Oh, Yeah? Prove it!

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

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

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

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

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

The satisfying thing about science is that it loves conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.  Well, shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even incontrovertible evidence meets with reasonable opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One has merely to define the box.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With glasnost and much cheek I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyes

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

Stumble It!

The Saintly Altar of the Altered State

I.

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

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

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

Holistic medicine the old-fashioned way

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

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

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

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

Without sex and regularity, anxiety patients feel much better

II.

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of the American Addict

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're gateway drugs, alright

IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V.

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

What arrogant, blustering bastards we all are.

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

Beer.

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

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

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

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

With a glazed look and a raised glass I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

THUWH9S5JMPC

True, False, Fuschia!

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

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

“Yes, it is!”

“No!  It isn’t…”

Lou Pinella

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

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

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

-Standing by One’s Opinion Is Vain

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

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

Stacks

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

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

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

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

-Everyone Is the Center of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul

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

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

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

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

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

Forest Entropy

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

-A Somewhat Oriental Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

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

How to Refrain From Being a Dick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.  The Least a Person Can Be Expected to Know

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

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

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

A. Colloquial etiquette and civility

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

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

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

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

A logical badass doesn't double-park.

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

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

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

III. What You Have No Business Expecting People to Know

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

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

A. Fine Art, Appreciation or Execution of

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

B. Fashion

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

C. Much of What Is Taught In High School

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

D. Philosophy, Government, Religious Studies

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

E. Any Knowledge One Could Pay Someone Else to Use

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

IV. How to Pinpoint, Within Reason, a Dick

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

By Kurt Vonnegut

AThe Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

*        *        *

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

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

We friendly bastards are ever-vigilant.

Earnestly and Bemusedly Yours,

-BothEyesShut

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