Forgiving is Practical. Forgetting is Stupid.

“Forgive and Forget”

That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. You have to pick one. If done right, forgiveness is much more practical.

There’s a sort of calculus to it, but not like most would expect. The equations you have to balance are between you and another person, but neither side need know shit about the other. Balance of equations serves each side to itself.

If somebody out there needs to forgive you for something, you can forget that. Odds are good you don’t even know about it anyway. Or if you do, you were able to justify it quickly in your own mind and move on. If you’re aware of it, you might give somebody the opportunity to forgive you, as it would be more helpful to them than to you.

But if there’s something on your chest that calls out for reckoning – either forgiveness or vengeance – then you don’t have a choice in this matter. You will remember it until you die. Whatever was done to you, it changed you forever. It’s part of who you are now; how big a part is up to you.

File Under Corrective Knowledge

When you forgive somebody, it doesn’t need to have anything to do with them. You don’t have to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing it. Odds are good they don’t even remember anyway. Fuck that guy. He’s an asshole. You don’t owe him shit.

(Incidentally, those are often the words I use to forgive others. “Fuck that guy” puts out of consideration a wrong done and the one who did it, but it does nothing to remove either from memory. If anything, it files the incident away for reference in future dealings, or to remove those dealings from possibility. “FUCK” becomes an acronym for “File Under Corrective Knowledge”).

Obligatory Jesus Reference

Forgiveness means letting go of something owed to you. There’s wisdom in the words attributed to Jesus: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (It’s King James, but still counts).

In the Christian tradition, your sins can’t hurt God; forgiveness is a gift of subtraction that you’re meant to pass along, not something that actually adds to you when you get it. In essence, God’s forgiveness allows you to forgive yourself and move on, rather than wallow in a guilt that has served its purpose, outlived its use, and become a burden of its own.

But you don’t need God to tell you that. And you don’t need good intentions towards the one you forgive either. Letting go of bad intentions will suffice for basic forgiveness.

Emptiness is Heavy.

We carry heavy burdens of emptiness if we hold tightly to what others owe us, especially if they owe us satisfaction in pain and blood. Unfortunately, those are also the hardest debts to forgive. That’s the kind of forgiveness that demands daily repetition, and I’m afraid it gets no easier for that.

Still. It’s necessary if you want to be free of it, even only for that day.

The Death of Romance

Over the last 100 years, the word has come to mean something it used not to.

In the vernacular, it refers to some fucking flowers and candlelight on Valentine’s Day.

To me, “romance” is a terrifying word – fraught with danger, consequence, and the inevitability of death.

It applies equally to the rebellion of Satan, the suicide of Wërther, and the murderous rampage of Frankenstein’s Monster, as well as the juvenile idiocy of Romeo and Juliet.

It refers to any noble loser who fights for their heart’s desire, in the full knowledge that the fight is pitched against them – not in any conspiratorial way, but just because that’s the way the universe is.

Or, in the words of William Blake:

It is not the power of true love, but the whole-hearted embracing of self-destruction for the sake of passion.

So if somebody tells you romance is dead, tell them it’s because calm and reason have prevailed. And more’s the pity for it; anyone who survives their passion, dies alone.

Heidegger and Neo: Things I Saw in the Matrix

Spoiler Alert: Anybody who still hasn’t seen The Matrix trilogy and plans to, better not read this yet. I mean… You’ve had 15 years already, but I know people have other things to do.

Before I burned out in college, I read some Heidegger. Who didn’t, right? In my case it was a bit like how I watched “The Matrix” the first time.

In the latter case I had seen no previews & gotten no spoilers. The only thing I knew was that Harris & Klebold had been huge fans, and many parents who hadn’t seen it were philistinically blaming the Wachowskis – alongside Marilyn Manson and Eminem – for the decline of America. Naturally I had to see it.

Morpheus – the charismatic spiritual zealot – scared the shit out of me (apparently also scared Laurence Fishburne on opening night). So did Trinity – the unquestioning, murderous angel at his side. About halfway through, Neo began to scare me even more as he began to embrace the more shadowy elements of Morpheus’ doctrine. Whoever the good guys were, they were being kept hidden from me.

The agents were bad, this we could be sure of; Hugo Weaving is the perfect villain if you need to get across the fact that something cartoonishly evil can still be a serious threat (Red Skull anyone?). And anyone who stands up against tyranny and oppression and stuff is a friend of mine.

But Morpheus was a holy warrior, and calm as a field of poppies; that combination should be terrifying, and it was (just as it was in any video I ever saw of a speech given by Osama Bin Laden). He explained with surgical detachment that killing innocents was permitted under the right circumstances. If you need to know where Morpheus is, just follow the screams.

Trinity was a devoted fury, killing anyone in her path with extreme prejudice. Hesitation meant death.

But even more terrifying were the increasing similarities between Neo (the everyman’s Messiah) and the Agents – movement, speed, environmental control. Most terrifying was that he did not appear to know who he was, despite all this power and good intention. Even as he and Trinity were clearly falling in love as they closed in on their target, I wondered deep down if Neo wasn’t the true villain in this story, whether he knew it or not.

I was of course shocked to learn – after reading “The Thing” twice – that Heidegger was a card-carrying, pin-wearing, flag-waving Nazi. Nothing in what he had written suggested anything but the exact opposite to me. Then I thought “Well, maybe he considered Jews and Gypsies to be Things, with no purpose other than to be emptied out for the good of humanity.” It’s fucked, I know. But what do you want? The guy was a Nazi. Nazis are fucked.

Maybe I’m just a bad judge of character. Neo turned out to be a pretty decent guy in the end, giving his life not only for his people, but for all intelligence – whether animal or digital. It was almost… Thingly.

Money Grows on a Very Specific Tree

Just for fun, I punched the words “money used for good” into a search engine. The results I got were all about capital gains and buying cars.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. It’s more like one of those situations where you thought it was a forest, but it all turns out to be one tree; the trunks turn out to be branches, all connected to one root.

Yes. Evil is a Pando tree. Not to say the Pando tree is evil. It’s a metaphor, so don’t freak out. The Pando could just as easily be a metaphor for how we humans all seem to be autonomous and different (which we are), but are actually one (which we also are).

Money is just another branch.

Our capacity to fool ourselves and others is the root.

Dead Ape Walking

Some people find motivation in the knowledge of their own mortality.

I’ll make fun of them later.

Leaving aside the subtle-but-obvious difference between knowledge vs emotional-certainty-based-on-precedent-or-doctrine, I get little or no motivation from fear of death. Some, but not enough to warrant credit.

The certainty that I could die at any moment has been with me my whole life. I have been perpetually conscious of it since I came online as an autonomously sentient life form at the age of 3 years. The experience of becoming aware that People End has left me incapable of taking many things seriously, and this in turn has left me a little unmotivated.

But then again, here we are. You’re reading a thing I wrote with a measure of seriousness. Life is funny.

In any given moment, I am either sleeping or plugging the mental holes of self-affirmation. I do this primarily by eating, writing, drinking, making music, or taking photographs of clouds and tortured-looking trees (or drawing them; that will change your life btw). This is usually good enough, but the human animal is a social animal. Sometimes I just have go down the fucking mountain and interact.

The secondary way I fill these yawning gaps in existence is by comparing the results of these pursuits to the holes in the lives of others. I offer music for the hearing, pictures for the viewing, and – evidently – blargs for the reading. I also converse with, console, ridicule, lament, and occasionally sleep with other humans. I listen to them sometimes, and even occasionally think I understand what they mean/believe/want/hope for.

I interact.

Then I go back up the mountain to be alone. Cuz fuck the world, I’m tired.

Repeat.

The more charitable people call it “being an introvert.” I call it “maintaining a casual face.”

Properly speaking, I don’t understand anyone. Neither do you.

By extension, that means no one will ever understand me either.

But God Knows You.

There has been a lot of bad noise lately about spirituality, religion, and other paranormal experiences. More precisely, there have been countless charlatans who have “known” God, and have cynically used that knowledge to make life difficult (or impossible) for their neighbours. Seriously. Fuck those guys.

It’s still possible – I think – to have experiences that can only be described as spiritual or religious, even if you have no God for it.

My suspicion is that these things are extensions of either the primary or secondary plugs for existential angst, depending on whether they come from within or without. And let’s be real: There’s no way to be sure which one it is. As far as metaphysics goes, the joke’s on us. Nobody in the history of the world ever knew shit about it, and I’m confident nobody living ever will.

The Razorblade Where God Lives

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an atheist. Occasionally I suspend disbelief for a moment, and consider the following:

God exists, but not in any sort of way.

It isn’t a person, intelligence, or in any way separate from anything we can experience, whether tangible or abstract. It is infinitely present in infinite ways and dimensions… except that it isn’t. The universe itself is It (or It is the universe, except that neither of those statements can be precisely true), and every one of the innumerable subatomic particles in the universe contains Its fullness of being, because the building blocks of existence can only be described as tendencies to exist.

We are lucky enough to experience It up to 5 ways with tremendous intensity (6 ways for anyone with precognitive or telepathic powers, although there probably aren’t a lot of you, so I’d keep it a secret… and use your powers for good). But that’s all we get – five randomly developed ways of experiencing God and the universe – 5 senses, and that’s just for the lucky ones who get the whole package.

For all that, we’ll never know It’s there because It’s too everywhere and too everything to see.

So that was a big fucking waste of time to think about. Fun though.

On a slightly darker note:

The mind may learn that there is no God, but the heart still sings of a time when it knew Him.

This is of the days when Narnia was whole, Noah had saved humanity, war had a righteous purpose, and the Black Jesus was coming back home soon to settle all accounts.

These gods we have now are silly by comparison. Beginnings, endings. Proof of life. Always leaving, but never gone til it’s too late. The past’s end and the future’s endless postponement.

There was in my heart a god who loved all, protected all, served all; a god whose name was “The Merciful.”

Who sat in the back of all thought, rather than dominate it. Between halves of the brain. In the spaces between all the atoms, or in their perpetual tendencies to Be and End so quickly they could hardly be said to have been there at all.

You couldn’t fit a razor through it, the line between the moments. But you had to try.

Never knew my place among the sinners. Couldn’t know. Didn’t want to. Had nothing to gain by it. Went looking for it. Found it. Learned it. Loved it. Left it. Hurt. Grieved. Learned little. Gained nothing. Wasn’t supposed to.

And there I was surprised to find The Merciful. Again. Older now though. And wiser.

Same sneaky fucker as before though. Still hiding in the cracks, refusing to exist.

Once you begin down the dark path of metaphysics, it seems to pretty much ruin you for everything else.

The Wisdom of Being Stupid

What our senses and intellect give us are sensory data and interpretation, which in turn become bias. This becomes dogma, which is then challenged by new sensory data, and then we have a mental breakdown, recover, synthesize, repeat, and call the narrative The History of Philosophy. It’s a lot of fun, but basically stupid. And that’s okay.

The daily indulgence of this uncertainty is – I think – one of the most important things we can do as humans, if indeed humans are capable of anything remotely important.

Don’t just question authority; question its right to exist. Metaphysical uncertainty may be the only thing that truly separates us from beasts, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing,

We may have built the entire history of civilization on the fact that we “burn stuff we found” (respect to Jon Stewart), but that never would have happened had somebody not realized that fire didn’t only destroy; it was useful to us, and somebody figured that out by questioning the prevailing narrative (i.e. “Fire hurts, and hurt is bad”). And now that fire is less of viable option for energy transduction (you know… emissions and the environment and shit), we’re forced to reconsider how we can fit our agenda into the ways of the sun, wind, and tides.

In other words, our capacity for mental breakdown might be the only thing keeping us from running around the forest and foraging roots. Forever.

It’s probably good that the link between mortality and motivation is working out for some people, since there’s no goddamn way I’m inventing a better solar panel.

Which Way is Up?

Depending on the person, panic can subside by varying degrees – especially when you’re in free-fall and the cold darkness of space.

I should explain.

I’m an atheist.

Easiest thing in the world to say.

Harder to understand. For me, anyway. I still haven’t fully grasped what it means to be finally alone, despite being fundamentally the same as the rest of the universe. Probably never will.

Dreaming About Flying

It’s worth bringing this up now, and explaining why later.

Just about everybody I know has had a dream at some point where they fly like Superman, and it seems like the most normal thing in the world. I had those dreams all the time as a kid. I remember once visiting at a prehistoric zoo with a friend, and a mastodon the size of a school broke loose from its enormous cage in a towering and terrifying fit of what was probably righteous anger. The natural thing for us to do was say “Fuck this,” leave the ground, fly around the monster’s head a couple times, and piss off.

Don’t remember exactly when, but somewhere in my early teens I stopped having dreams like that. Dreams became so mundane that I began to have trouble distinguishing them from reality. As a result, I have apologized for inappropriate behavior that never actually happened. That’s almost as embarrassing as it sounds. Waking and Dreaming became the same sort of bad comedy, with no flight.

Blame clinical depression for now. I think depression is symptomatic of a deeper problem, but whatever. That’s a topic for another time.

God is Like a Rope.

I never had that joyful moment of realizing there’s no God, even though I was dyed in the wool with the Baltimore Catechism (and all the infantile solemnity that goes with it – a properly dreadful book). It was more of a gradual thing, and sort of half-assed.

God’s existence and omnipotence were, after all, the basis of my system of ethics and morals, and the final consolation that my consciousness would be saved on the Big Hard Drive in the Sky when my hardware’s warrantee was up. Safe even from magnets.

I can tell you from experience that there’s a deep sense of relief in *knowing* the universe has an omnipotent Boss, and that the Boss is on your side. When it comes to a thing like that, you don’t just drop it without something else to grab onto.

When in Doubt, Flip Out.

And then one day, without warning, that grouchy old fart Lao Tse reached across the centuries and snatched out the tenuous thread of certainty that held me out of the bottomless pit of meaninglessness. It didn’t take much, just a few words and a bit of time. That fucking “Book of Tao” or whatever was just sitting there in the library, right where anybody could see it. Irresponsible to leave a thing like that around.

Good thing it only dawned on me gradually too. With the headspace I’d been in for the previous 24 years, it would have struck me as an insurmountable bummer that the bottomless pit is all there is.

I was too young to appreciate the irony at the time.

Another layer of irony was that my then-favorite writer (the late journalist, humorist, and Catholic apologist GK Chesterton) had a knack for flipping just about every imaginable concept upside-down. It should have been obvious; but again, I was young and stupid.

And panicky. Never underestimate the blinding power of panic. Especially when you’re in free-fall, and the cold darkness of space. And that’s all the time.

Flying Again

Interestingly enough, it was shortly after this that I started dreaming about leaving the ground again. The circumstances continued in the same down-to-earth way (as down-to-earth as I ever get anyway), and dreams were still indistinguishable from the waking world. So naturally it was a surprise to me the first time it happened. Here’s how:

I was in New Hampshire for some reason (a place I swore some years ago to avoid, over things I might eventually get into), and accidentally floated about two feet above the ground. As soon as I noticed it, I began to sink. The more I tried to levitate, the lower I sank. A metaphor for my time there, maybe.

I closed my eyes and took a deep, slow breath. I let go – first of flying, then of the ground. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. It was like letting part of who I am just fall away. Couldn’t do it all at once.

When I opened my eyes, I was about thirty feet up. Letting go became easier with altitude. I rose a little further, and could see I was above the turnpike a few miles out of Nashua. I went up a mile, and gradually lost the capacity to worry about what a rotten place New Hampshire had been.*

This still happens. I’ll be walking down the street somewhere, strides imperceptibly becoming longer. Then I’ll notice I haven’t touched the sidewalk in a while. I’ll test myself, see how far up the road I can just float, and how quickly. Really blows people’s minds when they notice what’s going on. And I can never tell I’m dreaming at the time.

I’m never disappointed when I wake up either. Sometimes in the waking world I’ll let go of the ground, just to see if I’m dreaming. I’ll only know for sure it if I stay put. And that’s the main difference between dreams and reality, right?

That isn’t necessarily a rhetorical question either.

Falling is a Kindness.

The panic is mostly gone now, though sometimes I forget which way I’m falling, and it starts again. In those moments I just have to take slow, deep breaths, and remember what I’ve learned over the past 15 years or so:

You aren’t falling. You’ve been ascending uncontrollably this whole time.

Or you would be, if you weren’t holding onto the ground so goddamn tight.

It was the realization that I was never held up by the ground I stood on, but tied to it.

Chesterton liked to say, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly, while the Devil fell by the force of gravity.” For years I agreed. Now I would submit that angels can let go and fall, while devils hold on like fucking badgers.

Puts that exchange between Woody and Buzz Lightyear in a funny frame too.

It’s just a matter of recognizing which way “up” and “down” really are. Which is nowhere. And that makes them everywhere.

*with sincere apologies to the good people of New Hampshire. I know they exist. My experience was narrow, however interminable.

Win or Lose, You Win. Or Lose.

Do you ever worry about what you need to get in order to get what you need? It’s kind of a bad loop to get stuck in. You see it though, right? Stupid, but smart people get caught in it all the time. I know it, cuz I’m smart.

I have had occasion to worry that I was badly equipped to survive the world I was born to. I can make a fire, kill and skin an animal, build a shelter, that kind of stuff. These skills sit pretty directly between life and death, reflecting the essential violence of continued existence. I can also talk about it, ad infinitum, in rhyme if necessary. When the infrastructure of civilization collapses, I will have valuable knowledge. Til then, it isn’t exactly a skill set with a wide demand. While civilization continues, I’m just sort of interesting and entertaining.

We have mediation now between continued existence and that essential violence, and its name is Money. The violence still has to happen (slaughtering animals, warfare, etc), but it isn’t about mere survival anymore, and almost anyone can pay someone else to do it.

At its most basic, money makes sense; and I think others have better established money’s fundamental value as the basis of security (i.e. the illusion that life is under control). But there’s nothing basic about what money has become.

The intricacies of finance are a strange topography to me. My grandfather knew the terrain well, but could not pass that knowledge to his son (maybe because his son – my dad – was more interested in Japanese poetry, the feminine soul, and Bob Dylan). And it’s changed some since then. My dad learned financial survival the way America learned 20th century warfare – the hard way.

Teach Your Kid to Kill

In some cultures, a man who does not teach his child to kill, has failed as a father. He has doomed his line to starvation, conquest, or just being in the wrong place at an inopportune moment.

If he succeeds in this most basic duty, he risks creating a monster. That could be called a failure too.

But now, in this culture, failure to teach your children to manage their money is the ultimate parental failure. And you can create a monster by this means too; but the difference between a homicidal monster and a financial one is like that between a werewolf and a nuclear bomb.

It isn’t his fault really, that he couldn’t teach us – his kids – about money. Early on, I think he barely understood it himself, and we were poorly disposed to listening anyway. By the time he had grasped it, it was too late to teach us. All we could do was try to learn from his mistakes. No risk of causing catastrophic damage to the economy or the environment though, so in a weird way you could call his failure a win.

I guess I should be grateful that my education in homicide was outsourced to the Loyal Eddies, under whose auspices I was an Army Cadet (RCAC #2748) for about four years. They taught me how to stomp, shout, stitch, and shoot; I already knew how to start fires, thanks to Lord Baden Powell and his spiritual children. My dad could do all those things too, but preferred to teach us something I think is more valuable most of the time: Peace. Even when diplomacy has failed, my old man can still snatch peace from the jaws of inevitability. It is not a talent you can fake, and he taught us all he could about it.

Not everybody gets to experience this first-hand, but I grew up in something called peace time. We didn’t have to make connections like the one between teaching children to shoot and the possibility that we might be called upon to shoot other children. Actual killing was something other people did, and they were all adults for some reason.

How to Learn the Craft of Killing… in a Hurry

The first months of America’s engagement with Rommel in North Africa left a scar that they’re still scratching. The US lost over 2700 soldiers to the fact that they didn’t know how to fight a war anymore. Never let it be said that they didn’t learn that lesson, hard and fast. In the space of a year they went from a nation that spoke of murder as a sin, to one that now discusses killing as an unpleasant necessity, a profession, and a daily occurrence – all as though that is the way it must be.

The same General Eisenhower who warned his military colleagues that America would be condemned for its incompetence in warfare, later warned the American public – as outgoing president – to guard against the “military-industrial complex.” There was just no pleasing that guy.

So it makes sense that America is now home to the world’s most expensive armed forces, clocking in excess of an annual $700bn. Military Industrial Complex indeed.

But it goes deeper than just regular old paranoia. Had the Nazis won in North Africa, they would have had the resources to win in Europe. Maybe not Russia, but definitely Europe. America never forgot that, even if many have forgotten what the Nazis truly stood for (Here’s a list. Spoiler: It’s still pretty ugly). Those who survived North Africa never forgot the ones who didn’t. “Whatever comes next,” America vowed, “we’ll be ready this time.”

Eventually everybody who was expected to surrender, surrendered (or killed themselves). When a war ends, traditional wisdom tells us to beat the swords into ploughshares. Be done with killing, and get on with the business of living. The old pastoral image of returning to the farm is no accident, but many Americans had other plans. Still traumatized by the horrors of 2 World Wars, America began to farm weapons. Lots of them.

Can’t blame them, whatever has become of the war industry since the early days. Hurt people, hurt people. And war leaves a mark on everybody.

Of course the argument is often made now that the US has become – among other things – exactly the monster it sought to police. I think it’s ironic that America kills for money now, effectively missing the entire point of having money in the first place.

Stay Out of Sophocles’ Sick Little Hell

The old Greek tragedies are all about one important life lesson: If you’re running from your destiny, you aren’t looking where you’re going. Anyone running from death, runs right into it. Those seeking to establish a legacy, will wreck it. Those protecting their kingdoms, will destroy them.

Basically, we sow the seeds of our own destruction anyway, so the Greek playwrights want to just try and roll with it. Time will pass, and so will you. It won’t make death’s certainty any less uncomfortable, but at least you aren’t hastening it.

The good news: Civilization is completely wasted without crazy little bastards who don’t have enough sense to rub 2 dollars together & see if they reproduce. There are people who know how to kill, but won’t do it. We sort of balance out the equation by seeking to master ourselves, and no one else.

Of course we fail. That’s part of the Job. Success is just the end of a series of failures anyway, or something like that. You know. JK Rowlings and all that.

More good news: I’ve survived nearly 40 years, and it looks like I have a few more to go. You don’t have to be a killer to live, apparently.