26 October, 2008

The People who Turn to God

27th October 2008

Everyone knows the case of the repentant drug-addict or alcoholic who “found God” and improved his life. Everyone knows of that person who was lost and then was found, by God. Who are these people who turn to God?

The people I mean to write about here are usually not raised religiously, and if they were, they weren’t religious themselves. Instead, they went through a real reflection about religion and God and what it meant. This is much harder when you didn’t grow up being accustomed to the idea of God.

Now, because these people turn to God after a crisis in their lives, many imagine that they merely “found a quick solution” and that faith is easy. “They didn’t care about God until they had problems in their lives,” is often said in a contemptuous manner. A lot of people didn’t care about God before they realised life was hard.

Does it mean those people are fools who just turn to God in an act of weakness? Not in my opinion. If your life is no great trouble to you, and you enjoy living, chances are you don’t ask yourself an army of existential questions on a daily basis. Why? Because when living is fun, you need no more reasons to live. However, when each breath you take is an effort, that’s when you actually start thinking about whether this life is worth the pain. It’s easy to live on when you enjoy the ride, but when it’s taking everything you’ve got, you need a goal. Your life is no longer its own reason and justification. You need more, or you’ll give up. It’s practically impossible to struggle for nothing; it’s much easier to confront bigger obstacles if you have a goal than smaller ones if you don’t.

Contrary to popular belief, faith isn’t a quick solution to your problems. You don’t just suddenly decide one day that God exists and that you need Him. Most of us can’t do that. And we don’t, unless we get seriously damaged and broken. It’s not only because people look for help and solutions, it’s mostly because people need to be driven. A life without meaning is infinitely harder to live than a meaningful one. Believing in God doesn’t mean you’ll know exactly what the meaning of your life is – nor that of the universe – but it will mean that you have a hope there is a meaning to both your life and the universe, and that both are interrelated.

The sad thing is that this new found faith is looked at with suspicion and even scorn. On the one hand, people assume the faith is worth nothing because it was gotten in a time of distress; on the other, these new believers are thought to be hypocrites, for mostly the same reason. Often, you don’t know what you really need before you lose it. Most often, you don’t know the worth of things before they’re gone. You become aware of your mortality more easily when someone close to you dies, or when you are severely injured, or afflicted with a fatal disease, that’s only logical.

I remember my High School French teacher. She was a very intelligent woman with a strong character. One day, I discovered she was a Christian, which, to me, back then, was mutually exclusive with “intelligent”. And I remembered a story she told us once, about her daughter. Her daughter had leukemia and slowly died because of it. She was a young girl, maybe ten or twelve. Our teacher told us that for an entire year after her death, she cried every night. I don’t know whether she was a believer before this tragic event, but chances are she wasn’t, though that’s only a guess. The point is that if your own child died this way, you’d be seriously upset at life, and you would demand a reason. You would need some sort of an explanation, because you can’t live without one anymore. That’s when it becomes important that life actually make some sense.

So yes, broken people are more likely to turn to God than happy people. This isn’t because broken people are weaker, it’s because they faced the less pleasant sides of life. Demanding to understand what this whole life is about is not a sign of weakness, but of a healthy mind. You’re not a piece of wood, you have emotions and ideas, and thoughts, and you react to this world. The stronger you react doesn’t mean the weaker you are, not at all. No one is similar in the face of pain, and some of us will be enormously affected by what someone else would find easy to go through. Pain is not comparable, you’re your only standard.

Understand that sometimes you need a slap in the face to look at something in a fresh way. You need to be broken to be mended. You could compare that with minor and major depression: while a minor one will let you function like everyone else for years, it’ll slowly eat you inside, whereas a major depression will hold you down until you fix it. Sometimes a bigger crisis is better, like a full fracture is better than a partial one (or so I’m told).

I’m not suggesting that you should seek pain or anything like that. I don’t think anyone will be spared pain, it just varies in degrees. The point is to learn from it, discover needs in yourself you didn’t know existed, and solutions you never thought of.

23 October, 2008

“Vir Dolorum”

23rd October 2008

Lorenzo Monaco (circa 1370 - 1423), 1405. Tempera on wood.

I went to a museum yesterday, and saw this, and wanted a picture of it. If I were rich, I'd have bought the painting, but as it is, I bought the postcard. I realised there was no image of this online, so I scanned the postcard and here it is.

For all I know, this is a rather unusual pose of Christ, with His arms on Himself, and it intrigued me. Plus He is a beautiful Christ.

As to the title, with my little Latin knowledge, I think it may mean "man of pain" or "suffering man", or something like that. "Vir" means "man", as in "virility", but it may also mean "life", though I am unsure (I think not).

So, after this brief description of the painting and how it got to here, let’s get deeper. But before I do, let’s make sure you understand I primarily intended to just show you this painting, because I couldn’t find it anywhere else on the internet. I am no specialist of that period of time, and no art historian.

What first struck me with this painting was the fact that Christ doesn’t have His arms in a cross shape, as is usual. Then I noticed the colour of His skin, and His face. So what of all this? First question is what kind of Christ is this. If you pay attention, you’ll know it’s the dead Christ, because He does have the Holy Wounds. Look at His visible hand: there is a stigmata in it, which implies this is after His Crucifixion. Also, and equally discrete, is the spear wound in His side (our left, His right).

If you want to be a realist to the extreme, you will argue that such a tiny hand wound has been caused by a rather diminutive nail, and that no nail this size could support the body of a grown man. Many among you know that a nail in the palm like this would not be able to bear the weight of Christ. Still, many among you also know that the word for “hand” used in the Gospel included the wrist in the definition, and that a nail in the wrist could support the weight.

The deathly hue of Christ’s body suggests His being dead more than the wounds do. In the background, you can see the Cross, although it is mostly hidden by Christ’s halo. I love this painting because Christ seems so peaceful in this (and that isn’t a typical characteristic of the dead, some are, some aren’t) and I don’t know, this has what most classical paintings don’t have. A something special. His eyes look almost Asian, like some Western Buddha of sorts. And His features are at the very least rather feminine. Christ is rarely depicted as a muscular type of man. His nipples and navel are very faded-looking, perhaps a suggestion that those human attributes are further away from Him than they are for regular humans – given that a navel is the perpetual reminder that you were once a fetus, and that nipples mark you as a feeding creature, if you’re a woman, and that, if you’re a man, you have once been a female as a fetus – but it could also simply be that those elements faded because of the passage of Time.

One thing I confess I am ignorant of is this pink-looking basin at the bottom of the image. I don’t know what it could be. Perhaps it is a bathtub of the kind they used in the Renaissance, which maybe they used to wash the Body of Christ, because you obviously don’t see any blood on this corpse. It’s only a guess, other paintings depict Christ on the Cross itself and there is no blood to be seen either, so it is arguable.

Back to the arms. Usually, Christ has His arms outreached, because of the Crucifixion (even though this isn’t one) and I have never seen Christ portrayed with this pose. In this one, He seems to protect Himself. This Christ looks like a baby in his sleep. This is after His Passion, but before His Resurrection. It is a still moment of peace before the great change.

I hope you appreciated seeing this painting.

17 October, 2008

Retro-Gaming and Free Online Games

17th October 2008

Nowadays every game that comes out, on consoles and computers, has a massive plot, hordes of characters, is produced like a Hollywood movie, and takes you large amounts of time to play. Moreover, they’re always in 3D.

My own parents gave up on videogames the day they became tridimensional. Videogames used to be simple, in the 80’s and early 90’s. A few buttons were enough to play for hours, you didn’t always know what the plot was, and you didn’t always care, and the pixelised quality of the games left much room to your imagination.

Now, what you see is mind-blowing, what you hear is just as convincing as any sound from the world outside the screen. Videogames have become too real for some of us, and thus, some of us resort to retro-gaming and free online games.

A perfect example of this is me. I played the latest Mario Kart game, the Wii one, and no matter how hard I tried to convince myself it was good, it wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t even try to convince myself, I knew it was crap. My immediate reaction was to pull out the old Super Nintendo, and pop in the first of the Mario Kart games. That game is from 1992 if my memory serves me well. And you know, I think it’s a better game. It’s not only because I played it as I grew up, but also because you actually get some sensations playing this – once you get used to the weird flat land you roll over and how it spins, which at first will not look real at all, but you get used to it.

Sometimes all you want is a little fun in a videogame. I’m not always interested in reading a 200-page manual on a game just so I can play it. Even chess doesn’t require that much. Nor does poker, nor does Tetris. You get my point. (And yes, learning the rules of this game is fast, mastering them takes much longer, I know.) This is when free online games come onto the scene. What are the advantages of these? First of all, obviously, they’re free. So whatever happens, you know you won’t be tricked because the worst case scenario is that you’ll lose a minute of your precious time before you realise the game sucks. But if it doesn’t, you may have many hours of quality gaming and a lot of fun, for free. Another advantage is the amount of games available online. There are hundreds! And new ones come out daily. That way, if you get bored with them quickly, there are always new ones to get bored with. Kidding, many of them are quality games, even if they are very simple. Yet, not all are simple. And I suspect they will get more and more complex with time, but I also hope they won’t end up like the mainstream industry, which I don’t think they will because a single person can create any sort of game online now, so you’ll always have these simple yet compelling games.

As far as retro-gaming is concerned, pulling out your old consoles is not the only way to retro-game. The Wii has what it calls a “virtual console” and that allows you to purchase old games online, and download them on the Wii. I’ve played numerous old games this way, and that’s actually what I like best about the Wii. You can even buy old games from other consoles, such as the Sega Genesis, which is fantastic for my generation because back in the day, the early 90’s, every kid had to side for either Sega or Nintendo, and I, seeing through the bullshit, sided with Nintendo. Now I can look down on all my ex-classmates who worshipped Sega and Sonic and tell them how owned they are now that I can buy Sonic the Hedgehog on my Nintendo Wii. Take that, bitches. (That said, most of them probably have a job and a real life, and wouldn’t much care about it...)

If you don’t have an antique console to dig up from your attic, and if you don’t have a Wii either, you still have the opportunity to get free vintage games; a category known as “abandonware”. These are games whose rights have expired, and which you can get for absolutely free. Typing “abandonware” on Google will lead you to countless sites offering those free games. Games that you had to pay for 80 dollars ten years ago can now be had for nothing! All the classics of the past decade and more can be gotten for nothing more than a rather fast dowloading. Well, except the Lucasart games, whose rights are maintained.

Most of my gaming time is now spent on free online games because they’re usually more creative than mainstream games, and much more free. You can afford goofiness in such games, and more creative experiences, which you can’t when you work on a game that costs millions to produce and which is expected to bring millions back home. I still play mainstream games, though, it’s just that they have very different things to offer, and sadly, no one would release a simple game on one of these leviathanesque consoles. People would laugh to have a 2D game on the Playstation 3 or 360 X-Box. They still create those games for portable consoles, though. Why don’t they release a game which would be a collection of hundreds of small games? It may happen in the future. So many of those free online games are pure genius that I just can see the day when anthologies begin to unfold. I’m very happy about that because it is a true renaissance of the art. Back to basics, with a twist.

Now I will shut up and list games that I really enjoy and wish to share with you. I’m going to post this chapter right now, so at first there won’t be anything, and then the list will casually grow. Enjoy!


Bike Mania

This is a very simple yet difficult game. Only 4 keys to use: move forward, backward, lean forward, lean backward. There are two sequels to this game, which you can find easily through Google.

Bloons Tower Defence

Probably the series of games I played most. There are three episodes, so far, for all I know, and I've loved everyone of them. That game is a "Tower Defence" type of game, and I really adore those. Basically, you have to keep enemies from reaching a certain point, by placing sentries about the path that leads to that certain point. Bloons uses monkeys with darts, and other devices. Hours and hours of fun to be had.

Fancy Pants Adventure

This is probably one of the best, if not the best, plaftorm game I have played for free online. It's wonderfully well made, a ton of fun, and charming.

Dino Run

This game has a pixelised esthetic to it which I totally dig, and it's a good game too. You're basically a little dinosaur who must escape the apocalypse. It's a gripping game, very simple to play, but damn gripping. You won't stop playing before you're safe.

14 October, 2008

Is There a Point to Literary Criticism ?

14th October 2008

I’ve studied literature for a good number of years, in a university, and I have often wondered if there was a real point to it. What is the use of literary criticism?

When you study computers, physics, and the likes, or intend to be a doctor, a psychologist, and all those things, you know what you’ll do later on. And you know it will be useful and serve a purpose. When you’re a literature student, you think maybe you’ll be a teacher and teach literature to people. People who will then... become teachers too, perhaps. On and on. But why?

When you write books of literary criticism, your only audience is students and teachers, and the occasional insane fan of whoever author you discuss. It feels like feeding a self-eating snake to me. There seems to be no direct purpose except perpetuating itself. Don’t get me wrong, I love studying literature, I’m just wondering about the point of it beyond being an interesting thing to do.

I do believe teachers should have gone to university before teaching the mandatory classes (pre-High School and all), in that case it would make a lot of sense, but I’m more focused on people in the academy staying in the academy and writing for the academy. Is there really a point in dissecting novels and poems?

I always love discussing things, so my initial impression is that it’s cool to do so. But then you see the sort of criticism people come out with, and you wonder if it adds anything to those novels and poems. Most of the time, you don’t really want to know what academics have to say about your favourite novel because your personal experience of it is more important to you. And that’s something the academy disregards: your personal experience of a work of art. They almost forget that a book is an experience in your life, not just a text that you can analyse. I’m all for analysing, but we have to go all the way, and analyse analysis.

I don’t think any serious author writes and assumes that his work will not be complete before a horde of academics write about his books. That’s preposterous. Moreover, people who read, say, Hemingway, don’t really go on to read literary criticism about his stories. You read the stories. Then if you’re curious, you may check some of the criticism, but I don’t think most people will do that. I typically don’t, I’d rather read the primary work of another author. So basically, we read criticism if we are either students or teachers. That’s alright, most people don’t read specialised literature in any field unless they study it, or unless they have a crazy interest in it.

The problem I have is about what you do with this education. The reason why I studied literature was so that I would learn about literature, in order to be a writer. In my case, I have a specific goal and I know where I’m going. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have studied literature, I think.

It seems to me that studying literature only has indirect effects on your life. When you study psychology, you can become a psychologist and help people. When you study science, you can become a researcher and make things evolve. When you study literature, you can help others to study literature. But to what end? I would say: to enhance people’s critical sense, open their minds to subtleties they may not have been aware of, and so on. But that’s hardly comparable to solving someone’s neurosis, or broken leg, or inventing a new motor for spacecrafts. Creating art and touching people with it, however, is definitely comparable. I am more thankful to Salinger for having written what he wrote than I am to the man who invented zippers. Zippers are cool, but if I had buttons instead of them, it wouldn’t have made a huge difference in my life. Removing The Catcher in the Rye and Salinger’s other books would have made a much bigger impact on me (or lack thereof, if you want to be picky).

This reminds me of a passage from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, in which she and her boyfriend discuss their respective vocations. He studies to be a doctor, she wants to be a poet. He says poetry is just paper, is just dust. She says, to herself, later on, that people are just dust too, if you want to see it that way, and that making someone’s body feel better through medicine is not more important than making someone’s soul feel better through poetry, and more generally art. I of course agree with that. There is a very real need for art, and art definitely has a purpose. And I find it sad that in our age, having a purpose is sometimes perceived as a negative thing. Art being meaningful and making sense, and touching you, doesn’t make it bad art. Some of you have to get off your high horses of stupidity and get some common sense. See my chapters on Post-Modernism and Remodernism for more on art.

Back to literary criticism. I wrote a ton of essays throughout my academic career, and I don’t feel like they were much of use to anything or anyone. No matter how good they are, who is going to read them except the teachers whose classes I attended? And suppose I somehow get chosen for an anthology of essays, who’s gonna read that? Teachers and students specialising in whatever topic or subject I wrote about, and nobody else, and even those won’t be very thrilled, it’d just be work.

I am aware that in other countries, studying literature implies more things than it does here; things like creative writing, journalism, and many other fields which actually are more obviously useful and pragmatically more satisfying.

I’m just scared that academics spend their time masturbating their brains and being paid for it, while not bringing anything substantial to the rest of us. And self-perpetuation is not a valid reason to exist. Studying to become a teacher to then teach students who will become teachers too, I don’t see the point.

All in all, I know it’s useful, as it has been to my life, but it’s rather nebulous, and hard to focus on practical endeavours, unless, like me, you write, in which case my studies were very useful to me. I would have taken creative writing, but we don’t have this option in my country. Studying literature was the next best thing.

13 October, 2008

On Writing Horror

13th October 2008

Most of what I will say here will also be applicable to horror in movies, but more on this more specifically later on. So, what is the core of horror? I would imagine it is fear. And what is fear? I would imagine it is tension.

Tension is what you want to have in a horror story. I’ll give you an example of what not to do. In a horror story involving the supernatural, you usually have one supernatural entity, or capacity. Perhaps some demon from Hell was summoned accidentally, or someone with bad intentions obtains special powers. That’s one thing, and tension happens between our regular realistic world and this new element. That’s a different type of tension than strictly the fear-tension, but it’s related. Now, if you’re Stephen King and you want to screw that tension up, here’s what you do: you introduce other such entities or capacities that should be unique. Suppose we have a story in which a demon from Hell is summoned, then a group of people team up to fight it. So far, so good. But then, being King, you decide that your group of heroes suddenly have telepathic powers, and, since you suck, you don’t root that special capacity to the same origin the demon has, thus making two specific supernatural entities/capacities and stretching the tension between your realistic world and something wholly other beyond its strength. The tension breaks, and you got nothing left.

Another better example is this: suppose one of the band dies in a fight with the demon from Hell. Now, out of the blue, that character is resurrected out of some group capacity the team has. That would be a third special capacity thing within our realistic world thing, and that too would kill the tension. Why? Because if a character that dies can be revived, then what could not happen? At this point, you expect anything and everything, which means you are no longer under tension, because your story is limitless. Whatever problem our main characters face, you know the author can pull out any insane trick out of his sleeves and solve it. Thus, you don’t feel tension, and you don’t much care about the plot either because anything can happen, at any point.

This is why I recommend you stick to one very specific entity or capacity that would be endowed with the “wholly other” and such numinous qualities. That is, if your setting is “our” world, our realistic world, our usual reality. If your setting is fantastic and all, you will yourself decide what is usual and what isn’t, but it won’t be obvious to readers before you delineate it yourself.

It’s easier to create tension in a written story than in a movie, because in a story, you give out the information exactly how you want, and you can have such scenes as having your character face the creature (or any numinous entity) and yet not give out what the creature looks like. In a movie, they would show you the character from the point of view of the monster or something along those lines. The point is, it’s easier not to show in a narrative than it is in a movie. An image speaks a thousand words, they say, and in the case of horror, it’s not always an asset.

To create tension, you have to have limits. These limits are what will give a sense of reality to your story, even if there are insane creatures in it. If you have children, you know that babies find limits comforting and reassuring because where they come from, the womb, all was limits, and once out of there, their insecure limbs can waver to every direction and not find any. (And I don’t have children.) This is why it is recommended to wrap your new born baby in a blanket that somehow recreates what the baby is used to. Similarly, some animals feel more secure in the darkness of a blanket than otherwise, when captured. True story.

How do you create limits? You make it clear what is possible and what isn’t, and you stick to it. Once the rules are established, you don’t fuck it all up with some new super power coming out of nowhere, because that will change all the rules, and it will in essence destroy the tension of your story because the reader will have to rearrange everything, and the reader will also know that you may again destroy that structure in later pages, because if you did it once, you can do it twice. There’s no guarantee, and that too will be the hallmark of a bad story.

This is a fault I find in Stephen King and Philip K. Dick, even though I never read an actual novel by King. I did see many of the films, and I know the basic plots, which is all I need now. (And please keep in mind I’m not attacking King, I’m only using what I know of his work to illustrate my point, so if you’re a fan and you hate me for dissing your hero, please forgive me and recommend a book of his for me to read; we can be friends.) For instance, if you have seen this most impressive movie Blade Runner (1982), and you then read the Dick novel it’s based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? well you know what I mean. In the novel, there’s a whole series of such “capacities” that don’t appear in the movie, thankfully, because that’s too much. If there’s an android theme in your movie, you will not want to add some mystico-religious pseudo paranormal virtual reality experience. Have one big theme and explore it to the full, that is much better than a gazillion half-assed themes. For Dick, it’s never enough to have drugs that make you live in a virtual reality, and have a man back from the limits of our universe, you also have to have people with special brain gifts such as divining the future and other medium-like abilities. Too much causes your tension to break.

A perfect example of this is Alien and Aliens. Respectively by Ridley Scott and James Cameron. In the first movie, you have one alien in one spaceship. In the second movie, you have thousands of aliens over an entire planet. Don’t get me wrong, both are good movies; they just are different. Cameron went for an action movie, and it worked great. Scott was going for something else, and he understood what I mean by having limits: one single numinous entity, one single location which you can’t escape. That’s how you create tension: you give clear and indestructible limits (and you do NOT destroy them later in the story!).

I am reminded of a horror thought I had when I was a child, by which I mean, when I was a child, I had a traumatic imaginary life. I’d be terrified of nightmares, and when I had them, they were the stuff of Hell. This one thought I had was about being chased around my house by some evil old man, looking somewhat like a zombie. I don’t recall exactly what this person looked like, but the focus of my thought was about speed. And the strange thing was that it seemed scarier if the evil person was slower. Why? I think it might be because if the evil entity is slower, it gives you more opportunity to escape, thus creating more tension because it becomes your responsibility to effectively flee, or fail to flee. A faster creature would get to you in an instant, and there wouldn’t be much tension in that, and on top of that, there wouldn’t be much time to feel this tension. Thus, a weaker creature is not necessarily less scary. Think of zombies! The slowness of zombies is usually counter-parted by their number. If you had just one slow zombie, it’d make for a pretty ridiculous story, but when you have hundreds, it works. If those hordes of zombies were extra fast and efficient, you’d have your characters killed in about twelve seconds. Not recommended, unless your characters have some weapons or situation that counter-balances that. It’s all about balance and tension.

Imagine another example: you’re in a huge hotel that’s entirely empty except for you... and a psychopathic killer, somewhere. Now that’s tension. To screw this up, let’s add 200 psychopathic killers to this hotel. You get the idea right away. You should be in a far worse situation, yet it’s not as scary. The fact is that, as Andy Warhol pointed out and demonstrated, repetition lessens whatever is being repeated. Instead of one numinous killer, you got 200 non-scary killers, and they become one abstract mass which itself might be scary, but in a very different way. You lose focus by having so many bees in your hive.

To conclude, remember to create and maintain tension by imposing limits on your characters and story. There must not be some silly deux ex machina trick to save your characters, they must pull themselves out of it. With a clearly limited character or situation, you create suspense and tension, because you know what can and what cannot be done, and should you be surprised, it should only be because of the ingenuity of the author, not by his giving his characters out of the blue new special powers.

I hope this was interesting to you.

10 October, 2008

Reflections on the Past

10th October 2008

Directly related to the previous chapter – The Retrospective Age – this present chapter will be about how we deal with our own past, on an individual basis. And since I am only one individual, myself, this will be about how I consider my own past. Nothing too personal though, at least, nothing you can’t relate to.

When you feel your past was mostly wasted, and that you didn’t live as much as you wish you had, you feel rather bad, like you have lost something that you will never get back. But let’s see how that goes with a great past. You regret that it’s gone, because you’ll never get it back either. Different pasts, similar results. So basically, whatever kind of past you have, it makes you sad. Although, you can see it from a different angle: my past sucked, and I am glad it’s over with. Does that work? You tell me. Personally, I find that everything in my past makes me sad, whether it was sad, because it was sad, or good, because it’s over. There seems to be no escape from being sad about the past. Except maybe to simply look ahead.

Sometimes I live with the illusion that one’s past condenses into something, and that if I had had a great past, it would solidify into a solid block of happiness which would sustain me on a daily basis. But as I said before, if someone had such a block of happiness, in sad times, they could look back on it and feel extremely depressed that they have no such happiness right then. The present moment is all, the past is only remembered.

So what matters is right now, yes? It doesn’t do to try to live your entire past in this moment, because it can’t be done, and whichever way you go about it, you end up being sad. Which brings me to this puzzling question: how long is the present moment? How much time between it being present and then passed? I don’t have a clue. So anyway, next.

If looking back always makes us sad, we might as well look ahead, correct? But then that too can have its problems. You may worry about your future, rather than look forward to it. So we should really stick about the present moment. But I digress.

I don’t know where to go from here.

09 October, 2008

The Retrospective Age

9th October 2008

I began reading Nature by Emerson, and here is the first paragraph of the book:

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Pretty cool uh? I haven’t read a whole lot of Emerson, but every time I read something of his, he kicks massive amounts of ass. The sun shines today also! This passage could still be said today, because we still are a retrospective age, more so than ever before. I don’t think any generation was more aware of the past than we are. Back in the 19th century, they didn’t have all the technology we have today to be exposed to the past. Now we have movies, documentaries, videos on YouTube, countless books, countless websites, etc. And if you look around you, you will notice how the past is regarded with almost sanctified respect.

For instance, I can easily picture the 50’s, and the 60’s, the 70’s, and especially the 80’s. The 90’s, I still sort of can, but way less easily. The 00’s, I wouldn’t know. I mean it’s definitely not as obvious as the 80’s, for example. That said, I think I already wrote about this in some other chapter.

The idea that we live through traditions rather than an “original relation to the universe” is very true. Today we have more knowledge about the universe than we ever had before, how many us look at the stars at night regularly? We think we know so much, and we forget to simply look. Our big knowledge only helped us think we had it figured out, and that some scientists could explain it all if we just asked them to, but the truth is that there isn’t a point where you “know” for real, because every new discovery brings new questions, and I don’t feel like reality has an end. And knowing parts of something infinite is the equivalent of knowing nothing at all, so we know nothing at all. We just live with the illusion that we know. Can anyone explain gravity?

Someone famous said we were dwarves on the shoulders of giants. I wrote before that this was not true, and that we were dwarves on the shoulders of other dwarves, who also were sitting on the shoulders of other dwarves, and so on and so forth. Now we’re sitting so high, we don’t even remember what the ground looks like. Why should you look at the night sky in wonder when some army of unknown astronomers already have mapped it all out?

Another example is this: if someone has a vision of Jesus or Mary, or God, and tells their priest or pastor, or else, they won’t be given any credit. A lot of Christians believe that time’s up for miracles, that it only happened in biblical times, and now it’s over. We seem to have more faith in a past we never lived in than in our own time.

And it’s true! When the war in Iraq began, in 2003, all I could see in my fellow students, who were going on strike and marching inside the hallways of our university (likely the stupidest place to protest, since 99% of the students were already against the war), was an intense desire to be the rebellious youth of the 60’s protesting against the Vietnam War. A lot of people in my generation seem to live in the 60’s in their heads, and this was a occasion not to miss: a war to revolt again. That’s why I didn’t protest at all, because for one I didn’t think it’d have any effect (I don’t live in America, and my country isn’t mighty, so even if we managed to convince our government, which is highly unlikely, they would have a hard time convincing the USA) and to see the pleasure my fellows had in re-enacting the 60’s just made me want to puke. Everything they did was mostly about telling each other jokes about Bush and then smoking pot, with Jimi Hendrix in the background. I’d have gone for Hendrix, though, but my fellows probably didn’t know Hendrix was for the war in Vietnam. And maybe you didn’t know that either, but now you do.

Another symptom of our age being retrospective is that we count on others for a lot. For instance, most of us, if not all of us, can’t build their own home and produce their own food. Not so long ago, people knew how to do all that. They built their own homes and produced their own food. If you dropped the average Western family in some place with nobody else, they’d have a very hard time, and would probably be dead in a week. You know how to use a hammer, but can you produce a hammer? You can use a computer, can you build one? You eat meat, have you ever killed an animal and would you know how to prepare it?

We use so many things we know almost nothing about, it should scare the crap out of us. None of us is independent anymore, and that could be a good thing. On the other hand, it’s not. Reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, I learned that a single man could produce his own food, and build his own house, all on his own, and have enough to live on. On top of that, he had far more holidays than we have. This means that if you’re a homeless person, you can start growing your own food and build your own house and you’ll be doing fine. Thoreau did it, so it can be done. I’m very impressed at Thoreau for all that. If you dropped me in Walden with nothing at all, I don’t guarantee I’d be able to build a house and grow my own food. But that should be taught to us, don’t you think? Why doesn’t school teach us useful basics? They teach us crap we’ll never use, but they don’t teach us about the laws and the many, many ways in which we can get screwed during our lifetime. Maybe they don’t want us to know how things work, nor do they want us to be independent and not need them. Thoreau was thrown into jail because he refused to pay his taxes, because he didn’t see why he should have to pay taxes since he took nothing from the country.

Let’s take an example from my delightsome country, Switzerland. When you withdraw money from your bank, they charge you a very small fee if your withdrawal is under 100 dollars of worth. Someone figured this out, and every time they wanted to withdraw money, they did the following: they withdrew 200, took what they needed, and put everything back in the bank, to the surprise of the banker. If you want 10 dollars, you’d better take 120, and give back 110, that way you don’t get charged. Now, isn’t that a vicious trick to take money from people? It is. In my world, doing that should be criminal. It’s nothing more than a vulgar trick.

Naturally, I never learned that banks did that sort of thing in school. They do nothing to arm you against society. And this is one reason why most governments would rather take the people’s guns away from them. I’m no member of the NRA, but I see the point of letting people keep their weapons. If one day you have to storm the White House, you won’t want to go there with a shovel or a kitchen knife. And I seriously think some governments deserve to have their asses kicked. The thing is, we have level of living that doesn’t make us go crazy enough for us to storm our governments. It’s both good and bad. It’s tolerable, I guess. They do us in the butt, but they use vaseline, so we let them.

Instead of revolting, we look back and worship past revolutions, and past revolutionaries, even when they were absolute assholes. We need to get some faith in our own age, people.

Pedophile Priests: Suffer the Little Children

9th October 2008

Nowadays, the Catholic Church is mostly known for its eerie tendency to molest children. This is a very sad fact, and it raises some questions, which I will attempt to address here.

That priests have molested children is a fact we cannot ignore, nor can we ignore that they seem to be legion amongst the Church. (And yes, I chose my words intentionally, for those of you who remember the Gospel.) So what is it about the Catholic Church and pedophilia?

One theory I regularly hear is that priests become pedophiles through sexual frustration due to their mandatory celibate. I can speak on that count, personally, because I have gone through over 14 years of intense sexual frustration, and I have not become the least bit of a pedophile for so much. Therefore, I don’t think this would be the explanation. You never know, though, but that’s not the first thing I think of when it comes to explaining this problem.

Here’s my take on it. Suppose you are a pedophile, and you intend to molest children. How will you go about it? My guess is that you would try to secure a position where people trust you, and one where you can be with children. A priest obviously has high respect because of the religious nature of the job, and you are in contact with children. Besides, if you’re a pedophile and don’t feel attracted to women or other adults, being a priest will “explain” why you never date and never have a partner. People will think you’re a good priest, when in fact, you just don’t lust after adults. No one will ask you nosey questions about your personal life because everyone will assume you don’t have a relationship of any kind, and that if you had, being a priest, you’d not talk of it. Thus, the position of a priest seems ideal for a pedophile.

Now we need to address something. Often, people have a very sympathising view of the pedophile. They think of him or her as a poor person who deserves pity and understanding. The truth is that, simply, most of these pedophiles who molest children just want to fuck kids. And they don’t care. Most of you didn’t have the sinister opportunity to talk with pedophiles who molest children, but the fact is there: they just want to fuck children and enjoy it. No concern for the child. None whatsoever. And let’s be honest, if they had any concern for the child, they’d not molest kids, simple as that. I don’t doubt that there are pedophiles out there who never molest anyone and never would. I’m addressing those who do. They know what they’re doing, they just don’t care about their victims. They want sexual gratification and pleasure, and nothing else matters. Don’t be fooled by our age’s tendency to explain everything away with psychology and other rationalisations: these people know what they are doing, they’re not insane.

All pedophiles intending to molest children will attempt to find a job which brings them close to them, that’s only logical, and it’s backed up by statistics. That is the reason why you find so many of them in the Catholic Church. I don’t think priestly life turns anyone into a pedophile, it just attracts pedophiles.

As to the Catholic Church, it erred when it decided to deal with those things on its own terms, and not disclose it to the police of any of the countries in which these horrors happened. For this, the Catholic Church should be held responsible. Here is what typically happens: a priest is caught in the act, the Church sends him away to some monastery or else where he no longer is in contact with children (in the best of cases), but no police is called, nothing happens. That’s the problem, the Church isn’t outside the laws of the country in which its members live.

Thanks to the infamy of those scandals, I don’t think any parent will tranquilly let their child alone with a priest any more. For those who weren’t so lucky, we can only wish them the best (and perhaps sue the Church and get something for their pain).

I don’t blame Catholicism for these evil people, but it’s absolutely certain that this is a massive blow to our trust (for those of us who had any to begin with, that is) and after all those horrors, it’s understandable that we cannot easily look upon a priest and not wonder. I wouldn’t blame anyone for that.

07 October, 2008

The Factory, Nick, Nietzsche, and Defecation

7th October 2008

During the Summer of 2000, I worked in a factory for three weeks, and lived alone for two. My family was away on vacation, and I stayed. In that factory, I did the same job that people who had been there for 25 years did. It took about an hour to learn all of it. This factory produced very long blades – usually longer than a human’s length – and throughout my work there, I could never figure how they were used, nor did any of the workers there had any clue. All we knew was that these blades were used as parts of a printer, but of the industrial type, I imagine.

Back then I was 17. I here mean to show you a little portrait of me at that age, so I won’t show more of the factory stuff, even though there’s a lot to say in that area.

Not being very social, when the midday break came about, instead of going where all the workers go and eat, I spirited myself away. Where to? The “restroom” of the factory. I figured nobody would find me there. I’d lock myself up in one of the stalls, and pretend to be taking the longest crap humanity has ever known. The other workers had already pegged me down as a “student” and I had no intention of feeding their fire, so I wouldn’t read a book in front of them. That’s all I wanted to do during my break, read. So I’d hid in a stall and read Nietzsche. I was 17.

I liked it in the stall, on my own, without anyone able to see me. There was a not so amazing smell though. It didn’t smell like shit, but you could tell the place needed more ventilation. So I’m reading Nietzsche, getting his wisdom into my brain, when all of a sudden, someone enters the restroom. I stop moving, I don’t turn a page, I just freeze and reread the same page until the guy goes away. He does his little things, and goes away. I turn the page.

Later, another guy comes, and this one enters a stall. The stall right beside mine. My door is closed and locked, but my feet aren’t down. I meant to hide, which is stupid because if your door is both closed and locked, everyone knows there must be someone in there, and if there appears to be no one, it’s more likely that they’ll get the janitor to break that door open. Maybe it was just the position I was in that needed my feet to be hidden. I’d sit cross-legged on the closed lid of the toilet, so I could rest my elbows on my knees and hold the book before me more easily.

The guy doesn’t know he’s not alone in the restroom. Other doors are closed even when there’s no one in the stall, typically. So he starts whistling, as he unbuckles his pants and unzips his stuff. There I am, literally inches away from him, and he has no clue I’m so damn close. Then I hear his little brook flowing. I feel like I’m some spy and that no matter what comes next, I shall not laugh or giggle. And what comes next is a series of energetic little farts and tumbling sounds. I’m not reading philosophy anymore at this point. I’m holding my mouth firmly closed with all the strength of my hand. Breathing is optional, and I don’t use it for now, which I figure is a good idea because those sounds usually don’t come alone.

I think God made shitting so comical and ridiculous to humble us. It’s hard to think yourself something majestic when your ass is a trumpet and your insides a stinkbomb. And if you’re already humble, it makes you giggle, like it did me. Dude keeps shitting a riot as I exercise masterful control over my breathing. And I hear every single movement he makes. I can almost see the exact shape of the turds he donates to oblivion. The way they splash in the yellow water gives me an idea of their very texture, and I can even tell if they fell straight, or made a loop. Of course I can’t. I’m no shitologist.

Then the guy wipes his ass. I hear the wiping, it’s only a few inches away from me, after all. Then he goes away. I’m left alone, but that man’s presence will be made vivid to me as the token of his defecation will linger in my nostrils for quite some time. If you’d rather stay in a shit-smelling restroom than go out and risk being seen by people, you might have some kind of social anxiety issue going on. I preferred the bad smell.

So that’s it for this little episode in my life. Reading Nietzsche in factory toilets. A typical teenage activity, right?