Mini-rant on led lights

I posted the following on the Facebook page, “Ban LED lights,” January 1, 2020

Glad to have found this group. I don’t Facebook much but hope you all will allow me to share the tip of the iceberg of my own LED experiences.

I simply can’t begin to describe how the rise of LED/HID lighting has affected my life and health. I drive into Atlanta, Georgia for work every day. It’s between one hour and an hour-and-a-half commute. For several years now, I have suffered from deep, intense migraines (which last the entire day), light tracers in my field of vison (which last hours), anxiety, anger, and frustration because of these new headlights and streetlamps.

The first thing I experience as I pull out of my driveway in the morning is my neighbor’s LED porch lights, which are left blazing away throughout the night, every night. I had to buy room-darkening curtains for the entire front of my house because of these clueless and inconsiderate people. Now the neighbors behind me are jumping on the trend.

The HOA has already replaced all streetlights with high-temperature LEDs, which flood the streets with their harsh impenetrable blue glare. So, I’m not sure why folks think that they need to blast multiple LEDs from their porches as well. But they do! Oh, one of my neighbors has bright blue LEDs gleaming from the top of every fence post. This makes crazy seem sane.

During my drive into Atlanta, I encounter hundreds of normal-intensity LEDs, which is bad enough. But then there’s countless high-intensity headlights on raised pickup trucks, jeeps, and semis. These are unbearable and create a glare that makes safe lane changing or passing impossible, especially when one of these vehicles comes straight at me from over a hill. I have also seen high-intensity white LEDs blazing from the backs of vehicles while they’re driving forward, as well as from sideview mirrors, from wheel wells, and from license plates holders – all as bright as headlights!

In many cases, I see the use of this lighting as nothing short of assault, and it’s getting worse each month.

Assault — no, that’s not an exaggeration. Demographically, big fans of these lights are drivers of raised 4×4 pickups with deafening exhaust systems who tail other drivers no matter how fast they’re driving. Lighting on the roads has become an intimidation tactic. It has nothing to do with safety. DPS has got to start addressing that!

I don’t usually meme, but I was feeling this one.

These days when I drive, I’m tempted to hold my hands up to shield my eyes from light coming into my windshield and reflecting in my rearview and side mirrors. But I don’t have enough hands to do this and hold the wheel! So I just squint (which isn’t exactly safe either), and I’ve developed a pronounced ridge across my brow as a result. I also now keep my rearview mirror constantly dimmed, which I never had to do, esp. during the day. This is not ideal, but I have no choice.

At the current rate of increase in the quantity and intensity of these lights on cars, streets, and structures, it’s fair to say that I’ll no longer be able to drive in the dark in about a year. It just won’t be safe for me to do so, and my health won’t allow it much longer anyway. This means that I’ll have to find a new job if my work doesn’t let me go full-time remote.

Note how the LED headlights absorb and conceal the object projecting them. Safe, huh?

When I get to work, I pull into the parking lot, and it’s like I’m under interrogation because of all the large LED panels in the garage. By the time I sit down at my desk, I am drained, angry, and my head is pounding. The focus is literally out of balance between each of my eyes! And then, I still have to sit in front of an LED computer monitor for 8 hours to work. Coworkers wonder why I don’t turn on my office lights (overhead fluorescents, which is a different story).

People hear me complain and say I’m overly sensitive – that I have the problem. I have also been mocked. A common argument for using the new lights, aside from the myths of “safety” and “economy,” is that they’re “cool.” If you can’t handle them, then you’re not cool. Got it? This is our society.

In the winter, when the sun sets earlier, my drive home is an equal nightmare. I can’t believe that people are not only embracing this lighting but are becoming obsessed with it. I’ve seen folks walking dogs with LED frisbees and kids with them on their shoes! I got home the other night and felt hopelessly isolated, as if society had left me far behind — and I’m only 45! I don’t understand how more people aren’t affected as I am. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode, and I’m the only sane person in a town of LED zombies!

The pic below is of the Sunoco gas station in Carrollton, GA (December 31, 2019) on Northside Dr. and Stewart St. That gas station is just one of 5 or 6 in town that have several high-intensity LED lights spilling over from their property and out onto the street, literally preventing those driving by from clearly seeing surroundings, including oncoming traffic. The city of Carrollton has developed a serious problem with unregulated lighting, as have many other cities across the nation. It’s not just the gas stations and drivers, but also the streetlights, city buildings, homes, and other businesses. I simply can’t go and shop or dine there after dark – haven’t been able to for years. And now, day driving is become intolerable, too.

Okay, rant over. By the way, I am currently finishing a dystopian satire novel that mocks the recent lighting fetish and other social/technological absurdities of our time (i.e., Assistant Director Tito’s Weedless Dog Farm, now available on Amazon; see link under the “Fiction” menu). An except is included below:

   One of the greatest technological achievements of the Future was micro-laser lights, an inexpensive, portable, highly intense option for brightening up anything, at all times, anywhere, in whatever color. But MLLs weren’t for illumination as much as to make things seem impressive. Most MericHoans, in fact, had a fixation with artificial light. Historians agree that this reflected not only a primal fear of the dark, but also a caveman-like captivation by fire. So the ability to control lighting kindled an instinct in these people, who used MLLs in many ways that early humans used flame, such as proof of status, tribal bonding, mating rituals, and to intimidate possible invaders.
   The great thing about MLLs was that they were tiny, no more than a pinpoint in size, but could blast a stream of migraine-inducing luminescence two miles down the road. Some gave important signals – such as when it was okay to pull a box of cereal from a store shelf – but most meant nothing. Instead, they gave MericHoans a sense of being safe and in control, like they were living in times of great progress. After all, things can’t be that bad if your toilet blinks once when not in use, twice when you’re on it, and thrice when flushing.
   People of the Future loved to stand out, and they could stand out in phosphorescent glory with a string of MLLs on their stuff. The edges and contours of vehicles were lined with the chic little sunbeams. Buses and trucks looked like holiday trees barreling down the highway. The lights were used in necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other beacons of status or love. Clothes were laced with thin MLL strands. Lights even pulsated in underwear and lingerie, whether to tell you when you had them on right, or to tell others you were aroused. Scientists also invented a tattoo ink that radiated colorful MLL lighting as bright as any on electronics. This godsend ensured that people would have no choice but to witness how awesome your tats were. Seemingly, plain-old ink and sleeveless shirts were no longer cutting it.
   Brainy homes came with micro-laser lights to tell you when your lights were on, and when they were off – a bit odd, if you think about it; but whatever, it was the Future. Home appliances used similar tech. How else would you know that you were toasting bread or watching TV unless a steady green light told you so? Spotlight-style MLLs radiated from front porches, presumably to keep families safe from low-flying planes and photosensitive burglars. Holiday lighting, however, was a thing of the past in the Future, as every home always boasted an array of colorful bulbs to accent its faux mansion architecture.
   Micro-laser lights on bike helmets, running shoes, and dog toys didn’t simply alert others to your presence, but they heralded it like the sun. Social approval also derived from these lights. Schools used them for grading – white and shimmering signified excellence, throbbing red meant failure. Sports associations bestowed MLL trophies on athletes to signify their immense contributions to society, as did film guilds for actors. Strobing MLLs in carwashes imparted vital information, such as the start of the rinse cycle or the spraying of the wax. Doctors even prescribed micro-laser light headbands for migraines and MLL wraps for joint pain.
   Usually, Kentucky wasn’t affected by society’s lighting fetish. But today was different. He already had a headache from Scout’s cologne, Inclusivity’s coffee spill, and the torturous training meeting. He was also overwhelmed with paperwork. But at that moment, as he attempted to perform one of the most basic natural tasks known to mammals, that helpful little urinal lantern pierced his eyeballs and left traces in his field of vision. “Where would we be,” he wondered, “without this technology?”
   So Kentucky stood there, squinting at the toilet, as folks did in the Future. He had attained six seconds of peace, when the PMG of the guy in the stall next to him began signaling an incoming message. The amplified tone was obnoxious, consisting of a monotonous rhythm and shrill vocals from an out-of-tune, nasally pop singer. And, as if that hadn’t been jarring enough, the guy let it ring. Clearly, the man longed for others to share in the thrill of his PMG, which by then was projecting a strobing disco ball effect, in case the sound had gone unnoticed.
   About to lose it, Kentucky zipped up. At the sink, he tried to splash water on his face. In the Future, however, faucets were automatic, and the sensor failed to activate. Waiting and waving, Kentucky repositioned his hands – still nothing. Then, as he was pulling away, a stream of water came gushing out, ricocheting off the ceramic bowl and soaking his shirt. In frustration, Kentucky punched the towel dispenser after it rolled out only the slightest edge of a sheet, jammed, and started flashing a yellow light. Shaking off his hands, he returned to his cubicle.


Excerpt from chapter 3 of "Assistant Director Tito's Weedless Dog Farm," now available on Amazon (see "Fiction" menu above for link). All rights reserved. Joshua J. Reynolds. 2021.

© Joshua Reynolds 2020. All rights reserved.

Leaf blowers, motorcyles, and suburban mating

Originally, I had intended to post a thorough rant about one of my favorite American annoyances:

Leaf blowers (and other forms of gas-powered lawn equipment seen as indespensible these days).

But then I started to think that it would be far easier to illustrate the nuisance in action — to capture it all in film. So I produced a short documentary on the topic. Well, actually, the flick is more of a mockumentary with a twist of sci-fi thriller. Regardless, the movie is called The Leafinator, and it just might end up winning me an Academy Award. Here’s the blurb:

The Leafinator is a blockbuster sci-fi thriller about cyborg lawn equipment sent back in time to destroy a man who dreams of a future free from annoying technology.

The trailer can be found here:

The full film, here:

Films, however — even those of exceptional quality (which mine is not) — can only dig so deep, mostly, I think, because of their reliance on force-fed imagery. So I shall now try to supplement my cinematic artistry with philosophical elaboration.


Now then, there’s a lot to hate about leaf blowers and other landscaping machines.

First, they are so loud that you can literally hear them a half-mile away. So think what it must be like for the people who live next door. Bahahaha! Just kidding. Screw ’em, right? Who cares if your neighbors want or need quiet time to rest or read or think or meditate or go about their business in their own home? To hell with others’ privacy in their own property when there’s dirt and grass to blow off sacred concrete pathways!

Second, leaf blowers kick up enormous clouds of dust and dirt, animal excrement, mold and mildew, herbicides and fertilizers, and other allergens (e.g., pollen, grasses, etc.). Yeah. So why not just blast all that noxious stuff up into the air and let it sprinkle back down wherever it may land, say, on top of your neighbor’s kids while they play in their own back yard? Who cares where it all lands, just as long as it doesn’t desecrate your concrete shrines.

Blowing nothing. Wikimedia Commons. By Josh Larios.

Third, using gas-powered leaf blowers makes you an asshole. If you think it’s necessary to shoot tiny twigs and particles of wood, leaves, and dead grass through space, jamming them through the tight slits under my doors and windows, thereby covering the inside of my house and car with a fine powder of stuff that you, for some reason, don’t think belongs in a yard — well, then, you’re the worst kind of asshole.

Fourth, rakes and brooms work better and don’t make you seem like a moron. If having dirt, leaves, and twigs lying around outside is a real problem for you, then please realize that blowers seriously fail to address that problem. Why? Because they just move stuff from one place to another. Like a child pushing toys under a bed, leaf blowers don’t clean and remove. They merely rearrange and hide, which forces you to deal with the problem again and again. Brooms and dust pans, rakes and bags, however… Well, either you get it or you don’t.

Fifth, as I understand it, leaf blowers and other mega-powerful lawn equipment harm the environment because of the gas they guzzle, the unregulated pollutants they emit, and the excessively loud and unnatural noises they produce (which prevent birds and bees from doing what they need to do to keep the ecosystem thriving). Now, this last concern is something I can neither confirm nor deny myself. So I’ll just stick to what I do know: using leaf blowers, etc. seriously interferes with human health and sanity. But if they also chase away pollinating critters and erode topsoil, then, yeah, that sucks really bad, too.

This wise woman gets it.

Speaking of sucking: If only leaf blowers sucked then they wouldn’t suck so bad!

All this said, a case can be made, I think, for electric blowers since they are nowhere near as powerful or loud. But you’re still just sweeping stuff under the rug, right? And I would say that even large gas-powered blowers have some uses. Certainly never in urban or suburban areas — but maybe in large rural areas on secluded properties with lots of trees. Maybe.

About the suburbs: industrial-strength lawn equipment + suburbs = total senselessness. These days, equipment is louder and more powerful, while yards are smaller and houses closer together. I currently live within a stone’s throw of 10-12 houses. So there is quite literally rarely a time that I don’t hear some machine or another wailing away in the distance in an off-key pitch, or even vibrating my walls.

Then there’s those who “pressure wash” and shampoo their beloved concrete pathways. The ritual tends to last no less than four hours. So if this is what the idiot next door has scheduled for his Saturday afternoon, then you better hope you don’t have anything relaxing planned for yourself in your own yard. Besides, yards aren’t meant to be enjoyed. They’re for landscaping and blasting with machines. I’m fairly certain that God says this somewhere in the Bible.

A shampoo and blow dry, suburban-style. Photo: Joshua J. Reynolds

So why all the noise? Why the perceived need to keep your lawn looking tweezed, plucked, waxed, plastic, and sculpted? Why the obsession to keep up appearances? I mean, what’s so wrong with this yard?

Quick! Somebody call the HOA!

Keep in mind, a pretty exterior often conceals an ugly, miserable interior. I’m sure that the fellow who lives in the home pictured above couldn’t be happier with existence. So one can only imagine what the people who live in the house below are trying to hide.

Regardless, it all seems bizarre if you put the tiniest amount of thought to it. Why can’t a single blade of grass ever touch one’s concrete? Why the desire literally to dig a small trench between the clean artificial concrete and the dirty but natural stuff of earth?

The answers aren’t difficult to find if you consider the suburban mentality. Key here is the obsession to mark off one’s “property” as one’s own, separate and distinct from another’s property and from nature. This is the grass-farming suburbanite’s raison d’être. Fences and rows of bushes do the trick nicely. But nothing says “Mine, not yours” as decisively as the moat-like ditch that a lawn edger digs!

Photo: Joshua J. Reynolds

And all that plasticity? Well, that’s just suburbanites telling nature to go screw itself:

“John and Mindy Grass-Farmer live here now, Nature, and we’re here to stay!”

“Our bushes are better than yours!”

In other words, edged trenches, shampooed driveways, waxen bushes, and leafless lawns are no more than tokens of identity and pride, just like tattoos, crucifixes, ball caps, and bumper stickers.

Leaf blowers and other such devices offer people who fall short in, say, artistic or intellectual respects, a way to project an image — a way to carve out an arbitrary place in the world. This goes for the noise they make as well, which presents, as it were, a sonic image. In satisfying the primitive instinct to ward off would-be intruders, the release of a loud, threatening sound also helps powerless people to feel important and strong. It’s the modern-day battle cry.

It’s helpful to understand this in a comparison to Harley motorcycle riders. Can you imagine so many of them riding around in packs on weekend afternoons if their “bikes” didn’t utter a peep?

Think about it: How many folks do you think would choose a leaf blower that was totally silent over an equally powerful one that was insanely loud? Be honest. Would you? Wouldn’t you think something was missing? Wouldn’t you think that it wasn’t serving its purpose somehow? That’s because most people find noise comforting.

But, but, but… Loud pipes save lives!

Wrong. This is just one of the many nonsense myths that people regurgitate these days, so much so that it’s almost taboo to deny it. But I will happily deny it:

Loud pipes do not save lives. Nor were they ever intended to do so.

Saving lives

Why not? Well, first, because this idea suggests that bikers who end up getting creamed on the road just weren’t making enough noise. That is ridiculous. It puts the blame somewhere it really shouldn’t be, and that’s not helpful. Hell, screw my seat belt. I’m just gonna drive around honking my horn so people don’t hit me.

Second, if “saving lives” were the real goal, then more bikers would wear neon pink or green vests instead of dark leather duds with cool logos. Also, helmets, you would think, save more lives than loud ‘vrooms’. So why do bikers who don’t wear them bother to modify their pipes to increase the noise?

Third, folks here in the South (esp., redneck men) tend to drive around in lifted 4×4 pickups with modified exhaust systems that roar every bit as loudly as Harley “pipes.” So are these idiots saving lives, too? What about teens who drive lowered Civics with mufflers that sound like a pig sodomizing an antique lawn mower?

Not saving lives.

Fourth, the “pipes” of a crotch rocket easily reach those cool, deafening decibel levels. But a good number of people who ride such bikes have no problem flying down the highway at 110 mph, zipping in and out of lanes, cutting people off, and coming up along cars faster than you can turn your head to see them.

Fifth, riders of motorcycles go ‘vroom vroom’ the most whenever they are sitting idle in a parking lot or rolling through an otherwise serene town square at 5 mph. Whew, thanks for saving all those lives, guys! Y’all are true American heroes! Please don’t worry about damaging the hearing of people walking along sidewalks or enjoying their lunch outside. Just keep savin’ lives!

Finally, the largest and loudest vehicle on the highway is the semi-truck. Still, people cruising down the interstate in cars seem to have no problem at all finding the sides of semis. Fact: the loudest, most conspicuous vehicle on the highway is also the most dangerous. Go figure.

So there you have it. Loud “pipes” are not meant to save lives at all. The point, rather, is simple: you make your “bike” emit such noise so that you will stick out. Noise is your brand, your calling card. Your clothes are loud. Your hair, beard, and tats are loud. Your TV is loud. Your kids and dog are loud. So why not be heard a mile away by an old lady at home in her rocking chair when you’re heading to the store to grab some smokes?

The same goes for leaf blowers, which allow the blower and his/her yard to stick out. Like loud motorcycles, they serve to mark the owner’s territory as distinctive, obvious, attractive. But why do that? Why all the attention whoring? It’s simple: to attract potential mates. No really, think about it. The shaft-like blow pipe of a leaf blower is a whopper of a phallic symbol. And what about all that pointless reving:

Rawr, raawwr, raaawwrrr… vrrooom, vrooooooom….

Does this not sound familiar? Squeeze the trigger and feel that tool throb in your hands. Just like a Harley dude in a parking lot who senselessly revs his engine while idling, a guy with a leaf blower gets off exciting his own engine once or twice real quick just to feel it jerk and convulse, even when it’s blowing nothing.

Most importantly, the job of a leaf blower is to penetrate, to cross boundaries, to intrude where it does not belong. When you’re trying to read or relax and your neighbor is proudly stroking his blower, forcefully ejecting stuff from his property onto yours, penetrating your walls with his own sound and substance against your will — how could this be seen as anything other than mental rape?


Fall is time to choke and deafen your loved ones. The alternative is just too horrible.

In summary, leaf blowing, edging, trimming, obsessive mowing — it’s all part of an elaborate suburban mating ritual. Suburban Man, you see, enjoys the illusion of controlling protruding cylindrical objects that shoot stuff outwards — tailpipes, guns, pressure wands, etc. For some reason, this makes him feel proud, powerful, and dominant. So he never hesitates to show off this pride, even to those who don’t consent. But bear in mind:

Loud pipes tell lies.

Freud

Suburban Man wants to give the impression that he is massive and strong, master of his territory. He uses powerful machines to reassure himself and others that his own biological equipment is just as potent. But Suburban Man is a fool. In reality, he’s an insecure, child-like weakling who plays with toys. Sure, his mechanical grunts and growls may drown out the mating calls of other men on the block, and so will probably lure a Suburban Woman. But we should see it all for what it really is. As Freud said:

Zie louder zie blower, zie smaller zie wiener.

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2018. All rights reserved.

Monsters in motion

“Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout / The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray / And though she feels as if she’s in a play / She is anyway”

Paul McCartney (Penny Lane)

I am currently working on a psychological thriller that engages the question, generally speaking, “What constitutes reality – order or disorder?”

Assuming there is such a thing as reality, and that it is meaningful to ask what sort of thing it is, one might approach an answer in terms of the distinction between material and form. Think of a statue… oh, I dunno… of some slave-owning war hero from the South… or of that defiant little girl in NYC that folks seem to think is sociologically momentous… or a monument to your dog licking itself. Who cares? Just think of some sort of statue.

Now, when you point to that statue and ask, “What is that?” will you answer “That’s Buford B. Buchanan,” or “That’s a brave little girl,” or “That is my doggie, Mr. Stinkums – idn’t he cute?” Hopefully not. Why? Because what you’re pointing to is bronze, or marble, or plastic, or some other material. This material can take the form of any of those subjects, but it will never be those things. It will always remain itself. The form, however, that some material takes is temporary, and it does not change the essence of the material.

Put simply: forms come and go; material abides. All, in fact, that really exists is shapeless, ever-flowing, disorderly stuff. Order is arbitrary – a temporary artificiality.

Order is art and art is order. Think of a photo of womem dancing. The photo is static, artificial, flat – even colorless, in comparison to the vivid and varied hues of the original. The photo depicts an event frozen in time, and thus says very little accurate about it – the women’s beauty, the movement of their limbs, their facial expressions, the excitement they radiate, their curves in motion.

In fact, if folks today weren’t so accustomed to pics and selfies, one might find a depiction of a dancing figure frozen in time puzzling and unattractive. Why is she holding her arm up over her head all jagged-like? Why is she squinting her eyes and contorting her face so awkwardly? She’s supposed to be having fun, right? Where’s the life?

This is all to say that reality is curvy, constantly moving, and a bit clumsy. It is not a magazine photo of a Victoria’s Secret model standing still, face caked with paint, waxen body posing for the camera. Art is fake, flat, plastic and rigid. This goes for sculptures, photos, paintings, performances, records, books, and all other forms of expression that attempt to simplify, flatten, and freeze the flow of nature. Art is artificial.

Art, like all forms of order, seeks to capture, to restrict, to bind, to hold in place. It serves to filter out what is real, to simplify what is natural and complex, to block and interrupt flow, to process, package and sell.

Art and order must be imposed on material. Like the form of a sculpture, they constrict consciousness. They delineate boundaries that separate what the mind ought to include and exclude. Ultimately, however, this amounts to carving lines in the sand, inevitably to be dissolved without a trace by the flow of the tide.

Reality is continuous. It is what it is. It doesn’t depend on a name or a label. It isn’t here or there, now or then. Reality doesn’t exist in discrete chunks. It’s definitely not 1s and 0s – not a digital recording, nor even vinyl. Reality is a live outdoor performance on an unexpectedly cool evening, with a mildly inebriated conductor leading an ensemble of unfocused, fidgety performers playing slightly off-key. Reality is senseless and ugly. It’s uncomfortable and unacceptable.

Which is real? A stray, smelly mutt scrounging the trash for food, snarling at passers-by, relieving itself whenever and wherever it has the need? Or a freshly groomed, tagged, and leashed purebred, possibly even sporting a sweater boasting the logo of a college football team, posing calmly with its ‘owner’ for a selfie (though it craves nothing more than to tear the furniture to shreds)? Reality is smelly, messy, vicious.

Order is imposed by pressure, by squeezing a square peg into a round hole. The dog behaves as you wish because it fears you will force its nose into the mess it makes. But only what is unreal and insecure would need to resort to threats in order to exist. The dog is you – you are the god. Reality doesn’t need to be sold or pushed. It doesn’t need to be saved and is never at risk.

Order is nothing more than an imposed construct – an illusion that good boys and girls are trained to view as real. Just think of all the things that comprise this “reality”:

  • Social norms and rules, manners, rituals
  • Laws, ordinances, oaths, and contracts
  • Religions, the concept of god, prayer
  • Holidays, dates, times
  • Morality, good and bad, right and wrong, left and right – all dichotomies
  • Political parties and issues; voting
  • Nations, cities, roadways, landscaping
  • Rights, possessions, and property (outside of one’s own mind and body)
  • Tribal associations, race, teams, jobs, titles, gender identifications
  • Your name – first, middle, and last
  • Celebrity status, entertainment, the ‘news’, and other forms of make-believe
  • Signs, labels and tags, uniforms and badges
  • Cosmetics, clothing, bodily fashions
  • Family ties and the so-called ‘bond’ of marriage
  • Technology, convenience, simplicity, automation
  • Myth, scientific explanation, education
  • Numbers, concepts, and language itself
  • The verb ‘is’ (the biggest lie ever told).

None of this is reality. All are fabrications forced upon the mind in an attempt to bring order to chaos. All are filtered, censored, simplified imitations. At best, they are artificial, flat, rigid symbols – like an anorexic model, a street map, a child’s toy, a calendar, the hands and face of a clock. Imagine the world stripped of these illusions.

Order is repetitive, circular, complete, and closed. It is the ring that binds the finger. Reality is unending, open, and indefinite. It is unfaithful and selfish. Chaos is king – disorder, his decree. Control, but a castle in the sky.

Order is a drug that pacifies and tranquilizes the unsettled mind, channeling its focus into fixed, prescribed locations, like television programming, social media memes, and advertising. God forbid the mind experience unsettled thoughts, unanswered questions, unclassifiable feelings. God forbid the mind be free and original! Human beings are as fake as they are slavish.

Order is a sedative, a stage performance that demands the crowd’s quiet submission and assimilation. It is the suburban housing association that forces you deal with the scariness of flux by imposing the illusion of uniformity and security. But neither bedtime story nor automatic gate can soothe the fear. No costume or badge can arrest decay. Reality is cancer. It’s hideous. Monsters in motion are all that’s real.

“God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”

John Lennon (God)

© Joshua Reynolds 2018. All rights reserved.

Windowless I

“Which is better – to be born stupid into an intelligent society or intelligent into an insane one?” (Aldous Huxley, Island).

Philosophers are full of shit and always have been. For centuries, they have drooled and tripped all over themselves trying to identify (solely in their minds) the basic building-blocks of reality. These ‘substances’, as they called them, are supposed to be whatever remains once you have ‘stripped away’ (in your mind) all the properties from a thing. A person is still a person, for example, whether black or blonde hair, dark or light skin, 4’6” or 6’10”, twelve or seventy-eight years old, male or female, sick or healthy. Such properties are temporary and incidental to the ‘being’ or ‘substance’ of a person, whatever that happens to be.

Leibniz’s hair is entirely its own entity, distinct from all else. Image soure: Wikipedia.

In the late 17th century, German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz postulated that the world consists of an indefinite number of such substances. He called these ‘monads’. Each of these monads, he thought, can only affect itself. On this view, each thing in the world is truly distinct from all others and cannot, therefore, interact with anything else. Instead, things only appear to interact with each other. Their actions have been programmed in advance by god to harmonize with the actions of other things.

A result of this view is that cause and effect are not real. Let’s say I throw this philosophy book. The book hits the wall. A dent appears in the wall. The book’s pages tear. Leibniz would deny that I caused the book to fly through the air. He would argue that the book did not in fact cause the dent in the wall any more than the wall caused the pages to rip. Rather, the book was preprogrammed by god to take off through the air at the precise moment I opened my moving hand. A certain portion of the wall, in turn, was preprogrammed to crumble at the precise moment the book came into contact with it, just as god had put it into the nature of the book’s pages to rip, entirely by themselves, immediately after the book had hit the wall.

The point to all this is that there is no direct causal or perceptual relationship between one substance and any of the others. You can’t, as it were, ‘see’ into substances and you cannot ‘see’ out of them. They are ‘windowless’. They exist and do what they do entirely on their own without being caused to act and without acting upon anything else. It may seem that things interact with each other in the world, or at least have the power to do so, but they do not. This, you see, is simply god’s ‘pre-established harmony’.

Now this is mostly bullshit, of course. But it does offer a great model for viewing the self (minus the divinely pre-established harmony junk). The lyrics of “Windowless I” (see “Lyrics” menu) build on this perspective. They are also inspired by the writings of various other authors, such as Aldous Huxley, Herman Hesse, Timothy Leary, and Carl Jung.

“Lies. They all lie.” In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, after the protagonist withdraws from society, he begins to realize that “everything lied, stank of lies,” as he walked through town, scornfully glancing at pretty women, well-dressed people, business men and traders, princes and prostitutes, priests, lovers and mourners.

“Everybody lies” – House M.D.

“Windowless I” begins in the realization that society is comprised of lies – incessant efforts to conceal, embellish, spin, ignore, mislead, and appropriate words to twist their meanings. People have grown so accustomed to it that they neither notice nor care. They expect lies and would feel empty and awkward without them in social contexts. Lying is the business of politicians, advertisers, and corporations, as well as the mainstream media, priests, professors, and scientists. All of it to maintain status, to save face and deflect from hypocrisy, to subtly impose one’s will on the masses, to mark oneself off as a member of some tribe.

The media bias is especially obvious. Yet people only pretend to care. They like it that way. The use of catchwords, slogans, and symbols rather than critical thought is especially prevalent here — all to instill conditioned reflexes in voters, to keep them distracted and prevent the sort of rational thought that would topple their empire of false imagery.

The tools used to perpetuate lies are symbols. Symbols are public. But what happens inside each person is private. Think of the so-called ‘cross’. Only one person can understand the sense of spiritual ecstasy, awe, personal helplessness, guilt, and/or feelings of cosmic significance that ground his or her own choice to identify with the cross as some sort of personal symbol. These experiences are as private as an individual’s particular sensation of pleasure or pain. There is no way of passing such experiences on to another person. The only possibility of communication is indirectly through symbols. So one symbol, in this case, the cross, stands for millions of private experiences.

The problem is that symbols seriously over-simplify reality. They replace thought with mere reaction, which is only surface-deep. Trusting a pair of blue jeans because it has the right sort of label, believing a person with a cop uniform and badge, and embracing someone who wears cross-jewelry is like accepting or rejecting a Christmas present based solely on the wrapping paper.

Symbols are meant to limit experience and constrain thought. Stimulus in — preprogrammed response out. The previous post on “Servitude” compared them to “the crack of the whip that a master uses to rouse a slave into action without question.” Symbols are the bonds whereby the powers-that-be control the masses. Media and advertisers, politicians and priests: They speak your language but have no idea what you want or need. Nor do they care. In reality, there is no such thing as ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’ — only two supposedly opposing tribes consisting of individuals who identify with each other solely on the superficial basis of slogans and clichés.

Hairstyles, clothing, catchphrases, gestures, body art, piercings, cranial accessories, shoes and the like: None of this is truly significant as expressions of the self. They are as lifeless as a photo of a beautiful woman when compared to her presence in motion. Such symbolic behaviors serve merely to indicate membership in a tribe. Think of those supposedly ‘badass’ motorcycle packs, which tend to employ deafening sonic symbols to mark their territory. If Harleys made no noise at all but were just as powerful and ‘cool’ looking, would anyone want to ride them? Far fewer, for sure. That is because society values the container over the content.

“The F Word,” South Park, 2009

I am reminded of a scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Brian, the mistaken messiah, abandons his sandal in flight. Meanwhile his followers stop pursuing him and passionately debate whether “the shoe is the sign.” They then go on to contemplate whether the shoe is a shoe or a sandal, and if it is a sign, what it means and how they should react, and if it is not a sign, what other things that happen to be around them might be signs of the messiah. Following this obsessive display of symbol-worship, the crowd runs off to continue their search for the messiah himself.

This scene nicely depicts the eagerness of people to follow and prioritize empty symbols to the exclusion of what they are supposed to symbolize. It shows the human tendency to see symbols everywhere, even where they are not or cannot be; and if they are present, to misinterpret them, giving them far more favorable significance than they are worth. I mean, the crowd got so caught up in symbolism that they forgot about the guy they thought was their savior!

Living a life predominately dictated by symbols reveals a mind that has been conditioned to respond, follow, and obey rather than to think. It is a mind stuffed with arbitrary categories that filter and censor the vastly more complicated flow of reality.

One might choose to escape this tribalistic freak show by seeking alternative forms of enlightenment, e.g., through drug use (as in the 1960s LSD phenomenon), spiritual quests, meditation, holistic lifestyles, etc. — all of which supposedly lead to feelings of intensity, epiphany, and of touching something universal and eternal. These experiences have been said to involve sensing the boundaries between oneself and the world vanish. They supposedly allow feelings of hope and the sense that the universe has deeper meaning. They provide, it is said, a harmonious connection with others, the whole earth, with life in general — a feeling of being united in mind and body and of relating to everything as a part of a greater whole.

But this is tribalism come full circle. What is the satisfaction of feeling that you are a mere pawn and part of some grand design? Why the need for such connection? The universe is absurd and ultimately unknowable. Can’t one find satisfaction and meaning in accepting that? The search for, trust in, and mass appeal to symbols comes from the need to feel significant. But so does seeking a transcendental connection to the universe. Ultimately, admitting insignificance and lack of connection is the only true significance. Labels don’t stick.

In the end, if there really is some grand design of which I am part, then isn’t my sense of separation part of that? Who is society to judge my separation or to eschew values centered on the individual and emphasize disconnection? What of the atheist, the skeptic, the misanthrope, the cynic, the egoist, the nihilist, and the solipsist? Why the stigmas against such individuals when such lives are truer to the flow of reality than that of the superficial, tribalistic symbol-worshiper? If everything really happens according to a plan, then wouldn’t their abandonment of religion and/or society be part of that plan?

In the end, it doesn’t matter. True belonging and participation are as impossible as experiencing another person’s feelings or understanding their thoughts. Any claim to be part of god’s plan or some cosmic scheme is simply human arrogance and on a par with finding patterns that resemble human beings and their artifacts in the chaos of billions of stars in the night sky.

Who am I? I might apply endless labels: ‘American’, ‘man’, ‘middle class’, ‘white’, ‘musician’, ‘teacher’, ‘writer’, ‘editor’, ‘citizen’, ’40 year-old’, ‘progressive rock fan’, ‘libertarian’, ‘drummer’, ‘philosopher’, ‘atheist’, ‘skeptic’ — all ultimately as meaningless as a mask, badge, or uniform. Several of these, in fact, can be used by social forces to categorize and control a person. Impermanent marks of tribalistic identity are helpful in a superficial society. But are they truthful? In the end, the only true identity is ‘I am I’.

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2015. All rights reserved.

The source

“The Source” (see ‘Lyrics’ menus) is a song about origins — specifically, how things tend to originate in violence and death. The lyrics are based on a book I am writing that offers a satirical look at ancient myths concerning the beginning of the universe and humankind. Like the book, the lyrics amalgamate an assortment of such myths to focus on their similar origins, plot structures, and themes.

Despite the convictions of devout Christians, there is very little that is unique or authoritative about the stories from the so-called ‘Bible’. I summarize below the Bible’s main themes concerning creation, which also happen to turn up in much older Mesopotamian myths, as well as those from ancient Greece.

  1. The creation of the world as a separation of opposites from a primal chaos: Separation of light from dark, as well as the waters above and waters below the sky in the Hebrew Genesis; Separation of fresh water (Apsu) and salt water (Tiamat) in the Babylonian Enuma Elish; Separation of earth and sky, as well as day and night in Greek mythology, esp. Hesiod’s Theogony.
  2. The world as a flat disk floating on water covered by a solid, domed roof of sky/stars: Hebrew Genesis; Babylonian Enuma Elish; Greek myth, esp. Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Theogony.
  3. The supremacy of a storm/sky-god who sets primal chaos in order: Hebrew Elohim/Yahweh; Babylonian Marduk; Greek Zeus.
  4. A storm/sky-god who battles and defeats terrible, disorderly monsters: Yahweh vs. Leviathan and Behemoth (Hebrew JobPsalms); Marduk vs. Tiamat and her demons, snakes, dragons, scorpion-men and bull-men; Hittite Teshub vs. the dragon-monster Illuyanka; Zeus vs. Typhon.
  5. The creation of mankind from some earthly or biological material to serve the gods and/or to tend to divine gardens: Hebrew Yahweh’s creation of Adam and Eve from soil/human rib; Sumerian Enki and Earth create first humans from the blood of a dead god, mud and spit; Babylonian Marduk creates people from the blood of an enemy; the Greek gods create the first woman out of clay.
  6. After the work of creation is complete, the mighty storm/sky-god feels the need to rest: Hebrew Elohim; Babylonian Marduk.
  7. The storm/sky-god sends a flood that wipes out most of mankind as punishment for their wickedness and/or annoyance: Noah in Hebrew myth; Ziusudra in Sumerian myth; Atrahasis in Akkadian myth; Utnapishtim in the Babylonian Epic of GilgameshDeucalion in Greek myth.
  8. A trickster deity who defies the storm/sky-god and promotes human knowledge: Hebrew Satan; Mesopotamian Enki/Ea; Greek Prometheus.
  9. Woman as troublesome temptress and her curiosity, which leads to human suffering: Hebrew Eve and her tantalizing fruit; Greek Pandora and her alluring box.
  10. The decline of mankind from paradise and the corresponding divine curse: Adam and Eve in Hebrew myth; Prometheus story in Greek myth; Pandora story in Greek myth; The Five Ages of mankind in the Greek Hesiod’s Works and Days.

These ten themes represent some of the well-known parallels that anyone with half a brain can pursue in much greater detail using any reliable online or offline source.

Now then, possible reactions to these striking commonalities might include:

1) Ignore the obvious parallels (just as you might ignore the Bible’s obvious contradictions and injustices) and stand firm by your faith that biblical stories are unique and authoritative. It is certainly acceptable to believe whatever you want to believe, but only as long as you keep it to yourself. You should not attempt to convert others or influence public policy according to those beliefs any more than you should persecute, violate, or harm others for not sharing them.

2) Take the approach of the theologian, who will attempt to explain away the parallels (as well as the contradictions and injustices) according to some subtle and sophisticated theory that only the handful of experts with advanced degrees and years of Ivory Tower isolation would stand a chance of understanding. Such theories tend to appeal to arguments concerning mistranslation, offering instead the “correct,” “original” meaning of a relevant Hebrew or Greek term.

Now this is certainly admirable work, as it does make use of reason and evidence, as opposed to faith, which is by its very nature nonrational and close minded. The only problem is that my salvation should not have to depend both on my acceptance of the Bible and of some random scholar’s intricate interpretation of it.

Russell Crowe’s “Noah.” Paramount Pictures. 2014.

I mean, the Bible is ‘the Book’, right? It’s meant to stand alone, wholly sufficient in its supposed truth and authority. One shouldn’t require a PhD to understand it any more than one should be required to know ancient Hebrew and Greek. Indeed, if only a select few can understand the real meaning of the Bible’s original wording, then all the more reason to conclude that it was not written for modern lay people.

3) Or we might take a rational approach, which realizes that the Bible’s stories, as all stories, were derived from prior and contemporaneous human sources. This means, in turn, that they cannot be, at least not directly, the ‘word of god’. In other words, the Bible has a traceable history of development and transmission, often using non-Jewish and non-Christian sources. One might respond by saying, e.g., that the five different flood narratives describe the same historical event (i.e., the “biblical flood”). But this still neglects to address the presence and influence of different deities who are fundamentally at odds with the Jewish/Christian god.

Anyway, in addition to these ten general parallels, “The Source” also touches on the theme of strife between divine parents and their children, esp. the conflict between father and son. In Greek mythology, Cronus mutilates the genitals of his father, king Uranus, who in turn curses his son. Now king himself, Cronus swallows his own children to prevent himself from being overthrown. But his own child, Zeus, outwits him and defeats his father in an epic battle.

Goya. Saturn Devouring His Son. Wikipedia.

Likewise, the Babylonian Apsu plots to destroy his great-great grandchild Ea, who eventually prevails, just as Tiamat plots to destroy her great-great-great grandchild Marduk, who goes on to become king of the gods. And finally, in the Hittite myth Kingship in Heaven, Kumarbi challenges and mutilates the genitals of his own father, Anush, while Kumarbi’s own son Teshub later defeats him and goes on to rule universe.

Of course, we find none of this bloody, parent vs. child power struggle between the Christian god and Jesus. Jesus does not try to overthrow his father or snip off his genitalia (although, given the maleness of this god, we must assume anatomical correctness). Jesus, however, does get to share the keys to the divine kingdom, but only after dear old dad treats him to a bloody death on the cross, which is what ends up setting things right in the world… somehow.

No… Jesus and daddy don’t go head to head in Christian mythology. But the Judeo-Christian god still harbors significant insecurity regarding his rule. That is, he constantly struggles with his human children – cursing, destroying, punishing, and denying them the possession of knowledge and power. Divine jealously is what links the Judeo-Christian god to Zeus and Marduk.

As an aside, it is silly that these Star Wars-style fairy tales and ancient metaphors of rule and kingship still mean anything to rational people in this day and age. I myself have never seen or met a king or lord. I have never lived under a kingship or in a kingdom. I have never been ruled and so have no idea what the experience is like. Lords and kings and kingships are completely foreign to me. So I have no idea why Christians today try to communicate with me, others, and themselves in these and similarly archaic terms.

Artemision Bronze. Wikipedia.

I mean, I had a father growing up. So I somewhat understand what it might mean to say that some god or another is my ‘heavenly father’. But ‘lord in heaven’ and ‘kingdom of god’? No clue whatsoever. Such talk is to me as senseless as the Christian obsession with lambs, esp. Jesus as the ‘lamb of god’. What I am saying is that I couldn’t care less about lambs. I don’t find them particularly appealing or interesting. So why the hell do Christians try to convince me to join their cult with so much talk of lambs?!?!

When you tell me that Jesus is the ‘lamb of god’, what I hear this: “Blah bleo laoc lk eyznho euohdoa… lamb.” So please… just stop with the ‘lamb’ talk. And while you’re at it, cut out all the ‘lord’ and ‘kingdom’ nonsense, the references to the archaic ritual of ‘sacrifice’, and the creepy business about how eating god’s ‘body’ and ‘drinking’ his blood is going to bring me eternal happiness. The bleating of a lamb makes more sense to me than that sort of gibberish.

The “Lamb of God”

To wrap up: Even as the Greeks and Jews were telling myths to understand their world, early philosophers began to offer naturalistic explanations of the principles those stories represented. Instead of a violent struggle and succession of gods leading from chaos to order, Anaximander, for instance, argued that cosmic order consists in a balance of opposites (hot/cold, war/peace, justice/injustice, etc.), each side attacking and replacing the other according to a natural, impersonal cycle. No one side prevails for long before it is replaced by something else, which in turn will succumb to its opposition. This sort of explanation was meant to be a rational alternative to stories of anthropomorphic gods imposing order by dominating enemies and subjugating supposedly wicked human beings.

Anaximander relief. Wikipedia.

The same goes for myths themselves. Just like everything else, stories about the gods change over time as they are borrowed, inherited, assimilated, edited, censored, spun, omitted, transformed, die, and resurrect in new forms according to cultural, temporal, and geographical variations. The upshot is this: if one myth’s death is another’s birth, then I see no point in debating with believers. Even if you convince them of the absurdity of their beliefs, you’ll just end up with another, similarly ridiculous, story as the new supposedly authoritative tale.

I don’t want to give Christians any ideas on how to speak more relevantly to their modern audience, but I would not be surprised if two-thousand years from now rational people find themselves dumbfounded as to why the predominant religion of their time speaks of god as the ‘Divine CEO’ or ‘President in Heaven’. Maybe that will make about as much sense to them as ‘Lord’ and ‘King’ should make to us.

Oh. I get it. I’m a believer now!

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2014. All rights reserved.

Ritual: Observing a servile culture

“Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” — Frederick Douglass (“The Hypocrisy of American Slavery”)

I once visited a strange foreign land. I was shocked to witness its people habitually engaged in activities that seemed exceedingly irrational. It was amusing to observe how progressive and free they presumed to be culturally and as individuals. For, unknown to them, a deep-rooted tribalism of the most servile sort dictated most of aspects of their lives.

For instance, certain tribes would drill holes into their members’ flesh, highlighting the openings with pebbles of various shapes and sizes. Many of these members would also allow certain people to carve obscure sketches and symbols into their skin in exchange for goods and services. At first, those receiving such modifications would express discomfort, which led me to believe that the process was punitive. But upon completion, the subject would leap up with an expression of deep pride, quickly gaining admiration and praise from peers.

Oddly, the individuals involved in this rite seemed to assume that it provided them a means of self-expression and individuality. But nothing could have been further from the truth; for, the presence and style of the markings was always determined according to the expectations of the group. Indeed, the point of allowing oneself to be marked in such ways was to display the etchings as a sort of public announcement of belonging and boasting. Rarely, if ever, did those tags remain concealed and personal.

In addition to self-mutilation, loud barbaric noises were common as a method of proving one’s tribal identity, status, and supposed worth. One group, for instance, would move about public spaces while creating deafening roars with devices they had affixed to the flashy carriages on which they traveled. They would also wear flamboyant clothing, often stamped with the emblems of the tribe that assembled those carriages, thus marking their perceived territory both visually and sonically.

Many females of this land were perplexing. They would vigorously protest and make all sorts of noise whenever a male or members of some other tribe attempted to exercise control over their bodies. One almost got the impression that they were attempting to defend some sense of personal freedom. But that impression faded quickly, as the women would then proceed, out of shame and peer pressure, to decorate and dye their bodies in the ways that their own tribe (esp. the male members) expected of them. Hair, eyes, lips, nails, skin, artificial body parts, stilts to increase height — not a single aspect of their appearance could be considered free or personal. The males, in their own ways, also decorated their bodies according to the tribe’s expectations. But many also applyed such cosmetic modifications to their material possessions in an odd attempt to announce virility and prowess.

The raised pick up truck = the male equivalent of high heels.

Whenever an infant was born in this culture, the adults would not fully accept it unless a local shaman had taken a sharp rock and sliced away portions of its tiny genitalia, thus marking tribal membership in yet another bloody manner. Similar tribes would shun their newborns until a man who dressed differently from the rest had doused the helpless infant in water over which he had waved his hands. During these senseless rites, the infant would usually scream in pain or fear. But the parents and adult witnesses did not seem to care. After all, the pride that followed upon this fresh sense of belonging far outweighed, in their savage minds, the physical pain and distress they were inflicting on the child.

Stop mutilating me, sadistic morons!!

The selection of leaders in this culture was equally bizarre. Whenever the stars had returned to a certain position in the sky, certain loud individuals who happened to have more possessions (and thus power and status) than the others would stand before crowds of people while uttering certain sounds and performing certain gestures over and over, just as other such individuals had done so many times before.

This political ritual, I believe, was some sort of collective form of role-play in which tribe members would act as if they had power over their lives, much as a rain dancer attempts in his actions to recreate, and thus control the rain. The two most notable contenders in this game would pretend to oppose one another and behave as if they represented not only one tribe or the other, but also the entire population and its descendants. But the contenders themselves clearly had little in common with the people and rarely any clue or concern about what was really best for the community. The crowd would then divide into two halves, each side shouting at the other, often in mockery, though they were usually expressing the same ideas.

Following the shouting performance, members of each tribe would raise their hands to select one of two most notable individuals, while a group of chieftains from each tribe would pretend to tally the raised hands. For some reason, these exceedingly odd people believed that the best policy was always the one that the majority — no matter how slight — believed was best, as if there was some sort of mystical authority in larger numbers but not lesser ones.

When the ritual was complete, the new leaders would cease making those inspiring noises and gestures, often even proceeding to make opposite ones. They would then continue to preoccupy themselves with amassing possessions, power, and status, all at the common people’s expense — both those who did and those who did not select them to lead.

The two previously opposed tribes, however, would no longer care about the noises and gestures to which they had once reacted so passionately. Instead they would return to their daily routines, drudging through lives that this silly little ritual hadn’t improved much at all, and living right alongside members of the tribe they had not long before been conditioned to hate vehemently.

The single most perplexing aspect of this primitive society was its members’ apparent admiration for something they called ‘free-dum’. They appeared to believe that this idea was inherently important and necessary to their society — that is, if one can say that any idea at all lay behind what was largely inarticulate grunting. In fact, whenever the tribes selected their leaders, they would show most interest in those individuals who promised to protect the ‘free-dum’ of all tribes. The reality, however, was that the tribes were selecting leaders to restrict, suppress, remove, and trample ‘free-dum’ little by little. After all, the existence of this thing, which the leaders pretended to value so highly, in truth scared them and threatened their status.

Upon leaving this land, I was pleased to return to the rationality of my own world, where freedom and individuality would never succumb to socio-political pressure and tribalism. In retrospect, I concluded that the primitive obsession with social control I had witnessed was a defense mechanism. The fear of change and death was so strong among these tribes that they would do and believe anything to convince themselves that ritual gave them some sort of purchase on immortality. The bonds of unquestioned tradition — as these folks believed on a subconscious level — would always outlast the individuals forced to engage in it. Freedom, therefore, in their cave-dweller minds, was the equivalent of death and oblivion.

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2014. All rights reserved.

Servitude

This lyrics to the song ‘Servitude’ (Lyrics menu; see also music video under ‘Media’) are mainly about the tendency of society to idealize self-sacrifice and its hypocritical inability to follow that ideal. Think of how often you hear people draw attention to the supposed ‘service’ they have performed simply in order to get what they want:

  1. Want to fool the voters into thinking you give a damn about them? Brand yourself a humble ‘public servant’ at a fundraiser (then fly back home to your publicly-funded mansion on your publicly-funded jumbo jet under the protection of your publicly-funded bodyguards).
  2. Want to graduate? Well, ‘community service’ is required. Just ignore the fact that you’re being coerced into it. It’s a ‘do this or else’ sort of thing. Nevertheless, others will praise you for it. This is the point, right? Or not.
  3. Want to sell lots of pills or pizzas or health plans? Then constantly remind the public that yours is a ‘service-oriented’ company. Just say it, regardless of what it means or if it’s true, and that should be sufficient to make people like you and trust your product.
  4. Want to get on God’s good side? Two words: ‘Church service’. I have to admit, however, it is beyond my ability to comprehend how sitting in a building with others singing songs to a divinity constitutes ‘service’ — unless, of course, we view that divinity as some sort of Medieval Lord who demands song and dance from his serfs for… uh… his own entertainment? Then it almost makes sense, I suppose.
  5. Finally, what about ‘serving the company’ or ‘service to the profession’? When my father died, the funeral director recommended addressing his ‘service’ to his job in the obituary. I guarantee my dad didn’t see it that way. He had busted his ass for countless years for a paycheck, plain and simple. Nothing wrong with that.

Anyway, the problem with all this is that it’s brazenly hypocritical. People pretend to be sacrificing something important to them as if they’re noble and admirable; but in reality, they are using the labels ‘servant’ and ‘service’ to benefit themselves. And when they do so, society rewards them with a nice pat on the belly. This is, however, exactly the opposite of the self-sacrifice that service entails. It’s as if people use the words ‘service’ and ‘serve’ as passwords to prove they’re members of the ‘good people’ club. Beyond that, the terms are empty and meaningless.

This brings me to the second theme of the lyrics: symbol worship. It makes sense that society would care only to flash their ‘service’ to others as an empty token of their supposed virtue because society as a whole is obsessed with symbols over substance, container over content, image over reality.

Think again of all those dutiful Sunday morning worshipers kneeling before… not Jesus or God, but the so called ‘cross’. Bumper stickers, flags, logos, badges, uniforms, trademarks – none of these really says anything substantial about the thing or person bearing them. But they pretend to do so. If you’re a Christian, do you automatically respect those with crosses around their necks? Probably. Should you? Uh, no. No more than a Yankees fan should think he or she has anything significant in common with some random guy on the street sporting a cap that the Yankees corporation branded with their logo. And yet, such senseless solidarity thrives, all at the end of strings pulled by advertisers, corporations, politicians, and priests.

Basically, symbol-minded = simple-minded. Symbols replace thought. They are like the crack of the whip that a master uses to rouse a slave into action without question. The upshot? Society’s symbol-worship and praise of service reveal people’s secret desire to be dominated. They obsessively long for a lord and master to command them. They want to be controlled and released from the burden of thought. They desperately desire to ‘turn the other cheek’ like their idol, but can they?

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2015. All rights reserved.

Our Father

“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” — Mark Twain

The lyrics to “Our Father” (under the Lyrics menu on this site) are straightforward. They are comprised mostly of a variety of descriptions of the atrociously violent acts ordered, approved, or committed by the Jewish / Christian god in the so-called ‘Bible’. Along with the lyrics above, I have included hyperlinks to the relevant passages as they have been reprinted in over 100 different translations at BibleGateway.com.

Aside from “the Good Book” itself (New Oxford Annotated edition), I used as my secondary sources The Skeptics Annotated Bible and Dwindling in Unbelief. Both are excellent websites that I highly recommend for reliable information and humorous criticism.

I have to give credit to the author of these sites, Steve Wells, for having the stomach to rummage through the Bible to compile (and comment upon) the relevant stories. For my part, Judeo-Christian mythology is not something I exactly enjoy reading. In fact, I would rank the experience alongside the nauseous feeling I get when encountering any other racist propaganda or fascist desperation.

Equally distasteful is the fact that the Bible is in origin nothing more than one tribe’s attempt to divinely sanction and glorify its own existence to the (violent) exclusion of all others. Sure, other ancient cultures had similar myths. But compared to, say, the ancient Greeks’ Iliad and Odyssey, the Judeo-Christian form of self-explanation — with all its irrelevant pedantry, hypocrisy, verbal and narrative simplicity, barbarism, and absurdity — seems no more than the product of scared children and superstitious savages.

One thing I enjoy even less than reading the Bible is debating devout believers. Not a single rational argument is ever likely to convince such people of the absurdity of their beliefs because those beliefs are grounded in faith and authority, neither of which proceeds through anything even remotely close to reason, logic, evidence, clear fact, or common-sense.

For this reason, I don’t attempt to make a case here for why people should suspend their belief in the Bible. I desire to do this about as much as I want to explain to a bratty, snot-nosed little kid sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall why there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Instead, I am happy simply to offer these general reflections and, more importantly, to provide the convenient links to the various passages I reference in the lyrics.

“The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its waywardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon it a wanton cruelty. God’s treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all, when he commits them.” — Mark Twain

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2015. All rights reserved.

Contagion

“God is not to be feared, death is not a risk. It is easy to procure what is good, while what is bad is easy to endure” (Epicurean ‘Four-fold Remedy’).

Under the media menu of this site, you can find a link to a song that my friend Andy and I wrote (under the band name ‘Misanthrophile’) and the accompanying video I created for it. The lyrics to “Contagion” are in Latin. The lines I used are from the poem “On the Nature of Things” (De Rerum Natura), penned by the Roman poet Lucretius (94 BC – 55 BC). Lucretius was an ardent admirer of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who lived and taught in Athens roughly 250 years before the poet’s death. In light of his deep respect for Epicurus, Lucretius composed his 7400-line poem to expound the philosopher’s doctrines.

Epicurus bust. Wikipedia.

At the core of this philosophy was the secular, mechanistic view of the universe known as ‘atomism’. In particular, Epicurus (and Lucretius) argued that all that really exists are an infinite number of tiny atoms moving around empty space at random, colliding with each other and forming all the visible stuff and events that we experience in the world according to fixed natural laws.

The idea here is even more relevant to life today than it might seem. Lucretius’ overall intention, as that of his predecessor, is that a rational understanding of why things happen in the world as they do will remove our fear of the gods and of death, thus allowing us to attain true peace and happiness in life.

The human soul, for instance, being purely physical in nature and subject to natural laws, must die along with the body. As a result, Lucretius insists, we can experience no sensation at all after death. Death will be for us just like what it was like before we were born: absolutely nothing.

As for god, a perfect divine being must be content with its existence. This means that god can have no needs, desires, emotions, or worries. God would therefore have no reason to interfere with the workings of nature or human beings. This knowledge, in turn, should free us from the anxiety that comes from our efforts to worship god correctly and to live a righteous life – all in order to avoid everlasting punishment after death.

This is Epicureanism in a nutshell. Now, the lines I have used for ‘Contagion’ can be found at the end of the final book of Lucretius’ poem (book six). There, the poet describes in gory detail the horrific plague that devastated the population of ancient Athens during the Peloponnesian War (430 BC).

So how does this graphic plague narrative fit in with Lucretius’ mission to explain the mechanics of the universe and dispel our fear of the gods and of death? Keep in mind that Lucretius is attempting to explain the nature of things. This includes everything that might exist or take place around us: e.g., the earth, sky, stars, animals, humans, the soul, civilization, the gods, hallucinations, the seasons, meteorological phenomena, and supposed miracles.

The basic idea is that nothing comes-to-be from nothing or perishes into nothing, as if by supernatural agency. All things change, come-to-be, and perish because of the combination and separation of atoms, and all according to the immutable laws of nature. Not even god can influence or interrupt this natural flow of cause and effect.

Consequently, the various imperfections of the world must also have specific causes, especially the countless disasters that afflict humanity, seemingly for no reason, or in the eyes of believers, because of god’s wrath. For instance, Lucretius offers a natural rather than supernatural explanation of lightning, which was often seen to strike even the temples of the gods. Similarly, he explains volcanoes and earthquakes as the result of natural processes underneath the earth’s surface.

It is within this context that Lucretius turns to the plague. He reminds us that world was not made for us. Disease, he says, has a physical cause in the combinations of various types of atoms which accumulate and upset the balance of health. He also discusses what we know today as infection and contagion, as well as the influence of climate as a factor in the spread of disease.

Plague in an Ancient City, Michael Sweerts. Wikigallery.org.

As mentioned, Lucretius’ description of the plague’s symptoms is graphic. In addition to the lines that I have translated above, the poet describes anxiety, incessant retching, convulsions, and exhaustion. The sufferer’s body was cold to the touch, but the inside burned to the bone. Medicine was useless. Some people jumped into streams and wells in a futile effort to quench their constant thirst. Delirium and hallucination set in. Breathing was nearly impossible, and sweating profuse. Putrid blood flowed through the nose. After nine days of agony, along with uncontrollable twitching, coughing, and tissue deterioration, the victims would finally die.

The plague also had severe social consequences. Unburied corpses littered the streets. As soon as people got sick, they fell into frenzied despair. Ironically, many committed suicide. Those who dreaded death most refused to tend to the sick. But they too succumbed, as did those who tried to help the victims. Lucretius also describes parents stretched out over dead children, and dying children clinging to the bodies of dead parents.

Finally, and most relevantly, the temples and shrines of the gods were filled with corpses. Lucretius emphasizes how little believers’ reverence and worship of the gods mattered in the end. The entire nation was in terror, and lawlessness ensued. Some families even began to use other people’s pyres to burn their own dead, which often led to disputes and bloodshed.

Lucretius’ tragic picture of the Athenian plague shows us humankind at the mercy of natural forces beyond the power of their own knowledge, science, and religious customs. It depicts the inevitable suffering that human beings face in a world that was not made for them. Ironically, the power that comes from knowledge of the atomistic structure of the universe reveals the painful fact of our ultimate powerlessness within a hostile world. Most of all, the narrative strongly suggests that god does not care a bit about the welfare of human beings.


The occurrence of extreme, senseless suffering is not restricted to the ancient world. We need only turn our thoughts to the recent disaster in Nepal. We have all seen the clichéd memes on social networking sites expressing prayers for the victims and survivors of the earthquake. Such responses make even less sense than the disaster itself. If god has the power and will to alleviate human suffering, then why would he wait until enough people asked him to do so?

As my mother used to say, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” Nature is a cruel killer who indiscriminately attacks young and old, innocent and guilty, rich and poor, healthy and sick. Consider yourself lucky if you get through life without experiencing serious suffering, sickness, or misery. Only deluded, narcissistic fools would consider it a divine blessing granted specifically to them… and why? Just because they had gained divine favor by praying, kneeling, or chanting in the prescribed manner? So Jesus says: “Clasp those hands real tight, and get down on your knees, or I won’t help those little children I allowed to be crushed by falling debris!” Do I understand that right?

The specific function of a mind is to think — to figure things out according to common sense and reason. So what does reason say about all this suffering? Either god doesn’t know about it, doesn’t care about it, can’t stop it, or doesn’t exist. Those are the only options. Of course you could simply ignore the rational workings of your mind and cling to faith — convince yourself that god was ‘ready for’ the victims of the plague or the earthquake, or whatever other disaster.

You could convince yourself that the suffering all makes sense in god’s mind, but not ours. (Of course, leave out the part about how our own tiny, limited minds could know even that much.) Reassure yourself that despite the victims’ unspeakable suffering, it is all part of the plan of a god who loves them very much. But this is not love. Most of us had unquestionably loving parents who would never allow us to suffer in such ways if they had any say in the matter. Whatever was at work behind the scenes during the Athenian plague or the Nepal earthquake, it is not what any sane person would recognize as ‘love’.

I often say that faith is a mental illness. Of course, this metaphor is meant to be provocative. But the similarity between faith and delusion is striking. Faith is a matter of stubbornly denying whatever conflicts with one’s beliefs regardless of reason and common sense. An adult who goes through life refusing to accept conclusions that contradict what they simply feel to be true no matter how strong the contrary evidence is a person who is not using his or her mind in a healthy, sane manner.

Lucretius’ point is that a rational view of the universe allows us to see an event as horrific as the plague as far less of an illness than religion. Religion and the fear of death that inspires it are the real contagion.

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2015. All rights reserved.

In defense of cynicism

“There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist, except an old optimist.” — Mark Twain

It’s fair to say that in our culture a stigma exists against individuals who disconnect from society and religion (skeptics, misanthropes, cynics, atheists, etc.), all of which exhibit their own sort of cynicism in varying degrees. (Note: I’m not equating atheists with cynics. In fact, these days, a good number of atheists tend to be humanists and thus maintain positive feelings about society. It’s just that I don’t think in absolutes, so I don’t really believe there is such thing as a ‘cynic’. But there are varying degrees of cynical attitudes and perspectives. So on this view, atheists by definition are cynical about religion.)

As part of this stigma, society tends to see cynicism as some sort of disease, whether physical, psychological, social, or spiritual. Distrust is seen as a mental illness.

Consider the following examples:

  1. Distrust and an anti-social personality are key symptoms associated with what psychologists call ‘PPD’, or ‘Paranoid Personality Disorder’;
  2. Distrust of authority and anti-social behavior are key traits among conspiracy theorists, whom mainstream society has been trained to look down upon as a bunch of lunatics;
  3. Cynicism and pessimism are linked to higher rates of depressiondementiaheart diseasecancer-related deaths, and mortality.

Wow! Optimism — the true panacea, discovered at last! Of course, none of these articles considers, if there really is such a link, whether cynical personalities can in fact be changed and “cured,” any more than any other sort of personality. I certainly don’t recall ever selecting my particular personality. It’s just kind of what makes me… me, you know? But the point isn’t to understand cynicism. It’s just to make oneself look good by making cynicism look bad and blaming it for the supposedly bad things that happen. Hmmm… sounds exactly like what some in the optimistic crowd say about cynicism.

Google ‘cynicism’ and you will find yourself inundated with — what!? — intensely cynical reactions to cynicism. Ironically, however, it is not the cynics who have these reactions, but those bragging about, or at least implying, their own optimism or healthy idealism. What about ‘glass half full’? Here’s a list of the usual clichés:

Cynicism is: ‘for losers’, ‘lazy’, ‘selfish’, ‘a waste of intellect’, ‘a missed opportunity to improve the world’, ‘blind’, ‘unattractive’, ‘intellectual cowardice’, ‘a cop out’, ‘rooted in fear’, ‘unrealistic’, ‘toxic’, ‘pitiful’, ‘naïve’, ‘intellectual treason’, ‘cheap’, ‘impotent’, ‘contagious’.

So cynicism is for ‘losers’, is it? Aww, shucks. The last thing I want is to be called a ‘loser’. Goddamn half-empty glass… gonna make me unpopular. Remember name-calling as a child? The fact that so many adults cannot avoid perpetuating the label- and clique-mentality of high school kids is one thing that makes me especially cynical.

This sort of cliché, stereotyping, slogan-based criticism of cynicism also seems to be fashionable among late-night comedians:

  • “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us” — Stephen Colbert
  • “All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” — Conan O’Brien
  • “It’s all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.” — Craig Ferguson

This is strange stuff coming from sarcastic men whose job consists of deconstructing and ridiculing everything that comes their way. Maybe they feel guilty for creating hordes of mindless drones who believe they are gaining genuine political awareness simply by watching the late show. Or perhaps they see themselves as similar to smokers who warn their children not to smoke. Whatever the reason, George Carlin would be rolling over in his grave – if he gave a damn.

The problem with such reactions to cynicism is that they are hypocritical, trite, and grounded in unrealistic stereotypes. A particularly cynical attack on cynicism can be found here.

The author repeats the usual claims — that cynics are ‘cowards’, ‘lazy’, ‘afraid’, and somehow cultivate a false appearance of sophistication and depth. Oh no! Please don’t call me a coward!! Anything but that!! Of course, the author simply states all this and fails to back any of it up with specific examples or argumentation. Regurgitate those clichés!

Interestingly, this person also insists that if all the cynics and skeptics in America “made noise,” and worked actively “for the restoration of a democratic republic, justice, and the rule of law,” then things “would instantly change for the better.” You know, that sort of thing is very easy for a blogger, comedian, politician, or some other talking head to say because they get paid to spend their time and effort “actively changing the world for the better.”

I laugh at this sort of advice. It presumes that people adopt cynicism by choice and can just choose not to be cynical. Simply push the happy button in your soul and ‘bam!’ — you no longer notice or care about the insurmountable obstacle of lies, hypocrisy, and corruption in politics.

But seriously, such critics, if they really want to change attitudes, need to take a step back and reevaluate what they think is the cause of cynicism. I assure you it is not the cynic him or herself. If you want to fight cynicism, at least on the political level, then point that scathing finger at this sort of thing: here and here. Let’s not get distracted from the real problem.

“Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.” — Mike Royko

I mean, I get it. A representational form of government is largely incompatible with widespread cynicism and apathy. But more importantly, so are all the power, wealth, security, and status that accrue to political representatives. So the politicians need the talking heads to be cheerleaders, encouraging their mostly young, brainless, TV-watching audience to believe in the system, to hope for change, and to adopt other such useless states of mind. Go team!

Professional politicians and the mainstream media loathe the cynic because the cynic reveals their game for what it is. Such honesty threatens the illusions they must create to maintain power. And so, instead of facing the cynic’s criticisms head on, they attack an abstraction. They set up a token cynic, a straw man to knock down so they can appear caring and productive. Yet no one really exists exactly like the people they describe. Reality is far more complicated and interesting. But polarization sure is a nifty means of thought control.

A common cliché is that cynics are apathetic or lazy. Most cynics, however, I have ever known or have known about are hard-working, productive individuals who care quite deeply about what is happening in the world — at least more so than the many who wear optimism as a mask. They are just honest with themselves in admitting that they don’t have the faith that things can or will improve. You can’t force faith.

Another little platitude that passes as wisdom is that cynics live miserable lives, so we ought to refrain from being cynical. But this is like telling a gay guy he shouldn’t choose to find other men attractive. In the end, the stigma against cynics and those like them stems from the usual ignorance and prejudice of people who don’t understand what they fear. Cynics need not be miserable. Some are. Some are not. Some are sometimes. Some are severely unsatisfied with society or politics or religion, but perfectly happy in their personal lives.

A misanthrope, for example, can find satisfaction in knowing that he or she is conscious of the lies and hypocrisy that define society. Such individuals find true contentment, at least, in trying not to perpetuate the tribal game of make-believe. There can be pride in refusing to stick one’s head in the sand or to whitewash what can be very ugly facts about our social existence.

Speaking of make-believe, here’s a Christian take on cynicism, which pretty much sums up the sort of hypocritically discriminatory perspective from which society tends to represent the cynic:

“A cynic is self-centered. Jesus is self-giving. A cynic has a low view of humanity. Jesus died for humanity. A cynic builds himself up by mocking others. Jesus lays down his own life so others can be filled with life. A cynic assumes people in the end get what they deserve. Jesus does all He can to ensure as many as possible get what they do not deserve.”

This is great material — fuel for the fire. You just can’t make up stuff like this. It is as real as it is fake. The author concludes: “Don’t get me wrong, Jesus loves cynics. He died for cynics. But not just to save them; He died also to change them.” Why in the world god would require the brutal death of his ‘son’ to ‘save’ a cynic the author does not say. But perhaps that’s just me being cynical — you know, using my mind to think through the implications of astonishing claims.

Face it: Faith, not cynicism, is a mental disorder. The tendency to place unwarranted trust in religion, society, self-servinig politicians, and others is no different than childish fantasy.

I have always found the phrase ‘beating a dead horse’ to be delightfully cynical. Coincidentally, that’s precisely how I feel at the moment writing this. So I’ll just wrap up with another comedian’s quite sane assessment of faith:

“Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do.” — Bill Maher

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2015. All rights reserved.