This book was originally part of one little volume which included ”The Riddle of the Sphincter.”” Besides sharing a binding, they had a similar subject matter: things that “put the squeeze on life.” The titles of both books also shared a metaphor, since lemonade is made by squeezing lemons, and of course sphincters, well… anyway, this metaphor is rather crude, and not at all what I intended either book to be about. The book is about thinking, specifically, the misconceptions in our thinking which make life more difficult than it need be.
Certain things get simplified and misconstrued, becoming caricatures that we all share, but caricatures that miss the true character of the original. It is a sad fact that modern human beings tend to prefer caricatures to the truth, and spend millions of dollars on films and TV sitcoms to promote caricatures of reality, all of which make life seem simpler than it may in fact be.
Of course, it has been this way for years¾people have always loved that kind of caricature. Take, for example, “How many Polish blondes does it take to change a light bulb?” I am quite sure that once upon a time, over fifty years ago, some guys stood around watching four very sexy blonde-haired ladies with Polish accents turning a ladder with another beautiful Polish blonde holding a light-bulb in a socket. Thus it was that Western Civilization was endowed with a caricature of something never fully understood ¾ for the one on the ladder was a Soviet Russian. They never grasped the real situation ¾incorrectly passing it down through the generations as a joke, instead of a sad comment on the inefficiencies of totalitarian blondes. Not only that, but this first Polish joke spawned thousands of others in hundreds of versions, which were eventually circulated in countless emails which will continue to pop up and slow our nation’s productivity forever, making us nearly as inefficient as those Soviet era totalitarians.
Here is another one.
Common knowledge, derived from misconceptions in our thinking, used to tell us that the incompetent boss at the office got there by either 1) deviously falsifying merit, 2) being hired by a relative or a boyfriend, or 3) some other form of bribery. But as Dr. Lawrence Peters demonstrated in The Peter Principle, there are many good reasons why bureaucratic systems continue to reward incompetence. Indeed, the “Peter Principle” ¾ that people rise to their level of incompetence¾is the characteristic which best defines a bureaucracy.
It is our oversimplification of the failures of bureaucracy which gives us the ulcers, not bureaucracy’s failures.
Without understanding that people naturally rise to their level of incompetence, “common knowledge” tells us instead that “scum rises to the top.” We believe that the failures of bureaucracies are because the world is full of nepotism, laziness, kissing up to the boss, fear, and greed. Pure and simple¾”Good guys finish last.” I grew up not wanting to accept this as true, and wanting to believe what I was told in Kindergarten about merit receiving its rewards. Not that merit was never rewarded, but far more often I found the cynics’ message confirmed. Indeed, “Good guys finish last,” and “Scum rises to the top.”
So you can see that it is precisely this type of “common knowledge” which causes stress in the rest of us common everyday human beings ¾ for too often reality doesn’t match our expectations conditioned by caricatures of the truth.
After being introduced to Peter’s Principle I came to idealize it. Here was where sociology and phenomenology met. Here was an ideal “law” of political science. Voila!¾ people rise to the level of their incompetence. It was demonstrated with near-mathematical elegance, and with even deeper insight, it included pictures! This contribution alone deserved one of the great prizes of literature and economics.
Unfortunately, soon after the success of The Peter Principle, a fellow named Murphy put out his book on “Murphy’s Law,” so that people would confuse the two and buy his book instead of Dr. Peters’. He profited by this, since “Murphy’s Law” soon became part of the language and the Peter Principle seems to have been forgotten (especially by the successful). Even though Murphy’s Law is not a law but a maxim, we all now know at, “If anything can go wrong, it will,” and a reminder that “The unexpected should be expected.”
It was with Dr. Peter’s accomplishment and Mr. Murphy’s great success in mind that this book was assembled.
Several years ago I set myself the task of defining the fine line between pleasure and happiness. All thinking aside, this was a surveying task of no small proportions. It entailed countless experiments and long trips into academically unknown territory. Once I made my way into that veritable jungle of delights¾for you understand that in order to survey the fine line separating pleasure from (who knows what?) anything you must immerse yourself in all sorts of things, including chocolate and whipped creamy frufru drinks¾I started tripping over stumps in our logic and holes in my thought. Pulling myself up and out of the mud time after time, I realized that I had stumbled on several misconceptions like those of Mr. Peters.
I started sorting them out, and found quite a basketful of stumps and holes. Perhaps they are not as original and counter-intuitive as the Peter Principle, but I do believe that they can be extrapolated out to some mighty odd conclusions about how we get so many scabs and blisters.
My first thought was that I could not be the first to have
discovered these principles, or axioms. In some cases they seem to be
true lemmas underlying the famed “human foibles.” In that case,
I thought, we should find them in Mr. Franklin’s Almanack, or in La
Fontaine. We should be able to extract them from the fables of Uncle
Remus, or old Aesop from
But the fables give us lists of the many ways human beings will always act in apparently illogical and contradictory fashion, but not why they must always act this way. Voltaire doesn’t give us a catalogue in his Philosophical Dictionary of ludicrous hypocrisies, and Erasmus only describes the surface phenomena in The Praise of Folly. That is, he points at the incompetent boss and says, “See for yourself, bosses are not as meritorious as they’re made out to be!”
All of these authors give us something to laugh about, and challenge our conceptions of things – but don’t give us an underlying rationale for why things will always be this way.
Sir Robert Burton, in his 1652 Anatomy of Melancholy did a much better
job. He tried defining the underlying rationale of our conceptions about
life which are patently wrong, the ones we teach to our children and
believe in ourselves. His answer was that humankind is afflicted with
various forms of what he called “melancholy,” a malady which goes by many
different names in the psychiatric texts of today. So
The first misconception I have to deal with is our thinking about paradoxes, and why they are not only very possible, but exceedingly natural. I begin this book with a story – “The Riddle of the Sphincter,” which is a way to introduce both paradoxes and the kind of paradoxical answers which my thinking often leaves me with.
The second misconception I discuss is a strange loop in which happiness is misinterpreted as wisdom, allowing us to be quite happy with many contradictory conclusions.
The third is a misconception we have about speaking¾ that it often serves as the principal means by which speakers realize things, that is, it is how people make things ‘real.’ Speaking may have very little to do with communication at all.
I follow these with my “Lemonade Lessons,” which are a list of principles ¾generally based on misconceptions¾which I find rather intriguing. This is not a definitive list, but rather an exercise in anecdotal analysis. “Anecdotal analysis” might be considered “gossip.” I spill my personality in an anecdote, and then punctuate it with a terse little principle. A preacher does the same, and calls it the “moral.” What the preacher does, however, is spin a long sermon after the moral, tying it to every known biblical allusion and current political hot-button he can find. Because I am very anxious to get onto the next story, I leave most of the extrapolation and sermonizing to you. And why should you expect me to add that to this book and make it long and boring?
I offer these as conjectures ¾ and hope you enjoy them, despite any mud you may detect still in my mouth.
Lemon Tree, very pretty
and the lemon powerfully sweet,
but the fruit of the poor lemon
is impossible to eat.
- from a 60's pop-song.
This song, and this book, is about bitter truths, or "lemons we must all live with." I am not one for sour grapes, which is why I have chosen lemons. We all know that when you combine lemons with the dynamics of squeezing and a few pounds of sugar and ice, you have a very sweet and refreshing drink known to passing motorists as "lemonade." This drink can be still found by the roadsides being sold by entrepreneurial 6yr.old savants who have never squeezed a lemon in their life.
The most effective alternative purpose to life is to complain.
Our minds are usually in one place while our bodies are in another.
We forgive people by imitating them.
Spreading your bets doesn’t help for happiness.
Packaging counts when we become our displays.
Imitators and predatory tricksters are part of nature.
We will either think like everyone else or talk to no one.
It is the role of the successful to define the truth.
We create idols, bow to them and kill for them.
Good Principles are applied until they reach their level of incompetence.
Bean-counters will have the last word, and money is a precondition to happiness.
Evil is very real.
Every few months or so I stop by this little bar at the corner of a neighborhood shopping center that has free hot roast beef sandwiches for lunch - and if you ask, the barmaid will give you a giant jar of horseradish along with your beer. And the beer is only a buck. And the barmaid Mary is a gem. If anyone ever pictured a wifty blond, happy and loud and bouncing from one side of the bar to the other, it might be her. She's a little heftier and older and tougher than the St. Pauli girl, but just a little. And everything you say is the occasion for a happy crack, and a flouncing gesture as she thinks of something else she has to do. Never long enough here, never there, just everywhere serving and wiping, and dishing, and ringing up, and drawing a tap, and laughing. A laugh with every other word.
I stopped in last week and was immediately throttled by a very drunk fellow, about 28 or so, with a ball cap on and a few teeth missing who demanded to know if I was a Jew or an Italian. It's not the greatest of neighborhoods. Mary greeted me with "So what'll it be, your regular?" and let it be known I was a regular rather than a Jew or Italian. I'd only been in maybe 4 times, but Mary's a gem. So I turned around from the guy and paid for my beer with no incident. And right away an old geezer with an older undershirt falling over his shoulder sits down next to me. He too is very drunk, and introduces himself.
"I'm wondering if you could do me a favor" he
asks. "I'll give you one of these twenties to give me a ride home."
He pulls out a wad of bills and peels off a grubby
"I would if I didn't have a meeting to get to at one," I said, "I'd be happy to drive you wherever. But that twenty'll get you a cab. Why can't you get home that way?" I asked.
"No cabbies `ll pick me up here anymore," he says. "When I'm like this I give'm too much lip."
Then to illustrate, he calls over to Mary, the barmaid. "HEY YOU!!! You f'((#n dizzy B I TCH!!!!
Wher's MY f((##N shot!! You DIZZY f(*@@#N BITCH! Get your overstuffed ass over here, BITCH!! I want a BEER too!"
"Oh, I see. No wonder they want to kick you out" I said. "But she's too happy to talk to like that! Can't you watch your mouth?"
"No," he said, "I can't.
I'm always telling them they can't fuckn drive, or they missed a turn, or they see like a blind old lady. I just can't help it. By the way, my name's Bill."
"My name's Spark Eye, and like I said I'd be glad to drive you to your place, but you'd probably yell at me the same way, and besides, I've got a meeting to go to right after I finish this roast beef."
"It's turkey, you ass hole!"
"Well, so it is !!. But anything with this much horseradish tastes like roast beef."
"I used to grow horseradish years ago." He said calmly. And just as calmly, turned to Mary, "You dizzy BITCH!! I'M WAITING FOR MY beer.!! AND the SHOT!!? You fuckn' fat DIZZY BITCH!" And then he looked at me with an elfin smile and winked.
Mary hadn't laughed since the last lashing. She was vacantly wiping the bar, and arranging glassware.
"You don't get another beer. You're too drunk, Bill, and you're going to have to go home."
"You're right." Said Bill. And he stumbled over to the drunk with the ballcap on, and two of them stumbled over to me and shook my hand and started to leave with some other guy who had agreed to drive them both home for the twenty. And as Bill left he began his tirade at Mary all over again.
He was very convincing. When he was yelling at her there was not even the slightest hint of the game he was playing. There was only the immense power of a deep-seated anger; and it was backed up with a razor-sharp bitterness that was meant to leave scars.
After he left she tried to manage a bit of a laugh once or twice, and I'm sure in a little bit she bounced back to normal. Because Bill was a regular, and was clear he really had a soft spot for Mary (and probably for cabbies, too), but he just couldn't get these feelings down right. Bitching was too gratifying.
Complainers like Bill have accidentally stumbled on a common denominator underlying action, and have solved it in a personal, if seemingly perverse way:
"The most effective alternative appetite for life is to complain, bitch, or simply trash."
We all know of types who seem to sustain themselves on complaints. Your mother or step-father may show it in different ways, but I am led to believe that the ease with which we can fall to bitching is just a very standard dashboard component that many of us steer by as we drive through our little worlds.
Those people on our respective blocks who can only complain about things don't do it because their senses are dulled, or because they are dowdy and old and have nothing left to live for, but because they have sidestepped the dilemma of desire and hope. This is why it works so well. They must come up with a complaint quickly so as not to appreciate anything that comes their way.
If you thought I was making a mountain out of a mole-hill to start my list of lemons with the proclivity to complain, you had better take it back. Because you know very well that frustrations are everywhere, and complainers seem to have their finger on the pulse.
Frustrations represent the biggest constraint to behavior – they keep us from doing things and having things. But putting things down, effectively trashing them before they ever have a chance to affect you does away with all kinds of stress. Our senses are constructed to filter things out and so bitching is a primitive defense behavior masquerading as critical acumen.
Now when friends and family and co-workers trash my ideas I remind myself that it is because it makes them feel like their filtering faculties are up to snuff, and says nothing at all about my ideas. For these are excellent.
But it has taken me many years to fully understand this lemon. In fact, it is ten years since I decided that this would be the first lemon in the book, and I never fully understood why. But after so many frustrating years trying to get this book published ~~~now I understand! It is perhaps the most important lemon to always keep in mind, anywhere you go and however you turn and tap-dance through life.
"The most effective alternative appetite for life is to complain, bitch, or simply trash."
Here is the lemonade to be made from it.
Bill dedicated his life to his frustrations; in fact he fed on his frustrations and any around him he might find. There are many people out there like Bill who have given up, and are rather more dedicated to frustration than believing in happiness of any kind. It is understandable. Happiness is a tough thing to really believe in. Frustrations are everywhere and happiness is, well, kind of fleeting for the most of us. The way we handle the frustrations in life, the work of life, is one important part of what differentiates us from one another.
It is difficult to feel you are part of Nature and everything fits together for you all the time. And even when everything is going your way, the feeling of Nature pulsing inside your life doesn’t last. And that is frustrating to even the richest self-centered slobs in the world.
Once you realize that frustrations are in the way of happiness, it is frustration, not sadness, that is the flip-side to “happiness.”
Now this is helpful to understand, since helping people overcome their frustrations is a very big business around this world. Even an entrepreneur with the best intentions may create their new business, or build some big new stadium or expressway giving people jobs; but much of what that business work is the stuff to make frustrations go away.
Lots of people make their money from this simple fact. In fact, lots of people are in the business of making sure we stay frustrated. They believe in the Bill inside of you and me.
Frustrations are absolutely here to stay. How you and I and Bill handle this fact is one of the big differences between us – and most of the people we will ever run across.
Bills and those of his ilk bring his world into ours, and grab their small bit of contentment and confirmation from the exercise. Politicians who benefit from fear and anger are also in this kind of business; people who peddle false dreams and sell excitement as a substitute for happiness are another. Whole industries exist to foster frustrations, and they are filled with plenty of assholes who believe the money they’re making proves the truth of that very world. But it is no more than the truth any fool can recognize.
Frustrations are absolutely here to stay. They are the fuel for many an effective alternative appetite, the need to make those frustrations tangible and real. In believing that this is the absolute way of the world makes those frustrations satisfying. Bill put them at the center of his universe. All of Nature was simply frustration, and so he could find satisfaction – even the most frustrating of satisfactions – by acting out those frustrations.
So now when I run up against true assholes of this type, I always remind myself that, as frustrating as life may become – it cannot be worth giving in to make them real, to make them serve as my own best alternative purpose in life. As strong as the urge to feed my frustration level becomes.
You may doubt the truth of this lemon if you wish. Anyway, at the end of the day the truth will come out.
As Bill left the bar some fellow dropped it all in one simple sentence:
"That guy would be a whole lot better off if he didn't still live with his mother."
I occasionally find that my mind and body are in the same place. While driving down the highway with my mind in the gutter I often find myself driving in the gutter - and whenever in the midst of a veritable garden of delights I usually find that my mind has entirely surrendered to being there, too. But most of the time my mind and my body go their separate ways.
Alienation from ourselves comes in many different flavors. It precedes alienation from others, from our society, from our technology and its organizational complexity. We tend to consider these latter alienations as bad, but they are not. Alienations are natural, and are only "bad" to the degree that we let them become destructive.
Alienation is more natural than we can imagine, for we face the most difficult existential problems of consciousness at the youngest age - when we become aware that we "turn off" during sleep and that we are capable of dreaming the most fantastic experiences when we turn off. Even a 3-yr-old gets that odd feeling that our minds can be in one place while our bodies are in another. For they know very well that their body was in bed under the covers while their mind fell off a bridge during the nightmare a few seconds ago.
With the age of sexuality we face another aspect of this lemon, which can seem quite bitter and complex. But like we can accommodate to the idea of going to sleep, and like we learn to differentiate dream-states from conscious-states, we eventually learn to handle the self-alienation of our sexuality.
Eventually, we reach the age of snoring. There is no way to cope with this form of being out of control than taking a room at your local motel, where your alienation will escalate into a major life condition.
Alienation is real and natural. But to put it another way, without the natural tendency to be disassociated from oneself in many different ways, we wouldn't have the natural ability to associate and integrate different parts our world into our lives. Holding many parallel versions of ourselves together as a single entity is the converse of this lemon, for although our minds are in one place while our bodies are in another, we have learned how to integrate them as one. As trivial as this may sound, it is this skill which is critical to living a meaningful existence.
I am sorry there is no one particular story to go along with this lemon, but then, I’m sure you have one or two of your own. As you read on, you will see that I do too.
I once became acquainted with a 32 year old woman who was not in my immediate family and whom I came to like very much. Once a week I would trade 2 hours' wages for 10 minutes of caresses and 5 minutes of talk - or visa versa. The long and the short of the matter is that I learned quite a bit from her when it comes to people, a poignancy of the human condition which is most interesting. And it is this:
TO FORGIVE OUR PARENTS, WE OFTEN REPEAT THEIR MISTAKES
She and I often talked about our kids and about growing up ourselves. She had been an only child who hated her mother. Her mother had abandoned her while gadding about town having fun, bringing home strangers, and earning a living at it. Meanwhile the girl grew up to become the president of her high school science club, was an amateur botanist who bred striped roses, and was currently raising two kids and putting herself through college.
Now I knew she loved her own children and was very devoted to them. Her car seat was littered with educational toys and Ranger Rick science magazines for kids. I knew the front seat of her car because that's where she’d have me leave drafts of new essays and stories for her kids. So even given the similar profession, I did not immediately compare her current situation with her mother.
But several months later she moved to a new location which she told me about, and so I was able to visit her there. I found out she was now living away from home and her mother was taking care of her kids. I was surprised, but suggested this must be finally bringing her closer to her mom. She denied it, and bitterly said she could never feel close to her own mother, but that the aunt who brought her up was her only REAL mother. I found this statement hard to understand in the face of the lie she was now living.
That is when the awful truth struck home. By doing what she was doing she was identifying with her children -- knowing their hurt, seeing them in herself. She was caught up in an inescapable loop, a net she wove for herself... one she should have seen through. She wanted so badly to forgive her mother, she was becoming her.
This revelation about her disillusioned me to a great degree, and after that I found I had little inclination to see her. But it gave me something new to look for in the actions, and justifications for actions, of people around me.
What came of it was a very unfortunate revelation ¾that people who are the victim of injustices or atrocities are very liable to perpetrate them in order to accept, and ultimately forgive, the injustice. They will, of course, never admit to forgiving what was done to them… just as they will never admit to the similarity between that and what they are doing to someone else. But this is, in fact, only a displacement for forgiveness. It is a horrible thought, which does not have the internal consistency of an absolute principle, but it is a horrible thought nevertheless.
In some century-old books I have seen something of the sort called “morbid curiosity.” It is tied to our need to “realize” something by making it real, and so feel a sense of control over it. As I said, it is a horrible thought that our inability to conceive of the horror of something we have just witnessed can drive us to imitating it. We may willfully recreate the horror of it as a way to finally make it real. We must make it real so that we can deal with it; and by doing it ourselves, we can in the very same act, forgive that reality. What a horrible thought. If we could only learn to forgive others first, we wouldn’t need to perpetrate the same errors in order to forgive them.
Several years after the girl who
grew striped roses, I became acquainted with another girl named
She had a degree in social psychology and had been a drug counselor for the city before she figured out that by stripping in clubs and over the Internet she could make 3 times per week more than what a social worker made in a month. She also had a degree in business, and had run a pet store for 11 years or so before it burnt down. (Perhaps you have read about her in one of my other books.)
She maintained a dozen separate ambitions and seemingly contradictory lifestyles next to each other ¾ and could put them altogether in one sentence without a blush. In many ways she had her shit together. But it was pretty clear that while she was spreading her bets on achieving her goals, she hadn't increased her chances much by the routes she was trying out.
Most of us (at least in our younger years) have many different ideas of things we might want to do, and people we might like to be. We construct our selves from many possible futures, and from many different slices of our past. From this we try to construct an image of happiness.
Contentment is a bit different for each of us. Some want to see joy, or satisfaction, euphoria, ebullience, elation, exaltation, ecstasy, rapture, pleasure, gratification, exhilaration, delight.... Or just comfort, serenity, peacefulness. For some it's about some feeling of well-being, tranquility, and calm. But overall, it's about confirmation of our selves at various levels of the muscular, sensory, and cognitive apparatus.
Us humans operate to know everything's YES! Confirmed. Of course this is simply an extension of the Axiom of What is In Us All, for that “YES!” is the very feeling of having it all together with Nature her (or him) very own self.
“Humans Operation To Know Everything’s Yes” is mnemonically acronymable in the following term: "HOTKEY" (Humans Operate To Know Everything's Yes).
The logical structure of a HOTKEY comes down to dealing with global and local selves at the same time. When we have a feeling of being "confirmed," or "validated," or "happy" we are at a local cusp of some global definition of ourselves.
When a toothache redefines all our sensory apparatus around one horribly high and long inner shriek, we are brought suddenly to the global cusp of some local definition of ourselves, and this is not a happy situation. Unless we bring this upon ourselves, which is the very common goal of sexuality.
When several of our parallel activities at different levels of ourselves work, then we have confirmed ourselves and our way of organizing the world. Local and global worlds are suddenly organized the way we think: "Everything's YES". The hotkey is down and a connection is made. Energy is flowing.
We naturally have many hotkeys. Some of us try to
cover our bets, and develop as many as possible --- like my girl friend
The upshot is that the number of hotkeys you have in your personal social world does not really increase your chance of confirmation, since the happy feelings of contentment come from integrating many parallel levels of living experience - the body, the mind, the corpus mundanus, the corpuscular desiderata, all - through some accident of gentle combustion - into a harmonic triangle which, when touched with a tuning fork sounds like doinggg. Making the global connections from one or more of your local senses.
It should also be clear that, because we constantly equilibrate, happiness will disappear very soon after we come upon it. One cannot stay on the cusp of global and local for long. The global perspective is quickly given its local face and you are no longer sharing two planes of existence.
If there is any sweet juice to this lemon it is that in fact our bets are generally spread from the start. We begin with a full house of ways to find happiness, and while the stratagem of adding to your list of life objectives can be quite helpful, getting caught up on this approach will multiply the odds against you succeeding. I am not an authority on this, it just sounds right.
They say you cannot tell a book by its cover... but that's only when the dustjacket has been removed. This saying originated before dustcovers, when every book just had gold embellishments around the title and up the spine and they all looked pretty much alike.
The problem is, that we do judge books by their covers, and people by the way they dress and act and talk. And this merits a lemon of its own because so much of the social culture is display. In fact, so much depends on our displays that fakery, misleading packaging, and falsification will always appear as short-cuts to the real thing. False packaging will live with us happily ever after.
We choose displays that others can understand, and we display ourselves in many ways. How we clothe ourselves and what we drive in are displays, as are the way each of us chooses to express ourselves. In common chitchat, posturing in front of the troops at work, or blowing smoke at the bar.
Some of us become strutting peacocks, rutting elks, blowfish, or fireworks; others become window displays wearing the same hairdo we had when we graduated highschool 30 years ago. Displays are what make people-watching fun. Enough of this. You know all about displays and the covers of books. What most of us don't realize is that we become our displays.
Displays are mighty important because they help us lie to ourselves as well as others. Packaging is for our own sake as well as for the sake of those it is intended. This is why we become our displays. Once we put on a display, or package ourself in a particular way, we must confirm this package along as many parallel tracks as we can. Eventually the packages are us and we are them, no matter how false and plastic they seem to others.
We must believe in our packaging in order to maintain the correct posture. False posture (posturing) is very evident to children and dogs and to most of us with eyes and ears. But when you really believe in your display, posture is at the core of the display, and can make someone something they are not.
"Dress makes the man but posture makes the dress."
Good posture can often supply the clothes to the butt naked.
In the story of the king's new clothes it was kingly posture that kept his subjects from seeing that the monarch had nothing on. Just like it was the posture of Microsoft that continued, year after year, in convincing the press and the intelligent public that it had new and better technological solutions, instead of stolen, less robust, and often critically incomplete worktools. But Microsoft hired people who knew the rules of posturing, who rejoiced in their craft of weaving invisible cloth.
I shall not point a finger. It's an all-pervasive strategy - so all-pervasive that we often accept an obvious sham as true cloth. Odder yet, it will often make a sham into true cloth. Well, almost true cloth.
I once watched a self-serving egotistical snob go into politics because he could celebrate self-serving egotism. He looked down on everyone else as a dupe, and proved himself correct by creating himself a career as the most influential citizen in town. All he needed was to posture, and keep his face in the local media with all manner of dumb photograph, week after week. He became a councilman and President of the School Board, and took advantage of whatever collusion and graft he could get his hands on, becoming a manager for a major housing developer. He had no formal education beyond high school. And yet, after about a decade in the public eye his demeanor took on that of a well-educated, balanced mind. He learned to listen to others, and did many of the things that a well-meaning council member should do, like visit people with problems, and study statistics. The sham cloth was slowly taking on the qualities of true cloth._
Displays help us train ourselves. Without them we would have a nearly impossible time adjusting to our environment. Our entire cultural baggage is part of the language of displays. Its literature, media, and advertisements are displays. Marshall McCluhan suggests that all the extensions of humankind: every bit of the technology with which we adjust our living space and which we use to adjust ourselves to a shared world are part of our display.
So why be completely negative about this principle? Packaging and displays let us act. Displays, posturing, potentially misleading packaging is the basis of human theatre.
Think of the play-acting we do to help someone make it through the day.... Or the false posturing we do to help ourselves make it through the day.
A fellow phenomenologist named Erving Goffman thought that the reason we allow such utter nonsense as theater with its most ridiculous conventions to pass for a decent rendition of reality is because it imitates the way we present ourselves to ourselves. We invented theatre, and accept outrageous acting and terrible scripts because it imitates real life. Life is a stage, and we accept outrageous acting and terrible scripts in each other, day after day. That's why soap operas and melodramas, zany shoot-em-ups are real to us, perhaps more real because of the attention the actors give to acting out a part, packaging themselves for others' consumption. Just like us.
As I said, the real lemon is that packaging counts -- and because it counts for so much, false packaging will live with us happily ever after. So don't bitch if you're taken in.
Anyone who has watched the Nature channel once or twise is aware of the many tricksters in nature – charlatans who lay their eggs in someone else’s nest, or predators that imitate a sweet flower in order to trap and eat some innocent bug.
Well, perhaps it is not so odd on the part of Nature, or clever on the part of all those strange fish and bugs and meat-eating flowers and toads and such. Perhaps it is a previously undiscovered natural law: the law of puns and mixed metaphors. Puns are where two things are put forward as one, with wit and panache and good humor. Mixed metaphors are where things are mistakently confused and misused. Imitation and mimicry are so very natural they shouldn’t surprise us. It is when imitation is used to take us by surprise that we believe there is something else afoot. Something ‘higher’ with a sort of genius.
It had not occurred to me to think this way, until the socioeconomist Jane Jacobs pointed out how many of the predatory and unjust social structures around us were caused by improperly-applied principles, borrowed (or imitated) from a different species of human culture as a way to entrap the unwary. She showed that when the ethical structures of hunters are crossed with structures designed for tending the land, that many of the hybrid morals entirely lose their foundations... and many natural social hypocrisies result in our national and international policies.
I will be frank with my readers, here. This may seem a very farfetched use of concepts of language to pass off as a socioeconomic principle. Professor Jacobs is known to have spent time drinking in the White Horse Saloon on Hudson Avenue in New York, and for this reason I trust her socioeconomic principles very much. Especially since this is where Dylan Thomas is said to have drank himself to oblivion many a night. And since so many of us spend our lives tending our asphalt land and hunting for plastic grubs I find Dr. Jacobs’ discovery a very interesting unavoidable constraint to human affairs which is worth entering into the catalog of manure we must endure. It comes so very close to giving us a generalized diarrhetorical principle, that I have included it with the lemons.
One of her points was that politicians use morals from one world to justify actions in another one¾as if they are part of the same system. This is, of course, a very generalized behavior of politicians, whether the deeper conclusion about chaotic moral codes can be derived from it or not.
The real point is, that many things are quite different and should never be mixed together, but they are confounded by politicians as if somewhere, far away, they are on the same side of things. A diarrhetician can find common denominators in just about anything, as I am currently demonstrating. In some cases these confusions cause great stress and distress, not to say misery.
Nature herself is the first politician. "The Axiom of the Ass-hole in Us All" is one of the profoundest ways in which Nature confounds us into making the same mistakes over and over. We confuse happiness with wisdom, confusing a global feeling of correctness with the correctness of all our particulars. There are many little ways in which we let ourselves be fooled, as well.
For example, we insist on counting things on our fingers. We talk about numbers as if they are for counting. We think in counting numbers ¾ while nature counts (when she pulses) in powers. What math teachers obscure by calling "logarithms."
It happens that brokers and bankers and billionaires don't divulge the fact that they are successful because they look at the economic world around them the way Nature would. We think the most "natural" way to count is on our fingers because nature fooled us by giving us fingers. If we had webbed feet and hands we would never think of counting the way we do., Because we count this way, we’d never even think of counting all the leaves on a particular tree because in ones and twos this is an insurmountable task. But a businessman has shucked this misconception. A businesshuman would multiply-up the components -¾the trunk, boughs, main branches, branches, twigs, leaves. If there were 10 boughs, 10 main branches per bough, 10 branches per main branch, 10 twigs per branch, and 10 leaves per twig, there would be 100,000 leaves. Since there aren't exactly 10 of each, he'd figure there are between 80,000 and 120,000 leaves. Then he'd put a price on 120,000 and take his chances. That is, if I've got my rithms straight.
Businesses are bought up and main streets closed down, and
towns dried up for reasons which make no sense at all to you or me who think in
ones and twos. We can argue all we want and use numbers to prove our
case. And the ‘
The real problem comes with the game of mixing metaphors. It is a thorny issue indeed. For rhetoric finds it very handy to compare things --- to make one's point with a picture, or whiff of suggestion, squeezing the metaphor ad nauseum until you forgot what the original subject was.
Many a glib politician takes the most complex issues and reduces them to a common denominator by channel-surfing terminology, putting everything at the same, and suddenly equal, remote control distance. Then treating the language he has spun as if it is the reality you and I are voting on.
This is rhetoric ¾ and there were once those who argued for its importance in the curriculum of all citizens of a democracy, who considered the damage which can be done to civilization if we don't know every subtle twist and trick which rhetoric uses to distort our reality. Well, all I can say is those ancient Greeks at the dawn of our civilization lost the argument. We have proved how civilized we can be without understanding a whit of rhetoric, trusting our demagogues to lead us to greater and richer pastures, especially for the top 6% of the wealthy, who control over 95% of the pastures. I’m satisfied chewing grass a second or third time over in my cud, aren’t you?
But certainly you must think I'm a loser to suggest we learn rhetoric as a way to minimize the damage done by such a thorny, thick turd as the willfully mis-gauged word. I believe this lemon says that this is a natural part of the flora and fauna of life.
Leave it to the politicians.
Once upon a time there was a company that made complicated miniscule and precise little medical devices used in heart surgery and other parts of our vascular system. Of course to make these devices, you need even more precise and complicated machines in your factory. To keep them precise, they must be maintained very carefully, and on schedules that keep a small army of technical maintenance men busy around the clock. So busy, that you might just think of all these technical maintenance men as part of a giant clock. Factories can do many things nowadays that could not be done, even by an army of Swiss clockmakers, because we have computers, and programmable control equipment that can be set in motion and run in the place of thousands of fingers and eyes which could never be coordinated so nicely at once.
Well, I happened to be sent by the company I worked for to
Miami to help that company move all the maintenance and control data from a big
mainframe computer and a smaller mini-frame computer and a few other computers over to new distributed network of PCs and
their server, which was at the time considered very new way to control the
work. Going to
This generally means that you must analyze everything very carefully, and then do practice runs. There are always mistakes in your analysis, or in the hands and feet carrying tapes and pushing buttons and misplacing keys for control cabinets or whatever. After the first dry run (where we didn’t do absolutely everything, but only tests to prove we’d gotten the analysis right) we proved that we knew how to do the job , and that it could be scheduled through 4 twelve-hour night-shifts and a week-end.
That was all the bosses needed to hear. Seventy hours. We’ll shut the plant down at on Friday, and you’ll have it back up for us at on Monday. That gives you 66 hours. We know you can shave off four hours somewhere.”
That is my story.
The social sphincter has us in its grip. There is no getting away from it. We must pass through before we are shet free. We form teams. We are quicker to do this than we readily admit, especially if we are computer programmers and arrogant technocrats who hate having others looking over our shoulders and telling us what to do. But as much as we hate to do it, we are quite capable of identifying with the griefs and stresses of others and lending a hand.
Suddenly we are reorganizing our lives to meet some
organizational goal or social objective. This is how I got caught up
within the grey cubicle walls of that factory in
The key to this lemon is the fact that we are, indeed more isolated, unique, and different than we like to admit. Because of the consternation which these differences give us as children, we watch the other children very carefully, teaching ourselves to behave as others are behaving. This starts in infancy and carries on well into grammar school and beyond. We are helped along by Nature's natural ability for animals to mimic patterns without understanding them. Mimicry is there to help us test our pattern perception, and is a big piece of how we perceive patterns in the first place. And this same built-in mimicry is at the base of the group-thing we eventually become.
The very first problem which turns the group-thing into group-think is when we learn to talk. Our talk identifies that which can be talked about, that which can be seen, and how it is all structured and toggled into space and time. This, in turn, defines a good bit of our cognitive life.... and for each language we speak with each group of speakers we can find our boundaries have become slightly... or powerfully different.
Our languages don't just point to things, but they try as best as they can to represent the dynamics and music of reality. They decline things - and the declensions become entire dimensions of our worlds. So depending on our language, we slice our perception into many or more dimensions, by the rules we use to point with, our declension systems: grammar structures and words with all of the personal experience and socially-derived experience they refer to. We live in these declensions rather than in three dimensions.
But the bottom line on the spreadsheet is that if there were just one thing to define our very bodies into a group-thing with a group-think, it is our talk. That is, those who share a group-think are a groupthing - a culture, a people.
From this comes a proclivity for teamwork, or its flip-side, to become toadies to a company line. We can organize our behavior with a clique of friends, or with a fanatical schism in the political mainstream.
On the positive side, specific little languages with their very functional declension systems are the means through which we become members of any society or subculture, of any team or workgroup. And through these many different group-things we are part of, we can tie ourselves into history and humankind, however small or large the compass of our imagination is. This is where we derive very important confirmations of those very specific definitions of who we are.
This is what is nearly impossible to break free of. No
way around it. Even if you're raised by wolves like
Yet many of us grow up hating groups, and wish to escape the group-thing. And here is one good reason why: groups can be arrogant as hell. As soon as they find some happy equilibrium, they believe it is due to wisdom and ‘rightness.’
A group of people can feel they are very special. Their confirmations feed off of one another, stroke each other up, push each others' group-defined hotkeys. Each person in the group keeps the juice flowing to provide teenage chemistry and that inner feeling of invincibility. So the group becomes very elitist, believing they are the answer for which nature's world was intended. They act among themselves with entirely different codes of respect and honor than when they are among "the others" who speak a different dialect of group-thing.
This is so commonplace we needn't mention it. Yet from generation to generation we continue to ask ourselves how THEY (some other group) could be so arrogant as to think they are so special. Obviously. It is because THEY HAVE THE ANSWERS. Life was created to confirm this fact alone! They are ass-holes playing with their sticks.
How to escape group-think. The first childish impulse is by introducing your own language. Unfortunately, if you are successful you will be forced into the groupthink with anyone who adopts your new language. It will be groupthink again, and you will become just as elitist and inward-turning as any other group of ass-holes.
The only answer for those who hate group-think is to learn many many different languages. Multilingualism, and with it multiculturalism, is actually the only real key to freedom. This is a key worth turning over a few times in your head if you are locked in. I will not say anything more.
This is so simple it's a shame to have to mention it. Its corollary is that over the long haul the winners eventually lose out, and their history is not told the way they told it. Losers often disappear forever and their history is never told at all.
Bell Telephone might well have been Gray Telephone had Elijah Gray submitted his patent for the telephone in the morning instead of the afternoon. Old Elijah Gray probably beat his fists on his chest and cried to the heavens when he went to the movies and saw Don Ameche playing Mr. Bell and not him in the film they made of Alexander Graham's life.
I know someone whose father blew a family fortune on the Alf Landon campaign for president. A lot of work went into that campaign... hours of effort and over a century of his family’s heritage – all their collected earnings up in cigarette smoke. All that is left on the walls of their little house are portraits of wealthy forebears by famous painters that used to hang in mansions. And nobody remembers Alf Landon, let alone the family of the big banker that backed him.
But in many cases, the losers manage to run away and bide their time until the opportune moment. Then they grab the first opportunity to get to the top, to finally tell the truth – forgetting that they, too, will eventually lose out, and their truth will vanish along with them. They would do better by avoiding success and keeping their truth to themselves. They will last the longest, and their truth will pass down from generation to generation behind closed doors. It is very hard to criticize that way, and can never be disproved.
The upshot of this lemon is that if you are one to disagree with someone else and pick a fight, winning is important, because losers don't always have the energy or interest or life left in them to get back up and try again.
It is a bitter peel to take, and an even harder one to respect. Cynics mix it up in powdered form and drink so much, they’ll make you new batches without a local source of water! "If you are powerful and rich you can make your own morality ¾ because you can rewrite your own history! Success is the basis of truth... so whatever you do to become successful will eventually be redefined as good."
Statistically speaking, having read a number of history books in my time, this lemon will generally hold within your lifetime.
I have a corollary to this lemon, that
ARGUMENTS ARE JUDGED BY THE CAR YOU DRIVE.
This is the story of how I found out that no one minds sitting at traffic lights or being stopped at three traffic lights in two blocks. And that I was out of touch with reality ever thinking otherwise.
I was the Chairman of my town's Highway Economic Development Committee, with the charter to look into improving traffic flow, finding new tenants of decayed properties, and identifying areas which could be developed to bring more taxes to the town. This may sound very boring, but in general, I am a very boring guy.
I was appointed Chairman because I was a long-time Zoning Board member, had plenty of ideas and worked hard and wrote grant proposals and was the only member of the Municipal Development Commission with an advanced degree. Everyone else was in real estate, construction, casino furnishings, auto sales, or owned a factory or two in town. They had money, invested in properties up and down the state, and knew how to run up debts in six or seven figures for several hours to pull off a deal and pay off the debt several hours later, all for a thousand dollars profit.
At the time I was Chairman of this committee I happened to park at a convenience store next to a car exactly like mine. A group of 17 yr. old skate-rats having a food-fight suddenly emptied out of the store and headed for my car. Which, as I said, looked just like their car.
So it was clear from the car I drove that I was hardly one who speaks the language of know-how.
I was ousted, or sort of nudged off my chair, at what turned out to be a critical meeting. Standing at a large aerial photo of the town, I was suggesting we bring in the state planners at our next meeting. The state had asked us to submit new zoning and development plans for which we would be eligible for special funding; while the county had offered us free engineering, and the Department of Transportation had put my grant proposals for parklands on their list for next year's approvals.
I was hoping straighten out some of our traffic tangles and to create a new zoning category for our decaying apartment and condo complexes ¾to consider them villages and lay down new rules for business investment and delivery access. It would encourage investment and rebuilding and we could afford to turn some of the creek properties along our highways to parks and greenspace. Meanwhile our local builders and carpenters would gain first-hand knowledge of new ways to up-grade old apartment complexes, winning more bids up and down the state and bringing more wealth and jobs to the very same town locals who sat on my committee.
But the town's tax assessor said fiddlesticks with the state. There were lots of old highway properties to redevelop and residential lots to sell to business. He said that traffic tangles were natural, and that everyone who wanted to shop at our stores could figure out a way to get to them. He also explained that it hardly mattered if certain locations were always out of business ¾eventually, other stores always moved in!
The logic was obvious. He laughed and said with a sniff in my direction that it was clear I knew nothing about business economics, development, or retailing, and ¾ since he himself was both a real estate agent and developer with over thirty years experience. I had nothing to say to him or the committee.
I countered that one of our major shopping centers had no direct access from the primary corridors through town, all because a dirt road through an empty auto mall had never been paved. The alternative for a potential shopper was to turn off the main highway a mile up, then wait at seven lights and a non-regulated intersection between two super shopping malls and the exit from an interstate. I said this traffic tangle always takes at least 15 minutes to get through, and it was our duty to business to help people avoid it, and lower the traffic. I thought, at the very least, no one liked wasting their time sitting an extra 15 minutes at those traffic lights.
Now here is where my story supports the hypothesis.
To my astonishment, the tax assessor said "No one minds sitting at traffic lights." And all the men sitting on the committee chimed in with each other in his support.
My mouth dropped in disbelief. "No one minds sitting at traffic lights!? People HATE traffic lights!!"
"You're wrong," the wise businessmen on the committee wagged their fingers at me, "You don't have any knowledge of business affairs. When people want to get to a store they don't mind lights at all," repeating his absurd assertion. It was clear they were all shopping at the new mega-center outside of town and didn't mind wasting a half hour of their life on their car-phones to save a buck fifty-nine.
"But," I said, "we can avoid all the lights and shopping centers by having the state complete that cloverleaf!"
No. We didn't need to improve traffic flow. In fact, if we could sell more properties, and the developers would put in more lights to improve traffic flow.
They charged in behind the Tax Assessor and changed the subject on me. Selling properties was the subject.
The Tax Assessor suggested making the committee's priority selling more undeveloped lots across from the shopping mall, to take advantage of all the new traffic going to the mega-shopping center on our border. Then the committee began discussing the possibility of another shopping center instead of helping out the dying highway locations we already had.
Stunned, I walked out. The tax assessor took over the chairmanship, putting the Rotary Club to work every Tuesday morning to identify isolated wetland properties that the town could donate to developers who needed them to trade off for more commercial wetlands they wanted to build on, thus adding to our tax base (and destroying what hope I had of parklands).
What shocked me was that I knew the businessmen who had turned against me. They all knew better. The Rotary had created the commission to identify exactly the kinds of highway problems which hurt our town's economy. The wealthiest industrialist in town had joined only because he had seen my plan to clean up the creeks and woods around town and make them into what he'd known as a kid. And they had let the commission be reduced to selling properties.
Several months later some of the Rotary members casually mentioned that their plans for a highschool planning initiative had also been dropped, as were all the plans for creating parklands and recreation areas.
So everyone lost except the man who used his prestige and previous accomplishments to change the criterion for truth. When we were getting too close to the Tax Assessor's interests, he calmly stepped up and called the committee's bluff.
With a look of authority and a simple sniff ¾to think anyone else understood anything about economics ¾he made the other committee members ashamed of themselves. He called on their class consciousness. In this case, a rich man shows by his very wealth that he understands economics; nothing else counts. I drove a factory worker's car and dressed like a poor teacher. It was a done deal.
The "truth" was determined by the person who could posture it best. Having the most authority wins out.
By most peoples’ accounts it is a straightforward story. The liberal cynic will tell me that he and his son are tax assessors for half the towns in this end of the state, and they are real estate developers in the other end of the state where somebody else owes them favors. This isn't surprising at all. The problem is, I also happened to know the tax assessor and his father and his family. They were not on the take. They were upstanding citizens who believed in themselves and their perspective of things. I posed more of a threat to that perspective than any prospective business dealings he had in mind.
What I found so curious were the faces of my other friends on the committee, as they assured me of the "truth" of something so outrageously false as "no one minds traffic lights." They weren't drugged, or hypnotized, nor under any type of stress or pressure. They were not scorning me, or putting me down. Rather, they looked at me quizzically, as if to say, “Robins Redbreasts arrive in the spring, not the end of summer! You seem confused.” Their memory of reality vanished for a few moments when it was necessary to affirm a SOCIAL TRUTH... one must defend your peer-group.
The Deputy Police Chief, the Assistant Principal of the High
School, and the representative from the Rescue Squad all backed his authority
to change the agenda of the meeting, and the purpose of the committee.
His claim to authority simply held water. For in the end it was them, not
him, who came up with the most ridiculous arguments to support his case
"that we should NOT help the state improve our highways, we should NOT
come up with ways to make our stores visible, and furthermore, people will find
their ways to our stores if they want to shop there." I still
must scratch my head to understand how anyone could excrete this type of non-logic
Our Tax Assessor is a man of authority because he believes every word that comes out of his own mouth. People believe him. He is often cited as being the most upstanding, trustworthy, unbiased and incorruptible man in town. And indeed, I am afraid he is. He believes in himself wholeheartedly, and will not let anyone corrupt that belief.
He is the answer to all of nature's challenges and doesn't need to acknowledge suggestions from anyone who sees any other challenges. On the spot he coined the unique economic principle that:
It sounded wonderful because it was spoken like the truth. This was not a malicious fabrication. His brain came up with it to meet my challenge, and he was probably astonished at how good it sounded. I'm sure he will believe it until he blurts it out at a real estate convention one day and a good friend laughs in his face. Then he will dismiss it as something "he thought he heard somewhere." He will never use this bit of wisdom again, believing that "he heard it somewhere." It was a "truth" concocted to serve a purpose... and it served quite well, thankyou.
But were I a man with success on my face and keys to a Porsche in my pocket, he would never have gotten away with it.
And to hear myself say this is pure cynicism that years ago would have made me wretch.
Now you may think that talk of idols is only about gods in the olden days. You don't believe we worship idols anymore, except maybe teen idols. And I have even gone so far as to say that we bow to our idols. Of course, when it comes to getting down on our knees before our idols, we must learn to draw the line, for getting on one's knees is probably a very ancient prehistoric symbol of your willingness to service the man or woman or idol or president in question. And we wouldn't want to insinuate this at all.
The reason this lemon grows from the lemon tree is that it
seems that in order to represent acts of human energy and spirit we seize on
symbols...physical representations of those acts. These represent great
dignities or humilities for us - - and very quickly these become the very dignity
or humility itself. The American flag is that very same flag being raised
When we express something intangible in terms of a symbol, this symbol takes on the reality of all the intangibles we can't put our finger on. We seize on symbols for the positive life-giving meanings we can't otherwise express. These become our idols. We also seize on symbols of our intangible frustrations and alienations. These become scapegoats, and take on a reality in our lives, as well. And so symbols of inexpressables take on a far more important role than what you'd expect they deserve.
You will always run across people with bigger-than-life symbols. It is always clear to you of course that these symbols are as preposterous and exaggerated as the large epoxy dinosaurs and windmills on a miniature golf course. But I'd suggest you walk very carefully around other people's big symbols, and put your head down when you putt. Because these are their idols, and they define people's games - they represent life's meaning. And people often bow to their idols before they will bow to their God.
If you don't know what the Peter Principle is, it states that when people do a good job at something, we give them something harder - or different to do. And we keep doing this until they can no longer do the job well. What we don't do is put them back in the job they did well. No. We leave them in the job they can't do well. And so our governments and businesses are full of people doing jobs incompetently.
Well, it turns out that we do the very same thing with our principles, our codes of behavior and moral dicta. If a principle, like say "survival of the fittest," or "Oedipus Complex" accidentally works, we try it over and over; here there and someplace else to see if it works there, too.
And we insist on applying people and principles where they don't belong at all, and when they are disproved in that context we chuck them out as worthless instead of putting them back where they belonged and giving them all the support we can.
Unfortunately, here is where lawyers come in. Since there will always be novel situations, and we will always try to extend our principles to novel situations in which they don't apply, we will always need lawyers. Lawyers are there to declare a situation is novel and that a certain code of behavior does not apply. They are also there to declare that a situation is not novel at all, and that an old outmoded code of behavior will suit us just fine. And we must pay them either way, since most of us won’t claim to know every situation that ever was, or how to tell what works and what doesn't work.
The bitter peel of this lemon is that we will always have lawyers. The other bitter peel is that if you think you are learning things and integrating greater meanings and value and quality into your life, whatever rules you think are getting it to work in your life won't work forever. And you'll have to start figuring out something else real quick, or you'll disintetegrate into a dumb and empty slob.
The juice that can be squeezed of this is that science and social science must always go onwards and upwards. Whenever you've discovered something, like I think I've discovered here... apply it wherever you can, and know that many of the places you're trying to put your rules to use really aren't applicable at all. But this is a juice that is hard to drink, and so I expect you to sugar it up quite a bit and go sell it to your friends by the gallon, cheap - and apply my many hypotheses to everything you can lay your measley authority on.
And if I have extended the Peter Principle to its level of incompetence you can tell Mr. Peters and not me that his principle is generalizable to principles in general.
I hate to say this, but I've come to realize why the bean-counters will always emerge triumphant. If you choose to live in society, with any of the benefits of human toolmaking or technology it turns out that "exchange is a precondition to happiness." Unfortunately, this is pretty close to the same as "Money is the precondition to happiness."
The shallowest of barflies alongside me often declares that the secret to life is money, the precondition of all happiness, and I have held my tongue through a desire to maintain my nose as a place to rest my eyeglasses. Yet here I am agreeing with many such shallow nitwits.
The peel of this lemon is very thick and pulpy and supplies the concentrated lemon flavor for the cynic's lemonade (the stuff sweetened up with saccharine and colored with urine). It is a bitter peel for someone who would like money to go away, and all the people who live for money to be proven crass and selfish and wrong. I am sorry, for they will not.
Economic values and human values are so frequently opposed to one another, it is hard to believe that they are globally on the same surface.
Value is derived first and foremost from nature's requirements to stay alive - both satisfying our own nature and protecting against Nature's arbitrariness. After this, selfish value can be found in the social origins of groupthink - something is valuable which brings us to ourselves through other people. Something also is valuable if it helps us explore our own personal senses, or to bring us through ourselves to others.
If you keep this in mind and unpack the previous paragraph to its fullest, you will invent many a valuable new asset for civilization. And if you play it right, at a penny profit on a dollar's sale, you can sell your new products and services to global markets for millions. But remember where these selfish values came from.... and since you've basically got the whole world to promote your new human-based values to, look at where your pay-back is coming from. You are being paid through a whole different kind of value.
Human value or no, it is the communication of goods and services which is the crux of social value... and communication means creating relationships between people. And relationships are the realm of numbers, for this is all that numbers fundamentally are. The reality of money is like the reality of "numbers" like Pi and square roots. These are not "numbers" on your fingers at all, but real numbers which exist because they are names given to relationships of real things. THEREFORE, money in some form or other is at the center of the circle around which most of the social world will dance: for money (in some form or other) is the alphabet of economic communication.
It is not the reason for the communication -- we are -- but the figures which the bean-counters draw, and the description of reality using one or more of the alphabets of exchange is at the center of things for the majority of us.
Pinning relational systems to all sorts of things in this world can not be ignored, whatever game or language you choose.... and the almighty sawbuck or yen, the dinar or the groebel or the zafnung of exchange seem to be the ultimate accounting of value.
I will give you yet another ugly reason why the bean-counters hold the key to happiness.
Perhaps you happen to have a self-sufficient farm on a well-stocked lake - and you can make all your tools and spin all your cord and yarn by yourself. You could be happy. But if you had a family like most families... that argued about who washed dishes last night, and who has to take out the garbage tonite, it would help to have an accountant. For there is quite a lot of picking and planting and canning and gutting of fish, and carding of wool which you have planned for your happiness. Creative accounting practices to sort out and regulate the hundreds of tasks involved will soon gain the upper hand. Coming up with methodology eventually comes first... then comes the happiness.
We could do away with money by using credit cards and our computers to create a giant barter economy of our labor and all the goods and services in the world. But once we progressed this far into the future order of things (for indeed this is where we are going), the most creative accountants will define values and set the tempo for the rest of us. And since we don't have access to their means of creating wealth by having the right kinds of figures to balance, there will always be plenty of shorter ends of the stick for us to choose from. The bean-counters will still win.
So whether the bean-counters insist that compounding money over time is the closest thing to a universal language, universal principle, and the basis of all value.... whether they are representing the compounding of solar energy in living tissue, the seasonal fluctuations of fishing tackle, or the natural pulsing cycles of office space rental --- humans will continually put even more energy into the buying and trading of social communicative power. This means looking for ways to create relative power - creating of things and services and dreams which move other human beings to action. Creating new, sometimes false, human values. And this, by the way, is the realm of political power.
While what the bankers, political bosses, advertisers, and corporate executives do is motivated by their own individual human values, the whole is driven by numbers and accounting balances between different number systems.... and all this is driven by the fact that there are so many of us in this world.
So it unfortunately comes down to the fact that the beans do make truth --- smell of potential truth... truth emergent, if you squeeze us long enough. Even if this is a truth with a stink that many of us cannot bear to live with.
Many people consider injustice as evil, or a source of evil.... and by the same logic consider justice as source of good. But frankly, I can't conceive of justice or injustice being big enough words to grab onto the totality of horror which hundreds of thousands of people in every God-forsaken land are in the midst of at this very moment. Not that I have experienced this kind of evil.
I will defer to something simple and everyday to explain why evil is real and inevitable.
First, there is the fact that meaningful structures are fragile and may come apart easily. Ecologies come apart for altogether unforeseen reasons - whether the reason is some obscure nematode dying out in a backwater swamp, the transfer of the jovial mailman who once held together a neighborhood, or the loss of a morning ritual that held together someone's head. Such passing phenomena may be considered as "evils" because of the losses they cause. But this is not the evil I'm talking about. Ecologies can change and recover themselves in some new form ¾sometimes even a richer form than before. There are other things that can work like cancers, that mutate themselves in order to destroy whatever they meet. I'm not sure if they always give themselves away by smelling of sulfur.
But by the way, if you are about to walk into a black hole of anti-matter, a vacuum that can do nothing but fulfill its need to destroy everything involved with it, I would suggest that running run it is no better than pushing everything behind you into it. Instead, you should respect it, like one does a very thin path on a very steep cliff. This is a ghould idea. "Ghould" is pronounced like “should,” and combines "good" and "ghoul." I mean to say that this is a "should" that has you between a rock and a hard place. You got no choice. This is what "exorcism" is about.
It is the reality of evil laughter which convinces me of the actuality of real evil. Not that we hear evil laughter on an everyday basis. But the evil laugh is a laugh which describes something more than contempt. Much more. In it is a chasm, a vacuum in a sound which asserts its own existence forcefully, and ironically asserts that you must soon be drawn into it. At that point you will be minced and shredded, and with only a small addition of acid, pulped and anulled. After which you will be made over into something else.
In studying evil laughter as an example of that which could truly be called "evil," it is clear that this has nothing to do with justice or injustice.
I also have discovered that even this real evil may sometimes have a moebius-like existence ¾ being evil in the local sense and not in the global sense. Or visa versa. And this is where people think it's relative, or a matter of perspective. This is when it can get very dangerous.
Now the example I am going to use to describe what I see as a surface condition of evil is exceedingly “tame”. In fact, it wouldn’t even rate a “1” on the Richter Scale of earthquakes, which at their worst produce the crashing and gaping holes I described above, to respect quite carefully before they bring on an earthquake that either crushes you above or below, dropping you to your doom. We are merely talking here, of the nature of underlying faults which can cause these gaping holes in the earth around us.
I should start where it started. I married outside of my religion, but in due deference to my family, my wife converted before the wedding. She had no immediate family other than a loving brother, who was happy she was off on her own.
It was years later, when my children were still in the lower grades, that my wife changed their religion without my consent or knowledge. I happen to like the religion which they were changed to, and I understood perfectly what her reasons were.
She herself had gone back to her own faith in order to pray to saints and light candles for her brother who was dying a pitiful death. There was no way to deny her this, nor her desire to want her children to share that faith -- which is indeed a faith. And I could understand her perpetrating this act of deception with her own leap of faith¾ for she prayed that it would work out for the best. But she also knew quite well I could not give my approval. To do so would be to alienate myself forever from my parents and family who did not have the same feelings as I did about either Catholicism or prayer.
But once my kids were Catholic I was in the same predicament. I had to choose between my children or my family ¾or lie to both. I lied to both.
About ten years later, after my mother was gone, and after I'd had a violent break-down caused, in part, by the stresses of living this simple lie, I told my father that my family was Catholic.
His reaction was immediate. Leave them. Forget about them as if they didn't exist. I convinced him otherwise, and we got on with our lives. But had my mother been alive I would have had to tell my parents to forget about me, instead. More likely, it would never have gotten to the discussion stage. They’d just never know why I was being carted off to a psychiatric retreat for the rest of my days.
Locally, there was nothing "evil" in my wife's act. Globally, however, it was in a context which could only be charged with a violent conclusion. What devoured my insides was truly an evil that lasted until both my parents were dead. This is a very simple example, which might be charged with some high drama in the pen of a dramatist. It did not devour me, but along with several other stresses in my life, nearly killed me. I choose it as an example of ‘evil,’ because it has the correct structure, and yet it is very simple and non-threatening.
A thoroughly modern answer to this type of dilemma is called "counseling." There are times when this might work. Unfortunately, both my parents' respected the symbols of their culture and meaning (their idols) more than they respected my freedom to choose my future. Similarly, my wife's love of her children and respect for the symbols of her culture were more important than her respect for my responsibilities as a son. For either party, to submit to counseling would cost more than the sacrificial goat, which was me.
I could be cast aside more easily than either of their idols. In the final analysis, justice was done. I was taught a lesson about the disintegrative nature of conflicting symbolic structures, and the continuing stresses of interfaith marriages even this late in 20th century American culture. No harm was done except its imprint on myself and my children and the eventually broken marriage. But this is commonplace.
When there are symbolic issues at stake, and there are idols involved on both sides (which many people have been killed for), there are "relative justifications" on both sides with some violent overtones.
This is the simplest type of "evil" which rational beings will try to minimize and tell us that solutions may be found. Indeed, solutions may sometimes be found. I will leave it to you to extrapolate such simple faults out to their major ground-shaking earth-breaking conclusions. This type of fault is often based around the clash of symbols with incompatible meanings, where the entire structure of the value of life seems to be at stake on each side. Locally, it is. Globally, it seems avoidable¾and there are many gooshy-minded liberals who would tell us that evil is all relative and entirely avoidable by rational means and proper education. I would like to remain a gooshy-minded liberal myself, and so would beg their pardon if I choose to disagree on this point.
There are times when evil is locally and globally evil. And this is a real de'evil of a thing to get a hold of. This evil especially must be respected as one respects a very narrow path on a steep cliff, as I suggested before.
LECTOR: I think you'd better warn them.
AUCTOR: Of the steep cliff? Of what lies below?
LECTOR: Well yes, literally below. That is, in the next several paragraphs.
AUCTOR: What's bad about it?
LECTOR: You will never find an editor to make it understandable, that's what.
AUCTOR: The discovery of a simple logical dilemma - which can be correlated with the problem of evil is very important.
LECTOR: Cut it in half.
AUCTOR: You're unfeeling. The problem of evil is very important.
LECTOR: You already said that.
AUCTOR: I'll bet you don't even believe in ghosts.
LECTOR: I made no allusions to your illusions. They have nothing directly to do with the pure origin of evil, anyway.
AUCTOR: It's the germ of evil in every definition, the inherent disassociation and incoherence within everything which is my most important contribution here. I suppose I could make most of it into a footnote.
LECTOR: That's not a bad idea. And put all the stuff about inherent randomness in the footnote as well.
Well, one of the simplest, and most original of principles behind even the first and second lemons is the problem of things being distinct from what's around them. It's a problem of drawing boundaries, even boundaries between the local and global that I've been so fond of mentioning.
And the problem is that something cannot have its own boundary definition completely described unless there is a way "inside" to reference what is "outside" the thing trying to describe itself. But the only way it can have something "outside" inside it is by having something entirely random, that is, distinct from itself, and underivable from itself by any rule whatsoever.
LECTOR: You promised to...
AUCTOR: There was no way around it, sorry.
And the lemon would seem to be that we have to carry some kind of absolute unmeaningful garbage inside us at all times, simply because we need this as a basis to point to that which we can't touch, that which is outside of us.
We incorporate this into everything we say and do that has to do with our boundaries.... With confirming ourselves. And there must be a piece of garbage built into every perception we make and every inference we test.
LECTOR: Where's the footnote? I scanned the whole next page and haven't found it yet!
AUCTOR: I didn't need it. You seem to be breaking up the interminable prose just fine.
LECTOR: One of these days I'll have to teach you something ....
AUCTOR: You might point to this principle and say that everything we do requires a bridge of faith. Or you might say the opposite, that there is always a component of dissociation in everything we say or do. In order to reference anything on the outside we use that which has absolutely no connection to us.
In every definition we create, there is something which is random and disassociated, which can never be recreated from a rule. For this reason I will lay a bet that we can never ever make a copy of ourselves, no matter how many zillions of copies of our DNA we generate, we are trying to accomplish the impossible.
LECTOR: I'm glad you've gotten back to sex.
AUCTOR: Are you excited by all those zillions of sperm? I think it's a rather strange phenomenon, that nature reproduces in such incredible numbers. The argument that this evolved out of necessity doesn't seem logical, for it would seem that one big white sperm cell shot with the accuracy of a cue-ball into an egg and dropped in the corner pocket would have done the trick quite nicely.
LECTOR: So what good would that do you? Big stick, plenty of eggs, and no cue ball. You can't even make it in the corner pocket!
AUCTOR: That's enough from you!
LECTOR: Tell me about evil! I want to hear about true evil!
AUCTOR: Believe me, you don't.
This disassociate principle is also where the evil of things bigger and sometimes overpowerfully real - more real than us - can get inside and assert itself. That's about all I can guess about it. What we feel is evil could be from a primal principle, as simple as this:
"Everything is absolutely unique to itself, and carries inside its own piece of the outside - of a "separateness" which is beyond its understanding and structure."
Somewhere in the gut of history, the Judeo-Christian lore tied the origin of evil to a fellow called Satan. The story of Satan is that he was really the very highest angel and closer to the creator Principle Mr. God than anything or anyone else. But he wanted more, and got thrown the hell out.
To return to my demonstration of this dimple in all things, if this is truly a principle within the very nature of the "one and only" as that old Meditteranean folktale suggests, then there is still a dimple within His absolute and uniqueness. Now the One-and-Only (that we often call God) has no definition whatsoever. Yet if ever there was something to define about the absolute then there must also be a pretty horrendous and dangerous something inside and outside those boundaries. And that's the D'evil.
But d'evil is not as simple as the opposite of "The Force" in Starwars, i.e. "The Dark Side", or as Manichaean as thinking there is good and evil in everything. That would be silly and overly simplistic. It's good enough to satisfy the questions of a three-year old. But if we don't have anything better to answer, we better take it or leave it.
"The devil inside the definition" is more like what happens when some gap, a cynicism that laughs at good faith, finds its copy inside of you and and begins ripping you up. That gap, that alienation and cynicism is evil.
It is not evil intrinsic in the cause. One can come to understand and sympathize with the cause of the greatest evils ¾I grew up trying to consider the birth and growth of Nazi Germany, and understood that under similar circumstances I, too, might have joined up. It is the violence which the definitions of that movement did to so many other peoples’ definitions of the world which unleashed so much evil.
To be defined we need "boundaries." Defining those boundaries will always call forth an outside from our insides. It is always there. But when something else does the "calling forth," what comes forth is an image of that something else reflected inside of you, and this is what will rip you apart.... whether it turns to loathing and hatred, or obsession, or raving of some kind or another. It's my guess that this is where the true nature of evil comes from.
All things equal are only metaphorically equal... equal in one way or another. What makes a difference is what makes everything different.... And how we connect them.
There is no truth to be found in any system of representations other than what constitutes an adequate representation. This is what is called a criterion of adequacy.
It is at the core of everyone's game. We judge things according to some personal criteria - and that's what allows us to believe things are connected and have meaning. For us, these meanings are very personal. It is the criterion of adequacy we've used to connect things that is the basis of our feeling of uniqueness and identity.
The very same criterion of adequacy is also at the basis of scientific method, for science and mathematics are also representation systems. But I hardly need to get into that to show that truth has all shapes and no shape.
And you will notice I am speaking in metaphors, like a politician and diarrheatician.
LECTOR: Talking Apocolyptic Diarrhea, maybe. Do you realize this is more nonsensical than anything you've said up to now!!
AUCTOR: I have been leading up to this peak of philosophical prowess throughout the book. You just didn't realize it.
LECTOR: Here I thought we were walking on a flat terrain. Suddenly we're at a precipice. You have led me to a cliff, and it turns out it was a slow uphill climb all along.
AUCTOR: To see the amazing view. What a good description!!
LECTOR: I don't see YOUR view. I just see clouds. And you're asking me to keep walking! Don't be foolish. Throw out this lemon, it's too highbrowed and mistical.
AUCTOR: That's "mystical"
LECTOR You think I don't know what I spelled?! Throw the lemon out!!
AUCTOR: What I wanted to say is that, for people and their meanings, as well as for science and technology, there is no truth other than that which has a test, and every test must be based on a testing criterion, and this is a criterion of adequacy.
And we take the adequacy of this adequacy on faith. It is not all kept in vacuum containers at the National Bureau of Standards. And of course, as the world of technology gets to a more and more microscopic atomic level, what we get from the Bureau of National Standards is based on faith in the principles through which the standards are created.
Which is why I believe there will one day be a theoretical science of equivalencies. In fact, there will have to be one invented just for our technologies. It will be only be a mathematics of metaphor and art.
LECTOR: No, no, NO!! You're going too far. You have wasted your breath on me.
AUCTOR: Chill. It's not as bad as you think.
AUCTOR: The classes of equivalences I may hasten to add, will be as vast as the sets of trans-finites, and as capable of exploration as the world of fractals. We can leave it to the eggheads.
LECTOR: Excuse me, but is that yolk dripping from your ear, Humpty? Or is it something else, Mister Head-Head?
AUCTOR: May I continue? You know I'm planning on a Nobel for this... or at least $150,000 from the MacArthur Foundation._
LECTOR: (looking at the ceiling and whistling a happy tune. He stops to stifle a fake sneeze) I must be allergic to something around here.
AUCTOR: A logic which demonstrates the categories of equivalence will allow a mathematics of non-equivalences to be built, and will let us grasp how metaphors work, what makes art work, and how respect and trust work, and finally - what makes faith what it is, and why it is so very important.
It puts science in the human world, the felt world. It makes the realities of metaphor and art, our common world of emotion more real and puzzling, and more fragile and important than these experiences ever were --- for suddenly all these "soft" experiences are on a par with the physical laws that hold bridges together, the physical laws that make high energy physics nearly imponderable.
LECTOR: But it is the other way around! You have turned all of our emotions over to the brains and wizards. They'll tell us how it's all figured out, and bamboozle us forever more!
AUCTOR: You've interrupted my ethereal rant.
LECTOR: I thought this was your apocolyptic diarrhea.
AUCTOR: Oh, yeh. That IS what I called it, didn't I? Oh well. I will continue anyway.
LECTOR: It stinks is all I can say.
AUCTOR: A science of equivalences will make the spiritual realities that bind together humanity and our history into a force as real as the sun.
Of course, for many of those wandering around on the planet, these spiritual realities already take a preeminence to the existence of the sun, but that is a different matter.
Thus it is, that even if we learned all there was to learn about life -- even if the giant cyber-brains of the present and future were to figure out more and more and more about life and nature - we will still be stuck in what is important to us, living in a world of emotion and emotional truths... a world of ass-holes and diarrhetorical, of hypocrisy, hopes, dupes and dopes. A world of faith and folly that makes champions and chumps of all of us.
LECTOR: Give me a hint. Does any of this have to do with your writing this book? Is this a book that takes all shapes and no shape at all?
AUCTOR: Yeh, it's the truth!! I swear it!
LECTOR: It's shit, that's what it is!
AUCTOR: That's what I said, didn't I?
Long before conspiracy theories, a few notable fellows put their -minds to working out why humankind must continually fail to get things together, why they could never win -- and why we must always gamble against the odds. Because, of course, the house keeps the odds.
The Praise of Folly by Erasmus of Rotterdam took the house's view of the world back in 1509, and explained all of the contradictory behaviors which make it quite impossible for people, as groups, to get anything reasonable done.
The Catholic Church took quite a beating for this book,
since the Church believed it RAN the House at the time. It is said that
this book opened the way for the Reformation. But Erasmus wrote it in the
name of the Greek Goddess of Folly who claimed the Catholic Church was one of
her biggest followers. The Church was just the biggest player, not
the house; whereas the house was us, humankind, as it were. Well, Pope
Leo decided The Praise of Folly was a good laugh, and invited Erasmus to
work for the
In 1605, the Keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom of the Queen (the most Elizabethan queen that ever lived), suggested that our idolatries and mistaken images were not entirely our own fault, but a built-in part of us, which would keep us forever from the Promised Land. He buried this in his book on the Advancement of Learning, for he never said we couldn't improve ourselves, we just couldn't get to the promised land.
Now, when I go back to the original (which I have faithfully appended in a footnote) I find that I have attributed to Sir Francis Bacon somewhat more modern analysis than may be his due. However, I will explain him as I reconstructed him from memory, that is, falsely - but more aptly for our use today:
1. idols of the tribe (our species) were all the values our bodies confused us with,
2. idols of the cave were the values which spoken language would always confuse us with,
3. idols of the market were all the values our current level of technology would confuse us with, and
In general, though particular idols change, the confusions will remain the same no matter how we educate our children, and no matter how clever we become with our databases. You may choose not to concur, being fully convinced that you are in total control of your perceptions and passions, and that your thinking is correct enough to pass the test of obviousness anywhere among the living.... or at least among those YOU consider as among the living. But if you are in the least bit perplexed as to why things are as messed up as they are, then be reassured, many have come before you.
Forty-seven years after the Advancement to Learning came out, many of the world's ills were put to test in a very big
book called The Anatomy of Melancholy, which might otherwise have been
entitled, "The General Nature of Insanity" by Robert Burton.
This book spares no space in proving that everything that we believe is
well-thought and worthwhile, is indeed the product of some form of tainted
mind.... that indeed, we are all sick when it comes right down to it. And
Just thinking about what we have going against us, it is enough to discourage any well-meaning person from trying to get people to agree on things and to make things work.
Francis Bacon, who put together the previous view of humankind's problems is also credited with having outlined the future of scientific research, and of developing a formal approach to general education. And just to convince you he was no slouch in modern-day terms, his explanation of how to use binary code for signal transmission is worth a look before you brag about being all that smart today. In those days there weren't many people who believed "progress" was worth talking about, so Bacon had to spend a good hundred pages explaining why "advancing learning" made any sense at all. We take progress for granted, as a bi-product of evolution, yet Bacon seems to have seen through it. His talk of idols debunked the process...and clarified the relentless constraints to making any progress with basic humankind.
He understood that we might learn more, and control more, and eventually enlarge the statistics with which people are fed and clothed -- but we will not change.
Erasmus said it, Bacon said it,
And now that you are totally refreshed, (I should suspect worn out) but having gotten this far, one more of SparkEye’s OTHER great books is close at hand, absolutely FREE, by merely clicking on this here link HERE
Not to be confused with Sir Richard
Burton who gave us 1001 Arabian Nights, or Sir Richard Burton who
played Marc Antony in Elizabeth Taylor’s rendition of “Cleopatra.” I
often get all these English ‘Sirs’ and
Now you must realize that the Riddle of the Sphincter was meant as a bad pun on the ancient Riddle of the Sphinx, tying one of the great wonders of the world to the musculature above our asshole. The story of the riddle, however, leads us to the four linked premises which are central to Lemon #12:
#1.a constraint on truth (truth stinks if you don't like two-sided dilemmas),
#2. A constraint on philosophical systems promoted by people (this is about ass-holes and bellybuttons),
#3. a constraint on talk (diarrhea of the mouth), and finally
#4. a constraint on logic (diarrhea of the mind).
Fingers on a keyboard often find much better words than any mind would ever be crapable of. And since I know you know what I really meant to type, it seems a shame to backspace them into oblivion. A "brulesque" is either a very serious farce or a strip act performed with candles, while a "driddle" is clearly an allusion to "hi diddle dibble my tongue's in your fibble." It's also clear that "to gnow" must eventually make it into our vocabulary as a belief grown out of natural inclinations and a series of instantaneous revelations. 'Seducation' is quite naturally the temptation of books - which Ecclesiastes warns us of, and Faust sold himself to the devil for. I swear to you, all these were the work of my fingers, which are much wittier than I. I'm just smart enough to recognise the wit in my fingers.
Mr. Roget, who invented the idea for his thesaurus while Napoleon was sitting for the Eroica symphony, is very adamant about lazy authors who make up words instead of looking for ones which already exist and would do just as well. So I have been diligent in checking Mr. Roget's classic for these wittitypos committed by my fingers, and in no cases have found anything to serve better. So you are free to do what you wish and add them to your spell-check. I have decided only to add words thought up wittingly - like "Sphincterian", "diarrhetorical" and "antidisestablishmentarianistically."
The reverse encyclopedia was invented for use on gameshows to generate questions that fall in categories which the contestants choose, like "Literary Sweetmeats," "Fetishes of the Famous," or "History of Lubrication." Mr. Asimov was as close to a reverse encyclopedia as ever existed. Yet you might be led to believe by my title that Isaac Asimov had contempt for titty bars. I am not sure, and when I eventually join him in that great Moebius Strip in the sky I may just ask him how he felt about burlesque houses. My guess is that he will have even more contempt for this question than he did when I asked him something vaguely (I'm sure to him it was "grossly") mathematical.
This originally appeared as “Brickbats of Progress” in, “Structures of Conspiracy, or Don’t Look, but the Deck is Stacked.” It is about historiography and my illusions of utopia. If you continually ask for this book at your local bookstore monopoly, it may eventually get published.
"As to the confutations of images, or idols, we observe that idols are the deepest fallacies of the human mind; for they do not deceive in particulars, as the rest, by clouding and ensnaring the judgment; but from a corrupt predisposition, or bad complexion of the mind, which distorts and infects all the anticipations of the understanding. For the mind, darkened by its covering - the body - is far from being a flat, equal, and clear mirror that receives and reflects the rays without mixture, but rather a magical glass, full of superstitions and apparitions. Idols are imposed upon the understanding, either,
by the general nature of mankind;
the nature of each particular man; or
by words, or communicative nature.
The first kind we call idols of the tribe; the second kind, idols of the den; and the third kind, idols of the market. There is also a fourth kind, which we call idols of the theatre, being superinduced by false theories, or philosophies, and the perverted laws of demonstration. This last kind we are not at present concerned with, as it may be rejected and laid aside; but the others seize the mind strongly, and cannot be totally eradicated...."
(from Book IV, Chap.4, para.8, Advancement of Learning, London 1605, by Francis Bacon (Lord Verulam) 1899 Colonial Press edition. My apologies to Bacon, but this is as I reconstructed him from memory, and I don't think given 400 intervening years that he'd mind being remembered this way at all.
And don’t get smug about the progress of modern comedy, either. Bacon’s friend - Michel de Montagne (“Mountain Mike”) would sneak boners into his very deep and serious essays. “On the Power of Imagination” for instance, talks about tricks of keeping up erections and his friends who can fart tunes on request. I have emulated “M. de M” wherever possible in these pages.