Vague Magazine

I was listening to Sarah Vowell on Book T.V. when I got an email from someone asking where to find my blog. I replied with the address but admitted I haven't written for a week. Sarah was relating that some people write because they have something to say, and others write to find out what they think. "I'm definitely in the latter category," she said. I, too, am in that category. When I try to think of somebody in the former category I get a picture of Dennis Hopper having his last cigarette in True Romance.

What did you expect from the "Nothing is true, therefore everything is permitted," site? Even my political leanings are more like actual leanings, than a search for truth. It's like when you go around a corner you lean into it. I figure we're going around an evolutionary corner and those of us who are trying to be one with the flow of the Tao lean naturally. In a different evolutionary reality we'd lean a different way. It depends entirely on what corrections and adaptations are necessary to survive.

The biggest danger we see in the society is the idea that we are not actually moving and should regress backward toward plant life. "Put down your roots and stop all that jazz." I imagine people evolve at different rates, depending on the imperative they are under. Those who put themselves into unfamiliar situations and get used to adapting to other cultures and groups are going to be more prepared for being in the minority than some inbred bottomland dwellers with no use for outsiders. But social evolution is moving too fast for that to matter much longer. Time is shrinking and China is as close as San Bernadino in cyberspace.

Our communications are traveling closer to the speed of light, as digital information, than at the speed of sound. We are storing information externally instead of internally. We are evolving into Space, and maybe someday aliens will be looking at pictures of us and saying, "I refuse to accept that these are my genetic heritage. Just look at them. They are primitives."

Last night I was listening to a lecture by Steven Pinker, who wrote "The Blank Slate," at the same time I was writing to my daughter. What caught my ear was his saying, "Most studies on parenting are useless because they do not control for heritability." This needs to be tacked to the refrigerator of every home where the parents are trying to take responsibility for any outcome, which they see as for good or for ill, and try to alter. Pinker mentioned that the chance of two non-related people raised in the same household turning out the same are random, the same as for any two people on the street. He said the three main factors are genetics, the local environment, and chance.

I wonder how many people try to correct in themselves what their parents tried to correct in themselves and in their children, and so on, when it is genetic and has to either perform for self destruct? It's always fascinating to think of the implication of child rearing rules which assume a sameness in the children, for example, that because one can repress a desire another can as well. William Blake said that the reason some easily suppress desire is they have weak desire.

I was writing to my daughter about how I never read Ulysses, by James Joyce, because it would have been such a long project to read it and actually understand it. I preferred to go to Joseph Campbell's "Wings of Art" and listen to his lectures on how Joyce did it. Plus, I got a lot of good background information about Joyce, such as his definitions of art and pornography. I'm almost ready to read the actual book, I think.

Joyce said that if a writer makes the character attractive to the reader by giving him or her all the socially desirable traits, such as the honest, square jawed, courageous monotheist who rules the romance novel, that is pornography. By the same token, if the writer makes the reader dislike somebody by giving him or her despised behaviors, such as the shifty eyed invert who berates the waitress , that too is pornography. This is literature at the level of the social sphere so that the characters are not real. They are a collection of attributes and as such they activate the reader's need for status and fear of losing it. Nothing new comes in. This is so because there is nothing to compete with the reader's ego. It's a simple "eat, don't eat" proposition.

There is some power in real art to unify opposites and give a temporary connection to greater, objective, mind. In true tragedy, there must be a connection not just to instrumental causes, but to the secret cause.

There is a correlation between this art compared to pornography, and the socially proscribed person compared to the hereditarily proscribed person. It brings to mind a quote from Joseph Campbell to the effect that most psychology as it is called tends to adapt a person to the misconceptions of the community rather than rid the person of misconceptions.

When I listen to Pinker and some others I notice that they try to make a case for morality as possibly, in some way, genetically proscribed, but this fails in the same way as the child rearing manuals fail. You can't just get around the problem of genetics in child rearing by saying "Well maybe there's a genetic preference for corporal punishment because without discipline from the parents where will self discipline originate?" Yet they try to do that by saying that there must be some genetic demand for moral decisions because there just must be. Those decisions may vary widely from individual to individual, and he or she may have no consciousness of what purpose they ultimately serve. They don't have to be moral decisions per se, but can exhibit as behaviors which are out of the expected context.

My favorite example of this was in the biographies of the late Dr. Milton Erickson, who was considered the greatest medical hypnotist in the world, and who revolutionized the practice of hypnotherapy. When he was a child he had polio, and was crippled. He was also tone deaf and color blind and dyslexic. He was such an oddity that he was left to do things as he wanted in the classroom, and one thing he did was look up every word starting on page one of the dictionary and looking for it until he found it. He did not have the concept of alphabetical order. He was allowed to just continue in this way until he had learned the dictionary and thus acquired a massive vocabulary. At that time the concept was revealed to him, he said, in a flash of light.

His behavior could be seen as aberrant and certainly time wasting, and in need of correcting, because the assumption is that the intention is to learn to use a dictionary to look up words. But intentions are larger than that, and span much larger time frames. They can't be seen consciously because the conscious mind would screw them up. It's out of the loop most of the time. The larger intention was Dr. Erickson, the older man, who had no need for any formal hypnosis. He could just talk to you. His understanding rested on a simple observation: "The meaning of any communication is the response that it gets. There is no other meaning. The impression that there is other meaning is in your head, and is not part of the communication."

This is more or less the same thing as "nothing is true, therefore, everything is permitted," which is how William Burroughs expresses it. In both cases it has to do with the surrender of the external reference, which is truth based, and moving to an internal reference, where response and meaning are one thing. Burroughs calls it moving into Space, the same thing as moving outside of Time. It takes time to bounce off an external source, and so without shifting to an internal source you can't let go of time. Erickson described his most profound experience as being an object in space. Again, he was totally removed from external control systems.

This is the best summation of the shift from time to space I have found. It's from: "The Western Lands," by William S. Burroughs:

White bears graze in lush green meadows. A shrieking black boy dances around in civilian bones ... emerald whirlwinds. "It's always her toes to be left alone."

These magical visions are totally devoid of ordinary human emotion and experience. There is no friendship, love, hostility, fear or hate. There are no rules, no series of steps by which one can be in a position to see. Consequently such visions are the enemy of any dogmatic system. Any dogma must postulate the way, certain steps that will lead to the salvation which the dogma promises. The Christian heavn of pearly gates and singing angels, the Moslem paradise of eternal whores and plenty of water, the Communists' heaven of the worker state. Otherwise there is no place for a hierarchical structure that mediates between dogma and man, that dictates the way.

To endure in time, any structure must present predictable recurrences. The visions, the glimpses of the Western Lands exist in space, not time, a different medium and a different light, with no temporal coordinates or recurrences. The medium bears some relation to holograms.

I remember seeing an exhibit of early holograms, mostly chess pieces in little glass cases. There is something strangely oppressive about these objects, a feeling of something that doesn't belong there. The vision medium can be faked. A hologram can fake it. But when faked, it becomes quite disorienting and unpleasant. A hologram is the illusion of magic without magic.

Another example of the moral dilemma involved in letting go of time was experimented with by the late British writer Dennis Potter, whose works included "The Singing Detective," and "Pennies From Heaven." He wrote a teleplay called, "Brimstone and Treacle," which in the American film version starred Sting, and which drew a lot of protest and ire when it was first aired, or staged. The problem people had with it was that through a totally immoral act, the main character was the agent for a good outcome. This is not a popular formula.

In the movie, a girl is in a coma, and her father is a minister. Sting is a con man who convinces him the daughter was engaged to him. He gets into the house and molests the girl while she is in a coma. This frees her from the coma. It's a brilliant script and far too complex to be judged on the basis of the immoral act's being appropriate.

I don't know if there is a genetic basis for moral decision making, but I suspect if there is it has more to do with a survival strategy than anything else. I think that's how Pinker actually sees it too. But it would be a strategy that would have to take into account the individual genetic framework, which means it's as impossible to understand morality without factoring in heritability as it is to understand child rearing without factoring in heritability.

Well ... you can see why I haven't been writing so much. I can browse around in my mind and come up with some connections between things. I can see what I am thinking. That and a buck buys a cup of coffee.

Posted: Sun - October 26, 2008 at 10:30 PM