Sunday, December 3, 2017

"We need a new political party!" says Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster


I was trapped in a suffocating box with transparent walls, through which a giant shadowy figure peered at me.

Harry!

The sound of my name broke the dream and I opened my eyes and saw the radio clock.  It was 2:00am.  Turning slightly I saw, sitting in the middle of the room calmly watching me, a coyote.

"What the...." I yelped, sitting up.

Harry, it's me, Betty,  her voice sounded in my head, for it was indeed Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess.

Betty, what's wrong?  I was having a terrible nightmare.

So was I.  The dreams are from Robert 
[She meant Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster].  A human youngster has captured him and is holding him in an empty fish tank.

Get me out of here!  
came a thundering voice that seemed to shake the desert.  Of course only Betty and I heard it, as it was beamed directly at us by Robert.

Do you know where he is?  I asked.

Yes, let's get in your car.

I let Betty into the back seat of my 2007 Camry, and she directed me west on Pearblossom Highway.  She did not lie down on the seat, figuring that anyone who could tell she was not a dog at 2:00am could live with the knowledge.

Betty, what happened?

Robert was with other gilas watching the full moon, which is particularly enchanting tonight.

Yes, that reminds me, why did no one call a meeting of the New Moon Club this month?

There was nothing to talk about.

Michael Flynn pled guilty.

Exactly, 
Betty replied dryly.

So what happened to Robert?

A teenage boy sneaked up and grabbed him.

We drove into Littlerock, past the Family Dollar store where I get my provisions. Betty directed me to turn right, up a residential street.

On our left were several acres of leftover desert, overrun with non-indigenous weeds.  On the right were tract homes on irregularly sized lots, some pleasantly kept up, some in stages of neglect surrounded by swaths of leftover desert hosting old tires and jungle gyms.  Betty told me to park on the right.

For obvious reasons, Harry, I will stay in the car.  It's the first house across the street.

I surveyed the single story ghost of Mid Century Modern, with its angled roof (covered with white gravel) and triangular upper front window.  The surrounding yard was spotted in somewhat random fashion with a variety of water-retentive shrubs, not entirely unpleasant.  There was a black Ford pickup in the driveway.

What am I supposed to do?

Start walking and Robert will contact you.

I got out as instructed and headed towards the house, which was bathed in surreal moonlight.  Robert came through loud and clear.

Harry, my god, I am dying of claustrophobia.  The little shit!

Robert, 
I thought back, I'm crossing the street.  It looks like someone is home.

The kid's mom is out partying. Someone picked her up and she didn't need the truck.  The kid is asleep.  Go to the right of the house, around the truck.  The third window.  He's passed out and won't hear a thing.

I arrived at the third window, aluminum framed, set in stucco, and I understood the depths of Robert's despair.  When we pass houses with aluminum window frames set in stucco, Robert gags and covers his eyes.  He says no sentient being should live such a structure.

The screen came off easily and the window was unlocked.  There was a desk under the window with the kid's stuff all over it.  Along the wall to the right, on the floor, was a mattress under a sleeping figure, a teenage male still dressed, his head under a pillow.

How am I supposed to come down on that desk without making noise?  I asked (telepathically), surveying my overripe physical self.

Just do it and we'll take it from there.  I am dying here!  Do it!

Then I noticed the table across the room, with a fish tank and Robert peering at me from within.

Peek-a-boo, he said, Now get in here and save me!

I remembered Betty in the car and this restored some of my courage, though I'm not sure why.  I put my hands on the sill and hoisted up, sticking my head and upper torso through the window, then resting my hands and paunch on the sill. 

Robert, is this what it takes to make life meaningful?

Yes.

I am too old for this.

Apparently not.  

I resumed pushing myself through the window without much of a plan.  Hauling one leg through, I managed to extend it to my left across the table, then I lay down and pulled the other leg through.  The figure on the bed did not stir.  When I made my first move to get a leg down, a laptop spilled off the table and crashed onto the floor. 

I froze and watched the sleeping figure, which stirred for a few moments then became still again.

Tip-toeing over to Robert I lifted the lid off the fish tank and pulled him out, setting him on the table.  His eyes were shut, his body still.

I'm trying to keep the kid asleep; it's not easy.

Robert, why didn't you bite him?

The little shit knew how to hold me at the neck so I couldn't turn and bite.  So humiliating.  I want to bite him now.  In fact I want to eat him.

Not a good idea, Robert.

The kid in question began to stir.

He's waking up; I can't stop him.

And indeed, a tall thin form leaped up from the mattress, gawking in amazement at the scene before him.

Who the fuck are you? he demanded of me, his eyes also on Robert.

And who the fuck am I? asked Betty, sailing through the open window and landing beside me, the three of us staring purposefully at the boy, who stared back in awe and confusion.

Betty took charge.

Your name is Freddy, is that right?  Freddy, you're senses are accurate, I am a talking coyote.  The gila monster you abducted can talk too, although only telepathically.

That's right, Freddy, beamed Robert
, warming to the encounter, What do you have to say for yourself?

Freddy was not too bad a sport, it turned out.

So uh, Freddy began, I didn't know you guys were magic and gods and stuff.  Sorry.  

No problem, I said, suddenly seeing some promise in the kid.  Can you let us out the front door?

And I want to take this newspaper with me, Robert said, nodding towards a copy of the Sunday Los Angeles Times that Freddy's mother had left next to the fish tank.

Sure, Freddy said, take anything you want.  You guys are the bomb!

I grabbed the paper and we headed to the front door.  As we said our goodbyes, I felt that Freddy was wistful for our companionship, and I resolved to visit him sometime soon.

What was that about the newspaper? I asked Robert, when the three of us were safely in the car.

I was reading an article through the fish tank that I want to finish.  

Betty nudged the paper with her snout and read the title: "State voters are fed up with major parties" [12/3/17].

It's a breakthrough article, Robert said, not because the information is new or surprising, but because the Times ran it.  I am feverish with ideas about this, about the prospect of American humans creating a new major party.

I'm the human around here, 
I objected, What do you care about human political parties?

I care because humans are in our desert for good.  The Gilas' future and all of earth's future is tied to yours.  Betty, can you call Jesus and Gandalf to meet us now?  We need to discuss this!

You're welcome, Robert, 
I commented dryly.

Oh yes, thanks for saving me, Harry and Betty.

We returned east on Pearblossom for a few miles, parked at my little cabin, then headed into the desert.  In a few minutes we came upon Jesus and Gandalf seated around our usual fire pit.

Gandalf, the only fictional character in our circle, spoke first.

Robert, welcome back to the land of the free!

Chuckles all around.

Jesus asked, Robert, what's the big emergency about a newspaper article?

Here's the gist, Robert replied [He has a photographic memory and recited verbatim from the article]: "A statewide survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found 64% of likely voters agreed with the statement that the Democratic and Republican parties are doing 'such a poor job that a third major party is needed.'"

People have other choices, don't they, Gandalf asked, like the Libertarians, etc.

Not really, Robert replied, Listen to this [quoting again]: 'The new, low level of trust in a political world run by Democrats and Republicans comes at the same time that so-called 'minor parties' have withered on the vine in California.'  The article specifies the four minor parties that have official recognition: the Libertarians, who are too academic and don't even try to be understood and/or effective, the Greens, who make everyone stand in a recitation of shame to declare just how 'green' they are, and a few others without enough significance to describe.  Do you see what this means?

There were a few moments of silence while the group pondered what this could mean that would merit waking everyone up in the dead of night.

Finally Jesus replied, Robert, apparently what you are telling us is that the field is ripe for a new major political party, at least in California and maybe the rest of the country.  I think we all see the logic, but why the urgency?

Yes, added Gandalf, Could we not have discussed this in the morning?

Robert spat and surveyed us for a moment, then looked at me and replied, Harry, as the human present, surely you see the urgency.

I see the urgency, I said, but not for us, tonight or ever.  Any new party will be handled by the powers that be- the same powers that handle the existing parties- but they will be disguised as new powers.  If I am right, then not only can we forget about creating a new party tonight, we can forget about it forever.  Robert, you're usually the cynic among us.  Did your abduction rattle your intellect?

I think not, Robert flared back in his signature huff, I am perfectly aware of the normal course for political party creation among your kind.  First comes the money- channeled to the right sources- then come the newspapers announcing that not only do we need a new party but, presto, there appears to be one.

Yes, said Betty, and this is accompanied by the revelation of a framework of beliefs- the party platform- which will be hung across the stage, concealing the familiar pursuits we thought had been left behind.

Yes, yes, tell me things I don't know, sputtered the increasingly exasperated Robert, and we knew to give him his stage.  He continued:

What I'm telling you is that you have to act now, before the money and media do.  To do that you need to interest another set of people with money, people who have perhaps not delved into politics before, but who are, well...philosophical about life.

Oh Christ!, I moaned, not able to contain my annoyance further, then recalling present company, Sorry Jesus!  

No problem, said Jesus, but I must say I see Robert's point.  In your society money is the expression of influence.  No money, no influence.  Therefor Robert is correct: You do need money to engender a new major party.

Fine, I replied, then kindly tell us, Robert, how you think we should entice these monied interests.

Sure.  You entice them the way you would entice anyone: by telling them that you will solve their problems.

Robert, interrupted Gandalf, that's what all the parties do.  How would this be different?

Oh it will be different all right, because this party is going to solve problems that no other party has ever tried to solve.  Take the revolution in male-female relations that has erupted among humankind.  Clearly patriarchy's long reign is under attack, and it will no doubt be attacked again and again until either matriarchy or patriarchy prevails.  There is so much dismal strife around the union of your sexes, when that union should be beautiful and uplifting.  I know you all hate it when I praise Gilas....

Here we go, I muttered.

...but my kind has figured out gender relations, and we have neither patriarchy nor matriarchy- we have rule by lizard!  We comprise a gender fluid society of equals.

Yes, I said, because neither gender has to take care of the eggs, which just sit there buried in the sand.

And that is bad because....?

I could contain myself no longer: Ok Robert, you're proposing we find wealthy people to fund a new party that will encourage the biological sciences to transform humans into cold-blooded egg-layers, as this will enhance human gender relations? 

I looked at the others and asked:  Am I the only one who thinks Robert is in shock from his experiences tonight and is not thinking rationally?

Let's hear him out, said Betty.

There was a pause.  Robert spat, then continued: No Harry, that is not what I am proposing.  Transforming you into egg-layers who do not have to rear young would be unnecessarily transformative.  But it would be a relatively simple thing to provide human physiology with a sort of estrus cycle.

What?

Currently, unlike virtually every other mammal, humans have no estrus cycle; they are horny all the time.  Some scientific speculation has it that humanity needed souped-up reproduction to keep up with the high mortality rate and particular stressors you faced.  The way things worked out, the ancient loss of your habitat gave you no choice but to take over the whole biosphere.  Now that you've done that, you can ease up on the procreation.

I see where this is going, said Jesus.  An estrus cycle would lower the rate of population growth while lessening the strife caused by non-stop physical lust.  It's a timely concern, as humans are having trouble deciding what to do with their excess lust, especially the males.  What is a powerful male supposed to do?  Like his chimp cousin, the human Alpha male is driven to mate with all the females in his purview.  What will happen to him now?  Will he be killed, or sent to an institution for the defective?  Your ideas make a certain sense, but be careful, the American president is talking code to those men as we speak, telling them that their downfall comes from defective armor, not wrong behavior.

You make a good point, Robert replied, which is why I believe we must act now, before other forces do.  It will be no more than ten years until human science can regulate human sexuality.  I suggest a forum for other beings who share the planet where they can describe to humans the many options for sexuality.  The gila option has lasted for millions of stable years, and it delivers a fairly pleasant lifestyle.  Most of my time, as a typical male, is spent in meditation.  I've developed a special interest in human culture, which I study continually.  But in the summer I'll be sitting on a rock or in my burrow, telepathically scanning the human internet, when a scent will come to me, a scent that fills my lizard soul with promises of wild delight- like a human on crack, emerging into an energy filled new world- but attuned to that world, unlike the human drug user, and I spring forth in pursuit of I know not what.  Following the scent I come upon a female gila.  I've seen her hundreds of times, but now she is different, transformed, seemingly just for me.  Gila coitus has been clocked at three hours.  I bet if your party promised the Gila paradigm your candidates would sweep every election!

I had had enough.  I stood and said, That's it Robert, you are officially full of crap!

Jesus and Gandalf motioned for me to relent, but I could not.  Addressing Jesus and Gandalf, I continued:

Let's review Robert's proposal.  As I understand it, he wants us to find rich underwriters for a new political party whose platform would include the ending of excess male libido, limiting it to a specific time of year.  Presumably excess female libido will be curtailed as well.  Can't you just see money and votes racing to this party?  Robert, were you sniffing something in that fish tank?  I saw a plastic tube near you.

Robert looked away.  The kid was experimenting on me.

Oy!  You get me up in the middle of the night to save you, and my thanks is I have to listen to you spout gila insanity until dawn.

Robert spat, his version of the thoughtful pause, then replied:

Have it your way Harry.  You don't know what's possible because you've never tried it.

But I know what's impossible, Robert.  Sleep it off.  You're going to be embarrassed tomorrow.

And you will be embarrassed, Robert retorted, when social engineers remake your species without any input from you, the old model.  This is your only chance.

I trudged off towards home, listening to the dimming voices behind me.  I had to admit there was a certain ridiculous logic to Robert's ideas, but I was too tired to think about them any more.

Twenty minutes later I stumbled into my cabin.  Standing before my bed, ready to fall on it, I had a vision.  Was it a dream?  In this dream a moonlit scent entered through the open window, a scent that turned on a long-dormant part of my endocrine system, resulting in an explosion of sensation and desire, and of a gnawing, almost desperate need to sate the desire.  I forgot sleep and followed the scent back into the desert.  I walked for a while and then came upon a woman standing still on the moonlit sand.  

Damn, I thought, Robert may have a point.  Who wouldn't vote for this?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Nematode


Oh brillig was the slithy tove,

All mum with crap that he had sold-

So on he went, as we are told

A goal in mind, a windy road

A nematode, but I digress

Our subject still a wilderness,

Wherein such souls as look askance

At superficial happenstance,

To waddle in the cosmic dance

And ask the question, should the chance

Present itself, or even not-

For questions ask their own true selves

Forgiving answers to themselves.

And truth be told I need more rhymes

Not once not twice but three more times!


Monday, October 30, 2017

Blame Theopompus for Herostratus!

The National Geographic History magazine always provides engaging perspective. This month's opening article, The Temple Of Wonder, by Francisco Javier Murcia (Nov/Dec/'17), for instance, relates that the legendary Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in Asia Minor), one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, was burned to the ground in 356 B.C., not by an enemy religion or empire, but by one man named Herostratus.  Murcia writes that Herostratus "confessed under torture that he had only started the fire because he wanted his name to be known across the world for having destroyed this most famous of buildings."

Herostratus is a familiar type today: a man (they are mostly men) so desperate to be noticed that all other considerations - such as the grief and pain of others- are dismissed.  

The need to be noticed, however, is not the motive we look for in today's mass vandals and killers.  The motive we look for is hatred. That is why we have been unable to figure out the motive of the man who killed 58 people in Las Vegas on October 1. There were no online hate rantings in his internet record, no obvious incidents in his life that expressed particular types of rage.  It might be that rage was not the dominant motivator for this man.  Could his motive have been the same as Herostratus'? Did he anticipate a posthumous world in which his name would be broadcast to humanity for weeks and weeks, then recorded with his deed for posterity?

The Ephesians recognized the problem and, unsuccessfully, attempted a solution:

The Ephesians tried to punish [Herostratus] by publishing a decree that his name be wiped from all records.  But their efforts were in vain. Theopompus, a historian of the time, wrote down the story of Herostratus and helped preserve his name to this day.

Theopompus should be the patron saint of journalism.  In its pursuit of ratings, the media gives today's Herostratus's exactly what they want. No one is too undeserving to be transformed into a notorious icon. Consider the pastor of a small church in Florida, who in 2010 burned a Koran.  His action was filmed by reporters (whom he had summoned) and broadcast to every country in the world, repeatedly, for weeks- a grossly disproportionate response to the event, considering the discord it generated.

I confess I intended to write this essay without input from my desert friends, but a few minutes ago, perhaps sensing my need to be alone, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster crawled through my window, open to the dawn chill, and started a telepathic conversation:

Harry, I think you should extend your discussion of media induced violence to include manipulation from third parties who want to start wars.  The media didn't promote the Koran burner just to bump ratings.

Robert, you were reading my thoughts outside my house before you came in. You know I don't like that.

Sorry, I can't help it.  Gilas consider it impolite to bar other gilas from their thoughts.

Don't you have any secrets?

What kind of question is that?  I'm supposed to say we have no secrets?  If I had a secret, I certainly wouldn't tell you.

Robert can be exhausting, but I felt he had a point about my thesis. Media portrayal of international relations is critical for every nation's foreign policy.  We should be as sensitive to third party influence on media as we are to elected officials taking bribes. 


I had an idea.

Robert, in the interest of cross-species understanding, I'm inviting you to collaborate with me on the ending of this piece.  Do you think I have enough supporting evidence for my thesis, which is that media promotes mass murder by making the perpetrators famous?


I thought the thesis was that every time someone builds a temple, someone else wants to tear it down.


That's a related thesis.


Must every element in the piece relate to one thesis?


Yes.  


The human race has OCD!


Robert, I'm just asking you how you think I should end this piece.

End it?  You've boxed yourself in with typical human juvenilia like "thesis," "beginning, middle and end," and all that.  Why must a collection of thoughts end,
and why must it stay focused on one "thesis"? What a waste.  In gila communication, every segment of thought is its own thesis. Every thesis relates to every other thesis. Maybe I'd understand your way if gilas communicated in writing, but we're not interested in it.  We find your writing, and in fact your human language, unnecessarily complex and circuitous.  

That's really nice, Robert.  I'm happy for you and all the wise gilas.  I am writing in human style though, so I'm not just going to conclude with some random idea.

That's another thing, continued Robert, tenacious as ever, Why does your concept of "random" have a negative connotation?  Every event is random. The universe is random.  What's the point of the concept?

Ok, ok, we'll try it your way!  As a trans-conscious experiment, I will end on a gila inspired random note.  How about a quotation?

Go for it.  

I thought for a while, googled on my computer, then found what I thought was a suitable random quote from French novelist Michel Houellebecq:  

Good binds while evil unravels. Separation is another word for evil; it is also another word for deceit.

I gave Robert a look.

Is that random enough for you, Robert?

You're getting there, he conceded.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The New Moon Club



Last night was new moon, and once again Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster showed up at my door to lead me into the desert, to our new discussion club, which we had named Trans-Consciousness Only, because we comprise a variety of conscious types. Our roster includes one plain human (me), one combination animal/deity (Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess), one combination human/deity (Jesus), one plain animal (Robert) and one fictional character (Gandalf from Lord of the Rings).  

Betty, our chair, brought us to order and read the minutes of the first meeting.  She asked for comments, and Robert said:

I think we need to change our name.  We did not discuss Trans-Conscious topics at all last time. 

I agree, Gandalf said.  Why don't we just call ourselves the New Moon Club?  Then we won't have to worry about what to talk about.

All voiced assent, including Betty, though she continued:

I'm fine with the new name, but ironically my topic for tonight is a trans-conscious one: The nature of the divine, as perceived by the not-divine. First, though, I'd like to ask Robert a question.

Fire away, said Robert.

Robert, dear, you appear to acknowledge that Jesus and I are deities, but do gila monsters employ the concept of deity?

Robert spat, thought a moment, then replied:

No, but they feel that they are part of a force, or forces, that extend beyond their bodies and lives, and that these forces may be akin to what humans perceive as "gods."

What's the difference? I asked.

The difference is that gilas are not cut off from these forces.  They feel part of a sustaining flow. Humans are cut off from their sustaining flow - they receive it indirectly. It is mediated before they derive its nourishment.  The mediators become gods, perceived as cosmic and mighty because of their key positions.  What they might be from other perspectives is almost entirely hidden from humans, in fact it is generally forbidden to know.  This explains your periodic confusion in our group, Harry.

I must say, I replied, I was rather surprised by the colloquial manner in which Betty and Jesus communicate with us.  Jesus and Betty,  do you have another aspect, an all powerful one- what our scriptures might call, in the archaic sense, "terrible"?

In my case, answered Jesus, it depends whom you ask.

I can be pretty terrible, answered Betty, depending on what I need to do.  This brings me back to my topic. Humans, in their fear and confusion at what life has dealt them, have conceived "gods"- their term for forces they can't understand or manipulate- as vastly powerful, a comforting idea for humans, as it removes their responsibility for anything. The ancient Egyptians were among the earliest and most forceful in this effort. However personal and accessible gods had been for prior humanity, the Egyptians turned them into monumental and distant forces, to whom an individual human would normally be a cipher. An exception was made for royalty, because the pharaoh and royal family were half-god.

Pharaoh worship was one of the great human scams, a real pyramid scheme! added Robert, then turning to Jesus: Sorry, Jesus! I wasn't indicting all mortal/god combos!

Did I just hear Robert apologize for something? asked Betty.

No offense taken, Jesus said, There is no one left who believes that pharaohs were part god, so now they are not.  Lots of people believe in me, though, and that makes me real.

Same here! piped Gandalf.

I'm sorry, I dissented, I'm still not clear about the reality of fictional characters.  I don't even like the part in Peter Pan when everyone has to believe in Tinkerbell or she'll die. 

Why not? asked Betty, What if no one believed in you, Harry. Would you still believe in yourself? Would you continue to exist?

I confessed I was not entirely sure.

Betty continued:

On the subject of how humans perceive the divine,  I've been reading a fascinating book called "The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve," by the human Stephen Greenblatt, professor of history at Harvard.  Much of it concerns the Middle East, from the time of the Babylonian Captivity of the Hebrews, around 600 BCE, to the destruction of Israel and its Second Temple by the Romans, and the rise of Christianity. This was a period of general collapse of ancient religions. Greenblatt describes an environment where the old gods were battling for believers, for ratings, you might say.  

Betty, Robert interjected, I've been reading the book too.  Humans were waiting to be told which gods were speaking to them, and what the gods were saying.  They were waiting for humans to tell them these things. They were not, as their ancient ancestors often were, receiving divine communication directly.  

Yes, said Betty, It was the rise of the priesthood.

Gandalf added: I have studied human history as well and am also reading the Greenblatt book, and I can confirm Betty's and Robert's reports.  I was quite struck by Greenblatt's version of the birth of monotheism.  Betty, would you please review that?

Of course, Gandalf, Betty replied.  When the Babylonians conquered the Hebrews it was considered a triumph for their god, Marduk, because gods were commonly rated by how well their adherents waged war. It was a challenge for the Hebrews to depict their god, then called Yahweh, as a winner after the 70 years of Hebrew captivity, followed by their release as a gift from a new ruler, rather than the result of their own military force.  The Hebrews' answer was to re-define Yahweh as the only god, so that, for instance, Marduk would be a mere local incarnation.

True that, said Jesus.

Betty continued: 

The exaltation of God was so intense that the Hebrews felt a great anxiety when, on Yom Kippur, they stood in a conceptual confined space with God (as many Jews still do), believing that He could see every atom of their composition. 

Robert asked, Does the human worshipper probe God's composition as well? 

I'm not sure that's possible for a human, 
I answered.

Robert continued, From a gila perspective, it would be uncomfortable to be in a closed space with any conscious entity, god or otherwise, if your goal is to penetrate the soul of the "other."  Do we want to see too closely into anyone's soul?  

Indeed, said Betty, As above, so below.  Have we done with my topic?

I would just add, said Robert, how fascinating some of the contenders for Most Powerful Religion were during the period Greenblatt writes about.  

Yes, said Gandalf,  There was a version of Genesis in the Dead Sea Scrolls, with quite a few adherents- but suppressed by the thought police of the time- in which the God who expelled Adam and Eve from the garden is an intermediary, answerable to higher levels of divinity.  In one version, the serpent is Jesus, telling Adam and Eve that it is human destiny to attain knowledge of good and evil.  

Jesus, I asked, Which version is true?

You won't like my answer, Harry.  The version you believe is the one that is true.

Robert spat but said nothing.

I replied, How can that be?  Are you saying that reality is just according to what's in each person's head? That would mean that if I ask you, "Jesus, are you the serpent or not?", you would tell me that whatever I think about that is true?

No, I'm not saying that it's either inside or outside your head; I'm saying that if you believe it, it is true.

I stared blankly, not even pretending to understand.  

Betty said, Harry, remember in the book where Greenblatt writes about the early Christian scholar, Augustine, when he was fourteen years old and got an erection while standing naked in front of his parents?

Yes- I couldn't get that scene out of my head, and I tried.

Betty continued: 

His father was overjoyed that his son was a man, but his mother was grief stricken by the meaning of Augustine's erection: Her son would think with his dick, just like all the other male dummies (Santa Monica, California is named after her, whatever that tells you).  Which parent expressed God's will, Harry, the father or the mother?

You're going to say it's the one I believe it is.

I wouldn't put it that way.

Why not?

Because it would upset you.  I need a way to phrase it that won't upset you.

Robert interrupted:

While you two are counting angels, let's not forget Greenblatt's account of Rabbi Eleazar, medieval Talmudic scholar, who postulated that before God and Adam could assess whether Adam needed a female human companion, Adam first had to have sex with each kind of animal just in case his true companion was already in the garden. The rest is history.

Silence enveloped the group.

All right, said Betty, Let's move on.  Who else has a topic?

Let's talk human politics, I said.

I'm in, said Robert.

Possibly you've all heard of Steve Bannon?

I have, Gandalf said, I try to stay familiar with pop culture.

What about him? asked the ever skeptical Robert.

Well, I continued, he's gone from sounding either silly or incomprehensible to almost making sense.

All ears were on me, as this was news.  

I read his comments on Breitbart News (this elicited groans from Robert). Breitbart is the organ of the most angry of our right wing, who are about as angry as the most angry of the left wing.  But in spite of its bias, or because of it, Breitbart carries information, some of it verifiable, that is not reported elsewhere.  For instance, a piece titled, "Bannon warns against trusting Silicon Valley elites" [10/17/17] conveys ideas of his that hadn't been published before.  Listen to this [as I dug a printed copy out of my pocket]: 

“The reason we need populism...is that there are bigger and more crucial decisions coming down the road in the next ten or twenty years: the convergence of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, the computer chip. There are going to be decisions in front of mankind in the next twenty years that man’s never had to face before. If you think that the elites that got the world into the situation that it is today are going to make the right judgments twenty years from now, you’re sadly mistaken.”

Cries from our group: No way!  That's got to be fake news!

I don't think it's fake news, I argued. What strategic advantage would Bannon or Breibart gain from talking about AI and biotech?

Sounding smart?, asked Robert.

Perhaps, I replied. In the article, Bannon blames the internet companies for the trends threatening humanity with extinction.  Here's more:  

“It’s folks like you that have to tell Google and Microsoft, 'This is not a science experiment, this is not an engineering exercise.’ You’re free men and women in the greatest republic of the history of the earth. Why are we nationalists? It’s not ethnonationalism; these guys can run that drill all they want. It’s economic nationalism. It doesn’t matter what your race is, your ethnicity, your gender, your religion, your sexual preference, it doesn’t matter. It does not matter. As long as you are a citizen of this republic, that’s what matters. Economic nationalism is what binds us together. ”  

So sad, said Gandalf, Your only prominent figure who has gone to the heart of the matter is...well....a blowhard.  

Robert said,  Bannon's specialty is to target upset people who do not feel represented by government, promise them that a certain individual will represent them like never before, get that individual elected, watch that individual flail about in vain attempts to live up to impossible promises, blame everyone else for delays and the eventual collapse of the dream, and finally walk away with a big "fuck you" to all concerned- on to the next gig.

Jesus asked,  How does Bannon suggest you deal with this technology that poses an existential threat to you?

As usual, I answered, he designates enemies, who, as it happens, are businesses which do not support his political allies.  Here's more from the article:

"Bannon previously warned against the dangers of large Silicon Valley companies encroaching on citizens’ everyday lives. In July, Bannon reportedly suggested that companies such as Google and Facebook should be regulated in a similar manner to utilities, arguing they have become so essential to the Internet and to the everyday life of many U.S. citizens that they should be regulated as a natural monopoly."

Betty sighed, Oh my god Harry, what a waste of time! The internet companies don't know what to do about the coming changes, any more than anyone else does.  They need guidance, and a social direction. Demonizing them is a cheap and useless trick. Harry, your species is under increasingly poor management!

I can't disagree, I said. 

Robert spat and spoke:  My topic tonight is related to Harry's.  If humans knew they were about to be replaced by a new model, they would be rebellious, to put it mildly. The goal of the media is to put the AI and biotech revolutions on back burners, far behind hurricanes, terrorist attacks and political scandals, occasionally highlighting a cute and clumsy robot trying to tie its shoelaces, rather than the robot you will face, who will charge you with joy and gratification, then sing you to sleep.  Primetime news will not deliver adequate warning, because if it did your politics would be exposed as irrelevant, purposely designed to lead nowhere.  Bannon pretends to be the herald of AI and biotech, and maybe he is, but he is not the one you need.

To re-phrase this in sports terms (which I'm trying to learn), said Gandalf,  could we say that in order to distract people from what promises to be a corporate led end-run around humanity, very intense distractions will be required, for instance wars.

Exactly, Gandalf! Robert exclaimed.  That is why the news must be controlled, people's perceptions must be controlled.  Which brings me to my topic: This week's obvious manipulation across all media, involving a particular news story.

I knew right away which story Robert was talking about: That's right, Robert. I'm glad you brought this up.  Last week we heard about the fall of Raqqah, in Syria, a final stronghold of ISIS [Robert nodded].  Reporting went quiet on Raqqah for a few days in deference to other stories, and then, on the same day, Tuesday, October 17, every news outlet- ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, PBS, NPR, all the wire services and newspapers and even many local news shows reported that although Raqqah had fallen, ISIS will regroup and return.  Even the New Yorker Magazine, master of English, recently recast as a receiver of Trump-scoops, echoed the topic in that week's issue [10/17/17, Robin Wright, "The ignominious end of the ISIS caliphate"]:

"The current caliphate may have collapsed, but serious dangers lie ahead, because the tensions and drivers that produced ISIS loom even larger today than when it emerged."

You got it, Harry, said Robert.  Leaving aside questions about the accuracy of the story, it's interesting that every media outlet got a signal at the same time, from somewhere, to run it.  Who gave that signal?  And why?

Wow, said Gandalf, Remember the Star Trek where Captain Kirk, Spock and everybody are captured by evil creatures with giant brains who use the Enterprise crew as chess pieces?

Gandalf, you are not reassuring, I grumbled.

General laughter ensued.

Sorry, continued Gandalf, If I may, I'd like to contribute a bit of news I gleaned from the newspaper covering our neighbor, the San Fernando Valley.

You must mean the Los Angeles Daily News, I said.

Indeed, said Gandalf, unfolding the very paper, squinting at the page, This is from last Tuesday, again October 17, "The Universe Yields Stellar Secret."  Anyone know the story?

I do, said Robert, a human science buff, Apparently humans have actually seen, in a sort of first hand vision, the collision of two neutron stars.  They did this by tracking gravitational waves as well as electromagnetic frequencies such as visible light.

Yes, said Gandalf, It's quite a feat and very interesting.  I bring it up tonight because, interesting and exciting as it is, what, actually, is the point of this achievement for a human race that is watching itself go to hell in a handbasket?

Gandalf, I protested, surely you know the point!  What has been the point of millions of people reading and watching "Lord of the Rings"? Entertainment, momentary diversion.  The story itself hasn't changed anything.  Although the retirement looks great, I have to say.

You're right on that last point, Harry, said Gandalf, And I will certainly accept the idea that watching two neutron stars collide offers a sort of balm for it all.

Gandalf is not into space travel, said Robert, since he's already got his "space" in Middle Earth [Gandalf nodded] I critique the human urge to travel space. Humans see landing on Mars as a possible escape from earth. That's not the proper motivator. A gila monster would want to go to Mars as an extension of the bliss here.

Brilliantly put, Robert! said Betty,  I'm glad I haven't eaten you.  To end on a possibly positive note, Harry, what do you propose as a corrective for the current human chaos?

Well, I answered, I think we should look at the internet companies, including the ones demonized by Bannon, as the source, potentially, of wisdom.  I don't mean the wisdom of realizing that endless scroll-down is addictive, or that your refrigerator can order milk, but some other kind of wisdom, maybe yet to be expressed.  The major internet companies are poised to be financial and intellectual centers of leadership, alternative government, should traditional government further weaken. How about this: I will believe that there is wisdom to be found in internet companies, and it will be true because I believe it!

Betty laughed; Jesus and Gandalf nodded; Robert spat.

I think that does it for tonight, friends, said Betty.  Until next new moon!

We trudged our separate ways over the desert.


[For more Harry the Human, click on "Older posts" below right]