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The Errors of the Fathers

The fathers — the passed and passing generations who created the software of our minds — did as well as they could, but they also made a lot of errors.  How should we deal with that?  Trust, but verify.

Here’s an example.  When I was a teenager I liked the Yeats poem “Long-Legged Fly”.  Here’s a taste of it:

THAT civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

Great poem, but Yeats’ politics is cruel and idiotic.   The great man theory of history, the idea that Julius Caesar, political infighter of the late Roman Republic was involved in saving civilization, all bad ideas.  Great poem, but Yeats used rhythm and cool images to make it stick in our minds.  It’s stuck in mine!

How do I unstick it?

My friend is fact, or in particular, the world of entomology.  Yeats is comparing the relationship between the creative human being and the  Absolute to the relationship of a water-strider to water.  His “long-legged fly” is of the family Gerridae, a species of insect that has evolved to walk without breaking through the surface tension of the water.  Here’s wikipedia on surface tension and water striders:

water striders use surface tension to walk on the surface of a pond in the following way. The nonwettability of the water strider’s leg means there is no attraction between molecules of the leg and molecules of the water, so when the leg pushes down on the water, the surface tension of the water only tries to recover its flatness from its deformation due to the leg. This behavior of the water pushes the water strider upward so it can stand on the surface of the water as long as its mass is small enough that the water can support it. The surface of the water behaves like an elastic film: the insect’s feet cause indentations in the water’s surface, increasing its surface area[4] and tendency of minimization of surface curvature (so area) of the water pushes the insect’s feet upward.

Yeats is telling us that the way the effective human being relates to God — the Parmatman –the Storehouse Consciousness (Alaya Vijnana)– what Gene Wolfe calls “The Increate” — is like how the water strider relates to the pond.  He skates on the surface without disturbing the silence with thought, but this in turn allows him to thought and react.

True?  False?  Half-true?  True in some circumstances rather than others?

Assignment for home.  Take Yeats’ Long-Legged Fly (which I keep in my mind calling Long-Leggedy Fly) and re-tell it for other pond creatures.  The frog.  The dragonfly.  The whirligig beetle.

And most importantly, the Diving Bell Spider!

What if Caesar’s mind is not like the water-strider that skates on the surface of God, but like the spider who also live in ponds but take the water, weave a diving bell out of it, and go beneath the surface to mate and lay their eggs.  A very different picture, less fascist, and less misogynistic, but more importantly, more accurate!

When we look in our minds and emotional repertoires (what I called our software above) we discover a lot of items deliberately stowed away there by the fathers, many of them like Yeats’s “Long-Legged Fly” were deliberately tricked up to be hard to forget because of the motives of the fathers, some admirable, some less so.  (Yeats wanted the grandchildren of his enemies to take his side.)    As Otto Neurath (the inventor of the universal hieroglyphic language used to let us know for example that a bathroom is wheelchair accessible) it’s an incoherent project to try to broom it all.  But we can check these items one-by-one and consider for example whether the relationship of the individual to God is more like the relationship of a water strider to the water, or the relationship of a diving bell spider to the water.

Obviously, the diving bell spider.

What about “the silence”?  Should we think of God as silence rather than activity?  Should we even use the word “God” at all?

Who knows?  We need to leave some errors for the next generation to take care of!

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study in alternating fancy and plain

Ghoul Henry ate rocks and beans

the intimacy of weird and mundane disturbs my soul

a lawyer cried — his wife was dead

the transitory nature of thought tracks the evanescence of reality

Mom caught the baby hurting a cat and yelled at him

there is a barrier behind which the future hides, teasing me

they broke my teeth now I think of ways to hurt them

repetition smooths away the character of man

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News about the concept “All Things Do Not Arise”

This is one of those things that is just true, like “everything is bullshit” is pure bullshit.  “don’t trust anything” is the kind of shallow statement that you shouldn’t trust, “language is a pretty mediocre way of expressing oneself” is expressed quite mediocrely and so on.

Some things are just true.  So I have to ask — if it’s just true, why do you need to say it?  Who is the conceivable audience for something that’s just true?  Obviously not somebody else, because it’s quite obnoxious to go around telling people things that are just true, obviously.  So some part of myself that needs to be told this?

Yes.  No question, but there is a side of oneself that needs to be told “Some things are just true” and a side of oneself that needs to be told “there isn’t anything that’s just true.”

Why is there two sides to the self?  Because if there’s one side to the self, then you need to force somebody else to play the other part, and that is honestly, a waste of both of your times!

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A Message from the Arhat

When the Arhat contacted me he would always look different.   Once he was an old man on the bus with hairy ears whose long overcoat smelled like mildew, once very briefly while she was in her sickbed he was my Mom, a couple times people working behind the counter at businesses, auto supply stores and stuff, and so on.  So in my thirties when I was working hard and didn’t have much time for taking long hikes through the carunculations of my own keppeleh I, understandably, gave up on the idea of the Arhat, and thought that these people were just different people whom I had connected through my own desires for some sort of enobling wisdom.  This was completely wrong. The arhat was real.  The enobling wisdom was legit.

The arhat whispered to me when I as in an elevator on the USS Arleigh Burke a guided missile destroyer. He took the form of a Petty Officer 3rd Class named Salton.  The ship had taken a hit from an underground mine — this was during one of the undeclared wars that took so many lives and continue to take them at the chaotic margins of US influence.

The lights had gone off.  The alarms were blaring.  I felt my stomach remain in weightlessness as the elevator failed.  Maybe this moment was my last I thought.

“It all means something.  There is no coincidence. Everything you think is right. You just need to be courageous and take risks so you can learn exactly how.  There is always more to your why than you know, and if you think about it, you are your why.”

“But will I meet my dog in heaven?” I asked the Arhat.

“Of course you will.” he said. Plunging. Darkness. Darkness Darkness.  Sweat on my collar.  Ringing in my ear.  The conjunctivas of his eyes red in the red light.

“But in heaven he won’t be your dog.”

“Because he will be able to talk?”

“Yes.”

“But why can’t there be talking dogs?”

Plunging plunging shuddering, the sound of feet running down the metal hallways of the ship, then the alarms stop, the lights come on.  Salton looks at me and smiles.

“Read your Aristotle. Once a dog can talk he is a human being.”

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An Argument for the Incarnation

The argument against incarnation is pretty clear.  Let’s say you believe in some ultimate reality — a transcendental source of creation, being of all beings and perfection of all perfections.  How could that being be a particular person?  How could it be born, die, go to the bathroom?  What does that even mean?

An argument for incarnation is that if we think about such a Being of All beings, it is already incarnating in us, as we are thinking that thought.  And we are born, die, and go to the bathroom.

So, everybody believes in incarnation.  The only questions that are left (and they’re important) are how, why, and who?  For a long time the last question was answered “my guy (or lady) and definitely not yours.”  But now that the human race has invented WMD that answer is too dangerous for anybody of good will to maintain seriously. It’s also, once you get to know something about how these ideas pop up all over the place, pretty unsupportable.

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Barack-Benedict-Baruch on Nachman, Bach, and Philip K. Dick

After an honorable stint in public service Barack changed his name to first Benedict and then Baruch, and devoted himself to using words to bless.

I was puzzled by Rebbe Nachman (Hasidic sage and short story writer, Ukraine b.1772 d. 1810) because he extolled simplicity — he used to say “Ay! Prustik!” to his followers and “Prustik” really means simplicity in the sense in which say of somebody that he is “simple” — i.e. it is a hair’s breadth from “stupid” — but himself was smart and convoluted as a ram’s horn, a proto-post-modern Kafka weaving self-referential kabbalistic novellas in the shtetl.

How?  Why?  Why would somebody so complicated be so in favor of simplicity?  And it has, you know as the kids like to say, a political dimension.  Because he founded a little guru cult which believes all sorts of simple stuff — that Nachman himself is the Messiah, basically magic, that he had secret books with secret messages.  No better than Dan Brown fascist-traditionalist hoo-ha.  So it’s, so to speak, a bummer.  All that intelligence just to start another dopey cult.  What good is it?

Baruch said: Do you think he was just a sad tormented guy, that his intelligence brought him no comfort, so out of kindness he advocated stupidity.

No, I don’t think that.  I said to Baruch. That’s a soap opera. That’s boring. That’s stupid. I don’t believe life is so boring.

Barack smiled — a winning smile!  Right.  So then we have to say that he bound the wing of the bird in order to make the bird enjoy it even more when it flew free!

Oh!

Like Bach, he said.  At his best Bach gets more and more dissonant and you can’t wait for it to resolve.   But get this.  The old Lutheran maestro never resolves, or at his best he does not resolve in rest.  He resolves in motion.  As if an airplane plummeting to earth pulls out of a dive but doesn’t land, but just lands on top of a much bigger, faster airplane.

I get it.

What do you think of Philip K. Dick he asked me later that evening, after coffee?

Great science fiction writer, great gnostic.  He took the cheesey stage machinery of pulp science fiction and used it in the service of deep ideas about reality and man’s place in an absurd universe.

You’re being a little simple said Benedictus.  Maybe he was able to do that because those Gnostic Heresiarchs were doing cheesey science fiction all along.

I don’t agree!  I said. I think those heresiarchs were bending the wing, and Philip K. Dick let that wing finally fly free!

I loved my idea!  I loved my President!

You got it he said as he helped me into my car.  I was really drunk.  I had had interesting conversations, met a major celebrity, and drunk martinis, wine, and port.  Do you know what you call that?

I did not.

A Philip K-Denza.

 

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