Inexplicable Realities vs. Sensationalized Claptrap: TV Takes the Wrong Side Again

I was watching something on TV the other night (okay, okay: it was Ancient Aliens) that reviewed a really astonishing kind of psychic phenomenon… and then proceeded to handle it in a wholly whimsical, even childish manner. I believe the first time I was ever exposed to the idea that people can remember scenes and events from a life prior to their own was in Blackwood’s Magazine (praised be its memory), the oldest literary monthly of them all. I learned style and taste by combing through those pages, and I rue to this day the inevitable demise of “Maga” (which came, I think, in 1976).

Anyway, as I recall the story, it involved the case of an Australian who remembered a Scots castle down to the last detail. This young person was visiting the British Isles for the first time, and was staggered to find the very structures he had dreamed about, though in a somewhat dilapidated form. The author, who chanced to encounter this unique tourist, was enough of a local historian to realize that the recalled differences were indeed accurate images from earlier centuries. By the way, the piece was presented as entirely non-fictional.

The phenomenon was called a “racial memory” in that presentation, and the suggestion was made that memories may somehow be passed down through our DNA (since the Australian visitor was actually a descendant of the castle’s one-time inhabitants). The incidents highlighted on the TV show, in contrast, did not seem to involve cases of shared genetic material (or they may have, and the producers chose to suppress that “minor detail” in order to spin a more spectacular theory). Let it stand, for the sake of argument, that you or I might somehow be born with clear memories of the Battle of Waterloo even though we had no progenitors there. That’s a really fascinating condition that we cannot presently explain… but what in the world does it have to do with reincarnation?

The reincarnation of A in B would require B to recall every detail of A’s life, not just a castle or a battlefield; or if most memories have been washed away in the River Lethe, then why did any at all remain? Why, in fact, does a small handful of images covering a very brief period typically haunt the “receiver”?

And if this is the universal fate of all souls—to hop from a dying body into one just getting born—then what happens in generations that have more bodies than their predecessors did? Or fewer? Do some bodies not have any soul at all—or do some souls shuttle between a dozen bodies and earn overtime? Do excess souls chat quietly in a cosmic waiting room, hoping that abortion doesn’t catch on?

If you have a metaphysical belief in the reality of the soul, then each individual must have a single, unique soul. This is a moral necessity, if you also believe that the ultimate end of human life is to serve the cause of goodness. The murdering tyrant must answer for his atrocities in another dimension that won’t let him off scot-free, as likely happened in this world. The tyrant’s martyred victim who died protecting innocent children must also have his snapped thread caught up in the weave of a greater reality. If belief in an immortal soul is not subordinated to a conviction in the triumph of goodness, then it’s mere, pathetic paganism that ascribes understanding to cows and makes the life-extending favors of demons worth cultivating. Such debased belief is worse than none at all.

I often talk and write about Boy That Cried Wolf Syndrome. If you air out an idea in a context which ends up trivializing or infantilizing it, then no sensible person will ever hear the idea mentioned again without laughing it off. There’s a heck of a lot we don’t understand about ultimate reality; but thanks to the way popular culture keeps sensationalizing the troublesome corners that don’t fit under contemporary science’s umbrella, thoughtful people are not going to take a serious look at those corners for a very long time.

Aliens, We Need You Fast!

I’ve taken to watching Ancient Aliens sometimes because I like the historical puzzlers often introduced there. What I least like is the lurch to the conclusion that every historical or archeological conundrum may be sufficiently answered by putting a spacecraft from the Delta Quadrant on the ground. The other night I was really annoyed when these two assertions were made within five minutes of one another: a) that life could not have evolved on Earth without the Moon’s stabilizing influence on tides and axial wobble, and b) that ancient texts actually refer to a time when there was no Moon. Wa… wa… wait a minute, now! Who could have observed the moonless period and passed along that information if the Moon was needed for life to evolve? What looked like a Homeric text was quickly flashed across the screen; but Homer only mentions the Moon twice (in similes belonging to the Iliad), so I don’t know what the fleeting Greek hexameters were meant to peddle. I was reminded of how con artists will say they’re from the FBI and then flip out some toystore badge that they withdraw immediately.

Wildly presumptuous conclusions, internal contradictions within arguments, inadequate documentation… these are characteristics not just of offerings on the History Channel, but of pretty much every aspect of our culture (or our post-culture, as I call it). I heard an “expert” of some sort declare on TV the other night that our children grow brighter and brighter by the generation, and images of kids playing on smartphones appeared. If I slip on a pair of Nikes, does that make me faster than a barefooted Zulu?

Indeed, the case for our steadily dumbing down rests on the very proliferation of “devices” among us. They’re smart, all right, those chips and circuits. They do more and more of our thinking for us, to the point that our ability to string ideas together sensibly is beginning to atrophy. I had a girl in one of my classes last spring who had attended a writing class two years earlier as a freshman. I was very happy to see that she’s signed up near the end of her college work, because she had consistently made really sharp contributions in class when barely out of high school. Boy, did I ever miss the mark in that prediction! As a near-senior, she had become a dope and a nuisance, fiddling around on YouTube and tittering with her best friend as I tried to conduct discussions. She had lost all apparent regard for social propriety, for professional obligation, and for dedication to self-improvement—and, oh, by the way, her grammar had grown atrocious. After almost the full battery of undergraduate courses, she was preparing to enter the “educated adult mainstream” a worse writer and thinker than she had reached us.

This is only a graphic instance of a phenomenon that I see repeated year after depressing year. It’s one of the reasons I’ll be retiring soon. I can’t take it. You see, we educators egg this kind of thing on. Instead of demanding that students leave their i-gear and e-gadgets at the door, we require them to spend more and more time online. We tell the public that we’re “preparing America’s youth for the world of tomorrow”… or some such crap. Meanwhile, they think that research is chasing down a keyword phrase. They gather their news from the headlines that Google is pleased to flash before them when they power up. They learn to express allegiance or acquire a following by tweeting cliché one-liners and uploading photos of themselves mugging in front of some cliché venue. They have no depth and no originality… and we’re doing it to them, at an accelerated rate, all because a) we don’t wish to be thought Luddites and “flat-earthers”, b) our administrators are pushing all of it full-force (to ease more of us off the payroll and to elbow more contracts to their buddies and relations in tech), and c) we don’t have to work as hard if the children are punching buttons all period.

Is it any wonder that the line between documentary and cartoon is blurring? I guess the only meaningful question, in terms of our collective future, is whether we’ll be able to shift all thinking competency over to computers and robots before our own spiraling incompetency leaves us as dumb as a baked squash.


Hands Off YOUR WHAT?

We’ve bought a nice little piece of land in the Appalachian foothills where I plan to grow almonds and apples, just to name the two that begin my list alphabetically. I have cans and canisters of seeds saved from years and years ago which I intend to plant. We’ll see what actually comes up. Thanks to genetic modification, very few of the fruits and vegetables I would have bought at the grocery store over the past six or eight years will ever produce anything from their seeds. That’s a frightening thought, and one of the reasons I want my own land with my own food growing on it. Some day, Big Brother is going to be deciding who gets viable seeds and who doesn’t, because nothing in our commercially purchased food will reproduce. I’m sure the basis of selection will be “first come, first served”… just as I’m sure that the single year my tax-exempt charity was hounded by the IRS had nothing to do with Lois Lerner’s reign.

At the entrance to my property sit two rusty old gates. They won’t keep out any hunters who really want in, but they might be a mild deterrent to teenagers looking for some place to drive into the woods and smoke weed or run anatomy experiments. The previous owners don’t seem to care about the gates sufficiently to take them down, and we’re glad enough to have them since we are not yet in situ. It might be said that the gates are now ours: the property is ours, and the gates were a free gift. Kind of.

But what happens if, after we’re moved in and well settled, the previous owners show up and want their gates back? They say, “You know, leaving them didn’t seem like a problem before… but now we’re running really short of cash. We need another pair of gates on our farm but can’t afford to buy them—so, naturally, we thought of these two. Sorry that you got used to them, or that we let you get used to them… but they weren’t ever part of the original sale. You realize that, don’t you? You didn’t pay a penny for them. They were a freebee, given on the assumption that we had unlimited money in the bank. Turns out that we don’t, so… now we need them back.”

At this point, I rear back and scream at the top of my lungs, “Hands off my gates! Do you want me to die—do you want robbers to break in and kill us? Everyone has a right to protection in this world. Hands off my gates!

I would look pretty stupid, wouldn’t I?

“Planet-Saving” Scams: The Stupidity and the Outrage

In case I haven’t written enough about this before… let me urge anyone who reads these scribbles to view words and phrases like “environmentally friendly”, “sustainable”, and “renewable” with extreme skepticism when they appear in the context of energy. The California legislature, in its interminable and terminal stupidity, has apparently decided to require that all new houses be equipped with solar panels and that all farms devote 25 percent of their acreage to windmills. One idiot legislator was chirping about all the new jobs that will be created by the heavy-handed mandate; and when questioned about how the consumer will pay the roofing crews who profit from the artificial bonanza, he blithely responded that the federal government would pick up the tab in the form of tax credits and rebates. That means YOU, my dear, and I: WE shall pay for California’s decision to “act responsibly” and “save the planet”. I thought Californians wanted to secede… so what’s holding them up?

Umm, and about “saving the planet”… just a few words. The rare-earth elements with which solar panels are coated—delightful stuff like cadmium and mercury—are so toxic that they can’t even be mined legally in this country. In the Third World and China (i.e., where people will shorten their lives just to eat for what time they have, or where their government doesn’t give a damn if they live or not), the locations where such mining is done are known as “cancer villages”. The life expectancy falls well short of thirty. So the next time you’re congratulating yourself for being environmentally responsible and saving the planet, say a little prayer for the children whom your virtue sent to an early grave… would you, please? And by the way, the panels need replacing every twenty-five or thirty years. Their energy output is not indefinitely sustainable.

As for windmills, every time I drive west or up into the heartland, I’m infuriated. There are quite literally thousands and thousands of the things. The landscape west of Abilene was never lyrically beautiful, but it once had a kind of sublimity that I found uplifting. Now vast tracts of land from West Texas to… yes, California… look like some kind of Siberian gulag for misbehaving fans—or perhaps like an infinite gauntlet of paddles awaiting some class of sinners in Dante’s lower Inferno. I’ve never seen all of the blades turning at once, and few of them ever turn very fast. Imagine the rate at which a turbine would be spinning at the base of a mediocre waterfall, and then compare that mental picture to the pathetic gyrations of these regimented titans. It is simply inconceivable that the horde of creaky monstrosities will pay for itself in less than a century. Each blade exceeds the length of a flatbed truck and must be hauled expensively (using God knows how much gas, by the way) from whatever industrial hub produced it (using God knows how much oil or coal, by the way). And there they sit, thousands upon thousands of them, all but motionless and about as scenic as the smokestacks of nineteenth-century Manchester. So far, though many are perched in prime tornado territory, we haven’t seen the consequences of their huge blades being torn asunder near a population center. And in the very near future—far sooner than a century—when we have discovered some infinitely cheaper energy source, we will face the further risk and expense of having to take them down.

Meanwhile, the industrial donors to these idiot politicians who sell their “clean energy” programs to you, the idiot public, keep raking in the taxpayer’s cash. We are creating jobs, you know! And meanwhile, as well, those of the emoji generation who need to slap a little icon or bumper-sticker on their conscience to show that they care about the planet as they check their messages and scroll through YouTube have the drive-through fix they crave. At what a cost! But what do they care? Just as long as everyone knows they “care”.

Now Big Brother Is Coming After Our Language

I’ve been chipping away on about the fifth or sixth revision—and much the most thorough one I’ve ever done—of a textbook I wrote years ago for a unique class. The intent is to teach Latin and Ancient Greek concurrently, emphasizing their many points of overlap, while at the same time drawing parallels with several modern romance languages. I guess you could say it’s a crash course in several mutually supportive languages for a generation that doesn’t have time to waste. I was hoping that a publisher somewhere might help me market the book to home-schoolers… but the publishing industry has degenerated to the point that you, as an author, are expected to have an audience and/or marketing strategy in you hip pocket, and not just a manuscript. Your publisher’s job is confined to pushing a few buttons and raking in the money. And since home-schoolers are a rather scattered group, by definition—and since my name isn’t Kim Kardashian or James Comey—no publisher will touch my unique little volume. Well, I’ll sell it myself through my website someday soon.

But anyway… the thought has occurred to me several times that I’m probably risking a lawsuit now when I teach this kind of subject matter. You see, the ancient languages in question have three genders; and gender must frequently be expressed in such parts of speech as adjectives—we’re not just talking about the “he/she” pronoun pair. (Some languages, like Russian and Arabic, even indicate gender in certain tenses of their verbs.) On the basis of what I hear to be happening in Canada, the teaching profession could become very dangerous very quickly. That’s one reason that I’m about to walk away from it. I only hope I haven’t waited too long.

What do you do on the day when some frosted nut-bar protests, “I’m uncomfortable with the word for ‘anger’ being feminine,” or, “It’s really sexist to make the word for ‘sun’ masculine but the word for ‘moon’ feminine.” Do you tell the whine-bag to use any gender he/she/it/they wants for any word, and abrogate your duty to correct improper usage? In Canada, O Canada, apparently, you can be fined for using gender-specific pronouns that offend a “trans” person (whatever the hell that means), and you can also have your child taken away if you refuse to support the public education system’s push to mainstream transgenderism (whatever the hell that means).

This sort of thing is no longer harmless idiocy. In fact, it’s time for young people to see it in its true colors. The edu-political complex has been working for decades now to dismantle all social structures that bind us together without the help of a centralized bureaucracy. It has denigrated mainstream religious faith while laboring hard and long to wedge in faiths with implicit or potential points of cultural clash; it has prosecuted the same kind of subversion in terms of the broader cultural usage, as when it undermines the lingua franca and promotes a sense of ethnic division; and it has waged war upon the nuclear family from every possible direction, but especially through the ongoing sexual revolution. Many younger people now perceive no stability or security in anything around them—not their religion, not the language they intend to use at the grocery store, not the ground rules of a simple dinner-and-a-movie date. Only the new, nannified Uncle Sam seems as solid as a marble edifice. It is that impersonal god of the state who truly loves them and will look out for them, and certainly not their family or their neighbors. Normal human ties are only treacherous snares: that faceless, aloof, omnipotent System promising lifelong fairness to and concern for all is the one god worth praying to and the one shoulder worth crying on.

Now, our gender-touchy whiner who insists on saying buenas dias and buenos noches has no idea that he/she/it/they is a pawn in a power play; but when we become too paralyzed even to address to each other without first consulting Big Brother’s manual of Correct Speak, then the forces of evil will have won the game for our future simply by moving pawns around—lots and lots of pawns.

Why Does Language Only Degenerate?

Among other things I’m doing to wear myself out and drive myself crazy during summer “vacation” is the complete overhaul of an introductory textbook that presents Latin and classical Greek together. Every time I muck about in an ancient language, I’m struck by how much of the system has already been lost when things start being recorded. It’s very odd. We all picture to ourselves, in our arrogantly progressive mindset, a bunch of cavemen slowly stringing words together and discovering the fine points of grammar. “Me see mammoth,” works its way at a glacial pace to, “I see mammoth”… and then to, “I saw a mammoth,” and so on.

But that’s not what the written record shows. Rather, by the time things are committed to stone or clay or parchment, case endings are already in full collapse. Latin must have had a distinct vocative (for calling out a person’s name) and a distinct locative (for identifying where something happens) among its other noun endings; for we see relics of both cases, and Sanskrit has in fact preserved both in much better repair. A lot of other endings, however, probably disappeared entirely. Accompaniment and manner are both expressed in the ablative (“with great praise” and “with a friend”), though they likely had separate spellings at some point in the distant past. Prepositions were born, in fact, as case endings were misremembered to the point that many started to sound alike. Most Latin endings, indeed, are almost identical with dative endings, and in Greek the ablative and dative had fused seamlessly. These languages were in full meltdown already as the first millennium before Christ began.

I’m just throwing this out there: something was going on about four or five thousand years ago whose magnitude we haven’t begun to suspect–something on the order of a cultural awakening, a global burst of inspiration and genius. The wild-eyed types who chatter away on Ancient Aliens will point to the Pyramids, Stonehenge, complex structures newly unearthed in southeastern Turkey, Mayan and Incan construction… and the question is always, “Could this intricate creation be the work of extraterrestrial visitors? Ancient alien theorists say ‘yes’!”

Well, in a way, that’s just playing the same progressive game: i.e., primitive humans were so stupid that they couldn’t have devised such wonders on their own. I’m not dismissing the ET explanation out of hand, because these matters are so mysterious that any sufficient answer has to be mind-blowing. But did a benign ET also give us the elaborate linguistic structures which proceeded to decay in our inept and lazy custody over the next few millennia? Or were we ourselves brilliant at one time, perhaps when we lived for the better part of two centuries like biblical patriarchs… and then we began to fall apart?

At the very least, there’s plenty enough mystery in human history to teach us more respect for pre-history than we commonly display–and to alert us, as well, that we’re very capable of great leaps backward as well as forward.

The Lessons of Working Up an Honest Sweat

Lately, I have been struggling to put up any new posts or to spend much time polishing what does get up. The reason is that the revision of a book I finished a year ago has sucked me in. Once I begin a project like this one, I can’t juggle very much else at the same time. I acquire a kind of vision of where the work should be going, and I need for my mind to cling closely to that vision as I wade through all the chapters that stray hither and yon from it. I can’t simply give the thing an hour’s attention one day and half an hour’s two days later: I have to maintain focus.

Before I start making myself sound like Michel de Montaigne, I should confess that the work in question is about baseball swings as taken a century ago with very different bats. Most people would find that admission a big let-down… “Oh! I thought maybe you were writing about the possibility of preserving our humanity as Artificial Intelligence absorbs more and more of our mental function.” I would scarcely redeem myself before such a commentator if I added that no book whatever exists on the subject, that casual references to yesteryear’s hitting techniques are ludicrously imprecise and inept, and that my crazy dream is eventually to teach some of what I’ve learned through research and experimentation to young people who’ve been told that they’re too small to play the game.

For, yes, there’s a kind of mission involved in this project. I watched my son get nudged aside and passed over for the better part of two decades as he tried to advance and improve in the game he so loved, all because of his size. It ticked me off. It still does, in retrospect. And so I started learning about hitting, and learning more… all of it too late to do him any good, of course; but one of the morals of my study is indeed that much of this sport depends on technique rather than size, and that it seems otherwise only because the professional gurus no longer know the old techniques.

I will add in this forum, though, that yet further and broader lessons might be gleaned from my work. One is that life generally is a terrain occupied by mutually supporting groups of “specialists” who understand nothing beyond their microscopic sphere of expertise—and who often don’t understand that, either, but unite to conceal their ignorance before a dazed public of “uninitiated outsiders”. I can say this confidently, because I have made myself an expert on the subject of yesteryear’s hitting in the game of baseball—and yet much of what I wrote about year ago in the book’s first version is utter crap. My satisfaction in how much I’ve learned lately is more or less neutralized by my chagrin at how wrong I got it all just a few months ago. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we should always remember that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Another lesson is that we forget our culture’s past at our own considerable risk. The assumption has been made in hitting instruction that the oldtimers were comical amateurs who practiced their art about the same way that the Wright brothers practiced flying. You don’t really think that Wilbur and Orville could teach you anything about your Cessna, do you? Probably not, in terms of handling the controls… but maybe they could tell you something about the fear of the unknown or about how to keep a cool head in a crisis.

Finally (just because I need to get on with it today), I have learned that a boy needs to try his hand at something physical, and that a man needs to retain that interest in the active. As politically incorrect as it is to say, boys are in more trouble than girls today because the insulated, safety-net society is more damaging to them. They need to undertake, to initiate… and that means that they must come to know failure well and learn to attack a resistant problem from a different angle. Baseball offers all sorts of opportunity to earn an advanced degree in failure: it breaks you heart. But it can also, for that very reason, teach you how to put a heart back together again.

As for grown men, they—we—need to get out from behind our keyboards once in a while and swing a bat, throw a ball, bail some hay, drive some nails (not with a pneumatic nail-gun, please)… they need to do something other than vegetate with their “ideas”. I’m convinced that quality of thought actually deteriorates as physical contact with the world of hard labor is lost. Indeed, almost all of our political and existential dilemmas in the West are owed somewhat to our losing touch with basic reality. When I was still trying to be a “scholar”, many moons ago, I wrote a little piece about a 2,500-year-old fragment of Sappho’s where she compares a woman getting married rather late in life to an apple that has grown high on the tree, out of reach of the pickers. I pointed out that these are the best fruit because they get so much sun: they grow the largest and taste the sweetest. Any ancient Greek hearing Sappho’s poem would have known that… but the great “scholar” who reviewed my piece could only sniff and turn up his nose because I hadn’t indicated another poet from whom Sappho might have borrowed the image. She borrowed it from life, stupid!

Thank God—and baseball—that my son hasn’t grown up to be a “scholar”!