Saturday, May 28, 2011

Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness / Supernatural, Part One

Supernatural, Part One is a chapter from my book, Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness 

Supernatural, Part One

What is it really to be a man or a woman?

A glow Shakespeare intended Hamlet to spark is amped, before being doused, when we read:

What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in
 Reason? how infinite in faculty? in forme and mouing
 how expresse and admirable? in Action, how like an Angel?
 in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the
 world, the Parragon of Animals...

12 in. x 16 in.
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The intensity is increased in contrast when Hamlet follows with a lament that he, in modern terms, can’t get into it. We, the audience, apparently believe we can.

Shakespearean audiences, it seems, find it poetically reassuring to ignore people like my late Uncle Stan.

I can imagine the scowl on Stan’s face as he’s being told that, “in Action,” he is “like an Angel.” Stan who failed as a truck driver after neglecting his parked tanker while it flooded a city intersection with milk serves as a lucky reminder that legions lesser than angels continue to stalk the Earth.

Fresh milk filling his truck was allowed to soak the street because Stan was preoccupied in a nearby bar, extending his lunch break. Modified by some easy humor, it was one of his milder offenses. It was the only time he ever made the news.

Another good example, lifting the conversation up to the better known and more outrageous, would be our own president, Andrew Jackson, whose non-angelic ambitions included stealing land from American Indians and killing as many as had to be killed to stall tribal resistance.

It’s possible this Paragon of Animals was “infinite in faculty.” We don’t know, but if his faculties were infinite, they weren’t overused.

In an online argument recently, a woman referred to ours as “a fallen world,” which made me chuckle a little, defended behind the barrier of a computer, fortunately, since my disagreement provoked threats that she might be persuaded to drop her commitment to world peace and pummel me.

Fallen from what? Nature?

The Sistine Chapel; Ceiling Frescos after Restoration, Original Sin

The Sistine Chapel; Ceiling Frescos after Restoration, Original Sin
, Michelangelo...
37.25 in. x 27.125 in.
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Of course not. The fable is that we are fallen from some idyllic Eden in which flush toilets were not needed because…well, because angels do not require such conveniences.

The foolishness of arguments about an idealized past in which qualities we equate with the more raw elements didn’t bedevil us is hard to fathom. Deliberate foolishness is always crazy, all along its borders and inside its pretty fields, but crazy can be crazy useful.

Religion or its equivalent must be invoked, so that fact, common sense and logic are deleted in whole or in part. Religion, which began as anxiety and sorrow over lost, natural connections, emerged as the all-purpose explanation for why a little separation was good and more will be even better. It’s the spiritual version of sour grapes. We didn’t really want to reunite with nature, did we, with all that filth and risk?

Since we are always part of nature, in spite of fantasized escape - What else could we be part of? - and evolutionary, we must have gained from our separation, and all the trimmings that come with it are there to make our new homeland, which we tell ourselves is outside nature, prettier. And, here’s the thing. We’ve gained enormously in survival and distribution of DNA by getting outside some of the worst hazards into which we were born.

Life expectancies have increased, and we are much less likely to be slaughtered in an invasion by a foreign tribe. We deal with illness proactively, and we gird ourselves structurally against such disasters as earthquakes and floods.

Awareness and manipulation of the natural state has served us well as a species. World population grew beyond what anyone once thought supportable because we created higher yield food sources to beat the odds. There’s that angelic, mindbogglingly successful thing about us that staggers anyone who really looks at it.

We’ve learned to take for granted the elimination or, at least, the profound restriction of nearly everything we innately fear.

We’ve conquered. Technologically, we may be gods. We’ve repeatedly shown we can dial up our versatility to meet any challenge on Earth, and off we’ve started on ventures to conquer planets and satellites not yet our own. It’s a marvel, but what is it doing for us, other than increasing and easing our survival?

We take for granted that a longer life is a good thing, even when hampered or painful. This alone, I’m tempted to say, paraphrasing something smart I read as a teenager, this alone proves that life is worth living. Or, does it just expose our fears and uncertainties about what not being alive means?

Again beliefs and careless thinking muddy the issue. If we believe, as most of us say we do, in an afterlife that is, assuming we behaved wonderfully in this one, paradisiacal, why value fighting it off?

No public poll gives us consistent results on what we believe happens after death. Our bodies halt. Our fifty-trillion working parts cease functioning as a unit. The subject is too emotionally fraught for clearheaded contemplation, but wouldn’t we live differently if not enticed by the promises of an afterlife?

Wouldn’t we use our vaunted versatility to get our rewards, here and now?

Rewards matter. In communities soaked with advertising, where commerce is king, the flow is persistent.

Banks reward customers with refunds and special services. A spectrum of personal hygiene products rewards us by easing us passed social barriers. The medical-industrial complex hooks us on everything from pain relief to the correction of physical deficiencies, so much so that we comfortably accept lives as defined by their symptoms.

Security and vicarious diversion are given us by a military-industrial-political crowd that tickles patriotic buttons. Rewards matter so much that a boss of mine never heard a protest as he reminded associates gathered around conference tables that, “Commission plans dictate behavior.”

Pavlov’s dog wasn’t wrong. In a controlled environment with no way out, you go for whatever gusto welcomes you. That’s not news. What is news is how refined and pervasive the reward-behavior mechanisms are today.
With nearly all our innate needs met, we’re enticed by desires we’re taught to value just to maintain civilized momentum. Without them, we’d lie down, having arrived at the top of the hill. We need experiences for which rewards are magnets, we invent or imagine empty spaces and create the action that fills them.

The needs that have shouted at us the loudest and longest can easily be seen in our infatuation with automobiles, devices that were never needed for any essential purpose. Marketers have spent decades cooking up ways to get vehicles to appeal to desires buying them can’t fulfill, but doing it in such a way that you can’t blame the car. It’s as clever as ingenuity ever gets, although selling the public on the benefits of persistent war competes impressively.

Cars offer adventure, sex appeal, social status, respect and, the glory of them all, freedom. The open road calls us to winding trails with undeveloped ocean shores nearby. We conquer the wilderness in our Fords. Our families find security being driven through the world within the secure shells of our Chryslers.

Some genius even thought up extending the subduing of children by television into the rear seats of vehicles.

One of the Happiest Entries in Cadillac's Thirty-Year Record of Business
One of the Happiest Entries in Cadillac's Thirty-Year Record of Business
9 in. x 12 in.
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The miracle of what’s been accomplished by getting us into bigger cars with more features is that the only real reward is addictive distraction. Cars can’t do any of the things implied. Accepting the marketed concept artfully holds us in suspension with rewards just out of reach, but near enough to keep us driving.

In the last decade, tactics have been developed to respond to what must have been perceived as a flagging interest in cars that wore out too soon, much like ourselves. Suspicions were that carmakers churned their economies with planned obsolescence.

But then, manufacturers learned to get more money upfront, making durable vehicles while needing fewer plants, carrying prices higher. Profits weren’t hit. Just in case, broadcasters on cable networks, at the request of advertisers, began increasing the volume during television commercials, a tactic still in play, fearing that the endless cycle of advertising might be putting some of us to sleep.

The slug nestled behind the wheel never really turns off the road he or she has always been traveling. When you don’t reach your destination, you’ll keep going as long as you believe rewards are just around the corner. On the other hand, what options have you? Is there somewhere else you can be?

People Going About Their Business in Street, St. Louis, Senegal
People Going About Their Business in Street, St. Louis, Senegal
Gordon, Frances...
18 in. x 24 in.
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One of my favorite observations, timely in the 1990s, was about Yuppies, the Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals that were for a while a mass media rage. “Die Yuppie Scum” was careless graffiti sprayed near the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan side, greeting well-off young professionals threatening to gentrify New York’s other borough with an ocean harbor. But marketers were in love with them, especially since so many fancied themselves members of the elite group.

Someone, and I wish I still knew who, defined a Yuppies as someone “who believes his mass produced goods are better than everyone else’s mass produced goods.”

David Stone
Find Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness and all my other books on my Amazon Author Page.

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