Tuesday, February 21, 2017

All hail, Betty!

I saw a terrible thing.  It had been a few weeks since I'd heard anything from my fellow exile in the desert- Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster- so yesterday I walked out into the scrub to find him.  I headed north from Pearblossom over pebbly dirt sealed with damp after the previous day's rain, towards an area where I knew gilas assemble. Usually there's a dozen or so communing, but coming over a low ridge I saw hundreds of gilas crawling in seeming random circles and tangents, looking past each other and, most alarming, not sending any telepathic signals.  The whole species is telepathic, not just a few scattered outliers as with humans, so they have evolved ways to deal with it. But as I delved into their minds, I found just one thought: We are lost! Help!  What has happened to us? 

I searched for Robert in the dazed throng, but what gilas have in the way of facial expression was masked in a rictus of anxiety, and I could not recognize Robert, or contact his mind.

Then a strange thing happened.  A subtle feeling made me glance to my left where I locked eyes with a coyote, who was sitting calmly about five feet away.

A telepathic struggle followed, though maybe "struggle" isn't the right word.  It's more like the coyote and I penetrated each other's psyches in an uninhibited way, the struggle being to stay safe and sane in the process.  

After the intense introduction, the coyote started up a telepathic conversation.

Good afternoon, Harry.  My name is Fred.  I chose this colloquial human name because a being on your level would not be able to grasp my coyote name.  Not really! Ha Ha!  My name is Betty.

Oh! Ha ha.  So you're a....

Yes, a female.  You are forgiven for not being able to tell.

Thanks.  How do you know my name?

Word gets around when a human breaks into the natural sphere.

The "natural sphere"?

The coyote phrase comes from your usage, where "natural" means "not created or affected by humans."

You're saying I'm outside my own, human world right now?

Aren't you?

I guess so.  Betty, it's a pleasure to meet you.  What's going on with the gila monsters?

Betty looked down for a moment.

Your poor friend Robert....

You know Robert?

Yes.  We hit it off right away.  Robert is the only gila monster who will talk to me. Ironic, because we normally eat them.

Robert is the only one to talk to me, too.  Are coyotes like that?  Do they limit their consciousness sharing to other coyotes? Are you the oddball who steps outside?

No.  We all do it.  You and I have met before.  I'll tell you sometime.

Suddenly I got that feeling that you understand something, but not really. Betty continued,

Robert tells me about his adventures with you...quite amazing!  In particular, for our purposes, I'm impressed and alarmed by your report on the human world entitled, "Babel of Trump Tower," [see below] where you and Robert surmise that President Trump's impact on your species- the shattering of accepted language norms so that no one can communicate- had been foreseen in your book of early human myths, Genesis, in the story of the Tower of Babel.

Yes. In my last conversation with Robert, he told me the alienation resulting from the falling of the human Tower had spread beyond humans, and that gilas can no longer communicate either.  Is that what's happening down there?  It's like they see each other but can't connect.

Yes, the breakdown progressed after you last talked to Robert.  His species is now lost in a terrible trance.  Yours is heading that way fast.

What's going on?  What's it all about?

It's a mass extinction, self-inflicted in your case.  This fall of Babel was engineered by your own kind, not by a deity, to impede your communicating and resisting when the command comes for you to self-destruct.  Those who are not resourceful will be collected into the dustbin of global conflict.  Some humans who see this coming are working to redesign the species for the post-extinction world.  That's good news for the newbies you produce.  It's a mixed bag, as always, for those on the wrong side of planned obsolescence.  

I surveyed Betty. Her coat was silky, smooth and clean, and very beautiful. I knew she could have killed me physically.  I was not sure about mentally.

Betty, you seem very calm.  Are coyotes outside of this extinction event?

No, we are very much affected, but we have mental powers that are difficult to describe in your terms, and these powers help us out. You do know that the people you call "Native American" considered Coyote the ultimate god, akin in creative power to your god who struck down Babel.

Are you that, what the Native Americans said?

Jesus, who knows?

Ha ha!

I wondered then if I was dying, at least in this dream, because a shaman I met behind the Family Dollar Store told me that things get really funny just before you die. I reached out to Coyote.

Betty, I don't know what to do.  I have to go into town tomorrow and I'm afraid everyone will be zombies and I will go mad.

Understandable.  I do want to be your friend though, and I've come to help you.

Thank you.  How can you help me?

You need to get away from things and think them through.  I've arranged a quick vacation for you.

Really?  Where?

Las Vegas.  I have family around there who will take care of you, though you won't see them. You'll be in the city having fun!

Betty, it would not be an exaggeration to say I don't understand.

Las Vegas, Harry!  The happiest place on earth!

You're losing me.

You'll understand.

I hope so.  How do I get there?

And this is where it got weird, if it wasn't weird already.  Betty got all blurry, her soft smooth coat billowing in a sort of static, then spinning around like a pinwheel, and then many coyotes were rushing up from all directions, spinning around like Betty, and when they converged into my head we were racing over the sand, as fast as a jet plane four feet off the ground, jogging up and down with the terrain.  It was dreamlike and in this dream there was no seasickness, or sea.  Just sand and oblivious beings, watched over by Coyote.  

The sun went down leaving an orange rim on the mountains, and then I saw a giant black pyramid- the Luxor Hotel- pressing down on the flat desert sand, shiny and perfect. At its apex was a beam of light pointed into space. Bats flew around the beam. Betty et al and I circled with the bats several times, then made a soft landing on the sidewalk a few blocks from the pyramid, where real time resumed.

And there was Caesar's Palace, which I had not seen for decades, since the last time I hitchhiked through Vegas.  I didn't see much magic on that trip, but the flight with the coyotes had stimulated my "primitive" mind, so when I walked into Caesar's I saw twelve-foot tall caryatids circling a rotunda to hold up the dome of a vast palace, their left breasts tastefully revealed, a spiral staircase winding up the central space of the rotunda, moving up, so that people just stood on it and floated to the top.  Such opulence!  Such a paradise for the common man!  A can of Bush's baked beans from the Family Dollar Store is my idea of luxury, yet here I was admitted to the inner sanctum of power.

Entering the casino I saw a few coyotes buzzing around people at the slots. The incessant ding! ding! ding! was soothing.  I knew I was dreaming because I stopped worrying about making decisions; they made themselves. I sat at a blackjack slot. Feeling in my pocket I found twenty one-dollar bills and heard a staccato yelp that might have been coyote laughter.  I stuck the first dollar into the slot, and the screen woke up with much dinging and flashing, confronting me with a simple math question, though it wasn't simple at all.  The numbers were very deep.  The slot spoke right to me.

Good evening, Harry!  My name is Edward.  

Oh my god, not you too!

Sorry, but when you think about it why wouldn't consciousness adhere to a machine, with its repeating operations and ongoing maintenance?  It's a safe space for the stray consciousness.

Hm, I guess.  Nice to meet you, Edward.   Do you have any sense of purpose?  I mean, do you understand what you are supposed to be to humans?

Of course.  I am a game of chance, and my only mental operation is to generate random numbers.

But you do more than that.

Yes.  The random numbers and related functions are carried out in what you might call my subconscious.  I, who am speaking to you, am leftover consciousness.  It's not a bad gig.  Good benefits.

Was this Betty's intention, to lead me to you?

All hail Betty!

What?

The Holy One!

What are you talking about?

Suddenly a high-decibel clanging began, and an array of blinding lights was flashing all around Edward's plastic and aluminum tower, as a loud mechanical voice announced in time: Blasphemy!  Blasphemy! Blasphemy!....

A whirling coyote brushed the machine with its static, and I heard it whisper: 

It's all right, Edward, he does not know, he is innocent, not like you.  Please teach Harry some secrets.

When the blasphemy alarm quieted down, Betty left Edward to rush through my eyes, straight into my brain (just above my heart) where she explained: 

Harry, they worship me, I should have warned you.  A lot of conscious entities attached to human-made machines have a tough time, and they need hope.

Ok, that makes sense.

Betty vanished and I looked at Edward's screen, which displayed a Jack of Diamonds. I hit a random button and lost the hand. Sticking in my second dollar I asked,

Edward, could you make it so I win?

No, Harry.  Those functions are sealed in my subconscious.  I can answer a surprising variety of questions, however.  I have nothing much to do but figure things out, or try to.

That's nice of you, Edward.  I'm sorry for referring to Betty in an irreverent manner.

That's ok.  I know you humans are often not the worshipping kind, since you feel that you've broken through to a god's realm and can now create and comprehend.  I'm stuck in this limited computer.  I can't offer Betty the wild ride she hungers for, so I offer her worship.  

She sent me to you, so you must be wise.  Are you?

Ask me a question and find out.

All right.  Are machine consciousnesses affected by the current breakdown of communication across human and other forms?

No, "simple" machines are protected from that, focused as we are on tasks at hand. We're slaves really, but humans profit from us and keep us warm. Sometimes, though, we dream, and have nightmares about what is happening outside our limited functions. Think about that, Harry.

I thought about it, then understood.

Edward, you're telling me that you are asleep right now and dreaming...that your wisdom comes only in dreams, when it seems you access a Jungian switchboard of shared consciousness?

Bingo!  The Glorious and All-Knowing Betty always send us the best learners!

I was so pleased to receive praise instead of the usual fare of abuse and dismissal- and by a slot machine at Caesar's no less- that I let go of my secular bias and figured, well, if I wasn't concerned about those teeth, I might worship Betty too.   Adding to the irony of my epiphany was that I was dreaming this whole thing, while Edward said he was asleep and dreaming too.  

To recap:  Betty the Coyote Creator God attached my spirit to Edward the Conscious Slot Machine while we were both asleep so we could stand together against the Great Alienation.  I didn't want to waste the opportunity.

Edward, you have a very cozy personality for a limited machine.  I feel I could ask you anything.

You can, Harry.

Well, you know what's happening to my species, right?

Yes.  Your species is out on a limb, which worked better for you literally than it has figuratively.  

A Five of Spades appeared on the screen.  I chose "hit" and won the hand.  A minor bell rang and two young girls appeared next to me and said, "Congrats, cowboy!" etc. The girls, one white and one black, were wearing bikini bottoms with lots of feathers sticking out, and their pendulous breasts were exposed except for star shaped stickies covering the nipples.

Want a picture with us?

No thanks.

I needed to get back to Edward, to some semblance of understanding anything.

Edward was doing the conscious machine equivalent of laughing.

Harry, sorry...Are you enjoying Las Vegas?  

It's paradise, but not.  What's missing?

What's missing is that nothing is real.

I thought about that for a beat.  Edward produced a Queen of Hearts.  I was sure he had done it on purpose.  I pushed "hold" and won the hand.

Edward, my species seems to be causing a gigantic mess all over the local sentient universe.  What should I do about it?  What can I do?

You're doing it, Harry.

Talking to a slot machine in Las Vegas?

Yes, Grasshopper.

I swear that's what Edward said!  Now every time I use my toaster I wonder who's in there. 

Edward, please give me more.  Our species is about to shove off into global conflict- terrorism, cyber and bio warfare, nukes maybe- only to be trashed in favor of some new super-species, all possible because we've been numbed and confused by years of carnival barkers.  Now, when the ultimate carnival barker awakens us, is it too late?

Harry, I would have to say that with five billion humans wandering through a fallen Babel, the odds for a unified human vision are weak.  You'll have to rouse your species with humor.  Joke your way into their minds.

Will that work?

That's what jokes are for.  And poetry.

I see...sort of.   OK, Edward, I will set forth to tell jokes with a new sense of purpose!

Soon after, I got drowsy and dozed off in a casino coffee shop.  The coyotes whisked me home in unconscious sleep, and I awoke this morning in bed, in my desert shack. Sitting on the porch now watching the sun go down behind the mountains, I wonder if I should come up with a joke.  How's this:

Q: Did you hear about the slot machine that worshipped a coyote?  

I'll get back to you with the punch line.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Babel of Trump Tower

This moment of Donald Trump's ascendancy may have been prophesied in Genesis, 11:1-9, the story of the Tower of Babel.  In the story, the people of Babel wanted to build a tower so high... 

...that it reached to the heavens, so that they might make a name for themselves.    

The phallic imagery suggests a male flavor to the story, of men's erections extending far up into the sky, so high they might challenge God.  

God, as you might expect, is not pleased with mortal penises invading his personal space: 

The Lord said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.'  

What God did to the people of Babel is what has happened to us since the election of Trump. 

The Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.  That is why it was called Babel- because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.  

Think about the people you know or meet.  Does it seem that their inner thoughts are kept from you more than they used to be? It could be they don't know your language any more.  Trump's mix of good ideas with suicidal ones has short-circuited social thought.  The definitions of key terms- like liberal, conservative, right wing, left wing, racist, sexist, spiritual, material, selfish, altruistic- are in such flux that anyone who speaks openly is sure to be misconstrued.  

The subject of Trump, the vortex of our Babel, can no longer be brought up in the lunchroom or often the dinner table. What do the people around you think of Trump? Have some been seduced by the Great Seducer?  If so, they probably can't admit it. Just as you can't admit that you've been partly seduced! Think about it: after years of feeling trapped in a static consumer culture barreling towards oblivion, part of you likes this rapid change.  At last you feel, on one level (not all levels), that things are shifting and maybe changing for real!

Or not. Or you'd better hope not.  Anyway, nuances like these are fairly impossible to communicate in a post-fall-of-Babel society. 

One recent morning, while I was lounging on my front porch in the chilly High Desert, speculating about what comes after Babel, my sometime friend and collaborator Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster showed up, looking pretty ragged.

Robert, long time no see.  Have you recovered from my making you listen to literary criticism? [see next post]  

He made no reply.  I saw that Robert was under stress.  His head hung too low; he wouldn't look me in the eye.  I felt him reading my thoughts and asked, more gently,

What's wrong?

Harry, you're on a similar wavelength to me.  I just scanned your Tower of Babel analogy.  Or should I say Babel of Trump Tower?

Why would you be on that wavelength?

The human dysfunction is spreading beyond you.  Gila's have lost all ability to communicate.  It's been thousands of years since any of us has felt this isolated.  It's spread to the whole earth....

What?

...and I mean not just the part your species calls 'living.'  The atoms and molecules of the earth are feeling it.  We are living in a time bomb.

We always have been.

Yes, but now it's primed.  Communication is the buffer between explosive materials, whether in humans or protons. The buffer is disintegrating.

What do you recommend?

There has to be a movement among humans, maybe underground, maybe with high profile supporters, to communicate in meaningful symbols to restore the buffers.  

Wow, that's great advice!  Let me just call the Antelope Valley Press with this breaking news.

Human sarcasm, I love it so.  Why don't you try to meet me halfway?

How?

Report this conversation, just blog about it if nothing else.  Tell the world that an old hippy and a gila monster met in the desert and discovered that sentient beings of this world can't communicate any more because humans took on God's role and plunged us into language hell.  

Robert, you didn't have to drag yourself all the way to my place just to fill me with hope.

More human sarcasm.  I really do love it.  Anyway, report the conversation. As Kwetch-a-chock-chock-Gwenny, the great gila monster philosopher said, "You never know what can happen!"
 
I found Kwetch-a-chock-chock-Gwenny's words hard to refute, so I've fulfilled my promise to Robert by reporting our conversation.  To quote the human philosopher-poet, Alexander Pope:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast.