Immortality, the Gift That Just Won’t Quit

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

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

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

“Hey, this guy’s dead.”

Why, this guy's dead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why, this guy’s dead.”

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

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

Perfectly nonsensical.

Zombie Zygotes of the Living Dead

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

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

Dead and alive, alive and dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead things taste good.

Food is dead-ish

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

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

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

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

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

Death and life, life and death.

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

We still have no round definition of death, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With much pleasure and measured amounts of pain I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

Oh, Yeah? Prove it!

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

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

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

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

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

The satisfying thing about science is that it loves conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.  Well, shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even incontrovertible evidence meets with reasonable opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One has merely to define the box.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With glasnost and much cheek I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyes

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

Stumble It!

The Saintly Altar of the Altered State

I.

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

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

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

Holistic medicine the old-fashioned way

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

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

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

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

Without sex and regularity, anxiety patients feel much better

II.

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of the American Addict

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're gateway drugs, alright

IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V.

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

What arrogant, blustering bastards we all are.

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

Beer.

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

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

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

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

With a glazed look and a raised glass I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

THUWH9S5JMPC

Meat, Meat, Meat (Food, Sex, Death)

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

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

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

Bananas make people hungry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cucumbers are for eating

Squash. It's for eating.

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

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

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

II. North Americans: the Anti-Pleasure People

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

We wear entirely different hats, for instance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

America sure seems violent these days.

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

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

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

III. The Sex-Crazed American Epicure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when I say everything, I mean everything.

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

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

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

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

The man's man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, really.  We’re fucking boring.

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

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

Quit cowering in corners, and crown your humanity.

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

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

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

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

Fuck Avon.  You look great.

With vice and good intentions I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!


Rookie Religious, Selfish Spiritualist

In talking about various lifestyles, it’s hard not to see commonalities between fashion and thought.  The twentieth century may be easily divided into its prevailing Western philosophies, each decade pigeonholed for its own flavor-of-the-month philosophical fad, such as Bertrand Russell in the Roaring Twenties, Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteen-fifties, or Jean-Paul Sartre in the nineteen-sixties, though others could suffice as well.  People tend to take their philosophical fads about life, the universe, and everything very seriously, and I can’t abide “seriously.”  I regard seriousness as an intellectual plague of the modern day.

The hardest people to prove wrong are usually laughing — and they’re usually laughing at themselves.  Even Shakespeare’s wise men were all court jesters, and I for one don’t blame them.  The funniest thing about humanity is its nearsighted self-importance, and laughing at people when they’re passionately convinced of themselves amuses hell out of me, like turning a vicious, snapping turtle on its back.

What follows amused me thoroughly to write, an indictment of three sorts whom I no longer naively expect to present consistent logic in casual conversation.  Each of them easily deserves their own post, but I like to examine a variety of topics, so this will have to do.  It should be noted (and I say this with an uncharacteristic twinge of tenderness in my voice) that I consider the following social groups fragile in one or more crucial ways, and I wouldn’t say these things to them unless they asked for it — or had the ability to stop reading.

New converts: more faith in their tee-shirts than you've got in gravity.

I. Socially Ambitious Spiritual Leaders

If there’s anything atheists and agnostics seem exceptionally good at, it’s automatic distrust.  The secular paradigm does not depend on faith as immediately as most religious perspectives do.  It’s not surprising, therefore, that when spiritual leaders run for office or hold massive conventions in sports arenas, atheists and agnostics refuse them “the benefit of a doubt.”  Since typical spiritualism and religion are against fame, large-scale material gain and power over one’s fellow man, it is often difficult for the secular world to trust spiritual leaders who appear on television, magazine covers, or the jumbotron digital screen at Anaheim Stadium.  Non-believers have no patience for spiritual leaders who ignore their own religious tenets.  Go figure.

Believers, though, they have no problem practicing George Orwell’s concept, doublethink.  Pat Robertson’s a great big jackass because he said horribly racist things to the media recently, but Jerry Falwell’s memory will remain untainted by his own shortcomings because they’ve been conveniently forgotten by people who desperately want to believe in their representatives.  Jimmy Swaggart’s biography, “Thrice-Born: the Rhetorical Comeback of Jimmy Swaggart,” says his public applauded the reasons he gave for his moral failings.  How’s that for accountability?  Spiritual leaders, it would appear, can abuse the public trust as much as they like without serious, lasting repercussions.  The only people who remember when they lie or steal or otherwise transgress their own moral standards are the same people who thought these leaders were crooks to begin with.

The historic Jimmy Swaggart apology. It's OK, big guy, we never really believed in hell, either.

There’s much paradox in large-scale spiritual leaders, anyhow.  Throughout history, hardly any of their burgeoning number have been founders of their particular brand of faith.  The majority have been little more than charismatic persons with evocative ideas and perspectives regarding preordained doctrine, which would be fine if that were all these leaders had to offer.  Once they’ve garnered sufficient attention, though, they tend to inflate their office like a wartime American president and commence making changes of all sorts and sizes, great and small, changes to the traditions of their faith, their practices, their creed, even their holy texts or ultimate doctrines themselves.  If the reader fails to see paradox in this, he or she will be kind to note that it is only upon these traditions, creeds, texts, and doctrines that the leaders attained their positions.  Fine joke, that.

If this argument seems dubious, one has only to consider the lists and lists, branches on branches of religious schisms and sects, denominations and cults.  Each of these represents an example of the above paragraph in action.  For instance, Martin Luther was not Christ, and yet. . .  Sai Baba was not Swami Vivekananda (let alone Ghandi, let alone Ramakrisna) and yet. . .  All that remains to be said is: don’t read Josh McDowell to understand the philosophy of Jesus Christ, read Jesus — and don’t read Alan Watts to grok Taoism, read the Tao-Te-Ching.  Socially ambitious religious leaders all either attain to power or have it heaped upon them, and anyone can tell you what affect power has on people.

II. Golden Years Relapse and AA Christians

Anyone can tell you that many elderly humans return to God (big G).  Alcoholics and druggies do, too, and in fact are ushered to it by groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.  It isn’t bad math or inconsistent logic, if one looks at it.  Many religions offer amnesty in the form of baptisms, confessionals, or amoralism, and promise eternal life and love for virtually nothing in return; when faced with oblivion — well, one almost has to err on the side of a possible paradise rather than risk eternal suffering.  Of course, many non-believers see no risks or possibilities whatever, so they go about their business and simply snuff it at some point or other, tilled and ready to fertilize the daffodils.  Golden-years converts and addict converts, they revert to what took some of them decades of soul-searching and introspect to escape, namely, the same damned worldview they had when they were still being punished by their parents.  What a fucking way to go.

Rev. Oh Beng Khee, a friendly pastor who converts 25-40 seniors over lunch every weekend. Would you like fries with that?

The main frustration comes from their immediate desire to proselytize and witness to non-believers or believers of other faiths.  There’s nothing for one’s confidence in a doubtful matter like convincing someone else that it’s true.  Try it!  You’ll like it.  It’s a sad shame that so many of the world’s most beautiful systems of thought have no standard at all governing the earnestness of their converts, because there’s narry a congregation in the world without a solid percentage of confused persons, people having no business at all swearing oaths, speaking prayers, and outwardly worshiping symbols and icons with serious doubt in their minds all the while.  That sort of thing is definitely not good for everyone else in the congregation who stakes his or her own faith on the support of so many other steadfast believers.  If a fella learns to operate Windows XP on Monday, ought he to be given a job in information technology on Friday?  Do your beliefs a favor, you golden-years and A.A. converts: keep your gods to yourself until your faith outlives your reputation.

III. Spiritualists and Neo-Hippies

So-called spiritual people do not call themselves religious, and do not abide anyone else calling them religious, kindof like a Frenchman insisting that he be called a Parisian.  Religions control people, they say; spiritualism, though, frees minds like in a Bob Marley song.  Self-proclaimed spiritual people say that religions siphon money from believers, and that offerings and donations do not reach the poor and disadvantaged when they come from churches.  Of course, if the money were given to Hari Krisna dancers, “Save Tibet,” or the aforementioned Sai Baba, it’s global change in pocket change.  This is one example of dualistic spiritualist thought, but a mere one of hundreds, and the differences betwixt spiritualism and mainstream religion have more to do with the size of the congregation than with anything else.  But you knew that, already.

Sai Baba. You have no idea how globally popular this motherfucker is -- but if you've ever purchased a box of incense sticks, it was probably Sai Baba brand. Not kidding.

One annoying difference (or similarity) is the spiritual persons’ habit of maintaining a salad-bowl paradigm.  Today’s new-age and spiritual believers do not have a consistent set of beliefs, but rather pick and choose as though the fundamental principles of the universe were a produce section in the local supermarket.  While this may well be true of the universe and its principles, little effort is taken on the part of many spiritualists to reconcile one belief with another, so that while tarot cards might predict a fine day, Y Ching sticks may proclaim tumult while astrology declared perfect balance throughout the cosmos, and the modern spiritualist will find a way to accept the resulting conclusion — an admittedly shallow example, but a suitable one for our purposes.

Perhaps worst of all, few spiritualists really give a fuck about the authenticity of their beliefs.  The easiest American instance of this is the widespread abuse of the Hindu concept of karma.  Since spiritualism’s rise to flower-child popularity, the word karma has been used to describe a sort of cosmic vengeance which, were one to drop a brick on someone else’s head, would bring ten bricks down on one’s own.  This is a gross misinterpretation likely born from the Western need for a holy fist of heavenly justice.  Karma in the Hindu traditions is the effect of this life on the next life.  It is inextricable from the concept of reincarnation.  The effects of this life on this life are called dharma, and are much closer to the scientific concept of cause-and-effect than anything else, which pretty much takes all the magic and mysticism out of it — much like a large portion of other twisted metaphysical and hermetic philosophies.  The closest spiritualists in America typically get to understanding (or caring to understand) this crucial distinction, however, is a giggly aha! moment when the title of the mediocre sitcom, “Dharma and Greg,” comes to mind.

"When we go green, we go all the way," because, you know, you have to sit in full-lotus position to recycle a fucking can. Makes me want to burn a mound of styrofoam in the nearest Whole Foods supermarket, right next to the flax seed and patchouli oil.

That’s a fantastic image of modern spiritualists, in fact: imagine a group of people dressed like fashionable, anachronistic hippies, smiling at their recognition of a word they don’t have any compunction to really comprehend.  Oh, also?  Also make them shake their head ‘no’ while smiling.  That’s the spiritualist version of disagreement.  They’re as peaceful as Ghandi and as passive as apple pie, so they have to wait until their detractors have left the conversation to agree with one another about how much they disagreed with what that last guy said.  They could have to enjoin real conflict otherwise, and that just wouldn’t be natural.

*     *     *

What leads people to spontaneously become acolytes of a new system of beliefs?  Is it an immediate and crucial yearning for not just one dire answer, but a network of interlacing answers?  Is it a need to belong, a desire for a ready-made society of comrades united toward a common cause?  Nobody can say without being equally presumptuous, but there is a thread of similarity that connects these tenderfoot believers which is hard to ignore, one which their members would likely not bother to refute, and that is the vulnerability present in the spirit of each, the meek, affrighted lamb attempting to appear a lion by proudly waving its humble timidity like a glorious banner of courage.  Terror must abate — it must — and everyone hides under the covers under certain circumstances.

I’m afraid, too, afraid of men with guns, afraid of car accidents, afraid of both heights and spiders. . .  But I try to remind myself that these fears are usually irrational and childish.  I try not to massage my oft-bruised ego with salves of irrational, childish behavior like bandwagon belief systems, not that there’s anything wrong with being childish — so long as one doesn’t take oneself seriously, of course.  So what’s my problem?  What the fuck is it I want from people?

Consistency, sucka.  I want some goddamn consistency.

I want loudmouthed Christians to study their fucking books — all of them, apocryphal or not.  I want neo-hippies to study a little Hinduism if they’re going to start talking pop-culture reincarnation, want them to show genuine interest in all the yogas, karma, raja, jnana, and bhakti, too,  rather than presuming they learned all there is to know from a hatha yoga session at 24-Hr Fitness.  The cults of Kali, for instance.  There’s a side of Hinduism I doubt the Beatles would have endorsed.  I want grandparents who find God again (big G) to keep their dignity and pass on the altar call for the first few visits on Sunday.

But most of all, I just want people to re-evaluate their silly confidence in their best guesses at the secret of life.  We don’t know.  We don’t know.

Hey.  We don’t know.

With All My Cheerful Tidings,

-BothEyes

Stumble It!

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

Stale Loaves, Gamey Fish, and Feeding More than Five-Thousand

How exactly does one appeal to the masses of humanity?  What’s the secret recipe to make culture go pop?  Is it a common ingredient, a hermetic principle, or what?  I mean, it can’t be all that complex; just look at the people who’ve accomplished it.  In this week’s “In  a Real World, This Would Be Happening,” I want to attack the glamor of being the name on everyone’s lips.  Let’s see what the experts have to say.

Andy Warhol

“In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes,” said the man, and boy was he right.  If you haven’t been world-famous yet, then you haven’t wanted to.  Andy Warhol learned how to do it more than three decades before Internet fame was available.  His magic trick involved taking images most people were already familiar with and painting them numerous times on a single canvas.  He raped popular culture, using everything from movie stills to canned soup labels, and when people decried him as a charlatan, a fake painter, he laughingly agreed with his detractors, saying that his paintings had absolutely no artistic value, that art itself had no value, and that an artist is someone who makes things people don’t need.  He said finally, “I’ve decided something: commercial things really do stink.  As soon as it becomes commercial for a mass market, it really stinks.”

I’ve learned this, too, but it’s only recently that I’ve begun to suspect that perhaps this is more than a simple opinion, that perhaps widespread acclaim really does harm a thing.  However, not all things seem susceptible to this form of corruption, only works of art.  I say so for the simple reason that non-artistic things like tools and such are used by everyone in proportion to their usefulness.  Nobody uses washboards anymore, because washing machines are much more efficient.  Everyone uses wheels to move things around, because wheels are exquisite at rolling.  In fact, they are experts.

But wouldn’t it be cool to use a washboard to clean clothes in the sink?  It kinda would, yeah, but our crappy modern clothes wouldn’t stand up to the scrubbing.  And wouldn’t it be chic to have a working bicycle with square wheels?  You bet.  Jean Paul Gaultier would have his brand stamped on one overnight if it were possible, and then he’d charge $15,000 for it, and you know what?  It’d sell.  So it seems that living contrary to popular culture has artistic merit.  Andy figured it out as a painter in the 1950s and made an entire career out of thumbing his nose at the rest of the artistic community, merely rendering silly commercial icons and symbols into fine art, and now he’s revered as one of the most important artists of all time (though not with art history intellectualites).  He’s the biggest pop-culture painter in the history of pop art.  In fact, he’s sometimes called the father of it.  Goddamn, irony can really make me smirk.

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde

Oscar Wilde said the same thing Andy did, that “All art is really quite useless,” and also that, “The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.”  Well done, Sir, well said indeed, but what signifies good art if it is all useless?  The number of its admirers could gauge the quality of our art for us, couldn’t it?

Marketing giants sure want it that way.  They would have us believe that popularity is the barometer by which all art should be measured, but not because they have a solid, philosophical reason or honest, subjective opinion on the matter, but rather because they do want to sell as many of their products as possible, and since any one product is going to look and act precisely the same as the others once we get them home, advertisers want it to be a sign of quality that we all have one, rather than evidence that we haven’t been thinking on our own.  They say that Britney Spears is a genius; they say you can tell by the millions of albums she’s sold.

On the other hand, making money is a rather obvious purpose, a typically modern use for a thing, wouldn’t you say?  And if Britney is useful to the corporations, then Oscar says she is not art.  What about Andy, though?  Andy said to the media once, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”  Yeah, but Andy painted Campbell’s soup cans and laughed at his buyers to the media.  His joke on the art world was his true art.  His lifestyle was his true art.  His paintings were like the stage magician’s wand, which when waved about would distract the audience from what the other hand was doing — namely, anything it (he) wanted.

Wilde’s “intense admiration”

The other half of Oscar’s quote could be true, though.  What if excellent art could be measured not by the number of its admirers, but by the intensity of its fans’ admiration?  It’s possible.  If it were true, the corporations sure wouldn’t like for it to get out.  Could you imagine?  Imagine legions of soccer moms and old ladies taking down their Thomas Kinkade paintings and re-framing various images they found at the local bazaar, and why?  Because they like the way they look hanging there on the wall, that’s why, and because nobody anywhere else has got one.  It’s unique.  It’s unique, and for some reason, that’s a good thing, but you sure can’t sell it.  It’s hard to manufacture unique.

I’m not here to figure out exactly what makes good art, though.  That was Aristotle’s thing (the nature of quality, I mean) and he never really nailed it down; I’m arrogant, but not so conceited that I think I’m going to define it in a Wednesday morning web log.  I wanted to find out what it takes to produce mass appeal, and so far I’ve only figured out that people have been fooled into buying things based on their popularity.  This is not going to work.  Quickly, let’s go, let’s go.

Jackson Pollock

This is Jackson Pollock’s work.  It’s called “Galaxy,” and I think that’s fitting.  It looks — something like that.  There are two immediate reactions to a Pollock piece.  Sometimes people say, “Say, that’s a pretty thing,” and other times they say, “Hell, I could do that.”  You know what?  It’s true.  Even a 4 yr. old can do it.  They can do it and make thousands upon thousands of dollars.  This approaches an answer to our problem, which was, how does one go about garnering mass appeal?  How does one snare the positive attention of millions of common people?  The answer lies in a suggestion.  I’m putting it in bold so it stands out to my casual readers.

What if people are commonly of bad taste, whereby corporations sell things of bad taste to satisfy an enormous consumer demand?

Were it true, then it would cause a tailspin of poor taste and reprehensible artistic values after a decade or so.  Consumers would allow marketing geniuses to tell them that mediocre artists produce works of enduring quality.  The public would come to believe that every new thing that everyone purchased had intrinsic benefits because everyone had purchased one.  That’d make selling things to the people even easier, because excellent things are much more rare than commonplace things; it’d be far simpler to convince people that auto-tune makes a song more fashionable than talented vocalists can, whereby great singers wouldn’t have to be found in great supply; it’d be much more straightforward to make splatter paintings more fashionable than, say, expressionism or pre-Rafaelite art, because then big business could have toddlers create a steady stream of high-demand products, pre-framed and ready for their place on the living room wall; it’d be a cinch to sell children’s books to full-grown adults if the adults were convinced that adults everywhere were already reading them.

The real cover of Harry Potter VII, and the pretend cover for adults.

On this last score, one wonders, “Is it necessarily so that great children’s books are poor literature for a man or woman?”  It’s a fair and fine question.  I think that if the reader’s comprehension of the literature is at a child’s level, then children’s books are perfectly appropriate to help him or her learn to read books which deal with mature ideas and circumstances, books written with magnificent poetry and masterful turns of wit and cleverness.  Is it too harsh of me to suggest that adults who read children’s books should be ashamed of themselves unless their reading comprehension is at a child’s level?  Nope.  Here, look: Rowling’s publisher released a second edition of Harry Potter VII, one with a big-boy grownup cover on it, so that mature fans wouldn’t have to be embarrassed for reading baby books in public.  If they’re ashamed of themselves, why should I go easy on them?

Alright, then, we have seen that corporations produce second-rate, mock-up, or ill-suited art for the ignorant masses, and that they manufacture ignorance to boost sales.  Rowling’s people know Harry Potter is not suitable for adult reading, so they facilitate the retardation of adult literacy by disguising consumers’ laziness as a respectable literary endeavor.  Fine.  I believe now that I have an answer.

In order to appeal to the masses of humanity, one need only produce something as near as possible to what most people are already interested in.  The largest number of people is the most homogeneous; the largest number of people is the most average and mediocre; the largest number of people is the most unsurprising, the most unoriginal, the most lacking in ingenuity.  In other words, in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator, one need not trouble oneself; one need only have something truly unimpressive to offer — and the truly unimpressive are sure to snatch it up.

Can it be said that mass appeal actually harms an otherwise quality work of art, then?  Certainly.  Many great works of art stunned and offended audiences because they were innovative and ingenious.  If everyone had accepted the punk rockers, the movement would have been dismantled.  If all the Thomas Kinkaid sort of fans had suddenly found an interest in dadaism, the dadaists would have had to try something else.  If the people who dress unfashionably suddenly donned Gucci and Prada, guess which designers wouldn’t get invited to the next show in Milan.  Can it be said that popularity actually harms art?  Why not, when things like fine art, influential music, and classic literature are continually thrown over for cheap, flash-in-the-pan imitations?  If the people of mediocre taste, values, and education find something irresistible in a certain thing, then the art itself becomes an accomplice.  It’s guilty by association.

This brings us to the final irony, and to me, the funniest.  I’ll let our pop-culture authority close this chapter by elucidating:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.”

-Andy Warhol

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