowed some scientists to keep their dignity was their reticence in assuming an answer.  Answers are funny things.  They presume to be splinters of an overarching, all-inclusive and ultimate truth, but while a so-called ultimate truth would need to be timeless, answers are too specific for elasticity or longevity and are changed out for more-contemporary answers all the time.

Ha ha, yeah. . .  Answers.

Andre Gide, cavalier of righteousness and earnest living. I swear, sometimes I wonder if all the cool people during the Victorian era were homosexual.

Gide’s “truth” is the same thing.  He knew that the answer, truth, or whatever you like could be perfectly suitable to one question or another, but understood also that a truth transcending all problems, for all circumstances, from every perspective, and for all time to be very, very unlikely.  I see medicine as modernity’s various truths or answers to its questions about health.  I see medical problems changing with the times, morphing in response to ever-changing atmospheres and causes, answers transforming to match reincarnating problems.  Illnesses have always come from different causes but with the same symptoms, or different symptoms from the same causes, and medicine has done its best to keep abreast of it all, by god.  Medicine’s best is an educated guess in many, many cases however, and it’s healthy to remember so.

Another healthy thing to remember is, you can trust yourself.  I believe that if you’re not too lazy or too proud to do a little research, the best doctor in any sufficiently common case is you.  Very nearly all people are on some regimen, diet, or health plan of their own device at all times already, anyhow.  Self-medication is ubiquitous.  Everybody’s prescribed a massage for themselves to relieve a cramped leg, or applied pressure to stop bleeding, or performed oral surgery on a loose tooth (yanked it) and everyone who reads this has everything they need to do the research necessary to cross-reference different medications and treatments.  All the same, some people go to the doctor when they get a headache; others refrain from visiting a trained professional so obstinately that, once the ambulance arrives, EMTs chastise them for having brought themselves to the brink of death.  There must be a balance, one would think.

Me?  I don’t suppose there ought to be a balance, myself — at least, not if “balance” means going to the doctor half the time.   The body is not a feeble thing by nature.  It can be made weak, but it isn’t designed to be weak.  Humanity has survived for approximately four-hundred-thousand years, says archeology, which means that global climate shifts, meteor bombardment, diseases, predators, war, famine, and even poor judgment have failed to kill us thus far.  If there’s anything I like to have faith in, it’s the magnificence of the human body.

The mind, however. . .  I’m not sure I’d trust it to babysit my child — but I digress.  The body is built to last, anyhow.

The human body: 400,000 years and still kicking, kicking our way across the bubbling surface of our glorified primordial soup. Michelangelo, by the way.

Still, some people go to the doctor for “checkups,” which apparently are intended to catch problems before they become serious, an idea which sounds pretty good at the outset.  Consider though the obvious relationship between checkups and hypochondria: hypochondriacs believe they have symptoms of an ailment which a doctor says does not exist; people who go for checkups believe they may have phantom symptoms only a doctor can say do exist.  A good doctor will be incensed at this comparison, and he or she should be, because he or she knows how much training and studying goes into a medical degree, how much diligence and care goes into his or her work.  An unscrupulous, lazy, or perhaps merely money-minded doctor will scoff, too, but for very different reasons which are easily surmised.  Checkups are not harmful if one has a good doctor, though.  It’s just like taking your car to the garage for a professional once-around — if the professional knows the car well, then it should come out at least as healthy as it went in.

This is where the trail divides in the wood.  It may be said that these concerns about doctors are neurotic or phobic, but it can not be said that I’ve indicted the medical industry unfairly, or even to the extent to which it has already been convicted.  I choose to cross-examine the patients, rather.  After all, they alone made the choice to pay someone else to do the research and suggest a mode of treatment.  Much unnecessary woe can be avoided with responsibility and a little self-reliance.

Consider the question of pills again, please.  How many people are on an anti-anxiety medication?  Anti-anxiety meds have side effects ranging from awful to magnificently horrendous, with nausea, depression, impaired thinking and impaired judgment on the mild side, and mania, rage, vivid hallucinations and violent behavior on the other.  How many of these people tried working out daily first?  How many tried meditation or California-style yoga?  How many prescribed a nice quiet read on the beach for themselves?  Or — and sorry if this is blasphemous — but how about a cigarette and a beer?

Hippocrates is wanted for questioning in connection with the unexplained disappearance of several shipments of drugs. Authorities suspect the ancient philosopher may be attempting to offset his responsibility for having authored the oath ironically uttered by their inventors.

The history of humans using beer to relax cannot be overstated.  Benzodiazepines (the most widely used anti-anxiety medications) were introduced in the year nineteen-sixty.  That’s fifty years ago at the time of this writing.  The reader will smile to understand that beer has been used to combat anxiety for six-thousand years.  It’s practically the first thing mankind invented after the drum.  And tobacco?  Hell, even psychiatrists will prescribe cigarettes under certain circumstances.  It wouldn’t do to die of cancer, of course, but it’s worth mentioning that a shorter, calmer life is presumably preferable to a longer one spent in nausea and depression and punctuated with bouts of impaired judgment and thinking.  If some doctor were to walk up to me and offer me a red pill in one hand and a blue pill in the other, saying, “Here, son, you look a little upset,” I’d say, “Thanks but no thanks, doc.  I’d be much obliged if you could draw me a pint and spare a smoke, though.”

What can I say?  I like my medicines tested — very thoroughly tested.  I don’t trust lab coats much, certainly not like I trust a six-thousand-year-old track record.  Beer may not be the healthiest remedy, but it’s clearly the most honest one.

The reader will understand that I’m talking with my tongue in my cheek, sure, but what I intend to say should be agreeable enough: one ought to take a moment or two to reflect on older, more obvious solutions to problems for which people automatically seek doctors.  Many of today’s treatments are tomorrow’s charlatanery.  If the colloquial terms charlatan or snake oil mean nothing to you, you probably know one and have purchased the other from him.  Beer and cigarettes might sound sinful, but even the pharmaceutical companies responsible for producing “bennies” admit that the judgment and thinking of their patients is hindered.  How many of these people are there?  Forty years’ worth of patients!  And how many people with anxiety, exactly?  Only forty million. Makes you think about the actions of the American public a little differently, doesn’t it?  Imagine forty million people walking around, nauseous, depressed, unable to think or make proper decisions — oh, and let’s not forget the rage and violence, either.

What’s sinful now?

Dionysus has a taste of wine with his good friend, Pan, in attendance. These gods were not known to suffer from anxiety.

Pharmaceutical companies say they’ve got a pill to fix “X” problem so long as one can afford to take it daily, but the pill won’t work forever unless its function is a basic one like thinning blood (aspirin) or killing bacteria (penicillin).  Even these two time-honored medical traditions will be impotent against the issues of the year 3000, I’d wager.  Beer and cigarettes?  You bet they’ll be comforting the overworked and underpaid until the sun marries the moon and all the cows actually come home.

So the next time you’re feeling as though a metropolis of responsibility and woe were pressing you into the dirt, and you forget that you’re a surviving hero of four-hundred-thousand years worth of genetic and social fine tuning, consider putting your feet up with a cold one and a cool smoke before you reach for the psych meds.  Humanity still seems alright after all those suds and tobaccy.  Ain’t nobody can tell you what the benzodiazepine eaters are going to look like in six-thousand years.

Cheers, and Happy New Year, Friends!

-Both

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