Thursday, July 26, 2012

Counting

I was going to rant about how much I dislike my job, but then I realized among my other faults, I would have to add "complainer." So I won't carp about the job; no one would listen or care anyway, because most people aren't fond of what they do for a living. Why should I get any special consideration?

Instead I would like to count my blessings:
  1. Life.
  2. Love (my wife).
  3. Family.
  4. Good health.
  5. Plenty of healthy food and water.
  6. Relative peace and safety.
  7. Member of a great rock band.
  8. House to live in.
  9. Clothes.
  10. Automobile.
  11. Book projects.
  12. Programming project.
  13. Music.
  14. Movies.
  15. Books.
  16. Video games.

Although I appreciate that I have a method of legally obtaining income, my job isn't even on the list. It's not so much a blessing, but a necessary thistle I must cultivate to survive.

How many blessings do you have?

No matter how bleak life may get, there are always bright spots somewhere.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The snare of pride

There was a plaque that my mother used to hang on the wall. It said, "Never answer an angry word with an angry word, it's the second that makes the quarrel."

In life, sometimes the most difficult thing to do is simply shut one's mouth and walk away.

When a human being demonstrates that he or she wishes to argue (as opposed to discuss), the decision is made to engage in a negative exchange with another human being that rarely ever ends in mutual edification or satisfaction.

Where does this desire come from that makes us want to "make our point" at the expense of someone else's ego?

Pride.

"He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself."


Monday, July 23, 2012

A moment of pondering

If anyone is to take a few moments and read a few pages of Netflix reviews, or YouTube comments, or even forum posts regarding controversial subjects, one will quickly encounter a principal problem with the human race.

As I write this short essay, I am painfully aware of how much I belong in the group of those who think their own opinions or thoughts are worthy of sharing with the world. In that capacity, I am no less guilty than anyone else who gives their opinions in public.

In earlier days, I used to ponder about something that I'm a bit ashamed of now. I used to ponder what pleasure God could possibly derive from idiots.

As you can well surmise, that statement alone automatically places me in a precarious position, simply because anyone's true idiot status is not for a single human being to decide.

Even still, I did ponder.

In daily life, there are so many encounters with the inconsiderate, the rude, the thoughtless, the selfish, the aggressive, the histrionic, the melodramatic, the angry, the sarcastic, the nihilistic, the pessimistic, the deranged... the list is exhaustive and exhausting.

At any given time, to be blatantly honest, any one of us could commit some single act that would fall under any one of the descriptions in the previous paragraph. So perhaps that's why we're not supposed to judge others; if we actually believe we're free of objectionable behavior, then we're also free from honesty regarding our perceptions of ourselves.

I no longer question such a thing as what possible pleasure God could derive from idiots. I realize it's a fool's train of thought, as I'm sure I've played the idiot on more than one occasion in my life.

These days, I tend to ponder things like this:

How can anyone look at the entire world's behavioral track record, including his or her own behavior, and persist in deriding the concept of original sin?

That's the ugly side of subjectivity: our cognitive dissonance keeps us blind to whatever the truth might actually be.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Monkey on our backs

The most succinct definition I could find of the idiom "monkey on your back" was the following:

A serious problem that will not go away.

There are more specific definitions that identify things like drug addiction and duties we don't want to deal with. The summary above pretty much covers them all.

The complete etymology of the phrase aside, it's safe to say the concept has been around much longer than the phrase itself. Before we said "monkey on your back," we certainly had other ways to express the phenomenon of having to constantly struggle with something in our lives.

There is another explanation that was once used, and it originally was intended in a literal sense, then through time and psychoanalytical desensitization and misdirection it became a figurative reference: demons.

When we use this term today, we mean someone has an internal struggle that wreaks some level of havoc in their emotional, intellectual and sometimes physical lives. Usually, the reference comes with qualifiers, such as "inner" demons or "personal" demons.

One of the powerful traits of the human mind, as compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, is our innate ability to think in the abstract. That's why we're so good at things like math and poetry; we can create and understand things like concepts and analogies. Everything does not have to be literal for us to comprehend it.

And so through time, as we understand more about our universe and how it works, we take what was once literal, and relegate it to figurative status. Before we 'understood' the human mind, as we believe we do now, we thought inexplicable self-destructive behavior was the result of being possessed by demons.

Now that we are 'enlightened,' the idea of literal demons (actual beings who could influence our thinking) produces elevated eyebrows and sarcastic remarks about ignorance. Now that we are so much wiser to the ways of human behavior and the official 'sciences' of the mind, the only places literal demons are appropriate are in fiction books, songs, plays and movies.

I'd like to temporarily pause from the flow of this essay and ask everyone a question.

Do you know anyone, other than a very young child, that is completely free of any sort of mental compulsion that manifests itself in some form of self-defeating or destructive behavior?

Despite the typically inaccurate perception we have of others doing better than ourselves, we must, upon astute and thorough scrutinizing, come to the conclusion that there is no one who is completely free of the back-riding monkeys that plague us all to some degree, however slight or great.

Now I'll ask a short but important question.

Why?

The most typical answer will be some form of, "Because human beings aren't perfect."

Okay, let's run with that ball for a bit.

If there is some standard of perfection we can conceive of, why does it appear impossible for anyone to achieve it? Anything is possible; isn't that what we're taught from grade school on? If so, then why is every man, woman and non-toddler on planet Earth saddled with some sort of mental or physical affliction that keeps them from this struggle-free existence that perfection would imply?

To temporarily help us forget or avoid our internal struggles, some of us drown ourselves in a bathtub of gin, or a haze of marijuana smoke. Some of us troll singles bars or the Internet for sexual gratification, be it via self-stimulation, escorts or other randy trollers. Some of us cripple ourselves with anger, some with apathy, some with depression... the list goes on.

Some of us decide to take the "high road" and become members of the clergy, monks in an isolated haven, fanatical proponents of exercise, meditation or yoga, or just prostrate ourselves continuously before God, in an attempt to purge the darkness from our lives.

But even for those who seem to have their spiritual lives in order, the internal struggles remain. Like Alcoholics Anonymous famously declares, there are no ex-alcoholics, only recovering alcoholics.

Now I'm dropping that ball and returning to the point of this essay.

Mental and physical maladies are at an all-time high. The statistics for mental illness and physical infirmity are easily accessed on the Internet, and they are sobering to say the least. The expensive medications prescribed for these allegedly organic problems are also legion, and show no signs of being replaced by any non-chemical resolutions.

Next question:

If our collective knowledge about ourselves is so advanced and accurate, then why have our relatively modern solutions not only failed to lessen our internal struggles, but could be suspected of making them worse?

Having a common enemy can galvanize a populace. The solidarity that occurred in the United States immediately after 9/11 was palpable. Through time however, things went back to selfish business as usual, as a matter of course in the human experience. Why do I bring that up?

We are more unhappy, more unfulfilled, more tortured and more self-defeated than ever, even in this astoundingly technologically advanced year of 2012.

Somewhere along the line, we lost humankind's common enemy. It was replaced by theories, conjecture, sophistry, and the pharmaceuticals produced to address these potentially spurious explanations.

Make no mistake, we all have a mutual enemy. The worst part of it is that the greatest tool we had to fight it was our own belief that it existed. No one checks under the bed for monsters they don't believe are there.

What was the original phrase that spawned so many popular versions?

I believe it was Charles Baudelaire, in a poem called The Generous Gambler:

"My dear brothers, never forget, when you hear the progress of enlightenment vaunted, that the devil's best trick is to persuade you that he doesn't exist!"



Friday, July 20, 2012

Recent developments

As I sit here typing this blog entry, I'm listening to a makeshift compilation of all the current mixes of the rock band I'm the lead singer for, Continuous Audio Transmission. The other two esteemed members of the band are Jeff Smoots (guitars, bass and drums), and Wayde Cooper (guitars, bass and drums).

The link for our band web site is here:

Continuous Audio Transmission

We are about to release our first single, after three and a half years of work. This is somewhat misleading; we haven't worked on the project continuously for all that time (despite our band name). All three of us have day jobs and various adult responsibilities, so finding time to work on our parts is a bit of a challenge at times. We also all coincidentally work in information technology jobs. I finally jettisoned my erstwhile career in restaurant serving about three months ago, and returned to work more suited for my analytical sensibilities.

Despite the time-eating, necessary evil known as work, here we are, about to release the first single from a collection of ten originals and one cover. We three have quite a history together, and it goes all the way back to 1991/92 when we were in a band called Axis, that played rock clubs all over Seattle during that time. If you remove me from the mix, the collaboration goes even further back, to 1986, when Jeff and Wayde first met in school.

I prefer to maintain my wife's and my privacy, but I felt this was an exceptional moment in my life. In truth, I had been writing, recording and performing music from 1980 all the way to 1998, when I had finally had enough of banging my head against the wall in attempts to "make it." Back then, I was so fed up with trying to become a rock star, I was glad to shed myself of anything more musical than singing in the shower or car.

But my philosophical odyssey in Columbus somehow managed to get my head screwed on properly about music. Music should never be explored for the sake of fame or fortune; it should only be pursued for the honest desire to simply enjoy it. Anything other than that is a sham and a waste of the everyone's time.

So what will happen to Continuous Audio Transmission?

I no longer harbor the self-indulgent rock star dreams of youth. Whatever the world may make of our music, good or bad, I have experienced a considerable sense of pride and accomplishment in the music that Jeff and Wayde and I have made together. In the process, two extremely talented individuals who were nothing more than a pleasant memory have become my friends and respected colleagues.

What more can one really ask?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Balancing the scales

The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.

The world has always been a beautiful place. If you removed human beings, all the pollution and unnatural destruction would be completely gone in a few thousand years.

We are here though, so those speculations are pointless.

This essay isn't about anything as controversial as the contention that Earth must be saved from the likes of litterbugs and people who drive automobiles. It's about something much more intense and real.

There is great evil in the world. For most of us, the greatest evil we ever experience is a broken bone or a cheating spouse. For some of the highly unfortunate, the evil they fall victim to stinks so horrendously that it extends all the way to a place we can't even reach.

There are wicked human beings in the world who sink to the lowest depths of depravity for the sake of money. Kidnapping women, girls and boys to sell as sex slaves is not just a disturbing subject for movies like Trade or Taken; it actually happens. The victims number in the millions.

In some countries, families are coerced into giving up their prepubescent daughters to avoid death or ruination by the twisted brutes who impose this upon them. And what about those who purchase and keep these human beings as sexual pets? Do these 'masters' deserve understanding or mercy? Do they deserve the mercy they have not shown to others? Do they actually imagine that treating their 'property' well will make a difference when their reckoning occurs?

These things do happen. There are real human beings who are drugged, sold, raped, used, kept as sexual servants... and after possibly years of this irrevocable torture, they are permanently discarded. To put this in perspective, simply imagine your own daughter, sister, wife or girlfriend forced into this situation, and never seeing her again.

That's not how the story ends, however. Whether it is today, or tomorrow, next week, next year, no matter; those who do such evil will be burned. Burned through and through, until all that is left is an unfortunate memory that will be forgotten in the shining light of love, truth and justice.

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

As some are quick to point out, this recompense will not repair or replace the lives destroyed. In the interest of waxing wise and temperate, these lukewarm Yodas prefer to remind us that 'revenge' is nothing more than a perpetuation of evil. But what I'm referring to is not the revenge of an angry man or allegedly malicious God. It is the inevitable machinery of a universe providing uncompromising balance that extends beyond our fragile blink-of-an-eye lives.

The universe is the same as our planet. As Earth is a perfectly engineered, life-creating and life-sustaining biosphere, so the universe is alive and perpetual, with the perfect combination of mass, movement and gravity. One blade of grass moving in some deserted plain is as relevant as a distant supernova, and just as worthy of note. It staggers the imagination that some people actually think something as significant as the trafficking of non-consensual sex slaves will go unnoticed.

As these kidnappers and sex traders continue in their disgusting daily activities, it surely must seem as proof positive to them that they will always escape any sort of retribution. Their money and their guns are firmly placed in their pockets.

But the scales will not remain unbalanced, because the lives they willingly stole cannot be restored.

The people I'm speaking of aren't merely sad, like burglars, swingers or alcoholics. The people I'm speaking of are the excessively wicked; those who willingly destroy the lives of others for personal gain. And make no mistake; they always have a choice, regardless of their personal history.

Every single one of them, from the smallest to the greatest, is going to burn.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Where can we go from here?

"You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire, you build egos the size of cathedrals, fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse, grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green, gold-plated fantasies until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own god; and where can you go from there?"

The astute preceding paragraph is from the screenplay adaptation by Jonathan Lemkin of a book by Andrew Neiderman, called The Devil's Advocate. The dialogue in quotes was delivered proficiently by Al Pacino, playing the Devil disguised as lawyer John Milton. I apologize if any dialogue I attribute to Lemkin was originally penned by Neiderman; I haven't read the book.

Here's the YouTube video of that scene in the film (warning: some adult language):

D3vil's Advocate- Eddie Barzum

Like a piece of art, the interpretation is up to the observer. However, any artist, unless he or she is being disingenuous for the sake of monetary gain, generally has a specific meaning or meanings intended by the work.

The Devil's Advocate is a clever story, and is about as accurate as you can get regarding the alleged status of Satan. That status being not the traditional Halloween monstrosity, but the proud and rebellious individual who once held a high position in the presence of God. He is the once-perfect being whose heart was lifted too high by the magnitude of his beauty, and whose wisdom was corrupted by his brightness.

While the book and movie are works of fiction, and I am ignorant of the contents of the book, I will observe that the screenplay was exceptionally effective in portraying not only Satan's place in the universe, but Man's as well. We, the proud creatures who also fell from grace due to our arrogance.

As we move further into the 21st century, there are so many things we take for granted in more advanced and socially progressive countries. We assume that we have natural and guaranteed birthrights to happiness. We assume that our egos alone are justification enough for our subjective opinions regarding what is good and what is not. We assume our own assessments of morality are the correct ones; furthermore, we assume that those who disagree with us are either idiots, or just plain wrong.

Take a look around. Believe it or not, despite every technological development from the wheel to the personal computer, human beings are exactly the same as they were back in ancient Mesopotamia. Our interactions, our joys and sorrows, and all of our worldly and daily concerns have not changed one jot since the beginning of recorded time. Our clothes, homes, automobiles and endless gadgets are truly impressive, but strip them all away, and the naked humans left standing are no different than their 'primitive' predecessors. Knowledge can only build on itself; we are merely at a place in history that exhibits the exponential technological fruits of the passage of time.

We gawk at those who make public statements about this 'imaginary entity' called God. We spend every waking moment fulfilling our own inclination to pretend there is no greater measurement of right and wrong than the one between our own ears.

We have bought the lie. We actually think we are our own gods, that all that matters is what we think, and that the pursuit of personal gratification is the most important endeavor toward which a human can aspire. 21st century human beings believe they are more evolved, more enlightened, more wise than ever before. Yet the rampant selfishness and great sorrow that it produces are tangible reminders that we're only deluding ourselves. The human experience is the same, from the beginning until now, and shows no signs of changing other than in our own misinformed imaginations.

We have bought the lie; hook, line and sinker. Like fish that will always snap at a dangling worm, we allow ourselves to be manipulated by 'non-existent' beings that we have been brainwashed to believe are nothing more than horror-movie bogeymen in our imaginations. At the same time, we also allow ourselves to be manipulated by the whims of the detached elite and social provocateurs of dubious character.

It is far easier and acceptable to pretend the universe exploded from nothing all by itself, therefore erasing any moral codes other than ones we may dream up on our own.

It is much more difficult to attempt passing through the strait gate; especially when most of the world will try to guilt, deride, condescend, trick and persuade you away from it.

Why would anyone want to 'endure' such a narrow path, if all signs point to more worldly pleasure if you don't? What kind of 'sad and ignorant fool' would fight to retain his or her honesty and integrity against all odds?

For many are called, but few are chosen.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Who's doin' this?

In the 1998 remake of The Thin Red Line, a character voice-over says the following:

This great evil; where's it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doin' this? Who's killin' us? Robbin' us of life and light? Mockin' us with the sight of what we might've known? Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?

The most important question in that paragraph is "Who's doin' this?"

The answer is just too humiliating for 'modern' human beings to accept.

I'm not a secular humanist. I do, however, believe in the intrinsic goodness of mankind (or the more politically correct term, humanity). The paragraph from The Thin Red Line is more relevant than most of us realize. Our shared predicament is not a result of a handful of evil men, although a handful of evil men certainly perpetuate misery on the planet based on their own agendas of greed.

Why hasn't our ever-expanding knowledge made us more wise? Why is it we have increasingly fantastic examples of human ingenuity, yet the so-called primitive aggression of generations past has not left us at all? If the social scientists are correct, and we are now so much better off because of our ever-growing collective 'enlightenment', then why were the worst wars in human history fought in the last 100 years?

Why are wars still being fought in the twenty-first century? Why do we still allow individuals in certain positions to poison our minds with hatred of others? Why are we still so ready to believe there are enemies everywhere we turn? Why are so many still willing to pick up a gun or a bomb, and end the lives of others who are doing the exact same thing for what they also believe are good reasons?

The sadism of leaders of strife-torn countries is clearly evident to the world. Does the world truly see us as their unofficial police officers, or are we complicit with murder every time we fill our tanks with gas?

Why has the United States, the beacon of freedom to the rest of the planet, spent so much time displaying their military prowess on the soil of other lands? Why do so many still trust that the leaders of our country only have goodness and righteousness on their minds when they send our brave soldiers to die?

With all our knowledge and with all our collective experience and history, how do we address these real and tangible horrors?

We throw our hands in the air and say, "That's life."

Well I say to you:

This is not how the world was meant to be. This is not the natural result of human nature. This is not an outgrowth of our supposedly primitive past.

This is a system-wide, all-reaching, purposeful implementation, whose obvious goal is the ruination of everyone's lives on this biosphere.

Human beings are not irrational, ignorant and savage. We are creatures capable of goodness and greatness, but apparently we can be manipulated into justifying our own selfish desires.

For those of you still quoting Freud or Nietzsche, or hopelessly enamored of the likes of Dawkins or Darwin, you may skip this and continue on your not-so-merry way.

For those of you who want a real answer to who is destroying us, try looking beyond the mirror, beyond the limitations of physics, and beyond the siren song of psychoanalytical brainwashing.

Look closer. Think deeper. Open your mind.

The truth may not be attractive to you, but if you revise it, the only person you fool is yourself.