“The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury

“‘What could I do? Argue with you? It’s simply me against the whole crooked grinding greedy setup on Earth. They’ll be flopping their filthy atom bombs ups here, fighting for bases to have wars. Isn’t it enough they’ve ruined one planet, without ruining another; do they have to foul someone else’s manger? The simple minded windbags. When I got up here I felt I was not only free of their so called culture, I felt I was free of their ethics and their customs. I’m out of their frame of reference, I thought. All I have to do is kill you all off and live my own life.”’

So spoke Jeff Spender to Captain Wilder in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. In this brief passage Spender speaks to the conundrum faced by so many people in so many times, the possession a such a powerful hatred of the ignorant violence perpetuated by our species on our species, and the rest of the planet, that it urges violence in return. The idea that these people are evil for killing innocent people, or allowing them to die despite the overwhelming resources available to help them, and so they ought to be killed in return. 

The Martian Chronicles was first published in 1950, comprised of stories written in the years before, years during and after World War Two. WWII is often noted as a just war, something that seems to make it distinct from the many other wars that have been fought in recent history. After all, the Nazis, who were and are vile putrid scum of the earth, were defeated, what’s not to love? 

In the direct aftermath however, as evidenced by the 45 years of officially fearing total nuclear annihilation known as the Cold War, and the following 28 years of, well, continuing to fear total nuclear annihilation known as the present, the focus wasn’t squarely on that defeat. It was the case, after all, that while the Nazis were defeated on the battlefield, it was the country of Japan, whose atrocities were not quite so distinct, that was defeated from six miles in the sky by two planes, and two nuclear bombs. In short, while there was much to celebrate, there was a lot to be somber about as well. 

The Martian Chronicles is written with this apprehension writ large. People flee the Earth to escape the constant drumbeat of war, the news from Earth is always in regards to the threats against its habitability, and eventually, those threats become reality. Violence on a massive scale is not the only theme however, and Bradbury also reveals a progressive understanding of race relations that is beyond contemporary, at least as far as politics in the United States would suggest. The parallels between the invasion of Earthlings to Mars mirrors, and is pointed out almost explicitly, to the invasion of Europeans to the American continents. This includes the violence against Martian culture, and the near extinction of the Martians due to their exposure to Earth-born disease. It was this travesty that lead Jeff Spender to murder. 

In a passage titled June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air, the population of Black people in the South, having secretly pooled their money, had rocketships built, and are suddenly departing for Mars. A handful of old white men sit on the porch of a hardware store, watching the exodus.

“Between the blazing white banks of the town stores, among the tree silences, a black tide flowed. Like a kind of summer molasses, it poured turgidly forth upon the cinnamon-dusty road. It surged slow, slow, and it was men and women and horses and barking dogs, and it was little boys and girls. And from the mouth of the people partaking of this tide came the sound of a river. A summer-day river going somewhere, murmuring and irrevocable.” 

One man sitting on the stoop of the hardware store, Samuel Teece, becomes enraged. He screams at the people going by, he stops a man named Belter and demands that Belter pay him a fifty dollar debt, or stay and work it off, something that would take two months Teece gleefully suggests. A crowd gathers and an old man among them passes a hat, quickly collecting the debt, which Teece tries to refuse, to no avail as Belter leaves the money on the dusty ground at his feet. Teece tries to intervene once more, stopping a young man who worked in his store and demanding he fulfill the terms of his contract to work there for another two years. Another of the old men on the porch offers to take his job, and the young man leaves off, shouting back behind him, “Mr. Teece, Mr. Teece, what you goin’ to do night from now on? What you goin’ to do nights, Mr. Teece?”

The following scene shows that Samuel Teece was a perpetuator of murder by lynching, something known in the town, but without any consequences for Mr. Teece or his fellow murderers. Science fiction authors have a penchant for prescience, in this case it is quite unfortunately the case. Bradbury not only predicted that the relationships between people with varying levels of melanin in their skin would still be fraught with tension in the new millennium, at least in some cases, some places, but that violence by white people against black would continue to go largely unpunished, and even seem to have some semblance of legality behind it. A story further in time has an Earthling shoot a Martian who attempted to hand him a scroll, mistaking it for a weapon. Later he talks to his wife about it. 

‘“I’m sorry what happened,” he said. He looked at her, then away. “You know it was purely the circumstances of Fate.”

‘Yes.’ said his wife.

‘I hated like hell to see him take out that weapon.’

‘What weapon?’

‘Well I thought it was one!…’

He doesn’t claim to have been afraid for his life, but it is implied. 

This book is not quite so dour as I have made it seem. Though it is dark throughout, there is levity as well. In the early missions a Captain and his men make it to an inhabited Mars, but instead of being greeted with surprise and celebration, they are greeted with bored passiveness, being ultimately referred to a Mr. Iii, who turns out to be the local psychiatrist. In another, after Mars has been all but deserted, a young man desperate for company meets perhaps the last young woman on the planet, and after a few days decides he didn’t mind being alone after all. Another story, not quite funny but interesting and light, has a Martian meet a newly arrived Earthling who seem to be experiencing entirely different periods of time, and they cannot determine who is living in the past, who in the present. There is the story of Benjamin Driscoll, the Johnny Appleseed of Mars by his own description. There is also a passing reference to the world of Farenheit 451, through a man who recreates the House of Usher to the dismay of the local Investigator of Moral Climates.

This book takes place over the years 1999 to 2026. In the end it is only complete annihilation of the Earth, and nearly off it’s inhabitants, that allows the world to move on from the psychosis that has entrapped in a state of perpetual greed and violence for millenia. One family escapes in a rocket hidden from the governments of Earth. As the father, burns away sheafs of paper containing the legal codes of Earth, he talks to his family about why he is doing so, and why the radio transmissions from Earth had stopped.

‘“I’m burning a way of life, just like the way of life is being burned clean of Earth right now. Forgive me if I talk like a politician. I am, after all, a former state governor, and I was honest and they hated me for it. Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and and finally killed Earth. that’s what the silent radio means. That’s what we ran away from.’”

There are eight years between now and 2026, and perhaps the good news is we do not yet have another manger to foul. We have the Earth, and that is all. It is dispiriting, to say the least, to still be fighting to have it recognized that the color of a person’s skin has no more to do with their value than their height, or their shoe size. It is disheartening to have to battle against bigots and cowards, because of they don’t like that some men love men and women love women, or that people are no longer prisoner to the gender stated on their birth certificates. The environment continues to be destroyed by people who claim that it cannot be destroyed. A single person can possess enough wealth to feed the world, wealth built almost exclusively by underpaid labor and criminal working conditions, and be lauded for offering free delivery of knick knacks for a yearly fee. The fact that we are still in as much danger of nuclear war as ever, but that we seem to have simply gotten used to it, is hard to fathom. 

Perhaps though, just as The Martian Chronicles has more lightness than it seems on its surface, there is more hope on Earth than it would seem. The artist, recently risen to prominence, Boots Riley said on his most recent album, “They got the TV, we got the truth/They own the judges and we got the proof/We got hella people, they got helicopters/ They got the bombs and we got the/we got the/we got the guillotine…” 

Ray Bradbury wrote a cautionary tale, but just because the premises have bore out does not mean the ending will. We may not even need the eight years between now and the end of the book to begin to make the necessary changes. We don’t need to escape to Mars either, we don’t need to run away at all, and we don’t need to kill the people we disagree with. What we need, and what it would seem we have in abundance, is people in the streets, ready to take back to Earth. The work may never stop, but all that means is neither should we. 

 

Smarter Than Man

The question I have today is simple. On what basis does humankind declare that they are the most intelligent animal? The question that follows is similarly simple, what would it take for humankind to determine that it is not the case?

I know not many people look at this site, which is unfortunate, because I would love help with this. I’ll be thinking about it, I hope you will too. Email me your thoughts, if you’d like, at thechurchofblackcoffee@gmail.com, or comment below.

Thanks!

No Know.

Long ago there was a French guy name Rene. Rene wondered to himself, “What do I know?” and began to deconstruct his knowledge.

Rene realized that most claims of knowledge are grounded in sensorial input, i.e. you see the sun and so claim knowledge that the sun exists. You hear your mother’s voice and so claim knowledge of its sound. You touch burning stick, and so claim knowledge that burning your skin hurts. Rene was not convinced that his justification was sufficient for the claim however, as the senses can deceive. If you see a tornado, what ensures that you are not dreaming it? If you smell popcorn can you be sure it isn’t a hallucination? If you see your friend, isn’t it possible you’re just wrong?

To illustrate this argument forcefully Rene asks the reader to consider a scenario. In this scenario all that exists in the universe is your mind and a demon. The demon is manipulating your mind, causing it to ‘sense’ all that you experience. So the demon causes your mind to hear friends and families, to smell eggs and gasoline, see the sun, all of it, but all the while all that actually exists is the demon and your mind. Since in that universe your experiences would be identical to the experiences you have in this universe, you can’t know for sure that that universe isn’t actually this universe, i.e. you can’t know that you aren’t being entirely deceived by your senses in regards to everything, which means you can’t claim knowledge of anything. Except, Rene continues, that you exist, for no demon, no matter how powerful, could convince something that doesn’t exist that it does. So, as you can think you experience the world, that you can think at all, is sufficient justification for knowledge that, if nothing else, you exist. You think, therefore you are. Everything else? Impossible to know.

That was a long time ago, and there hasn’t really been a solid counterargument. More contemporary epistemologists suggested that knowledge of a proposition consisted of belief in that proposition, justification for that belief, and truth of the proposition. That really just moved the mystery though, what is justification anyway? Furthermore this dude Edmund Gettier blew a hole in that idea mile wide anyway.

Gettier was a professor of philosophy somewhere who hadn’t published anything, or at least not in a while. The admin said he should, so he wrote a three page paper showing that true, justified belief was not sufficient for knowledge. Imagine you come hoime, you see your mom standing in the kitchen ,and so you think, “My mom is home.” As it turns out, what you are looking at is a hologram, however, your mom is home, just in a different room. So you believe the proposition that your mom is home, it’s true your mom is home, and the belief is justified by the fact you see your mom, but it sure doesn’t seem like you know your mom is home. Another scenario like this, you are driving through farmland, barns everywhere. What you don’t know is that there are way more barn facades than actual barns, just movie set barn faces being propped up from behind with sticks. As you drive you catch a glimpse of one of the very few actual barns and think, “That’s a barn.” You believe it’s a barn, it is a barn, and it is, again, justified by having seen it. Again though, doesn’t seem like a barn.

So what the hell? How can you know anything? No worries my friend, I got you. As long as your cool with not knowing whether you know anything, I think you might know all sorts of stuff. Or maybe nothing, but who cares?

I propose that you have knowledge of a proposition when the proposition is true, you believe it, and your justification is grounded in the truth of the proposition. By the last bit I mean your evidence could not exist unless the corresponding proposition was true. This solves the Gettier issue and Rene’s whole deal as well.

Let’s look at Gettier’s examples first. In the mom scenario, you don’t know your mom is home, because the evidence isn’t grounded in your mom being home. She is, but that’s just a coincidence, you saw a hologram and so you don’t know your mom is home. You would have believed she was home anyway. In the barn scenario you do know that that is a barn because you saw the barn, and it is a barn. If you hadn’t seen that barn you would not have believed it was a barn, because you didn’t see it. If you had seen a barn facade you might have believed it was a barn and you would have been wrong, but that’s irrelevant. You see a barn, it is a barn, you believe it’s a barn, and so you know it’s a barn.

In regards to Rene and his whole thing, well if it is a demon making everything up, then you don’t know anything. Not much of a surprise there. If you see something and it is a hallucination, a dream, a mistake, then you don’t know that thing, but if it isn’t, you do.

The cost of this position is that you never get to know that you know. It has to be the case that not only is the relevant proposition true, but that your justification couldn’t exist without that proposition being true. How do you know if your justification is grounded in the truth of the proposition? You don’t. So you can say, “I know blah blah blah” about whatever, and you might be right, and you might be wrong. C’est la vie! That was already the case anyway.

So, as to an epistemological problem you probably didn’t know existed, it’s solved already. You’re welcome.

(I’m probably wrong though).

Black and white photo with some words underneath it.

Woke up this morning
Put on my slippers
Walked in the kitchen and died.”

-John Prine

I think I’m about as ok with dying as a person not immediately facing it can be. I’m definitely ok with the prospect of dying when I’m old. I love my life, it’s been uncannily good for the most part, but I imagine in 50 years the prospect of the long nap won’t both me much at all.

The euphemisms for death should go though, including the one I just used. Death is not sleep, no matter how much we might like to believe it’s so. The most current pedagogy regarding death is that one should never conflate the two concepts in the minds of young children, as they seem to less find comfort in the idea of dying as sleep than find terror in the idea of sleep as death. There is another issue to this analogy of course, it attempts to rob death of its status as something completely unknowable. We know what sleep is, but we can’t even imagine being dead.

I talk to my class about different theories of the origin of the universe. In regards to one version of the Big Bang the universe comes into existence through a perturbation of nothing. I ask them to try and imagine nothing, and how nothing is not the same as empty or blank. I ask them to imagine no color, no direction, no space, no beingness whatsoever. It comes to light that it’s not really possible. We’ve never experienced anything outside of space and time, where the origin of the universe takes place, and so we can’t reconstruct it in our minds. So it is with death, it is defined by the absence of experience, and nothing we’ve experienced is that. We’ve had gaps in our experiences, but they seem to not exist at all, and are defined solely by the experiences they occur between.

We can’t imagine death then, because we can’t experience it, but that’s strange because we’ve all been not alive before. By ‘we’ I mean ‘everything alive at the moment’ of course. There’s nothing alive that has been alive since the beginning of the universe, which means all living things were not alive for at least some amount of time. Me personally, at my age, given that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, have been not alive for roughly 13.7 billion years. Makes my alive years seem kind of irrelevant to be honest, I’m way more experienced at being not alive.

Mark Twain spoke to all of this in his autobiography, his words were, “Annihilation has no terrors for me, because I have already tried it before I was born—a hundred million years—and I have suffered more in an hour, in this life, than I remember to have suffered in the whole hundred million years put together.”

There does seem to be a difference between dead and not alive though. A rock is not alive, but it is not dead. Science has words for this distinction, which is fortunate. Biotic things are things that are or have been alive or exclusively part of a living system. So a stick is biotic, hair and blood is biotic, a koala is biotic. Abiotic things have never been alive, even if they have been part of a living system. So the sun is abiotic, water and air are abiotic, rocks are abiotic. Biotic things depend on abiotic things, water and air in particular, but abiotic things don’t depend, period. They just are.

The interesting thing about biotic and abiotic categorization is that all biotic things are made, ultimately, of atoms, which themselves are abiotic things. So if you took any biotic thing, like, for example, your grandmother, and took her apart atom by atom, you’d have a pile of tiny little things that are not themselves alive nor had ever been alive.

So, μέν, we cannot imagine death because life is defined by experience and death by the permanent cessation of it, yet, δέ, we are long practiced at being not alive, and in fact, are in some fundamental sense, not even currently alive. So much for being worried about being dead, that’s pretty much our permanent state of being!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m missing the point. The scariness of death is the part where we are having conscious experiences and then stop having them. If you believe in the basic materialistic appearance of the universe, in which matter and energy act according to certain laws which seem to prohibit the existence of supernatural phenomena such as migrating souls, extra dimensional resort villages, or fiery pits eternal despair, then you stop having them permanently.

I’m just saying, it’s been a fairly relaxed way to coast through the last 13.7 billion years, doesn’t seem like the worst option.

If you are not convinced the universe operates exactly as it seems to, and perhaps is a stage on which to audition for future lives, then you’re just off to some other kind of conscious experiences I guess, which seems pretty good. Kind of the whole sales pitch on those belief systems isn’t it? Eternal consciousness on various planes of existence? What is interesting is that the materialistic argument against this kind of supernatural reincarnation is an argument for the possibility of an actual reincarnation. So actually that forever above is qualified.

The argument, taking as a subject Eva, goes like this:

  1. Material reincarnation exists is someone can die and then later become alive again.
  2. Eva is alive if she is having conscious experiences.
  3. Eva dies when she stops having conscious experiences and her body then decays.
  4. Eva can die and then later become alive again.
  5. Eva is someone.
  6. Therefore material reincarnation exists.

Premise 4 of this argument rests on the belief that your consciousness is a product of your brain. The state that Eva’s brain is in causes it to experience the world in a way that Eva, and the rest of us, identify as consciousness. Eva remembers things, considers alternatives to reality, makes predictions based in prior experience, all sorts of neat things, and collectively those things constitute Eva’s consciousness. The state Eva’s brain is in changes over time, but Eva’s consciousness is a standard output during the duration of its life. If it is the case that Eva’s consciousness is the result of her brain’s structure then if she were to die, all that would have to happen for her to be reincarnated is that material in the universe would have to once again take on that structure. A materialist ought to agree that if Eva’s brain is producing Eva’s consciousness at t1 then, given that it has an identical structure, Eva’s brain will also be producing her consciousness at t2, even if there is another 13.7 billion years between t1 and t2.

So, the point is, we can never fully understand death, we are dead and always have been, and we will never die forever. Time for lunch.

 

Religion? What the hell is Religion?

IMG_1061

At 7:30 this morning I wrote the following:

Religion is a big deal to a lot of people. The majority of world leaders severely impacting the lives of their citizens invoke it as justification. The overtly Islamic governments the Middle East do so in restricting women’s rights, while the government of the United States, secular by law, founded by atheists and skeptics, but recently some kind of Christian in practice, invokes it in ripping small children away from their mothers and fathers. So, with women being stoned to death and little kids crying themselves to sleep, alone on a cot in an old Wal-Mart,  because of religion, we should probably try to figure out what the it is. 

Religion seems to be a particular set of beliefs. If you believe a, b, and c then you are a Catholic. If you believe b,c, and d, then you are a Protestant. If you believe c,d, and e you are Muslim, and so on. 

It is now 7:30 in the evening. 7:34 anyway, about 12 hours later. I spent today cleaning out the shed in my backyard, I actually started yesterday. I took everything out of it, swept and vacuumed, put aside a pile to garage sale next weekend, threw a ton of stuff away, and then put everything back in a way that is logical and maximizes the space well.

I took a break in the middle of it, went to Lowe’s with my wife and son. I got some perennials for the yard, a table saw, pretty excited about that, and a big tub to put all my camping gear. Not all of it, actually, it doesn’t hold the sleeping bags and whatnot. Instead I filled it with all the stuff I forget whenever I go camping. I just went camping, and forgot everything, so that what made me think of it. Actually, now that I’m thinking of it, it was my friend saying he was going to get a tub for all of his camping stuff that made me think of it. Thanks Adam. Anyway. Chairs, coffee maker, pan. I also put the tent in there, so that I don’t forget to bring the tub.  On the way home we stopped at a garage sale, a couple was moving to Honduras so they were selling everything they owned. We got a good sized picture frame, a pole saw and a weed whacker, both battery powered and we we got a couple batteries and couple chargers as well. My wife got a dress, then as we left they threw in a Stephen King book that I haven’t read in a long time, and a Dean Koonts book. I’ve never read Dean Koonts, he has kind of the same reputation as Stephen King though, so I imagine it might make for some decent laying in the hammock about to take a nap reading.

Anyway, we got home, and I got back to it. Listened to the Mariners game as a I swept and vacuumed and piled and sorted and reorganized. They lost, but that’s ok, it’s just baseball. I’m not even on the team.

This morning, before I started really getting into it, my wife made me an omelette and hasbrowns for breakfast. It’s Father’s Day after all, though she does often make breakfast regardless. I make breakfast when she does not. Omelettes are pretty hit and miss for me, but this one was a major hit. Everything about it, the texture and degree to which the ingredients coagulated with the egg, just beautiful. For lunch, nachos. A Thai restaurant made us dinner, which was nice of them, all we had to do was give them money. It was delicious. The coffee was bountiful all day long.

As we ate dinner my wife and I played a game of cribbage. Our son finished and put him in the bath. He has a little portable tub, so he took a bath right there in the kitchen while we kept playing our game. On the table was a board printed with several photos of my son and I, as well as a little handprint art project my son made for me at daycare. We haven’t finished the game yet, our son wanted to get out of the bath and go to bed. My wife is in with him right now, reading books. (He isn’t acting sleepy anymore, cheeky monkey. Not really though, the monkey part. He, like you and I, presumably, is an ape. It is evidenced by the fact he resembles a monkey in many ways, but lacks a tail. That’s pretty much how you tell. It’s an important distinction. We really are very similar to gorillas, orangutans, especially bonobos. It might be harder to drive them into extinction if we, the human subspecies, recognized that, and, perhaps, subsequently, more difficult to destroy the existence of every other species as well). I have a pretty good hand sitting on the table too.

Anyway, I had a great day. Spent time with my boy and my wife, ate good food, accomplished a fairly laborious task with an aesthetically and pragmatically satisfying result.

So then I came into finish this sermon. I missed it last week already, and if I ever invent a god to accompany this religion I don’t want it to get mad at me, so I figured I ought to bang it out. I read what I wrote.

Religion seems to be a particular set of beliefs. If you believe a, b, and c then you are a Catholic. If you believe b,c, and d, then you are a Protestant. If you believe c,d, and e you are Muslim, and so on. 

Fine. I mean, it means that. Words are defined by use, and that is the way the word is used. I could spin an argument showing it means this or that, but it’s getting late and I’m tired and frankly I don’t care that much right now. I had a good day, I just want to sit on the couch and end it in peace.

The relevant fact is that religion doesn’t have to mean which building you go once per week to everyone. I mentioned Jack D. Hughes defines it as  something like the sum of your actions, which I like. I like that definition a lot actually. For some, their religion is separating children from their parents, both of whom are fleeing possible death in their own countries, in order to prove a point about law and order or something. I didn’t save any lives today, didn’t even try. But I feel good about what I did, and so I will try to have more days like this. That, being productive while spending time with my own family, for the moment, is my religion.

Or was it the word ‘feckless’ that was the problem?

Here’s the deal, calling a person a cunt is rude, and it definitely isn’t fair to vaginas to insult people by calling them one. For so many reasons, it is not a progressive term to use. However, there is a substantial difference between referring to a two faced, lying, hypocritical, racism and misogyny enabling piece of shit Trump apologist as a cunt, where cunt is used in place of that long list of descriptions, and referring to a black person as the offspring of a Muslim group and a gorilla like creature. On the one hand, you used a rude term to describe a despicable person, on the other hand you dehumanize billions of human beings because of the color of their skin. The first is rude, the second is racist. Rude people can be irritating, but rudeness is often intwined with honesty and so rudeness can often serve an important purpose, whereas racist people are vile idiots who are destroying this country. Clear?

The real problem is that these false equivalencies our idiot president constantly leans on (that the people protesting the celebration of old morons who fought to the death to keep people enslaved, and the racist morons who killed one of those people, are of the same moral standing, for example) are catching. Nobody who actually thinks critically about them could possibly construct a meaningful argument justifying the claim, but who cares about critical thinking? That piece of shit in office says they’re the same, which means a significant percentage of the US population believes they are the same, and so the media, which exists primarily to make money and so cannot offend so large a share of the potential market for their advertisers, has to pretend that it might be. Same shit with climate change, the direct link between human suffering  and for-profit healthcare, the incredible success of the Obama presidency, the fact that our nonstop state of global warfare is tied directly to maintaining control of the global oil supply, the supplication of the civilians in the United States through alcohol and sports, and so on and so on.

The supposed objectivity of the media is a facade hiding the fact that journalism is completely subjective to the amount of money the owners of media companies can make. The news tells both sides of every story, because what matters is not truth, but being able to advertise to as great a number of people as possible. There are exceptions, Fox news picked a market, to a lesser extent so has CNN, but in the vast majority of newspapers, evening and morning news programs, radio shows, etceteras, you will never find a duck being referred to as a duck, if there is even the slightest argument that it might be a flamingo.

The media provides idiocy a voice, in order to protect their bottom line, but the fact is that idiocy is contagious. A huge percentage of people are highly susceptible to arguments from authority, and the people on television are the authorities to most of those same people.

The media is never going to be truly objective because that word barely means anything. Every viewpoint, every belief, every claim to knowledge, is subject to outside forces. The media is meant to be driven by investigative journalism, so it ought to be subjective to the goddamn evidence.

But we all have silly dreams of unicorns, no reason to every expect them to come true I guess.

And Then There Was Cucumber

In the beginning there was nothing but nothing shivered and there became something. That something was about the size of a tennis ball. This tennis ball contained within it all that would ever be, the sum of all matter in the universe, the material of which we are made, and the time it would take to make us. Every sun, every planet, every idea, wrapped up in a little ball.

And the pressure was incredible. It seethed and frothed and exploded. No, this was not an act of destruction, it expanded. 

And it created distance as it spread, begetting tens of millions of miles of space, billions, hundreds of billions. Action itself emerged from this expansion, and, as a consequence, time.

And the energy expressed in this massive and sudden expansion manipulated material into being through heat and pressure. Hydrogen emerged, alone until begetting helium, then nitrogen, and the oxygen, and then carbon.

And from the gaseous dust a more massive amalgamation of this new existence coalesced and sunk a little deeper in the emerging fabric of the expansion, and by doing so did attract more material, and so sank a little deeper, and so attracted more material, and so grew.

And great swirling masses of gas and dust grew, and in these great swirling masses the gases ignited and they became great flaming balls of light and heat while simultaneously inventing them both. These beacons weighed heavily upon the fabric of the expansion and so the dust of the material created by the expansion and by the stars fell into the depressions the stars created, and they this dust spun around the stars in nearly perpetual orbit. As the dust connect they made their own depressions, and more dust fell in, until these balls of dust became the size of planets.

And on at least one planet, dancing its circle around a sun surrounded by billions of other suns, the dust upon this planet performed a trick. It replicated itself. And the progeny of the progeny divided and divided. The single celled organism became plural and so the beasts and plants did grow upon the Earth. The light from the sun did strike the developing bodies, and changed them in ways large and small. And those random mutations that did result in superior abilities to survive and procreate did drive the life upon the planet, the grass, and the buffalo, and the grape, and the algae, and the spiders, and the escherichia coli, and the rabbits, and the iguana, and the cucumber, to a state of abundant diversity.

 

 

“Columbus and Other Cannibals” by Jack D. Forbes

The deal with doughnuts is this: the doughnut was invented by removing the center of an existing pastry. That thing that is removed resembles a nut, like an almond or a walnut. A hole is left by removing this nut. Yet, for some reason, we refer to the nut of dough as the doughnut hole, and the hole left by the nut as the dough nut.

Anyway. Here’s a thought, Jack D. Forbes’ thought specifically, “the willingness to destroy human beings lives indicates a mental disorder”.

You might be thinking, “Jack D. Forbes, whoever he is, isn’t the first person to have that thought.” You are correct, but Forbes has done an excellent job demonstrating that this thought is true even if that willingness is shared by a nation’s worth of people. It is true even if that willingness stems from the desire to expand a country’s borders. It is true even if it leads to the establishment of new cultures. Those people that are willing to destroy the lives of others have a mental disorder, and that disorder is a kind of cannibalism Forbes refers to as Weitko.

Your first thought, Forbes anticipates, will be that this is meant metaphorically. Not so. A cannibal is someone who will consume a person’s life to benefit themselves with no consideration of the person he is consuming. This definition of a cannibal is a literal description of Christopher Colombus. He consumed the lives of the people who lived on the islands he stumbled across, and not in the sense of having forced those lives into slavery or in some other ways stripped them of their autonomy, though he did that too, but in the sense that he murdered people.

The colonialists that followed, in North America, South America, Africa, islands across the oceans, consumed the lives of the people they found as well. Colonialists justified incredible violence and savagery, the raping and murdering men, women, and children as they removed the survivors from the homes they had occupied for thousands of years, through the position that their, the colonialists’, race and culture was more deserving of the land on the basis of being more civilized. If you don’t agree to the diagnosis of cannibalism, it is hard to argue there isn’t something schizophrenic about this kind of thinking.

So clearly stated, it’s hard to see why this isn’t an obvious belief in our society. The people that fought for the continuation of slavery were insane. The members of the Klu Klux Klan are insane. So, the people who landed on a distant shore and then murdered everyone they could find must be just as insane.

Mind you, I don’t mean “insane” in the same way commentators describe a mass murderer, so long as that mass murderer is white and christian, as “mentally disturbed”. I, and I can’t imagine Forbes either, do not offer this as an excuse for their behavior, but as an appropriate way to describe the mindset of the people who founded the countries of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, etc. etc. etc. through the means of destroying the lives and societies of the people who already lived there. If you don’t believe it, consider it happening to you. Here, I’ll help.

You come home after a hard day’s work and notice your front door is open. Your heart rate increasing, you step inside.

“Hello?” you call.

A man steps out from the hallway.

“This is my house now. I’ll give you this blanket in exchange for it.”

You call the police, but the police are on the man’s side. Still, you refuse. So he kills you. The neighbor is killed as well, by a different man with the same offer, they’re everywhere. Nothing is being done about it. The word travels, and people start taking the blankets. Some people try to fight back, they and their families are overwhelmed by firepower. As an act of consolation these men tell you there is an abandoned parking lot outside of town, you and everyone in your neighborhood can go live there.

It’s a good book, well written and concise. Beyond laying out the obvious insanity of imperialism he states other things I’d never thought of as though they are obvious, and they are. He refers to Native Americans, North, South, and Central, as Americans. He states that religion has nothing to do with prayer or your beliefs of the afterlife, your religion is what you do. If you do everything you can to accumulate money, that’s your religion. If you sit around and play video games all day, that’s your religion. The building you go to for an hour per week is irrelevant compared to the actions you take throughout your days.

Lives are still being destroyed by colonial forces, by sweatshops and slave labor, by the decimation of homelands, by the banishment of certain languages and cultures, by mass murder and genocide and nonstop never ending world wide warfare. This computer I sit in front of only exists through the subjugation of African and Asian individuals and societies, I am complicit in this disease. To not be would be to reject all modern technology, all modern political and social institutions, to retreat from society altogether, that is the degree of malignancy enjoyed by this disease, so deeply ingrained in our society through generations upon generations of years of normalization. People beat cancer, and sometimes they only do so after the cancer gets so bad they can’t ignore it anymore. They finally go get the diagnosis, they suffer through harsh treatments, they come to the brink of death, and then, through determination and hard work and a little bit of luck, they start to heal.

This society needs to actually acknowledge its past, and recognize that we destroyed countless cultures each thousands of years old in the process of creating it. There needs to be compensation, and not just in terms of returned wealth, but in the acknowledgement of genocides and near genocides and a commitment to bringing back the means and resources necessary to support those cultures that have hung on despite every attempt at eradication. When do we want it? Now! When will it happen?

 

“The Sermon on the Mount” by Me (and Jesus)

So I was driving around the other day, just letting the old noggin wander, and I had the thought, “The Sermon on the Mount was good though.”

Then, from a different corner, a voice called out, “How do you know?”

And I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s right. I’ve never read it.”

I tried to read the bible once or twice, but it never stuck. You know how some books are like that? You pick ’em up, put ’em down, then just don’t pick it up again? That’s been my experience with the bible. However, in college, for no reason at all, I mastered in classical Greek. It’s not the same language as the original New Testament, but it’s pretty close. So, I figured, I’d translate the Sermon on the Mount, and if it was good as Kurt Vonnegut (and probably some other people) say it is, I’ll try the rest of the book out again.

The fact is, my Greek is bad. It’s been a while since college, and a couple years at it really doesn’t amount to much. Armed with my grammar books and dictionaries, it’s my best effort, but there are definitely mistakes. I’ve only just begun, but here’s what I got so far:

And behold, before the crown he climbed onto the mount. The sojourners of him, his students, were sitting there. He opened his mouth and they were taught by his words.

Happy are the poor, it is of them that is the kingdom of the sky. Happy are the mourning, for they will be encouraged. Happy are the considerate, for they are the heirs of the world. Happy are those cut in two by thirst and hunger for they will be satisfied. Happy are the sympathetic, for they are the free. Happy are the pure of heart, for they are the ones seeing God. The peacemakers are happy, as they will be summoned by the son of God. The justifiably angry, the ones who have been prosecuted, it is of them that is the kingdom of God. Happy are those who are insulted and persecuted and ordered around by the evil liars, because of me. Rejoice and be overjoyed, for the reward for having been persecuted in this way is in the sky, as it was for the prophets before you. 

You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt is proven stupid, who will be called? You are never strong unless you throw out the ones trampling upon the people. You are the light of the universe. A city is not strong lying hidden on top of a mountain and neither are they who release the light of a lamp little by little, instead of putting it on top of a lamp stand to shine everywhere in the house. Whoever of the people who have received our light and see our good works will believe our father is in the sky. 

You may believe that my coming will destroy the rule, or the prophets, but my coming will not destroy, but complete. 

For truly I tell you, if you are the receive the sky and the earth be a serif of an iota. You will certainly not receive it through legal means, unless you become in every way like this. Thus, when you have loosed the smallest of your chains by these commands, and instructed others to do the same, in this way the smallest will be called into the sky. It is the ones who make this happen and teach this greatness that will be called into the kingdom of the sky. 

I say to you, the best of you, the just ice of the registers are full of Pharisees* and they will certainly not be carried into the kingdom of the sky. 

You all heard that I said to the old ones, Do Not Murder. 

Cliffhanger! Some very interesting things going on here. That is a solid list of people going into the kingdom of the sky, which I take to be a good thing. I like that he doesn’t phrase everything in that regard however, instead mentioning that the mourning are happy because they will feel better, and that the hungry will be happy because they will eat. I believe it was meant literally, but it could be understood as a comment on the fact that without pain and toil, happiness and satisfaction would be less significant. That “You are the light of the universe” line is pretty amazing, seems like it should be right after the first bit though.

It isn’t enough to be strong, you need to be apparent about it. As a general rule that seems false, but if the intent here is to spread a particular message it makes sense. It isn’t enough to believe in a message strongly, you have to act on that message. Then those who see those actions will come to the same beliefs regarding that message.

The serif of the iotas receiving the earth seems like mixed messaging though. I guess it could refer to the idea that the powerful folks at the top are not the ones who will be changing the world, but the laborers and workers, and in those times slaves and serfs, who will hold the power. If they use that power, in addition to making the world a better place, they get into the kingdom in the sky.

Pharisees, (and I wouldn’t bet a paycheck on this definition or anything), were Jewish folk who believed themselves to be the holiest. Seems pretty specific, it isn’t those who are most concerned with faith that get into the kingdom in the sky, but those who act to bring about positive change. Faith isn’t irrelevant, but Jesus hasn’t said anything about needing it to get into heaven, instead he seems to be arguing that by bringing about good in the world people, in addition to being admitted into the kingdom, will come to believe in God.

“You all heard that I said to the old ones, Do Not Murder” definitely seems like it has a ‘but’ coming! We’ll have to see…

Oh, donuts. We’ll talk about that soon, I promise.

A Startling Revelation

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I was in deep meditation, not suppressing or rejecting thoughts, just acknowledging them and letting them go. One thought, however, broke me from my pleasant calm and besieged me to follow it.

When I had picked up my son from his daycare a few hours earlier he had been eating a cakepop, prompting me to ask him, “Do you have a cakepop?”

I can’t tell you why parents do that, ask their small children to state obviousness, but we all do.

Joan said to me, “How do you know what a cakepop is?”

And I said, “What else could it be? It’s a cake on a pop.”

She shrugged, I collected my son, and we left. Hours later, after the scene had replayed in my head and ended my meditation, I told my wife about it. She laughed, because she’s nice, but didn’t catch anything odd about it either.

I said, “I said, ‘It’s a cake on a pop’!” and mimed the stick that the cake would be sitting on. She continued to look at me like I wasn’t the brightest deck of cards in the toolshed.

“I called the stick a pop, but since when has it even been called that? When has anyone referred to the stick of a lollypop as ‘the pop’?”

“Oh,” she said, “I don’t know. That’s strange. So the stick that food is on is called a pop?”

“Well what else is there?” I responded.

“Popsicle.” we said simultaneously.

Then, it dawned on me, the purpose of this revelation.

“That means that the stick of a popsicle is called a pop, but we, all of us, corporations and individuals alike, call a pop, a popsicle stick. We’ve made it longer, and redundant. Why?”

“It’s like ATM machine!” my wife pointed out.

The superfluous syllables ‘-sickle stick’ will not destroy irreplaceable seconds in my life ever again. Let this egregious linguistic oversight be a lesson to us all. Next week, the ontological reversal of the donut and and its hole.