Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Bible II

The Bible II

Genesis II
Chapter 1

After Revelations there was God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Heaven was crowded, and nobody would stop singing.

“We’re going to do this again.”

“Dad, no.”

“I can do better this time. This time I’m not going screw up. Holy Spirit, your thoughts?”


Chapter 2

And so God created the universe from a vast explosion. Before this there was nothing – neither time nor space. But with this explosion there was time and space, which, it turns out, are the same thing. And His law became the law of the universe, and it really wasn’t that metaphorical. And these laws he dubbed gravity, strong, weak, and electromagnetic.

In the first three minutes, hydrogen and helium protons formed, the base elements which comprise 98% of the universe. But it would take another 377,000 years for them to form actual atoms.

Chapter 3

Around 560 million years after the Big Bang, or more than 13 billion years ago (as of the writing of this text in 2015, which, incidentally, is written by humans, inspired by God, but, to clarify, is subject to change not due to fallibility but due to limited human understanding of the cosmos at this unique juncture in cosmic time) the stars formed.

Chapter 4

“Why are you writing a science textbook of the early universe?”

“Well you have to start with Genesis…”

“I’m with Jesus on this. The humans will need to figure out science on their own. They can’t just be told ‘and then there were atoms.’ It doesn’t have any meaning.”

“Well metaphor is what screwed up everything last time, coupled with a lack of understanding of scientific cause and effect.”

“Just trim it down to the basics.”

Chapter 5

Everything exploded into being. A very long time ago. Because God said so.

Chapter 6

One of the things that came about from the explosion was stars and planets. On God’s favorite planet, the conditions were perfect for life, for God wanted it to be that way. And then, in Africa, people showed up.

Chapter 7

“Showed up?”

“You said to simplify! So here I AM. Simplifying. Gonna skip all the evolution stuff.”

“You can do better, Dad.”

<*omniscient sigh*>

Chapter 7

And God first created life in the form of the unseeable,

Chapter 8

“Unseeable? You’re making up words!”

“That’s My right.’”

Chapter 9

and the small forms grew and combined and copied and transformed and became complex, and beautiful. And life spread across the planet, from barren desert to desolate waste, from forest and dale to the deepest sea. And, after billions of years, one animal life came to be God’s favorite, and this was Man.

Chapter 10




Chapter 11

And, after billions of years, one animal life came to be God’s favorite, and this was Man. Humanity.

Because, to make this very clear from the start, men and women are equals. And they formed tribes and slowly, originating in Africa 200,000 years ago, began to move across the land, to all places that would support their life.

Also there was evil.

Chapter 12

“I don’t know if you’re taking this seriously.”

“Well, I certainly didn’t want to write this thing by committee! It was easier before when it was just me.”

“Technically it still is.”

“Shut up.”

Chapter 13

Fine. So humans did stuff God didn’t like, and they needed to stop that. Like killing each other for no reason. Harming each other. Acting, basically, like animals. The whole reason God loves you humans better than anyone is for your reason. That’s what makes you special and you should really be able to figure out that line of reasoning.

Chapter 14


“I’m not so sure…”

Chapter 15

As they left Africa humans encountered other kinds of humans, like Neanderthals. And they learned from them, slept with them, and killed them. Killed them dead. Also: hobbits in Indonesia!

In certain parts of the world the climate and soil was great for farming, and there were animals to be domesticated and really, the humans who ended up in those places basically got a huge leg-up. Sorry to the rest of y’all. ‘Cause they are going to come to where you live and screw you over badly.

Chapter 16

“Listen, we’re trying to avoid the mistakes of last time, right?”


“So let’s make sure they’re all equally capable of surviving and don’t go tribal and kill each other when they meet new people.”

“Guys – I can’t. That would mean getting rid of their free will.”

“Like Jesus said – we’re trying to avoid mistakes this time.”

“I can’t get rid of free will! What’s the point? They won’t make bad decisions any more!”


“They won’t be punished!”


“There won’t be any sin!”


“…And you guys just don’t get the point of this. The point of Earth and humans isn’t to watch it tick away like a clock always knowing the next motion. It’s to be surprised by what they’re going to do next! They’ll come up with bizarre ideas and crazy theories, insanely brilliant inventions that have no practical function and artistic masterpieces! They’ll treat each other horrifically and sublimely. Watching it play out is the whole point.”

“Then why do you punish them?”

“To control the experiment! The parameters by which the efficacy is judged.”

“Dad… How many more times are you going to do this?

“As many as it takes.”


“Let’s put the book away for a while, okay? Maybe pick up with Exodus next time.”

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Halloween Month

So, we start complaining about Christmas being a month long in November, the day after Thanksgiving. (Well, not the day after, of course – then we are too worried about people being trampled to death at Wal*Mart.) But, and this may just be my friend base, October 1st rolls around everyone is getting excited about Halloween.

Now, I’m an atheist, but I don’t really mind the month of Christmas. I like carols, and Victorian Christmas hymns in minor keys, and the general concept of good things in dark times. I like eggnog and Currier and Ives and all that shit.

And I like Halloween.

But, since people in my Millennial bracket are freaking out about Halloween, I’m a little concerned. As a kid it makes total sense why Halloween is so great – you get to break the cardinal rules of childhood. You literally ask strangers for candy. Candy you will eat late at night. After you dress up as a scary thing, and lie about being someone you are not, while threatening the neighbors.

Don’t mistake me – I am well aware that the adult Halloween party is not some new phenomenon. But, are we, like, more into it than before? Even my middle school students aren’t this excited. It used to be something we looked forward to the week of, perhaps. But now it’s a month-long thing. And for adults (I really, really hope) there’s no trick-or-treating involved; unless we’re the ones doling out the candy. It’s really just the dress-up and mood that most folks seem to be intrigued by.

After a few years on the East Coast I get the appeal of a gnarled denuded tree in the Autumn moonlight. There’s something special about that. But is this Halloween love another example of the inability of Millennials to grow up? We still want to dress up and eat candy at 30, and, since that’s still too weird for week-to-week behavior, we freak out and get overly excited when October rolls around? I think it is a Millennial issue.

In 1979 Etan Patz disappeared on the way to school. It was a huge story – there had been child abductions before, but this one broke the national conscience. His face was the first one on a milk carton. The day of his abduction is National Missing Children’s day, May 25.

Six months before, the character of Michael Myers was introduced to the world in Halloween. Throughout the 1980s I think the conflation of Halloween as genuinely dangerous and a concern over unsafe children made for a new cultural climate surrounding the holiday. I mean, in 1985 60% of parents thought their child was at risk from poisoned Halloween candy. These were the over-protective Boomer parents and the earliest Gen X parents, whose own youths could keep a psychology convention occupied for a month. They had such screwed up childhoods, it’s no wonder they freaked out over parenting. And all of a sudden the fun rule-breaking, once a year, for kids to take stranger’s candy and be out late at night, became an area of serious worry and anxiety.

It’s obvious that for the Millennials, whose childhoods were mostly spent in the late 80s and 90s, it was a time of inordinate post-Cold War optimism and triumphalism. Polls indicate that tension surrounding the holiday abated, after a decade of concerns didn’t pan out. We instead grew up with The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, Casper, and the Addams Family. Things just seemed safer. Halloween wasn’t the scary time it was ten or fifteen years earlier – with fears of poisoned apples and child abductions.

As Millennials grow older, and look back with longing on their childhoods – a generation that fears in its core that its best days are already behind them – Halloween has become a celebration of that better childhood. Our teens were ruined by the Bush era insanity, and the terrorism concerns of a post-9/11 world. Our twenties were devastated by the economic collapse. After 40 years of stupidity and mismanagement Millennials are way behind the Boomers in life accomplishments at the same age.  (Millennials now average around $35,000 a year, according to recent data. In 1978 dollars, that’s around $10,000. And the actual median household income in 1978 was $15,000.)

…Somehow this has something to do with Halloween.

Right, to recap: Millennials are weirdly obsessed with Halloween because the holiday is associated with childhood, and this generation had a particularly blessed childhood, especially in comparison to their teens and twenties. So since literally acting like a child isn’t yet acceptable (but keeps creeping in on the cultural more and more as many have pointed out) we’ve begun to fetishize October as a whole month, but I don’t think we’re culturally cognizant exactly as to why. We all really like Halloween, but few can give a particularly convincing answer, I don’t think, beyond ‘it’s fun’. Why is it so fun?

To answer this, finally, I think the dress-up is a big part of it. Many of us, getting on into an adulthood we are loathe to accept, enjoy the comfort of pretending to be someone we are not. Again, costume parties aren’t something new. In the 1950s adults dressed up on trumped-up pretexts and pretended to be someone else and let their hair down. Masquerade balls go way, way back. I think it comes and goes. Right now it’s approaching a weird high-water mark.

Perhaps it’s not so weird, though, given all the aforementioned. Perhaps Halloween is when we let our imaginations take flight.

This generation is just now feeling the wind pick up, and getting themselves out of the doldrums of a largely wasted decade. The debt and burdens are still there, but we’re coping a little better now than, say, we were from 2009-2012. Perhaps as we enter our thirties properly our Halloween interest will gracefully decline. The nostalgia for our childhoods will dissipate as we recognize that our best days are ahead of us, and not behind.

Or, maybe, we’ll be a bunch of grown-ass adults who eat mac n cheese and watch cartoons. I don’t know.

Anyway. Here we are. It’s October and Halloween month has begun.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


John Berger is an English academic, who, in 1972, put out a very influential collection of essays,Ways of Seeing. One of his essays that most influenced me is “Why Look at Animals” (you should click the link to read it - it’s great). The essay deals with the distancing of humans from nature, the Iliad and language, anthropomorphism, domestication, capitalism, and why going to zoos makes us sad. And, born in 1926, Berger is still alive. 
I would love to know his views on memes and the roles of animals online. Ever since the net has been a thing, Berger’s books have shied away from it. His main focus, and, to be fair, the main focus of Ways of Seeing, is photography. But his essay on how we view animals is a landmark. In 2009 Penguin Classics chose to include it as their most chronologically recent selection in their 100 Great Ideas series - a list that includes writings by Orwell, Darwin, Confucius, and Plato. It’s worth revisiting, I feel - especially now that, in the 21st century, our interactions with animals are shifting all the more.
Or are they? Have we changed the means by which we look at animals, and as a consequence think about them, but not in a fundamental way? Idea Channel has a recent video up which prompted these musings, on self-identity and posting. Around six minutes in this image happened:
and I was struck by how often we see images like that seal. We use animal stand-ins for the self constantly. Of course, in the internet meme era, we use all sorts of other things to stand in for the self - such as cartoon drawings. But in light of Berger I feel the unique relationship humans have towards other animals - all those thousands of years of accumulated history and relations, makes the animal meme something special. Perhaps that’s why they quickly became so popular in the first place.