Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The 2020 Post: Humans, History, and Hope.

History will tell many tales of this latest pandemic, if history tells us anything. Some we today may scarcely recognize depending on how differently the night sky looks in those future ages. Yet, even then they will hold value. Ancient stories still strike intimate chords today, still carry Truths to teach. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait that long. Clever humans, at this very moment, are weaving medicinal tapestries from the threads of daily events. When their looms will stop, I do not know. I can say many will carry fear long afterward. This is understandable. Disease is only a little younger than Life itself, let us remember. The Fourth Rider and its pale steed have always cast a cold shadow near our doorway. Will it enter? Will it pass? we ask in the long night. And what of the shadow’s umbra? Its name is Uncertainty, mother of Panic. As I said, flinching in their presence is understandable.

I offer these words as a small balm for the stream of tribulations 2020 seems hellbent on throwing at us: We’ve been through worse. We’ve learned from it. We’ll get through this.

Our ancestors braved storms and gales to travel unexplored oceans.
Our ancestors raised structures of breathtaking height and sophistication around the globe. Some of which we, who now plan to walk the surface of Mars, still cannot fully explain or replicate.  
They invented Art and Philosophy and Music and the Scientific Process.
They dug themselves out from under earthquake rubble to rebuild larger and stronger than before.
They set aside time for special celebrations despite (and to spite) the precariousness of daily life.
They saw lobsters and boldly declared I am going to eat that! With butter!
They survived other humans.  

All of human history is within YOU. Give yourself the gift of learning about your past. It is your birthright. Your inheritance. Rest upon it. Take strength from it.  

Then, gentle reader, please help ME remember to do the same! I have those dark, cold nights, too. What reminded me this time round was a re-watching of the extended version of “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy. My hope was the pandemic would have long passed when the final credits rolled. Alas, no such luck. Instead, two ideas smacked my skullcap. The first was Theoden’s story arc. I have no idea how the tragedy of his character eluded me all those previous viewings. Some squirrels don’t make it to the top of the tree, as the old saying I just made up goes. Much has been written about him over the decades (I’ve since learned) so no need to expand that. The second smack came from a visual. Felt like a hammer. Here is the clip posted by Warner Brothers Entertainment on YouTube.  

Every time I see the families in the cave it gets me. Every. Damn. Time.

Orcs, Humans, Elves, and a stone wall. It dawned on me that this scene is an analogy of human history, and by extension a broad model of the human psyche. Let’s start with that wall. A wall is a line lifted into the third dimension. Its sole purpose is to set boundaries. This one is scarred from the many times it fulfilled its role as protector. Outside the gate comes destruction and chaos under the cover of night. Animalistic yet not unintelligent, Orcs are a constant threat. They steal, kill, burn, or destroy to suit their own ends. They are kept in check by strength alone, ruled by strength alone. These new Orcs, however, are far worse. They have been augmented and organized by the intellect of a once ally. Behind the wall stand humans and Elves. And Gimli. Elves are everything Orcs are not. Remember, Orcs were created by the purposeful spoiling of Elves. They are negative images of each other in both action and thought. Elves embody grace and order. They value knowledge and taught the Ents to speak in the deep past. Then we have humans. They exist in a mired middle ground between Elf and Orc. Humans can embody grace and knowledge. We can demonstrate bravery and kindness. We can also grow apathetic or spiteful. Indifference leads to stagnation. Wisdom rots from memory until what’s left is human in form, but Orc in spirit and nature. The Wildmen were aptly named.
The battle was new to the participants, but the setting was old: a line, an enemy, and a battle to survive. Change the names. Adjust the ideologies. Martin Luther attacks the walls of a religious bureaucracy with words nailed to a door. La Malinche whispers a calculated suggestion into Cortez’s ear to guide his eye toward victory over the Aztec empire. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis argues handwashing saves women’s lives despite the fierce objections of colleagues and the medical establishment. A victim of violence, slavery, and hunger decides stability must be imposed upon his world, thus Temujin becomes Genghis Khan. Off the Cuban coast in a Russian sub, Commodore Vasili Arkhipov weighs patriotism and sworn duty against the fire of nuclear holocaust. Lenny Bruce keeps using schoolyard vulgarities in front of adult audiences.  

And again. And again. 

The Established battling The New. Rulers battling Revolutionaries. The Invaded battling Invaders. Home battling Visitors. Brother Order twirling with Sister Chaos across the floor of Time without a care, save only for their dance. We live in their wake. We are of their wake. Life, after all, depends on them, not the other way round. Humans can see the dance, for some reason. Seems that way, anyhow. I think it’s linked to knowing we’re mortal. Most days I suspect the perception of personal mortality (I have an ending?!) came first. Something went into our Options and switched off the ‘Live In The Moment’ setting. Time and Memory orbited a new version of Self thereby inventing questions, which lead to symbolic language to ask better questions. The primal, predatory Why? was born. Maybe it was the Dance that changed our Options settings. Maybe. Whatever the reason, our mind’s “Territory” dial turned to Eleven to match our rapidly expanding mental landscape. We drafted metaphysical lines, build mental walls, and dropped symbols on whichever side of the map worked best for achieving our needs. Flags, ink, and paper replaced urine. I wonder sometimes if early material maps looked that dissimilar from mental ones. Here be monsters might be truer than we thought. Do they look dissimilar today in our enlightened, sophisticated current year? All maps tell a story, so probably not. As Robert Anton Wilson used to point out, “The menu is not the meal.” Which is, of course paraphrasing Alfred Korzybski’s, “The map is not the territory.” and “The word is not the thing.” Both were influenced by the Surrealist movement in art. (The human mind? Surreal?) Perhaps you’ve seen this piece from ninety-one years ago.

“The Treachery of Images” by Rene Magritte 1929

Perhaps you know this other work by Rene.

“The Son of Man” 1964. I’ll let you decide how it fits in to my words.

Let’s briefly turn back to Middle Earth for a possible explanation for the above.      

Orcs = ID
Humans = Ego
Elves = Super-Ego

Helm’s Deep as a model of one model of the intermingling operators within our psyche. This popped into mind when I asked myself why (There’s the old thorn again.) human history seems so repetitive. Then I remembered how old and cliché even asking the damn question is!

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
                                                                          Ecclesiastes 1:9   Circa 935 BCE

That was almost three-thousand-years ago. Put another way: Thirty centuries ago, humans were complaining there was nothing good on television, movies were all the same, and new music sounded like recycled crap. Nothing changes. Similar software running on similar hardware yielding similar results. My words have been written before. They will be written again. The cycle triumphant.

And yet.

Our ancestors braved storms and gales to travel uncharted oceans.
Our ancestors raised structures of breathtaking height and sophistication around the globe. Some of which we, who now plan to walk the surface of Mars, still cannot fully explain or replicate. 
They invented Art and the Scientific Process and Philosophy and Music.
They dug themselves out from under earthquake rubble to rebuild larger and stronger than before.
They set aside time for special celebrations despite, and to spite, the precariousness of daily life.
They saw lobsters and boldly declared I am going to eat that! With butter!
They survived other humans. 

But, Sam. You’re hopefully asking. Aren’t you contradicting yourself by making large number level observations on human behavior while citing those specific individuals? They all altered this immutable cycle you’re rambling on about despite having been a byproduct of it. 

Noticed that, did you? Yeah. Funny how individuals can do that. Funny how a single person can tip a scale carrying millions. Funny how the Dance sometimes sways to a single person moving to their own music. It’s almost as if there is an odd profundity to the Individual that’s fueled by the nature of their intent. And it just so happens I am talking to an individual at this very moment.   

Oh no, don’t drag me into this. I have enough on my plate. 

Ever wonder when Hope was invented? 

I’m wondering when this blog will end and hoping it’s soon.

Not the ‘wanting’ hope, the visionary Hope. The 'look around and wonder how better existence could be' Hope. 

Invented? You mean like a light switch or diet soda? Never thought of it that way. Weird to think that Hope didn’t exist until the second it did. But, “invent”? Is that the correct word?

Someone wiser than foolish me probably has a better one. Still, somewhere along our long path with all the hints of ages lost, there was a moment when Hope came into being. We’ve never let it go since. Maybe that was in our Options, too? To install the Hope DLC, press X. Who knows how many names or origins or sources we’ve given it over the millennia. Think about all the greeting cards that never would have existed without it.

A staggering observation.

I deal in the hard Truths. Explains why I don’t sleep well at night. 

So, take your own advice.

What do you mean?

You’re going to great lengths to encourage people to have Hope, to use Hope, based on what humans have endured since humans existed. Pandemic upheavals sparked this blog, but 2020 was just warming up. Here’s the reminder you asked for: We have endured much, yet still created much. We have endured much, yet still done much good. We’ve an established track record that doesn’t need platitudes, because we invented platitudes. We can picture the possible, then marry the image to action. A human is a spec of flotsam bobbing on an ocean of time that miraculously found ways to build ships and draw maps in the Hope of one day harnessing the storms that threaten to drown them. That’s you. That's Us. Don’t forget it.

Huh...you got me figured out. 

Of course, I do. I am you. I know what you know. I know what you’ve been through. 

I can't argue with a good point. Can I ask you, er, me some clarifying questions? I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface of all this...........Hello? 


I guess it’s just you and me again, gentle reader. Interesting. We’re all a product of and a producer of. And more. We often fall under the step of the Dance, yet sometimes we pick the beat. We can make decisions. Well, I certainly gave myself a lot to think about. 

I Hope I gave you something worth thinking about, too.

Be well. Stay well. 

I believe in you, fellow human.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

ROM the Spaceknight is an Archetype?

Been thinking a lot lately. It’s kind of a curse, but I knew what I was getting myself into when the salesman showed me my pre-birth possibilities. I simply could not pass on HUMAN. Sure, it was WAY out of my budget, but how can you pass up on an optical system designed to detect ripe fruit, the movement of snakes, and the position of stars. How can you say no to a multi-layered nervous system engineered to sustain a bleeding edge blend of reptilian, mammalian, primate, and post-primate processing? Damn thing nearly drives itself! Sure, sometimes it drives into an early grave, or a series of spectacularly, fantastically bad choices when left on autopilot too long, but that’s the thrill of the ride. Repair and maintenance costs aside, the full package really got my engine revving. Then Bob showed me the mysteries, complexities, and (ahem) hypnotizing curves of the model I would be compatible with. Good golly Miss Molly, I couldn’t sign the papers fast enough! Practically threw my check book at the old boy. Great salesman, that Bob. Swell guy. Top notch. What am I saying, of course you know! You picked human, too. How’s your model working out? 

Back to thinking. 

Below is an image.  

Before you ask, it is ROM the Spaceknight. A toy hero turned comic hero created by Richard C. Levy, Bryan L. McCo, and Scott Dankman, per Wikipedia, and sold to Parker Brothers. ROM is interesting. Here’s a commercial.

Built to fight an enemy that can trick the senses, replace trusted friends, and rain destruction without warning. It’s as if the message is, we must be on guard for threats around us that don’t resemble threats. And to do so requires a means, let’s call it a combination of experience and wisdom, to see past the surface. How else do you build an Analyzer without the knowledge of knowing what to look for?

But I digress. Back to the picture. What do you see? Literally. Now, what do you see figuratively? Metaphorically? Archetypically? Psychologically? I’m not suggesting the artist tried to craft a multilayered image. Maybe they were, but nothing online confirms that. Odds are they were simply meeting a deadline, had an idea about the next slice of the plot, and needed to get this done before moving onto the next project. All the while, hoping the check shows up soon. However, we get our ideas from somewhere, don’t we? Yes, we do. Humans are built, and you may want to sit down for this, for the wilds. We’re built for surviving in an environment without power or grocery stores. We’re built to be part of a group, a family, a clan, a tribe, a city, a state, a nation. We are built to exist with and around people more than things. Things are a means to a human end. I know what some are thinking: “Sam. I like to be alone.” Maybe you do. Maybe you have your valid reasons and it suits you. Or maybe you’re just hiding. I don’t know. I bet you do. But you aren’t really alone, are you? Do you make the power flowing into your outlets? The food on the grocery store shelves? The clothes on your back? The movies and shows playing on your favorite streaming service? Nope. You rely on FAITH that the other humans of the larger group you belong to are predictable enough, similar to you enough, to keep the lights on, the plants tended to, the looms moving, and the cameras recording. That’s a lot of trust invested. No wonder our minds are tuned to recognize emotion so quickly. We need to know what the other humans are doing to predict what will happen next. 

Buttressed by this abbreviated example of how you and I are interconnected, regardless of our desired level of proximity, let’s glide over to the next point and the picture. We’re connected because we’re human. We have minds molded by forces far, far older than the modern world. Forces we shared up to the not so distant past, given the youth of our species. The need for safety, food, sex, and shelter from deadly predators hunting in the dark. The need of holding value in the eyes of others and companionship, which in turn meant a greater likelihood of securing the first four I mentioned. Enter ROM. A group locked into a loop of ‘need satisfaction’ can last a very long time in a static system, but it will quickly crumble and die when faced with a threat or change to that system. Imagine a machine that gathers materials from a set point to use to make more machines. Those new machines, in turn, also gather materials from the same set point to continue the cycle. Now move the set point. Without growing or adapting, without knowing HOW to grow and adapt, the machines stop working and collapse. That’s the inevitable doom of no one leaving the loop. To be clear, most large changes to the loop (like moving a set point) is as much of a threat as a smart, hungry dragon settling into a cave outside your village. Nature isn’t good or evil, but it’s a cold killer nevertheless. So, what is the name humans give these individuals who travel far from home, learn, suffer, fail, try again, and ultimately return transformed into something new to enlighten their people and defeat the threat? Say it with me: HERO. Ideally, that HERO will then mentor others, perhaps even other new heroes, to refresh the upward, post-animal cycle.

Behold an infant teetering on unsteady legs after yet another bumpy fall, lifting itself from the ground and into a new world of exploration and greater independence. Later, an adolescent grapples with the mental and physical wonders of a raging biological fire burning away its childhood form to open, for the second time in perhaps as little as a decade, another new realm to navigate. This ought to sound familiar. It is your past, in case you forgot. Rom’s life followed the same path on his utopian (perpetual childhood?) home world until an outside force threatened to destroy it. He then volunteers to leave behind his life of comfort for a new, unfamiliar one of struggle and responsibility. It costs him all the physical comforts he ever knew. His mind and nervous system, the only means of knowing existence, are placed into an armed exoskeleton hardened for combat. He must learn this new way of living or perish. The trade-off? Clad in Bio-Armor, he can now sore through the scorching heat of atmospheric friction to lift himself form the gravity well of his planet to sail amongst the stars. He can see through the deceptions of the Dire Wraiths and rally powerful tools to one day restore peace. 

Brevity compels me to bring this to a conclusion, gentle reader. The length of a work is no guarantee of impact or importance. I’ve said nothing you don’t already know. That’s not self-deprecating humor or taking the easy way out. I’m talking concretely about matters (See what I did there? The linguists do.) and symbols created by YOUR human mind because Claw and Tooth and Hunger and Disease walked with us for millennia. They still do, lest we forget. Science wouldn’t exist if so many things weren’t hell bent on killing us hairless, pink things for so long. Consider that for a moment. Really consider that. Then consider this. Why is Female considered a creative and/or destructive aspect around the globe? Why is Male considered an orderly and/or tyrannical aspect? Why did Rom need to leave utopia in order to become strong and wise? Shiva wants to know. Odin the All Father wants to know. Glooscap wants to know. Akna wants to know. Lots of old deities and heroes have been poking around lately asking very uncomfortable questions. A few even asked for your cell number. I didn’t give it out, not to worry. It seemed like they were only trying to figure themselves out, but I didn’t take any chances. Maybe they just want to know what to do next. Maybe they only want to know what is best for them. And you.  Damned if I know, but you might, though. YOU might have the answers for gods and humans.

Blaze it across the sky, if you do. We’d appreciate it. Then brace yourself for pushback. Some humans don’t like being told what to do. Some don’t stay in the loop.