Friday Funhouse 17: Purgatorio

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Fun is in Da House!!  And so are you.

You might be wondering how I’m fixing to follow my last melancholy post with yet another dose of scheduled stupidity while retaining some sense of continuity.  Fear not, my understandably skeptical friends.  I’m confident that I can radically change my tone while further exploring similar subject matter.  I can be quite versatile that way.

More than once whilst in the throes of morbid self-pity, I’ve imagined myself poised to perform a final act of melodramatic pathos only to be distracted by the nagging voices of my parents reminding me of the Catholic concept of Purgatory.  Here’s how Catholic.com defines this vague afterlife interim of penance: The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified”. It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned”.  The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven. 

Let’s ignore for a moment the stupefyingly contradictory nonsense of that last line alleging that we must suffer “temporal punishment” (what??) for sins “already forgiven”.  Like any authors of moralist cosmologies, the scribes behind the Catechism are willing to employ considerable mental gymnastics to imbue the universe with our human proclivities for guilt and retribution.  But Purgatory — Dante’s beloved cosmic waiting room with back issues of Redbook and Car & Driver strewn about the dusty end tables — strikes me as having more in common with a belief in reincarnation than initially meets the eye.  What if all of us already have pulled that trigger (or stepped in front of that bus or ate that gas station burrito) only to find ourselves right back where we were before the performance of that not-so-fateful act experiencing an afterlife that is disappointingly identical to the life we were trying to abandon?  In other words, this is it.  Escape, even that which we imagine will accompany the deaths of our physical bodies, is an illusion.  Perhaps heaven and hell are just dangled before us like a carrot and a stick to keep us feeling like there is hope and purpose while we go on and on and on being exactly who we’ve always been ad infinitum.  As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, Curmudgeon without end.  Amen.

Were this to be true, it’s still not a reason to despair.  The implication of my little theory presented above is that we are none-the-wiser every time we die and then immediately pick right up where we left off.  And if this still sounds like a drag, just think about all of those confused babies who find themselves floating around in some nondescript region called Limbo because their damn parents were too confidently cosmopolitan to deign get their offspring to a baptismal fount?  Speechless, spastic babies just drifting aimlessly through space, drooling and bumping into one another like colicky billiard balls.  Now don’t you feel ashamed for having found your comparatively stimulating lot in life and death so unfair?

Depressing waiting rooms and floating babies.  It took many learned men a very long time to perfect this hilariously moronic metaphysical farce and their hard work paid off because its influence remains as strong as ever in the 21st century.

Here’s the upshot of what I’m trying to get at here: everything is funny, without exception, whether you feel like you’re in on the joke or not.  Those who insist that misery is a virtue are nothing more than unwitting comedians (what they call “straight men” in the biz).  In just a moment, I’ll let the brilliant Patton Oswalt further expand on this theme but in the meantime, I will leave those who are still unconvinced of the value of living with what ought to be reason enough to keep fighting the good fight — there are dogs here:

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‘Nuff said.

Take it away, Patton:

 

A Promise

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Hide my head, I want to drown my sorrow.  No tomorrow, no tomorrow.  And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad.  The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.  I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take.  When people run in circles, it’s a very, very mad world. – Tears For Fears

You really can’t go home again. The ghosts of my youth are still present and palpable on every filthy corner of the city where I drank and moped my way out of a college education. The strange thing is that everything that happened between the walls of my old haunts all those years ago plays back like a film from a bygone era whose central character happened to look a lot like me. They might be memories, but they’re not mine.

While I stood outside of a store cutting another 5 minutes off of the ass-end of my life with a Marlboro (the only slow, non-committal form of suicide in which I still indulge), I watched students trudge through the dirty brown gutter snow on their way to class. Pity was all I could feel for them, though they quite likely felt very similarly toward the overgrown hippie in a trench coat hiding inside his wafting nebula of smoke. Assumptions help to pass the time, but they also skew one’s perspective.

I don’t know how anyone is able to entertain the frivolous holiday pretense this year. The world just seems so sad and lost. After 5 days of laughter and reminiscing with Linda, my beautiful sister texted me last night to say that a colleague and close friend of hers at the Cancer Institute — a man widely considered to be among the best surgical oncologists in the country — killed himself with a bullet to the head. She doesn’t know why. I suspect he didn’t, either.

For reasons I can’t adequately explain, I spent 2017 in the least self-destructive manner of any other in my adult life. Aside from my little cylindrical 5-fewer-minutes-’til-suicide sticks, I eschewed pills and powders (and of course, booze) in an attempt to be a positive contributor to the resistance of the influence of pitiful, powerful men. At about this time last year, it occurred to me that I would probably need to keep a clear head as we embarked upon uncharted territory (read: fascism) in the US. As it turned out, I didn’t help to improve a goddamned thing. Oh well. Another number change on the calendar is just around the corner, giving me an opportunity to fool myself once again into thinking that I, along with the rest of the human race, will stop being so fucking mean and ignorant and selfish and lazy and hopeless. “Back where we started…here we go ’round again.”

I love children, but they make me sad. What horrors might be in store for those still young enough to dream? I can’t think about it for very long or I’ll cry.

I don’t want any more good people to bail out. Listen: I understand. I really do. But we need you. I need you. Life might be a zero-sum game but it can still be beautiful if we love each other, help each other out, listen and prop each other up. I know it’s hard and sometimes it’s all too fucking much. But I’ll stick around if you do. I promise. It doesn’t have to be this hard.

There is beauty in sadness, in vulnerability. Feel it, embrace it, let it wash over you. Then dry your tears, lift your head up and move on all the stronger for having listened to the painful song of your heart. We can’t afford to wallow in sadness. Too many good people are deciding to leave us. And though this is their right, I wish they would understand that they are integral to our world. No one who loves is alone. No one who cares is worthless. No one who has the potential to bring joy to another is expendable.

My 2018 wish for everyone is that you will be right back here one year from now reading some more silly end-of-the-year reflections from yours truly, alive and well and ready to do it all again. Let’s alleviate as much sadness as we can. I’ll keep trying my best if you do. I promise.

Saturday Jersey Funhouse

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No, your calendar isn’t defective: today is Saturday but here you are at the Funhouse.  I hope you weren’t all waiting in line yesterday in eager anticipation of a trip through the Funhouse on its regularly scheduled day because I assure you, this little stop gap measure will not have been worth the wait.  Unless, of course, you found some guy selling Whip-its in the parking lot in which case, no matter what I type here today, it will have been totally worth the wait.

Look at that cluster fuck of highway signs up there.  Upon leaving Newark Airport, one immediately comes face to face with this virtual Tower of Babel of conflicting signage.  This is where the Parkway and the Turnpike part ways as each of New Jersey’s toll roads announces that it will soon lead you to no less than 5 of the next most major thoroughfares in the state.   If you branch off to the left, you will be on the Turnpike (referred to as I-95 in every other state on the eastern seaboard — free traveling from Florida to Maine except for the stretch that runs through NJ and charges astronomical tolls); veer to the right and you’ll be on the Parkway.  As you can see, if you want to access Routes 1 and 9, you can choose either highway.  The Parkway side gets a little more specific and tells you that the stretch of 1 and 9 accessed from the GSP will lead you to Route 22.  It does not, however, advise whether the exit for 1 and 9 will take you in a southbound or northbound direction even though the fact that it’s 1 and 9 to Route 22 implies that you will only be able to get on the highway in one direction or the other.  Now, those familiar with the area will of course understand that the left branch of the fork is northbound (although it claims to be eastbound) because it announces the Holland Tunnel which is one of the several ways to enter New York City from Jersey.  The sign on the far right must be something the highway planners put there just to fuck with people.  It points you to Route 21 towards Newark Airport — as you’re leaving Newark Airport (“Look, Kids!  Big Ben!  Parliament!”).  Since you can’t travel more than 50 feet in New Jersey before coming to a toll plaza, this might just be a way of making hapless travelers circumnavigate the airport a few times to maximize how many times they’ll find themselves at the same toll booth paying once again for the privilege of circling the very airport they’re trying to leave.   Again, “NJ Turnpike” and “I-95” are one and the same, so having both logos on one sign is unnecessarily confusing.

So we have 5 rapidly approaching exits — three to the right and two to the left, but as you’ll surmise from the multiple warnings that this is the “Last Exit Before Toll”, a toll plaza is coming up just around that bend in the highway.  The plaza, of course, is shared at this one location by both the Parkway and the Turnpike.  What this means is that one of the most congested traffic areas in the country suddenly comes to a 5-way crossroads, with approximately 6 lanes of travel converging at once, causing an utter free-for-all.  The closer you get to the toll, the less marked become the lanes so that everyone spilling out from 2 major roads and the airport is simply attempting to shove themselves violently into the closest area to the exit they need to access.  There is no foolproof art to this.  When I lived here, I many times found myself with no choice but to get on a highway that goes in the opposite direction of my destination only to get off at the first accessible exit, pay another toll (of course) and make a U-turn to get back on course.  Oh yeah, and everyone who lives in this part of New Jersey is angry.  Very angry.  Therefore, while one is attempting to navigate this mess, he or she is serenaded by blaring horns and a crescendo of obscenities through open windows.

This is just fucking insane, and I’m convinced it’s intentionally so.  No ethical road planner would ever concoct such a shit storm of vehicular confusion. Honestly, the only reason I can even joke about this now is because holy fuck, am I glad I don’t live in this god-forsaken shit hole anymore!!  Since I am now more like a tourist than a native to this state, I can happily take it all in like some sociological anomaly having no effect on me whatsoever.  Kind of like the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona; or an episode of The View.

Here’s some Jersey-style humor for the holidays from the brilliant Linda Belcher John Roberts:

 

 

 

Merry X-Mas, Mr. Watts

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Science and psychotherapy have…done much already to liberate us from the prison of isolation from nature in which we were supposed to renounce Eros, despise the physical organism, and rest all our hopes in a supernatural world – to come later.  But that this liberation is by no means complete is clear from the fact that nineteenth-century naturalism was the basis for a technological assault on nature without precedent in history.  This liberation is, in other words, a very partial affair even for the small minority which has fully understood and accepted it.  It leaves us still as strangers in the cosmos – without the judgment of God but without his love, without the terrors of Hell but without the hope of Heaven, without many of the physical agonies of pre-scientific times but without the sense that human life has any meaning.  The Christian cosmos has vanished, but the Christian ego remains – with no resort but to try to forget its loneliness in some sort of collectivism, of huddling together in the dark.Alan Watts, from “Psychotherapy East and West”

 

Free Will

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You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.  If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.  You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill.  I will choose a path that’s clear.  I will choose free will. – Rush

Are you sure about that, Geddy?  I’m about to question the entire premise of the words Neil Peart put into your mouth beginning with a couple of well-known quotes.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. – Quote falsely attributed to Albert Einstein but more likely something Bill Wilson overheard at a bar and co-opted for excessive repetition at A.A. meetings

The fool who persists in his folly will become wise. – William Blake

Pretty contradictory “truisms” coming from two of the most oft-quoted gentlemen since the Renaissance, wouldn’t you say?  This is an example of how we seem to always have a choice as to which “truth” each of us has the option to embrace in any given situation.  Of course, what both of the above statements have in common is that they actually contain no information whatsoever.  This is the best kept secret of self-proclaimed philosophers: depending on one’s mood, the weather and maybe even his or her gastrointestinal state, words can be spun to deceptively “prove” almost anything and if you follow closely the maxims of even the most brilliant of minds over the course of their lifetimes, I guarantee that you will find many statements that seem to cancel each other out.

So it would seem that along with behavioral volition, we also have the option of choosing our own outlooks. But do we?

The next time you have an opportunity, observe the behavior of a colony of ants or bees, or a flock of migrating geese.  Biologists call the collective intelligence behind the well-choreographed behavior of such animals a hive mind.  Individually, each member of such a group has extremely limited intellect and freedom of choice, but in a group dynamic, instincts cause the behavior of each organism to react according to the behavior of the others resulting in a perfect display of intelligence and efficiency.  This is why the migration pattern of birds always falls into a V formation for the most optimal space/proximity ratio of the individual birds to facilitate a smooth journey.

The next thing I’d like you to do when you have an opportunity (and preferably, an elevated vantage point) is watch the movements and patterns of rush hour traffic or a large crowd of people filing into a stadium or out of a subway car.  You will notice that the patterns within the collective movement are very similar to those you witnessed when you observed the actions of swarm insects or birds.  In the case of the traffic patterns, every person enclosed within a vehicle feels as if he or she is navigating independently while simply keeping alert for others who may create an immediate crash hazard.  However, from above, it becomes clear that this is not the case.  What you are witnessing in this dance of automobiles is the workings of a collective or hive mind.

I often wonder if this tendency for masses of people to behave as a single organism doesn’t perhaps apply to everything we do.  Of course, what I am questioning here is the notion of free will.  We all feel like we are at liberty to make our own choices; then again, we all feel as if we are self-contained independently existing organisms even though each of us is actually an ongoing, ever-changing process.  It has been observed that neural and brain activity always precedes the initiation of a behavior or even a conscious thought by a fraction of a second.  Have you ever wondered why the vision-gifted house fly seems to know when you are about to swat it before you even consciously committed to doing so?  This is because before you were aware of making a conscious decision to murder the fly, your entire system was already preparing for the action.  You could perhaps call this “subconscious will”, but does that really make any sense?  Can the workings of a system unknown to the actor himself still be considered part of a deliberate volitional act?

Large swaths of humanity have expended an awful lot of blood, sweat and tears in the struggle for equality, freedom and justice over the centuries.  What if all such valiant efforts are just a part of the individual roles we’ve been tapped biologically to play in service of what might just be another hive organism?  This would certainly explain society’s addiction to pigeonholing each of its members into “classes”.  Whether it’s the clear-cut financially measured delineations of lower, middle and upper classes in capitalist societies, the ancient Vedic caste system of India, the assigned life stations of Communist citizens, or the former serf/soldier/nobility divisions of Medieval Europe, we behave as if each of us were indeed born into an assigned role and that we are incapable of being anything other than what is already predetermined at birth.  You will also see this same pattern in so-called “primitive” cultures.  No matter what, there is a hierarchy among human beings sharing a culture and regardless of that culture’s surface features, an individual seems to only have the choice of dutifully playing his or her role or being ostracized, jailed or killed.

In the human drama that has been unfolding for a few hundred thousand years, there seems always to be a repetition of certain characters or players no matter the geography or the era: there are cunning villains, courageous heroes, reckless narcissists, good-hearted “innocent” common people, and of course, the “fringe” class shared by madmen, sages, drunks and geniuses.  The latter is generally considered the “subversive” class but despite the angry threats and protests against it from the top of this societal pyramid, it is nonetheless indispensable to keep the whole structure stable.  What would a cop be without criminals?  A Puritan without debauchery?  A king without subjects?  Because it is the nature of a hive to keep itself in balance, it cannot function without such seeming opposites among its constituents.  Draw a line from Caligula to T***p or Confucius to Gandhi and you’ll begin to see that humanity through its diverse cultures and eras has always been based upon the same pattern involving roughly 4 or 5 “types” of individuals necessary for civilization to function.

If what I am saying is true, while it may be uncomfortably humbling on the one hand, on the other, things might not actually be as catastrophically dangerous as they seem at the present.  Our imminent extinction has thus far been avoided, so why wouldn’t the surface features of our current situation likewise work themselves out?  Of course, “working themselves out” often means at the expense of the lives of millions of individuals, but this too is a repetitive cycle the “tragedy” of which is appended to mass extinction events after the fact.

If what I am saying is utter nonsense, then I thank you for reading because this would mean you had a choice whether to do so or not and you decided to read it anyway.   If you indeed possess free will, Dear Reader, then you also have impeccable taste.

 

 

Loveless

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For the quarter of a century prior to CDs suddenly becoming an obsolete music format, I spent an obscene amount of time and money amassing the most out of control collection of discs this side of the Mississippi. I’m glad I never looked upon this ever-growing plastic mess as an investment because they are now worth precisely nothing. You might think, therefore, that it would be difficult for me to pinpoint a single album as my absolute favorite among 3,000 titles from every genre you can think of, but you’d be wrong. My absolute favorite album of all-time is 1991’s shoegaze tour de force “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine.

This brilliant, lush, sprawling, hypnotic masterpiece flew under the radar of the listening public, but it sure caught the attention of critics, most of whom concur wholeheartedly with my assessment of its sheer beauty and genius. It took front man Kevin Shields over 20 years to release its follow-up and I would guess that this was because after he listened back to Loveless upon its completion, he realized that he would never be able to top it. From start to finish, this guitar-heavy, dreamy suite of songs transports the listener into a world of joyous emotional psychedelia with interweaving riffs drowning out the ethereal vocals until they’re nothing more than another instrument in the 64 track onslaughts of effects-laden guitar gorgeousness.

Here’s “Soon”, the album’s softly upbeat coda, followed by “Only Shallow”, its deceptively jarring opening track. But don’t base your opinion on these alone. The songs on Loveless bleed into one another, creating what is essentially one long piece meant to be heard from beginning to end. Also, it should initially be taken in with headphones if one wishes to hear the myriad meticulous sonic subtleties that reveal themselves more fully with each repeated listen. Enough out of me. Dig some MBV:

Amnesiacs Raging At Ghosts

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If soap opera script writers are to be believed, a case of total amnesia resulting from a blow to the head is quite a common occurrence. And if cartoon script writers are to be believed, all it takes to reverse this condition is another blow to the noggin of equal force. This is pure fiction, of course. People do not forget the details of their identities and personal lives while retaining the ability to walk, talk, read, write and drive a car. There is no “identity lobe” in the brain that could suffer damage while the areas responsible for language, reason, impersonal memory and the application of motor skills continue to function normally. Regardless, I’d like to play with this idea for a moment. What if this type of amnesia actually befell a person? I’m not talking about memory loss resulting from dementia, alzheimers, drugs or psychosis, but a complete inability to recall one’s name, spouse, occupation, religious faith, political associations, family or friends while retaining the ability to communicate and function normally in all other ways. My guess is that someone “suffering” from such a condition would be the sole man or woman on Earth who knows what it feels like to be fully, naturally human. This person would be just like a staggeringly precocious and intellectual infant, yet he or she would be utterly free of regret. Whether you’re a mindfulness advocate perpetually admonishing others to live in the present moment or just a fan of the “Look Who’s Talking” franchise, you’d almost certainly find an individual so afflicted most fascinating and you might even envy their situation.

In a broader sense, every single one of us might just have such a case of amnesia and if so, it’s far from enviable. Despite the continuing march of scientific discovery, no one has yet been able to prove that the phenomenal Universe is anything other than a product of mind. A projection of consciousness that adjusts its hallucinatory images and sensations according to the beliefs and expectations of its spectators who are also nothing more than projections of consciousness. I’m speaking once again of pantheism, the theory that what we call “God” is every one of us. It basically posits that Consciousness is all there is and at some point, this Consciousness decided to play a game of hide and seek with itself. In order to play this game, of course, it needed more than one participant so it splintered into countless life forms all of whom are immediately saddled with amnesia as to “their” true identity. The game thus initiated, each of us run to and fro trying to figure out why we’re here, what’s our purpose and what awaits us after the deaths of our physical bodies. But we can never really hope to get those answers because of this very same self-inflicted amnesia. Refusing to admit defeat, we instead just started making shit up and repeating it with such frequency that slightly varied arrangements of this shit formed all of our personal belief systems. A caveat, in case this wasn’t clear: while this idea makes perfect sense to me, it is still just one more metaphysical best guess and I can offer no proof of its veracity. Therefore, my belief in this theory isn’t any different than a child’s belief in the Easter Bunny — or an adult’s belief in the Holy Trinity, Allah or Xenu. In fact, what it has most in common with these other theisms is that it appeals to the particular tendencies of my ego and therefore, contemplation of its implications is a meaningless exercise. It is precisely this ego and its misapprehension of the self as an independent and eternal entity that must be debunked in the spiritual practices aimed at liberation. Despite its insubstantiality, it is the sole idea from which we must liberate ourselves if we wish to vanquish neurosis.

All of that was a pretense for me to answer some very compelling questions recently posed by Tom Being Tom as part of his Liebster Award acceptance. Like me, he recently read the excellent book “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari — a book I highly recommend to everyone who reads — and his questions are infused with the subject matter of this incredibly fascinating and refreshingly philosophical history of mankind. Aside from the upcoming Q&A format, I think I can tackle his inquisitions without drastically changing the theme already established. Let’s proceed, shall we?

According to Harari, what separates man from beast is man’s ability to create stories that unite us into larger and more formidable numbers than any other creature on Earth. It may also be what separates our large groups from one another. Throughout history, man has created these stories and mythologies to not only explain nature, but to unite peoples. Of the hundreds of thousands of gods man has created, do you still believe in one? If so, why? Have you ever considered this question before?

I do not believe in any gods, per se, at least not of the popular anthropomorphic variety. By the same token, it would be inaccurate for me to identify as an atheist due to my predilection for pantheism described above. Not only have I considered this question before, but I’ve spent so much time in the futile contemplation of it that it has actually become its own obscuration — a way of engaging in discursive and irrelevant thought at the exclusion of the type of contemplation that dissects and defuses the ignorance inherent in such pointless eternalism. This is why Gautama Buddha allegedly answered a disciple’s theistic questions with the deceptively simple answer, “I don’t know.” He was trying to steer this student away from such a contemplative double-bind as that which we all still foolishly entertain. I am leveling this same criticism at everyone who may be reading this, of course, because not only is it the primary driver of our collective and individual suffering, it is the only one. The question of god is absolutely meaningless and it compounds our neuroses.

While the pantheist aspect of Hinduism may satisfy a certain intellectual curiosity for me, it does nothing to alleviate my delusion or even bolster my feelings of universal equanimity due to the fact that it is, after all, just another concept. Therefore, of the major world religions, the one from which I draw most liberally is Buddhism. Before cultural norms and superstitions began to attach themselves to this amorphous wisdom tradition, questions of reincarnation and the Bardo had no place in its cosmology. In fact, it can be said with some accuracy that the pure core of Buddhist thought dispenses of a cosmological theory altogether. That’s exactly the point. The reason Buddhism remains the major religion with the least number of adherents worldwide is due to its uncomfortable insistence on dismantling our precious egos. Here in the West, it is almost a heresy. There are only two pillars that form the base of Buddhist thought: interdependence and impermanence. And it just so happens that those two realities are the most distasteful to our sense of self-importance and our addiction to attaching invented meaning to our lives. The discomfort that arises from questioning our deeply ingrained sense of self is exactly what motivated people to create pacifying myths that purport to infuse reality with sense and purpose. But once a myth is established, it develops a mind of its own and insidiously infects every single person trapped in its cultural orbit. This can be seen quite clearly in the West in the way our alleged atheists express themselves in the very same religious language of extremes: things can be viewed nihilistically or eternalistically at the exclusion of all views potentially contained in the vast chasm between those two poles.

An example. Do you remember XTC’s 1980s hit “Dear God”? This purportedly subversive piece of pop sacrilege is nothing more than a self-contained contradiction. I would have expected more from the normally cerebral Andy Partridge, but maybe he was just trying to fulfill some contractual obligation for his record label and thus didn’t put much thought into the lyrics. The song reiterated the most common yet ridiculous mental habit of modern man: the tendency to attempt to negate the existence of God through anger at the very same God allegedly disbelieved by the one who is angry with it. In the final verse, Andy accuses God of drowning babies, waging wars and a host of other atrocities caused by his meddling in our earthly affairs. Then, after this exposition of the charges brought against the Creator, Mr. Partrdige perplexingly concludes, “…if there’s one thing I don’t believe in — it’s you, dear God.” What?! How could one of the premier artisans in the realm of thinking-man’s rock entertain such nonsense? Do you disbelieve the myth or are you angry at its central character? You cannot allege that you don’t believe in god in one breath while in the next detailing your petty grievances against it. If you are truly an atheist, you can only shine your spotlight of judgment on something other than god since you’ve allegedly relegated the very notion of “god” to the realm of fairy tales. If you claim to harbor no theism whatsoever, expressing anger at god is the same as raging against the inhumanity of The Grinch. This is because the whole myth game is rigged to create a convenient scapegoat. If you really wish to give a good ass-chewing to the entity behind your suffering and confusion, all you can do is yell into a mirror. But that would be too much like taking personal responsibility for your own lot in life and we have made what should be the only worthwhile human endeavor into an iron-clad social, psychological and cultural taboo. To fill the void created by this refusal to engage in uncomfortable introspection, God entered stage left.

I am of the belief that morality and ethics are independent of our myths. Those of religious faith who also feel empathy, compassion and forgiveness do so despite their faiths. Those who have little or no compassion hold up their faith as flimsy proof of their pitiful reserve of morality. Therefore, I think that the value of our mythology has passed. Whereas it once had the power to unite formerly independent pockets of culturally-diffuse humanity, it long ago turned a corner and became the very thing that divides and devours us. The only way to break out of this imaginary yet powerful force of myth is to tame your own mind in such a way that it no longer harbors the anxious desperation that relies on such mythology. In other words, you need to let yourself feel deep down in your gut the truth that you do not have an existence independent of everyone and everything else and that in the not-too-distant future, you are going to die. For the purposes of vanquishing delusion and its attendant suffering, you must also dispense of such eternal concepts as heaven, hell and an eternal soul. If these things be true — and again, there is no way to prove that they are or aren’t — they still do nothing to solve our most basic human problem of ignorance and thus deserve no acclaim whatsoever. The only way to discover your “eternal self” is to paradoxically understand that there is no such thing. The longer we continue to model our society and our sense of self on these dualistic myths, the deeper into the quagmire of suffering and strife we sink. If you’re an atheist, be a fucking atheist. That means when your cat dies, you do not have the option of shaking your fist at the sky at the unfairness of it all. Right view does not recognize fairness. Justice is a notion born of a gross misunderstanding of what and who we are in relation to each other. So what do you do? You shed a few tears for Fluffy and you move on in the knowledge that cats, like everything else, are by their very nature impermanent. And if that sounds cold, it’s only because it subconsciously offends your ego that congratulates itself for such natural drives as kindness to animals. Yet once an organism dies, it no longer needs your kindness. These kinds of after-the-fact declarations of love and affection only benefit the one feeling them. Fluffy is utterly unaware of your tears and even if she witnessed your touching display of grief, she still probably wouldn’t give a shit.

In summary, here’s a suggested practice: try to spend the next week blaming no one and nothing for negative events or moods that might arise. For those who are a bit more advanced than that, try fully experiencing whatever comes without applying the labels of negative or positive to it at all. If you can manage to do this even sporadically, you are on the doorstep of liberation. God need not apply.

By the same notion, we create more than just gods, we create imaginary borders and mythical unions called “nations.” We then exalt our own nation as the greatest one. Do you believe your nation is the greatest one? If so, why?

The latter part of this question is something I can answer quite succinctly: hell no. As imaginary notions go, the United States of America may just be the most dangerous of them all and this was true long before the advent of T***p. The US in its very short history has been the initiator of almost every major war fought since its inception and has incarcerated more of its own citizens than any other “free” nation on the planet. There are, of course, countries that treat their citizens with far more immediate cruelty, but none of them strut around like peacocks proclaiming to be the “greatest country in the world” or even more ironically, the “Land of the Free”. Fuck the United States of America. If that last statement rattled or offended you, then you are clinging desperately to a phantasm to bolster your individual self-esteem through association with an idea designed to foster a feeling of collective self-esteem. Do you see the relation to the god myth here? It’s the same psychological drive to invent meaning from meaninglessness. Ditto for the imaginary notions of money, culture and language. So really, for me to have started this paragraph with a scathing rebuke of one myth in comparison to others was nothing more than an illustration of this tendency to reify the legends we pull out of our asses. Clearly, I have just as long a way to go in achieving something approaching right view as anyone.

Take this quiz. Report back to me your coordinates on the grid. If you’ve taken it before, please do so again. Were you surprised by your results? If you took it before, have your results changed?

Your Political Compass
Economic Left/Right: -6.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.74

chart

Do you believe that man has ever stepped foot on the moon?

Inasmuch as this question assumes the existence of such a celestial body, yes, I do. Remember when conspiracy theories used to be fun? Questioning the moon landing along with implicating thousands of shadowy people in the assassination of JFK used to be very entertaining ways of wasting time on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Then, and very recently at that, the kooks who tend to really buy into such far-fetched theories and unfounded doubts became the loudest and most influential voices in society. The lunatics are having their day and if you think that’s anything less than an extreme existential threat to the species, you’re not paying attention. Just to clarify: the earth is round. It revolves around the sun. The moon is a satellite of the earth. It is close enough for modern conveyances to reach it. Oh, and there is photographic proof of man’s landing upon its surface for those who still believe the information gleaned by their senses. If that last thing seemed unnecessary to point out, then take a look at the next high profile civilian-shot or lapel-cam footage of a cop beating the living shit out of an unarmed “suspect” and compare what you saw with your own eyes to the almost always successful defense of the act as being somehow “proper police procedure”. It would be threatening to the system to admit that brutality itself is what cops consider “proper police procedure” so instead, shifty attorneys in the employ of police unions endeavor to make us question our own powers of perception. Incidentally, this is the one and only ploy utilized by the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in an attempt to cover their criminal tracks.

Is Bigfoot real?

Maybe. This central figure of modern cryptozoology seems to have some compelling evidence to back it up, but often this very evidence gets debunked years after it was released into the public eye. It seems to always be described as a primate and it is rarely endowed with any sort of supernatural abilities, so its existence as just one more specimen of the animal kingdom is very possible — perhaps even more so than the already verified existence of the unlikely platypus. However, the odds of Bigfoot’s reality become more and more slim with every forest habitat we destroy. The fewer untouched areas of wilderness that are left on the planet, the less likely it becomes that there is an as yet undiscovered primate inhabiting them.

If we are on the verge of technology that would allow a human life to continue indefinitely, as some believe, would you choose to do so?

A thousand times no. This question brings us right back to our central neurosis – the misguided desire for immortality. First of all, nobody ever seems to really think this through. Immortality would be a curse, not a blessing. An event that begins must, by definition, end. Without such an ingrained death wired into an organism as the natural pole to its inception, it would be impossible to appreciate the very fact of being alive. Remember Fluffy? The only reason she was able to lay around and puke on your furniture for 15 years or so is because she was destined to die from her very first breath of kittenhood. If you really want to celebrate her life, you must understand that the death aspect of it is essential to the whole process that she was (and still is as her constituent parts rot and disintegrate somewhere in your back yard). An immortal life form is an oxymoron. Learn to view it as such.

If we are on the verge of technological and societal achievements that would allow us to feed, clothe, and shelter all human beings on Earth at zero cost, as some believe, should we do so?

YES — absolutely. If our knowledge and resulting technologies can’t be used in service of the basic needs of all people, it is nothing more than vanity. At the present, our technology is forging a questionable evolutionary path that we refuse to acknowledge due to our addiction to convenience at all costs. More often than not, when friends “get together” these days, what that really means is they are sitting in close proximity to one another while at the same time completely ignoring each other in favor of their stupid fucking distraction devices. We have happily allowed technology to vastly increase our ego-driven antisocial tendencies, but we still fool ourselves into thinking that we’re communicating with others when we tap furiously on a schmutz-covered touchscreen, oblivious to the real people all around us to whom we could be communicating via that antiquated device called “speaking”. This is also just one more attempt at controlling our environment. The rise of “smart” home devices like Alexa (just an improvement upon “The Clapper” of the early 90s) illustrates our folly in bending over backwards to achieve maximum control over our artificial environments when the real power that so few of us seek anymore is to intuitively understand our inherent symbiotic relationship with nature. But the overwhelming feeling that would result from such a return to our roots would be an understanding of our inter-dependence — again, a truth that offends our anxiety-ridden desire for independence and immortality. Your iPhone holds no answers nor does it alleviate suffering but it does further solidify your delusions of self-importance. I wish this were nothing more than a fad with a correspondingly short shelf life, but clearly that’s not the case. At the very least, though, can’t we please press at least some of our limited funding and brilliant minds in the service of altruism? You can still have your precious phones, I promise you. But maybe while you’re busy retweeting another stupid meme, some poor kid on the other side of the globe can eat today.

I think I’ve pontificated more than enough for today, eh? Before I take my leave, though, I’d like to make one final statement. Usually when I compose a long-winded, finger-wagging diatribe of this nature, I tend to dial back some of the things I’ve said in the comments section when faced with a reader who thinks they have a uniquely personal reason for being exempt from such universal truths or the application of the antidotes to human ignorance. Comments like “Yeah, I understand what you’re saying, Paul, but in my case, I have no choice because…” will not be entertained in the wake of this post. You are not unique or precious and you have no legitimate “but”s to constitute a fly in my philosophical ointment. Nor do I, of course. There are only two approaches to this mysterious thing called life: ignorance or wisdom. The way of ignorance is always defended by declarations that begin with the words “yeah, but…”. So just for today, please deposit your buts in the ashtray located conveniently at the exit. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.