Thursday, February 25, 2010

Always and Never

Women never shut up.
Men never listen.
Blacks can never be trusted.
Jews are always stingy.
Asians are always frail.
Whites are always boring.
Republicans never care about the poor.
Democrats never care about America.

It suddenly strikes me that the words "always" and "never" might be great indicators of the lizard brain at work. The lizard brain works at the instinctual level responding to fears and drives. It can only act on impulse. People are not lizard brains. They have lizard brains. It is simply a question of whether they serve their impulses or their impulses serve them. I'll go into that another time and if anyone knows any more about it, I'd love to learn.

But at any rate, why am I thinking about this? Facebook. Youtube. If I wanted to argue for the destruction of all our technology and a return to the age of naked savages with clubs and torches, I would use the internet as my strongest argument. In graduate school, one of my classmates was fascinated with technology and the concept of the singularity -- particularly the eventual union of all humanity into a single consciousness. Having seen Facebook threads, having seen Youtube comments, I can only shudder at the thought. Discussions on the internet have this unnerving tendency to degenerate into what amounts to be geysers of sewage spraying in every direction.

The words "always" and "never" have the ability to comfort a person in ways that empiricism simply cannot. Absolutes order the world, give it structure, tell you what your place is in it, require you only to nod your head and go along.

Arabs are always terrorists.
Americans always fight for freedom.
Arabs are always oppressed by the Zionists.
Americans are always after oil.
Atheists are always scientific.
Christians never think.
Atheists are always arrogant douchebags.
Christians are always persecuted for their faith.

Everything fits into categories. Nothing is left unaccounted for. The things that are left unaccounted for need no explanation. They only need to be explained away. That black swan isn't a swan at all because all swans are white! Logic now moves in reverse, a retrograde rationality.

If you wish to live life, the lizard brain must be subdued and made your servant. The impulses must be mastered. The fear must be mastered. Embrace uncertainty, venture forth into the darkness of not-knowing, of possibly-never-knowing, and set up your tents there. When you hear the questions howl in the night, don't run back to the warm, moist confines of mother's womb -- once you've left it, you can never go back -- instead go forward, always forward, and seek out the unknown.

Approach each moment, each instance, each atom with the knowledge that its distinct from every other. Your sample size is always one. Don't approach everything the same way. There may in fact be two of the same thing. I may be wrong. You won't know until you get there. I'll be working from the premise that if I want to get there, I'll have to get moving. If it makes sense to you, then get off your ass and go. If it doesn't make sense to you, if sitting still and waiting for the answer seems more reasonable, then sit and wait. But you must think. You must overcome the mind that knows only fear, thinks of only survival, can not give you anything more than survival. Is survival all you're after?

Pretty girls are always bitches. Or have boyfriends.
Good guys are always taken. Or gay.
Frat boys are always homophobic jerks.
Sorority girls are always sluts.

Premise #1: Life is infinitely rich and diverse. 
Premise #2: Homogeneity is wearisome. 
Conclusion: The diversity of experiences and facts in life is a gift from God.

"A ship is safe in the harbor -- but that is not what ships are built for."
-- John A. Shedd 

To enjoy this gift, we have to leave the harbor. A willingness to throw away what we know in order to gain what we don't yet know -- isn't this a premise to all learning? I believe it's a fair one. The classical physics that govern airplanes and billiards required minds to throw away the Greek theory of the elements. Quantum physics, Schrodinger's cat, requires us to discard the airplanes and eight-balls. What new mysteries yet unknown will require us to throw away quantum physics anew? Are you scared or excited? Do you want to shrink back or push forward?

"... don't be mad because it's all about progression/ loiterers should be arrested"
-- Jay-Z, On To The Next One

For me, I learned this experience when I took a gender politics course in grad school. Up until this point, I only received an unilateral education in gender politics -- conservative and Christian. I'm still not exactly sure what my motives were for taking the class. Was it because feminist criticism was the only major school of theory that I had no training in? I think I said that to some people. Was it because other people believed that those people, those gays, those lesbians, those people who love gays and lesbians, were so far away from God that they could never be brought back and consequently needed an intrepid adventurer like myself to go and win them for Jesus? Yes, I believe I thought that to myself a number of times too. Or maybe because it's the only class that could fit my schedule that semester. I don't remember.

But I do remember carrying a combative attitude to class every week in the early part of the semester. I can only express relief that I did most of the readings and as is my usual habit, waited around to get a sense of things before I spoke. Something changed in me. I began to see where they were coming from and the legitimacy of their arguments. These were serious thoughts and issues that needed to be considered. I burned with shame and anger that I laughed at Voddie's jokes. No, lesbians are not lesbians because they "can't get some." No gays are not failed attempts at "being men." I've seen too much to make that repulsive a joke. I have had a lot of great things happen to me in life, all of which I feel a deep indebtedness to God for, and right near the top is whatever work of the Holy Spirit caused me to walk a mile in feminist and LGBT shoes. I don't agree with them, particularly on political issues -- I remain adamant against abortion although not opposed to gay marriage (which isn't the same as supporting it), but I understand the issues far more fully now. And more importantly, I respect the origin of those issues. And I sneer at the ostriches in the pulpit, the ones who have never sailed real-life experience's stormy seas, the ones who say that we're the ones being persecuted when we comprise 90% of the population.

I wonder what kind of world we would have if we could all subdue our lizard brains and venture into the unknown. Last year I had an argument with someone over religion. I don't do much of this sparring anymore but he had been so aggressively douchey about it that I felt compelled to stand up. He eventually made this assertion that I could believe whatever I wanted because it gave me comfort.


Motherf*cking comfort. My religion, my belief in God has been the source of nearly all my greatest anxieties and angers in life. Love God? Sometimes I hate him. I love the Courage Wolf quote "Climb the highest mountain. Punch the face of God." because that's exactly what I want to do sometimes. Even the pains I experienced in relationships are attributable to my theological leanings. I certainly did not choose Christianity for Goddamned comfort.

But this assertion flew. As if he knew me! As if he understood me! As if he knew about my mental breakdown where I ran off into the stormy New England night, sprinting into the howling wind and pouring rain, lost in a park, with my cell phone battery dying, screaming obscenities into the sky until my throat was hoarse and punching boulders until my knuckles bled. Comfort. God damned, motherf*cking comfort.

But can I blame him? Christians, in debates, often assert that people don't want to be Christian because they want to continue to live in immorality. Hell, I made that argument many times in my early years. I made that argument to people I didn't know, barely knew and knew all my life. I followed a script. The whole world followed a script. But that was then. Here we are now. I grew. I moved forward. And now that I know, I'm resolved only to ever move forward.

Would you join me in this journey?

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