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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. War Brings People Together

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

— Mao Tse-Tung

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

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

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

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

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

II. War Inspires Art

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

— General George S. Patton, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. War Improves the Humans-to-Resources Ratio

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

— Josef Stalin, comment to Churchill at Potsdam, 1945

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

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

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

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

IV. War Spurs Science

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

– Will Rogers

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

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

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

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

V. War Brings the Rich and Poor Together

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

– Jean-Paul Sartre

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

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

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

Eat your heart out, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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

VI. War Spurs Philosophy

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

-Aristotle

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

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

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

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

No war, no philosophy.

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

VII. War Holds Religions Accountable

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

– Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIII. War Destroys Warfarers

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

— Eleanor Roosevelt

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

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

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

IX. War Expedites Evolution

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

— Isaac Asimov

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

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

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

Evolution at the speed of boom

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

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

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

We did not invent war. We are war.

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

With Much Love and Many Rockets,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

American Unoriginal, 501 Blues

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

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

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

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

Mr. Paul, Henry David Thoreau, Jello Biafra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gomen nasai.

or France. . .

Frenim-Clad

Or the United England Kingdom. . .

The United England Kingdom

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

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

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

Seven pairs.  Seven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levi’s blue jeans: Not Made in U.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

And there was nothing boring about that.

With Great Reprobation, Condemnation and Fulmination,

-BothEyesShut

Meat, Meat, Meat (Food, Sex, Death)

Death doesn’t scare everyone.  Millions of Americans look forward to death with all their heart, and not because they find this life deplorable.  They simply want to hang out with all the cool, dead Christians they’ve always dreamed of meeting or seeing again.

I’m not interested in talking about death this week, though.  Maybe some other time.  I’m interested in fears which share the same dark roots as those of death, but which more icily chill our blood, fears which turn the most stouthearted Southern Californian into a simpering coward, desperate and ashamed.  Like all terrors, these fears inspire feelings of profound anxiety, hate, and prejudice, thus spreading misery and contempt throughout society.  I’m talking about black evils, one must conclude.  I’m talking about the closest thing around to a real Satan, two things Southern California fears more than cancer.

I’m talking, of course, about food and sex.

Bananas make people hungry.

I. Food, Sex, and Death, the Meat Triplets

Upon consideration of food, sex, and death, one finds them interlaced.

The human body’s response to the promise of sex mimics its response to the fear of death: sweat, tension, heightened blood-pressure, elevated rate of breathing, diffusion of endorphins, et cetera.  Sex’s primary purpose is to fight death by creating and celebrating life.

Food is tied to death, too, as we only eat recently deceased plants and animals.  We ingest ebbing life to keep from dying, and also enjoy the taste.

Our biology also blends food and sex.  The tissue which forms our lips is hyper-sensitive and found also on the nipples, the head of the penis, and the clitoris only.  Breasts, an important erogenous zone, represent the original food source for all humans.  Oral sex is ancillary to reproduction, yet ubiquitous.  Food-play fetishism has existed for millennia.  We could go on for pages.  Mary Eberstadt writes, “. . .ordinary language itself verifies how similarly [food and sex] are experienced, with many of the same words crossing over to describe what is desirable and undesirable in each case.  In fact, we sometimes have trouble even talking about food without metaphorically invoking sex, and vice versa.  In a hundred entangled ways, judging by either language or literature, the human mind juggles sex and food almost interchangeably at times.”  There are whole books on this stuff.

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

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

Cucumbers are for eating

Squash.  It’s for eating.

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

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

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

II. North Americans: the Anti-Pleasure People

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

We wear entirely different hats, for instance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

America sure seems violent these days.

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

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

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

III. The Sex-Crazed American Epicure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when I say everything, I mean everything.

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

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

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

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

The man’s man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, really.  We’re fucking boring.

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

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

Quit cowering in corners, and crown your humanity.

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

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

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

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

Fuck Avon.  You look great.

With vice and good intentions I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

 

Disinformation and You: a Love Story

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

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

I. Hooray!  Disinformation Is a Way of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Washington presiding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columbus

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

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

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

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

II. All the President’s Men

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

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

Presidents

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

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

There is exactly 1 President of the United States.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Frank Incense and Mirth,

-BothEyes

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.

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