Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Buddha in Pismo Beach

I've been trying to estivate in the desert beyond my cabin, a skill Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster taught me last summer, but I'm too restless to get into it.  The idea of sleeping through this critical, historic moment, as tempting as it is, seems a betrayal of my species.  This is humanity's deadline.  Either we figure it out now or not.  Or just not.

Uh-oh, that sounded cynical.  I promised myself I would cut down on cynicism in my writing, but it's challenging to keep that promise because "cynicism" is hard to define.  The Cynics were 3rd Century BC Greeks who held that people should "have contempt for ease and pleasure" (American Heritage Dictionary).  Since you can't show much more contempt for ease and pleasure than to sleep in a dog house, and that's what Cynics recommended, they were called "cynics," meaning "doglike," (Greek: kuon, dog).  Today a cynic is "a person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest," a situation necessarily leading to widespread dysfunction.  A modern cynic's attitude is summed up by phrases like, "(someone or something is) going to hell in a handbasket."  

How am I supposed to cut down on cynicism in any of those senses?  You might as well cut down on breathing.  Nevertheless, I did rouse myself from attempted estivation and sought Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess, hoping she could suggest a more productive and positive endeavor.  She could and did:

Harry, I have a great idea for you!  Would you like to meet Buddha and spend some time talking to him?

You mean, the Buddha?

Yes, that's the Buddha I mean.  He's in Pismo Beach, up the coast from Santa Barbara, chilling in a sea cave.  I showed him some of your writings and described your ascetic lifestyle....

It's not by choice!

...Yes, dear...at any rate, the Buddha was intrigued and has granted you an audience.  Would you like to travel with me today to Pismo Beach, and meet the Buddha tonight?

Sure!

One positive thing about my lifestyle is that I can respond to just about any magical thing that happens- there are no strings to hold me back.  Of course the problem is the paucity of magical things, but talking to the Buddha, well, if that's not magical, what is?

At sunset I was riding atop Betty. We took ridge trails in the Los Padres National Forest, came down along the 166, then veered north a few miles to Pismo Beach.  As the miles went by the border spirits of Northern California observed us from a polite distance.  

I used to go to Pismo a lot in the '60's, my Bay Area days.  There was a roller rink two blocks from the pier that gave the town a rowdy teenage vibe.  The rink was torn down and Quality Inns added, but the rowdy teenage vibe remains.  Families and friends from all over the coast and inland come to Pismo for the lovely pier, the soothing endless beach, the Coney Island type town, the ancient sea caves, the flocks of pelicans that swarm the pier when sardines circle the submerged posts.  If I were Buddha, I would definitely sojourn in Pismo.

When I ride Betty we are invisible, so it was not a problem when, around 11pm, we arrived in town, galloping down the gentle slope  of Price Canyon Road.  


In 1769, Gaspar de Portola and his expedition, seeking land for Spain, docked near the current pier and marched up the same slope on its way to Price Canyon, which Portola had heard yielded natural tar, used by the local Chumash to caulk their boats ("Pismo" is Chumash for "tar").  En route to the canyon the expedition noted several Chumash villages.  When Portola set foot on Pismo Beach, his was the first European step in alta California.  Modern Pismo Beach has about 8,000 residents; 2.9% are Native American.  

At the pier, Betty leaped onto the sand and we charged north up the beach for a mile or so, to the sea caves.

There were scattered stargazers and undefined people on the sand in the cave area, a few wearing masks against the coronavirus.  We walked to the far end, where the beach is blocked by large stones, to a particularly dark and isolated cave.  The tide was coming up towards its entrance.  We stepped inside and light appeared.

The cave seemed to have been prepared for our comfort.  Soft candles illuminated the sand, which was dry.  The rising tide was held back by some sort of field.

At the end of the cave, seated on a stone covered by a large blue cushion, smiling at us, sat, I assumed, the Buddha.  I had to assume because he looked like an accountant.  He had short-cropped hair and was wearing a button-down shirt and beige slacks.  There was a ballpoint pen in his shirt pocket.  

Hello Betty and Harry!, Buddha exclaimed, gesturing for me to sit on another (green) cushion-covered stone.  Betty sat on her haunches and spoke: 

Hello again, Buddha!  As you've surmised, this is Harry.  I think he was expecting you to be fat and kind of naked.

It's great to meet you, Harry!

Nice to meet you too, Buddha! 
I replied.  Betty is concerned over my reaction to your appearance, but I understand you take many forms, that you are the latest of 24 Buddhas.  Or is it 24 avatars?

Actually 24 avatars and 28 Buddhas, the 28th being Gautama, 
Buddha explained.  Some were fat; some laughed.  All were wise, of course.  My form tonight is an adaptation of one of the traditional avatars, modified so that I am Regular Human Buddha.  I still have all the wisdom and what have you.

Wow, that's wonderful!  Isn't there also a Hindu sect that includes you in its pantheon?

Yes, the Vaishnava Puranas consider me the 9th incarnation of Vishnu, the main Hindu god, who by the way has four faces.  


The Buddha watched me quietly for a moment, then continued:

Harry, I know the multiplicity of divine identities can be novel for a Westerner.  Feel free to probe the subject if you're curious.

Thank you, Buddha.  It does seem that there is a huge divergence in dogma between Eastern spiritual tradition and Western. 

Indeed, said Buddha.

For instance, I continued, in Judeo/Christian/Muslim tradition, the dogma explicitly states that there is a single god in the universe, creating and running all of it.  Western tradition includes angels, saints, demons, prophets and apostles- with varying degrees of spiritual power- but there is only one central god in all of the universe.  Buddha, I'm hesitant to ask my question about this.

Go ahead, Harry.  I can handle it.

Ok, well, I wanted to ask, if there's only one god in the universe, then what exactly would be your relationship to him/her?  Oh my god, I can't believe I asked you that!

I heard a yelp of delight and turned around to see Betty leap into the waves.  Buddha responded to my question:

Harry, this alleged competition is only a problem for humans.  It's all subjective on your part.  Honestly, we don't care at all about that stuff.  Whether I embody this or that, or how many of me there are, or whether I can share a universe with your god- those questions don't even mean anything.  My colleagues and I just enjoy the perks of divinity, and try to share them when humankind permits.

I see, 
I continued, wondering if I did see. Buddha, here's something else I wonder about.  In the magazine cartoons about people seeking enlightenment, the meme is a haggard guy climbing a mountain to ask the sage who lives on top what the meaning of life is.  What I'm getting at is that it was easy to get here, to speak to you.  Isn't it supposed to be really difficult?

Great observation, Harry!  Enlightenment is actually no big deal.  Most people have moments of enlightenment without trying at all.

I guess what I'm talking about is the idea of being enlightened all the time, which is what we think you are.

Nonsense!  No one is enlightened all the time, god or not.  You'd never get anything done.  For instance, before you arrived here I spent considerable time trying to figure out the mechanism that holds back the tide from this cave.  The thinking involved was no more enlightened than figuring out how to install an ink cartridge in a printer.

Hmm.  That's reassuring, Buddha.  But then...what is enlightenment?

It's when you view the big picture.  For instance, imagine you are installing a new ink cartridge.  It turns out you purchased the wrong size.  As you try to force the cartridge into the holder, you hear a piece of plastic break.  You realize that you are now in the thrall of the Geek Squad, at the mercy of their terrible judgment of your ignorance, of their fury at the intolerable life they lead dealing with people like you.  Then, out of nowhere, you become enlightened.

How?

Buddha paused, then continued, "Actually, I'm not sure.  I may have picked too extreme an example."

That's ok, I have an idea what you could say.

Yes?

You could say, I think, that when you are enlightened you leave the immediate world, in which you have fallen into a pit of Geek Squaders, to soar above, to see the eons before and after you, the eventual decay of your printer, of its elements, into the soup of the world.  What did I need to print, anyway?  Some useless crap that no one will read.  Is that what's meant by enlightenment, Buddha?  Am I close?

Close enough, Harry.

We were quiet for a while, listening to the waves hit the forcefield at the cave entrance.  Suddenly Betty splashed back in, her fur soaking and dripping onto the sand.  She shook herself vigorously, then beamed at us, looking completely dry.

How's it going, guys?, asked Betty.

Terrific, said Buddha, Harry, let's hear some more questions.

I thought for a moment, then remembered two questions that had puzzled me for years.

Buddha, I said, I understand that part of your message is that we are trapped in the "wheel of life," of endless birth and death, pain and incomplete existence, unless we...unless we what?

Unless you live in another direction.

Live in another direction?

And think in another direction.  Stop thinking like someone doomed to the wheel.  Think like someone who can command the waves to halt, who can perceive pain as a bully, who can think thoughts that were not prescribed when your brains were new.

Can that be done?

Form follows thought.

It does?

That's one theory.  Another theory is that you if you passively blend into things it all works out.  "Go with the flow," that sort of thing.  It kind of depends on the person.

Hm.  Well, my other question is about some nations where the national religion is based on your teachings, where people are
 as busy hating and killing each other as anywhere else.  Are those people Buddhists?  

I'll answer that question with another: What are you?

I'm...non-denominational.

Yes, Harry, but what are you?

Well, I'm an entertainer, or used to be.  I performed telepathic acts in nightclubs, in Frisco, in the Haight.

That's what you were?

No, I mean, that's what I did.

That's not what you were, or are?

No, not really.

What are you?

I'm...how about this, I'm an American.

What does that mean?

It means I was born in the territorial U.S. and am a citizen, with a sense of shared community and identity.  

Is that what you are?

I see what you're getting at.

Yes?

A U.S. citizen is not what I am; it's where I was born, where my documents say I belong, where I recognize communal affinity.  

What are you gleaning from this conversation, Harry?

I'm gleaning that there is no answer to, "What are you?"

Correct.  

Does this pertain to my question?

Probably.  Let's see...do you identify with the Bill of Rights?

I agree with the thinking behind the Bill of Rights.  I don't identify with the Bill of Rights, however.  It was written by a group of men before I was born.  I am not them.  I am not what they wrote.

And do you ever find yourself desiring to violate one of those bills, for instance by opposing someone's free speech because you hate the sound of their idiotic voice and their stupid ideas?

I uh...it's been known to happen.

And sometimes you feel like if you had the ability, you really would shut someone up?

Well, maybe in an extreme case.

Then you see, Harry, you violate the Bill of Rights even though you are an American.  You violate your American religion, yet you remain an American.

Thanks, Buddha, that's helpful.  Can we cover reincarnation a bit?  Is it true that we have to live one short, brutish life after another for millions of years until we figure out how to escape?  That sounds like the Christian concept of purgatory, or even hell.

That's a valid comparison, Harry, but don't be discouraged.

Why not?

I'll give you a hint.  The single greatest obstacle to human progress is the difficulty of understanding the human condition.  

How so?

You humans are out of your element, out of any element.  You wonder why your brain expanded.  It expanded to keep you from dying when the earth expelled you.  You still have not found your home.  

Yes, I said.

Since your life is fraught and uncertain, Buddha continued, it is difficult for you to reach a contemplative state, one in which you can meditate as a way to understand your existence and distance yourself from the wheel.  You are in a desperate hurry to protect what you have, so understanding your existence must take a distant second to surviving the next week.  But sooner or later, if you don't try to understand your existence you will cease to have it. 

Buddha, I thought you said enlightenment is easy.

It is easy.  What's difficult is finding ways to benefit from it.

So...beyond putting you in a thoughtful state of mind, should meditation teach you specific things?

Etymology reveals the truth, Harry.  "Meditation" comes from the Latin root "metiri," which is also the root of "measure" and "metrics."  In the 16th Century, "to meditate" became "to contemplate something that has been identified."  Modern culture turned this contemplation into a "feel-good" haze of joy, rather than a reckoning with one's existence.  When you reckon (from Dutch "rekenen" = "to count") with your existence, you naturally have ideas about how to take care of it.

Buddha, as an aside, is there anything wrong with feeling good?

Of course not, Harry!  Your derogatory adjective "feel-good" describes a state where one feels good for no reason, or insufficient reason, aka a "false sense of euphoria."  

I know it well!
    
At any rate, the modern take on meditation is a distortion, and I might add that it's a sad day for any culture when "feel-good" has a negative connotation.  

I nodded sagely, I hoped.

Harry, Buddha continued, I recommend dropping the requirement that meditation must always produce peace and serenity.  Meditation can produce cacophony and chaos too.  Its output is from its input.  Its purpose is to produce a work of art that depicts your existence.  You should not try to block the noise from this work of art, because it is part of the work.  When you meditate on a real image of your existence, you learn who you are, or at least you learn that you don't know who you are.  Animals, unless they are trapped in a zoo, don't need to learn who they are.  They just are.  But humans must meditate in order to be.

I meditated on that for a moment, until something odd drifted into my field of vision.  The magic or mechanism at the cave entrance that had kept the tide out seemed to have collapsed with Betty's return.  I watched the ocean's edge move across the floor of the cave, then stared at my submerged shoes.  They were not wet.

Thank you, Buddha, I said.  On another subject, it's pretty cool how your "mechanism" can control the effects of water, but what does performing these kinds of tricks, which all gods seem to feel is necessary, have to do with their ideas?

They have nothing to do with the ideas, Harry.  As you suggest, gods do the tricks because people won't believe us otherwise.

That doesn't make sense, Buddha!  Ideas should sell themselves.  I should adopt what you say about enlightenment because I know it's true, not because you make water not be wet.

Right, huh?  Yet that's what people expect from "the wise."  No one believed Jesus just because he was wise.  When he walked on water and brought a dead man to life, then everyone believed his ideas.  Go figure.

Betty rubbed against my side and murmured, Let's head home, Harry, and give the Buddha a break.

Stay as long as you wish, Harry, said Buddha.

I had a sudden thought.

Wait, Buddha, I said, Betty is a deity too, she's the Coyote Creator Goddess.  Are you two actually faces of each other?  

Much laughter ensued between the coyote and the accountant.  The cave filled with joy.  We said our goodbyes.  

It was clearly another stellar trip to Pismo Beach!

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Sayings of Harry the Human

Like everyone these days, I'm feeling the need for a little discipline, so I've resolved to write one pithy saying each day (or when inspired) that would be worthy to lay in tattered notes around my desert tombstone.  Without further ado, here begin my sayings:

Saying #1

A demon is not a being.  A demon is confusion.

Saying #2

When in doubt, congratulate yourself on your intelligence.

[Editor's note: What kind of dick calls his thoughts "sayings"?]

Saturday, July 25, 2020

"I get by with a little help from my friends," Ringo Starr

I admit it can be lonely living by myself in the desert, but these days everyone is lonely.  I've been suppressing my telepathic sense so I don't have to hear my own laments magnified a million times from L.A., but this morning I opened up just to check-in and was rewarded with a flood of anxiety pouring over the mountains.

The coronavirus pandemic with its shut-downs and quarantines is testing us in ways that are not acknowledged.  Our deepest fear is that the institutions and people that structure our lives- family, friends, schools, banks, stores, all the "ties that bind"- are dissolving and will not come back.  Science fiction writer Cixin Liu imagines a soothing existence: floating in space without ambition, direction, or definition.  That's what's happening to us minus the soothing space part.

Society will return, of course, but we fear it will be in a form we won't recognize.  Maybe, we think, we won't even be part of it.

There is a lot of guilt involved.  Before the shutdown all we did was complain about how terrible everything was.  Now we suffer from our own wish for change.  

People wonder: Should I be angry about this and blame someone or something, or should I despair and accept my own culpability?  

I get angry sometimes, depressed other times, and sometimes I just stare out the window at the mountains as if they had answers.

Last week I reached the level of internal chaos required to induce action.  As I have in other crises (documented in these pages) I headed across the rocky sand in search of the beings who sustain my life out here.  Often on such forays my goal is to find a particular one of them (full list: Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess, Jesus, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster and Gandalf the Wizard), but this time I walked aimlessly, not sure what or whom I sought.  

It couldn't have been entirely aimless, though, because I ended up at Betty's favorite creosote bush, and there she was, seated beside it.  She smiled (a coyote smile is conveyed through suggestion) and spoke first:

Hello, Harry!  I've been following your thoughts this morning, but I'm not sure I have any particular wisdom for you.

Why not, Betty, you're a deity.  Doesn't that mean you know things?

I'm not saying I don't know things; I'm saying I'm not sure I can help you.

Just knowing things can be a big help sometimes.  Please tell me something you know.

Betty gazed over my shoulders at the mountains and sighed.  After a few moments she spoke.

Harry, the things that are scaring people the most are true.  

Like what?

Like the dissolution of your civilization.  It's going to be scrapped and rebuilt.

Will it be an orderly process?  Will people be taken care of and thoughtfully introduced into new roles?

It doesn't look like it.

We were silent for a while.  I was at a loss for my next question, until I remembered the burning issue of the day.

Betty, I don't know whether to be angry at others for causing this situation, or to wallow in self-doubt and blame myself.

You might try a little of both, Harry.  

Which is correct?

They are both correct.  People caused this collapse by not caring, not thinking, not doing.  On the other hand, although you cared and thought, you haven't actually done anything to prevent it.

True.

We entered another contemplative moment.  I considered thanking Betty for her time and going home to my shack for a nap.  Betty caught my drift and said,

Harry, collapse and rebuilding happen continually in the universe.  

But why must it happen over and over to human society, Betty?  Humans are supposed to be smart, smarter than animals or insects or anything else.  Why don't we fix our society instead of letting the problems build up for years until only destruction can fix them?  Do you know the story of Alexander the Great and the Gordian knot?

Yes, Alexander arrived in the town of Gordiam in the Middle East where he was shown an immense, tangled knot with a legend: Whoever could untie the knot would rule Asia.  Since ruling Asia was on Alexander's mind, he tried to untie the knot.  After sustained efforts he failed to untie it, so he drew his sword and sliced it in half, effectively untying it.  Harry, why did you think of that story?

People secretly admire Alexander for slicing the knot, Betty.  They think it shows Alexander's intelligence and fitness to rule.

Does it?

It shows how humans often rule, for better or worse.  

So instead of tying to solve your problems, you just slice everything into pieces?

In essence, yes.

I suddenly felt very tired and sat on a rock.  

Betty, my anger comes from the idea that there are people who are manipulating things.  They may not have caused the overall mess, but they have been monitoring it and finding ways to control it.

What is the goal of these manipulators?

Their goal is to make sure that the new society includes them.  Our conspiracy theories are about people secretly deciding who will live and prosper in the new order, and who will not.

We were quiet for a few minutes.  Though it was soothing to be with a friendly soul, my thoughts soon settled on a vision of a hungry mob emptying the Family Dollar Store, which was not the relaxing mandala I had sought.

As if to save the day, Gandalf the Wizard from Lord of the Rings strolled towards us.  He is the only fictional character among my friends, but in practical terms he's as real as a talking coyote.  

Hi all, said Gandalf.  Harry, I've been following your thoughts too, although I'm not telepathic.

If you're not telepathic, Gandalf
how did you follow my thoughts?

As far as I can tell, Harry, I tapped into the first person omniscience of my creator, J.R.R. Tolkien.  

Wow, you can do that?

Yes, but it's hard to sustain.  Anyway, I'm not sure I can help you, Harry, but it might be interesting to compare Middle-earth's travails with yours.

At that point Gandalf and I heard a soft throbbing, like waves on a shore.  It was peaceful, meditative, and seemed designed to help me and Gandalf peer into unknown corners.  I looked at Betty to ask what the sound was, but she was sleeping, and the soft throbbing was her snoring!  This, I figured, was blessed snoring.

Gandalf, I continued, I recall that Middle-earth experienced a complete revolution, in which every society in that world was destroyed and transformed, yet the book is uplifting.  In contrast, imagine that humanity's current situation is a science-fiction story.  Most people would agree the genre would be Sci-Fi Horror.  Why isn't Lord of the Rings, with all its death and pain, in the Fantasy-Horror genre?

I've thought about that, Harry.  There is actually much more destruction in your world-story than in 
Lord of the Rings, because in your story, nothing of your lives survives.

What?  Gandalf, did I mention that I came out here looking for solace?  What do you mean?

Harry, you'll recall that at the conclusion of 
Lord of the Rings, what you might call "ethnic" or "racial," or even species related differences are not transformed at all.  Sorry for the confusion in terms; Tolkien never made clear whether hobbits, elves, dwarves and people could cross-pollinate.

I recall some action between elves and people.

Yes, perhaps.  At any rate, all these classifications of beings stay the same through the great wars of Middle-earth, so the aforementioned hobbits, elves, dwarves and people- not to mention wizards, orcs and demons- maintain their definitions at the end of the tale.  Since friendships tend to occur between those with similar backgrounds, and since no one in Middle-earth changes their basic form, the destruction of everyone's societies does not bring destruction of their friendships.

I think I follow you, Gandalf.  Are you saying that in my world, our current forms will change so much that our great-grandchildren will not know where they came from, or who we were?

Yes.  The approaching process will entail scientific refashioning of civilization itself.  Just as Europeans (with help from the Romans) forgot that they were Celts, Visigoths and assorted barbarians, the next people will forget they were you.

Gandalf, I assume you know how upset people would be to hear these ideas.

Of course, but Harry, you don't seem too upset about them.

I'm upset enough, but I'm also trying to think of something uplifting, which you and Betty apparently cannot offer.

At that moment there was a hitch in Betty's snoring, as if it were interrupted by a cough.  We looked at her for a moment, then Gandalf spoke.

If it's good news you want, Harry, you need but ask.  The reason Lord of the Rings is rated "Fantasy," not "Fantasy Horror,"  is that the friendships are so intense, so loving, and so successful that constant fighting with orcs is a small price to pay.  At this moment you humans have friendships, but the friendships are based on the past, not the future.

Gandalf, did I hear you say you had good news?

The good news is an idea.  That idea is: if you can get even a portion of your society to take the blinders off and talk about things as they actually are, you could revive the ancient art of friendship and survive.

Easier said than done, but it's worth a try, 
I said courteously.

Betty opened her eyes and gazed into mine, and a great warmth spread inside me.

Betty, that feels good, but it's just depressing me more.

Now what's wrong? 
asked Betty.

What's wrong is I'm making all this up!  I'm not talking to a deity and a wizard.  I'm sitting on my bed in my fucking room, flipping through a six- month-old Mad Magazine.

Gandalf intervened: Nonsense, Harry.  Remember when Frodo and Sam were hiding in a cave outside Mordor and they speculated about how they could be characters in a novel?

Yes, what about it?

Well, they were characters in a novel, weren't they?

So?

So if they weren't real, why did you care about them?

Betty and Gandalf broke into raucous laughter, and I suddenly felt out of my league.  With impeccable timing, Jesus chose that moment to enter the scene.

Hello Harry, Jesus said serenely.

Hi Jesus!  I suppose you've been following my thoughts too.

Indeed I have.  Would you like a bit of my wisdom?

Yes I would, though I've been wanting to discuss something with you....


Yes, Harry.

Well, I don't understand some of the statements attributed to you.

Such as....?

Mostly...the turning the other cheek thing, loving your enemies, etc.

You don't understand that?

No, I mean, I do understand the idea, but it's not what is happening in the world.  In fact the opposite is happening.  What's the point of you saying these things if no one does it?

Everyone does it, Harry.

Everyone loves their enemies?

Yes, they have to because your worst enemy is the person most like you.

Can you give an example?

There are many from international relations.  The Cold War was the period of the highest tension between the Soviet Union and the U.S., while at that time they were more similar to each other than they were to other countries.  Now China, with its renewed imperial ambitions, is the most similar to the U.S., so it has become your primary enemy.

Then...should we love China?

Oh yes, the sooner the better.

Quiet reigned again.  I picked up a stick and drew meaningless symbols in the sand.  I wondered about Frodo and Sam.  Did they know they were not real?  

Get a life, Harry!

The intruding thought carried the unmistakable signature of Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster.

Hey Robert, I said dryly, are you joining the campaign to cheer me up?

Why don't you cheer me up, Harry, you're from the master race after all.

Ha ha, that's funny.

What's funny?

Calling humans the master race.

What's funny about it?

Jesus, Betty, Gandalf and I watched Robert trudge across the clearing.  He settled on a stone between the creosote bush and my rock.  He spat once, then continued his thoughts:

Harry, you are so anthropocentric!  Do you ever stop to think about what's happening to other creatures around you, like, I don't know, gila monsters?

Sure, Robert, all the time.

I'll let that pass.  I suppose you're wondering if I- the least prone of our group to hallelujah choirs- will be the one to cheer you up.

Stranger things have happened.

Ok Harry, here goes!  Gila science interprets what is happening on the surface of our planet in a non-anthropocentric way: human society's chaos is not caused by humans.

What is it caused by?

It's caused by the earth.  All the upheaval in human history is actually not human history.  It's earth history.  

What are humans, then?

Humans are by-products of the earth's growing pains.

Ok, I am totally cheered up now; thanks so much Robert.

Hang on, I didn't get to the good part:  Humans are so talented at adapting to things, you could probably adapt to the idea that you're by-products rather than important beings like deities and talking lizards.

And then what?

The sky's the limit.  Once you are honest about your prospects, you can plan a decent retirement.

Robert, if you didn't exist I'd have to make you up.  Well friends, thanks for coming.  I think I'm overdue for my afternoon nap, so if you'll excuse me....

Just a moment, Harry, 
said Jesus, rising and walking over to me.  He looked into my eyes, then touched my forehead with the tip of his index finger.  I felt an immediate dilation of my spirit, which was immersed in a warm bath of the waters of joy.  I'm sure Jesus could tell by my expression that I was not resisting.

What is happening, Jesus?, I asked.

Harry, you are in touch with your atoms: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, iron- all the vast crowd.  They are not in despair, are they?

No, my atoms are joyful.  Why is that?

They are part of earth's processes, going where they want to go.

What am I?  Am I made of them?

You are a temporary construct of them.

Jesus, what's the good news in this?

Communicate with your atoms, Harry.  Find common ground.  Find how you can combine your needs with what the earth needs.

Jesus, people call those kinds of ideas 
mystical babble.

Who cares, Harry, that doesn't mean they aren't true.

Feeling somewhat restored, I said goodbye to my friends and trudged home, hoping the warm glow from Jesus' words would last the trip.  It did, and in fact I took the glow with me into my afternoon nap.  

Pleasant dreams, readers!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A meeting about tricking Hong Kong's youth

A group of men met in China last winter, as the coronavirus pandemic and quarantines were unfolding, to discuss Hong Kong and the likelihood that late spring would coincide with lessening infection rates and a lifting of quarantines.  This prospect interested the men because it entailed possibilities for manipulating Hong Kong's young people by unleashing within them the energy of spring as a power source for their protest.  This "spring break" energy would be especially intense after everyone had been pent-up for months in unnatural hibernation.  By choosing this time to issue a set of directives from Beijing specifically designed to upset Hong Kong's youth, the men foresaw an easy road to chaos, one they could blame on the protesters.   If the protests were sufficiently violent, the entire protest leadership and many followers could possibly be shut-up for good.

One man said, The young are unschooled in our ways.  They think they follow their own volition, but we will be the stage managers.  If we set a trap in spring, they will be too full of emotion to see it.

Yes, 
said another, Let's trigger them in late spring.  At that time young people will be erupting all over the world, so when the mayhem starts, news of Hong Kong will be bumped off the front pages in the countries whose support the protesters need most, like the U.S.A.  Gentlemen, it is time to make a list of things we will say in late spring to trigger Hong Kong protests!

That list appears on page 4 of today's Los Angeles Times (6/20/20, "Beijing to expand Hong Kong presence") where it is summarized by this line: "China plans to establish a special bureau in Hong Kong to investigate and prosecute crimes considered threatening to national security."  The message: Dissent will be illegal and punishable in harsh ways.  

It's a gripping story, but by the time readers get to it on page 4 they will have read thousands of words about race riots, infection rates and economic uncertainty.  L.A. Times readers and most Americans are too exhausted from their own trials to think much about Hong Kong.  

There will be no help for the protesters from international capitalism; financial centers in Hong Kong do not want to go against China.  Without money in their court, the protesters have no hope of military support.

Youth of Hong Kong,  you need to rethink your approach if you don't want to be sitting ducks.  When China's latest moves send you to the boiling point, that is by design.  You have not chosen this timing.  It was chosen by your opponent in pursuance of a strategy in which the more violent your protests are, the more you will be misrepresented to people whose support you need.  Every time a window is broken or a rock is thrown, your opponent will rejoice and congratulate himself on his strategic acumen.

I wish I could advise you on how to "win," but I'm not sure how each of you defines "winning."  What I can say is that when you detect that an intended action of yours has been determined by your opponent, you should think twice about doing it.



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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Interview with Gregory w/P.S. on George Floyd protests

If you've read to the end of this blog you've met 24 year old Gregory, leader of the activist group, "Army of the Young," who believes that technological changes impacting us will lead either to total submersion of humanity or to the creative blossoming our kind has longed for.  I hadn't talked to Gregory since we met a few weeks ago at the Bakersfield Woolworth's, and I wanted to know what he thought about the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.  I called him and suggested we meet again at the same Woolworth's, but Gregory has been doing his organizing on zoom, and he wanted to meet that way.  I have an old Mac, and luckily it and I were able to handle the technology.  

I was ready to scorn the zoom experience, but I was surprised and a little unsettled by how quickly I got used to the two-dimensional, fleshless image of Gregory.  The only dimension we shared was time.  Below is a transcript of our conversation.

Me:  Hi Gregory!  How are you doing?  

I could see busy young people walking back and forth behind him, tending to fax machines and computers.  Gregory wore an "Army of the Young" t-shirt.  His hair was long, but he was shaven.  He smiled disarmingly.

Gregory:  Hello, Harry!  I enjoy reading about your adventures with your spirit guides, Betty and Robert.

Me:  You should make a trip out here and meet them.  They could add some dimensions to your movement.

G:  How so?

From a look that passed over Gregory's face I realized that he believed that Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess and Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster are fictional creations of mine.

Me:  Gregory, you do know, I hope, that Betty and Robert are real?

G: Hm?

Me: Betty is an incarnation of the Native American "Trickster Goddess," and Robert is a telepathic gila monster who, unlike most of his tribe, thinks I'm good conversation.

G: How about your treatment of Jesus then, and Gandalf, a fictional character?

Me: Well, they're real...in various senses.

Gregory looked at me through the non-judgemental zoom platform, but it was clear he was reassessing me as a nut.  He has no problem accepting my telepathy, so it surprised me that he would doubt the reality of my desert companions.  I was about to resign myself to losing an important friend, when Betty decided to pull a deus ex machina (literally).  Her face appeared on the screen and howled mournfully.

G: Very funny, Harry!

And then Betty was standing on her hind paws next to Gregory, her front paws on his desk between the keyboard and mouse.  She looked at him and smiled a coyote smile.

Gregory leaped out of his chair shouting, What the fuck!

Betty: Hello, Gregory!

And then she was gone.  Gregory sat slowly back down in his chair.  He seemed to be panting.

Me:  Gregory, I'm sorry!  She does things without warning me.  You should take her revelation to you as an endorsement.  She understands your movement and wants to support and influence it.

I let Gregory breathe for a while.  Finally he spoke.

G:  Harry, what does this mean?  I am secular, as you know.  I'm not an atheist, but I do like evidence for what I believe.  Should I kill myself?

Me: No!  Gregory, Jesus no!  That would mean I should kill myself.  But I feel lucky to have stumbled into these devine and exotic relationships.  Forces like these don't mean that science is false...just that it's incomplete.

G:  That's not the problem, Harry.  My unease is not caused by the possibility of deities and intelligent non-humans.

Me:  What is it then?  

G:  Have you heard of Epicurus?

Me: Is he the one who recommended eating and drinking all day?

G: No.  That's the fake Epicurus created by Judeo/Christian authorities to weaken the huge following Epicurus had in the Greek and Roman worlds.  The real Epicurus was a 4th Century BC Greek philosopher whose doctrines became anti-matter to the newly forming establishment religions.

Me: What were his doctrines?

G:  Every book by him was destroyed, so we rely on the Roman writer Lucretius, who two centuries later recorded Epicurius' ideas in his work, "
On the Nature of Things."  Copies of this book too were destroyed and it was lost for centuries, until one copy was discovered in a German monastery in 1417.  Just to get through this quickly, I'll put Epicurius' religious ideas in bullet points:

  • Everything is made of tiny things called atoms (Greek for "thing that can't be cut").  Humans are made of atoms that are all tangled up in crap and nonsense.
  • Gods exist.  They inhabit peaceful, contemplative realms.  Gods are made of atoms too, but their atoms are "fine," unencumbered with crap and nonsense, and they want to keep it that way.
  •  The gods don't care about us.  If they perceive us at all we're an irritating static.  
  • We have souls, made of atoms.  There is no afterlife.  When a soul dies, it's gone.

By the way, Gregory continued, most adherents of Epicurus were aristocrats, which makes sense because they had enough comfort in life that they didn't need to believe it would come after they died. 

More to the point, the gods, according to Epicurus, would just as soon flush us down the toilet if we get in their face.  Unfortunately humans often end up on a collision course with a god's face, sometimes because of actions by philosophers, sometimes by scientists (once by a woman named Eve) and the toilet of history becomes a real possibility.  There's a major collision brewing now because human physicists have found clever ways to peek into the divine sphere.  Their data is refracted back in distorted, ambiguous form, with the net effect of forcing the scientists into embarrassing admissions of non-comprehension while still pissing off the gods.

Me: Uh-oh, why are the gods pissed off?

G: If Epicurus was right that gods want to be left alone, we should be getting a lot of attention from gods now because of our intrusions.  Your encounters with Betty and Jesus could be aspects of this.  I'm sure a lot of people are having such encounters.  It's bad news, Harry.

Me:  Why?  Why couldn't it be good news?

G: Because the "gods" or "celestial clouds of blissful atoms" or whatever we decide to call them are irritated by us.  And why not? They were blissful before we blundered in.

Me:  Gregory, "blunder" comes from a Scandinavian word meaning, "blind."  It's not our fault.  We don't know what we're doing.  We should be forgiven.  Although I see your point.  We need to take a breath and think about things.  What do you recommend?  Should I apologize to Betty and Jesus and stay out of their desert?

G:  Not necessarily, Harry.  Why don't we try to find out what they want?

Me: I thought we knew that: They want us gone.

G: But...we might be able to negotiate how we go, how we become gone.  After all, we don't even know where we are, or that we are someplace we haven't been before and maybe shouldn't be.  Let's wait for some feedback.

Me: That's one of the elements of your movement, isn't it?  We should stop dictating to the universe and have a conversation with it instead.

G: That's right Harry.  If I didn't know you aren't a joiner, I'd invite you to join us.

Me: I'm honored to be invited!  My purpose today was actually to ask you about the response to the coronavirus.  The last time I saw you in Bakersfield we didn't know the whole world was about to change.  How does the pandemic response fit into your movement?

G:  The pandemic response and its aftermath will be a test of human governance.  Everybody is talking now about how inefficient everything is, how uncoordinated, how unplanned.  The cure for that is strong government, the very thing everyone loves to hate.  Governance is in a bind because it is not trusted.  We need it to be strong, but we don't trust it to be strong.  

Me:  Very true.  What does your movement suggest?

G: We suggest that geographic areas be established (possibly, in our case, on the West Coast) where government can start from scratch, offering the security of scientific response in a realistic fashion, without bombast or pontification or any of the self-canonizations of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign.

Me: How would you enforce your language requirements?  Who would be in charge of monitoring political language?

G: We've identified a vast pool of qualified and willing candidates: retired English teachers.

Me: Brilliant!

G: They are already comfortable judging people's use of language.  They tend to have sensitive ears for political nuances, since many are exiles from inhospitable political environments.

Me: I'll have to tell my buddy D.L.;  he'll jump on it!

G: Send him to me.  Harry, I need to get going now.  To tell you the truth, I'm a bit shaken by Betty's visit.  How do you handle it?

Me: With care.  Good luck, Gregory!

G: Same to you, Harry!

I clicked a tab on the screen that said, "Leave meeting," then clicked another that said, "End meeting," and finally without clicking anything, I left the meeting.

Postscript, 6/14/20: 

When the protests and rioting resulting from George Floyd's killing started, I contacted Gregory again to see how the unrest was affecting his movement, since his followers tend to be in the same young demographic as the protestors.  We set up another zoom meeting and had a short but revealing conversation:

Me: Have your young followers been swept up in the protests over police killings?

G: Many of them have, yes, but we have discussions in which we put current events into the perspective of the human transformation now underway.  Part of that transformation entails a genetic refashioning of the traditional races.  Whether our ancestors lost their skin pigmentation in the quest for vitamin D or not, our genetic codes will be mixed and matched.

Me: Are you predicting the disappearance of currently existing races?

G: Not the disappearance- the modification.  There will be an element of self-determination as parents choose their children's physical, intellectual and emotional characteristics from the palette offered by science.  After a few generations, the result will be artificial "races" that are physically soothing to each other across racial lines, avoiding the intense rivalry and historical baggage typical of today's racial mixing.  Bioengineering will bring us harmonious diversity at last, but in the process it will destroy today's version of diversity.

Me:  A lot of people will not like that.

G: No one will be able to stop it, but there will be instances of isolated groups who seek to retain their original genetic makeup.  It will be a matter of great pride for them, but rivalries between extended genetic families will not have the force of "race war" that we verge on now.

Me:  Do you advise your followers how to protest George Floyd's killing?

G: No, I don't tell my "followers" what to do.  It's enough for me that they understand the context of the unrest- its context in human evolution.

Me: And that context is that in a few generations there won't be races as we've known them.

G: In a nutshell.

[For more on Gregory's Army of the Young, keep reading here or go to http://www.gregorysarmyoftheyoung.com/]