Is That All There Is?


The human mind is built on expectation.  We may fail at various times in our lives, and we may succeed in others, but we never let these moments get us too high or too low, because we know that the Sun’ll come out tomorrow.  There’s always hope, there’s always something more to life, and there’s always some extraneous force that put us in our current perdicamant.  We live in a perpetual state of looking around the corner for the next event that will fulfill all of our expectations.  We look forward to the weekend, to vacations, to moving, to promotions, retirement, and the afterlife.  We are eager beings who believe that tomorrow will be a better day than today.

In this quest for a greater tomorrow, say songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, we are frequently disappointed.  The song, written in November 1969, is called Is That All There Is?  The song’s lyrics detail the nature of expectations and the disappointments of life that began in childhood.  It talks about the circus, and how we believed that the moment that circus began, we would experience the greatest moment of our life.  We were so expectant that we could barely contain ourselves when the first clown made an appearance.  We would laugh wildly at everything the clown did, even though they weren’t really funny.  If they did the same thing without makeup, would we even smile?  We did laugh, however, and our laugh was borne of expectation.  When we saw the magnificence of elephants walking around, yards away from us, our little faces just beamed with awe, but they usually didn’t do anything that met our expectations.  They would walk around in circles, and they would even do a few tricks, but we were in awe with images of the beasts that  were built on the extent of their capabilities.  We saw a beautiful lady in pink tights flying high above our heads, and we cringed with the expectation that she might fall, and then she didn’t, and then it was over, and we walked out of the auditorium disappointed that our incredibly high expectations weren’t met.  We couldn’t help but think that we missed something.  Is that what everyone was talking about?  “Is that all there is to a circus?”

Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

PJ Harvey

Sung by Peggy Lee (then PJ Harvey) Is That All there Is? moves to more depressing matters as the song progresses.  It talks about how even the most horrific moments in life, such as a fire, can be a little disappointing when one is all hyped up about its horror.  When the afterlife is discussed, the lyrics detail that how they don’t want to die fearing that final disappointment.  The theme of the song, as evidenced by the above refrain, is that if that’s all there is to life, let’s live life to the fullest.  Let’s break out the booze and keep dancing if all these overhyped joys and horrors turn out to disillusion us in reference to what are supposed to be life’s greatest joys and horrors.

When we talk about the power of America in the world today, we talk about how she has the ability to shape the world in its status as the world’s lone superpower.  When we talk about the technological advances she has made in her 200+ years of existence, we talk about it being the lone beacon in the world for individual achievement.  Even after acknowledging this ingenuity and creativity, we are still vulnerable to insecurities that lead us to believe that there is something bigger, brighter and more powerful out there just waiting to expose us as frauds.  We don’t know what that is, but we know that we meager humans can’t be all there is in the world.

We fear China for this very reason.  While few would say we have nothing to fear from China, our unexplainable fear of them is borne of expectation.  They’re the unknown.  They number into the billions, they speak a funny language, and they’re a very industrious people.  In our greatest fears, we portray them as almost machine-like.  They have less regard for human life and human suffering than we do.  They pay their workers peanuts, and they rip off our creativity and ingenuity, but does all of this equate to superiority?  If we were to construct a line-by-line comparison, we might find that they are not superior.  They have their areas, of course, but on the whole?  How about in the future?  Ah, there’s the rub Skippy!  The future is the unknown quality.  The Chinese may be more organized, they may be better at math and engineering, and they may be so disciplined that they can they march in lockstep?  But, are they superior?  We don’t know, and the insecurities are killing us.

We fear aliens from outer space for these same reasons.  Aliens are superior to us.  They have technological advances we haven’t even dreamed of yet.  Some have claimed that their culture may be thousands of years older than ours, so they must be thousands of years more advanced than we are.  Some have even claimed that what comparatively little technological advancements we have made are based on what we’ve learned from various alien visitations.   There is one small problem with all of these assertions: they may not exist.  They may not exist, but if they do they’re superior to us.  At least with the Chinese, we have tangible evidence for our fears, but the fear of aliens from outer space is a manifestation of our insecure belief that we’re limited by human constraints, and we can’t compete with them, and their superior intellect and machine-like abilities.  The fact that we engage in these hypothetical fears is all is built on the expectation that this can’t be all there is.

Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

What would we do if we learned of an alien visitation from an individual who claimed the aliens that visited him were not as superior as we were led to believe?  What if he said, “They may have been exceptions in the species, but I think I just got visited by a couple of alien hicks.  When they stepped out of their incredibly advanced flying saucer, they were drinking and belching, and the way they spoke made me think they were swearing.  I can’t be sure, but I swear they were drunk.  Then, when they violated me, I think they were laughing while they did it!”  Would we believe this person, or would their story violate our expectations of their superiority so much that this would be the lone alien visitation story that we didn’t believe?  How convincing would this the poor person have to be to override our need to believe that there is something spectacular out there that we have yet to experience?

Alien visitation stories also feed into fears of our ultimate destruction.  The subject of the visitation usually relays information from the overlord, alien visitors that suggest that our reliance on war and technology will have an ultimate price if we don’t stop now.   Most aliens appear to be anti-corporate peaceniks.  Due to the fact that aliens are superior, we know that they’ve seen the horrors technology can have on a society, so we could do a lot to stave off our Armageddon if we’d just put our iPods away and go back to our primitive nature.  The advice the aliens give us tend to follow the subject of the visitation’s political philosophy, and it’s usually advice that is as simplistic as the subject appears to be.  “When ordering from a fast food menu, lay off the Biggee portions it’s not good for you,” the wizened alien says in his alien tongue that has been translated to English by the subject.  “Stop driving SUVs, and lay off the cigarettes.  Doobies are fine, but those cigarettes are killing you Tony.”

If rational people are going to accept that we’re not the only life forms in the universe, they must accept the possibility that there are superior life forms out there.  But they must also accept the possibility that there are inferior life forms out there, and if we have been visited by these life forms, we should’ve been visited by some them too.  Some alien visitation “experts” would counter that the aliens we encounter are basically their astronauts—their best and brightest—so we probably won’t ever see the hicks of their species.  That would bring us back to square one if we didn’t witness their technology and believe that theirs is thousands of years more advanced than ours.  Most people who indulge in alien folklore don’t even question alien superiority or inferiority.  For these people, the evidence is in, and their fundamental belief system is based on ALF superiority.  This is based on their frustrations with life on Earth.  This is based on the fact that they don’t make a whole of money in a job that they hate, their family hates them, and they don’t have a lot of friends.  They need something to believe in, and believing in a God just isn’t cutting it for them anymore.  They need something bigger, better and brighter than the stuff their stupid parents believed in.

Some people fear UFO people, some fear the Chinese, some believe in God, some believe in Wiccan style control of their destiny, and others believe that with the correct federal government legislation on the books they can avoid total failure.  Most of us have some belief in a controlling authority that controls our fate, our daily lives, and our failures and successes, and psychologists say that this is actually quite healthy.  It gives us some distance from our failures, and it gives those that have had their expectations damaged throughout their lives some hope that things will get better, or if they don’t they have someone, or something to blame.  For if this was all that there is, as the song says, we might as well break out the booze, and get loaded, and dance to hopefully forget the fact that this is all there is, and we’re not entertained by it.

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Would You Eat Someone Somebody Cared About?


Would you eat something someone cared about? Would you eat something someone whispered to sweetly?

On an episode of the brilliant, hidden camera show on TruTV called Impractical Jokers, the comedian Salvatore (Sal) Vulcano assumed the role of a worker at the counter of a bakery. In the course of his duties at the bakery, in an episode, titled “Who Arted?”, Sal spoke to one of the pastries a customer ordered before placing it in that customer’s take home pastry box. The implied joke, in this transaction, was that Sal developed a familiar bond with these pastries that went beyond the usual, professional association a baker has with his creations.

“I’m going to give you to this lady now, and she’s going to eat you,” he whispered to the pastry. In response to the confection’s purported plea, Sal Vulcano added: “I’m sorry, this is just the way things are.”

In reaction to this display, the customer on the other side of the counter, decided that she did not want that particular pastry. She didn’t reveal anything about her decision making process, but it was obvious that she was uncomfortable with the idea of eating that particular pastry. Without saying a word, Sal selected another pastry, and he proceeded to speak to that one too. The woman interrupted him saying:

“I don’t want one that you’ve spoken to.”

At the conclusion of the segment, all four comedians provided comment on the segment, and they admitted that they wouldn’t eat food that someone has spoken to either. Why, was my first question. I have no idea why, all things being similar, a person would prefer a pastry that hasn’t been involved in communication. We can only speculate why, because the show did not interview the woman after the segment, or if they did they did not air it, and the four comedians don’t say why they would reject the pastry either. My guess is that the four comedians wanted to let this woman off the hook. 

freee-range-turkeyIn this space of philosophical confusion, I put the question to a friend. He said that his decision would be based on what the person said to the pastry.

“Okay, but what communication would you deem so unacceptable you wouldn’t eat it? It’s not something we see every day, I’ll grant you that. It might be weird, a little creepy, and I may join you in giving the man an odd look when he does it, but I would then sit and eat it without any uncomfortable feelings or guilt.”

The obvious answer is that Sal’s presentation animated the pastries in a manner that this customer found disconcerting. In her world, presumably, it had always been socially acceptable to eat pastries, and she wanted to return that world. She didn’t want the guilt associated with eating a product that had a friend, or that someone cared about, or at the very least she didn’t want to watch their interaction, or in any other way know about it. She was so uneasy with the association that she made a boldfaced demand that Sal give her another pastry, one that hasn’t been spoken to in any manner, and she did this without acknowledging the lunacy of such a demand.

Proper analysis of the segment is almost impossible, since we don’t know what was going on in this customer’s head, but it appears to be an excellent portrayal, albeit incidental, of an individual who over thinks matters. She appears to be an individual who cares about what others think of her. She appears to be the type who makes informed, compassionate decisions about her dietary preferences. When she watches documentaries on food preparation, we can guess that they affect her dietary choices

An author wrote a book that awarded “light counts” to each being. In this book, the author suggested that some animals are more aware of their existence than another, and that that awareness could be said to be a non-religious soul. Humans, he wrote, are the barometer, as they are the most aware of their existence. In the next tier of his “consciousness cone” he lists the dog, the cat, and various other animals that he considers more aware of their existence. The human is at the top, and the atom is at the bottom. The purpose of his piece, the reader soon learns, is to inform the reader what the author considers acceptable to eat. A plant-based diet is entirely acceptable, for instance, to eat plants, vegetables, and fruit, because they have very few light counts, and little to no soul.

Some have suggested that talking to cats and dogs animates them in a manner that improves their life. Others have suggested that talking to plants can improve their condition. Does this affect the way we care for them, is it all a myth, or are we, in essence, transferring some of our light count to them? What if a human decides to transfer some of their light count to a piece of pastry? Is that possible? Is it possible that this woman believes this on some tangential level, and she prefers to eat a pastry with no light counts attached to them?  

If this woman knows about this multi-tiered philosophy, or thinks about it anyway, we can presume that prior to her interaction with Sal, she was always comfortable eating pastries, because she assumed they had no cognition or awareness of their own being. She is a woman who makes informed dietary choices based on similar compassionate bullet points. Thus, when Sal assigned the pastries such characteristics, it made her so uncomfortable that she asked him to give her one without communicating with it.   

Who would eat something that someone cares so much about? A cad would. Someone who doesn’t care about a person, place, or thing would. They might even worry that doing so could reflect poorly on them if they eat the pastry without a second thought. You’re saying you would eat such a thing without guilt? What kind of person are you? How do we sell ourselves to our peers in the aftermath?

Would we eat a small child’s beloved dog? Most would say no, to quote Pulp Fiction’s Jules Winnfield, “A dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way.” If we agree with that sentiment, what are our parameters? Would we have any problems eating a small child’s beloved turkey? What if we met that turkey, and that turkey displayed some personality? What if that turkey displayed a little spunk that we couldn’t help but appreciate? What if that turkey befriended another turkey in a manner we found it endearing? What if the bird displayed an act of kindness that left an impression on us? What if it allowed us to fondle its wattle? What if that turkey had a name? How could anyone we eat a living being with a name? What kind of people are we? Would we rather eat a turkey that we’ve never met, that some individual in a factory farm slaughtered and packaged for us? We are informed, compassionate beings who don’t want to see anyone, any animal, or anything suffer, and when an individual does something that suggests they’ve bonded with something we plan on eating, do we consider how much pain that food might go through when we gnash it with our teeth, do we want to avoid thinking about that, and does it challenge what we think we know about light counts, the soul, and overall cognition. 

The different between a quality baker and a top-notch one is the care they put into it. Some top-notch state that they put love into the confections they create. They care about their creations in the manner any other artist might. Sal’s joke might have been a spoof on the love and care some bakers put into their creations, and he did not expect the reaction this woman gave. 

Once that reaction was out there, however, I wouldve been obsessed with drilling down to the woman’s philosophy behind rejecting the pastries to which Sal spoke. I would ask her if Sal redefined her philosophical stance on eating pastries in all the ways described above. If she said yes in any way, I would ask her why she considered another pastry acceptable. If he redefined it for her, wouldn’t that definition apply to all pastries? If she said no to this preposterous notion, I would ask her if she thought Sal transferred some of his soul, some of his light count to the particular pastry that she rejected. What’s the difference? Where is the line? It’s a pastry you say, and a pastry does not have the recognition of its own life in the manner a turkey does. 

If a person has difficulty eating a pastry that someone spoke to lovingly, they may be a little too obsessed with their presentation. They may be as susceptible to commercialization and suggestion as those people they claim to hate. They may take the line, you are what you eat, a little too literally. They may consult websites that contain modern intellectuals who detail who we are by what we eat. They might refrain from eating a pasty, because of what it says about them if they do. They might be so afraid of what is says about them that they cannot sleep at night after taking a bite out of something that Sal appeared to love. Do they think too much, do they have too much time on your hands, and are they a result of the problem or part of it. If this woman was a spectator of the joke, as opposed to the subject of it, would she think less of the person who could eat such a confection without guilt?

How do we make our decisions on what not to eat? Does a vegetarian, or a vegan, make their dietary choices based entirely on a love of animals? Some of the vegetarians and vegans I’ve encountered initially say something along the lines of, “I don’t care for the texture of meat.” Or, they tell a story regarding the moment they made their decision and how they experienced a moment that shaped that decision in some way. Some others will detail for us the health related benefits they’ve explored. All but the very few will openly address anything political about their decision, and even fewer will state that they did it to achieve some level of cultural superiority by becoming a vegetarian or vegan. The minute we deign to put a piece of meat before our mouth, we will learn about their politics on the issue. We will also learn of their feelings of superiority over meat eaters before we learn their last name. If neither of these are the case, or if my experiences could be called anecdotal, why would a seemingly reasonable woman reject a pastry based solely on the fact that a Sal whispered sweet nothings to it before placing it in a pastry box?

If Sal had a Snickers bar perform the Can Can to animate that candy bar in a realistic, non-comedic manner would that woman, a vegan, or a vegetarian, be able to then eat that Snickers bar without regret or guilt? I realize that Snickers bars and pastries are relatively inanimate, but with proper, serious characterization would it be possible to animate them in such a fashion that a person, with susceptibilities to messaging, could be made to feel guilty about eating them? If that was successful, could an enterprising young documentarian launch a well-funded campaign, steeped in political pressure, to lead a segment of the population into avoiding eating Snickers candy bars based on videos about the inhumane manufacturing process involved in the creation and packaging of Snickers bars? With the proper documentarian displaying the inhumane process through which the peanuts and caramel are adjoined with the nougat in a final process that involves what could be called a suffocation technique employed by the layer of chocolate placed over the top, would it be possible to substantiate this cause to a point where a person would not only stop eating Snickers but denigrate those that do and anyone who supports Big Candy to be in line with evil? It’s not only possible, in my humble opinion, the seeds of it were on display in the inadvertent brilliance of this comic sketch on this episode of Impractical Jokers.