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.

Strong as a Man But Must Be Treated Like a Lady… Really?

When I first read that FOX’s Eric Bolling has been accused of sexual harassment and suspended from his normal employ, I thought of previous crusades against the likes of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Ailes appears to have been a genuine creep—but of a strictly verbal variety, in whom lewd or off-color remarks probably have more to do with manipulation than with sexual lust. O’Reilly’s greatest sin was apparently to have cracked a blonde joke about serial guest and token liberal, Kirsten Powers. Charles Payne has also been smeared and suspended lately. If FOX’s own hierarchy had booted him out for having pressured a white woman into having an affair, CNN and all the rest would have screamed and howled racism until the rafters shook… and you know what? They would likely have been right. But because Payne worked for FOX despite his African genetic material, his succumbing to the kind of slip that the left-wing elite routinely absorb before their first cup of coffee is something on the order of Ganelon’s betraying Roland.

At any rate, I was primed to be unsympathetic to Bolling’s accusers. If rats smell of character assassination for both financial and ideological ends, then I smelled a rat. I’m not a frequent consumer of FOX News, I hasten to add—or of any other news outlet. I gather bits and pieces from sources on TV and, even more, on the Net, make serious and mandatory corrections for probable bias, and then try to figure out on my own what’s going on in the world today.

Unhappily, the allegations make Bolling sound about as big a creep as Ailes—perhaps a bigger one, in that his solicitations went beyond the verbal. When I read of the charges that Caroline Heldman publicly shared, they were far beyond jokes about blondes or even being called “Professor McHottie” on the air. I don’t like men who behave this way. I never have. I can imagine Bolling being one of those men because of the way he rhetorically steamrolled everyone but Trump during last year’s primaries: it’s one of the things that made me desist from ever turning to FOX for information in 2016. No man (let alone a husband and father, like Bolling) should bombard a woman in the dressing room and through email with salivating comments about her looks and offer to arrange a lively toss in the hay. Need I say that a gentleman of the old school would have slapped a swine up one side of the skull and down the other for speaking that way to his sister… but now that feminism has contemptuously driven the gentleman from our midst, or tried its darnedest to do so, this is what women routinely put up with.

I’ve made that point in this space elsewhere. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Bolling did most of what he’s charged with. (The rebuttals I’ve read all repeat that Heldman is a whiney socialist professor who runs to every protest march with a placard: hardly a response to the details of the accusation.) Though Heldman is indeed a feminist—and an academic feminist, at that—I’m not going to take her to task for having very publicly bruised feelings while singing the refrain, “Stop treating me with kid gloves!” The point that rivets my attention in this case is much simpler. Caroline, why didn’t you stop doing the FOX gig? Once you figured out that Bolling was a sniffing hound, why didn’t you sever all association with him and his outfit? Why did you appear on his show dozens and dozens of times? Was the money that good—or the fame and the exposure, maybe? But if those were adequate compensation for Bolling’s leers and pitches, time after time, then… well, then: you got paid, my dear. And the price paid to you was what you set upon your honor—you yourself!

Honor. Gee, here I am talking like Beau Brummell. But if young women like Professor Heldman want men to behave like gentlemen, ideology notwithstanding, then they themselves must cling to certain qualities of the lady. Fair’s fair. When a man behaves dishonorably, a woman is equally dishonorable to continue putting up with him until she gets everything from him that she wants.

My suspicion, from what little I’ve read about Caroline Heldman (and it’s pretty fascinating), is that she has transferred the resentment she feels toward a dominant, rabidly Pentecostal father to other males, whom she can punish for their bullying at strategic moments without suffering any guilt… but I’m not Dr. Phil.

Slander Is Loathsome… But So Is Intimidation

A clarification: yes, I’m very, very tired of being called names because of my genetic material. The argument that a particular biological type is responsible for vast misery, not because of conscious choices made by representatives of the type, but because of overriding instincts irresistible to the whole group, is definitively fascist. It isolates the entire enemy-group (males, blacks, whites, Jews, aborigines) without reference to its individuals—without extending to those individuals any possibility of redemption. We call a man bad because he elects to do bad deeds: to steal, to cheat, to betray. We don’t call him bad because he grew up in a culture where anyone may walk into another’s house and carry off a bit of food from the larder. We certainly don’t call him bad because he has curly dark hair, and we’ve decided that curly dark hair indicates “oversexed” DNA conducive to sexual aggression. That’s “witch hunt” stuff. The very possibility of a “good/bad” determination about moral character is removed if the subject cannot make willed choices; and, indeed, to insist that a person is bad for something over which he has no control is itself bad, in that the judge has refused the terms of common humanity to the judged.

I reiterate, then, that to call a male a sexual predator merely because of his sex, to call a Caucasian a genocidist merely because of his race, and so forth is pure Nazi-speak. It’s self-contradictory, hypocritical, arrogant, inhumane… and, by the way, quite stupid.

Here’s the clarification. I do NOT therefore endorse behavior which licenses our showering deliberate liars with obscenities, pushing them off the sidewalk, punching them in the kidney, or criminalizing their exercise of free speech. It didn’t even occur to me, frankly, that clarification was needed there. When you’re slandered, you have every right to stand up and denounce the slanderer—and even, usually, a moral duty to do so; for if you allow a crime to be committed against you today with impunity, then it will very likely be committed against someone else tomorrow. But a denunciation consists of a rational argument from the other side built upon coherent principles and adducing truthful evidence to expose the perpetrated fraud: it’s not a series of counter-slanders.

Especially in this case, where men are being accused of eyeing every woman for a chance to rape her, to “double team” the assailant with an assault of twice the vitriol—and backed up with real intimidation, such as threat of a gag order or physically outshouting the other party—makes one look like the very kind of man one has supposedly been slandered with being.

I know that a lot of people as fed up as I am (probably men, especially) cast their vote in the last election because they’d had enough. They lacked a forum to bellow, “Sit down and shut up!” so that it would be heard nationally, but they found a figurehead who—they thought—got this message across. Unfortunately, elevating a “bogeyman” figurehead doesn’t address the issues underlying our culturally pathological indulgence of lies that slander large groups within the nation: it only makes us more closely resemble the unfair caricature.

Thanks to the other side for circulating all these caricatures, in the first place—you of the educated elite, I mean, who’ve been railing against “stereotypes” for half a century. The “brutal male” wouldn’t be nearly so prominent in our cultural life if you hadn’t insisted that all males are brutal. The best way to raise a thief is to accuse a kid of stealing things all throughout his childhood. Just keep up your good work in this area, O Ivory Tower Beacon of Enlightenment!

As for me, I cannot consider a guy who slanders slanderers to be a champion of truth—and I certainly don’t consider men who’ve lost every trace of chivalry to be paradigms of manhood. This side, that side… I just see one side, and myself not in the middle but far beyond the perimeter. I wonder more every day if I’m alone.

 

Real Faith and Fake Faith

I lately ran across an Arthur C. Clarke short story titled “The Star”. I suppose if you can accept space travel to the far reaches of the universe as plausible, you can also accept that a Jesuit priest would participate in the mission—though the latter seems the more challenging proposition. Clarke had to put the narration in the priest’s mouth, no doubt, in order to make his indictment of religion flow from someone who once numbered among the most faithful. Our narrator has just discovered the pitiful remnants of a once thriving culture, parallel to Earth’s highest human civilizations in its art, social order, and sophistication. Its leaders had apparently deposited the essential works and creations of a long history—or some commemorative record of them—on a Pluto-like planet shortly before their solar system’s central star vaporized all traces of life. Now the Jesuit, no longer a believer, cannot imagine how any god worthy of the name would allow an entire higher life form to vanish into nothingness, and to no end whatever.

I’ve heard objections to faith like this all my life. What disturbs me most is that a person might harbor them who really is a priest or minister—for I can’t in good conscience accuse Clarke of manufacturing this character just to deliver his atheistic message more powerfully. There are truly “believers” of this caliber who refuse to accept that God would ever allow the U.S. to be irradiated by a hail of nuclear missiles—or even (let’s keep it all natural) that God would ever allow the Yellowstone caldera to revive and become a super-volcano, its next eruption exterminating much of central North America’s population. The same people are deeply challenged when someone they love happens to die of natural causes, leaving them no one to blame but God himself… whom, in “punishment”, they may declare not to exist.

We might as well have no faith at all if we believe that having it is somehow an assurance against material tragedy or disaster. An entire planet’s being wiped out in a supernova is really no different from an individual’s being suddenly snuffed out in his sleep by a stroke. Even though his life’s “great work”—a novel written, a bridge built, a new water-filtration system invented—is not wiped out along with him in the latter case, everything we do will eventually vanish from these present dimensions. The purpose is all in the trying: somehow or other, in my opinion, that’s the measure of our souls. We’re all on a desert island, if you will, where we will never be found. We can turn wild and rape and kill… or we can build houses and carve instruments and domesticate birds, though no trace of our activity will remain within a century.

Not on the island, at any rate: but if you have faith, then you view the island merely as a small portal to an infinitely vaster reality. It is through that entry, and not on this side of it, that things will make ultimate sense. And if you do not have faith… then see if you can swing the heaviest club and get everyone to kneel to you. Your bones will be bleached just as white as theirs in a few short years.

The really pitiful ones, I repeat, are those who think they have faith, yet make it completely dependent upon a ship’s arriving at the island tomorrow… or the next day.

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.

Who Built the Moon?

Who Built the Moon, by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler, is one of the most “disturbingly true” little books that one could possibly read. I’m not going to go swat up on the details, which in any case are often far above my head; but the gist of the argument is that the Earth, her moon, and the Sun stand in several proportional relationships–any one of which is so improbable as to be a statistical impossibility. How is it, for instance, that the Moon, at 1/400 the diameter of the Sun, just happens to be 400 times closer to the Earth, so that the apparent width of the two from our surface is identical? As I say, the authors describe perhaps a dozen such “accidental” correspondences.

Then there’s the uniqueness of the Moon when compared to other planetary satellites in our solar system. No other moon is remotely so big in relation to its mother-planet. Likewise, no other planet has but a single moon. If it has any at all, it has several.

The Moon’s distance is just right to stir our oceans with her gravity in a way that would have favored the emergence rather than the destruction of life. So for the speed of her revolutions around the Earth; and while these two measurements are fluid and have changed (increasing and decreasing, respectively) throughout terrestrial history, their rates again seem suspiciously benign–and the deceleration of the Moon, indeed, has inexplicably leveled off and stabilized!

I will risk misstating some of the evidence if I keep on; but the authors also detail why no theory of the Moon’s formation yet proposed is scientifically compelling. They quote one academic wag’s remark, “The best explanation of the Moon is observational error. It isn’t really there.”

What they do not mention at all is the stunning test data of NASA indicating that the Moon is hollow and rings like a great bell in response to heavy impacts!

The intersection of so many “Goldilocks” readings (where values are “just right” for life) can lead to no sensible conclusion other than that our solar system, at least in part, was purposively engineered… but, of course, that doesn’t seem a very sensible conclusion at all to a scientist. The authors politely doff their caps to certain fundamentalist religious explanations without, however, expressing much enthusiasm for them–for the rigid Biblicist account of Creation is, after all, so hostile to science that it hardly has the right to adduce any scientific evidence to its claims. On the other hand, the scientific community has so arrogantly insisted upon its ability to explain everything (in effect making a god of its own method) that the presence of design on this superhuman scale has left it baffled. Pretending that the inconvenient truths about the Moon cited above do not exist, it has largely cold-shouldered Knight and Butler out of any sort of professional exchange.

My own understanding of religious faith tells me, “Do right. Live for higher purposes rather than for lower, and let explanations of the material world fall where they may.” For that reason, this book doesn’t disturb me as I suspect it would disturb many others. What I most prize in it is its further proof that we, as an intellectual community, don’t know nearly as much as we suppose. There are certain facts which our leading academics dare not even admit to themselves. One is reminded of Galileo’s inquisitors….

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”!