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!

Books, Part of This Nutritious Breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

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

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

Chamomile, the thinker's devil weed.

Consider the relationship between physical actions and abstract ideas.

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

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

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

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

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

I'm training for the Olympics.

II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An unintelligent, uneducated person with money — has money.

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

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

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

IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With total amazement and utter stupefaction, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

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

A Very Special Christmas With BothEyesShut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah.  That’s so goddamn true.

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

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

All My Best,

-BothEyes

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

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