Daze Ex Machina

Yep, it’s the big one. Goodings is tackling the concept of God. Make room, open the hangar doors of your preconceptions, and let me unload my truth freight into your shipping bay of ignorance. So, let’s decide once and for all, is there a god? Nah I’m joking, I don’t fucking know. I just like to pretend I’m the annoying sort of atheist that sneers at people who hold religion dearly. But actually, I’ll happily sneer at anyone, I don’t discriminate. Black or white, gay or straight, religious or normal.

The idea of god is interesting, and the concept that some people need a higher power as an arbiter of morality and truth. I don’t mean that as a criticism. There are loads of day to day things that I read on the modern-day deity of the Internet, and like a chump, I just believed them when they are obviously false. I mean, I once read that Einstein abandoned his theory of the cosmological constant as a static universe stabiliser, and for a second I was like ‘Oh yeah that makes sense.’ But then I was just like, ‘Hello! What about the shifted wavelengths of light in between accelerating galaxies that point to dark energy as the cause for an expanding universe?!’ Boy was my face red! Redder than the redshift of the light stretched by dark energy! Haha!
Similarly I recently typed into Google: ‘do spiders eat their own legs?’ And the results amounted to a lengthy version of ‘yes, sometimes’. And now I am entirely convinced that all spiders eat all of their legs all the time. Although that also seems obvious.

But the idea of people needing something to worship is interesting, and not in a BDSM way. For example, the ‘higher power’ needed to complete the twelve step programme for addiction can easily be a religious god. But without having a faith, I have no idea what my higher power would be. The main commandments I regularly surrender to are the cooking instructions on the back of ready meal packaging. And the only thing that can offer me as clean-living advice is the nutritional information on the front, warning me of the dangers of eating ready meals.

I suppose your higher power can be your own well-being, as though you are worshipping the platonic ideal of your own potential, which feels pretty narcissistic. It’s essentially what Matthew McConaughey said in that awards acceptance speech about looking up to a version of himself ten years in the future, who has more wisdom and perspective. A nice idea if you’re Matthew McConaughey, but very few of us are. The ideal version of me ten years from now just looks much more tired, with more wrinkles, but with another 500 blogs written ostensibly about highbrow concepts, but with numerous digressions into self-referential bullshit.

Julian Jaynes has a controversial theory that what humans used to call ‘gods’ three-thousand years ago and earlier, was actually the result of something called the ‘bicameral mind’, which if you’re any sort of discerning legend and have seen the Westworld TV show, you may have heard of. A bicameral mind is a human mind before consciousness. And according to the theory, under stressful, unprecedented situations, we would hear an internalised voice providing advice that felt like it wasn’t under our control, like a form of schizophrenia, or a guided meditation podcast. These voices were attributed to gods, whispering assistance inside our minds on how to deal with a never before seen threat, like a horse with a guy on top, or a blue telephone box landing out of nowhere, producing some old white guy who decides to stick his fucking nose into everyone’s business.
If it seems difficult to imagine someone with no level of insight or self-reflection, essentially running on autopilot, who feels as though they’re constantly under the scrutiny of some remote intelligence, just watch Gogglebox and you’ll see it.

Jaynes also uses the example of the feeling you get after a short, habitual drive where you realise you weren’t ‘tuned in’ during the journey, even if you remember it, known as ‘Highway Hypnosis’. He says this is us behaving without consciousness, enacting a routine task that you do so regularly you hardly have to think about it. In my case that would be something incredibly commonplace like writing a great blog post, or receiving a shower of compliments about my latest great blog post. Also forgetting to take the bins out. Happens so often I hardly have to try now. Don’t even realise I’m not doing it.

I imagine it would be very comforting having a god to look to for guidance, but if Jaynes is right, then that guidance attributed to gods was just coming from our own brains. We are the masters of our own destiny. We are our own messiahs. What I’m saying is, as far as I’m concerned, I’m God. I am the ultimate architect of my own reality, irrespective of whether or not that tallies with a possible objective reality. Maybe McConaughey was right, and I’m the only inspiration I need. Maybe I should strive to be the best version of myself, drowning in success and fulfilment, a subjective god of personal direction.

Really feels like God would have a greater blog readership than this. I blame Richard Dawkins.

Next time on the bandwagon, if radiators radiate, and indicators indicate, do alligators alligate? The answer may surprise you, if you thought the answer was ‘yes’.

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Private Practice

‘We talkin’ ‘bout practice’ – Allen Iverson, 2002.

I’m not sure I’ve ever understood the grammar of the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’. Although I have said and heard the phrase so many times through my life that I feel I’ve gradually improved my understanding of it enough to perfect the phrasing. ‘Practice makes perfection’ is more sensical. And it’s something I wholeheartedly believe.
Unfortunately, practice itself is unglamorous. A skill is impressive only after it has been honed, once all of the imperfections and hints of incompetence have been buffed away in private, unspoken torment. If the destination is Disneyland, the journey is just a necessary evil of monotony and pained anticipation; a car ride where you clench your fists and shut your eyes until you’ve tolerated enough progress to arrive.
A magic trick, for example, can look cool to watch, but dreadfully uncool are the endless hours of fumbling and dropping playing cards trying to conceal a move that lasts less than a second. This was something that I tried my sleight of hand at as a pre-teen, even then realising how embarrassing it was. Luckily I would keep a set of my sister’s underwear nearby to rapidly change into as a less controversial past-time for me to be caught in the midst of if one of my parents walked in. At least that didn’t involve the indignity of trying to better myself. I’m joking of course, I don’t even have a sister. To be honest I don’t know whose underwear it was.
Similarly, we all like to see a heart shape poured into our cappuccino foam, but we certainly don’t want to see the mad coffee-drills that baristas of a certain coffee chain have to endure every morning to get those heart shapes so lovingly uniform, as part of the ‘Zero to Nero’ scheme. Apparently for every one that’s not up to code, they have to snort a coffee bean whole, as some sort of sick perversion of the idea of waking up to the smell of coffee. It’s barbaric frankly, and as far as I know, entirely true.
Actually, if you consider masturbation a sort of ‘practice’ for sex, and there’s really no reason why you should, then it makes more sense that when someone walks in on you having sex, they feel embarrassed, but if someone catches you masturbating, you’re the one who gets asked to take your sister’s underwear off. Or whoever’s it is.

But for whatever reason, there seems to be something deeply shameful about practice, about the idea of actually working on a skill that you plan to display or utilise in the future. Does it maybe seem almost narcissistic, in that you’re spending your time on yourself, putting man hours into your own betterment? The practice of certain skills can definitely be seen as more worthy of one’s time, such as improving your ability to play a musical instrument, or getting really good at life-saving surgery, or learning which of your friends would most appreciate incessantly being tagged in dog videos on Facebook. These things are fine to be good at, and to be seen to be trying hard at; practicing a musical instrument has a generally accepted artistic merit, proficiency in which is enviable, but the aforementioned boring hard work that needs to be put in to reach that level is something that a lot of people aren’t prepared to face. Or indeed, they see the end product of someone banging out some heart-rending Chopin on one of those random pianos that get scattered around cities (ostensibly as a way to bring art and expression into a more public forum, but mostly it’s toddlers running up and smushing the keys with their palms, like a chimpanzee who’s just discovered mashed potato), and feel inspired to take up a instrument themselves. But then they become daunted by the apparent chasm between the first dipping of the toe into the musical pool, and the submerged depths of even a semi-decent amateur pianist.

It’s this mythologisation of natural born talent that feeds wrong-headed ideas of child prodigies, overnight successes and savantism, which in turn discourages extended periods of hard-work and practice, unless met with an unreasonably quick manifestation of proficiency and success. Ask any leader in their field how hard they worked to become good at something, and they won’t hesitate to expound on the hours and years spent grinding away in obscurity. Steve Martin, considered one of the greatest comedians of all time, believes he was born with no natural comedic talent, but worked tirelessly to develop his skill. If he had the viewpoint of most people, that you’re born to do something, or your career chooses you, then he would have simply decided that it wasn’t going to happen, and there’d be no ‘Steve Martin’ as we know him now. If someone had shown him a video of some Chinese 5-year-old beating a computer at chess, which I assume exists, then maybe, and god forbid, the movie Cheaper By The Dozen simply wouldn’t exist. Or they would have just got Robert De Niro or some shit.

To use a more up front example, this is my thirty-fourth blog post, and I’ve been writing it on and off for almost two years. That is a tangible way in which I have continued to practice a particular skill, however useless. Feel free to go back and read my first blog, see whether it’s shit, see whether I’ve even got better. You could at least assume that by now I would have worked out how to consistently end a blog post in a satisfying way, perhaps with a summarising statement about the chosen topic. Maybe something like ‘the obscuring of effort behind displays of aptitude is something that continues to feed an expectation of quick results and short-term dedication, before losing interest and logging on to Facebook to share a meme about how the only time you felt really alive was when you demonstrated a card trick to some classmates in year 5, but for some reason, despite having never put any effort into anything since, nothing else has ever quite measured up to that feeling of pride and acceptance. Must be because you weren’t born special.’

Well, I could certainly try to summarise the topic in that way, but instead I’ll just say that more than perfection, practice makes realistic expectations of a life lived through a prism of hard work paying off. And Cheaper By The Dozen 2.

Next time on the bandwagon, I found a frog on the pavement outside my house, and instead of kissing it in the hopes of turning it into Prince Charming, should I play the song ‘Kiss’ to it, in the hopes of turning it into Prince?

Learning Desire

People like to claim that you learn something new every day. The word ‘new’ in that aphorism is pretty redundant; if it wasn’t ‘new’ you wouldn’t be learning, you’d be remembering. You’d have more flashbacks than an episode of Lost. See, that’s you remembering Lost. Boring isn’t it? How about: “You’d have more flashbacks than a subject of MKUltra”. Look that up, and you’re learning. It’s very tempting to revisit comfortable ideas, and familiar entertainment, like watching an episode of a TV show you’ve seen dozens of time before or listening to your favourite song. One area in which I reliably seek out something new is if I’m watching porn, and even then I occasionally return to some old standards, like an ageing pop star wheeling out lacklustre ditties from their latest album in concert, only to settle back into their hits moments later, allowing the audience to relax and possibly orgasm.

Even movie studios know that people don’t like change or surprise. The logical next step from incessantly sequelising movies was to create shared universes, taking their cues from comic books, and the Casualty/Holby City crossovers of yesteryear. This way, we have an established identity and style, but for different characters, each with a wealth of adaptable stories behind them. So if you see a Marvel Studios ident before a movie, you can expect colourful action, humour and predictably satisfying plots without having to know anything about the main character. And likewise, if you see a DC Comics logo before a movie, you can expect at least two hours of slow motion drudgery, muted colours, and confusing story, unless you were lucky enough to see the one about the woman, which only just came out this year because, as we know, making a movie about a woman is much too risky. It is at least, uncommon, and therefore closer to an unknown quantity, hence fearful studios taking too long to normalise female-led stories. I understand it. Familiar is comfortable. I’m writing this in one of only three places that I write anything, because I’m used to it. Although my precedence for comfort is not to the detriment of women. Unless this blog really takes off and becomes a recitation of supposed female failings, from Eve biting the apple all the way to that time Paula Radcliffe shat herself during the marathon.

My current attempt to convince myself that I’m unique and interesting, is to once again try to learn some French. Partly because learning a language is good for the brain, and promotes creative thinking (I’m guessing that bit, but that’s a pretty creative guess wouldn’t you say?), and partly because I literally have no idea what women want, but this can’t hurt. Word of warning though – if you’re learning French too, and decide to delve into some old Tintin comics, avoid Tintin in the Congo. You can be as fluent in a romantic language as you want, but sitting in the break room at work staring at images of black people depicted as monkeys is not a good way to appear cultured. The best I could manage was to shake my head in consternation, and repeat the pre-Googled phrase: ‘Non non non. C’est dommage.’ That’s right, speaks French, and thinks racism’s bad. They really broke the mould with me ladies. Realistically though, unless I go to France it won’t be much use, unless I want to read untranslated Camus, or eavesdrop on French conversations. And unless they’re talking about Tintin I’ll have very little to offer.

But learning a new skill takes patience. Something which we’re constantly being told is in short supply in our current age of instantaneous communication and information, thanks to video games and Netflix and electricity. People don’t have the patience to invest in a long-drawn out game like Grand Theft Auto 5, ignoring the fact that it’s one of the most-played games of this year so far, despite being released four years ago. Certainly time-intensive RPGs must be a thing of the past, hence why games like Fallout 4, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Final Fantasy 15 literally don’t exist and have never been bought. Similarly, thanks to Netflix, a network like HBO could never make a success out of a slow-paced, weekly fantasy series. And even if they could, there’s no way it would inspire people to go back and read the original source material; several dense tomes as thick as a Victoria Sponge. No, there’s no patience anymore. This whole time I thought I was learning French but apparently that’s now impossible. I was probably just commenting on YouTube tutorials of Goat Simulator and binge-watching every episode of House of Cards in a single day.

C’est dommage. Whatever that means.

 

 

Next time on the bandwagon – Mirrors. A fad? Or are they here to stay?