Listen to the raindrops:
Saying something clear yet
Watch the swirling foam going
down the sink,
and you'll agree with me about
what I think.
If Sigmund Freud were sitting across from me, I'd ask him what he thinks meaningless dreams are about. Of course he would answer that a meaningless dream by definition is not about anything, that sometimes "a cigar is just a cigar." "Dr. Freud," I would press on, "I'm having dreams about things you might term 'cigars' because they don't represent other things. For instance, I dreamed of a door that was partially open, with a view to the street. And I dreamed I rubbed my fingertips over the smooth surface of a desk. Oddly, these dreams were vibrant in unearthly ways, but they were drained of extended meaning -the partially open door and the smooth desktop were...just those. Dr. Freud, am I having meaningless dreams because of what is happening in Afghanistan?"
Dr. Freud might wonder why his repose should be disturbed by my question, then he might remember that in life he posited a referential universe, where things are predicated on past events, almost Newtonian- where things cause other things- even Einsteinian- where things are relative to other things. A cigar is never just a cigar, especially for Freudians, I would argue to Freud.
I would stop arguing with Freud when I realized that the conversation itself was a meaningless dream.
When I taught elementary school, a music teacher showed me how to train kids to sing a round. The trick is that the two groups need to look in opposite directions while singing. Here's what I taught my second graders to sing in a round:
Row row row your boat
gently down the stream-
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
life is but a dream.
At the time, I wondered if I was teaching something radical, an explicit doctrine that life is a meaningless dream.
Full disclosure: The above encounter with Dr. Freud actually happened, in my head, and it turned out he was not so easy to dismiss, for he reappeared, seated beside me in my living room, reading my mind, to admonish me: "Harry, you are indulging in wishful thinking! You want life to be a meaningless dream so you can escape from the reality of Afghanistan's collapse, which weighs on you."
I stared at the self-induced simulacrum for a few moments. Freud regarded me back while puffing on a cigar (which, to my consternation, turned into a flaccid penis as he palpated it, the white silky smoke an obscene addendum).
"What wishful thinking?" I asked (defensively, as Freud might have noted).
Freud replied, "If the world is a meaningless chaos, then you are not responsible for things going wrong in it, and you are not responsible for things that are going wrong inside you, things that are thrusting about of their own accord, oblivious to human dictate. You get the picture? You're out of control."
I got the picture all right. Looking down at the dining room table I saw the headline of the morning paper: "'What was it all for?' ponders a town of Marines." They are wondering what America's involvement in Afghanistan was for. I wanted suddenly to have an out-of-body experience and return to my long ago second grade class, singing with them, "...life is but a dream."
Dr. Freud puffed at me, white plumes of suggestive smoke, then said: "America's post-war policies were not a dream. They have become meaningless, as far as meaning goes, but there is meaning in the meaninglessness."
I couldn't disagree with an idea stated so clearly, but before I could respond, Freud became transparent and faded away, leaving wisps of smoke to clarify his thought: American foreign policy has been real, and that is its only meaning. We did not conquer evil. We did not determine our own evil or goodness. We did not do anything except wage war.
I felt a familiar mental buzzing and knew that Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster was approaching my desert door.
"Robert," I thought in his direction (for new readers, I'm a telepath, retired to the desert), "I sense you. Have you been eavesdropping on my thoughts again?"
"I have," thought Robert.
I opened the door and Robert trudged in. I picked him up and set him on his favorite cushioned chair, recently vacated by the founder of psychoanalysis.
"Robert, what are your views on my conversation with Dr. Freud?"
Robert was dismissive: "Freud's motivation was to prove to his mother that he was a success; that's what I think."
"Ok, but...what about meaninglessness? Do gilas ever get upset by the thought that everything is meaningless? Like if a coyote eats one of you, does that make life seem meaningless?"
"No, we don't approach existence like that. The meaning of a thing is the thing itself. We don't complicate the picture with intellectual ornament."
"Ornament? Robert, I know you follow human news. Look what's happening in Afghanistan. The events do not stand in isolation. They have meaning, and that meaning is that the entire post-war foreign policy of the United States, in which it has tried to adumbrate an identity as the world's central super-power, has crumbled, and Americans now have to collectively acknowledge that we don't know how to rule ourselves, let alone the world."
Robert spat, his usual preface to impatient remarks: "Harry, gilas do not care what is happening in other parts of the world, because we are present in our part of the world. If humans could tolerate presence where they are, you would not need to project yourselves to places where you are not, like countries other than your own, or parts of your own country that are not where you are."
"I could retort that gilas are provincial," I ventured.
"Ha!" Robert telepathically barked, "At least we have a province. You humans live apart from the Earth in an artificial environment, your population so compressed that you must numb your claustrophobia with drugs. You might as well be on Mars already."
We became silent. After a moment, Dr. Freud returned, materializing in the middle of the room. He regarded Robert curled on the chair, picked him up, then sat on the chair, placing the telepathic lizard on his lap.
"Hi doc," said (thought) Robert.
"Hi Robert," said Freud, "Nothing surprises me anymore, not even you. In fact nothing in the afterlife is surprising because there is no expectation of particular outcomes. The real afterlife is more like the ancient Greek's Hades than current versions. It's like swimming in an ocean of Thorazine."
"That should ensure that your perceptions are impartial," I observed.
"I think it does," said Freud, "and that gives me confidence to share something with you: my belief that President Biden was set-up."
"Duh," said Robert.
"Dr. Freud, forgive my associate. He thinks the meaninglessness of the world gives him carte blanche to be rude. Please elaborate on your findings."
"No problem," Freud continued, "the President was assured by advisors that there was virtually no chance that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan after a U.S. withdrawal, but in the same week that Biden publicly repeated this view as his own, the Taliban took over, with no apparent resistance. Biden was blindsided, seeming incompetent and clueless. The desired outcome of this subtle coup is that Biden will take the fall for the loss of Afghanistan, its economic collapse and the catastrophe for women, if not for the entire lost cause of America's post-war years back to Vietnam. Whatever cadre comes to power after Biden can then pose as innocent, like pool contractors who skimp on the rebar, but when you try to sue them, they've gone bankrupt and are operating under a new name."
Dr. Freud stood up and placed Robert back on the chair. He gazed at the desert through my one large window and said mournfully, "Robert is right: The motivation for my career was to prove my worth to my mother (and of course overthrow my father). One time I read her a passage from Civilization and its Discontents that I'm fond of:
A civilization that leaves so large a portion of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence.
"My mother's comment was, 'Feh!,' (a term she reserved for the most useless ideas), 'Why would you write something like that?'"
Robert groaned, "You humans with your mothers! You really should try egg-laying. "
Robert finally left, and Freud's apparition followed. It had been a stimulating conversation, but I felt something was missing.
Could Freud have told me more? I went back to my frayed copy of Civilization, finally finding a line that relaxed me enough to take an afternoon nap:
Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.
I hadn't talked to Gregory, leader of The Army of the Young (prominent on the U.S. West Coast and spreading) since the pandemic started, so I thought I'd contact him and catch up. Gregory is a political operative and messianic twenty-something. I figured he'd have a lot to say about post-Trump reality. It turned out he didn't. [Gregory does have a lot to say, and you'll get a peek at the 2044 U.S. Presidential election, on his new blog, "Gregory's Army of the Young," at http://www.gregorysarmyoftheyoung.com/ Sorry, links aren't working, you may have to cut and paste.]
As we had last time, we met in Bakersfield, the midway point between Gregory's community near Marysville and mine in Pearblossom, at America's only remaining Woolworth's. We sat again at the vintage soda fountain.
It had occured to me that Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster might be a cogent contributor to our conversation, as he has an uncanny understanding of human politics. Gregory is not entirely comfortable that I associate with deities and sentient reptiles, so I hid Robert in my "man-bag" and told him to wait for an appropriate moment to reveal himself.
Gregory sighed quietly, it seemed to me, when I asked him his thoughts on "post-Trump reality." He took some time to answer.
Harry, he finally said, I'm sorry, I don't entirely enjoy thinking about things the way I used to. I know I'm the head of a political movement and so on.
Yes, that sounds difficult, Gregory. How are you going to handle your followers? Are you going to conceal that you don't like thinking about things anymore?
For now that's the plan, yes.
So...why don't you like thinking about things anymore?
Well, because a political movement is based on optimism, and, somehow, in
what you call the "post-Trump reality," I'm not optimistic.
You mean...you are...
Yes, I'm pessimistic.
Silence ensued as we digested Gregory's words.
Gregory, I'm so sorry, is there anything I can do?
No thanks, Harry. Pessimism is just an emotional/intellectual state after all. It will pass.
Gregory, if I may ask, what is it about our post-Trump reality that has caused your pessimism?
Of course you may ask, Harry. I think it's the way Trump took on all our sins- not in a Jesus sort of way, where you die for everyone's sins- but in a self-indulgent way where you actually commit all the sins most people can't get away with, making fame and fortune for yourself and wreckage for everyone else.
Then why aren't you optimistic because America is able- for now- to contain Trump?
Because just as a focus on Satan as the prime and ultimate source of evil can be counter-productive, diverting our attention from more local evil (or as I call it, malpractice) so too can associating Trump with every wicked political trend spread a protective shroud around other causes and effects.
What do you think of President Biden?
He fits a Central Casting call for "Nice older gentleman," the perfect two-dimensional cutout to lure us into war. The battle against Trump is a diversion.
Agreed, but why can't you just celebrate this limited victory for what it is?
It's too limited.
Gregory ordered a root beer float, which struck me as somewhat optimistic. I got a Diet Dr. Pepper. I don't even want to think about what that meant.
Gregory, what do you want Biden to do?
Honestly, Harry, there's not much he can do. The world is filled with millions of young people who have little hope of gainful or meaningful employment. The default option is to send them to war, that or convert them to soylent green. And look at biotech and AI. Humanity is going to be refashioned by scientists, and much of the human race will become obsolete by its own hand. There's nothing anyone, including a president, can do about it.
Gregory, some people would call that optimistic.
Yes, Gregory smiled, but Harry, we're not among the elect. I know you are a psychic with unusual connections to the, what shall I call it...spirit world?
At our last meeting (see "Older posts" below), Gregory was seriously unnerved by a cameo appearance from Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess.
But, Gregory continued, do you see yourself welcome in the coming age?
I'm not sure I'll be up to code.
None of us will be up to code. Remember the "savages" in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World? They were people who still reproduced sexually. "Mother" was a dirty word. The savages were kept in concentration camps in the desert. And don't forget climate change.
Let's hear it.
In order to keep the planet habitable, 20% of the fossil fuel that remains in the ground will have to go unused. That is not going to happen.
I don't know, Gregory. Greta Thunberg's movement has proven enduring.
That is the only movement that will count. The adult movements are weakened by uncertainty. The moment of Thunberg's vision has arrived. Yet that 20% will be pumped into the sky.
I sighed. Gregory, your pessimism is getting to me. I'm a blogger. People don't want to read bad news unless it's funny. How am I supposed to make this funny?
I don't know, Harry. My calling asks me to be serious, which for me requires optimism. Looks like we're both in the shit.
Gee, I wonder what you can do about it, thought Robert (to us) from my "man-bag." I had almost forgotten he was there. Gregory gave me a skeptical look.
Gregory, I'm so sorry, I said, I know you aren't comfortable with my outreaches to non-human realms, but perhaps I could change your mind. May I introduce Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster?
Hi Gregory, thought Robert as he stuck his head out of my bag and stared directly at Gregory, whose look turned from skepticism to disgust.
Gregory, Robert continued cheerily, don't forget I'm psychic. I know you're not enjoying meeting me.
No...I, I'm happy to hear what you have to say, Gregory stammered, Go on please.
Well, I'll do my best, but I should explain that gila monsters do not have a sense of humor. I've tried many times to understand what Harry means when he says something is "funny," to no avail. I do know from my study of human physiology that laughter is a response to the reconciling of the left and right hemispheres of the human brain- which represent, roughly, literal versus figurative thinking- mediated by a bundle of nerve tissue called the corpus callosum that connects the two hemispheres. As the c.c., which has its own brain, sifts through the streams of the two interpretations of the environment, it often finds esoterically matched analogues, and it has the option to decide if a match is "funny" (from Middle English, fon, fool). The matches designated "foolish" are sent to humor centers in other parts of the nervous system (there are 15 million). If enough electric charge accumulates in the humor centers, a feedback loop with the c.c. emerges, and this triggers a spasmodic choking response in the upper body. The experience, though highly valued by your kind, is mercifully denied to mine.
FYI, Robert, I retorted, what you just said was funny, but, as the saying goes, it was so funny I forgot to laugh.
Actually, Robert, said Gregory, who appeared considerably more relaxed, your ideas are intriguing. I'm not much of a humorist myself, and I often wonder about laughter. Since Harry went out on a limb to bring us together, maybe your analytical abilities could help him find the humor in our pessimistic scenarios.
Wow, muttered Robert, another human willing to listen to me. Life just keeps getting better. Let me think.
Robert started his purposeful thinking by chewing softly on the rim of my leather bag. His thoughts were guarded, but sometimes we picked up stray, fragmented sentences. They were not funny.
Finally Robert stopped chewing on my bag and looked up, directly into Gregory's eyes.
Try this, Harry, Robert thought, still holding Gregory's gaze:
A rabbi, a Catholic priest and a pantheist are walking together when they come upon the final 20% of Earth's fossil fuels.
The rabbi says, "Hey you two, why don't you go in with me to buy Earth's last fossil fuel? Then we'll pull it off the market and save the planet!"
The Catholic priest says, "That's a great idea! Count me in!"
But the pantheist exclaims, "No! This may not happen! The Earth
God is freezing to death and wants the surface of the planet to ignite and
We gathered that Robert had come to the conclusion of his "joke" because he was shaking spasmodically in what I understood to be his first experience of humor and laughter. Gregory looked pale and a bit disturbed.
Robert, I finally said, Please snap out of it. That was not funny.
Really?, Robert spat, You obviously didn't get it.
Gregory and I decided not to belabor the point. We made our goodbyes and headed to our cars. On the drive back to Pearblossom Robert told me that now that he understands humor he is going to write a book called "Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster's favorite jokes." He says he will forward the jokes to me as they develop.
The ride home was uneventful, punctuated every few minutes by spasmodic sounds from Robert's throat when he managed to get his corpus callosum to fire.
Three entries from the upcoming book, "Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster's favorite jokes":
1. Once there was a king who was not a megalomaniac. He worried: "How can I know what to do if I'm not a megalomaniac?"
2. The Earth felt cold and neglected. The Moon said, "You dummy! Look at the sun. Do you see it complaining?"
3. The cat said: "I am at the top of the food chain. Humans serve me because I am far more beautiful than any human could be." The dog hated that and barked at her.