To worry, or too worried?

Nestled within the quest to be free and to experience life through the portal of YOLO (You Only Live Once), or FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), lies a fear, concern, and worry that we might be too free.  Born, if the thesis of Francis O’Gorman’s book, from a need to be led.

It may seem illogical to make an argument that we’re too free, in lieu of the technological, and governmental, advances have led us to believe every move we make, and every thought we have is monitored, infringed upon, and legislated against.  Francis O’Gorman Worrying: a Literary and Cultural History is not a study of freedom, but one of the common man worrying about how the people, places, and things around us that are affected by the freedom.  Mr. O’Gorman makes this proclamation, in part, by studying the literature of the day, and the themes of that literature.  He also marks this with the appearance, and eventual proliferation of self-help guides to suggest that this greater sense of concern, or worry, led to readers, of another era, rewarding writers that provided them more intimate, more direct answers.  This study leads Mr. O’Gorman to the conclusion that this general sense of worry is a relatively new phenomenon, as compared to even our recent ancestral history.

yes_me_worryOne fascinating concept Mr. O’Gorman introduces to this idea is that the general sense of worry appears to have a direct relation to the secularization of a culture.  As we move further and further away from the religious philosophies to a more individualistic one, we may feel freer to do what we want to do, but we are also more worried about the susceptibility we have to the consequences of unchecked, mortal decision making. We humans have an almost inherent need to be led.

How often does a secular person replace religion with politics?  Politics, at its core, is leadership, and in our dining room table discussions of politics, most of our discussions revolve around why one person is capable of leading our locale, our state, and our nation.  It involves why one person’s idea of leadership may be inept, while another –that abides by our principles– is more capable. As much as those adults that believe themselves fully capable of living without leadership would hate to admit it, all political thought revolves around the desire to be led.

Reading through the various histories of man, we have learned that our ancestors had more of a guiding principle, as provided by The Bible.  The general theory, among those that preach the tenets of The Bible is that man’s mental stability, and happiness, can be defined in direct correlation to his desire to suborn his will to God’s wishes.  God gave us free will, they will further, but in doing so He also gave us guiding principles that would lead us to a path of righteousness and ultimate happiness.

If a man has a poor harvest –an agrarian analogy most preachers use to describe the whole of a man’s life– it is a commentary on how this man lived.  The solution they provide is that the man needs to clean up his act and live in a Godlier manner.  At this point in the description, the typical secular characterization of the devoutly religious comes to the fore, and their agreed upon truth has it that that these people are unhappier because they are unwilling to try new things, and puritanical in a sense that leads them to be less free.  The modern, more secularized man, as defined by the inverse characterization, has escaped such moral trappings, and he is freer, happier, and more willing to accept new ideas and try new things.  If the latter is the case, why are they so worried?

We’ve all heard snide secularists say that they wish they could set aside their mind and just believe in organized religion, or as they say a man in the sky.  It would be much easier, they say, to simply set their intelligence aside and believe.  What they’re also saying, if Mr. O’Gorman’s thesis can be applied to them, is that it would give them some solace to believe that everything was in God’s hands, so that they wouldn’t have to worry all the time.

Like the child that rebels against authority, but craves the guidance that authority provides, the modern, enlightened man appears to reject the idea of an ultimate authority while secretly craving many of its tenets at the same time.  A part of them, like the child, craves the condemnation of immorality, a reason to live morally, and for some greater focus in general.  The randomness of the universe appears to be their concern.

One other cause for concern –that is not discussed in Mr. O’Gorman’s book– is that the modern man may have less to worry about.   If social commentators are to be believed, Americans have never been more prosperous:

“(The) poorest fifth of Americans are now 17 percent richer than they were in 1967,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau

They also suggest that the statistics on crime are down, and teenage pregnancy, and drinking and experimental drug use by young people are all down.  If that’s the case, then we have less to worry about than we did even fifteen years ago.  It’s a concern.  It’s a concern in the same manner that a parent is most concerned when a child is at its quietest.  It’s the darkness before the storm.

Francis O’Gorman writes that the advent of this general sense worry occurred in the wake of World War I.  Historians may give these worriers some points for being prescient about the largely intangible turmoil that occurred in the world after the Great War, but World War I ended in 1918 and World War II didn’t begin until 1939, a gap of twenty-one years of people worrying about the silence and calm that precedes a storm.  This may have propelled future generations into a greater sense of worry, after listening to their parents’ concerns over a generation, only to have them proved right.

The idea that we worry about too much freedom, as in freedom from the guidelines and borders that religion, or God, can provide, can be accomplished without consequences, writes The New Republic writer, Josephine Livingstone in her review of Francis O’Gorman’s book:

“The political concept of freedom gets inside our heads.  It is a social principle, but it structures our interiority.  This liberty worries us; it extends to the realm of culture too, touching the arts as much as it touches the individual human heart and mind.

“In this way, O’Gorman joins the tide of humanities scholars linking their discipline with the history of emotion, sensory experience, and illness. It’s an approach to culture most interested in human interiority and the heuristics that govern the interpretation of experience: Happiness can be studied; sound can be thought through; feeling can be data.”

Ms. Livingstone furthers her contention by writing that the human mind can achieve worry-free independence, in a secular society, by studying select stories, from select authors:

“Worrying also fits into the tradition of breaking down myths and tropes into discrete units, a bit like Mircea Eliade’s Myth and Reality or C. S. Lewis’ Studies in Words. We care about these books because we need stories about the cultural past so that we might have a sense of ourselves in time. The real value of O’Gorman’s book lies, I think, in the way it flags the politics of the stories we tell ourselves. In its attribution of emotional drives to the ideas behind modernist culture and neoliberal politics alike, Worrying shows that their architects –writers, mostly– are as much victims of emotion as masters of thought. If we can see the emotional impulses behind our definitions of rationality, liberty, and literary craftsmanship, we can understand our own moment in cultural time more accurately and more fairly: Perhaps we can become our own gods, after all.”

One contradiction –not covered in the O’Gorman book, or the Livingstone review– is the trope that religious people are miserable in their constraints.  This is ostensibly based on the premise that they fear the wrath of God so much that they’re afraid to live the life that the secular man does.  Yet, O’Gorman infers that religious people tend to worry less, because they follow the guidelines laid out in The Bible, and they place their destiny, and fate, in the hands of God.  The import of this is that for religious minds, the universe is less random.  Ms. Livingstone’s review basically says that the secular life doesn’t have to be so random, and it doesn’t have to cause such concern.  She basically states that if we study happiness as if it were an algorithm of either physical or aural data points, and incrementally form our thoughts around these findings we can achieve happiness.  She also states that through reading literature we can discover our own master plan, through their mastery of emotions through thoughts and ideas.  On the latter point, I would stress the point –in a manner Ms. Livingstone doesn’t– that if you want to lead a secular life, there are the ways to do so and still be worry free.  The key words being if you want to.  If you’re on the fence, however, a religious person could argue that all of the characteristics Ms. Livingstone uses to describe the virtues of the stories and the authors she considers masters of thought, could also be applied to the stories, and writers of The Bible, and the many other religious books.  If her goal, in other words, is to preach to her choir, she makes an interesting, if somewhat flawed case.  (I’m not sure how a living, breathing human being, could study a data sheet on happiness and achieve the complicated and relative emotion.)  If her goal, on the other hand, is to persuade a fence sitter that secularism is the method to becoming your own god, this reader doesn’t think she made a persuasive case.

A Review of Lost at Sea

Journalists are not your friend

Let me start off by saying, I am not a fan of the music of rap duo Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, otherwise known as Insane Clown Posse (ICP), and other than the occasional, “This is the type of music they play … ” cuts I’ve heard in news clips, I’ve never listened to them.  I have no alliance to them, in other words, but I harbor no ill will for them either.  I know that they exist in the universe, they make music, they wear makeup, and their rap songs are violent.  Other than that, I don’t care about the theme of their material, I don’t care that they “outed” themselves as evangelical spiritualists,  and I don’t care that their fans (Juggalos and Juggalettes) stated that “They felt deeply betrayed and outraged” by the revelation of the rap duo’s spiritual nature.  I am not overtly religious, but I do not condemn organized religion in the manner I once did … in my youth.  I also don’t have any particular allegiance to fellow writer, Jon Ronson, either.  I say this to let you know that I do not have a dog in this fight.  I don’t have an ideological stake in one side appearing better at the end of this article, and I don’t see my side being represented by either party involved in this interview.

ICP-604x471What bothers me most about Mr. Jon Ronson’s interview of the ICP, presented in the form of an Have You Ever Stood Next to an Elephant essay, in Mr. Ronson’s Lost at Sea collection of essays, is the sense of trust the rap duo ICP display with Mr. Ronson.  I don’t care that that level of trust Jon Ronson attained from these two produced an entertaining article.  All the power to him for doing so, but I am not a member of the Jerry Springer contingent that enjoys watching people make fools of themselves.  Had I been present at this interview, I may have laughed a little, but at some point I would’ve said, “All right, all right!  Enough!”  I would’ve then turned to one of these two rappers and said, “This man is not your friend.  He is a journalist devoted to exposing the truth, your version of the truth, or the truth, as he sees it.”

I see this level of trust, displayed by religious people, in a number of journalistic enterprises, and I always want to ask the subjects of these interviews if they’ve read a newspaper in the last twenty years; if they’ve listened to the radio; and if they have cable.  If you have, I would say, why would you think this man is going to give you a fair shake?  Why wouldn’t you walk into the interview with less than a healthy dose of skepticism?  Why would you, after witnessing the last twenty years of journalists ripping and tearing at the heart of religion like starved hyena, not approach every question the ask you as if it were a trap?  I understand that you appreciate the opportunity this journalist is offering you to “get your message out”, but if you were paying attention you’d know that 9.8357 times out of 10 the only reason a journalist is going to agree to sit down with you, or seek you out for an interview, is that you said something stupid, dumb, or just plain wacky that feeds into their narrative that all religious people are stupid, dumb, or just plain wacky.  The latter may be hard for you to swallow, and it may be untrue as far as you’re concerned, but you should approach this interview with that mindset.

I don’t know what Mr. Ronson did to gain the level of trust he attained with the rap duo ICP.  I don’t know if he is blessed with such a pleasant demeanor that he disarms the subjects of his interviews, if he was in any way duplicitous with the ICP, or if the rap duo was so excited about getting their message out, in The Guardian, that they didn’t pay enough attention to how they were being presented.  I do suspect, however, that the rap duo may have fallen prey to the very human conceit of believing that they have such a command of the issue that they could control the debate that they would be having with a journalist, even if that journalist may be approaching the subject matter from an adversarial position.

As pieces of this type go, Jon Ronson was not as adversarial as some have been, but there are moments when Mr. Ronson characterizes this rap duo as … less than fluent.  In one particular section, Ronson writes that Violent J says: “Huh?” to a relatively innocuous, leading question that Mr. Ronson asks of him.  The author clarifies his question.  Violent J comes back with yet another “Huh?” that the author suggests is due to the fact that Violent J is mystified.  This is then followed by Ronson writing that: “There’s a silence.”  After this presumed “mystified” silence, Violent J proceeds to answer the question.  Whether or not, Violent J actually said “Huh?” on those two occasions, or spent a moment in silence gathering his thoughts, is not the point as far as I’m concerned.  The point –that should be remembered by those religious people, excited by the prospect of being interviewed in such a prestigious publication– is that Mr. Ronson considered it germane to include those three reactions.  The point, as it see is that the writer chose to include those three reactions to help him frame the interview for his readers, and presumably his colleagues and friends, so that they could laugh about it later.  The point is, also, that the editors at The Guardian considered them so germane to their writer’s point, and their writer’s framing, that they allowed it to be printed in that manner.  The point is that we’ve all read interviews with rock stars, and movie stars, and can all guess –based on the totality of what we’ve seen concerning the knowledge base of rock stars and movie stars– that these stats have a loose, half-baked grasp on the geopolitical issues they claim expertise in.  We can also guess that some, if not a majority, of those interviews are littered with “Huhs?” and spells of silence that are deleted from the final piece prior to publication.  For some reason, and I think those reasons are obvious, ICP were not extended this professional courtesy.

The point is not that Jon Ronson misrepresented the rap duo from ICP.  We don’t know what happened in that interview, an interview that occurred backstage at an ICP show.  We don’t know how long that interview lasted, or why Ronson decided to include what he did.  There are only three people that know exactly how that interview went down (unless there were others in the room of course), and only they know whether or not the rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, of ICP, were properly represented.  And if it is the case that this is how these two wanted to be represented, then it appears that Mr. Ronson was more than happy to oblige.

Why would Mr. Ronson allow these two to represent themselves so poorly?  If you asked him, I’m sure he would say something along the lines of: “I’m a reporter, and this is what I do …Report the facts and all … I report you decide,” and he might say the latter with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  A truer motive might also be that Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope further a narrative that Mr. Ronson has of religious people in general, a point that as I wrote answers the question of why he would decide to participate in this interview in the first place.  Would Mr. Ronson enjoy a “Why do you not want to meet (with) scientists?  Because (science is a way of) explaining things to people” debate with a C.S. Lewis type of rational advocate for religion?  Mr. Ronson very well may enjoy such debates in his private life, but he probably knows that such a heady debate might only find a home in a scholarly journal.

A rational, religious figure, like C.S. Lewis, might argue that while Mr. Ronson may not agree with the explanations religious leaders offer, they are, just like science, “explaining things to people”. Mr. Ronson might then reply with a Richard Dawkins-type reply: “Just because science hasn’t advanced to the degree that it can explain everything, doesn’t mean that we should fill all those gaps with some form of divine intervention.”  The C.S. Lewis type thinker could then talk about how the highly regarded physicist Albert Einstein believed in “a supernatural creative intelligence”.  To this, Ronson could say that Einstein was dealing with a level of science even less advanced than ours, and he may have had such an ego about his abilities that if he couldn’t explain it, then no one could, and therefore we must fill the gaps of what I, Albert Einstein, cannot explain with the mysteries of a supernatural power.  To this, the C.S. Lewis type of rational, religious thinker would remind Ronson that physicist Max Born commented that: “(I do) not think religious belief a sign of stupidity, not unbelief a sign of intelligence.”  While I am sure that this debate would be far more intelligent than the one I craft for example, enthusiasts eager for substantial debates of this nature, would view it in the manner sports enthusiasts viewed the epic battles between Michael Jordan’s Bulls versus Patrick Ewing’s Knicks, battles that resulted in blood, sweat and tears being shed before a game seven victor could be declared.  For reasons that are endemic to the argument that journalists (and their readers presumably) prefer, we get a preordained pickup game with the Washington Generals in which the journalist is allowed to dazzle the audience with their wordplay, and their Keats quotes, in a debate where the victor is so obvious that it’s an afterthought.

Instead of Michael Jordan skimming the inbound line to throw up a shot that Patrick Ewing barely misses, or John Starks throwing down “The Dunk” on Jordan, we get a Generals’ guard chasing Curly Neal around in a circle:

“Have you ever stood next to an elephant, my friend?” asks Violent J. “A f—— elephant is a miracle. If people can’t see a f—— miracle in a f—— elephant, then life must suck for them, because an elephant is a f—— miracle. So is a giraffe.”

We also read:

“Nobody can explain magnets,”  “Gravity’s cool, but not as cool as magnets,” and “Fog, to me, is awesome.”  

Finally, we receive the culmination of why Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope prefer the idea of describing natural events as miracles, as opposed to the science explanations:

“Well,” Violent J says, “science is… we don’t really… that’s like…” He pauses. Then he waves his hands as if to say, “OK, an analogy”: “If you’re trying to f— a girl, but her mom’s home, f— her mom! You understand? You want to f— the girl, but her mom’s home? F— the mom. See?  Now, you don’t really feel that way,” Violent J says. “You don’t really hate her mom. But for this moment when you’re trying to f— this girl, f— her! And that’s what we mean when we say f— scientists. Sometimes they kill all the cool mysteries away. When I was a kid, they couldn’t tell you how pyramids were made…”

“Like Stonehenge and Easter Island,” says Shaggy. “Nobody knows how that s— got there. But since then, scientists go, ‘I’ve got an explanation for that.’ It’s like, f— you! I like to believe it was something out of this world.”

It makes for great theater, as I said, for those the love bearded ladies, wolf boys, and illustrated men, but if any of you laughers are religious, you should know that Jon Ronson, and his colleagues in journalism, are not laughing with you in such pieces.  They’re laughing at you.  You, the religious person, may deem these explanations, and this summation on science, as ridiculous as anyone else, but journalists don’t know that.  They may consider the ICP a bit of an outlier, but they know that for something to be truly funny it has to have a germ of truth in it, and I’m guessing that most of them find Jon Ronson’s piece hilarious.  They are not your friends.

If you are, by and large a religious person, and you are open about it, so open that you hope to encourage others to be religious, you will be considered “the other side” by most journalists, and they will do whatever they have to to characterize you as “that side” for their readers.  And you will learn, no matter how nice that interviewer appears to be on the surface, that most modern journalists are on that side, and they will do whatever they have to do to score points on you.

There are myths and miracles at the core of every belief system that, if held up to the harsh light of a scholar or an investigative reporter, could easily be passed off as lies,” Lawrence Wright writes in the epilogue of his book Going Clear.

They could also be passed off as ridiculous, as this essay proves, and while most religious people may agree that Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope’s version of the Christian belief system is ridiculous, the greater import of Jon Ronson’s narrative appears to be that all religion is this ridiculous, but that the ICP version of it is just a slight exaggeration.

As I wrote, I don’t care that ICP were skewered by Mr. Ronson, and I don’t care that he took a few hours out of his day to attempt to skewer religion, insofar as I’m getting used to it.  What bothers me is the confusion that the members of ICP felt when the members of the music media pounced on them after their announcement.  This confusion is, as I see it, an exaggeration of the fact that most religious people are shocked to find out how anti-religious the media, as a whole, have become.  Soon after the announcement, Blender magazine listed them as the worst band in music history; and that “the worst musical moment from the worst band ever, is The Wraith: Shangri-La, the album that climaxes with Thy Unveiling” (the song where they reveal that they have been Christians all along).   They received negative responses to Thy Unveiling that spanned from science bloggers, college professors, and even Saturday Night Live.

When Mr. Ronson asked ICP if they anticipated such a reaction, Violent J said:

 “No, I figured most people would say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know Insane Clown Posse could be deep like that.”

Deep is, of course, a relative measure, and I’m going to guess that most that read the lyrics to this song are going to agree that depth is a relative measure, but I still can’t get over Violent J’s surprise.  When my religious friends express similar surprise, I ask them if they’re paying attention.  I ask them if they have cable, if they’ve ever read the newspaper, and when they say they do, I ask them how they can still shocked by it all.  If you had been paying any attention at all, I reply, you would know know that even mainstream religious views have been the subject to public scorn, and while I’m sure you regard your views as mainstream, you should know what all religious people paying attention to the current climate of the society should know: journalists are not your friend.

If a journalist asks you if you’d like to be interviewed for a major publication, go ahead and assume that they’re not going on a fact-finding mission that will help their readers learn the essence of your religion.  They want kooky ideas, medieval practices, a Svengali-like leader to herd the sheep, racist tendencies, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and any vestige of hatred that you may harbor to entertain their readers in a manner that characterizes your ideas and practices as those of the “other side”.  Even if you don’t harbor such hatred for your fellow man, and you haven’t said anything stupid that you know of, you should wonder why this journalist is so eager to interview you, and why they’re being so nice to you.  You should be skeptical of every question they ask you; treat every “friendly” story they share with you as a way of making you talk; and you should regard every smile as a duplicitous method of disarming you, even if it’s simply a pleasant smile from a relatively pleasant man.  You should wonder why a journalist, from a major publication, appears to be on the border of being your friend.  You should wonder why he just wants you to tell your side, why he just wants you to talk, and why he thinks the things you say are so funny.  I know you think you’re funny, but everyone does, and everyone enjoys making other people laugh, but in this particular case you’re probably not half as funny as he’s leading you to believe.  And he’s probably not laughing with you, he’s laughing at you, because he’s not your friend.

Rilalities III: Thoughts

Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

A Thought: Anti-religious people go nuts when the religious Creationists point out that there are gaps in Charles Darwin’s attempt to explain creation. “How could there not be gaps in his Theory of Evolution?” they ask. “He was dealing with mid-19th century science.” They also caution that we shouldn’t insert God, or mystical miracles, into every gap we currently have in our current explanations, based on our current levels of science. The import of this message is that we have already filled many of Darwin’s gaps with our current levels of science, and we will fill even more as science advances in the future. Yet, some of these people, that place such prominence on science, are perfectly willing to fill the gaps of our current levels of science on global warming with the explanation that man did it.

On that note, how many future generations, with their progressed levels of scientific knowledge, are going to be laughing at global warmers in the manner we currently laugh at bloodletters and flat earthers? There were even some people, see Aristotle, that believed that a slab of beef spawned maggots. Scientists warn, based on these precedents, that we shouldn’t leap to conclusions, or fill the gaps of our current scientific knowledge, with explanations that support our personal agendas, but some of them claim that all the science is in on global warming, and there’s no need for more scientific debate on the subject.

B Thought: We all learn lessons in life, no matter how old we are, and no matter how many times we have already learned those lessons.

C Thought: Debate matters of substance with enough people, and you’re bound to come across extremes. Those of us who discuss matters with representatives of the extreme faction of the other side, find it enjoyable to nuke their ideas out of the park with facts. If you seek such discussions often enough, however, you’re bound to run across the extreme faction of your side. Some of these people, unfortunately, go so far out of the parameters that you may initially think that the other side may be right about their characterizations of your side.  They’re not.  The person in front of you is simply a characterization of the extreme faction of your side that diverts themselves away from the important matters of the day with trivial matters. I don’t know if these people strive for the trivial, because they’re not able to compete in the knowledge of important matters, or they find the trivial more entertaining, but they are inordinately intrigued by the trivial, and they exist on both sides of the aisle

D Thought: Most artists have one masterpiece in them. Everything they do after that is, in ways large and small, derivative of that one masterful work. Those of us that get excited when we experience a masterpiece, should understand how difficult such a thing is to create. Most of us don’t. Most of us characterize the masterpiece as brilliant, and everything after that “sucks!” We express our extreme opinions for the mileage it gains us, but most that say such things have never tried to do anything artistic.

E Thought: Some watched the movie version of Fight Club and fell in love with the romanticized notion of blowing up banks to finally achieve economic justice in this unfair system. The import of this dream is that those that are burdened by debt, would be no more, and we could reset this American system to give the poor a second chance to become rich. Those that inherited money, would have to start over from scratch. Those that gained money by being lucky, or being in the right place at the right time, would have to do it again. Those that accumulated money by ill-gotten means, would have to start over from scratch, and those that haven’t been afforded a chance to succeed in our unfair system, would be able to have another crack at the system. Let’s put aside the ridiculous notion that blowing up a couple branches, of a couple banks, that house a couple computers, can accomplish anything. Let’s say, for the purpose of this argument, that some Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) bomb were able to comprehensively wipe out all data, and all Americans were afforded a restart. How depressing would it be, to these theoretical dreamers, to realize that people are, in fact, different? How depressing would it be to them that some people are more talented, more industrious, more ambitious, more creative, and more willing to put it all on the line for something? How depressing would it be for these people to finally achieve hope and change, only to realize that everything would eventually cycle back?  How depressing would it be when all the same millionaires are the same millionaires and billionaires ten years after the EMP bomb occurred? It’s not only possible, it’s likely. Most of those that accumulated the millions and billions they did, did not do it by birthright. Most of them knew how the system worked so well that they could manipulate it again, if they were called upon to do so, and they might enjoy the challenge. In this post-EMP world, these people would know how to raise capital better than we would, they would know how to form coalitions better than us, and they would be far more willing than the rest of us to risk it all on some idea that they just thought up. We, theoretical dreamers, would be living in John Lennon’s Imagine world, while they would be re-invigorated to prove themselves all over again. This event would prove to be only be more depressing to those dreamers to eventually realize that they couldn’t do it yet again.

F Thought: One of the primary arguments against the stop, question, and frisk law, used by the police in New York City, is that it violates the Fourth Amendment, and it allows for some degree of profiling. Most of those that argue against this law do not want it finessed. They want it ended. An interesting aspect of the law, that I hadn’t considered before, is that black leaders have been screaming for generations that government doesn’t do anything about the crime that occurs in specific black neighborhoods. They’ve said, for generations, that government leaders ignore the crises that occur in some crime-ridden black neighborhoods, and they’ve said that the police virtually ignore those neighborhoods.  Yet, when a government, and its police force, do attempt to do something, and that something is the stop, question, and frisk law, black leaders claim that it unfairly targets blacks in those specific black neighborhoods where crime is the highest. The answer, of course, is that those black leaders, screaming the loudest about the fact that the government wouldn’t do anything to solve black on black crime, and that most police forces won’t even go into those neighborhoods, never wanted solutions. They just enjoy the fruits of the labor involved in screaming.

G Thought: Why do serial killers in movies, and on TV shows, turn the TV off when a news report of their spree makes it to air? I understand that the screenwriter is trying to establish the fact that the killer is not doing what he’s doing for fame. “This particular killer has a more gruesome motive,” the action of turning the TV off attempts to suggest. “His malady is so much deeper than all that. This particular killer is not your typical, garden variety serial killer.” In one particular show, Netflix’s The Fall, the serial killer plays with his child while the TV broadcasts a press conference with those in charge of the investigation detailing their findings, and he appears to be only symbolically interested in the broadcast. When it’s announced, by the serial killer’s wife, that dinner is ready, he shuts the TV off, mid-press conference, and takes the daughter to the dinner table. It’s cool and all that he doesn’t care, and it does characterize him as something different than what we expect, but shouldn’t that killer want to know how the law’s investigation is proceeding, so he can, at least, adjust his spree accordingly?

H Thought: Anyone that argues against the fact that most Americans are ignorant when it comes to the subject of Economics, needs to watch an episode of TruTV’s Hardcore Pawn. Pick any episode, and you’ll see a customer walk in with something of relative value, and you’ll hear them assign it value. “I want $100 for this ticket to (a concert by the band) Journey!” said one particular customer, on one particular episode.  When she was asked how she arrived at that dollar figure, she couldn’t do it. When she was informed that she wouldn’t be getting $100, she was outraged. “I want $100!”  She then proceeded to express the indignation that, at least, one customer does in every single episode of the series.

These customers don’t care that they’ve just entered a pawn shop –that is not going to give them face value, much less fair market value, for their product– they just want their $100, and they usually “don’t care” because they don’t know. They know nothing about economics, bartering, or the fact that a pawn shop is in the business of making as much profit off their products as possible. They don’t even know enough to know anything about the bartering process involved in the pawn shop world, they just want their $100.  I don’t want anyone to think that I approve of what they do on the show, or in their shop, for I think they shortchange most of their sellers, but if I were to enter this, or any pawn shop, I would walk in knowing that I probably wouldn’t receive the value that I assigned to this product. My goal would be to get something more than I fear I would get. And perhaps this fear, and this knowledge of how the pawn world works, would lead me to getting far less. Regardless, I can assure you that I wouldn’t be one of these crying and screaming idiots that ends up getting tossed out on their ear, on a nationally broadcast television show, or if I were, I wouldn’t be signing the release that allowed them to air it. It would officially be the most embarrassing moment of my life. To these people, apparently, it’s just another manic Monday.

To B or not to B

Having a philosophy can provide one a sense of fulfillment, a discipline, a code, and a foundation for a way to live through the extensive knowledge of the various minds of philosophy. A student of the mind can delve so deeply in a philosopher’s thoughts, or philosophical thought in general, that they can eventually reach a point where they believe they have an answer for everything that plagues them in life. For most of us, however, philosophy simply provides a plan ‘B’ in life.

philosophy“Renowned philosophers have never helped me!” say those who don’t believe philosophers can ever provide a decent plan B. “They are not specific enough.”

But some of the times they get close. Some of the times they get so close it can be frustrating. It would be one thing if they said nothing, but some of the times they get so close to the heart of all that ails us that it almost feels like they’re tantalizing us with their brilliance. They write something that captures our attention, and then they further that original thought with another thought that brings us kicking and screaming to a point of identification. It’s almost as if they read our minds when they wrote that, we think. They’re pouring our heart out. We’re breathless with anticipation. We’re turning the pages of their book so quickly that we’re getting paper cuts.

“Yes!” we scream. “Ohmycreator yes! That’s it! Sing it to me sista!”  

Then, we arrive at the solution, if there ever was one, and we think we somehow got lost in the weeds, somewhere along the line. We retrace our steps, we turn back two of three pages, then twenty to thirty, and we can’t find where we lost the point. “What did he say?” we ask, and we hate ourselves for asking that. We hate it, because it reveals us as one of those who don’t understand. It lowers our ego just a tad, but we know that that philosopher was onto something —in some form of English that we barely understood— that left us hanging off the cliff, because we just didn’t understand their proposed solution. Somehow or another they didn’t do anything but correctly identify the problem without attempting a solution. We didn’t exactly drop off the cliff with disappointment, but the philosopher didn’t quite help us off it either. Not in the manner we thought they would when they swam so close to our Sun. What happened?

A scene from the television series Taxi captures this dilemma perfectly. In the scene, the character Latka is experiences a multiple personality disorder. Latka assumes a number of personalities in the episode, until he assumes another character’s persona. He assumes the Alex Reager characteristics, and he believes he’s Alex Reager in every way, shape, and form. Latka reaches a point, in this disorder, where he’s figured out a solution to all that ails Alex, and he says so in a counseling session. He does so by listing all the flaws with Alex’s character, flaws Alex confirms, until Latka states that he’s found a solution to all that ails this Alex persona. This captures Alex’s attention. “It was so simple!” Latka says with an anticipatory Alex goading him on. “It was staring me in the face the whole time!” To each progression, Alex nears the Latka character saying: “Yes, ohmycreator yes!” until the two are inches away from one another with Alex panting in anticipation. Much to Alex’s disappointment, Latka snaps out of the personality disorder just short of revealing the solution, and he turns back into Latka. At that point, Alex begins griping Latka by the face, screaming at him to go back to being Alex for one more minute when Latka says: “Alex you’re squeezing me!”

The answer to the frustrations most agnostic consumers experience with philosophy, say philosophy students, is that it would be impossible for a philosopher to provide specific solutions to all of your individual problems. The purpose of philosophy, they would say, is to lead their subject into asking questions that they may have never considered before, to give them another viewpoint on their problems, and to provide its adherents an all-encompassing blueprint for life that the reader can use to interpret and relate to their individual problems. The purpose is to get the consumer to thinking different.  The purpose is to get us thinking.

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we make choices and decisions in life? How do we make them? Who is affected by our decisions, and do we factor them into our decision making process? The purpose of philosophy is to get us to ask these questions and other questions of ourselves. Only by asking ourselves questions can we ever arrive at an answer that may suit our individual needs. Philosophy requires extensive participation. It requires active listening, and reading, and most of the solutions one finds in life will not be specifically lined up for the reader. Don’t take it out on philosophers, students of philosophy will say, if you are too lazy to interpret and relate such concepts and propositions to your life.

The problem for most of philosophy’s agnostics is that most philosophical concepts are espoused in such an academic sense. The philosophies of Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, and Freud and Jung might apply to the modern day, and they may be the greatest thoughts man has ever had, but getting to the nut of what they’re saying requires too much interpretation for most modern day consumers. Most of the philosophers listed here spoke, and wrote, in a more proper, less relatable form of English, if they spoke in English at all. They also spoke/wrote in a vague manner that would be, and could be, so open to interpretation that it seems they never said anything specific. Some regard this as brilliant in that a reader could interpret the words for their own needs. Others regard it as frustratingly vague for the same reason. If these others, these agnostic types, do attempt to subject a philosopher’s thoughts and ideas to their problems, they get slapped back by strict interpretations provided to them by a Philosophy professor. These strict interpretations may take the vagueness out of the material, but it also takes away the individual’s joy of forming a belief on the philosopher’s concepts that may differ from the professor’s. The professor gives a “correct” interpretation and pulls out a red pen on any student that goes off that trail. “I can see what you’re trying to say here,” the professor writes in red, “but it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

All of the philosophers listed here are much smarter than us, and they’ve developed some theories on the decisions and choices we make that could just blow our minds if we understood them properly. But those who teach and interpret their theories get a little too far into the weeds for most of us. They get too professorial, they talk over our heads, and they fail to relay their concepts to us. Philosophy is viewed by the eager, young minds thirsting for new knowledge, as overly complicated, or so narrow that it doesn’t apply to them, irrelevant in the modern era, and something to be studied for a test … Nothing more and nothing less. Philosophy and psychology doesn’t have to be this way.

Philosophy also doesn’t have to be that which is espoused by an egghead, hippie type that attempts to intimidate the listener with punctuation-less sentences that contain as many multi-syllabic words as the hippie can think up that are backed up by obscure quotes from a similar philosopher that was obscure 400 years ago. These people also get a lot of mileage out of telling a listener what philosophy is not, based on these obscure quotes and references, that exhaust you, until the reader is left with the empty feeling that it’s all too complicated for them to ever understand. We don’t want to admit such a thing though, so we just quietly walk away from philosophy with the idea that we’re just not smart enough to understand it. It shouldn’t be that way.

It should be the goal of all of those that love philosophy to carry the torch to the next generation. It should be their goal to drop the indulgence of proving their intelligence while proving their mastery of the subject matter at the same time. Combining these two appears to be too much for most philosophy lovers. They get so caught up trying to impress their peers that they forget to make the message appealing. They have a gift for draining the elemental gifts these philosophers have provided us right out of their lesson plans, but they don’t appear to care about the subject matter in this way. They appear to prefer the credo: “If no one knows what you’re talking about, no one can refute you.”

The question becomes how does one reach an audience of young computer-game, Google searchers with a limited attention span? Certain individuals in the entertainment milieus have done it in bite-sized morsels. They have used comedy to lubricate what is generally perceived to be the incomprehensible, rougher edges of philosophy, as witnessed in the episode of Taxi provided above. The clever minds of Taxi/Cheers fame, the writers of Seinfeld, and the Philosophy and… series of books have taken the relatively difficult concepts of Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, and Freud and Jung and put them out to the mass consumers in comedic form to open the door to greater understanding. It can be done, in other words, and it should be done. A look through the best seller list, and the television ratings, shows that modern consumers are just as hungry for knowledge as they are entertainment, and the richest rewards lie out there for those that are able to do both in a highly skilled juggling act.

When our friends detail the plot line of such a comedy, and we inform them that it’s based on a philosopher’s concept, they’re intrigued. They may not care that it came from a man named Rousseau, and they may never turn around and read a single word of that man’s writings, but the idea that this man’s concept reached them intrigues them to learn more about the concept and the way it might affect their life. They may not have reached that concept in the manner a philosophy professor, or an uppity beatnik, would care for, but they still learned it, and their lives may eventually be all the better for it, and it may provide a window that once opened might lead eager young minds to explore for more knowledge.

The alternative to grasping these concepts, and subsequently living without a philosophical sense of life, is nihilism —the belief in nothing. Some nihilists even condemn atheists for their beliefs. Atheists may share the metaphysical belief that God doesn’t exist with nihilists, but where they divert is in the meaning of life. Atheists believe that one doesn’t have to believe in God for life to have meaning. Nihilism maintains that life has absolutely no meaning, purpose, or value, and the godfather of nihilism even went so far to write that Christianity may actually have more in common with nihilism than they know, based on the fact that Christians place less value on this life than they do the afterlife.

This absolute belief in nothing, when used in conversation, can be a contrarian tool that a self-proclaimed nihilist can use as a shield against attack. It may allow them to sit back with a smug smile while atheists and Christians attack one another with the mindset being that they may not believe in anything, but at least they’re not foolish enough to believe in something.

Nihilists usually wage a philosophical war on believers, studying up on our beliefs, our philosophy, or our religion, until they reach a point where they can proudly claim to know our belief system better than we do, or at least those that believe the same as us. The latter is an important distinction to make, for most nihilists usually don’t single us out for their criticism. They may actually go so far as to single us out for support by saying that we’re not one of those they’re talking about, because we’re more open-minded, erudite, or one of the few that can speak about such a hot button issue rationally. Whatever guise they use to avoid further confrontation, they do so to complete their life’s mission of knocking everything everyone else believes in, by trying to keep it impersonal. To suggest that all nihilists operate in a nefarious manner with the sole goal of undermining belief, would be as incorrect as the comprehensive labels they attach to believers, but they do seek some sort of validation for their mindset from the believers.

One of the reasons they need validation, is that when everything goes wrong in their life they know that they will be left with total devastation. The nihilist’s world exists on a precarious plane that there are certain truths that keeps them afloat. Most of their truths can be found in the routines of life: work, marriage, kids, friends, weekend fun, and politics. There is, however, no underlying foundation to nihilism, no meaning of life, no purpose, and no substantial reality in their lives to help them overcome a shakeup of one of these routines. There’s an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, and that cliché is based on the idea that in times of total devastation the human mind needs a plan B, a sense of life, a philosophy, a religion, or something to fall back on. Some say the need to believe in something might be biological, or anatomical, but whatever the case is, it’s undeniable that we all need something to believe in, something greater than ourselves, and a plan B to fall back on when things don’t go as planned.

Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds

“God isn’t dead,” says a neuroscientist from Canada’s Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, named Michael Persinger. “He’s an energy field, and your brain is an electromagnetic map to your soul.”

To further define this provocative statement, Persinger conducted a series of experiments that caused “cerebral fritzing” in the hemispheres of the brain to generate images. Persinger found that when the right hemisphere of the brain was stimulated in the cerebral region, an area of the brain presumed to control notions of self, a sense of a presence occurred. The frizting then called upon the left hemisphere, the seat of language, to make sense of the presence. What was that presence that the right hemisphere generated?  Was it God?  In some instances, the left side of the brain told the subject that it was. In other instances, the subject believed they were seeing aliens, some claimed to have seen deceased loved ones, and others stated that they saw a presence, but they couldn’t tell what it was. It all depended upon the person.

The BrainIn a separate story, of the same theme, a young female believed she was being visited by the lord of darkness: Satan. Every night, at about the same time, this young girl would wake with recurring night terrors, and when her parents came running into the room, she claimed to have seen Satan at the foot of her bed. Her family was worried that their daughter may have been possessed. They called in exorcists and various spiritualists, to rid their frantic young daughter of her horror. After these attempts proved unsuccessful, the family called in doctors to see if these images were occurring as a result of her diet, some psychological malady, or some sort of sleep deprivation. Others believed the visions may have been a natural byproduct of narcolepsy, sleep paralysis, migraines, anxiety disorders, or some form of obstructive sleep apnea. In other words, they thought that her young, active mind was always playing tricks on her, even though they all believed that these visions were very real to her. When no medications, or psychological assistance, proved successful, the family decided to permit an experimental, investigatory group to walk through and see if their very specific ideas about the girl’s problem could help her. The investigatory group walked around the room with an electromagnetic sensor that pinged on an alarm clock that was resting by the head of her bed. They found that her alarm clock’s cord had become frayed, and it was emitting Electromagnetic rays near the girl’s head. The group replaced the clock, and the young girl no longer had the visions.

Want to build the scariest haunted house ever made?  Cocoon it inside electrical wires, throbbing with pulses of electromagnetic fields. This will stimulate the cerebral regions of your horrified guests to a point where they may cause them to believe they are sensing a presence. You won’t need to hire sixteen-year-olds to don Frankenstein’s monster masks, and you won’t need to spend hundreds on setting. You can just wire up a rusty, old tool shed and spend a few bucks to insulate the wiring, to prevent injury, and voila!  You will have the scariest haunted house man has ever created.

Want to open up a fortune telling booth, or bolster your claim that you are some form of spiritualist that can conjure up the dead for your customers. A little wiring, a conductive floor plan, a little setting here, and some costume designing there to provide aura, and you should be able to convince anyone and everyone that you have a gift.

The thrust of Persinger’s thesis is that it is your brain that creates these images. Images that can titillate, fascinate, and horrify any audience, and when these portions of your brain are stimulated with electromagnetic field-emitting solenoids, in a designated manner, they can be induced to create images that seem surreal to the human mind.

To create this atmosphere in a lab, Persinger used what he calls the “God Helmet”. It has also been called the “Koren Helmet” named after its creator Stanley Koren. Persinger places his subjects in a sensory deprivation tank that has white lab coat technicians on the opposite side of a 500lb. steel wall with a number of dials and switches to provide subtle stimulation through the solenoids inside this helmet.

The God helmet was not designed for the sole purpose of providing a subject with a feeling of God’s presence, but various tests ended up yielding such results.

“Those with a predisposition for God, often believed that they saw God after donning the helmet,” says Persinger. The tests that yielded these results were the ones that generated the controversy and the headlines for Persinger and crew.

In other, related speeches, Michael Persinger spoke about the effects various controlled substances (marijuana, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and LSD) can have on the various receptors in the brain, and he suggested that these drugs would not have any effect on you if you didn’t already have the proper receptors in your brain for these drugs to stimulate. In the proper setting, electrical stimulation can achieve the same results, he stated.

“So, I can get stoned using electromagnetic stimulation?” Persinger says he is often asked when he speaks to college students. “You can,” Persinger responds. “Electrical stimulation can trigger specific parts of the brain in the exact same manner a chemical can trigger specific parts of the brain. But,” he warns, “Excessive electrical stimulation of certain parts of the brain can provide some of the same deleterious effects that chemical triggering can, or any excessive, exterior triggering for that matter.”

Speaking of drugs, Persinger believes that electromagnetic testing could do away with the need for pharmaceuticals over time. What are most drugs and pharmaceuticals but chemical triggers that let the brain know that it needs to assist the body’s healing process more. To help mask the pain of a sore wrist, until the body can find a way to heal it, the brain sends out prostaglandins. When the brain doesn’t provide enough prostaglandins, or it doesn’t provide them soon enough to our satisfaction, we take Aspirin. Michael Persinger thinks this same procedure can be accomplished in an electromagnetic manner, so that we don’t have to take aspirin, chemotherapy for cancer, or antibiotics in general. “We could make EM wavelength patterns work the way drugs do. Just as you take an antibiotic and it has a predictable result, you might be exposed to precise EM patterns that would signal the brain to carry out comparable effects.” As with controlled substances, if our brain did not have the proper receptors for these pharmaceuticals to trigger, their effect on our body would be negligible.

“Whether through Electromagnetic or chemical enhancement, we’re all looking for ways to assist what the brain does to help heal the body,” Persinger explains. “Among more sensitive individuals, tests show that their skin will turn red if they are led to believe that a piping hot nickel has been placed on their hand. That’s a powerful psychosomatic effect of the brain on the body. Suppose we could make it more precise?”

In his published paper “The Tectonic Strain Theory as an Explanation for UFO Phenomena,” Persinger maintains that around the time of an earthquake, changes in the EM field can spark mysterious lights in the sky. A labile observer, in Persinger’s view, could mistake such a luminous display for an alien visitation.

Persinger maintains that environmental disturbances –ranging from solar flares and meteor showers to oil drilling– can be documented to correlate with visionary claims, including mass religious conversions, ghost lights, and haunted houses. He says that if a region experiences enough mild earthquakes, or other causes of change in the electromagnetic fields, this may explain why one specific spot becomes known as sacred ground.

“One classic example was the apparition of Mary over the Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, in the 1960s,” he continues. “This phenomenon lasted off and on for several years. It was seen by thousands of people, and the appearance seemed to precede the disturbances that occurred during the building of the Aswan High Dam. I have multiple examples of reservoirs being built or lakes being filled, and reports of luminous displays and UFO flaps. But Zeitoun was impressive.”

“Might it surprise anyone to learn, in view of Persinger’s theories, that when Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni before founding Mormonism, and when Charles Taze Russell started the Jehovah’s Witnesses, powerful Leonid meteor showers were occurring?”

“One might think Christians would be upset that this professor in Sudbury is trying to do with physics what Nietzsche did with metaphysics –kill off God. One might also think that devout ufologists would denounce him for putting neuroscience on the side of the skeptics.” {1} But Persinger claims that the purpose of his experiment is not to suggest that God doesn’t exist, or to disprove alien visitations. He claims that his argument concerns the notion that certain EM fields may be tinkering with our consciousness. He claims that most of those individuals that founded various religions may have experienced some sort of EM intrusion in their enlightening experiences. Other than the Smith and Taze Russell experiences mentioned above, there is the Saul of Damascus transformation that occurred following a bright flash of light. Persinger’s theory suggests that that experience may have occurred to Saul, later Paul, as a result of a minor seizure or a strike of lightning. Moses seeing the burning bush, may have been as a result of Moses being close enough to lightning striking that bush that receptors in his brain may have heard the voice of God coming from that bush. Persinger doesn’t appear to want to damage these stories in lieu of what these men went on to accomplish following the initial experiences, but he does believe that there was an electromagnetic element to these stories that has never been explored before. The element is what Persinger calls electromagnetic spirituality. These ideas, and others, have given rise to a field called Neurotheology. Though neurotheologists do not have specific concerns related to the validity of their subject’s belief, they do seek to determine what’s happening in the brain during a religious experience without apology.

Persinger claims he can create a religious experience for anyone by disrupting the brain with regular electric pulses. This will cause the left temporal lobe to explain the activity in the right side of the brain as a sensed presence. The sensed presence could be anything from God to demons, and when not told what the experiment involved, about 80 percent of God Helmet wearers reported sensing something nearby, a presence of some sort.

No matter how one reads the findings of Michael Persinger’s experiments –or the qualifiers he uses to settle the religious mind– the reader can’t help but feel they are conducted with the goal of undermining God, faith, and religion in general. Perhaps it’s our insecure inclinations regarding faith, or the fact that so much of science these days seems obsessed with diminishing God to a point that even the most devout begin to ask serious questions about their belief systems, but it cannot be denied that the role of God in our society is under attack, and the faithful cannot help but be defensive whenever a new scientist poses a new theory of this sort. To the latter, a word of caution may be necessary, for as science continues to progress, your outlier status, as one who refuses to meld the two, could increase.

As Norman Mailer once said: “If God didn’t want us to question His existence, why did He give us a progressive intellect?” Why didn’t He give us the less complex, and thus less curious, brain of the chimpanzee, and be done with it?  If God were insulted to the point of damning us in the afterlife every time we questioned Him, why did He give us a degree of brainpower that exists somewhere between His and the chimpanzee’s?  We could speculate, and debate, the reasons for this, and we would all end up in the same spot where we began. We could also spend all day speculating whether there is a grain of truth to Persinger’s theories on the electromagnetic capabilities of the brain, and the results of his experiments, but it’s hard to imagine that God would be insulted, or even aggrieved to the point of damning those involved in exploring the mind for answers, and thus using the gift of the mind He gave them, to its fullest extent.