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

O’ War! War! O’ Elegant, Heavenly War!

Reason and intelligence lead thoughtful people to reach the same conclusions when those conclusions seem most obvious, and that’s a shame.  We intellectual sorts daily nod and smile at one another, agreeing on many momentous topics of discussion, differing on only the tiniest of distinctions.  Too many discussions terminate with these knee-jerk conclusions, really, and one of these universally agreed-upon topics happens to be the matter of war.

War, says the sage scholar, is a base, savage, corrupt, unworthy use of our time and resources.  War, he spits, defiles our dignity and pollutes our minds, denounces our integrity and poisons our innocence.  War, he decries, is hell.

However, this perspective does not lend itself to a round, fair judgment of martial practices.  War is too ancient a human institution to be flippantly dismissed out-of-hand.  We owe too much of our bounteous, idyllic lifestyle to war for such a hasty expulsion of it.  War is too human to be deemed inhumane.

War, the heart of so much civilization, cannot be immoral, unjust, or depraved. War is not loathsome, nor is it an abomination. War is not iniquity.

War, in fact — is a really, really good time.

War is not hell. Come now, does this look like hell to you?

I. War Brings People Together

“[The most awesomest party ever] grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

— Mao Tse-Tung

Nothing thrills the soul like a good explosion, except maybe a good explosion with body parts flying out of it. Rather than blowing people up solo, though, one can make the minutest bang a resounding ka-boom! by inviting one’s friends and neighbors along. An armed skirmish inspires conviviality, and any reason to hold a shin-dig is a good one.

Many Southern Californians live in apathy of their neighbors, ignorant of their neighbors’ names, ignorant of their neighbors’ proclivities, ignorant of their neighbors altogether except for the kind of car they drive and which households make the most noise.  We repeatedly prove ourselves too proud to love, too haughty to give a heartfelt hug when we need it most. Drop a few cluster bombs on the local strip mall, though, and people cling to one another like infant monkeys.

Never mind the block party; Mrs. Dilweed’s acclaimed potato salad isn’t going to make any friends. It’s suppression fire from a machine gun nest at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac that softens the hardest of hearts. Until cowering in a muddy shell crater with them, one never knows one’s true brothers and sisters. Camaraderie springs from warmth, and the root word of warmth is war (little known fact). This is why most ordnance produces heat, flame and conflagration, and why even cold bullets, once in merry flight, are called fire.

Don’t stay out in the cold. Choose warmth. Choose war.

Did you see that buzzbomb clip Ralph as it whizzed by? Bang! Zoom! What a gas!

II. War Inspires Art

“The object of war is not to [party hard] for your country but to make the other bastard [party hard] for his.”

— General George S. Patton, Jr.

What pastoral oils graced canvases during Earth’s peaceful centuries? What poetry dripped honeylike from the tongues of minstrels during the Great Pacific Period? What music resounded through the halls of humanity during the Time of Tranquility?

Aha! But there were never any such occasions, of course. Do not be silly.

All great art is the result of a vicious, mindless, self-consuming, bullet-tossing, bomb-fumbling world hell-bent on blending hell into every fine thing produced by man. Without the bang of guns, there would be no onomatopœia. Without the need for camouflage, there would be no paint. Without the need for morale, there would be no music, no comedy, no burlesque.

Without war, the Beatles would have been a boy band. Without war, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls would have been about schoolchildren dismissed for summer. Without war, Leutze’s painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, boot at the prow, would have featured that great general having his shoes shined.

No art exists but that which came from the fertile, menstruating womb of war. What possible inspiration could there, otherwise, be? God (big G)? Please. We have a Sistine Chapel already, thank you.

Without war, we'd not have pretty paintings like "2,000-Yard Stare," by Tom Lea

III. War Improves the Humans-to-Resources Ratio

“The death of one man is [smart shopping]. The death of millions is a [hot deal].”

— Josef Stalin, comment to Churchill at Potsdam, 1945

Limited resources! cry the teachers of social studies. Limited resources! cry the pundits of the mass media. Limited resources! cry the politicians of every country throughout time. All these persons devoutly believe to have spotted the obvious reason for war, when all along they’ve had it backwards. War is not a battle over limited resources. War is the simple solution by which humanity divides limited resources amongst fewer peoples.

What difference does it make if seventy percent of all the oil in the world exists in the Middle East and North Africa, if there are so few people in said world that they couldn’t possibly consume it all in seventy-seven generations? War isn’t a contest of tug-o’-war with natural resources as the prize. War is a game of musical chairs which begins with someone left standing, and ends with everyone seated comfortably.

Every human death brings humanity closer to feeding itself. The practice of warfare puts palatable provisions on everyone’s plate.

Always enough to go around when "around" is less round

IV. War Spurs Science

“You can’t say that civilization don’t advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way [that is consistent with the scientific method].”

– Will Rogers

Dehydrated foods, microwave technology, and countless other advances sprang from the American war machine, yet detractors still picket and march and gripe and whine, saying, “Make love, not war!” and, “Draft beer, not people!” as though these pithy proverbs were the pinnacle of wit and political consciousness. These naysayers have conviction — one can tell by the limitless cash they spend on verbose bumper stickers for their hybrid automobiles, verbose little slogans such as, “Why do people bomb people who bomb people to show that bombing people is wrong?” and “It will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to construct a bomber” — but their hypocrisy outshines their passion every time they stir water into their Carnation Instant Breakfast (™) or nuke their breakfast burritos for thirty seconds on High.

War motivates our sharpest knives and brightest bulbs to design ever-more-efficient blenders in which to purée people, without which the interminable process of old-fashioned battle would positively bore the soldiers to death. Who wants a war without robotic drone fighter planes firing laser-guided ordnance while threading the needle through phased-array radar sites? Nobody, that’s who. Night vision goggles with infrared target-acquisition-sharing capability! Electromagnetic silent supersonic Gauss rifles! Nuclear submarines playing hide n’ seek beneath polar ice caps, with bionic remote-controlled spy sharks to follow them!

Let’s face it, war makes a technological wonderland out of an otherwise unremarkable world, and though it may seem somewhat more destructive, we’d all probably die of boredom without it, anyway.

The hi-tech miracles of war bring delightful conveniences into every home. Every boy and girl will want a civilian version of BigDog under the tree this Christmas!

V. War Brings the Rich and Poor Together

“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who [benefit greatly].”

– Jean-Paul Sartre

Of the many struggles plaguing mankind, class warfare remains one of the most deleterious. The working class has always been exploited by people with money and power, and has always outnumbered its rich slave-owners by a ratio too imbalanced to ignore. In 2006, the top one percent of the population of the United States owned more than twenty percent of the wealth. This is the same as if the rich had stolen every single possession from nineteen percent of American citizens, not to mention everything these unfortunate nineteen percent are currently earning, and everything they will earn until the day they fall over and die — until the statistic changes again, that is.

What to do for this social sickness? Depose the rich and give their stuff to the poor, á la Robin Hood? That only works in movies. Once again we find that war, that old internecine pastime, is the answer.

The problem is not economic disparity. The crisis is that aristocrats are an alarmingly endangered species, their numbers falling faster than those of the black rhino, the giant panda, or the beluga sturgeon. In order to save this grievously assailed caste, the opposing herd must be thinned. What better use for the poor, than war? War is not only useful for inciting art, science, conservation, and brotherly love; it’s also humanity’s best method of lessening the huddled masses of impoverished paupers to match the dwindling and endangered populations of aristocrats.

Eat your heart out, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Why not? Ancient Romans coined their money and forged their swords from the same metal, and in the same fire.

VI. War Spurs Philosophy

“We make war that we may live in [wine-induced philosophical contemplation].”

-Aristotle

Humanity once needed to laze in order to store up energy for the hunt. Now that our prey comes to us through drive-thru take-out windows, we no longer require such lazing, but shaking the habit has proven too difficult for most of us and as a result, we’re lazy.

Philosophers are no different, and in fact often constitute the laziest portion of society (armchairs redounding). For this indolence the fault falls but partially on them, however. Having explained away the meaning of life with eighteen answers to choose from (and this before even touching upon world religions) philosophers peaked rather young, and the resulting malaise keeps them from coming up with new material for our amusement on a regular basis, lazy bastards that they are.

With the threat and promise of war, though, philosophers and thinkers from every corner of the globe clamber over one another to pose their perspectives to the world. War is detestable! say some, and War is inevitable! say others, and War is glorious! say still more, all of them having worked out valid, logical reasoning to support their point of view.

Without war, whatever would we do for philosophy? Where would we find our bathroom reading? Like it or not, the world has war to thank for the musings of Confucius, Gandhi, Lao Tze, Kant, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the rest of the simpering peaceniks.

No war, no philosophy.

Socrates preferred the M4A1 for its close spread at medium range.

VII. War Holds Religions Accountable

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world [see eye-to-eye].”

– Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi

Perhaps most importantly, war keeps the world’s major religions on their toes. Any religious leader can jaw non-stop about how one ought to live one’s life, but when hundreds of weeping mothers pour in on Sunday begging for a divine promise to bring their sons home from war unscathed, even the most wretched charlatan must turn his gaze inward and ask himself, “Do I really know what the hell I’m talking about? Do I really think there’s an ultimate source of love and wisdom and fairness who could let a war like this happen, simply because people are born imperfect and grow up stupid enough to fire projectiles at each other?”

Mark 13:7 says that wars must happen.  Judaism and Islam have been hurling grenades at one another for centuries.  Hinduism even has a goddess, Kali, dedicated to destruction, and Taoism doesn’t really care one way or the other.  It should surprise no one, therefore, that most of the people recruiting for war, speaking in favor of war, and doing the actual killing practice religion.  War benefits religions by holding them accountable, and by accomplishing the following:

War eliminates the fighters from religious congregations, leaving only the lovers.

War forces religious leaders to answer in detail the most treacherous, and imperative, mysteries of life.

War allows believers to emphasize their belief in heaven by martyring themselves, an otherwise impossible task in the modern era.

‘There are no atheists in foxholes’ is not an argument against atheism — it’s an argument against foxholes,” says James Morrow.  Indeed, nobody wants a godless heathen in the trenches defending America.  What would that say about us here at home?

Warriors of anti-aircraft fire and theosophical debate, may your barbs fly true!

VIII. War Destroys Warfarers

“We have to face the fact that either we are going to die together or live together and if we are going to live together then we are going to have to [die together anyway].”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

Having covered all the aforementioned benefits of war, it remains to note that even if war could be disparaged (not bloody likely) enemies of this most honorable practice would have nothing to fear, because war primarily destroys warfarers. Collateral damages aside, and the odd woman-and-child combination notwithstanding, most victims of war who die with bullets in their chests die also with guns in their hands.

War, then, is a cancer-eating cancer. Who can fear an innocuous thing like that?

Like Romeo and Juliet, war loves war, and war kills war.

IX. War Expedites Evolution

“Violence is the last refuge of the [guy who should have tried violence sooner].”

— Isaac Asimov

The human race has war to thank for much of its enduring success and happiness, but natural selection continues. Having developed foresight, as well as a prototypical reasoning faculty, humans owe it to themselves to help speed evolution along, rather than sluggishly floating through stages of development like flotsam on a wave.

Since evolution depends on the deaths of as many would-be parents as possible, war hurries genetic development exponentially. Millions of heroic, conscientious warmongers with an earnest desire to kill opt out of parenthood, and thereby hurry the filtration process. In addition to these purposeful patriots, millions eject themselves from the gene pool by enlisting under dubious pretenses also, including (though fortunately not limited to) the overemotional, the desperate, the directionless, the uneducated, the unassuming, the weak-willed, and the easily-convinced. With all these excellent specimens volunteering their progeny for oblivion, homo sapien version 2.0 might just be released millions of years ahead of schedule.

One never knows which genetic mutation will prove most useful to the next line of humans, but one thing is certain: war finds those beneficial mutations quickly — much faster than waiting for rest homes to empty does.

Evolution at the speed of boom

With so much to thank war for, how can we continue to castigate this most-precious of traditions? There’s so little the world can agree on! And yet, everyone admires the silent nobility of a rusted, burned-out tank half-hidden in tall, green grass. Everybody can appreciate the natural beauty of an antiquated minefield, the subtle majesty of barbed wire silhouetted against the sunrise, its coils spiraling along the horizon like glittering ivy.

Why must we as a civilized people rebel against our most fundamental natures? Let us enjoin our destinies hand-in-hand, staring boldly, proudly down the rifled barrels of our mutual obliteration. Let us not come to regard our beatific invasions as clumsy mistakes, but as the measured, artful strokes of a virtuoso violinist crafting a concerto.

There’s nothing sick or evil about death. Death, so-called, does not even truly exist except as the briefest juncture between shapes of life, a nurturing moment in the infinite infancy of existence. Let us not stay the hand of the reaper, but take up our plows and sow our seeds in preparation for Death’s gentle harvest.

We did not invent war. We are war.

So stand down the picket signs and snatch up the weaponry, salute the Commander In-Chief and strut stolidly to doom. Our splendor and sublimity await!

With Much Love and Many Rockets,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

American Unoriginal, 501 Blues

The United States of America has always embraced its individuality.  Our land, after all, represents an award for having proven our independence from the European imperialists, and for having developed our own voice, our own style, our own civilization.

After that, we developed blue jeans.  We had been rebels, and having won our independence, we no longer had a cause.  Now we celebrate our independence on Independence Day, then spend the rest of the year discouraging various dependencies exhibited by our children and the so-called co-dependent relationships engaged in by our friends.  We like our independence so much that we invented baseball, basketball, and football to avoid playing soccer with the other countries.  ‘Cause, you know; like, fuck those guys.

We do work together in our 501 blues as a begrudgingly unified American people, too, but this is not the side of ourselves we wish to emphasize.  We want to stand triumphantly alone on mountaintops, shaking our fists in defiance of the global status quo — and why not?  Seems more fun than following others on a well-traveled rail all our lives.  Our rails have naturally (or unnaturally) converged in some ways, however, and some leaders have admonished us to retain our differences and revolt against pressures to homogenize.

Those leaders who champion our individuality become cultural heroes, such as Henry David Thoreau (Mr. March-to-the-Beat-of-a-Different-Drummer, himself) and Thomas Jefferson (“The pillars of our prosperity are most thriving when most free to individual enterprise”).  The punk rock movement, led by iconoclasts like Jello Biafra and Iggy Pop, embodied the Western youth’s violent rejection of the mainstream.  Mr. Paul, who wrote that we ought not conform, happens to represent America’s favorite enthusiast of America’s favorite religion (Romans 12:2).

Mr. Paul, Henry David Thoreau, Jello Biafra

For awhile it seemed we might make these leaders of ours proud, proud of our ambitious creativity, proud of our cultural accomplishments, and proud of our devil-may-care disregard for the world’s opinion of us, but look at us now: our disregard for global opinion has alienated us, our cultural accomplishments have been largely surpassed, and our red-blooded creativity, once symbolized by riveted, indigo, serge de Nimes overalls, has become a sad, poorly-manufactured-in-Indonesia parody of itself.

American Individualism, look upon the blue face of your stillborn spirit, and despair.

There was a time not so long ago when a fella could dress as colorfully as he liked.  Plenty of guys wore blue jeans, sure, but could also step into bell-bottoms, plaid pants, coveralls, or any manner of matched slacks.  Trousers were high-waisted, waist-high, hip-hugging or standard, and could be held up with a belt or suspenders.  Even during times of extremely prevalent trends (trends, plural, mind you) we managed to assert our own personalities through the clever juxtaposition of numerous possible garments.  Look at the variety expressed in this typical ad from thirty years ago:

Bells and whistles. The former garnered the latter, I imagine.

It may be surmised that these clothes came from the same season of the same line, and that the fashion designer had intended the outfits to somewhat coordinate with one another.  These similarities notwithstanding, the variety of colors and fabrics and styles makes modern America look as uniquely fashionable as dental-office wallpaper.

I mean, look at that bad-ass motherfucker on the right.  Have you seen anything like that pilgrim-style collar in your life?  More pertinent to our conversation about American creativity, though, are their pants: endlessly more more fun and imaginative than those merely acceptable blue jeans.  The bell-bottoms apparently came checkered, plaid, or plain with cuffs, and you can bet there were more colors than those offered here.  I’m guessing these fabrics were wool, polyester, cotton, and corduroy respectively, far beyond today’s usual variety of cotton, nylon, or cotton-nylon.  The fedoras are a nice touch, too, but I’m focusing on trousers, here.  And why, you ask?

Because — if modern American creativity could be measured in trousers, my friends, it would look like this:

What color were the socialist overalls in Orwell's 1984, again?

This was merely one of a score of images I could have chosen from (I selected this for the flag waving, which I consider a bonus).

Hypothesis: the American public does not exhibit the level of independent thought of which it seems so proud.

Conclusion: for all our independence and rebellion, we can’t even choose our pants uniquely, anymore.

One respondent to BothEyesShut’s American Trousers Study reported, “Hell yes, we’re independent.  We think fer ourselves, sure do, and if a pair of blue jeans just happens to be the most American piece of clothing we own, don’t y’all blame us for looking uniform.  Just because we wear the same style pants as everyone else, don’t you go thinkin’ you’ve got some sorta creative edge on us, or nuthin’.  Blue jeans were good ’nuff fer my pappy, and they were good ’nuff fer his pappy, and by God (big G) they’ll be good ’nuff for me, my son, his son, and the dog, too, if’n we decide to haul off ‘n buy him a pair!”

Cletus has a point.  As a nation, our creativity does capture the globe’s attention with our radical, unpredictable, freedom-waving manner of dress.  We’re just as edgy and innovative as any of those other countries, like Japan. . .

Gomen nasai.

or France. . .

Frenim-Clad

Or the United England Kingdom. . .

The United England Kingdom

So, OK, I admit it — I admit that we denizens of the United States are not the only ones who forgot how to sew fabrics other than denim, but as anyone can see, we aren’t becoming more interesting by learning from the innovations of other countries.  We aren’t trying to decide whether we’ll wear our awesome Scottish kilts to the party or our dashing Spanish sailor’s slacks.  Rather, we’re destroying whatever cool fashions may have existed in these places before the stonewashed blue plague set in.  We’re not doing it on purpose, though.  Like carriers of a cultural disease, we became victims ourselves before spreading it around.

Levi Strauss, pragmatic inventor of what he insisted on calling, “Levi’s overalls,” did not advertise his way to the top of the fashion charts, however; his product had undeniable merit.  The machine-spun fabric withstood months of laborious mining, and the copper-riveted pockets did not tear out at the corners when laden with rocks, bolts, and other detritus toted by the miners.  In 1890, Strauss added a watch pocket for pocket watches (that little rectangular one at the right hip) because men generally carried their watches on chains in vest pockets, and vests, of course, could not be worn in the mines without becoming torn and soiled.

So we non-miners bought them, too.  Our wives were tired of patching and darning our trousers just as much as Mrs. Strauss had been, and what do you know?  By the time James Dean wore them in “Rebel Without a Cause,” the United States Navy had been issuing them to sailors for over fifty years.  Then theatres, schools, and churches banned them in a last-ditch effort to contain adolescent interest in rebellion, an effort which backfired, of course, and by the sixties they had become commonplace.  Then stonewashed.  Then cut-off.  Then ripped.  By 2004, the average American owned seven pairs of blue jeans.

Seven pairs.  Seven.

Forty years ago, guys could go ladykilling on Main St. on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and expect prospective marks to decorate themselves from the waist down, rather than default to the best-fitting of their seven pairs of blue jeans.

Liberated elegance, from a time when people had to know how to match their clothes.

Yeah, so old Levi isn’t at fault.  Jeans are ubiquitous because indolence is human.  We’re too damned lazy to exercise our character, and fuck, jeans “go with” everything.  They really do look nice, too; I like mine boot-cut with a dark, royal bleu de Gênes color, and always wear ankle boots with them to look less casual.  There’s nothing wrong with them — they aren’t the problem.  If it were up to our jeans, I bet they’d rather not be worn as a matter of course, either.

We don’t have complete control over our fashion proclivities.  Marketing and thought control are synonymous, and even more commonplace than the clothes sold thereby.  In spite of this assault on the American freedom of choice, few high schools in the United States still teach media, leaving teens (and their hard-won pocket cashola) defenseless, unaware that they are always someone’s target audience, victims of omnipresent psychographic advertising.

These mind vipers love us all dressing alike, eating the same foods, listening to the same bands (who all sound alike now, anyway) because it’s child’s play to advertise in generalities when the general public is generally going to like anything that fits the general description of what they generally want to buy.  How can a budding fashion designer build a name for himself?  Why, advertise a logo on magazines and bumper stickers, then slap it on a pair of blue jeans and charge enough money to ensure only affluent people can afford to flaunt them.  Sold.

Do people purchase things they might regret as a result of mass marketing? Oh -- sometimes, I suppose.

Many entities benefit from transmogrifying a free-thinking, unpredictable people into a cowed and colorless one.  Politicians, far from pandering to liberals or conservatives, have aimed at median voters for decades.  We owe this trend to the tendency of most Americans to contradict themselves on the ballot.  Most Americans, for example, call the torture of terrorists justifiable, yet insist on federal investigations into the torturing of terrorists.  Most Americans back abortion rights, so long as women do not abort their pregnancies for certain reasons — gender selection, for instance.  This tendency lets interested parties market to the broadest, largest group of people with a single advertisement, and for this reason interested parties work to make us as similar to one another as possible.

It is, of course, human nature to prefer what does not surprise us, as well, so we shirk the shocking and reject the revolutionizing.  Hippies dressed differently, so they were terrorized.  Punk rockers dressed differently, so they were terrorized.  Women who wear burkas in the U.S. dress differently, so they are terrorized.  The most dangerous thing to a way of life is a new, fresh idea, and many people can’t help but hate the guy with the wacky hat.

The wacky hat is distracting.  It isn’t simply fear that causes us to attack everything creative and unique in our midst.  High school administrations that adopt a “No distracting hairstyles” clause for their dress code know well what independent thought can do to a “sit down, shut up” curriculum (more on this in Part I of “How to Refrain From Being a Dick”).  When we stop worrying about our hair, we also free time from our mind’s busy schedule to think about something else — like how we’re going to afford a three-hundred-dollar pair of Sevens brand blue jeans.  We’ll need the trousers if we want to attract that blonde who makes us hard by packaging her ass in a three-hundred-dollar pair of Sevens brand blue jeans.

Creativity: securing seats in the gene pool since the dawn of time.

Originality is powerful.  Unique traits fuel evolution, command attention, and map uncharted territories in any given scenario.  Best of all, exercising one’s individuality today is easier than ever.  One could, for instance, boycott blue jeans.  The last American Levi’s factory closed in 2003, anyhow.

Levi’s blue jeans: Not Made in U.S.A.

So, go ahead!  Have waffles for dinner and ride a pogo stick to work.  Go apeshit, America!  Take the plunge.  Spend an hour looking for trousers at the mall; look for pants that are neither denim, beige, nor black.  Good fucking luck!  It’s far harder than you think, and if you’re anything like me, it’s going to piss you off to see how few possibilities the market allows you.

There’s nothing wrong with national trends.  Trends become traditions and traditions become culture, and culture’s one of few things differentiating us from dust mites.  When trends control our thoughts and curb our options, though, it’s time to trim them back.  When everyone loves Twilight, it’s time to take a second look at Dracula.  When everyone has a pair of those retro Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, it’s time to switch up to neon blade-style Oakleys.  Do it.  Let’s see your face behind a K-rad pair of those fuckers.

I’m not kidding myself, bytheway.  I know there’s no escape.  But there’s an important difference between the guy who goes gently into that good night and the guy who spits and cusses and brawls all the way down.

Or — I’m imagining that, and we’re all just as boring as everyone else.

No way.  I saw a forty year old man in a swell black tuxedo and pink bow tie slam dancing at a Vandals show, once.

And there was nothing boring about that.

With Great Reprobation, Condemnation and Fulmination,

-BothEyesShut

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 its 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.

It’s also amusing to note that “take out” means a kind of food, a kind of courtship, and a kind of murder.

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

Cucumbers are for eating

Squash.  It’s for eating.

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

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

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

II. North Americans: the Anti-Pleasure People

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

We wear entirely different hats, for instance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

America sure seems violent these days.

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

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

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

III. The Sex-Crazed American Epicure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when I say everything, I mean everything.

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

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

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

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

The man’s man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, really.  We’re fucking boring.

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

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

Quit cowering in corners, and crown your humanity.

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

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

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

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

Fuck Avon.  You look great.

With vice and good intentions I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

 

Disinformation and You: a Love Story

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

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

I. Hooray!  Disinformation Is a Way of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Washington presiding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columbus

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

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

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

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

II. All the President’s Men

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

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

Presidents

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

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

There is exactly 1 President of the United States.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Frank Incense and Mirth,

-BothEyes

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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