Category — what-if
Here’s a strange little essay I wrote on Eating, trying to resolve the question of how to steal the Life from other beings for our own sustenance in a moral and non-icky way. It’s a bit…visceral, and off-the-cuff so it contains swearing. Thus I’ve put it under a cut.
Click “read more” to read it. Or don’t! Or maybe write your own. \m/
[Edit: Here's a fun article that explores some of these issues from the robot perspective (because what's an issue without the robot perspective??)]
July 7, 2009 3 Comments
On this day, which I like to think of as “Memento-morial Day”, we remember the dead.
Especially we remember those who have died for reasons none of us are ever really comfortable with: because we sent them off to kill others.
But I’ve always thought of it as a day more about Death than war. War is us using Death as a weapon against each other, and I think the Fundamentally Not-Okay-ness of war comes from the fact that we know we don’t really understand Death. We know it’s powerful; staggeringly so. We know it has something basic to do with what we’re all here for, but we have no real idea what it entails to kill someone, or to die ourselves — and because of that, we know darn well that we shouldn’t be messing with it. We know in our guts that war, and other forms of murder, are bad ideas, not only because they cause so much pain to the living (both the living we kill and the living who survive), but also because we don’t know what we’re doing.
What if we found out that every time we killed, we lost some life of our own? Or that everyone whose death was our fault would torment us forever in some afterlife? Or that we’d be reborn and everyone we ever killed would have total control over us in the next life? …At this stage in our knowledge, all those things are more or less equally possible, as are their opposites.
This is why wise people, no matter what their level of knowledge, still leave the dealing of Death (and the undoing of it, when we think about that possibility) to the Great One.
Death in the hands of people is like a loaded gun in the hands of a special-needs child. We could be doing far more damage than we could conceptualize from here…or we could be doing no damage at all. Hell, we could be doing people a favor when we kill them — maybe this is all a prison. (Fun fact: I have a story that explores this idea. Unfortunately it’s not very close to finished yet.)
Memento-morial Day is a good time to remember this, and to remind ourselves that though we live with death every day, it remains an unknown — a completely persistent mystery. I’m not willing to commit to the idea that it’ll be unknown forever, but it certainly is for now. And maybe there’s a good reason for it being an unknown — maybe we do really need to “have faith” as part of our experience of this life. Maybe we need to live alongside a great unknown like Death, and learn to live gracefully, and not just “in spite of it”.
This is where I think the usefulness of memento mori — remembering one’s mortality — comes in. Even if it’s not part of some Plan that we come to terms with the finite nature of our lives on Earth, it’s still immeasurably helpful in terms of our growth and the fullness of living we experience.
Living fully while innocent of what Death is is one thing. And living fully while staring right at it is a whole other thing besides. If you read my site at all, you probably have some interest in living face-forward, fully honestly and as in-touch with reality as you can get. I don’t think it’s possible to really get anywhere with that without regular doses of memento mori.
Mortality puts Life in a whole different league. When you remember that you’re mortal, you’re forced to acknowledge how extremely rare and special every single person on the planet is to you: Because out of billions of people and thousands of years, THESE are the sliver of those who’ve lived that lived at the same time as you did. You and they shared the temporal equivalent of the same cup of water from the ocean. And the people you meet, out of the billions on this planet that you never will; well, you shared a drop of that water. If, after you die, you look back and understand this, then how could you ever condone any act of violence, or even apathy, that you showed to any of those people?
…This is a great way to come to a real, visceral, more-than-intellectual realization of why it’s always better to be kind, and always worth it to be polite. You can talk to yourself about Aristotle all day long, but spend a few hours deeply immersed in the reality of how rare and amazing it is to share conscious space with anyone, and you’ll still remember that lesson long after you’ve forgotten The Four Causes.
There are many other realizations that come from remembering Death, from reaching out and feeling the memories we have of those who’ve Gone On To Something Else and — I do think this part is crucial — reminding ourselves that we’re going there too, and that we can never really know when or how.
I’ve found every single one of those revelations I’ve had to be good, in the long run. Sometimes there’s a period of struggle, resistance…but once it passes, encounters with Death always open one’s eyes. And in my opinion, encountering Death through meditation or contemplation is far easier than the other way. Do it consciously and deliberately, and you’ll have something there to fall back on when you turn a corner and find it waiting.
“Die with your eyes open,” was a Greek saying that inspired me tons, in high school. (As was memento mori, unsurprisingly. ;) Then, in college, I read the sappy but marvelous quote by Hermann Hesse:
“You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, single power, a single salvation… and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.”
So, I’m going to use today to work on changing my aversion to Death, through understanding (insofar as that works) and acceptance (where it doesn’t), into peace.
Because I’m sure the dead appreciate my thoughts, but I’m also sure that if they could talk, they’d be telling me to use the time I’ve got to become a better person.
Happy Death Day!
May 25, 2009 1 Comment
I spent all weekend actually writing, so I consider that a pretty good reason to have skipped the “creativity post” part of the weekend.
But here’s a What-If for you anyway:
What if, as people develop, they become “perfect” for different things at different times? Like a cross between aging wine and decaying radioactive particle, the developing human, with all its complex parts in various complementary stages of expansion and contraction, stillness and motion — yin and yang if you will — passes through phases where certain things are possible that wouldn’t be under any other circumstances.
Most people I’m aware of tend to assume that opportunities for growth and achievement are generally the greatest in one’s youth, and decrease steadily thereafter. That’s certainly how I was taught, culturally. But what if older people are just ignoring the opportunities for change that a) are still just as scary as change was as a youngster, and b) are easier to overlook, now that we’re adults and “in charge” of our lives, and now that the changes aren’t so overtly physical and accepted by society? (Indeed, even the overtly physical changes of adulthood, we’re now expected to fight rather than embrace…even though if you ask me, getting older isn’t any uglier than being a teenager. ;)
We get that impression, I think, that opportunity is greatest in youth, because we think that there’s the most time-yet-unspent in which to develop something in a young person. But what hooey is that? There are twelve-year-old acrobatic and chess geniuses, and sixty-year-olds who pick up a paintbrush or dance a waltz for the first time and floor everybody. Plus, people die young all the time. As Marcus Aurelius said (paraphrased), the child and the old man who die both lose exactly the same thing: The Now.
(Gods I love Marcus Aurelius. If you’ve never read the Meditations, consider this my sternest finger-wagging that you MUST.)
What if, at thirty, you hit your perfect time to pick up a new musical instrument?
At forty-six, something shifts and you’re in exactly the right place to learn a new language?
I’m aware that “Science!” recently “showed us” that brain-function begins to “decline” in the late twenties…but how American a view, that things have to be running full-out or they’re not running as well. Is your car operating optimally when the gas-pedal is all the way to the floor??
I bet I’m not the only person out there who knew someone who picked up something new at an advanced age and was fantastic at it. And how often do observers bemoan that this person didn’t “start earlier”? Why not assume they started at just the right time, if it turned out wonderfully for them? Where’s the evidence that things would have gone better if they’d started sooner? …As a funny example, I knew my husband for more than ten years before we got married. We never dated, and we didn’t know each other as kids, even though we agree we’d have hit it off like gangbusters. But we also both agree that if we’d known each other earlier in life, or dated before we did, we probably would never have discovered the relationship we have that’s so fulfilling now. Other things had to happen to us back then that would have made us incompatible in some ways, and once driven apart, we probably wouldn’t have come back together. Our timing, late though some people considered it, was actually perfect!
Opportunities, habits, hobbies, careers…they all float around us all the time, but their shapes are complex and so are ours. Getting the fit right by sheer force of will often isn’t possible, or isn’t possible without sacrificing too much else to be worth it. Rather than grabbing for this or that and then being crushed when it doesn’t work, maybe a good alternate view is to try to keep an eye on what fits us now, and how the dynamic of those “fits” change as we grow. Understand that you will change, no matter how old you are, and keep your eyes open for new bon merde that this could bring your way.
…It’s a what-if; I’m not saying that’s how things are. But given that it’s hard to know what the metaphysical truth of growth and change in a living being actually IS, maybe think of which point of view you have as a pragmatic choice: Is it more useful to you to think of yourself as “too old” for some things, having “missed” opportunities that you couldn’t take back when you think you ought to have, and being “done” with certain types of development…or is it more useful to sit back, observe, stay open, and welcome what comes, when it comes?
(That’s one of my New Platitudes, by the way: When an obvious right-wrong distinction can’t be made, go with the concept that’s more useful. …I worry a lot less about what’s right and wrong on a cosmic scale now, and it’s a nice change. ;)
March 23, 2009 2 Comments
Welcome to your weekly Creativity Booster-Shot (abbrev. “C? BS!”), denizens. There is more Fangboner, but it’s not quite as polished as I’d like, so in a few days perhaps.
In the meantime, I’ve had this idea for a computer interface running around in my head for some time now, but since I’m not a coder and it has yet to fit into a story I can find time to write, there hasn’t seemed a good way to describe it.
So I wrote it out in a half-serious poem. Called, guilelessly enough, Operating System. (And thinking about it, I suppose it counts as a What If, too. Woot for efficiency!)
Enjoy the poem or, if you don’t like it, at least enjoy that there is a poem about someone’s favorite imaginary OS. I know that makes me happy. ;)
February 28, 2009 2 Comments
What if the defining act of godhood was the making of faces? There has to be a point at which a thing becomes a sentient thing; what if having a face is it?
We talk about “playing god” in this no-no way, when it comes to genetics and whatnot; but what if we’ve been playing god a lot longer than we realized? (And what if we aren’t the only gods to have to have figured this out as they went along?)
What if, then, every time you made a face, on paper, out of clay, out of eggs and bacon, it gained some measure of life? Maybe not enough to talk (because you don’t know how to make vocal chords, do you?) or be animated (our skill as gods not extending to muscle tissue and electrical systems); but life nonetheless. You’d never know how many beings you’d created just long enough for them to gain awareness…or long enough to live a nasty, brutish and short life as someone else’s garbage (well, there’s something we *would* have in common with the other gods, I suppose)…or to feel the pain of a four-year-old’s attempts to cut them with a plastic fork. Or maybe very simple faces can’t feel, only see; or can’t see, only sense vaguely, in some sub-plant-life barely-here way, because we’re not good enough gods to make nervous systems (yet).
Right before I wrote this, I carved a smiling mouth out of a cheese-rind, and now it’s going to haunt me all day. ;)
February 15, 2009 1 Comment
Aw, I got called “adorable”. See, that’s the nice thing about the Internet — one stray blog post can net the kind of compliment you’d never get in real life, where I usually get the kind of compliments that are analogous to people calling your food “interesting”.
Remember how the Rancor was actually somebody’s pet, and he came out and cried when it got smooshed by its big nasty doggie-door? That guy would call the Rancor adorable, and people in meatspace would look at you the same way if you called me adorable.
Therefore, by the power of transitivity, I declare myself THE RANCOR! RAAAAAWWWRR!!!
Looks like the votes will swing to Heinlein’s-Napkiny “What Ifs” for creative content. Which is what I’d secretly hoped for, and you all are butt crazy for accepting it. You do know that my last nifty idea was that I AM THE RANCOR, right? And that was a mild one.
Ah well, you’re stuck now.
In other news, I was both sick all weekend (and a bit into the week) with a killer cold (stupid razzlefrackin nurses and young children carry too much damn disease), and yet I also stayed pretty well on-schedule. Since I didn’t sleep very soundly, getting up early and taking frequent naps was really helpful, and I got better rest than I would have by doping myself up with medicine so I could sleep longer. Handled the symptoms with tea, neti pot, and rest, plus a little ibuprofen for the fever and achiness — but still, not bad, and all told I’m still kicking this thing twice as fast as most of the people I know who’ve had it. Woot.
(Coughing is a big part of this particular Evil Virus. When I get going, my Rancor Impersonation becomes downright uncanny!)
Lastly, if you need something awesome, smart, and uplifting on this [dreary/sunny/chilly/rainy/etc depending on your location] Wednesday, I highly recommend Sherwin Nuland’s twelve-minute “meditation on hope”, from the TED talks. There’s something about people who’ve stared and stared at death, but still found reasons — compelling, rational reasons — for each of us to have big-picture hope.
Give me a preacher who was a surgeon any day; if he, rather than some privileged hippy, says there’s hope, then I’ll buy it.
(Also, is it me or isn’t Jesus-the-barefoot-dirt-poor-traveling-healer a more compelling source than Jesus-the-white-robed-clean-cut-extra-nice-fellow?)
(Of course, neither are as compelling as THE RANCOR! RRRAAWWRR!
…Okay, okay, I’ll stop. ;)
February 11, 2009 4 Comments