Monday, June 29, 2015

Your world is not a prison

Towards a 21st century Discordianism, part one of five billion: the great misunderstanding.

This will be short, because I'm tired and should probably sleep. But sometimes it is necessary to at least write a short thing, because so often the long things are interrupted.

There is a popular misunderstanding that causes great harm. At times, the misunderstanding has conveniently stirred people to do good things. But much like how a house fire could cause you to vacate a residence doomed to be vaporized by a bomb not much later, this is only a stroke of good luck. It is a very pervasive misunderstanding that restricts our movements, and allows far great iniquities to be brought against us than we would otherwise accept.

The misunderstanding is about the nature of having ideas and making distinctions. Both of these are incredibly good things, and our ability to do them so naturally as to have it go unnoticed as a feat is one of our very greatest as a species. Our knack to see what were thought to be old things in new lights, and to find new sets of things to cast lights on; that is ultimately what has put you here today, reading these words. An 18th century mathematician would laugh at you if you claim his thought would one day enable some sort of magical rectangle that contained all human knowledge, because as much as he would like to flatter himself with the idea that his chosen craft is so powerful; he would not see how electricity, if corralled through little metal paths, could cause some sort of logical system to emerge. He could not, with all of his knowledge, have considered that an inquiry into a question in his field (which had not yet been asked, Hilbert would pose it in 1928) would receive an answer that posited a theoretical machine that would perform his work.[1]

The misunderstanding then, is to look at this great human faculty and to proclaim that what it does is merely perceive what is already there. That all of the great inventions and patterns we discover are Truths, which exist without us and who's glory we are permitted to see if we conduct ourselves and our thinking according to the cosmic order that must be implicated in them. And to believe this even unconsciously, through the acceptance of other ideas that have this as its basis, is to fool yourself.

The moment you do this, your ideas cease to be the convenient structuring of experience into comprehensible bits, becoming instead the contours of a prison. What were previously hunches based on your experiences now become the laws of this world, however frightening they might be. Experiences that don't fit now threaten to take the whole building with them. And while you have imagined a prison for yourself, what lies outside of it is now even more terrifying. By taking shelter in order, you have made disorder the great adversary. An adversary you are sure will one day defeat you. Of course, it is not actually that serious. Mathematics did not implode when inconsistencies and paradoxes were found within its sacred places. You did not lose faith in your ability to discern the qualities of food when it was revealed to you that a dish you love contains an ingredient you claim to hate.

Of course, many are moved to think that exactly this would happen. The existence of transgender people stands completely against the theories of 1970s feminism, and those who uphold these theories as describing the Truth consequently believe that we must either Go Away or be explained in some other way that still fits the story (as delusional or even outright sinister). These are the evils that the misunderstanding creates.

The Buddhists are also very concerned about this misunderstanding, but they do not phrase it like this when they talk about it[2]. They often focus in particular on the misunderstanding that one of the helpful distinctions, the concept of self, is in the universe and experiencing everything else. They do this because all other forms of the misunderstanding are based in it, and that if you have direct experience of its invalidity, you can no longer be ensnared by any of its other forms.

But that is hard, and many trip over different forms of the misunderstanding before they ever get to perceiving this (a common one is to believe that this essentially denies free will, and that the universe is a clockwork mechanism of which you are a completely insignificant part). But there are gentler ways of going about it. Simple ways to train yourself to not fall into so dark a thought.

Consider a game. Consider perhaps football. You have been watching this game, and after it has ended, something terrible happens. The players of the losing team are outraged, and they charge the celebrating winners and kill all of them. After they have been taken away to prevent worse from happening, a journalist asks them why they did this. The players explain it very calmly:

The rules of football are quite clear about the purpose of the game: to win by scoring goals. They had lost at football. These subhuman creatures on the other team had deprived them of the fulfillment of football. They had to die. My god, man, do you not see that this is Serious?

We would all consider these people completely out of touch with reality, and describe them with various ableist slurs. How could they confuse a simple notion of the game of football, that you play it to win, with a directive so compelling that their inability to achieve it made necessary the murder of those who had prevented them? You would likely think that these people had lost all sense of joy in playing the game. That they had forgotten that the joy of football exists in its totality, not in the states defined by its rules. The rules make the game possible to play; but they do not describe a particular amazing feat of sportsmanship, the feeling of being rallied by a supportive crowd after a rout, the bewilderment you feel when an opponent does something you absolutely did not expect (but within the rules of football). It is those things, the things that only exist in the experience the rules surround, that actually hold the joy of football.

You would know that these players had become blind to this truth because they took it all too seriously.

But you do it too, strange as you might find that accusation. When you operate under the misunderstanding I described, you are doing exactly this. You have taken the game of making distinctions about a universe more beautiful than the beautiful game, and made it Serious. When the misunderstanding arises in your thoughts, you can put it to rest in the same way

Many would stop here, satisfied. They have brought you what they consider ~the Great Truth~, and SURELY you would be tremendously helped by applying it. But a lot of readers would not actually find such a text appealing. What does it insinuate about the ideas dearest to them? Should I stop being so Serious about my gender identity, allowing it to be violated constantly? Should communists cease to counter lies manufactured by fascists, propagated by liberals, because otherwise they would commit the sin of being Too Serious About It? Should feminists just consider patriarchy some sort of game we are playing, so that they can stop feeling so hurt by it?

That is not what this implies. To do that would be the same as accusing the winning football team of having been too Serious about the game as well, so validating and inviting the decision to murder them. Few are pulled into a Game Gone Serious with consent, and those who suffer from it the most are not free to leave it. After all, opting out of them is the greatest transgression. But you can't actually do this. We all know how well it goes if you decided that money is not real, or that cops cannot do anything to you. Social contracts don't stop being Serious unless everyone decides they are not. No, clearly pretending that everything is just sort of a joke is not going to magically liberate you from all oppression.

But maybe the general notion of it can help you break out of your most depressing thoughts. Maybe it can convince you that the world is not a scary place that will never love you, where you can never succeed in the things you want most. There will still be many that hate you, and there will still be obstacles that prevent your progress. But maybe now the notion that you may find allies in this world is not so distant.

At this point you might think I was joking when I said this would be short, but I meant this. This isn't a particularly great or complete article. I start a lot of thoughts without finishing them; and its sole novel enterprise, to make Discordian ideas relatable to marginalized people, is barely developed. But I'm very tired, and I would like to revisit the idea when I am not.

Please remember that it is not Serious ♥


[1]this is not an exhaustive or accurate representation of how electric circuitry works, what the Entscheidungsproblem entails, or how the Church-Turing thesis responds to it and how the Turing Machine features in it. Nor does it validate a Great Man Theory view of history. Each of these men were expressions of a general spirit of the times in their field, and the causal link that exists between them was enabled by the labor of an uncountable number of people who did not necessarily even think about any of these things
[2]This is what is meant by "shunyata", which is one of those Sanskrit words that perfectly describes something, but cannot be translated as one unit into modern language. It is often put as "emptiness", so saying that all things are "empty" of independent existence or quality.  Not empty as in being nothing, but empty in the way that space is empty, so that it can contain the universe (another translation is in fact "spaciousness"). They do not simply claim that this is so, but provide practices of concentration which allow the practitioner to experience this directly.

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