Saturday, January 15, 2005

Exactly Like That, But Different

The title doesn't relate to anything in the post... and neither does anything I'm about to write relate to anything else I'm about to write, so I guess it all goes together.

I was going to write something yesterday, but the DSL was out at work, I don't know why... I could have called SBC and found out and harrassed them about the DSL, as my boss suggested, but I've been calling and finding out and harrassing all sorts of people all week, and I'm just fucking sick of it. So I read a porn novel I had stored on my hard drive (snicker) and did some data-entry instead.


So last night, Caroline and I went out for dinner at a Korean restaurant and had a long talk where we discussed religion, souls, morals, and animal behavior. We talked for three hours solid, and it was a lot of fun.

We started off talking about religion and abstract thought; many people, who are too lazy or untrained to concentrate on abstract thought, tend to get caught up in literalist interpretations of religious texts. Caroline was wondering how people can believe in Creationism when there is so much proof for Evolution; I pointed out that there is no reason to believe that these are mutually exclusive, in fact Genesis describes in a symbolic manner (and draws premature conclusions from) the actual events that led to the existence of human life; but that people who feel it necessary to believe that the Bible is literally true, and who furthermore are intellectually incapable of dealing with deeply abstract concepts, find it impossible to think that God created the Universe in any other way than was described in Genesis.

Now, even if it is true, Genesis was written at a time when the most abstract things most people could comprehend were anthropomorphic symbols. Ancient myths are the symbolic interpretation of abstract thoughts like "where did we come from" and "what should we do?" But even symbolic myths are fairly young in the history of the human race... it's just been a few thousand years since the appearance of the first written language, which is the first historical proof of abstract thought turned to symbol. And the human species as we know it has been here longer than that, at least three times as long if I remember correctly. But we have, in these last three thousand years, developed beyond that need for anthropomorphic symbols, and many of us can comprehend symbols that are purely abstract and have no relation to human experience, like scientific notation, higher mathematics, computer languages, and so on.

But there are always the throwbacks amongst us who are still incapable of seeing beyond the symbol, incapable of understanding a concept that exists outside of what they themselves can see and feel. Such people apparently believe that God is a person, superhumanly powerful certainly, but shaped like a man and contained in the form of a man, usually a white-bearded individual who lives in Heaven (which is above us, beyond the clouds) and has two hands with which He created a literal First Person from dust.

And if you suggest otherwise, they become vehemently defensive, because if they are wrong about how they think the world came into being, then they might easily be wrong about everything else they believe. And nobody wants to be that wrong, so people who do so believe will defend that belief tooth and nail. Hence all this idiocy about Creationism and Evolution being mutually exclusive theories... even though you can scientifically prove Evolution, but cannot prove that God did not cause it (which I believe He did).

So anyway, from there we got to talking about why people would want to believe such dreck... the age-old question of why people need religion, why they need to believe something so fantastical in order to be happy.

I believe it's because of two things: first, because people want to believe that there is an answer to all the questions, that there is something they're supposed to be doing, but don't want to do all the brainwork of figuring it out for themselves, so want it to be dictated from Above; and second because people naturally fear death and so want to believe in a paradisaical afterlife.

The chief success of Christianity and Islam is, I think, that they promise eternal life in a paradise to believers and eternal punishment to those who stand against the believers; there is also a code of sin and redemption which is fairly easy to live up to and is rife with legal loopholes. Other ancient religions believed in an afterlife, too, but they were either gloomy shadow-existences or else a vague and abstract concept of eternal existence without individuality; they had codes of behavior, as well, but it completely lacked loopholes or a very distinct code of rewards and punishments.

After talking about how religion came about, we got into the realms of what we personally believe. Caroline doesn't really believe anything in particular, as far as the existence of God or the possibility of an afterlife; but I believe that everyone has such a belief... I think she doesn't want to believe in the versions of God or an afterlife that she's been taught because it doesn't jibe with what she does want to believe (whatever that is).

The very ability to comprehend these abstract concepts, to think about God or an afterlife, or morality or any other rational concept is what indicates, to me, that these things exist. Abstract thought in and of itself is what sets us apart from the animals, and it is my considered opinion that this abstraction that we comprehend is what God is... something that is not Material in any way we currently understand, but is individual and intelligent and which our souls recognize because God is of the same matter that our souls are... and as such, our souls are not governed by the Process that governs our bodies; that being the same material as God, our souls are also immortal like God.

I furthermore believe that the only sin in the Universe is to do harm to another person. And it is in doing harm that we find unhappiness... we are unhappy when people harm us, and we will be unhappy from the harm we cause others (and for the record, death and harm are not the same thing... death only harms when we kill in order to harm, if you see what I mean).

But, Caroline asked, what about people who kill but feel no remorse? These are, I think, people who believe the person they harmed is not really a person... they live in a fantasy world, or they override their remorse with justifications, and in those fantasies and justifications, the person harmed is not real, is not human, is Other in some way. And nobody who kills or harms is ever really happy; our souls know it's wrong and won't allow happiness.

Caroline took exception on that one... she outlined the belief that, if she knew she wouldn't get caught or be punished by any outside agency (the police or God), she would very happily kill a good number of people. But I had to point out that all of the people she thinks she would happily kill were all people who had done something to her that she interpreted as harm; would she want to kill someone randomly, a stranger she's never met, even if she was allowed? On the strength of that harm to her personally, these would-be victims had relinquished or forfeited their humanity in her imagination. Because they'd hurt her, she was reasoning, they no longer had the right to live, and the only thing that kept her from killing them is that she doesn't want to get in trouble for it.

But that's not true, I argued, because the justification she came up with for why they deserved to die would have to be repeated and repeated and repeated... she would have to convince herself, because it wasn't true. Now it is true that those people harmed her, but it is also true that she has harmed other people... maybe not the same way, maybe not to as great a degree; but to say that the people who harmed her have no right to live means that she also doesn't have the right to live because she's harmed others.

To justify ourselves in doing harm, we have to separate ourselves from the rest of humanity, we have to make ourselves believe that We are better than Them; but deep down inside, we all know that we aren't better than other people, so the concept has to be repeated and reiterated and upheld by society so we can believe it. And from that need to believe that we're better than someone else comes the human need for a religion based in punishment and reward... I am better than you because my God loves me but will send you to the Fiery Pit for all eternity, and serve you right.

From there we got into the nature of souls and whether or not animals have souls. I don't think they do, I don't think animals are capable of emotion or of reason or of comprehending the existence of anything outside of themselves and their experiences. I think all animal behavior is a combination of instinct and conditioning (as is much of human behavior, I concede), that there is no will other than the will to live and to reproduce that informs an animal's behavior. Human beings can and usually do chose to change their behavior for abstract reasons that have nothing to do with the animal instincts to survive and propagate, and that's what makes us different from other animals.

I will spare you the full extent of this argument, it was very complicated; but after a while, when I was repeating something I'd already said about the instinctive behavior of domesticated animals and how it can usually be correlated to a behavior found in the wild, I realized that the reason Caroline was arguing this question so closely is because she wants to believe that animals have human emotions: she wants to believe that the cats and dogs and pet rats she has cared for also care about her, that they are capable of loving her, that the behaviors she has witnessed show a concern for her as an individual that somehow increases her self-worth.

So we find ourselves at another juncture where someone wants to believe something.

I think... no, I know that wanting to believe something is extremely dangerous. Now, I believe in the immortality of the soul, that my intellect and memory and individuality will continue to exist after my body dies, because I want to believe it; but I figure, if I am wrong, I'll never know. And the ability to be wrong is the only thing that keeps us thinking about what's True. Once you think you've found The Answer, you stop looking for Truth; and if you believe something because you want to believe it, not because you actually believe it or because it is proven, but because you have invested part of your self-esteem into the reality of that belief, then you have a motive to ignore Truth when it's staring you in the face.

Just like those people who cross their arms and state unequivocally that Evolution is just plain wrong, despite the overwhelming proofs to the contrary, and just like Caroline's attempts to outargue me that animals have souls and emotions and personalities despite all the proofs I offered to the contrary (none of which are conclusive, I will be the first to admit, I am no animal-behavior expert), anyone who clings to a belief without thinking about why they believe it, and what it would mean if what they believed turned out to be not true, these people are ignoring the greatest gift of humanity: the gift of abstract thought.

Abstract thought is hard, it's difficult to go through life not knowing exactly what to believe, to constantly have to reevaluate your beliefs against every piece of new information that is offered to you. But if we eschew this thought process, we have failed as human beings. Just as if we go through life without appreciating the beauty of this world (animals do not comprehend or appreciate beauty) and loving all of it, we have failed as human beings. If we just sit in our little circles believing what we're told to believe and doing what we're told to do, surviving and reproducing and doing things instinctively or in a pack, harming anyone who is different from us and ignoring new information, we're just animals... and then what's the point of being human at all?



So, when I woke up this morning (at a most unusual hour, seven-thirty), I had been having a dream where I was directing a musical in a drama program much like the one in Camp, one of my favorite films; in fact, my dream featured several of that film's young actors. Except I wasn't really me, I was more along the lines of Charles Busch as Angela Arden in Die Mommie Die; and I was directing the musical in a particularly bitchy manner, tearing viciously into the cunty ingenue and flirting outrageously with the cute romantic lead.

But at the end of the dream, the Buschian version of me was dressed in a pastel Karl-Lagerfeld-for-the-House-of-Chanel reinterpretation of the nubby homespun costume worn by Julie Andrews in the big "I Have Confidence" number from The Sound of Music. I even had an Austrian abbey (wherein my musical rehearsals were being held) in which to perform my rather belty version of that song. And what woke me up was that, despite my Lagerfeld/Chanel nubby suit and pert short red hair and fabulously strong Garlandesque alto, I couldn't remember the words to "I Have Confidence."

When I woke up from that dream, dazzled by the clarity of it but completely obsessed with my inability to remember the lyrics, I downloaded the song from iTunes so I could listen to it and remember. And while I was at it, I downloaded Stockard Channing singing "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" from Grease, another favorite song that I happened to notice quite randomly in the playlists.

But the "I Have Confidence" lyrics that I couldn't remember were plot-specific, all about how Maria was going to become a nanny to seven children. And this reminded me of a dream I had last week, where I had become a nanny to a family with seven children. And I was myself, in this dream, though I was younger and inexplicably liked children. They lived in a big countrified townhouse in San Francisco, and the parents and most of the kids were from the cast of Cheaper by the Dozen... notably missing from this cast was my beloved dreamboat Tom Welling, and one of the other kids was played by a ten-year-old Jonathan Taylor Thomas from Home Improvement, but otherwise it was the film cast minus five.

So two dreams that relate (however circuitously) to being willingly in charge of seven children, wherein I was either more fabulous or younger than I really am, and in which I had talents that I do not naturally possess (can't sing for shit, can't stand children). Weird, huh?


So, today I watched Van Helsing on DVD. I really liked it! Visually amazing, and rather a fun story. Not brilliant, mind you, but entirely entertaining. Hugh Jackman is such a cutie; and Kate Beckinsale is so beautiful, I could look at her all day long.

My favorite part of the DVD was the blooper reel, though. Hugh always does a funny little dance when he screws up a scene, and it's so cute. He's an amazingly charming man.


And that's all I can think of to talk about right now. I could probably come up with more, but I have to go, I'm supposed to pick up Miss Madasin and take her to the City for Cookie's Monster Show at Harvey's. I don't usually like watching drag shows in which I am not performing, but the joy of not having to get into Baroness drag again is such a relief, you can't imagine. I'm sick to death of her just now.

I'm not doing any drag myself this month. Next month, lots, but none in January. Isn't that sad? But it's just as well. I don't feel like being in drag lately.

Oops, there I go starting on another topic, and didn't I say I had to leave? Toodles!

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