Tuesday, December 8, 2020

I've tried

I've tried to seek what I have sought

I've tried to need what I have bought

I've tried to learn a little-lot

and now I'm getting a covid shot!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Interview with Satan

Satan is a tricky subject, so it's best to start with definitions and some background.

The Hebrew word "satan" meant "adversary."  It did not connote evil.  Biblical Satan's earliest appearance, in this morally neutral form, comes in the Book of Job, which is found, not in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses, aka the Old Testament) but in the Ketuvim- additions to the Torah, including Psalms and Proverbs, with apparent origins in the 6th Century BC Babylonian Exile and earlier.  

The story of Job has baffled and terrified people for centuries:

Job is a successful man.  He is married and rich, with three sons and seven daughters.  He praises God and observes His laws.  God is satisfied with Job, but Satan, who has access to God, challenges God's satisfaction, pointing out that Job praises God only because of God's blessings; if God took away the blessings, Satan suggests, Job would not praise God any more.  To test this theory, God drives Job into poverty and kills his entire family.  Job continues to praise God, who then says, in effect, "I told you so" to the adversary.  Satan replies that if God would afflict Job physically, Job would not remain faithful.  In response, God torments Job with boils from head to toe.  When Job continues to praise God, Satan is out of arguments and Job finally wins, ending up (as a very old man) married and rich again, with another three sons and seven daughters, the latter so fair they all get rich husbands.

Most of the moral speculation regarding the story of Job centers on God's actions, not on the comments by Satan that led to the actions.

There are 26 other references to "Satan" in the Old Testament, but most of them are lower case "satans," suggesting the modern equivalent of "debate opponent" rather than a particular evil entity.

In the New Testament, Satan evolves from an indistinct critic to the prime force of evil in the world.  Most famously, Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, offering him food (Jesus was fasting) and promises of wealth and political power if Jesus will abandon God.  

Interestingly, Satan does not tempt Jesus with sexual opportunity, a puzzling omission.  It is because of this conundrum, in fact, that, considering that I've been able to hold conversations with deities such as Gxd, Jesus and the Buddha (not to mention Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess), I was motivated to do the same with Satan.

In past searches I relied on one deity- Betty- to help me contact others, so I figured she could help me contact a fallen angel.  I began by wandering into the desert while thinking about Betty, and sure enough, she was waiting for me beside her favorite creosote bush.

"Hi Harry," Betty called, "I'm way ahead of you."

"Betty, should I rethink this?  I mean...an interview with Satan?"

"Harry, you're in the quest business.  This is a quest.  That means it's your business."

"Yeah, I guess.  Anyway, how do I go about this?  Should I draw a pentagram or something?"

"Look at your feet, Harry."

I looked down and I was wearing ruby slippers!  Betty instructed me to click the heels together and repeat- you guessed it- "There's no place like home."

As I repeated the mantra and clicked my heels, I became dizzy and the surroundings blurred.  I murmured, "Betty, what the hell...."

"The mantra is changeable, Harry," Betty called back, "I chose this one to put you at ease..."

"What the helllllll....," I continued as I fell down a seemingly endless vertical tunnel while doing backward flips.

I landed with a splat in hell.  It was the hell of cartoons, with despairing souls escorted into a chamber of flames by grinning demons carrying pitchforks.  Several demons approached and led me into the chamber.  The crowd of tormented people opened, revealing a giant throne maybe 30 feet high, with a fiend of similar dimensions seated upon it.  The demons cast me down before the throne.  Satan leaned over to regard me splayed before him.  When he spoke, flames and smoke issued between his pointed teeth:

Satan: Harry the Human, you miserable worm!  Your mindless curiosity has brought you at last to my world!  

Me: I...uh....

Satan (shouting, sputtering smoke and embers): Bow before me and worship my evil!

Me: What the...hell?

And then it was all gone, like a struck movie set, and I was seated in a booth in what looked like a '50's burger joint, across from a dynamic looking thirty-something guy in a sharp business suit.  I would have taken him for a tax lawyer. 

Satan: Sorry about the theatrics, Harry.  Betty advised me to put you at ease and the hell-show was my way of doing that.  Maybe I made it too realistic?

I said nothing, but looked down uncertainly from Satan's smiling face at a coffee stain on the menu lying before me on the linoleum table.  The special was veal cutlets.

Satan: Harry, I give you permission to ask me whatever you want.  After you hear my answers, you can decide what you think I am.

Satan's new persona with its observant yet easy-going manner relaxed me a bit.

Me: Ok, thanks.  So...you are also called Lucifer, right? I believe that name was given to you in the Old Testament by Isaiah.

Satan nodded

Me: I was surprised to read that "Lucifer" means "bringer of light." Was Isaiah indicating that there is something clarifying about you, or particularly conscious?  

Satan: No, He named me "Lucifer" after the morning star because it aspires to heaven but is rejected and falls to earth. Still, Isaiah's concept does, I like to think, permit me some intellect and possibly my own ethics. My deficit in some cases could just be bad timing and the wrong PR.  

Me: In some cases?

Satan (with a dismissive waive of his hand): Harry, enough about me. What do you think of me?

Me: Well...I mean...are you evil?

Satan: Excellent question!  

Me: Thank you.

Satan: As I usually do with tough questions that involve word meanings, I'll begin with etymology.  "Evil" comes from old German, "ubel," a craftsman's term referring to a piece of material that has no use in the thing you are making.  Satan, if evil, would be a being who does not belong in your world.  From this point of view, Satan might possibly belong in a different world.

Me: Hm, and yet you are in this world.

Satan: Yes, the metaphor of "ubel" is incomplete.  A better metaphor is offered by J.R.R. Tolkien (who imagined your friend Gandalf), in his epic The Silmarillion, which is the creation myth of Middle Earth and the background to Lord of the Rings.  The creator of this world is Illuvatar, who forms worlds by composing music.  He discovers that without dissonance, his music and the worlds it produces have no meaning or beauty.  One of Illuvatar's minions, Melkor, writes his own music, which is not compatible with Illuvatar's.  Realizing a solution to his boring world, Illuvatar permits Melkor to insert his music into the primal composition, even though it produces dissonance, because the dissonance adds meaning and beauty lacking in the original.  Thus was produced Middle Earth, with it's dichotomy of good and evil, and thus was produced the beauty of the book.

Me:  I think I follow this, but much evil is not beautiful, just dissonant.  The Holocaust was not beautiful.

Satan: No, it was not.  Tolkien's idea does not suggests that evil is beautiful; it suggests that evil is a structural component of this universe, which is to say it's a structural component of the human psyche.  From an evolutionary perspective, then, it can be argued that evil sometimes "fits."

Me: If evil fits in our universe in any sense, why is it overwhelmingly experienced as negative, painful and bad?  If it's a structural component of our psyches, shouldn't it be, as we say, "natural"?  

Satan: The answer is in the human psyche itself, which is compressed into a tight little ball.  Your impulses derive from a former life, now gone.  High levels of appetite that evolved to fit that life, most prominently hunger and sexual desire, may have qualities that do not fit your lives now.  When apes find a bounty of nuts, they eat them all, ending up indolently on their backs with stomachs distended, behavior which makes sense because of shortages to come.  You, because of the surpluses that have bedeviled you since the advent of agriculture, must control your impulse to save nuts for the future (at least in your stomach).  If you do not control the hunger impulse, you face serious health issues.  Hunger beyond immediate need, then, becomes evil, as it does not fit well into your world.

Me: Let's hear about sex, and I have a follow-up question.

Satan:  Sure! Promiscuity and fantastical orgies are common in your closest cousins, chimpanzees.  Since baby chimps are raised communally by females, in ways developed over millions of years, the blurring of paternity is not harmful to the young.  Human society, however, has not had a chance to develop over millions of years, but is a jerry-rigged contraption that changes constantly.  In such an unstable environment, you need identifiable fathers to be responsible for specific offspring.  The male sex drive, in as much as it does not lead to paternal caring, does not belong, and is thus evil.  Harry, what is your follow-up question?

Me: Satan, I'm sorry if I'm overstepping bounds here, but, well, I know that when you tempted Jesus in the wilderness, you tempted him with wealth and political power.  But you did not tempt him with sex.

Satan: Who told you that?

Me: That's what the Bible says.

Satan: I did tempt Jesus with sex.  The ancient scribes left that out.

Me: Why would they do that?  

Satan: You tell me.

Me: So, what happened?

Satan: I tempted Jesus with a beautiful woman.

Me: And?

Satan: There were mixed results.

Me: Did he have sex with the woman?

Satan: No, but he masturbated afterwards and thought about her.

Me: What came of that, no pun intended?

Satan: God did not care.  He made clear to Jesus that far from being a sin, masturbation is a sacrament in that it serves God's intention to reserve parenthood for people whom He deems appropriate.  The sin would have been impregnating the woman.

Me: What about the story of Onan, in Genesis?  Didn't God kill Onan for masturbating?

Satan: No.  God killed Onan because he wouldn't ejaculate into his brother's widow, as God had commanded.  Fearing that his bloodline would be subsumed by his brother's, at the moment of climax Onan pulled out, "spilling his seed on the ground."  He was killed for pulling out, not for masturbating.

I pondered that, then came up with a timely question.

Me: Satan, is abortion a sin?  That question has been on many people's minds since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.  

Satan:  Your secular system does not use the term "sin" in its legal language. 

Me:  No, but our laws follow the outline of religious beliefs.  If enough people think abortion is a sin, the law will follow.  Satan, is abortion a sin?  

Satan sighed, as if fatigued by my limited understanding.  

Satan: Harry, the answer is subjective and open to interpretation.  

Me: Ha!  No wonder you have your evil reputation!  There is not supposed to be anything subjective about sin.  An action is either a sin or not.  

Satan: In a similar vein, you could assert that a fertilized egg either has a soul or it doesn't.

Me: And...does it?

Satan: Everything has a soul, every atom, every quark.  If a thing is perceived and conceptualized, it has a soul.  The question becomes: Is it part of the nature of a soul to exist forever?  If it is, why do people worry so much about its day-to-day welfare?  And finally if, as your mystics preach, eternity resides in each moment, it's not clear what existing forever even means.

Me: I see...well, to return to the question: Is abortion evil?   

Satan: Didn't I just answer that?

Me: Did you?  Sorry, I must have missed it.  I'll have to ponder this when I get home.

I was starting to feel a little queasy.  If Satanism means anything, it means ambiguity, and humans have only so much tolerance for that.  Satan must have sensed my desire to exit.

Satan: Harry, what do you think now?  About me, about evil?

Me: Well, I think it's a cop-out for people to constantly harp about you, blaming you for their impulses, when those impulses don't originate in you.  They originate in ourselves.  You represent the part of us that wants to do the repressed things.  If we blame you we don't have to blame ourselves.

Satan: Nice try, Harry!

The burger joint burst into flames and I was prostrate again before the giant throne, with gigantic Satan again snorting and steaming down at me. 

Satan: How you like me now?

And then- you guessed it (or not)- the monster was gone but, seated on the throne and dwarfed by its size, his legs dangling over the edge, was the tax lawyer, his shiny black Kiton Monk-Strap shoes now visible.

Satan: Sorry Harry, I guess I've got my own repressed impulses.  

Me: That's ok.  

I felt an urge to get the hell out of there, so to speak.  True to her nature, Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess chose that moment to enter the chamber, walk calmly towards the throne, sit on her haunches and regard Satan.

Betty: Hi Satan, how's tricks?  

Satan: Can't complain.  

Betty: Harry, are you ready to return to your world?

Me: Pretty much.

And in half a moment I was back in my desert shack with a lot to think about.  I must apologize if this account is TMI.  As usual, the devil is in the details.

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- a form of social distancing, I guess- 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," which if true would lead- you would think- to significant dysfunction in society.  A modern cynic's attitude is summed up by the statement, "[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 desert slumber 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?


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 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 local weather system (cool and overcaste even in summer), lovely pier (the third, after the first two were destroyed by storms), soothing endless beach, Coney Island type town, ancient sea caves, and flocks of pelicans huddling comfortably close to humans atop the bluffs, or swarming the pier when sardines or anchoves 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 I dismounted; we leaped onto the sand and trudged north up the beach a mile or so, to the sea caves.

There were scattered stargazers and undefined people on the sand in the cave area.  We walked to the far end, where the beach is blocked by rock, to a particularly dark and isolated cave, its entrance streaked with white (tuff, 20 million year old compressed volcanic ash).  The tide was coming up towards its entrance.  We stepped inside and light appeared, from flickering candles that lined the sand path.

The cave seemed to have been prepared for our comfort.  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 a middle-aged high school teacher, with an air of continually regenerated confidence.  The Buddha wore a blue button-down shirt, brown slacks and blue socks.

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

No...I just.....

It's great to meet you, Harry!

Nice to meet you too, Buddha! 
I replied.  Betty is overly concerned about my reaction to your appearance.  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 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.

How about the question of what gender our god is, a point of some contention these days?  Does that question mean anything?  Is this something you have to deal with?

My life's an open pronoun, Harry.  I don't spend any time fretting about gender.

Because you know what yours is?

Rather...because gender to us is like emotion to you- it changes all the time.

Then why are you presented as male?

You're asking me?

I decided to move on. 

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 your 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.


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.


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'd like to explore the "wheel of life" idea attributed to you, that we are destined to remain trapped in endless cycles of birth and death, of pain and incomplete existence, until we...until we what?

Until 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?


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.


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?"


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...well...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.  Would you mind if we covered reincarnation a bit?  

Not at all, Harry, my next appointment isn't for 10,000 years.

I chuckled, wondering if it was a joke.

Thanks, Buddha!  So...the wheel of life is supposed to be progressive, with some personal will involved that can determine whether you come back as a wise and advanced entity, or maybe a dog turd.  Yet the idea that we have to live one short, brutish life after another for millions of years until we figure out how to escape or evolve sounds like Christian purgatory, or even hell.  How do we know if we're making progress in a particular cycle?

You can't tell during the process, but don't be discouraged, Harry.

Why not?

I'll give you a hint.  The single greatest difficulty humans have is 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.  You are so separated from your planet- forever tending the life-support systems of your cities- you might as well be struggling on some other planet already.

Yes, I had to agree.

Buddha continued, Since your life is fraught and uncertain 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.

Therefore, Harry, Buddha continued, I recommend dropping the requirement that meditation must always produce peace and serenity.  Meditation can produce cacophony and chaos too.  If you edit that out, you edit yourself out.

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 Betty and the Buddha.  The cave filled with joy, and we said our goodbyes.  

It was clearly another stellar trip to Pismo Beach!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Self Knowledge

Even though the sound of it

is something quite atroooh-cious,

nothing's quite so comforting


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 covid-induced 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.

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, covid 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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


Thursday, April 16, 2020

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

Readers of this blog will be familiar with 24 year old Gregory, leader of the activist group, "Army of the Young" (aka "Mantis"), 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, 

Gregory:...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 current U.S. presidential campaigns.

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 in racial encounters today.  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 this blog or go to http://www.gregorysarmyoftheyoung.com/]

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Betty leads me to Gxd

The covid shelter-in-place order hasn’t changed my life much.  I live like that anyway, sometimes staying home in my desert shack all week until the Saturday trip to the Family Dollar Store.  Now when I go there, the clerk is wearing a face mask but the customers stay the same 15-20 feet away from each other that they ever did.

I do find my mind wandering during this period, probably for the same reason everyone’s mind is wandering: No one knows where this transformation of society is heading, other than that it’s got a distinct dystopian sheen.

Anyway, I was thinking about my two divine acquaintances, Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess and Jesus, and how easily I’m able to slide into conversation with them, as though they were kindly kindergarten teachers and I was a puzzled five year old.

And it occurred to me, maybe because of my recent conversations with Gregory (leader of the "Army of the Young") that I’ve never tried to take this to the next level, you know, by attempting to talk to Gxd.  The weird spelling derives from the concerns of many Jews that Gxd is a sort of volcano deity, furious, ready to spew torrents of molten wrath should you stray one inch from Hxs will.  Therefore you should not get too close to Hxm, which would happen if you used Hxs name.

It's easy to call such concerns “irrational,” but they aren't really.   For one thing, the Torah, the foundational scripture of Jews (accepted by Christianity and Islam as the Old Testament), presents exactly that jealous, supreme, furious god, ready at any moment to torment and kill the disobedient.

Combine that with a universe- the one we inhabit- that a lot of the time does seem run by such a god, and you have a recipe for an irrational fear that is rational. 

Nevertheless I sat on my front porch staring at non-indigenous shrubs in the sandy yard wondering, “If I can talk to Betty the Coyote Goddess and Jesus, can I talk to Gxd?”  

I continued to muse, “If Eastern thinkers are right, Betty and Jesus are faces of one god, known by Hindus as Atman, 'the spiritual life principle of the universe' (Microsoft dictionary), that is in all likelihood the face or a face of our uppercase god, which means I’ve already talked to Gxd many times.  In fact most people have probably talked to Gxd.”

“Still though," I continued to myself, “With Betty and Jesus I’m receiving a persona, anthropomorphized for me, or in the case of Betty mammalized, composed of particular aspects of Atman (or should I say Axxxn?).  But if I commune with Gxd directly I might receive every aspect of Hxm at once.  Would I short-circuit?”

Such cautionary thoughts did not dissuade me because, as research has shown, men are more drawn to risk than women, and older men with nothing to do but write their experiences are the most drawn, because they need things to write about.

I resolved then to go in search of Gxd.  And since there is no better guide for finding a god than another god, I sought Betty.

It wasn't hard to find her.  I just walked across the desert for a while and there she was, sitting beside a creosote bush.  As usual she was way ahead of me.

"Hi Harry, " she murmured seductively, "Looking for Mr. Big?"

"If that's sarcasm, Betty, I may or may not understand it.  I'm guessing you don't appreciate being a lesser god to humankind's one and only."

"It's not like that, Harry," Betty thought to me (since her physical self can't say consonants, our communication is telepathic), "We are all aspects of X, including you.  Do you like my new spelling?"

"Sure," I chuckled (adding a telepathic chuckle emoji), "you know, in human math, 'x' means 'unknown quantity'."  

"Yes, and here you are trying to know it."

"Sorry.  Should I drop the idea?"

"I don't know."

"What?  Did you say, 'I don't know'?  Betty, you are a deity, maybe an aspect of X.  How are you not going to know?"

"I don't know," she replied with a grin (FYI, coyotes can grin).

"If that don't beat all...." I offered.

"Go figure," Betty said, and continued, "Harry, close your eyes."

I did as instructed, though I recalled that Coyote, often in male form, was believed by many Native Americans to be a destructive trickster, sometimes even the source of evil.  Betty noted my inner musings and replied:

"Harry, don't forget that many tribes depicted me as the creator of humanity, personally designing its mentality, bringing it the gift of fire and much more."

"Betty, did you do those things?"

"Honestly, I don't remember...."   Betty seemed to drift off.


"Harry, sorry, I'm trying to concentrate here.  Can we change the subject and set a course for your conscious soul?"

"My 'conscious soul'?"

"Yes.  Your soul has several parts.  One part we call 'conscious,' which is, for want of a better term, 'you'."

"What are the other parts?  Do I want to know?"

"Apparently you do, Harry.  I'm going to tell you a myth from the Mohave tribe, who lived around here.  They believed that when you dream you travel back to the time of creation and directly witness the events of your mythology."  

"Betty, I'm getting sleepy.  Wait, revise that...I'm asleep!  Wow, and this is a dream!"

"Calm down, Harry.  Breathe deliberately and slowly, or dream that you are."

I tried to control my breathing and began to relax, my closed eyes settling on an evolving void of utter darkness and nothingness.  It began to fold in on itself.  A soft blue glow appeared, which somehow I knew was self-awareness.  I drifted closer to the glow and saw that it was as innocent as an infant's new mind. I then realized that I could not remember my name, or anything about my life.

Betty returned to my thoughts, "Yes, Harry, you will renew, just as Gxd does, first as a helpless, unknowing infant.  Now the lessons from your previous life, at least the ones that survive, will come raining down on you."

I saw this "rain" in many colors, filling the blue glow of my mind with language, history, perspective, personality.  Then dozens of eyes appeared across the newly formed "body" of X. They looked around for a moment,then, terrifyingly, focussed on me.  Betty stepped in again.

"It's alright, Harry, just a process.  Newly established inborn knowledge is being infused with perception of current time.  The mind of X is forming."

"How often does this process take place."


I let that stand, distracted as I was by the developing entity.  Anxiety, fed no doubt by a dump truck of guilt, was growing within me.

"Betty," I had to restrain myself from shouting, "I don't know why, but I'm getting really scared.  Can you get me out of here?"

"No, only you can get yourself out of here."

I knew that was true.  The entity spread out to fill my entire visual field, appearing like a sphere around me.  I was floating in the center.  My heart started to pound.

"Betty, am I inside X's mind?"

"Sure, Harry.  Either that or you're confined in an institution, telling your therapist your latest delusion."

"Betty, stop joking!"

Betty's soft chuckle reassured me.  "Harry, X has lost innocence now and has a mature form."

"Betty, is X male, as our mythology has it?"

"Talk to X and find out."

I stared at the inner wall of the sphere that surrounded me.  It was full of morphing images, impossible to make sense of.  Finally I spoke.

"Hello?  Please forgive me for being blasphemous, if I am.  To begin with, could Yxu please tell me what 'blasphemous' means?  I would like to ask Yxu if Yxu have a gender, but not if it's a blasphemous question."

And just like that I heard a crisp, sweet voice, "Hello, Harry.  It seems I created you."

"Oh, I guess you did, thank you.  Betty, are you still here?"  Betty did not respond.  I wanted her advice on how, or whether to proceed, but she had left me on my own.  

"I mean," I sputtered to Gxd, "I'm confused.  I just watched you be created, so I'm not sure how you created me.  That sounded irreverent, please forgive me...!"  

"Don't worry, Harry, we're communicating now.  All I ask from humans is some introspection and responses that show evidence of critical thinking skills."

"Oh thank god, I mean, oh my god....!"

"Harry, relax.  Remember, you're dreaming.  If it's too much, just accept it as a dream."

"Ok, but how do I know if it's a nightmare or a, what's the opposite of a nightmare, 'good dream'?"

"'Good dream' will do, Harry.  Anyway, back to your question, 'What is blasphemy?'  It's from the Greek, meaning 'slander.'  To blaspheme is to slander X, to say something about X that is not true.  Since you know nothing of X, then whatever you say about Hxm is of unknown truth and thus is slander and blasphemy."

"Oh, ok...uh...sorry, I don't know how to refer to Yxu.  Should I call you Gxd?"

"Don't refer to Mx as anything.  To refer to Mx is to presuppose knowledge of Mx, which, as noted, is slander, and yes, it has been known to rile Mx."

"Ok!  But, I'm getting lost here.  I'm referring to Yxu now as I communicate with Yxu, so am I blaspheming?"

"Harry, you're being literal and time based.  This is a dream.  We are both ending and becoming in every moment.  You sin and blaspheme, you lose your innocence, I become angry and lose my innocence then regain it.  Does that make sense, Grasshopper?"

"No!  I'm losing my ability to know how words work!  Oh my X!  Yxu joked and made me feel like I am like Yxu, but I am lost and without understanding, so how could I be like Yxu?"

"Good question, Harry, you are an excellent student!  Go ahead and ask your question about gender."

"Oh yes, sorry.  Well, do Yxu have a gender?  Are Yxu male or female?"


I should have expected that.

X continued: "We're reaching the end of this dream, Harry.  Let me ask you what you learned from this encounter."

"What I've learned is...uhm... Lord, I have learned...damn! Sorry!  Jesus, what the hell...."

I was really losing it, tangled in so many languages and perspectives.

"Try again, Harry."

The voice was kind, loving.  It was a relief to feel a benevolent side of X.

"Ok, sorry for blaspheming!"

"Continue, Harry."

I calmed down then, my thoughts coming together in sensible form.

"Ok. Well, I think the lesson I've learned is that humankind's understanding is limited to a shell of constructs assembled by our five senses.  Those senses are not designed to see beyond the shell.  Thinking about X is an attempt to do just that.  The sin is not that we try to see beyond the shell.  It's that we can't admit that we don't know how to, that we haven't seen squat.  We don't know anything at all beyond the shell.  Nothing.  The sin is pretending that we are able to see.  What angers Yxu is dishonesty."

"Not bad, Harry," said Gxd.

Betty came floating into the visual field and spoke cheerfully:

"Say goodbye to Gxd, Harry.  This dream is almost over."

"Goodbye, Gxd, and thank you!"

"Any time, Harry," said Gxd.

Betty gestured for me to get on her back, and she galloped across the renewing desert.  It was dawn when I dismounted in my front yard.  I bid farewell to Betty and went to bed, entering a dreamless sleep.