Friday Funhouse 13: What Is Inspirado?

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Come one, come all and waste some time at The Funhouse!

The theme for today is inspiration. Over the past year, I’ve read many blog posts that seemed to be fishing for inspiration from other bloggers for good topics or graphics or ways to attract more readers to their pages. Having encountered writer’s block more than once in my 47 year history, I can sympathize with their plight but I’m afraid they’re barking up the wrong tree. You see, true inspiration comes from within and pilfering second-hand ideas may end up yielding something that has all the appeal and passion of a book report or a letter to the editor of Cigar Aficionado.

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Before I cede the floor to Jack Black and Kyle Gass for their exhaustive illustration of the search for the elusive inspirado, I must regretfully announce that the Funhouse will be closed next week as I will be leaving on a road trip next Friday morning. That is, unless Merbear74 would like to fill in for me and compose next week’s installment. Mer? Can you step in and keep the Funhouse run unbroken? It’s quite simple and I’m sure you’ll do it justice. Just type a bunch of nonsense until you’ve got a couple of paragraph’s worth of it, then finish up with some shit you ripped from YouTube. Got it? Good.

But if you still find yourself at a loss, allow the mighty motherfucking Tenacious D to virtually bludgeon you over the head with inspirado:

A Geek Bearing Gifts

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God is dead…Physics is all that we are. – C.R. Dudley

Newton’s First Law of Motion or Inertia: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

When presented with such scientific and/or mathematical postulates, even ones as elementary as the preceding example, our minds tend to shift into an analytical mode that contains little emotion or ostensible humanity.  It can almost be said that to understand formulas and theories describing the underlying “laws” of the phenomenal world, one must temporarily suspend engagement with this world and adopt a state of mind more akin to a computer program than that of an emotional and reactionary participant in the thing being analyzed.

But this is only due to the limitations of language and its effects on our outlook.  We read the above as a rather lifeless albeit accurate maxim of physics simply because that’s how it’s been presented to us all along: as information to memorize for the purpose of passing exams.  If an illustration is needed to clarify the words or the formula, we invariably choose things like apples or undefined masses of matter labeled by a variable such as X.  Rarely, if ever, will you encounter a professor who opts to illustrate the application of the formula with things like groups of people or attitudes or sociopolitical trends.

And yet…there is nothing in existence that falls outside the parameters of the catch-all designation “the workings of the Universe”.  Not even “God” or your “immortal soul”, so if you were thinking you had the perfect fly to contaminate my ointment, you need to just simmer down.  Of course, the “workings of the Universe” aren’t nearly as formulaic as our descriptions of each isolated event imply.  In fact, we tend only to look at an effect as the natural outcome of a cause without understanding that it’s actually an ongoing perpetual circular motion of an effect following a cause which in turn causes the effect to become a cause affecting the next event.  It is an infinite process.  But since most of us tend to view reality in relation to the confines of our own lifetimes, the built-in stabilizing element of the system is considered unimportant.  If the force of motion – whether inducing a positive, negative or neutral effect on our lives – is strong enough to keep such aspects energized for the better part of a century (not even a drop in the bucket of “eternity” which cannot be contained by even the most massive of buckets), then what comes next is of no significance to us. (“What does the future of the species matter to me if I won’t be alive to experience it?”)

The mass hallucination called the United States of America is younger than 3 successive human lifetimes as roughly defined in the previous paragraph.  A mere baby among many older and often wiser mass hallucinations across the globe.  Truly, it hasn’t existed long enough to have achieved a level of “greatness” that needs to be recaptured “again”.  But the actual people living within the mass hallucination represent varying levels of intellectual, emotional, social, political and cultural evolution.  As usual, those who have stagnated in their evolution are the most vocal and forceful in demanding that nothing be done to upset the status quo.  And in their minds, the “status quo” is a white, male-dominated top-down system that affords them the best opportunities and the least criticism for the cowardice underlying this fucked up vision of Utopia.  In a sense, there was a moment in modern times when this was almost the way things operated and that probably occurred sometime in the early 1950s.  Just before a large swath of Americans re-learned the power of protest resulting in the counter-culture movement of the sixties, things weren’t just easier for white Christian males, they were unquestionably so, as if it were the God-given right of the majority to be the majority.  But just a quick glance back at the simplest maxims of Newtonian physics shows us why this was an untenable situation that could not have persisted indefinitely.  Forward motion brought the situation to where it was at that time, but the motion didn’t stop simply because a few people found themselves in an undeservedly fortunate position.  It kept going, ensuring that this desire for rights and freedom and economic security started to infect everyone who lived within the nation’s borders: women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT, Asians, Muslims, etc.  Therefore, anyone who proudly dons a stupid baseball cap bearing the acronym “MAGA” is fully ignorant of the most basic laws of physics.  If there hadn’t been preexisting communities of minorities throughout the country at the time of this pinnacle of white male dominance, some other division would have eventually arisen to restore balance to this unevenly skewed landscape.  Perhaps guys with mustaches would have banded together to protest the unfair advantage held by the clean shaven.  Whatever.  See, the specifics of who one considers inferior or a threat to his lifestyle are irrelevant.  Bigoted whites don’t hate blacks specifically because they’re black.  They hate them because there is an observable physical “difference” and ignorance is incapable of grasping subtleties such as interconnection or the troublesome implications of a genetic distinction as infinitesimal as .0001%.  In other words, what they really hate is change.  As such, it is the scariest thing imaginable for them to internalize the fact that change is actually the only constant “law of the Universe”.

At the present, American politics is in a seeming ideological stalemate.  The way to describe this in the language of classical physics is the situation of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.   But fortunately, that is a paradox in itself.  If a force were truly irresistible, it would follow that no object could be considered immovable when acted upon by said force.  If an object were truly immovable, there would be no such thing as a force that it couldn’t resist.  So we will move on.  And we will move forward.  There’s no sense speculating about what the “end result” might be, because as we’ve already covered, there is no such endpoint to this or any other process.  But we can at least take comfort in this: tribalism and its constituent aspects of bigotry and hatred for “outsiders” (otherwise known as xenophobia) is what appears to be the “immovable object” right now.  But this is only because the soon-to-be temporarily “irresistible force” of progressive acceptance and cooperation hasn’t yet gathered enough strength to demolish the object.  It’s powerful enough to move it – we might have witnessed that in a few of last night’s election results – but this object isn’t a can to be kicked down the road, it’s an eyesore to be destroyed.  We who embrace change can be patient and hopeful in the knowledge that sooner or later, the spirit of cooperation and compromise will prevail in the eradication of the object, just as those who stubbornly cling to it know that its elements will begin to gather and coalesce into a similar stagnant phenomenon immediately upon the disintegration of its current form.  “Luck” means being alive during that sweet spot in history and geography when either the winds of change blow unhindered or they’re kept at bay by a massive blockade.  Which of those is considered a fortunate situation depends upon your personal values.  Those who value freedom and inclusiveness find the unobstructed flow of the wind to be most soothing while those who value predictability and stagnation cling fearfully to metaphorical rocks.  However, every rock must disintegrate sooner or later but the wind will continue to blow.

So cheer up, my fellow good-hearted citizens.  Physics is on our side.

Babylon Is Burning

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Originally composed in late November, 2016 for TwoVoicesInOneTransmission

An ill wind comes arising across the cities of the plain. There’s no swimming in the heavy water, no singing in the acid rain. Red alert! Red alert! – Neil Peart

Need I define the “ill wind” to which I am referring by quoting the lyricist of Canadian band Rush? Overnight, on November 8, everything changed in a most sinister way. I have often, and justifiably, been deemed an alarmist, but in this case, that epithet does not apply. Those who know me are aware that I was never a big proponent of patriotism, feeling it to be a vice presented as a virtue to keep the people in line and to swell the ranks of our various military branches. But even I, admittedly, still felt a certain kinship with my homeland, its traditions and its potential. That is officially over. Any vestiges of “connection” I may once have felt with the concept of The United States of America, even if just for the particular traditions I enjoyed that were distinctly American, have evaporated and they will never return. (Case in point: I ate meatloaf for Thanksgiving, nor did I waste a nanosecond “counting my blessings”.)

You may be anticipating an oncoming diatribe against the “president elect” and his psychotic narcissism, temperament of a petulant toddler, proud bigotry and unveiled provocations for his minions to employ violence against their detractors. Don’t get me wrong: I HATE the man and his bigoted, uneducated supporters, but it is precisely this hatred that I need to work through, conquer and ideally, transform into empathy and compassion. To anyone reading this who is consumed by hatred for those who voted in this authoritarian monster, I implore you: PLEASE do not give in to that hatred. It will only make things worse; not just for the “country”, but for yourselves. The old cliche that violence and hatred is a vicious circle is not just folksy wisdom. It is truth. Hate will not help to alleviate hate; violence will breed more violence. And this is precisely what authoritarians like our soon-to-be fascist-in-chief want; it’s what they have been promoting; in a climate of us against them, it will lead to their unbridled success (in the way they define “success”). Don’t misunderstand: I am not asking (nor would I desire) anyone to lay down and give up. What I am proposing is an entirely different mindset, one that transcends politics. Politics is, after all, an interplay between human beings and a hopeful compromise of their differing viewpoints. But we are no longer dealing with an administration (not to mention its rabidly nationalistic supporters) capable of compromise. To them, it is the ultimate weakness, regardless of the fact that it is a virtue, a strength, and the only outlook that can possibly work.

What we need now is compassion, difficult as that may be. Again, don’t get me wrong: I am by turns sad, numb, petrified, depressed, defeated and FURIOUS at the ignorance of the masses, media manipulation, and above all, the xenophobia that created the perfect storm for the election of such an unqualified, morally bankrupt, authoritarian, hateful, bigoted, narcissistic monster. But this multi-millionaire con man suffers, too…almost surely worse than anyone reading this. A man that is incapable of love or being loved, incapable of compromise, incapable of self-control, and consumed by a lust for vengeance is the very antithesis of a happy individual. I would not trade my humble position with his for any amount of money or power or fame (not that I valued any of those things in the first place, but you get my gist).

And here is step 1 in developing compassion for those you may hate, those you may consider your “enemies”: remember that they are caught in a prison of their own making and the ball they pushed down the hill so long ago has gained so much momentum that it may seem impossible to halt its continued downward trajectory. Anger is nothing more than fear. I repeat, because it bears repeating: anger is nothing more than fear. Take it from this author who not too long ago lived in a perpetual state of anger. After much soul searching and honest self-analysis, I realized that everyone and everything I hated were those I feared. Of course, saying “I’m scared” doesn’t seem a very “manly” thing to do, now does it? But I’m doing it now. I’m scared. Nay, I’m scared shitless. But anger never got me anywhere, other than more fearful and it created enemies…people who justifiably avoided me like the plague in order to stay out of my line of hateful verbal fire. Ever see one of those body-building or gun-toting types wearing a t-shirt that says “NO FEAR!”? You can bet your life those are the most cowardly people around. Unless someone has been clinically diagnosed as a psychopath, you can be rest assured that such a person is scared, no matter what his t-shirt says. As said, no one likes to admit that they are frightened. So in the blink of an eye, such people upon feeling the slightest twinge of fear cover it with a veneer of rage. Rage is more “manly”, you see. But hyper-masculinity is killing us and when the bombs start dropping, these “patriotic warriors” will be the first to run and hide. And if they don’t, they’ll be the first to die.

We are a human race. There are no further significant subdivisions. Race, gender, ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof), sexual orientation, or any other surface feature with which we divide ourselves are illusions (open up a reputable biology book sometime and you’ll see that I’m right). Tribalism is killing us. So I implore the readers of this blog, whoever you may be, to drop your tribes, even the ones in which you may feel pride. No white tribe, no black tribe; no liberal tribe, no conservative tribe; no male tribe, no female tribe; no Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic or Atheist tribe. If you MUST feel a part of a tribe, how about this: you are a member of the living things upon the earth (and perhaps the universe). Isn’t that enough? All is impermanent: your precious money (which is NOT wealth, it’s just a symbol for wealth and most rich people do not know how to enjoy it…hoarding is not enjoyment of wealth), your temporary power over others, your homes, your friends, your family, and even the planet…all are impermanent. They have no intrinsic existence of their own. Or, to put it as George Carlin once said: “The planet’s not fucked. WE are. We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks.”

We are all just whirlpools, temporary eddies in the energy that comprises the universe. Call it what you will: God, universal consciousness, Universe, or even the dance of grand illusion…we aren’t just part of it – we ARE it, and we call it into being every second of our lives. Energy never goes away. The egos and names by which we define ourselves, however, DO go away, as they never really existed to begin with. The most hateful person you know was once a baby, untainted by the ego fantasies instilled in him or her by parents, teachers, peers, religious leaders, media, etc. Don’t have mercy or pity; have COM-passion, for we are truly all one. Each of us is a temporary set of eyes that represent “god” viewing the universe from as many different vantage points as possible. If you can excuse such seeming blasphemy, you are god. So am I. So is everyone. So are animals and even inanimate objects. Intelligence cannot spring from an unintelligent universe of mindless and stupid matter (in a different blog, I’ll explain why matter is an illusion, too, but that would be too much of a digression here).

Stand up for what’s right. Help everyone you can, and don’t ask them their political affiliation or religious leanings before deciding to help. That’s irrelevant. Anyone who needs help (as well as anyone who doesn’t) are your brothers and sisters – in fact, they are YOU in a different temporary form. Help the oppressed. Don’t be afraid to show your support for anyone who may fall into the category of scapegoat du jour: Muslims, women, LGBT, Mexicans, Jews, African-Americans, atheists. etc. They are, in the truest sense, your brothers and sisters who arrived out of the dust of this earth just like you did. Different upbringings, cultures, experiences, education, religion, etc. may make it seem as if there is a world of difference between us. But all of the aforementioned things are contrivances. And we cannot afford to hate each other over contrivances. Please love. Please empathize. Please employ as much compassion as you can for everyone you meet. And above all, please have courage. I don’t know how things will play out, so I’m not going to leave you with the stereotypically comforting words: “We will be okay”. I don’t know that that’s true. But we have to try. It’s all we’ve got. Please don’t give up. I’m writing this to myself as much as I’m writing it to you. Please don’t give up.

I love you. Please tell that to at least one other person today. And tomorrow. And ever after.

Election Day

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My calendar informs me that today is Election Day.  This, of course, now means even less than it used to mean, which has always been next to nothing.  Even before our electoral process was Putinized beyond repair, the US had never been a democracy in any real sense of the word.  The Electoral College ensures that votes are “evenly distributed” among people of varying exposure to their fellow citizens so that those who live in culturally stagnant rural areas actually have a greater effect on the national outcome than a typical urban voter.  In other words, if you live in a city among hundreds of thousands of other residents, your voice is considered over-represented (as if city dwellers were homogeneous in their political views).   The real problem to keep in check in the minds of those who rely on popular ignorance to attain their positions of power is that a true popular vote would give too much influence to people who actually know what the fuck is going on.  And we can’t have that, right?  It wouldn’t be fair to our cousin-fucking friends south of the Mason-Dixon Line!

If you think that last sentence was uncalled for, you’re right, but I just don’t give a fuck anymore.  I’ll say whatever the hell I goddamn please because that’s the American way…and I know I’m right because the president said so!  But he shouldn’t have had to: everybody knows that measured and considerate speech is an affront to liberty but guns are a gift from God – that’s just common sense.  Sorry…common AMERICAN sense.  The rest of the world sees us as the collective of idiotic narcissists that we are.

In just a moment, I am going to re-post the very first blog entry I ever made.  It first appeared just under a year ago on Two Voices In One Transmission, my now defunct shared blog with Mazmisc.  You will see that in one year’s time, my tone and outlook about the bizarre Dystopia in which we find ourselves has gone through many permutations.  Despite the underlying desperation in the mood of the upcoming piece, there was an equal measure of optimism; an inference that together, those of us who are decent and compassionate could find a way out of this mess.  Silly me.  After all that’s transpired in 365 days, that hopeful outlook just sounds quaint now.  Like when my dog digs circular divots in the carpet in a mad dash to catch his own tail.  It’s pointless, but it’s cute.

Winning: A Losing Proposition

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Soy un perdador. I’m a loser, Baby, so why don’t you kill me? – Beck

The idea that life is a contest in which it is the natural goal of each individual to distinguish him or herself as a “winner” has been at the core of neurotic Western values since the heyday of the Roman Empire. The imagined superiority of the individual over his peers in some specialized discipline or another is the promoted aspiration from which we are taught to seek our sense of worth and purpose. With this subconscious drive informing our every decision, those with the pre-existing privilege of power, wealth or influence attempt to exert this “superiority” over large swaths of the planet while those of more humble backgrounds usually aspire to a more local celebrity. Since this attitude is the baseline from which all of us in Western culture operate, we willingly elevate some of the most despotic people to positions of honor and influence precisely because of our fucked up definition of what constitutes honorable behavior.

Maybe this is just due to the fact that I grew up in the 1980s, but it seems that this vague but persistent promotion of personal victory just for the sake of it was comically apparent in the pop culture of that particular decade. Sports movies with the underlying cliched theme of “underdog defeats formidable rival” were all the rage and their accompanying soundtrack music encouraged listeners to “rise up”, “go for the glory”, “reach for the top”, “go for the gold” and “defy the odds” in order to…what? They never really specified how exactly one should define this elusive “glory” other than implying that it has something to do with winning — preferably in as public a way as possible. How else can we possibly explain to future generations the inexplicable popularity of movies about arm wrestling and bands like Survivor other than to acquiesce to the fact that in the eighties, we all thought that a championship trophy was the ultimate symbol of someone’s worth?

Since the turn of the millennium, two public figures have done more to advance the notion of “winning” at all costs than any others I can call to mind. One of them lost his gig on Two and A Half Men over his public arrogance. The other got elected to the presidency of the United States. Drugs had much to do with the resulting downfall of the former individual. The latter is a flawless illustration of the ignorance inherent in such a value system as it becomes clearer by the day that this attitude in its most egregious form is more potentially dangerous than the Black Death. In the 14th Century, the bubonic plague laid claim to about one third of the European population. But what we are facing today as the result of the glorification of narcissism quite literally has the potential to eradicate the species. Remind me again why this is considered “winning”?

The root of the problem lies in our erroneous conception of individuality. Despite comparatively recent and extensively documented discoveries in the realm of physics that utterly demolish the notion of independent islands of cohesive and self-regulated matter, as a culture we have chosen to ignore the implications of these findings that weaken our sense of independence. Egoism is so hard-wired into our psyches that we are capable of ignoring direct evidence that calls our sense of self into question. And it’s remarkably easy to defend such willful ignorance when everyone else harbors the same point of view. “I’m just not interested in science. It’s all so boring to me.” Very rarely does anyone feel motivated to question such a stubbornly myopic mindset because most of us feel exactly the same way, even if some of us have styles of explaining it that sound loftier in their expression.

Our very lives depend on blowing this suicidal philosophy right out of the water. And the only way to do that is to awaken people to reality as it is. If the interdependent and impermanent nature of all phenomena were truly understood, it would become apparent that there is literally no such thing as “winning”. The very word implies an imagined independence of every organism that exists and the ability of each to distinguish itself as superior through sheer force of will. But an organism cannot possibly exist independently and our wills are anything but individual. They are an amalgam of aspirations and values adopted from the cultures we inhabit. They are a mass hallucination induced by the dispensation of the idea that every individual is in complete control of his or her own destiny. They are the direct result of the anxiety that arises from ego.

Every atom — every proton of every atom — owes its existence to every other atom in the Universe. The reason matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed is because the removal of one single atom from the whole would cause it to collapse into nothingness. The “stuff” that currently coalesces as your physical body has always existed in one form or another and it will continue to exist long after you’re dead. The grand process that is the Universe persists because it is constantly in flux. If just one molecule decided to sit out the next dance, all movement across the 13.8 billion light year wide dance floor would cease, leaving not even an errant party streamer as evidence of what once had been.

So why can’t we try to behave more like our constituent molecules and trust in the fact that the law of interdependence is exactly what allows us to be, to think and to live? If our collective subconscious view evolved into one that takes as a given the necessity of your existence to support my own, how could we possibly continue to feel motivated to delight in the perceived “defeat” of others or in our own personal “victories” over them? The very idea would strike us as the outright nonsense that it is and our struggles would invariably be resolved through collaborative and cooperative solutions that don’t seek to elevate any party over the other.

And the only reason that last sentence just struck you as impossibly idealistic is because you, like most of us, find the idea of letting go of your own perceived preciousness as distasteful a proposition as can possibly be raised. Either that, or you just have a really unhealthy aversion to Hillary Clinton and Ashton Kutcher.

Friday Funhouse 12: Vicarious Drinking

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Nostrovia, Funhouse fans!

On the last episode of Broad City, Ilana surreptitiously visited a sex therapist. Much to her chagrin, she hadn’t been able to achieve an orgasm in months so she was desperate to get to the bottom of this highly uncharacteristic problem. After some preliminary questions, the therapist was able to pinpoint the exact date when Ilana’s sex drive went into retreat: November 9, 2016.

I think this was a tad more profound than just another Broad City sex gag. For the first three years after I quit drinking, I pissed away countless hours in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, giving me a firsthand insight into the machinations of a quasi-cult. One of the A.A. “traditions” given the most lip service (and enforced most obnoxiously) is the taboo of discussing “outside issues” when sharing at a meeting. In retrospect, I was very fortunate to have gotten my early years of sobriety out of the way when I did because if I had still needed the crutch of 12 step recovery post-Election Day, I’d have been forbidden to discuss what would certainly have been the most significant threat to my sobriety imaginable: the elevation of a flabby-jowled, racist, misogynistic authoritarian to the office of President of the United States.

I would be very interested to see statistics on rates of overdose, relapse and inpatient mental health check-ins in the 12 months since that cursed day.

Defying the odds, my alcoholism somehow remains in check, but I still really enjoy witnessing the sloppy drunkenness of others. In fact, I encourage it. If necessary, I’ll even buy the booze. Does that make me an asshole? You needn’t answer that question — of course it does. We all have our shameful hobbies, so don’t judge. And maybe being an active drunk or addict in these trying times isn’t such a bad way to cope.

Here’s a clip to illustrate what I mean. Don’t Joe, Peter and Quagmire seem to be having a much better time getting liquored up than if they were soberly sitting around watching the horror show that is the evening news? Cheers and enjoy: