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.

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.