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!

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

Self-Abasement, Incorporated: an Industrial Revolution

At the U.S. headquarters of Self-Abasement, Incorporated, a boss begins to instruct his underlings in the delicate art of business attire.

I.

Business attire, as we all know, is that particular brand of fashion which obscures one’s personality. Business attire offends people at places of relaxation and amusement, and doesn’t look distinguished in one’s workplace, either, regardless how much money one has spent on it.

Business attire, though having been designed to look respectable, handsome, and elegant, fails to do so, because while companies can require that one wear a pinstriped skirt, they can neither require that one should own several such skirts, nor that one should daily press the wrinkles out. The boss can force us to wear a tie, but not to tie a fresh knot daily. These are discretions belonging to the wearer, and this is the irony of business attire.

When one’s silk tie has been in the same Windsor knot for six months, it’s insincere to feel elegant.

You'd be amazed at how long a necktie can go knotted, how long a bra can go unwashed

Yet the boss, a college graduate of average ambition, has also a boss, and this chief boss is the one telling him to enforce the company’s dress code. The command strikes little boss as odd because the dress code has always been followed with little trouble.

“But no,” the chief tells him. “Following the code is just acceptable; we can’t have our employees looking acceptable. Our employees represent the company, and the company can’t look just acceptable.”

“No,” says the boss, “of course it can’t, of course the employees can’t,” even though he is thinking of the word acceptable, its definition, and wondering why there ought to be a dress code at all if not to define precisely how employees should dress for work.

So the boss bows out of the presence of the chief and makes his way to his own cubicle. His cubicle has a window overlooking the blacktop of the parking lot below, because he has worked with the company for twenty-one years and has earned this luxury. Once there, he reviews the company’s dress code, then clicks his mouse pointer to create a new document. His creation takes forty minutes. Making copies takes three. He delivers them to his underlings in no time at all.

The cubicle creatures have become wary of the boss’s hardcopy memos, so they wait until his squeaking loafers have rounded the corner to pluck it up and take their medicine.

They grimace at the familiar arial font, and they sneer at the bullet points. The tone and content of the memo is no different from any that have come before: heartlessness approximates professionalism; condescension masquerades as magnanimity. Tragic, terrible irony seeps from every typo and grammatical error. The cubicle creatures begin to pop up like gophers. They peer over the walls of their little boxes at one another, holding up the memo and pointing.

What bullshit! They can’t do this to us. I’m going to talk to Johnson right now. Can you believe this shit?

They cannot believe this shit.

I Cannot Believe This Shit

ATTN: ALL EMPLOYEES

AS OF 4/25/10 the dress code is being clarified. Some employees arent following company procedure so this should help them dress aproppriately for work. NO EXCUSES! NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!

– Shirt and tie, men

– BLUE or BEIGE blowss, women

– BLACK or NAVY BLUE slacks

TO CLARIFY IN ADDITION!

– Mens slacks must front crease

– NO JEANS on Fri. anymore per Johnson

– Polo shirts are only all right Fri. on floor 3 if they are blue or beige

– EMPLOYEES MUST SHINE/POLLISH THEIR SHOES EVERY WEEKEND BEFORE MON. Mailroom employees must black nylon laces

– No dangly ear rings

– CLEAR or RED only pollished nails

John Johnson wll be reviewing staff Wed. to make sure these rules are being followed.

Thank you for your cooperation,

Gary Melendez

II.

Sometimes when I’m at my job, tappity-tap-tapping on my plastic keyboard and diddling the little touchpad on my laptop from time to time, it occurs to me that I’m accomplishing work which required hours of painstaking, interminable scrawling on sheafs of expensive parchment not so long ago.

Thank you, Industrial Revolution.

The underlings of Self-Abasement, Inc. do not feel the benefits of that historic occasion, though. They feel the crushing weight of imaginary duties, instead, because the introduction of technology to the workplace has eliminated most clerical work, leaving employees with more time between tasks than ever before, time which bosses must fill in order to look industrious.

Having long ago mastered the art of making two hours of work look like a two-day job, proletariat underlings manage to keep their jobs, and this explains how American employment competes with technology which would otherwise make human labor obsolete.

Bosses know that their underlings cut corners and screw off for large amounts of time, though (because they are very guilty of the same thing) so the bosses spend most of their paid hours playing gotcha! with the rest of the staff, ratting out the minimum of underlings necessary to look busy.

Underlings, bosses, and chiefs all have more free time, but the sergeants to whom the chiefs report have no more free time than previously, because sergeants never did any of the clerical work, anyhow.

Sergeants do labor which C.E.O.s need done but cannot do themselves, labor requiring certain talents and educations which computers cannot be programmed to use. In addition, companies need creative, educated humans in virtually every area of their industry, so these sergeants find themselves in high demand, spread thin, overworked and under-appreciated.

The sergeants have meetings, at which they give presentations, with which they sign deals, by which they secure work and money for their employers, which also secures the employees below. They are hard to reach, rarely seen in the office, and have little time for shenanigans. Their private time is taken up with anything and everything that could possibly relax them.

— Drug habits and divorces, for instance.

The big meeting feels like a summer holiday, when your cocaine has gone up both nostrils and your hands have been up both skirts

As a very protracted result of industrialization, then: underlings inflate their jobs in order to look busy and justify their positions; bosses inflate their jobs in order to look busy and justify their positions; sergeants enjoy the odd amphetamine here and there and become extra-marital enthusiasts.

What, the reader may ask, are the chiefs doing during all this self-inflation?

Sergeants have no time to police them and must be content with available evidence that the chiefs are doing their jobs — but just what, exactly, were their jobs? Since dividing their responsibilities among the bosses, the job of the chief has evaporated into the delegation of labor amongst laborers who are many times more experienced at accomplishing these tasks than the chief ever was. In physical terms, the chief actually does nothing.

However, nothing is a very difficult job to perform, as it turns out.

In order to earn wages for doing nothing, the poor chief must somehow take credit for the work his underlings complete and build hard evidence of having had a hand in it, as well, which proved an inexorable challenge until the late-twentieth-century innovation of micromanagement.

III.

Some definitions of micromanagement stretch for whole paragraphs, while others curtly name it in a concise six or seven words. Micromanagement describes more than a mere business philosophy, though. It is an undiscovered culture. It is an esoteric cabal.

Micromanagement is a sorcery woven over North America which upholds the global economy, feeds innumerable hungry mouths, and maintains the eminent prestige of the corporate-American business style.

It shares also the unfortunate distinction of the Faustian pact, however, in that it happens to kill everyone who subscribes to it.

The micromanager, here seen protected from unemployment by his circle of arcane documentation.

When chiefs first aspire to practice micromanagement, they begin by conjuring new requirements to add to existing regulations. This increases the complexity of the rules, and since they must enforce these rules, this inflates the scope of their job, likewise. In the case of the wretched cubicle creatures at Self-Abasement, Inc., for instance, their chief focuses on the company dress code, which had been a perfectly functional dress code except that it was too easy for his employees to follow and therefore did not give the chief anything to do.

By adding a few superficial, superexacting details, chiefs ensure that their cubicle creatures will resist this tyrannical posturing and fail to observe all new regulations. The chiefs then sign a few official documents of reprimand, obtain the signatures of all offending employees, and in this way create a paper connection between themselves and the actual labor performed by the underlings.

Memos, too, serve to solidify a micromanaging chief’s presence in the office. Suggested by the sergeants and articulated through the chief’s invariably horrific grammar, they explode in mass emails like viral outbreaks, or wind up scotch-taped to cabinetry in the staff lounge, stall doors in the restrooms, or any number of surprising locations where one would not expect a memo to lurk, such as inside the silverware drawer in the kitchen:

DO NOT PUT FORKS AND SPOONS IN THE UTENSILS DRAWER!

These officious memos help to prove the indispensability of the micromanager, and also make his or her presence known throughout the cubicle labyrinth, invoking him or her like the summoned incarnation of a corporate Zeitgeist. Without the ostentation of these memos the chiefs would seem incorporeal, because by nature of their work (which does not exist) they toil alone in their offices, leaving them only to use the restroom or drop in on a boss to make certain the chief’s responsibilities are being sufficiently handled.

This, of course, begs the question underlings have pondered since the inception of the micromanager: if we’re out here doing all the work, and all he does is come up with crazy new rules every two weeks — then what the hell is he doing in there all the time?

It is the opinion of many cubicle creatures that copious amounts of auto-eroticism transpire in the office of the chief.

Connectivity. Infrastructure. Masturbation.

IV.

The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century put thousands of people out of work, and forced thousands more into new schools instituted to train farmers for life as factory hands. Had those day-laborers developed the sort of industrial sleight-of-hand practiced by micromanagers today, they would have been hailed as geniuses. They would perhaps have spent their working hours in the shade of apple trees, shouting perfunctory instructions to the other hands and winning their contempt, like this:

“Smith, yer gone need ter lift that hoe up t’yer shoulder to keep the furrow nice’n straight, hear?”

“Sho’ is a fine thing we got Johnson ter tellus how ter hoe ‘n sow ‘n plant ‘n scrape. I wonder where he gits his idears from.”

“I reckon those idears o’ Johnson’s come from about the same place as the manure do, but I sho’ wouldn’t mind trading up fer his salary, or fer his shady patch o’ sittin’ over thar, neither!”

That micromanagers work illusory jobs for pay does not seem inherently evil, though, as all the crucial work seems to be getting done, anyhow. Giving people something to do simply because people need something to do hardly appears like the worst thing in the world; mentally handicapped individuals have been employed in this fashion for decades, as have convicts, and even grandchildren (“Do what Nana says and sweep those leaves into a big pile on that side of the yard, and let me know when you’re done so I can show you how to sweep them back again.”). Micromanagers commit but a misdemeanor in duping dimwitted companies into paying them for inventing paltry regulations and decorating the office with memos.

In the innumerable tortures they design for the pathetic, piteous cubicle creatures, though, they betray themselves as the authors of fresh hells, their mass emails sundering the contentment and optimism of scores of people with neither shame nor care. The despair these micromanagers distribute as part of their useless, makeshift jobs horrifies the hapless cubicle creatures slowly, their gaunt faces growing more sallow and lined every day as though forced to watch imperturbable carpet bombs falling over an amusement park in crawling, relentless slow motion. Dress codes, new forms, an additional mite of data entry, an extra stop on the fifth floor to obtain a signature, the straws stack upon the quavering spines of corporate employees all the world over — hourly paid, conveniently quashed like cockroaches.

The proverbial last straw never comes for the cubicle creature, though, because each poisonous favor is only as brutal as the last, and like a cuckolding indentured servitude, they can only endure the apathy of their superiors by the anæsthetic of mindless subservience.

One is not mistaken to also detest the cubicle creature. One must consider that while their financial constraints may convince them to daily demean themselves like cowering, obsequious rodents, the shoe polishers of the world, garbage collectors, sewer scourers, bedpan changers, septic tank adventurers and other dauntless laborers of unseemly occupations go about their business with all the dignity and assurance of a British barrister, the cubicle creature having sacrificed self-love and self-respect for the sake of a dollar or two per hour above the wage that is generally paid to teenagers working in fast-food restaurants.

Marty Feldman, having left his position at Self-Abasement, Inc., re-learned how to smile and began an unlikely career in cinema. Seen here in early recovery.

V.

What course of action, then? When I reflect upon the farmhands during the Industrial Revolution, I imagine them going to work in factories with the same resignation and mental fatigue in their faces I see on those of the cubicle creatures, the bosses, and the micromanaging chiefs. This inheritance of misery cannot be tolerated.

However, the solution is not to stamp out micromanagement; that seems implausible. Micromanagers generally possess few marketable talents and so would not know what to do with themselves were it not for micromanaging. They will defend their philosophy to death. They sink in a quicksand of their own devising, and like Dr. Faustus, they do not believe that it will destroy them.

The micromanagers, themselves, appear doomed.

Readers given to martyrdom may decide to practice the Way of Nice for their respective chiefs, but should one find oneself in the position of the cubicle creature, the boss, the chief, or the sergeant, one would do best to quit the place like a spark leaving the flint.

Corporate offices transform human time and energy into cashola. That is their purpose; they have none other. Unless one could change one’s living days into enough capital to justify such a dark metamorphosis, to take a position in a corporate office is to commit oneself to a sanitarium operated by lunatics.

Most corporate fucks work jobs that they hate in order to feed, clothe, and educate their children, transfusing their very lifetime into that of their offspring. Their personal joy and appreciation for the beauties of life visibly deflate from them with every passing day, and many live in fear of termination like battered housewives clinging to abusive spouses. Self-destruction does not raise healthy children. It were better to live with dignity and pride somewhere in a rent-controlled ghetto and nourish one’s family with ramen.

As the great Al Pacino once said, “There is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit; there is no prosthesis for that.” No, and there is no salvation for those who commit a daily suicide all their lives, either.

Beware the promise of material happiness or contentment.

Beware the myth of financial security.

Beware the fiscally ambitious and the ones who have it all.

— But most importantly, beware that part of you which dreams of winning lotteries, marrying rich, or retiring in a large, beautiful home.

It’s the part of you the rest of us have most to fear.

With remarkably tenacious optimism I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

Books, Part of This Nutritious Breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

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

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

Chamomile, the thinker's devil weed.

Consider the relationship between physical actions and abstract ideas.

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

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

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

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

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

I'm training for the Olympics.

II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An unintelligent, uneducated person with money — has money.

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

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

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

IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With total amazement and utter stupefaction, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

American Unoriginal, 501 Blues

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

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

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

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

Mr. Paul, Henry David Thoreau, Jello Biafra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gomen nasai.

or France. . .

Frenim-Clad

Or the United England Kingdom. . .

The United England Kingdom

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

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

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

Seven pairs.  Seven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levi’s blue jeans: Not Made in U.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

And there was nothing boring about that.

With Great Reprobation, Condemnation and Fulmination,

-BothEyesShut

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

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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

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