Social Issues and Philosophy

Why the Revolution Won't Be Televised

Keep you doped with religion, and sex and TV;
and you think you're so clever and classless and free;
but you're still f**king peasants, as far as I can see
- John Lennon, "Working Class Hero"

Who Wants to Be a Revolutionary? Oh, there's anger out there! America has got to be one of the most royally pissed off countries in the world. It doesn't matter if you're a leftie or a rightie, if you're an American, there is a good chance that something has got your blood boiling now. It might be stolen elections, Kenyan birth certificates, Katrina, terrorists, bank bailouts, wars for oil, telecom spying, CEO's salaries, religious fundamentalism, misleading food labeling, the slow death of the American automobile industry, the quicker demise of the American middle class or any sordid combination of the above. If you haven't thought at some point in the last ten years or so that things are seriously FUBAR, that the system doesn't work, and that it definitely doesn't have YOUR best interests in mind, then I wonder about you. Where have you been?

Yes, the mood is ugly. It's Tea Party ugly. It's Ron Paul angry. It's the stuff of which revolutions are made, the fire next time that burns like a thousand California wildfires that somebody, no doubt, blames Obama for (and somebody else probably blamed Bush for). Yes, there is revolution in the air!

Except, there isn't. The American people are NOT going to revolt, folks. The country isn't going to split apart either. The country probably isn't even going to sweep a true maverick like Paul into power anytime soon. Why? People are too comfortable! A second American Revolution is no more likely to occur than a rebellion of the brainwashed, mutated denizens of Huxley's "Brave New World", and for the same exact reason. The Powers that Be have got us, folks, right where they want us. Docile, overfed, overstimulated, undernourished and undereducated, and most of all, hyper-entertained. Which has led me to wonder, what WOULD need to happen for Americans to rise up like the Founding Fathers, taking to the streets with eyes blazing and teeth gnashing? Something the Powers that Be would never be so stupid as to do; take away our televisions!

You'd see a revolution then! Without Monday Night Football and American Idol and Jeopardy and Lost and Jay and The Simpsons, without Wii and PlayStation, without commercials telling us what to buy and what meds we need to be taking, people would flat out lose it! You want anger? You ain't seen nothing yet!

And see it you won't. Nobody is going to take anybody's television away. Television has done what no tyrant nor terrorist has ever come close to accomplishing. It has reduced a once proud and powerful nation to a land of dazed zombies, wearing a groove in the rug between the couch and the fridge while their warden, the glowing rectangular object in the Living Room, goads them to ask the question no revolutionary has ever asked; "What's on after this?"

Sade and the Body
I am bothered by movies, such as "Saw" and "Hostel", that, to me, serve no purpose other than to depict the extremes of human pain and cruelty. I confess to having never watched a film from either of those series, nor have I watched a Hannibal Lector movie, or a Chucky, Freddy Krueger or Jason movie (which, I imagine, at this point seem almost quaint in their depictions of cruelty), so it is not only what is depicted on the screen, which I haven't even seen, that disturbs me. It is the very fact that such movies exist, and that they pull in audiences. To me, they are a depraved sub-genre of moviemaking that elevates torture to their prime, even sole, raison d'etre (indeed, they have been dubbed "torture porn" and "gorno" by critics), and that bothers me. Are people really entertained by all that blood and gore? And if that is not the right word, what IS the experience that they crave, as they settle their butts into aisle seats? As to the people who make such films, why on earth do they spend precious hours of their lives depicting demoralizing, black spectacles of the last things that any of us would wish to experience, or even wish upon our worst enemies? Oh, believe me, I know the answer to my question (they DO make money after all, and frankly, how hard can they be to make? We all know what we don't wish to experience; all one has to do is pick up a camera and film that!), but is even money worth the de-humanizing that I feel must go on in the process of creating such films?

I am not arguing against the presence of violence in films. Indeed, some of my personal favorites, such as "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas", contain numerous scenes that are not for the squeamish. If push came to shove, I could probably even be called upon to defend Wes Craven's notorious, ultra-violent 70's sleeper, "Last House on the Left" ( which took its plot from Bergman's "The Virgin Spring" and borrowed heavily from Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange"). One might well ask, what's the difference? Well, in the case of LHOTL, this was an amateurish film by a freshman director, depicting amateurish villains who epitomize the dumb, self absorbed, amoral, societal outcasts we can easily imagine committing the atrocious crimes we see onscreen (and read about in the papers). They are not the incarnations of sadism one finds in slick gorno movies, creatures right out of our nightmares who are intelligent and irredeemably evil, sparing no expense to devise the most ingenious and horrific methods by which to dispense with their victims, for no other purpose than the pleasure that they get from doing so. To arrive at an understanding of the villains of the gorno movies, to place them in any sort of context, we need to go back to a French nobleman from the Age of Enlightenment whose writing was so over the top that he provides the very name for the "ism" that is out and out cruelty toward another living being.

Sade's "libertines" (one should not refer to them as  "villains", when to him they were heroes) were precisely the kind of monsters we see in todays horror movies. Smarter and more powerful than their victims, they operated without restraint, and with no other purpose than to inflict pain. In Sade's stories, the only way to escape victimhood was to allow yourself to become corrupted by your torturers, to become just as merciless and sadistic as them. These were the only triumphs he would allow in his nightmarish fables, that some would "liberate" themselves from any moral or empathetic impulses, which he insisted came from society, the real "villain" he himself was at war with. One can read Sade's stories and accept them as he intended, as all-out assaults on society and civilization, on anything that limited individuals from behaving exactly as they themselves chose to. But that would naturally lead one to ask, if people could do anything they wanted to, why would they do that? Looking deeper, I believe that one can find a more pathological motivation, one which is readily on display in today's torture porn movies as well; a deep seated hatred of the human body.

Oh, Sade loathed bodies!  He wanted them sliced, diced, beaten, pulled apart, you name it. The one thing he didn't want was for them to keep their original, native form, to be allowed to go on about their ways in peace. To him, an intact body was a challenge, perhaps even an affront, to his aesthetic. He treated them with nothing but the utmost disdain. And yet, it is telling that for all the descriptions of cruelty he filled page after feverish page with, he was particularly vicious toward the parts of the body that give birth to and nurture other bodies. Although there is no question that his writings and ideas have spiced up the sex lives of numerous couples throughout the years (and hey, whatever gets you through the night...), in the work itself sex was anything but a life affirming, life celebrating activity. Genitalia, breasts, pregnant women, and fetuses are mercilessly tortured and destroyed by Sade's libertines. The family itself is attacked viciously. In his stories, fathers rape their daughters, and corrupted daughters do unspeakable things to their mothers. The very reality of biological life seems to infuriate him.

What's going on here? In the face of such depravity, one naturally searches for answers. Even if the knowledge goes nowhere toward ending man's inhumanity to man, we strive to somehow make sense of things so dark and twisted they seem to defy explanation, for the sake of our own sanity if nothing else. My belief is that we see in Sade's writing a psychological phenomenon that has its roots in the very nature of our sentience. It is the mind's hatred of the body, because it can suffer, and take the mind along with it as it does so. 

It is hard to imagine anything more painful than being eaten alive from the hind legs forward, and yet this is a fate that befalls thousands of our fellow creatures, in forests and savannas, every day. The vast majority of human beings will come to far more benign ends, but the important distinction is that we are well aware of what could happen us, if we are not careful, or just plain unlucky. The fact is that, unlike animals, we can think about things happening to us that are every bit as frightening and unwelcome as the things that are shown in the torture movies. It is with our minds that we think about them, but it is our bodiesthat we imagine experiencing the suffering. We are the only species that has a distinct separation, a schism even, between mind and body. We can actually live lives, of a kind, outside our bodies. No other creature can. We can daydream, create stories, make songs, paint pictures, have sexual fantasies, relive memories vividly, conceptualize, invent, etc. We can easily imagine a life involving no body at all! Indeed, we have created science fiction stories where our minds are placed inside computers, thereby living eternal, pain-free lives. People who are stricken with cancer or other long term, debilitating and painful illnesses frequently describe themselves as "prisoners" in their bodies. What I am positing is that there is an element of human consciousness that chronically feels this way. Sade was expressing this, first and foremost, I believe, though he himself was perhaps unaware of it and presumedly would have denied it. It is ironic that he, due to his atrocious behavior as well as his writing (which outraged the Emperor Napolean), spent much of his life as a prisoner, in jails and mental asylums, creating through his mind an outward experience of the very thoughts that drove his writing. 

The mind is frightened by the amount of pain, seemingly limitless, that the body it is merged with can experience. Although our central nervous system has evolved the sensation of pain to keep us from burning or bleeding or freezing to death, this impeccable biological system renders us horrendously vulnerable. So averse to its demise is our body that it keeps pain sensations active even as we lie helpless, and crushed, under the rubble of an earthquake, or trapped inside a burning room, on the off chance that we will somehow manage to get ourselves out of our predicament. Isn't it plausible that our minds, aware of the stubbornness of the body, and its survival-at-any-cost imperative, would develop resentment against it? Why can't we shut the pain mechanism down when we want to (apparently some yogis have developed this very ability, but it takes years of rigorous training)? When there is no hope of escape? Every king, dictator, Grand Inquisitor and mafioso throughout history has exploited this "flaw" in the body's design. In fact, it is impossible to imagine the worst forms of government even existing without it, as such regimes are propped up by the fear they induce in the common folk. All of that suffering, down through the ages; no wonder the mind is pissed!

And so, the mind acts this out, through the mediums that it has developed, the "art" that is Sade's writing and today's gorno movies. Each time the mind, represented by Sade's libertines or Hannibal Lector, or any of the demonic, merciless,ingenious psychopaths who fill our screens as well as our nightmares, gleefully tortures to death somebody else's body, it has its revenge, momentarily. That's the experience viewers are after, I feel. Though I am disturbed by such movies, and by the large following they have, I ultimately see them as merely symptomatic, and don't expect them to go away. They, or some similar manifestation, will be with us so long as we have the ability to contemplate, and fear, our fate.

I Think, Therefore I'm Nuts!
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
- Genesis 6

I'm an ape man, I'm an ape ape man, oh I'm an ape man
- The Kinks
Recently, I wrote a post (Sade and the Body)proffering the idea that the roots of sadism, and peoples' fascination with it in films and literature, can be found in the nature of our consciousness, specifically that we humans are acutely aware of just how much our bodies are capable of suffering, under certain unwelcome conditions. In that essay, I referred to the mind's "hatred" of the body, a kind of psychosis arising from the mind's  awareness of this worrisome aspect of its nature. In the interests of fairness, I would like, with this essay, to consider the human body'spredicament, the raw deal it gets from being attached to a mind that operates like no other in the animal kingdom.
As bodies go, yours and mine are nothing more than variations on a theme. They are closest in form to the chimpanzees and other higher apes, of course, but in fact they are not so different from hundreds of species having vertebrae, internal organs held within a rib cage, extenders such as arms, legs,  fingers, toes, etc. Our pinkish pigmentation can be found under the fur of numerous animals, from pigs to guinea pigs to dogs to prairie dogs. In terms of design, I think it fair to say that we have more in common with squirrels, physiologically and stylistically, than a Model T has to a Ferrari, and than either does to a bulldozer or a city bus. Our bodies are just another example of The Mammalian Success Story that has been going on since ancient cataclysms laid the dinosaurs low.
If a chimpanzee were to wake up one morning, and find it's body transformed, a la Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, into that of a homo sapiens, leaving aside the muscular strength it would be sacrificing, we can imagine that it would be able to find its way around its new contraption fairly easily. If it felt an itch, or an urge, it would pretty much know what to do about it. And the alternative would be true for us as well. All that chimp hair may take some getting used to, as would being able to effortlessly rip doors off their hinges, but on the whole we'd probably be able to master our new equipment, eventually. Learning to function in our chimp body would probably be considerably less difficult than learning to fly an airplane or navigate a submarine.
Now, on the other hand, stick that chimpanzee's body with a human mind and tell me it wouldn't freak out! "What are all these...things?" They're called abstract thoughts. "WTF am I supposed to do with them?" Uh..., this is going to take some time. Our minds, with their abstract, logical, inventive, metaphoric, etc. ways of operating represent such an anomalous feature of evolution that if even our closest relatives were to suddenly come into the possession of one they would likely go flat out insane in a matter of seconds! We, fortunately, have had all of seven million years (since we broke off from the chimps, a mere blink of an eye in the history of evolution) to get used to our minds. We're comfortable with them, or are we?
It's not so much the minds themselves, which, unique as they are in the Wild Kingdom, nevertheless have clearly aided our survival and expansion over the various terrains of the earth. You don't find chimps living in harsh, dry deserts or frozen hinterlands, after all. But what we havedone with our minds, how we have shaped our environment with them, has surely put tremendous strain on our poor animal bodies. Consider our eyes, hardly different than a chimp's, which evolved while looking at relatively few color schemes, primarily the greens of the jungle, the blues and grays of ocean and sky, the browns of the earth and mountains, etc. Seeking out the sudden stimulation that comes from finding attractive fruit, or the sudden rapid movement that alerts us that prey or predators are about. This is what our close relatives see, what they use their eyes for, up to this very day. Whereas we, on the other hand, are constantly blitzed with a mad barrage of colors, flashing images, tiny backlit characters on a computer screen that we put together to make words, etc. Other senses are similarly blitzed; our ears, certainly, to say nothing of our taste buds! We are a hyper-stimulated species, made so by the downright freakish environments we've built and placed ourselves in.
We spend so much time in boxes; buildings, rooms, cars, and, perhaps, that most unnatural environment of all, fifty thousand feet above the earth, in airplane cabins. Our air is conditioned, our light is electric, our drinking water comes to us through pipes. Our contact with other species is extremely limited. Our natural patterns of sleep and movement are severely compromised by the demands of the unnatural world we've engineered for ourselves. Oh, the poor human body! So near, by its very structure, to the natural world, and yet so distant!
It's bad enough that we modify our own bodies. We have gone further, employing our minds to mould oddities of biology that Natural Selection would have, er, naturally selected for extinction tout suite. Consider the poor pug, which sounds asthmatic as it manages to breathe through a flat apparatus that was meticulously squashed from a wolf's long snout by generations of breeding. Consider as well ears of corn with husks wrapped so tightly around the seeds they can't possibly be dispersed. Or bananas with seeds so useless the plants must be grown by cuttings. Cows with udders so huge, and geared toward milk production, they would possibly explode without human assistance. I wonder, if the beauty, vulnerability and exquisiteness of our own human bodies was fully appreciated and honored, would such manipulations of other creatures even be thinkable?
in 1968, Erich von Daniken published a book titledChariots of the Gods. In it, he referred to certain passages from ancient literature, such as the one I begin this essay with, as indicating that human beings are in fact manifestations of an experiment of sorts, a hybridization of terrestrial ape bodies with highly intelligent aliens (the "gods" who came by "chariots" to the earth). Whether or not there is any truth whatsoever to the claims the book makes, the metaphor of "sons of Gods" (minds) mating with "daughters of men" (animal bodies) quite poetically describes our predicament, I feel. We are, by all accounts, an oddity of nature. Ours is an uncomfortable marriage of raw, animal senses and sensitivities, to abstract, intellectual sentience. For now, our minds have succeeded in constraining our bodies within an environment and lifestyle that no stretch of the imagination could argue they were evolved, over the course of millions of years, for. One can only hope that as the human mindcontinues to evolve it will work out a happier medium for the animal it lives its life contained within.

Selling Gingerbread

Here we are now, entertain us!
- Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Just look at Bob and Judy, they're happy as can be
inventing situations, putting them on TV
- Talking Heads, "Found A Job"

   About six weeks ago, the world was introduced to its newest superstars. 33 Chilean miners, who would otherwise have passed their entire lives unknown to anyone other than their neighbors and family members (and really, is that so bad?), became trapped in a precious metals mine in the northern part of the country, and instantly became world news. With horror, we learned that the miners were stranded 3 miles below the surface of the earth, and would remain so for anywhere from three to six months. The story, that the world's media purveyors rushed to report on, had it all: heroes - the miners themselves; villains - the heads of the mine company, Empressa Minera San Esteban, which has a shoddy safety record that has resulted in earlier tragedies; suspense, drama, and a setting right out of our scariest nightmares. The world's attention has since moved on, of course, as is its way, although the story of the miners and their ongoing ordeal continues to make headlines in Chile and throughout portions of Latin America. But when their story first made its way onto the airwaves as the-thing-you're-supposed-to-be-fascinated-by-today, and millions of people fixed their attention on it, received updates from breathless reporters and anchormen and women, and contemplated the unimaginable hardship being endured by the new TV stars, I cannot help but muse, ironically, that the thought occurred to many of them, "six months without television? How will they survive?"

   In the midst of the real life drama of the miners, the media had an even more compelling subject to consider - itself. Yes, the 62nd Annual Emmy Awards Ceremony was held with much fanfare, as television, for a brief, but yearly, sliver of time had nothing better to entertain us with than its own greatness. Again, audiences had their heroes and villains, along with suspense that reached a crescendo as millions quivered in their chairs awaiting the news that their favorite celebrities, such as Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock,  and programs such as Mad Men, had prevailed against worthy, or unworthy, adversaries. With the unearned pride that only a fan can understand, they watched their beaming heroes head for the stage to grab that slender little gold plated angel holding the world, or an atom, or whateverthat thing is she's holding, and hoist her proudly into the air. The case of Mad Men, and 30 Rock, are particularly revealing. These are shows about mass media. When one chooses to spend a night of one's life being entertained by rooting for an entertainment program about entertainment,then one is beingmeta-entertained. And no, I do not think this is a good thing.

   As a continually evolving species, perhaps we should now be referred to as "Homo Entertainus". Entertainment, for many, has quite literally become the most important thing in life. I doubt many readers would argue this. I bet we all know at least someone, an elderly aunt or parent perhaps, who turns on the tube first thing in the morning and basically leaves it on until it's time to sleep, to finally give their brains a brief respite from its spell. Their daily schedule revolves around what time shows come on. The only things they seem to enjoy talking about are the programs they watched recently. In all of the long march of human evolution, people like them would have been unthinkable, even unimaginable, up until a very recent period in our history. This is not to put them down, necessarily. I fully understand that for those who are elderly and alone, perhaps unable to get around much, the television and its offerings are nothing less than a savior. I'm just pointing out that, for well over 99% of our existence as a species, such a lifestyle was neither possible nor desirable.

   We are vastly, grotesquely over-entertained, no less so than we are overfed, as a nation. Our Ipods are filled with thousands of songs, our computer's memory is filled with movies, TV shows and sports events, our conversations have become flabby with limitless commenting on films, sitcoms, albums, games, etc. It has become such a large part of our lives that we have ceased to ask, if indeed we ever did, what is the point of all this entertainment? How could it possibly have come to play such a large role in our lives? What does it give us that we can't get in some other way? From our own lives, not fantasies?

   It's been a long road getting here. Perhaps the modern age of entertainment has as its beginning a date in late 1902, when Enrico Caruso's angelic voice was recorded and made available for distribution. For the first time in history, the world's greatest opera singer could be listened to and appraised without traveling to the theater to see him perform. In that instance, every local singer and musician, from opera diva to Mississippi bluesman, was put on notice. The competition just got stiffer, pal. From now on, you're competing against the best the world has to offer.

   Plato, surely one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, put a lot of thought into the value of art and entertainment. One shudders to think what he would make of the world we live in today. It is like his Republic turned upside down, particularly in terms of entertainment. In his ideal society, plays, musical performances, poetry and pictorial arts were to be strictly censored. They were to show "only the good". Those who created them were to be placed in special colonies outside the metropolis, as their very presence among regular folk was potentially corrupting. Why? First of all, because the very nature of art, as a representation of something, whether an event or a flower, was a further diminishment of the real, the ideal world beyond from which this one arises. A painting of a flower was thus a further removal from reality than the flower itself. Looking at the world around us now, is it not possible to see some wisdom in his apprehension? When people spend as much time talking about their favorite shows with their colleagues at work as they do actually working, when characters in dramas seem as, or more, real to us than the people we share our lives with, have we not perhaps crossed a line the great Athenian warned us about?

   Furthermore, according to Plato, art is intrinsically manipulative. Because of the way it entraps our senses, it wields a power, that can be used for good or evil, to influence us. In his age, when poetry and plays were the chief form of entertainment, retellings and enactments of battles could easily have the effect of stirring up uncontrollable, violent passions, such as emotions of rage and desire for revenge. We take this for granted now; in fact much of our entertainment is built upon generating precisely those emotions, even in the entertainment we create for our children. This would have outraged Plato. He was particularly censorious in his attitude as to how children should be introduced and exposed to the arts. Though many would like to reduce Plato to a caricature, an old fuddy duddy who wanted to control people like some small town city council member in the Bible Belt, the reality was that Plato felt threatened by art in the same way that a great Native American hunter would have felt threatened by a grizzly bear. He himself was a poet, and a great lover of music and all arts. Writing as an artist, and a great one at that, he understood its power as well as anyone in The Age of Pericles, and he felt that the place of art and entertainment in one's life should be limited, and its content controlled by discerning folk.

    "The Circus is coming to town!" In our hyper-entertained world of today, it is hard for us to imagine the excitement that exclamation generated among young and old in the small towns of Europe and  North America, for centuries. For only a few times in one's life, one could be dazzled by the extraordinary skill and strength and bravery of the performers, awestruck at the sight of exotic animals, particularly elephants and giraffes (the "stars" of the animal world during the heyday of the circus industry), and swept up in the spectacle and grandness of the atmosphere. Mothers could be shocked at the costumes the lithe lady acrobats donned, while fathers and sons hid their enthusiasm under pamphlets or boxes of popcorn. When one's life was for the most part a monotonous repetition of the same necessary acts, day in, day out, imagine what an otherworldly diversion these shows must have provided the masses. And today? The circus has been relegated to the furthest fringes of the vast, multi trillion dollar worldwide entertainment industry. Once its sole titan, it now barely registers as a sliver on the Entertainment Market Share pie chart. And to survive at all, it has found it necessary to modernize. The most successful "new circus" in the world today, The Cirque de Soleil of Quebec, has incorporated a story line into its shows, and done away with animals. Where is the shock and awe of seeing an elephant or a giraffe these days, even for children, who can look at them any time they want on their giant TV screens, and can see evenmore fantastical creatures in movies like Star Wars, Avatar, and the Harry Potter series? And they talk! Though adult viewers were appalled by the Jar Jar Binks character in the 4th Star Wars movie, he (or it) had the kids at hello.

   So, what about the 360-odd days of a year that those country bumpkins had to endure when the circus wasn't in town? Were they deprived? Were they like the Chilean miners, trapped in a world of darkness, without stimulation, without color and spectacle? Of course not. They just had to make their own fun. If they wanted to reenact the circus scenes that had so enchanted them, but were without all the "merchandising" of toys, games, dolls, pajamas, costumes, etc. that modern day entertainment events leave in their wake, they had to make their own toys, out of corncobs, buttons, animal hairs, peach pits, whatever their searching hands could come upon, and their fertile minds could synthesize. The adults were okay as well. When work was done and they felt like treating themselves to entertainment, they had music to listen to - their own, in many cases played on instruments fashioned by their own hands. Sure, the singers didn't sing quite as well as Caruso, and the fiddler was no Paganini, but what did that matter? Likely as not, they had never even heard of Paganini, such was the benighted nature of their plight. But in such a case, ignorance is bliss, because without the multi-billion dollar recording industry pointing out to us just how far short of greatness we mere mortals fall, without it serving up Maria Callas and the Beatles to our hungry ears, what difference does it make if the music is awkward and unprofessional? Making friends and neighbors happy is what it's about, right? Orshouldn't it be? The same with sports. Without the entertainment industry turning folks like Joe Montana, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods into demigods, would folks still have the same incentive to achieve their own, personal best? If anything, even more so, I imagine. Insidiously woven into the world of hyper-entertainment we inhabit today is the message that we, the vast majority of us, are entertainees. Our job is to sit back, absorb, adulate and even worship the output of the well-paid pros who we give large swaths of our lives to.

    I readily concede that in a world as fraught with problems as this one is, railing against the entertainment industry, not for its content but for its pervasiveness, must seem to some like a waste of effort. Why go after our diversion, our culture, our escape? Well, in answer all I can say is that I don't feel comfortable about an industry of diversion and escape becoming such a large part of peoples' lives. It robs us of reality, I feel. It violates my personal belief in the adage, "all things in moderation". It dements our perception to the point that all phenomena is on its way to becoming fused, such that politics is entertainment and war is entertainment and sports is war and the circus has reinvented and reasserted itself resulting in our world now being run by clowns who do and say the most outrageous things to get our attention, and daredevils who take tremendous risks with our money. Many people will tell you with pride that they have unplugged their TVs, that they "hardly ever watch television". But if they are still listening to music for hours each day and catching a movie a week, is that really all that different? As I see it, when one is bored, one has three options. One can just accept being bored. This is not so bad. Being bored can be a good thing. It is not an evil to be clobbered by a gigantic octopus of an industry that has a diversion to offer for each moment of our lives. The second is to be an entertainee. Watch something. Listen to something. Read something. I would say that both of these options have their place, and are roughly equal in my estimation in terms of value. I would hope that would be reflected in the amount of time one spends with either choice. The third choice is to me far more interesting and important and valuable. Create something. By yourself or with somebody else. Write a poem to a lover or sing a song to nature. Deposit something into the Bank of Human Creativity; don't just consume that which others have produced. It doesn't have to be great, what you create; in fact, a disservice has been done to you if you have that expectation. A silly little ditty that you take the time to write and sing can be more valuable to your soul by far than listening to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony for the umpteenth time. I don't think Beethoven would mind, either. He wasn't making music because he wanted to be worshipped long after his death. He made music because it was in him. Just like something is in you, longing to be expressed.

What Color Is Your Paradise?
Okay, I suppose it's possible that the reason I am not as happy, rich, famous and world renowned as I could be is that I didn't read "The Secret", the blockbuster bestseller that proved the effectiveness of "The Law of Attraction" for one Rhonda Byne, the author who "magnetized" millions of happiness seekers as purchasers of her book and DVD, by first "giving intent" that Oprah Winfrey would do that thing she does, which is turn self help authors into overnight sensations, such being the "manifestation" power of the Big O.

On the other hand, I DID read a book that, from what I can tell, is nearly identical to it, which came out about ten years earlier than "The Secret". That book was titled, "Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting!", and it also sold quite well. In it, author Lynn Grabhorn makes the same points that Ms. Byne makes; essentially, everything we could ever desire, including, say, a European sports car right down to make, model and color, is there for the taking if we just feel strongly enough about having it. According to both books, the all important tool to use is "The Law of Attraction", an aspect of this universe that simply can't refuse us anything we want, provided we are so attuned with our desire for it that we have no doubts whatsoever about its arrival, and are able therefore to experience it as if we already have it; in other words, feelit into being.

Well, it seems pretty obvious that this "secret" doesn't work as well as advertised, because if it did, we wouldn't need to have these books pop up in stores every ten years or so, would we? And certainly, no one who bought Ms. Grabhorn's book would have needed to buy the Byne one, right? But, you want to bet some did? Yet there is  an even more glaringly obvious fact of life that makes it clear that there is more to fulfilling our desires than what the two books teach. That being, and correct me if I'm wrong about this, babies don't simply dematerialize their restrainers and fly over to the toy they want to play with. I mean,babies? Certainly they don't have the "negative mindset", the "poverty consciousness" that messes up the smooth functioning of the Law of Attraction for us neurotic adults, do they?  They just got here! If anybody knows how to "feel" strongly enough, it's a baby. He sees that toy, and it's the only thing in the room, in the universe, for him. His eyes light up, his hand reaches out, and then somehow, unfathomably, his hand fails to grasp the longed-for object. Hey, no problem for the baby. He'll just make everything between him and the object disappear, grab the sucker, and then.....still doesn't happen!Now it's time for the poverty consciousness to kick in. The baby wails like life has no meaning, as he sits trapped in his high chair. Poor dear! What could have possibly gone wrong?

Well, it could mean that there IS no "law of attraction". In the first place, calling it a "law"; what is that? Is that meant to make it sound like some scientifically demonstrable universal phenomenon like gravity? Was it called a "law" just because that makes it easier for self help gurus to deceive the gullible?  On the other hand, it could alsomean that there is some truth to be found there, that our life experiences do, in fact, tend to mirror our outlook on life, at least in certain ways, but that the authors have just overstated its power. We all know some glass half full types, and glass half empty types. Give each type the same boss, and for the latter, they end up wondering why they "ALLLways have to take orders from such assholes!", while the former often ends up winning the boss over and getting a promotion. On yet another hand (which I am magically manifesting now using this all-powerful tool), it could be something far more, to me, wonderful and mysterious that is happening. And that is that this universe is very complex, and we humans are very complex as well. At any time within our consciousness, all sorts of ideas, memories, patterns, images, etc.  are at play within us as we go through each moment of life. We can't reduce ourselves, the universe, or the results that we experience in our lives to simplistic formulas that fit into a paragraph of gushing, exclamation point-laden prose from a self help author. Would we really want to? Would we want either ourselves, or the universe, to be so flat, so one dimensional? Even if we managed to manifest a Ferrari for each day of the week, would that kind of basic, yes/no, ones and zeroes universe, completely lacking in nuance (both authors liken it to a copy machine) suit our souls?


But then, who am I to judge success? In the New Age world of the self-help movement, a bestseller bestows a great deal of credibility on its author. Since the purpose that compels people to purchase such books is to achieve more in life, the fact that someone does just that, by writing a book and becoming rich and famous, makes them, de facto, a person to be emulated and listened to. A guru. And then, the bonanza begins. The tapes you can listen to in your car.  The workshops and seminars and DVDs.  The crowded auditoriums from Fresno to Jacksonville to Melbourne. The overpriced cruise ship tours to Mykonos and Hawaii in the company of the teacher. As the success trajectory shoots upward, the authors can begin to start wearing white all the time, to have beatific photos of themselves doctored to make it look like they have halos. They must appear to be happy at all times, enlightened beings who show the rest of us how far we still have to go. Their critics can be easily dismissed as being "negative", "not ready to heal" and "still under the spell of poverty consciousness". Poor things, stuck in kindergarten while the newly wise followers of their rich, famous,newly-minted guru prepare to graduate to a form of existence where only benevolence prevails.

And here's the thing. In the New Age, you can write the most outlandish things in order to get that book up there in the Oprahsphere, and hence up the New York Times chart. Because we're talking about, you know, the Universe, it can pay (literally, and handsomely) for the claim to be as outlandish as you can make it. For example, you can claim, as Neale Donald Walsh did, that lil' ol' you had a conversation (actually a whole bunch of conversations) with God! His Conversations With God series has sold tens of millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages. Mr. Walsh, with his long flowing white beard and impeccably white robes, was obviously so impressed with his conversation partner that he decided to copy His fashion sense! Or, you can claim, as one Gary Renard did in his bestseller,The Disappearance of the Universe, that two attractive "Ascended Masters", one male and one female, just happened to appear in yourliving room one day, from the future no less, to share with you cosmic wisdom, along with instructions to share it with the remainder of humanity that doesn't  have beings from the future materialize in their living rooms on a regular basis. Maybe they liked his CD collection?

But even those claims fall well short, on the hubris meter, of what I consider to be the most outlandish claims I have ever encountered from any author (I've forgotten his name), in any book, (the title of which escapes me). His book didn't go on to become a bestseller, but I can assure you he was none too disappointed about that. Because, you see, according to the book, this individual has had many incarnations on this earth plane, and was always a king and a leader, even the founder of religions. In order to be coaxed, grudgingly, by his Spirit Guides to incarnate just one more time (this current life) he accepted, on the condition that he "[wouldn't] be worshipped again!" I kid you not. The only other thing I remember about the book (interesting how little of its actual content stayed with me) is a passage that describes him visiting a psychic of considerable power. As she read his energy field, she became increasingly astonished at just who was sitting in front of her, thinking perhaps he may have been one of the Twelve Apostles, and then finally exclaiming to an onlooker that - wait for it - "this guy taught Jesus!"

Such extravagant claims for oneself is an area where the New Age excels, and it is not simply because its adherents are gullible, foolish, and easily misled, although that certainly figures into the equation. More significantly, it is that the New Age is a unique field of human experience, one where the goal is to be as "high" as possible. People who delve into it are seeking, above all else, enlightenment. And it doesn't help to have a lot of "judgment" and "negativity" floating around in your head if that is your goal. New Age authors and teachers are thus able to make use of a loophole that nearly all their followers would, a bit red-facedly, admit to, regardless of how intelligent and thoughtful they are. They want to believe in a world where something as extraordinary and desirable as their own enlightenment is possible; they want to be able to do things with their own minds, and experience things in their own reality that, if not as hard to believe as the claims of the teachers, are nevertheless far outside of our everyday world of frustrations, disappointments and heartbreaks. If they, the followers, feel that being positive, non-judgmental, accepting, etc. is going to put them in the right energetic space to receive the teacher's messages and move closer to that goal of enlightenment, whereas being "negative"; i.e., using their critical thinking skills and God-given bullshit detector, will only serve to keep them stuck in theirunenlightened condition, they will feel an internal pressure to choose to approach the material with the former attitude. Suspension of disbelief never had a higher incentive!

Now, it would be all too easy at this point to clutch one's Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan books close to one's chest and say that the whole New Age deal is just one enormous mountain of hokum. That it only exists because certain "memes" about the nature of reality have hardwired themselves into our awareness since long before the Scientific Method was ever developed, and that some very flaky folks with loads of ambition and no problems stretching the truth have decided to exploit those memes for maximum profit and self-aggrandizement. I can certainly understand why people would hold this view. But I, personally, will not go there.

Because despite all the flimflam, all the grandiose claims, all the marketing excess and fallen heroes of the New Age movement (including Rhonda Bynes, who has been sued by some of her earliest collaborators on "The Secret" for not paying  what she owes them), I am convinced, as I am of anything in this world, that the existence of the New Age "movement" (and it should be said that nobody involved in it really thinks of it as such) is attributable not  merely to human gullibility. Rather, it has emerged from mankind's eons-long associations with some very real aspects of this universe, and very powerful ones. I think that people do themselves a disservice, and pay a price for it, either by attempting to turn these universal forces into a hyped-up, dumbed down industry, or by denying them altogether as unscientific woo woo.


If you live in a fairly large city, and you spend any time exploring the New Age community there, you will meet some truly exceptional people. Well educated, intelligent, clear minded, open hearted, fit and youthful, hardly conforming to the stereotype of suckers lining up to buy the latest snake oil. Furthermore, you may note that they are not at all defensive about the low regard with which they are held by the scoffing, science minded, "rational" types whose views adhere to Dawkins and his ilk, and are convinced we are living in an essentially stupid, dead and mechanistic universe. If anything, they are bemused; certainly you won't hear the vitriol that comes from the other side, the pejoratives such as "whack-job", "nutter", "loony", etc. Indeed, one reason for the lack of animosity will be that many of them, perhaps even most of them, have been in a similar state of mind at some point in their lives. Having seen through the baloney of their childhood religions, they went through a period of questioning, doubt and agnosticism that those who scoff at them still inhabit. When one can look at one's own history and recognize that ten or twenty or thirty years ago, one was in precisely the same position as the scoffers, it is hard to feel overly sensitive, or needlessly retaliatory. 

Some among the people you encounter will be practitioners who have trained in, and offer services in, such esoteric "healing modalities" as reiki, psychic reading, feng shui, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, shamanism, channeling, past life trauma work, Rolfing, tarot, crystal, etc., etc. You will hear from people you talk to that some of these healers have extraordinary skills or talents. They may have the ability to see auras, for example, or have experienced numerous out-of-body experiences, and so on (indeed, one of the reasons that New Agers are receptive to the outlandish claims of the megastars of the field is that even in their own circles there are people they admire and trust who have some pretty amazing experiences to tell of). Furthermore, many of these teachers will have achieved a considerable reputation, at least at the local level, and have a following of people who can testify that without question their lives have improved immeasurably by working with them. They wouldn't be paying large, sometimes verylarge, sums of money for the workshops, one-on-one sessions and so forth unless they were experiencing tangible results. Furthermore, those who visit the teachers and healers are themselves not just spiritual wannabes. Many of them will also have experienced (as I have) truly extraordinary, transformative, revelatory experiences, the kinds which are far too lightly dismissed by science-minded atheists who consider all such things delusional nonsense. 

So it's not that there's no there there. There is.  The problem lies in how, in our commerce-driven world, even the mysteries and powers of the universe end up being corralled into a moneymaking "industry" that doesn't always benefit those who get caught up in it. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time exploring the New Age, I have come to the conclusion that it is indeed very problematic when The Big Questions become Big Business.

We all gotta make a living. That's the way the world is set up, isn't it? But when one has "been to the mountaintop" (i.e., had a numinous experience of some kind), it can seem like a real drag to go on working the same boring job, and continuing to share office space with folks who "just don't get it". It can easily cause you to lose your high. When a spiritual awakening occurs, it doesn't simply find a nice little place to inhabit in the back of your mind. Spiritual awakenings are powerful things, and don't comfortably settle into your consciousness; they tend to blast all the doors and windows open and tear up the lawn! They quickly become the most important thing in your life, and your goal becomes staying in that energy, and moving it forward as much and as quickly as possible. This is not some small, egotistical thing. It is in fact very analogous to the sexual awakening that young people experience, when all of a sudden, family, jobs, studies, etc. fade to insignificance as one's attention fixates almost exclusively on this new, immensely powerful energy in one's life.

It is only natural that when this happens, many people feel a strong urge to change their jobs, to make their work about spirituality and healing, so that they can spend the majority of their time in that energy, commingle with like minded people, and give something valuable of themselves to the world and the universe. This should not be looked down upon as mere vanity or delusion. This is both an appropriate response to the transformation one has experienced and a clear indication that the spiritual energy has begun to put down roots in one's consciousness.

And that's where the problems occur. Because ours is not a society that has the slightest notion what to do about spiritual awakenings. We've barely managed to deal with sexual awakenings! Consequently, all too often what happens is one decides to get "certified" in some special esoteric field so that one can then begin to charge a fee for services of some kind. In some cases, this is a very good thing. There are many reputable schools of alternative healing therapies, any number of really good teachers out there, and lots of genuine healing happening in this world as a result. But there is also a lot of what can only charitably be called dubious in content. There are courses being offered in all sorts of "energies", "mastery courses", courses that teach you how to become a channeler, etc, etc. Often as not, and this should throw up a red flag for anyone, the courses become increasingly more expensive as you move up the ladder and attain different levels of certification, so that you can ultimately go on to become a teacher yourself. This "certification" process has become downright silly. I know of a person who developed a very unique and quite wonderful spiritual dance and movement program, and subsequently started up a "certification course" when she herself had only been doing it for a few years and had only a small following. I'm sure she figured, "hey, why not? It's my program, so I can choose my own way of certifying that others are able to begin teaching it, right?" Well, actually, no. For certification to have any meaning, it clearly must be administered by a body that consists of more than just one person,  and it must involve a discipline that has been well observed and tested, by numerous practitioners, and over a number of years. 

But at least she wasn't selling enlightenment! Seriously, that's what some of these courses do. As you move through their various esoteric courses, each revealing an even more wondrous and mysterious power that the universe withholds from all but a select few, each costing many hundreds, or even thousands of dollars (because, hey, the universe needs to eat too, right?) you will become a "master". Well, whoop de do! While some people blow twenty grand on something  as silly and material as a car, you just went and purchased yourself the same status as the people in the old dusty books! All you need is to go out and find some apostles!

As a result, in the New Age movement, there are thousands of "masters", anywhere from their late twenties to early forties, certified, set up, offering their services, and (at least many of them) working with some very real and powerful energies, and passing these on to paying customers. In a more enlightened society, with a saner approach to the numinous, these young and middle aged people would still be apprentices. They would still be spending years of their lives in discipleship to a true master, who would demonstrate to them as clearly as possible that what they are working with is not something to take lightly, nor to pass on to those who are not able to handle it. There can be consequences, really devastating ones. Furthermore, the work shouldn't essentially be about helping others, to begin with. It should be about self mastery, and then, as a result of that, if one happens to be graced with some healing powers, then these can be offered discriminately, and under the teacher's tutelage. One has to be absolutely clear about one's motivation for becoming a healer, as there is a lot of glamour involved in that term and it is very easy for the ego to reduce one's work to a caricature of true spiritual practice. What is required more than anything is patience, and patience is the first casualty of our crazy, money-centered world.


Several years ago, I experienced a personal tragedy, the suicide of someone I'd known my whole life. This happened in January, shortly after the Indian Ocean tsunami that had wiped out whole villages, and caused the death of upwards of 200,000 people. Those two events, coming so soon one after the other, affected me very strongly, and as a result I was at a very low point in my life. I had been a spiritual practitioner for many years, mostly meditating, but having also participated in various spiritual study groups. I had many friends who were engaged in various esoteric practices. During a get-together at the house of one of these friends, a very lovely, deeply spiritual, woman in her mid-thirties announced that she had something to offer anyone there who was interested. She had just returned from anashram in India, and while there, had studied with a renowned guru. He had passed on a powerful healing energy to her, and explained that she would be able to pass it through her to others. She had experienced this energy as very beautiful and very healing, and wished for those of us who were willing to experience it as well. Feeling that I needed something to help me shake my blues, I gratefully accepted her offer.

I got into a meditative pose, perched upon a stool, and she held her hand near me as I sat there, eyes closed. Almost immediately, I began to go into a deep trance. I experienced an incredibly blissful energy moving through me. I felt as if I could have stayed there forever. I was aware, vaguely, of all that was going on around me, such as snippets of conversation and so on, but my overriding state was one of absolute bliss that seemed to get deeper and deeper the longer I stayed in it. There was no desire on my part to move myself out of it, so I let my body go stiff as a statue, in that precarious perch on the stool. Other people also received the energy, but no one in the room experienced it as powerfully as I did. Perhaps no one else welcomed it in as deeply as I, because it had been a long time since I had even felt good, much less blissful. Eventually, after perhaps an hour, I had to be nudged, gradually, out of that trance so that I could return to the world of the here and now.

What followed in the subsequent days and weeks was not as wonderful as the feeling that I had experienced that day. Soon afterwards, I began to feel quite strange. My identity seemed to grow more and more precarious. I felt sometimes like I was losing my mind, at other times that I was hollowing out somehow, perhaps even losing my soul. I couldn't explain these feelings to anyone, and tried to hide what was happening. To make a long story short, eventually I fell into a deep and hellish depression. Only after about six months, and after finding the right type of traditional medication, was I able to recover, slowly and agonizingly. 

Now, I can't say for sure what influence, if any, my experience at the party had on the events that followed. Human psychology is very complex, and I am sure that a mixture of many things, most certainly the personal tragedy, the entry into middle age I was experiencing, different problems with work and relationships, etc. contributed to the depression. Furthermore, I cannot say that even if that energy hadplayed a role, that that was necessarily a bad thing, considering my life as a whole. As difficult as that period was, as I recovered new talents and personal qualities began to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere. Before my depression, I couldn't have imagined writing these "visual essays", for example. I am happier now than I have ever been at any time in my life, and it is possible that going through that dark period was exactly what my soul required in order to grow and ripen. Nevertheless, on that day I possessed neither the wisdom nor discernment to know if accepting that very powerful energy at such a vulnerable time in my life was the right choice. I don't think the lady who passed it on to me did either. Without question, her intention was purely altruistic. She simply wanted to freely share something beautiful with her friends, no strings attached. But there was no warning that I may be biting off more than I could chew, either.

I feel this episode reveals that much of what is referred to as the "New Age" is rooted in things that are indeed very powerful, and must be treated with great care and respect. They are not something to be packaged in bright, appealing colors or passed around like a new cake recipe. We occupy a precarious place in the universe, the nature of which we ourselves are quite uncertain about. It is unwise to cavalierly experiment with energies that have been here since before our ancestors wiggled out of their prehistoric lakes and rivers, or to audaciously attempt to fit them into our monetary system and reduce them to mere products to be sold. "The Secret" may be over-hyped nonsense, but The Great Mystery is something else entirely.

More of Us to Love
Chances are good that you’ve never heard of Cambridge, Ohio. It’s a tiny hamlet located in eastern Ohio, near the West Virginia border, that happens to be my ancestral home. My maternal grandparents, along with relatives and fellow immigrants from the same region of Lebanon, made their way over in the first decade of the last century, set up shop, and had a lot of children, my mother being the final installment (she moved to Columbus, where I was born, to attend nursing school, and has lived there ever since). Cambridge is nestled at the foothills of the Appalachians, and there are some beautiful state parks nearby. It is God’s Country; quite literally, as “The Living Word”, a popular outdoor drama depicting the last week of the life of Jesus, is performed at an amphitheater outside of town on weekends during the warm months. Collectors of glass know Cambridge for its historic glassworks factory that closed in the 1950s. The name “Cambridge Glass” is associated with a high quality, distinctive product line that eventually fell out of favor as tastes moved on. Cambridge has a picturesque Victorian county courthouse, and a quaint main business street. And that’s about it.
Oh, and Cambridge has LOTS of fat people. I’ll never forget an experience I had when my daughter and I were back in the States for a family visit a few years ago. We were in Cambridge, and decided to head down to the charming, and miniscule, downtown area for lunch. The restaurant we had decided upon, we were informed, was famous for its pies. Now, I love pies -blueberry and pumpkin being my two favorites – and as we headed over, one of these was what I was looking forward to wrapping my mouth around. However, to my disappointment, this place didn’t have either on offer. They only served cream pies, which were proudly displayed in the storefront window to attract passersby. These pies; how to describe them? They were gargantuan! They rose up from their dishes like puffy souffles, but they were all cream. Banana cream, lemon cream, chocolate cream, and another one that I couldn’t be sure about, but perhaps it was cream cream! No longer in a mood for pie, but still plenty hungry, I wandered in with my group, and things got surreal.
My family is blessed with a metabolism such that we generally don’t put on excess weight. In actuality, I considered this more curse than blessing for much of my life, as, to my humiliation, I was rewarded with the unlovable nickname of “spaghetti legs” by my second grade classmate Carla. Carla is of Italian descent, and her mom was a great cook, so I can easily imagine that she wouldlove to be called “spaghetti legs” herself these days, but I digress. Anyway, we sat ourselves down, five or six skinny folks at a table in the middle of the restaurant. It was then that my daughter and I, accustomed to seeing Japanese bodies all around us, observed that everyone else in the restaurant was enormous! One of whom was the waitress, who brought menus to our tables and, while walking off, told us to “be sure and leave room for some pie!”
I’m not exactly sure where she imagined that room might be, as the portions of food at this eatery were staggering. The only thing remotely healthy that I could make out was the Greek Salad, authentic enough because the proprietor was Greek, but still an Olympian mountain of feta cheese and olives. Almost everything else was grilled, or deep-fried to the point that one may as well have inserted Super Glu directly into one’s arteries. Barely able to finish what was on our plates, dessert was out of the question. The waitress was aghast. Surely we couldn’t leave without tasting this restaurant’s specialty. As she persisted, I began to get a weird feeling that I had entered a Twilight Zone episode. Perhaps just one bite of pie would have been enough to transform us into the restaurant’s typical patrons. I could practically hear the chant from the movie “Freaks” in the back of my head as I doggedly refused: One of us! One of us! Gobble Gobble One of us! We left, as the waitress saw us off by shouting, “Y’all come back and have some pie next time!”
The U.S. has a weight problem, and Cambridge is hardly outstanding in this regard. As someone who only visits the country occasionally, I may be less inured to this fact then my fellow countrymen, but people from other parts of the world are looking on in amazement. Nearly every Japanese who has visited has a story to tell about the giant portions served in restaurants, and the fatties who order said along with that ultimate gesture of futility, a Diet Coke. If our blubber was just the (elephantine) butt of jokes, it would be bad enough. But with the number of Americans suffering from diabetes, heart disease, clogged arteries, etc. the country’s obesity curse is far beyond a laughing matter.
How did we get here? There are numerous explanations, and as I am not a dietary expert I shall limit myself to my own observations and thoughts on the matter, coming from someone who has spent twenty years in a country highly regarded for the nutritional value of its traditional cuisine, and the longevity and slimness of its citizens. Let’s begin with that Diet Coke mentioned earlier. Leaving aside the hopelessness of doing anything positive for one’s health by slurping one down, one might begin by asking: why have soft drinks with meals in the first place? Japanese people don’t. Certainly, for most of the country’s history, neither did Americans. Where did this habit, of drinking fizzy, sickly sweet beverages with meals come from? And that is the right place to start, because much of America’s fat problem can be attributed to the brilliant (and tragically so) promotional schemes of America’s junk food purveyors. Here is how cokes became a staple of America’s restaurant (and eventually home) meals. The Coca Cola company made a “generous” offer to all food establishments, large and small, all over the country. Install a soda fountain that serves our drinks, and we’ll buy you an electric sign to display outside! What could be better for attracting clientele than a brightly glowing sign? Only one little thing: half the sign space had to be used to advertise – you guessed it – Coca Cola.  And thus it was that a triumverate of American cuisine, an Axis of Dietary Evil, was now complete; a burger (or a BLT, or a grilled cheese sandwich), fries…..and a Coke!
Burgers! Aw, yes, now we are really getting to the meat of the problem!  For burgers mean fast food, and fast food, in two fell swoops, delivered the coup de grace to America the Beautiful (or at least beautifully built). I remember when there was only one Wendy’s on the entire planet. It was a fantastic and hugely popular eatery in downtown Columbus, at the intersection of Broad and High, which, as Columbusites will inform you, is smack in the center of town. It may also be the epicenter of American fast food culture. For not only did it provide the birthplace of America’s third most successful burger chain, Columbus itself is known as an ideal “test market city”. So many of the things that Americans devour in fast food restaurants, from chicken “nuggets” to burritos the size of your head, appear on the menu because they tested well in Columbus. But back to that first Wendy’s. The burgers there were not just good; they were amazing! Pretty much everyone who walked out of there, when it was just the one store, was certain they had just consumed one of, if not the, best burgers they had ever tasted in their lives. They were nothing like the burgers you get in Wendy’s chains nowadays. They were handcrafted antique Swiss watches to today’s mass produced gadgets. But, success breeding excess, Ray Thomas, Wendy’s dad, was not content to leave well enough alone, and Wendy’s was soon challenging McDonalds and Burger King for American burger supremacy. The only thing he had to squander was the impeccable quality that made his burger joint a star in the first place.
Mass production: that was the first ingenious, and disastrous, step that fast food restaurants led the American people down into today’s dietary fiasco. For perhaps the first time in human history, all pretense of there being something special about food, and a human being’s relationship to it, was trashed, or at least drastically altered. Prophetically so. Long before fast food, everyone in the U.S. had heard the expression, “you are what you eat”. That expression could thereafter be modified to say, “…and what I eat are mass produced food thingies that do more harm to my body than good”.
The second step flows naturally, or unnaturally as it were, from the first: drive-through windows. Only in America could such an insult to dining have come about (the first McDonald’s drive-thru appeared in 1975, six years after the first Wendy’s was opened. This period of time should perhaps be thought of as the beginning of the modern American diet). Food had now morphed into what most Americans think of it as today: fuel. Nothing more, nothing less. Your car runs out of fuel, you pull into a filling station, plonk down some money, fill up,  and you’re all set. Same with the body. As all too many Americans practically live in their cars, the metaphor was now complete. Americans are cars! Large objects that move around from place to place, filling up on fuel when necessary, and continually getting bigger. SUV, you ain’t got nothing on us!
Food as cheaply mass-produced fuel. This, I believe, is the key to understanding the obesity problem in America. Truly, you are what you eat. If you think of food as merely fuel, then you do not love it. You do not revere it. You, I believe, dishonor it. 
And then you put it in your body. So this stuff, that was never loved, not by the farmers who factory-produced it, not by the hands and machines that processed it, and not by the person actually eating it – is it any wonder that when it gets inside it  becomes more ravaging marauder than nourishing friend? When you love the food you eat, really love it, it loves you back. There are plenty of French and Italians and Swiss and Belgians and Austrians stuffing themselves with rich concoctions, washing it down with beer or wine or cream dolloped coffee, and still not bloating up like beached whales. There are Chinese and Japanese stuffing their faces with foods that are too salty, too oily, too sweet. But their mentality as they do so is totally different. They love food! Ask the Japanese. Better yet, ask any person who comes here from overseas. They turn on the TV and it seems like all they see are images of Japanese, almost worshipfully, stuffing food into their faces, and then gushing about how delicious it is! Ridiculous? Perhaps, but telling as well. These are very old cultures, and they retain a relationship with food that, even in this age of mass production, of nearly everything we eat coming out of a box or a can or a jar, acknowledges a simple truth that the majority of Americans have lost altogether. What you eat becomes you! You wear it as your cells, and your cells keep you alive, keep you vital and healthy. Or not. Americans have got to relearn that simple truth, as valuable in its own way as The Golden Rule. Otherwise, we may as well just change the “four food groups” to Sugar, Salt, Fat and Artificial Coloring. And save room for some pie.

War And Peace, sans Tolstoy

“My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
-J.B.S. Haldane, geneticist and evolutionary biologist
Let’s imagine a world very different from our own. The only thing on this world are tiny curves and tiny straight lines. These tiny curves and straight lines get tossed around by the wind a lot, and so they often bump into each other. Sometimes, when they bump into each other, they connect. So, for example, amidst all the many possible shapes that may arise from that happening, you sometimes get alphabet shapes, such as “f” or “S”. Now, imagine that for some reason, there is something about the makeup of this world that selects for alphabet shapes; in other words, there is some advantage to the 52 letters of the alphabet (lower and upper case), the digits 0 to 9, and all the punctuation marks of the English language, over the other myriad of shapes that form. Therefore, when these selected shapes form, they reproduce. The other shapes do not; they quickly become extinct. Keep in mind that none of these letters that are forming and reproducing are the slightest bit aware that they even exist, much less that they are reproducing. There is just something about this planet I am describing that promotes their existence.
After a very long time, the 70-odd selected shapes are the only forms left on the planet, and they flourish. Naturally, the same wind that caused the tiny curves and straight lines to bump into each other causes the letters to bump into each other as well. All sorts of combinations follow. “cY”, “tIw”, etc. Inevitably, combinations that we recognize as words also come together. “And”, “so”, “on”, and so on. As before, there is some property of this world that selects for the word-combinations, and not the meaningless ones. Eventually, after a very long period of time, all the words in the dictionary exist on the planet.
The next progression, also by process of selection, is short sentences. “I am”, “It is hot”, “Today I will go”, and so forth. Combinations such as “wood to shabby” and “door bag never” are de-selected. They have no advantages which would enable them to survive on this world, so they go extinct.
You get the idea. The key thing to keep in mind is that when a sentence forms, even a really beautiful one such as, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, it has no idea that it even exists, far less that it is beautiful. It’s just selected for. There is some advantage to being exactly like it is, so it gets to make more of itself. From sentences we go to paragraphs, and so on. If we were to take the case of the line from Shakespeare’s famous sonnet quoted above, it won’t select for that one line to just keep repeating itself, the way the mad writer inThe Shining kept writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. It also won’t select for this:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
That, after all, is backwards. Of course the idea of “backwards” would only have any meaning if the lines above were aware that they were composing something meaningful. They aren’t aware of this. They just keep on blindly reproducing, but they only manage to survive and propagate by being in the right order. This world offers advantages, the greatest of which being survival, to passages of prose and poetry that have meaning.
After long, long periods of time, and the same processes going on blindly and mechanically, we move from paragraphs, to short stories, to novellas, to novels, ultimately to “War and Peace”. No author, just the natural selection of meaning over meaningless-ness. “War and Peace” doesn’t know it’s a novel, or a work of brilliance, or even that it is very long, as novels go. It just is. A work of art, unknown to itself, equally unknown to the blind forces that brought it into being.
Until eventually a being from another world comes upon it. This person is a scientist, and so he begins to study it. He can see that it is exquisitely organized. However, he is a little confused about some parts of it. On his world, there are no such things as names. So every time he comes upon a name in “War and Peace”, he doesn’t know what to make of it. Moreover, the names don’t help him understand the story; i.e., who is doing what to whom, etc. So he calls the names “junk”, and just tries to make the most of understanding the novel as best he can.
The other problem is that on his world, the concept of philosophy doesn’t exist in prose, only narrative. As you may know, “War and Peace” contains long sections of philosophy interspersed throughout its narrative. The scientist from another world is not able to recognize these very long passages as having any meaning whatsoever. Again, he calls them “junk”, and concludes that, taking into account the names, and the philosophy, somewhere between a third and a half of the novel is nonsense. To him, it has no meaning (although to us of course it does). Let’s say that  another, more intuitive and less analytical member of his species (let’s say a female!), were to suggest to him that perhaps the novel did not come about by purely mechanical processes, but was actually composed. He would scoff and ask her, “If it were composed, why would it contain so much junk?”
On this world, short sentences become longer sentences, and onward and upward, by a series of mutations. These happen for no other reason that thatthey just do, because the duplication process is not 100% accurate. However, each mutation, for it to survive, has to conform to the same selective criteria, the “laws” of this planet; it must mean something. So let’s take an example of a very common error, both in our own writing, and on this hypothetical planet. Let’s say a comma accidentally reproduces as a period, in the sentence, “When I left the office, I was very tired.” Due to the error, we now have two new, shorter, “sentences”:
When I left the office. I was very tired.
You can easily see the problem. The first sentence does not obey the rules of grammar. It doesn’t make sense. Therefore, it is rejected. We are left with the much shorter, and less informative sentence, “I was very tired”. This represents a loss of information, hardly unusual on this world. Loss of information is, as you may guess, by far the most common result when a mutation occurs, since they are random.
On the other hand, it may happen that two mistakes can occur at the same time, which effectively cancel each other out so that no information is lost, or even that new information is added. For example, the capital W at the beginning of the word sequence could erroneously reproduce as a capital T, at exactly the same time that the period subs in for the comma. In that case, you’d have:
Then I left the office. I was very tired.
This is new information, and because it makes sense, it reproduces. We have now added to the pool of available sentences on this planet. Still, to be truthful, the information has changed only slightly. To get from really simple sentences all the way to stunning prose – to “War and Peace” -  these positive mutations have to occur millions upon millions of times, and only the mutations that make sense, each step of the way, can go on to reproduce and be a part of the evolution chain from sentence to paragraph, and so on.
In other words, if we want to go from a sentence in a child’s reader, such as “See Jack and Spot run”, to this line from “War and Peace”:
“Gazing into Napoleon’s eyes, Prince Andrei mused on the unimportance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain.”,
we can’t have something like: See Gazing into Jack Spot, eyes Prince run mused, etc.
That may be considered a crude link between the two, but it can’t survive, because it doesn’t meet the fitness requirement of this planet. It makes no sense. We would need to have something like this:
See Jack gazing into Napoleon’s eyes, musing on the unimportance of greatness, which Spot can not understand.
Hardly beautiful prose, but it does make sense. Remember that beauty is entirely irrelevant on this world, as nothing is even aware that it is doing anything. The natural laws of the planet are simply operating, and the only thing they require is meaning.To make it even more complicated, even to the precise step before we see the longer sentence emerge, long after Jack and Spot have been abandoned, we can’t have the sentence go haywire at the end, and finish with, “….which no one alive could understand on explain”. If that happens, the entire sequence may end up being rejected. Clearly, moving from a simple sentence to a very complex, and more meaningful one, is a very, very, very,very iffy business.
Now you know how “War and Peace” can write itself! You also have a fairly workable analogy for how Leo Tolstoy himself, in all his genius, came to exist without any “creator”, in the absence of even the tiniest iota of consciousness;  with nothing more than natural laws playing out over a few billion years and trillions of mutations, beginning with a chemical reaction that took place in the distant past that resulted in a self-duplicating piece of matter. All things, from a grizzly bear’s biceps to Leo Tolstoy’s incomparable mind, in fact every living thing and every part of every living thing, are merely variations on that first chemical reaction.
You are forgiven for finding that hard to believe. You are forgiven for thinking that no matter how many monkeys you have banging on typewriters, and being rewarded with bananas only when they type something that makes sense, you are never going to get “War and Peace”. Personally, I don’t think the universehas that many bananas! However, those who are convinced that the emergence and evolution of life on Earth can be fully explained as a result of natural selection by random mutation will adamantly disagree with you. They may even call you deluded, for imagining that if there’s a novel, there must be a novelist.
Oh, how could I forget? “War and Peace” is a Russian, not English novel. Not to worry. On my imaginary world, novels have even learned to translatethemselves! You now have a glimpse of the incredible world of the genetic code. But that, my friends, is another story.

To Censor Or Not To Censor
Imagine some of the things that you least (and I meanleast) want to have happen to you, or to someone you love. Now imagine that a very sick person is doing all those things to you, or forcing you to watch them being done to someone you love. Now imagine a movie about this. Only about this. You don’t have to imagine, because I have just described the “plot” of a Japanese movie titled Grotesque, by horror movie director Koji Shiraishi. Except for a ridiculously out of place supernatural revenge sequence at the end, the only thing that happens in the movie is that two innocent people, a couple, are tortured and sexually abused for an hour and ten minutes. The English promotional materials promise to so outdo Saw andHostel in gore, violence and depravity that watching those movies would thereafter be no different than watching West Side Story. Well, that was quite enough for the British Board of Film Classification, a body that determined that the – film – (can I just start calling it “piece of filth” or pof, for short?) had no redeeming value whatsoever, merely showed sexual depravity for its own sake, and presented a “risk of (psychological, I assume) harm” to potential viewers. “Not on these shores!”, decided the BBFC. They prohibited Grotesquefrom being shown or distributed in the UK, something that they normally just don’t do. Not surprisingly, Shiraishi wore this condemnation as a badge of honor, stood up for “artistic integrity” and redoubled his efforts to market his pof as the one film they don’t want you to see! Naturally, boasting this as its claim to fame, the standard audience for pofs of this nature felt even more determined to stand up for freedom of expression, to see what all the fuss was about, or to “test themselves” (let’s remember that no bravery is required to sit one’s posterior on a couch and watch a TV screen) against that which sought to disturb and disgust (or, just as possibly, arouse) them in every frame. The BBFC had their moral victory, and Shiraishi picked up a few extra yen. A win/win, if you will.
Why did the British film board decide to censorGrotesque, and not, for example, Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, a pof that features such heartwarming scenes as an innocent woman being forced to don a “mask” that has been fashioned out of her tortured-to-death husband’s facial skin? Because in the case of the former, it was determined that it in no way, shape or form even constituted a work of creativity. It was just, simply, extreme violence realistically portrayed so as to appeal to the most base and unhealthy interests of those wishing to watch it. In other words, they refused to recognize it as a work of art. Rather, they determined that it was just an unwholesome thingie, probably falling somewhere between rabid dog saliva and Weapon of Mass Destruction in terms of how beneficial they considered it to be for the citizens of the UK.
Many people called foul. Many people here, I imagine, may feel that the BFFC’s decision was lame and convoluted, and that is probably true. Essentially, thereis no difference between Grotesque and other “torture porn” movies that wereallowed, and hence the decision merely served to bestow upon it an “honor” which it doesn’t actually merit, thereby attracting a few more viewers to a pofthat, in the best of cases, has only a very limited audience, and could only stand to benefit from being turned into a cause celebre.
Personally, however, I stand behind the decision, not because I think the matter was handled particularly well, but simply because I think that a country has every right to empower its review boards to reject things that, patently, have no merit and can only add more upset and horror to a world that already has more than enough. I believe, in other words, incensorship. At the very least, I believe it to be an arguable position.
Censorship? Surely there are few things more revealing of a reactionary mindset, some would hasten to assure me. Why, censorship can be identified with all the cruelest dictatorships, the most oppressive regimes, the most hardcore religious fundamentalists, etc. This is indeed true. I believe that in any way limiting a person’s right to express his or her political or religious opinions can only be a sign of an outlaw government. There is no excuse for it, even less the means by which it is often enforced. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people have been executed, tortured, or wasted away in prisons for making statements (or being alleged to have made them), writing letters, drawing cartoons, etc. that dared to criticize the Powers that Be in countries all over the world, and throughout history. Such censorship can rightly be considered evil.
However, depictions of sadism and depravity fall under another category, surely. The human race has certainly evolved in terms of what it no longer considers entertainment. Romans went to watch gladiators fight to the death, starved animals loosed upon slaves, criminals, Christians, etc., and a vast parade of cruelties at their circuses. In the Dark Ages, asylum inmates were sometimes displayed to entertain passersby, petty criminals were dunked or placed in stocks and pillories, and in a plethora of other ways pain and humiliation were inflicted on some in order to entertain others. Although benighted governments even to this day continue practices just as heinous, it is a mark of the march of progress in human thinking that civilized countries and persons no longer consider such “entertainments” to be acceptable. Ditto for dog fights, cock fights, bare fisted boxing, etc.
One of the problems in our modern world is that technology has reached the point where the depictions of violence now appear every bit as real as actual acts of violence. We can now see on our film screens exactly what the Romans watched in their circuses. The only difference, a huge one assuredly, is that the acts are not real, and there is no real suffering taking place; no victims, in other words. But with the appalling stories of Abu Ghraib, and the more recent revelations about an Afghanistan-based GI rogue “kill team” and their trophy photos of their innocent victims, mightn’t we consider that there in fact is a victim; namely, society itself? Extrapolating into the future, can we imagine that technology will eventually make it possible to play one’s own virtual reality serial killer game (and the advertisements proudly proclaiming, “this is as real as it gets!”)? As we are obviously moving in that direction technologically, don’t we need to be thinking about how okay we are with that? When cruelty, whether real, filmed, or holographically simulated, is considered entertainment, doesn’t that throw up a red flag, or shouldn’t it? It does for me, certainly.
Sure, you can start by censoring things that nearly everyone finds objectionable, but aren’t you worried about a slippery slope?” Indeed, I am. It’s just that the slope I worry about slips in the other direction.
Consider this: imagine that you travel to a tribe in the Amazon that has almost no contact with the outside world, and still lives more or less exactly as their ancestors have for thousands upon thousands of years. You present an inhabitant there with a chocolate ice cream bar. I imagine that one of two scenarios would result:
The first would be that the sensations of super-sweetness and cold entering the mouth of the tribesman would be so unlike anything he’d previously experienced that he would instantly spit it out, perhaps considering it to be some kind of poison. He would be hard-pressed to identify what you have presented him with as “food”.
On the other hand, I suppose it is also possible that he would be delighted, as if the food had come from the world of the gods. He would want to share it with all his tribe’s members. Soon after, the tribe would come to recognize that their teeth were rotting, their overall health was decreasing and their children were becoming hyperactive and irritable. The tribal elders would insist that the tribe be allowed no more ice cream bars. They would censor that which they correctly determined to be harmful.
Ice cream is not a natural food; it is something that has evolved, as people have craved newer, fresher, sweeter, more stimulating sensations as they grew accustomed to the foods they were already eating. Cooking is an ongoing and evolving creative process, no less so than film-making, music, painting, etc. In all creative endeavors, it seems to be human nature to demand more, and for certain creators to strive to provide that. In other words, you make something sweet, I’ll make something sweeter. Oh, yeah? I’ll make something so sweet that your teeth will disintegrate. You show blood and torture, I’ll show twice as much blood and torture! Oh,yeah? And so on.That is the “slippery slope” that alarms me. A mere fifty years ago, audiences were so shocked by the infamous shower scene in Psycho that they fled the theaters, retched, broke down and cried, etc. Nowadays, “Psycho” can be shown unedited on prime time television. The iterative nature of film-making has reached the point where any depraved act that is shown will be seen as nothing more than a challenge to some audience members and directors to go even further. And, unfortunately, we don’t have tribal elders coming to the conclusion that this is not good for us. That it is poisoning our very souls. Instead, we have “staunch defenders of freedom of expression”.
There is no evidence that watching such movies influences people to actually go out and do such things! Hmmm….well, in that case, perhaps we should start telling companies to stop throwing away all those billions of dollars they spend annually on advertising. The images and messages we are exposed to through film and television don’t influence our behavior. Let’s remember that advertisements are rarely of the blunt, literal, “Go! Buy a Coke! NOW!” type. They aren’t even generally of the “You should buy only coke because it tastes so much better than its rivals!” variety. Indeed, in the early days of advertising, copy like that was quite common, as advertisers logically assumed that the way to get the most bang for your buck was to get straight to the point (an actual ad suggests, plainly, “Drink Coca Cola from a bottle through a straw, Absolutely Sanitary, Delicious and Refreshing”). As the industry moved out of its infancy, and became increasingly sophisticated, it was discovered that more subtle, subconscious associations that the viewer made about products were more likely to influence their purchasing habits. So we have “The Most Interesting Man in the World”, and product placement in movies, etc. In other words, media experts will vociferously argue (if there’s a buck to be made) that even subtle messages, through repeated exposure, can and do influence the external behavior of an audience. Of course, not everyone who sees a Coke commercial will go out and buy a Coke, but the whole industry depends on a sizable number doing so. And yet we are expected to believe that continual exposure to bodies being tortured and sexually abused will not impact the behavior of a segment of the viewers? A the very least, that it will not change their way of looking at the human body, what it is, what it is for, what is acceptable to do to it, or with it, etc.?
If not, why? Why can advertising influence our behavior but depictions of violence not? Does advertising activate a different part of the brain? Of course not. The same cerebral centers are responding to the same basic stimulus of filmed narrative. So, again, why one and not the other? Mightn’t that just be a disingenuous evasion tactic used to protect the profits of “the torture porn industry”? Put another way, if Grotesque isn’t, in effect, an advertisement for sadism, what is it?
****As a footnote, although Japan has a considerably lower homicide rate than the United States and many other countries, over the past few decades there have been a number of crimes that have shocked the country to its very core, involving sexual violence and barbarity beyond imagining. In all the cases that I can recall, the perpetrators were discovered to have a large collection of violent films and/or manga, even to have gotten their ideas from such. Japan is coming around, and a debate is taking place in the nation as to what type of content should be made viewable to the public.
I don’t want the government telling me what I can and can’t watch! Well, in fact, we do. It is the government, after all, that decides that we don’t have to watch a man pull down his pants and start masturbating in front of our home, or in front of a nursery school. Although the man may protest that he was simply expressing himself as he is hauled off to jail, I doubt that many would see him as a martyr at the altar of Artistic Freedom.
To say that the government has “no business” making judgments about such matters is basically to argue against any form of government, as if it isalwaysuntrustworthy. If we are worried about government overreach gradually leading to oppression, then perhaps we should do away with the Food and Drug Administration, The Surgeon General’s Office, etc., and no longer permit the government to determine how much nicotine can go into a cigarette, how much air pollution is too much air pollution; in short, to make any judgement calls regarding the health of its populace. Could a move to censor torture porn movies be used as a shoehorn to eventually legislate against other forms of expression? Certainly, the danger is there. But I’m not convinced that’s very likely. I think it would be a fairly simple matter to create clear guidelines as to what is or isn’t acceptable in a film or video game and to stay within those limits. I would like to consider what those type of limits might be.
Let us begin with one of the earliest filmed depictions of depravity, the infamous eye slicing segment from Salvador Dali’s/Luis Bunuel’s bizarre short film, Un Chien Andalou. Probably many people reading this have never seen it. For those who have, how many have seen it twice? As for me, though it has been more than twenty years since I first saw the scene, and I have watched other portions of the film in the interim, I have absolutely no desire to ever again subject myself to that short bit of extreme gore, and in fact I cringe at the very thought of doing so. No doubt, that speaks to its power to evoke a response. But does that make it art? And even if it does, what kind of art? Am I in any way a better person for having watched it? Are any of us? If so, I would like to know how. Watching that scene, I am quite certain, has in no way elevated my spirit, expanded my horizons, raised my IQ, or made me a better person in any way. If it had never existed, I can’t see how I, or the world, would be the worse for it.
That raises the question as to what is art for? Should it only be that which elevates our spirits, expands our horizons, etc.? Plato, famously, felt so. He was of the, radical for our times, extreme view that art should show and promote “only the good”. In other words, he was of the belief that art, as is sometimes said about money, makes a great servant, but a terrible master. For him, censorship was an obvious response to this extremely powerful mode of human expression. To him the idea was preposterous that artists and poets could express themselves any old way, regardless of the effect that may have on audiences, and the public in general. Surrealists like Dali and Bunuel would have challenged this viewpoint from their own understandings of the emerging science of psychology. Surrealism can in fact be seen as a direct outgrowth of Sigmund’s Freuds enormous influence. Suppressing humanity’s darker impulses can only be harmful, the argument goes. Art is a useful way for mankind to get its “shadow” out of its system. Personally, I suspect that both Plato and Freud (and Dali, Bunuel, etc.) are partially right, and that responsible choices can still be made about what to show and what not to show. After all, taken at its extreme, the pro-Freud notion (had it existed at the time) could have been used as an argument in the Roman days for continuing the torture shows in the circuses.
So, should the eye-cutting scene be (forgive the pun) cut? I think that would make an interesting debate. Personally, I’m not sure. The whole purpose of the movie was to shock, thereby stimulating the subconscious mind, the point of surrealist art in general. The film is not pandering to anyone, it is not a commercial film and the motivation for making it was not to make an easy buck, as I suspect it is in the case of directors like Eli Roth (Hostel) and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, House of a 1000 Corpses). Furthermore, the entire scene lasts only a few seconds. The man doing the cutting is not shown as an evil, leering sadist, and the woman victim is not shown bleeding and screaming afterwards. It is all very clinical, even as it horrifies and shocks. Maybe the above points would be considered mitigating by a review board, maybe not. Personally, I feel they are points worth considering.
What about movies that are considered major artistic achievements that nevertheless contain scenes of extreme violence, such as Goodfellas or Saving Private Ryan? The case of the latter is perhaps the easier one to consider. The Normandy beach sequence was so horrific that the audience response was on a par with the earlier reaction to Psycho. People fled the theaters, or broke down sobbing in their seats. Saving Private Ryan is perhaps the most widely seen movie ever made that doesn’t shy away from the kind of carnage that is the torture porn auteurs’ stock in trade. Plato, no doubt, would nix it without a second thought, but few in our modern age would agree. Director Steven Spielberg’s intentions in showing such extreme violence could not be more clear. He wanted to show what really happens when countries clash. He wanted to impress that reality on our minds in a way that no previous war movie had ever done. It’s hard to imagine anyone enjoying the first half hour of violence, identifying with its faceless killers, or getting any type of cheap thrill from it. Spielberg is an undisputed master at provoking the reaction he intends from his audience (to a fault,many would argue), and he made sure this scene became nobody’s wet dream.
Goodfellas is more problematic. It has numerous detractors. There are those who want to know whyMartin Scorsese chose to make such a film. If Saving Private Ryan was an anti-war movie (or at least had anti-war overtones), wasn’t Goodfellas practically a pro-mafia one? With his scenes of spoiled hoodlums getting the best tables at the Copacabana, turning jail cells into bachelor pads, and sneering at the rest of us “shmucks”, this is clearly not your average cautionary tale. Far from it. It is more a grandly entertaining celebration of filmmaking that succeeds in entertaining us because its main characters are outrageously over the top, shockingly amoral and (in the case of Tommy and Jimmy) violent beyond our wildest imaginings. These are notpeople you want to go out and have a beer with. Just ask Billy Batts. In fact, the scene that depicts the unfortunate Mr. Batts’ brutal demise has some 2 million viewings, roughly, in its various incarnations on Youtube, and reading the comments, many of those are repeat viewings. Unlike the Normandy scene inSPR, which I imagine most people are content to see only once, many folks just can’t seem to get enough of Marty’s wiseguys, and their mayhem.
And, Goodfellas is considered by many to be one of the greatest movies ever made. It is a personal favorite of mine as well. Yet is it really all that different from the torture porn movies? Should it get a pass if they don’t? I waver on this one, frankly. Going back to my observations about Un Chien Andalou, I can’t very well argue that my spirit has been elevated in any way by having watched it. I am impressed by the breathtaking talent on display, particularly the masterful direction and Joe Pesci’s Oscar winning turn as Tommy. One might say that watching it and admiring it challenges and inspires me to go as far as I can with my own craft, and that I consider to be a good thing. Beyond that, I’m not really sure how best to argue on its behalf.
That is not to say that I equate Goodfellas in its most existential way with movies like Grotesque and TheDevil’s Rejects, the Hostel series, etc. InGoodfellas, bodies are abused terribly, but in those other movies the abuse of bodies is their only reason for existing. Moreover, it is pretty much the onlything, or certainly the main thing, that viewers want to see. This is an area where I feel that societies have a right, perhaps even a duty, to make a stand. In my opinion, a society that does not honor, does not teach love and respect for, does not, if you will, revere, the human body, cannot truly be called civilized. The human body is our vessel while we are here. We don’t know how to make them, and our best scientists don’t know how to make a machine in any way as exquisite as them. We only get one, and without one, we’re pretty much up shit creek. Therefore, protecting and promoting the health of the body should be the central concern of any society, because after all what is society other than an community of human bodies living in close proximity to one another?
Is freedom of expression more important than that? I don’t see how. Freedom of expression is an important concept, of course. But it is, after all, a mental construction. It is an idea that people have come, over time, to accept, and some to revere. It is an invention. The human body is not; it is far beyond that. Whether you believe that it was created by God, or emerged by natural processes, it is decidedly not something that humans came up with and started talking about in the last few thousand years. Torture porn movies do not honor the human body. They spit on the very concept. They use the body’s limitations and capacity for pain as ingredients for a burlesque show of horror. They treat the body with the utmost contempt. What sort of notions – conscious/subconcsious/subliminal – does this create in the viewers of such films? How is it good for society to have its most important and valuable assets being thoroughly trashed for the cheap thrills that provides viewers? How is it wrong for a society to stand up and say, “no” to that?
I feel that censoring such films makes good sense. As to how to go about this, the film review boards of nations would need to go beyond just rating films as unsuitable for children, but would in fact be empowered to decide that some films are not even allowed to be released, shown or distributed. The determining question would be, I feel, something along the lines of “to what degree is this film dependent on the degradation and torture of the human body for its entertainment value?” I believe that there is nothing wrong with asking film directors to answer that simple question. Before being allowed to release a film, I believe that film companies or directors should have to present its outline to the film boards. In the case of directors such as Zombie and Roth, whose reputation, shall we say, proceeds them, I think it would be made clear to them that the odds of getting their next films released were slim to none, but they are welcome to try. Perhaps it would be a good opportunity for they, themselves, to look into what it is they are doing, and feel they are accomplishing. “I want to make this movie because there’s a market for it”. Sorry, you’ll have to do better for that. There is a market for slaves, Saturday Night Specials, and crack cocaine as well, let’s remember.
Clearly, this would lead to a number of films not being made (the whole torture porn genre would be unceremoniously dropped into the dustbin of history), and perhaps a number of scenes being altered or removed from movies that do get made. Perhaps future Goodfellas and SPRs would need to tone down the gore. I’m okay with that, I think. For me, the deeply held philosophical belief that the human body is sacred trumps my (perhaps selfish) desire to see what I want to see, all other considerations be damned. I believe that a group of highly respected professionals, consisting of philosophers, psychiatrists and psychologists, educators, art historians and film experts, etc. could be trusted to devise a sensible set of standards, and make those clear enough for anyone to understand and follow. I think the discussion that would ultimately lead to would, in itself, be good for society, if it got people to question their attitudes toward the human body, the nature of entertainment, and all the philosophical issues that would be raised.
With so much actual cruelty taking place in the world, with so much real bloodshed and pain, is this even a battle worth fighting, some may ask. I feel that it is. I feel that the human spirit, and the great gift that is having a body, would be the ultimate beneficiaries of such censorship. I can’t say for certain that any lives would be saved, or that any potential psychopath would be steered away from actually becoming one, or sinking deeper into depravity, if pofs were to be outlawed. Nevertheless, I still feel the benefit would be real, and felt. Furthermore, I hardly feel that the human race in any way loses by deciding that people can’t make torture porn movies anymore. Rob Zombie can stick to his music, Eli Roth can stick to his acting, and the director of Grotesque can, I don’t know, go work at a car wash.

The Innocence of the Human Body
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
- Auden
St Francis of Assissi had, to be sure, an odd relationship with his body. As a strict ascetic, he considered it of utmost importance not to give in to its cravings for pleasure and leisure. He dubbed his own body “brother ass” and felt that it should be treated as any other domestic beast of the time. Beaten when in need of discipline, and given only coarse food upon which to subsist. He was known to curb his temptations by hurling his body into snow, or even on one occasion a briar patch which he tossed himself about in until his flesh was ripped and bleeding. However, by the time of his death, the great man had reconsidered his ill treatment of his body – his earthly vehicle – and asked the Lord to pardon him for having treated Brother Ass so cruelly. He realized that he had been indulging a fascination; an attempt to conquer that which his Creator had given him. Finally, it seems, that he who loved life and all its manifestations, had finally learned to love, or at least honor, his own organism.
Although many may feel that Francis’ relationship to his body was downright bizarre, I think it is difficult to escape the conclusion that we, in our modern age, relate to our own bodies in even more dysfunctional ways, or at least are encouraged to. We obsess over its skin layer, its most superficial aspect. Say the word “body” to a teenage male, and no doubt the image that will result is a female with Playboy-approved proportions. Or perhaps his own body, “ripped” and sculpted. It is doubtful that he will think of the intricate, mechanical wonder he inhabits, the magnificence that goes far beyond the skin layer. I’m reminded of a scuba diver, who, seated next to a friend who looked out at the ocean at sunrise and remarked at how beautiful it was, replied, “yes, and that’s only theroof!”
We indulge our bodies in exactly the way that St. Francis frowned upon, as we load up on ice cream, tortilla chips, cola, coffee and red wine. We then scan it for signs of resultant flab, and hold it up for critique alongside the impossible ideals that mass media relentlessly parades before our eyes. In magazine articles and website pages we are asked to consider which Hollywood hunk or starlet has “the best body”, when presumably the correct answer should be the one that functions best – the one that digests, eliminates, breathes, repairs, etc. most efficiently.
No greater indication of our dysfunctional relationship to our bodies can there be than the fact that we have created a trillion dollar industry that has as its sole purpose the manufacture of machines and devices that destroy and disfigure it by the millions. Our so-callled “defense industry” would perhaps be looked upon less favorably by its supporters if it were referred to, more honestly, as “the body destroying industry”. Although it has numerous competitors, perhaps the most atrocious and obscene example of this in all our sad history was the Treblinka II Death Camp in Nazi Germany. This was the Industrial Revolution meets Dante’s Inferno. For the first and only time in history an actual factory was built, with train lines leading up to it, that served no purpose other than the destruction of human bodies as quickly and “efficiently” as possible. People were carted in by the train car-load, and few lived more than 24 hours after arriving.
And these bodies that we waste and destroy so casually are near miraculous machines that are far beyond the capabilities of our greatest scientific geniuses to create or even imitate. Each cell, when it is first birthed in us, is like any other cell in our bodies, yet each knows how to evolve through exactly the right iterations so that it becomes part of our hair, our eyes, our lungs, our genitals, etc. How do the cells do this? Nobody knows, but it is likely the answer will someday be found in the portion of our DNA that biologists have lovingly referred to as “junk”.
We punish bodies mercilessly, and yet throughout the history of our species they have never sinned in any way. They serve us faithfully to the fullest extent they are capable at any given moment, until they can no longer. When they long for sleep we deprive them of it. When they need healthy natural food to stay strong, we insist that they make do on starchy, sugary, salty substances they have little use for. We keep them chained to chairs when they long to move about in the open air, as they were evolved to do. If we treated our pets the same way we treat our bodies we would be considered negligent, at best. And we punish bodies for the transgressions of the mind. I am opposed to the death penalty because I believe it is always a miscarriage of justice, as the body merely did what it was told, no matter how heinous the crime. To the body, slicing a cucumber or slicing into a human finger is essentially the same act, insofar as it merely follows the instructions of a healthy, or deranged, mind. An eye for an eye is thus two outrages, not one.
I am only writing to say that human bodies are innocent. We have yet, as a species, to demonstrate our worthiness to inhabit them. We should never harm them in any way.


"And she'll have fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the T-Bird away!"
- The Beach Boys

Imagine a product that, if they could afford it, nearly everyone would want to own. Imagine it being so expensive that any company that made it, so long as it managed to cater to the desires of potential customers, would become one of the biggest companies in the world. Imagine that this new product would be of a type such that, to be viable, a slew of new industries and services would have to be invented to support it. Imagine that, as well, some former industries that existed long before this new product was even thought of would become transformed and revolutionized as they fitted their production toward this new product, growing huge themselves alongside it. Imagine that the very environment we humans inhabit would change dramatically, by necessity, as this new product made old notions of communities, towns, cities, even the very notions of "near" and "far" obsolete. Furthermore, imagine that the people who manufacture this product, and work in all the other industries that serve it, were paid so well that they could afford to satisfy their desires for other products, and that these products also then grew into enormous industries of their own. I think you can easily imagine that this product would have a profound influence on the world's economy. I think it is fair to say that were such a product to arise, within a few short years the bleak economic forecasts for financial meltdown and worldwide economic malaise would be briskly whisked away. I also think you would agree that such a product coming about now, when the world needs it most, is unlikely at best.

The problem, of course, is that such a product did come about, once. However, that happened around seventy years ago. The automobile represents what I call a "Jackpot Industry". With it, the world economy hit the jackpot. Around it grew the oil industry, the steel industry, the rubber industry, the glass industry, etc. The workers at the factories where these were produced were able to buy televisions, radios, stereos, etc. It grew cities such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, Akron, Nagoya and Hiroshima. It took two countries, the U.S. and Japan, as well as the already mature economies of Western Europe, to economic heights never seen before, and brought about a new system: an economy not based on lords and serfs, but on a middle class with desires they could now fulfill by virtue of their paychecks.

It is staggering to think what this one product made possible. And yet, as with so many other products before the mid 20th century, the automobile began as a plaything, strictly for the enjoyment of the leisure class. It was therefore the vision of Henry Ford, that the very workers who produced it would themselves be able to afford one, that brought this machine among machines into its own. But once that genie was released from its lamp, the world's economy was set on a course of expansion never before seen. And the world changed. Very old industries, such as metal smelting and glassworks, as well as newer industries such as oil, rubber and cement, grew to heights undreamed of as they fitted their technology to serve the demand for automobiles and the roads and bridges to drive them on. Buildings reached new, literal, heights, as working spaces for people traveling great distances to their offices, made possible by cars and highways, resulted in the need for skyscrapers, creating our modern image of what cities look like. Homes filled with consumer goods, supermarkets, fast food restaurants, shopping malls, etc; not to mention freeways and suburbia - none of these things existed before automobiles became a commonplace item, nor could they have.

Tragically, the effects of the automobile industry are as much a litany of global woes as a story of new possibilities. The devastation to the environment wrought by the automobile and its ancillary industries represents a threat to the planet that we are slowly beginning to recognize as existential. What we are also learning is the benefits may be far more ephemeral than we imagined. Whereas most Americans growing up in the Age of the Automobile may have easily deluded themselves that the country's vibrant middle class was the true economic bedrock upon which the nation depended, we have woken up to discover that, to the executives in the gleaming Midtown towers, the middle class was simply a moveable feast. They milked it dry in the U.S., and then began building it up, in Japan, Korea, etc.; with eyes are on an even bigger prize: if China and India, which together comprise nearly a third of the world's population, manage to evolve into western-style consumer cultures, the American middle class can ever after be treated as an afterthought. Which, considering the outsourcing frenzy of corporate America, appears to already be the case.
But even that scenario will not come about as planned. The Jackpot Days are over. Supplying India and China with cars for every available driver simply doesn't work. Our environment is already nearly depleted, and we are reduced to tearing up mountains and gouging holes into the ocean to squeeze out the last bit of oil the cars need to run on, with ever more disastrous environmental consequences. Likewise, there is no new Jackpot Industry to do for the world economy what the Model T began doing seventy years ago. The internet, mobile phones, ecological and medical technologies, simply do not have the ancillary industrial backing to turn the world's economic downturn around. Some may champion the notion of home robots, as the populations of developed countries age. This could lead to technological breakthroughs, but would never be able to create the kind of ripple effects that were the key to the success of the Age of the Automobile.

That Age is over. Period. The protests that are erupting all over the world right now are an entirely predictable consequence of the point we have reached, and a clarion call that bears heeding. Nothing, within our current framework of thinking about economics, commerce, or manufacturing, is going to get us out of the mess we are now in. The benefits of the automobile industry are now in our rearview mirror, and fading fast. We need to begin searching for non-economic solutions to the problems our world faces.

The View From the Left Hemisphere of the Universe
After the Big Bang came the Great Darkness. In indescribable darkness, matter raced away from itself in all directions, pushing space into being as it did so. Darkly, it spun and coalesced, exploded and merged, exploded again, grew heavier, impossibly; formed stars that lived billions of years, died, and in that dying gave rise to new stars, stars that spun off particles that, trapped in orbit, coalesced into planets. Galaxies, containing billions of stars, expanding, moving away from each other, pushing at the frontiers where What Is Not yielded to What Is. Unfathomably, Improbably. And all in total darkness.

Because no one was there to see it. A spectacle of unimaginable beauty, resplendent with colors beyond our own limitations of red at one end and violet at the other, played out over billions of years, and yet this spectacle was for not. As bland as a painting of a snowflake floating in a glass of milk, or an inkblot on a lump of coal. For, for only a brief period of the many billion year history of the universe has anything been seen, anywhere, and only as the result of a chance occurrence. On our planet, and perhaps others, matter formed itself into something that could sense light, and by gradual modifications these light sensing mechanisms became more sophisticated, up to and including our own wonderful eyes. And these modifications; did they occur so that the beauty of the universe could be beheld and appreciated? No. Every modification, from the simplest eyes to the most complex, merely helped an organism secure food. Or not become food. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

Think about that for a moment. Do a gut check. Does it seem credible? That except for on our planet, and perhaps other planets similar to ours, and only in a relatively brief period of this and similar planets' histories, has the grand spectacle of the universe been even partially visible to itself? And only through the vulgar mechanism of keeping one step ahead of a mouth or a grabbing appendage? That up until the time that these modifications came about, on perhaps this planet exclusively, even though it is made up of light and its very mechanisms are circumscribed by the speed of light, the universe was completely and utterly blind?

Such a scenario lacks poetry, to say the least. That a cosmos could be at once so dazzling and yet completely invisible to itself for such a long time, only to finally become visible through the merest chance on an inconsequential rock - somehow seems decidedly unsatisfying to my poetic nature. There, where my mind is free to wander and extend beyond what is rational and explained, the above scenario seems to me to have it all backwards. Eyes, my poetic mind persuades me, do not make sight possible. On the contrary, it is sight that makes eyes possible! Eyes did not develop because, for some odd reason, in a universe that up until then had been completely blind, there was suddenly some reproductive advantage to sensing light (imagine what an extraordinary moment that must have been, and yet so under-appreciated by its experiencer. Hey, now this is interesting. Munch munch).

Rather, eyes are a (but one, I dare say) manifestation of vision. It was not mindless food-seeking that brought them into being.Vision gave them birth, no less so than a painter's vision gives birth to a masterpiece, and an inventor's vision gives birth to a flying machine. Speaking of "flying machines", in the same vein I posit that birds did not develop wings because there were things to eat up there. Birds rose to fill the sky because the sky, because flight, summoned them.

Viewed through the lens of reason, such notions are risible and wholly passe. Where is the evidence to support such outlandish claims? Where do these bizarre notions of vision and flight come from? Obviously, they don't come from a scientific theory or an experiment, or from an objective, wholly rational observation of naturally occurring phenomena. Rather, they come from an area of human consciousness which science knee-jerkedly meets with cool skepticism, if not outright disgust: intuition, subjective feelings, and our mysterious human quality of looking for meaning in the cosmos.

Yet, how firm is the ground upon which science so confidently, even arrogantly, dismisses such rival attributes of human nature? For someone who is convinced that science is man's greatest achievement, and moreover is our greatest hope for improving our condition in the future, the very question probably sounds preposterous, perhaps even insane. Nevertheless, I will dare to ask: as reason and intuition are both essential aspects of a fully human mind, can one arrogate to itself an exclusive "rightness" from which to dismiss the properties the other might bring toward understanding the universe which we inhabit, and our relationship to it?

Science, as we have come to define it, has a very brief history. For all practical purposes, it begins in ancient Greece, notably with Socrates, and his method of questioning hypotheses. From there we move to Aristotle, who applied the Socratic Method, with his own modifications, to a variety of fields such as ethics, poetry, politics, etc., and most famously, science. The derivation of the word is perhaps related to cutting, or more accurately, separating. The Greeks, with Aristotle first among them, learned about their world by dissecting and examining it, reducing it to its parts, separating what could be determined to that point, and then investigating more fully into those "parts" which remained mysterious. Aristotle applied this method to zoology, anatomy, botany, and pretty much all aspects of the physical world. What he accomplished, with his stellar intellect and unquenchable curiosity, is mind boggling.

Aristotle's discoveries and theories went on to fuel scientific inquiry for centuries. His vast achievements functioned as a template for the Renaissance. The great Arab scientist Alhazen refined the scientific method into its current form roughly a thousand years ago. It came into its fullest expression through the Italian super-genius Galileo in the early seventeenth century. Completing the process, the great inventions, such as the telescope and the microscope, along with the higher mathematics of Newton, arrived on the scene in the century after Galileo's achievements, giving birth to the era that we live in now, the Scientific Age. That's pretty much the extent of it. The entire history of science (as we think of it), subtracting its fallow period in the Dark Ages, is less than two thousand years roughly one percent of the history of our species. The duration that it has been the dominant way of seeing the world is much shorter, perhaps no more than three hundred years.

Given such a short history, we can only conclude that science, according to science, was not selected for in the human species. One must keep in mind that according to our present understanding of how natural selection works, traits only pass the test of selectivity if they help the extant, hosting organism to survive. Ask any biological scientist, and he or she will hasten to assure you that evolution doesn't know what it is doing. It has no grand plan, no concept of a future, no notion of how newly acquired traits may spread among the entire species; no such scheme. Rather, it plays out one groping, clawing, devouring organism at a time.

Our large, multifaceted brains were selected for, most certainly. The knowledge we needed to explore caves, to use weapons, to hunt, to organize against stronger predators, was provided by those brains. The human resourcefulness and inventiveness that our brains made possible was selected for along the strict and narrow rules of natural selection. But science wasn't. Remember, for only the last three hundred years or so has there been any demonstrable survival advantage to having scientific knowledge, most obviously in terms of decreasing infant mortality, and extending the average human life span by several decades. For the vast preponderance of the history of the species homo sapiens, approximately 200,000 years, the scientific method provided mankind with no survivability value whatsoever, proved by the obvious fact that we survived without it. In purest evolutionary terms, it is nothing more than a "lucky accident", an ancillary feature of our large brains (which developed, remember, solely to help us secure food and avoid becoming food), that didn't even begin to reveal its usefulness until twenty millennia after our brains' development had made it possible! How utterly insignificant the very feature of human consciousness that devised the theory of evolution is, from the perspective of that very theory!

And yet the champions of science hold it up as a paragon against which all other features of human consciousness cannot even hope to compare. Did intuition and and hunches help our species survive before science? Assuredly so. Did poetic and spiritual insights provide strength and succor to our lowly and set-upon species, huddled together in small tribes against a world vastly more threatening than the one we inhabit today? Bet on it. Without them, would we even be here? That I very much doubt. That science, coming along so late in the game, should nevertheless hoist itself to such a lofty and judgmental position seems rather presumptuous to me.

Imagine a basketball team that plays well enough in the regular season to earn a playoff berth. The team advances, all the way to the last few minutes of the championship game. A talented rookie comes off the bench, and makes a few clutch shots. A star is born! But no, because this rookie then kicks everyone else on his team off the court. He's decided they've outlived their usefulness, and that he alone is the only hope the team has of winning the game. Every error his teammates have made throughout the season that he didn't play in proves to him their unworthiness to even be on the same court as him. Their mere presence weakens his chance of bringing home the trophy. Well, I think we can all imagine how that would turn out! And yet that is basically the arrogant stance that science's staunchest champions take. Any talk of hunches, intuition, to say nothing of spirituality and supernatural phenomena, is met with the same level of disdain our imaginary rookie shows to the very teammates whose efforts have made his appearance on the court possible. Religion? They are convinced that it has been nothing other than an unmitigated disaster for mankind.

Science is so convinced of its own superiority that it uses itself, its own methods, to judge the validity of those concepts that arise from other areas of human consciousness. If something can't be tested in its laboratories, and proven according to itsrules and methodologies, then it becomes fair game to be scoffed at and labeled woo woo. This strikes me as absurd. Imagine a chocolate lover telling you that chocolate is the only legitimate sweet. You proffer a banana. "What is this ridiculous object? It isn't even black! It fails!" He dismisses it without even tasting it. Dutifully, you come back with a black banana. The chocolate lover puts it in its mouth and instantly spits it out, disgusted (understandably). The banana lover is in a hopeless situation. Playing by the rules the chocolate lover has set up, is it any wonder that chocolate always wins?

Don't get me wrong; I love science. It is scientific triumphalism that I take issue with. What we have today is perhaps less true science than a raging tyranny of the left hemisphere of the brain over the right, and the consequences scream out at us. On the one hand, scientific experiments have improved medicine and lengthened our life spans, and technological advancement has improved the quality of human life. On the other hand, science has damaged the environment to the point where our very survival is threatened. Factory farmed, steroid injected animals harm our health. Acid rain weakens our forests (the very "lungs" of our planet). Oil spills and nuclear disasters point out the price we pay for our brave new technological world. Beyond all that lurks the mother of all environmental threats, catastrophic climate change. That we could have placed ourselves in such a dangerous predicament a mere three centuries into the Scientific Age should clue us that we should be going about things differently.

To me, the Great Lesson of our time is not that the ascension of science over the last few centuries is a harbinger of a new age of enlightenment, if we can just hold on and solve our current existential threats. It is that our survival depends upon striking a balance between the wonderful possibilities that science brings about and the poetic, intuitive, meaning-seeking portion of our consciousness centered in the other hemisphere of our magnificent brains. If that balance cannot be reached, I for one have very little hope that mankind will escape destroying itself. We will,rather, hasten our return to the Great Darkness, clinging to our belief in an unconscious universe that is completely blind to our existence, and never even returned the favor of seeing us.