Random Better Thoughts 4: The Great Distraction

By | February 12, 2017

This was supposed to be the week that I wrote the next installment of my personality series, but I just can’t get into that mindset with all the distractions. Each and every time I sit down to think or type, there’s an MSNBC video, a CNN article, a NY Times article (so long as I’m not over my free monthly limit), a blurb from Fox News, or some potential nonsense from BuzzFeed that I have to confirm or deny before I can move on to anything productive in my own life. Also death is scary; I’ll get to that later.

Betterman Thought Distraction

I can’t imagine democracy, or at least our current form thereof, has ever seemed as much an endangered species as it is now in the first few weeks of this new administration. I wasn’t around for the Nixon years, so I can’t say for sure, but that seems like the only close comparison for the current level of controversy. I’m also not a very political guy, and I’m a registered independent, but I know the feels of instability and disharmony.

The War on Truth

If there isn’t an outright assault on democracy, there is certainly a war on truth. The White House even outwardly stated that the media is “the opposition party.” This is what really sets me on edge, because without truth, we have nothing. Without truth and logic, we give way to tyranny and force. It’s no coincidence (though time will tell if it’s an overreaction) that sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have been surging lately. Regardless of one’s concerns, or lack thereof, about current events, it’s one of those books that everyone would do well to read in their lifetime.

The first moment I became concerned about the Trump movement – and please indulge me even if you find this to be silly – was actually before the election. Saturday Night Live had done a spoof on him, and the following morning he Tweeted about how they were a failing, terrible show that should be cancelled. It offended me both on a political level (freedom of speech and of the press) as well as a comedic level (it’s healthy to make fun of ourselves now and again). It was either thin-skinned pettiness or scary foreshadowing of an authoritarian.

Clearly, even as president, this war on truth continues in a variety of forms. It sometimes comes through outright, quantifiable falsehoods – or what evidently are now called “alternative facts” – such as saying “The murder rate is as high as it’s been in 45 or 47 years” (it’s not) or “That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration period!” (it wasn’t). If one comes to believe those two representative “facts,” they’ll be much more highly inclined to give their “very popular” leader more power to wield as he deems necessary to “keep us safe.”

This war also comes through open attempts to delegitimize others to consolidate one’s own influence and power, like calling a judge who rules against him a “so-called judge,” or claiming that his outgoing (fired) attorney general “betrayed the justice department” because she stood up to him and disagreed with his decision, or on a regular basis referring to the “dishonest media,” or “fake news,” or “Crooked Hillary,” or “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” (oh, the irony) until he gets to the point where everyone else has been discredited and he’s standing on his hill alone, the one source of “truth” and power. Totalitarian.

Constitution Endangered

The more curious “truth battles,” however, from a psychological perspective, are the seemingly delusional, qualitative assessments of everything happening with him and around him. Everything is always “running very smoothly” or “working quite nicely” or is “beautiful,” “yuge,” “big league,” or “big stuff.” So often he also throws in the “and many others agree with me” or starts a sentence with “as you know,” even if you don’t know (or even agree), without having any evidence to back it up…like three to five million fraudulent voters. Even conservative Fox News had to press him on that issue.

I understand that there is a certain school of thought in self-actualization called the “fake it till you make it” concept. You have to believe in yourself (or in this case certain facts) so completely and thoroughly, even when they aren’t yet true, because what you think and believe you (or they) will become. I think that approach can work very well, especially in things like sports or other physical endeavors where it is very much akin to the idea of visualization. If you can see yourself doing it, you can physically do it as a result of “mental training.”

But if I’m dealing in the art of governing (rather than The Art of the Deal), I’d prefer to know the truths. I’d prefer to know an honest assessment of my weaknesses in addition to my strengths. Because governing (after the campaign) isn’t about winning, it’s about providing for your constituents, managing a balance between safety and personal rights and freedoms, and providing public services and infrastructure such as social security, roads, and bridges. Besides, typically people can tell when you’re embellishing, if not outright lying.

My HVAC Model of Government

A good governing body should make a quiet hum reminiscent of an efficient gas furnace (much like the one I had installed recently, hence the metaphor), just loud enough so you know it’s there and working but not so loud as to take the spotlight for itself. A loud furnace is just a distraction and probably a clue that something isn’t running properly and needs fixing. Our current leader seems more comfortable as a ball of screaming hellfire chaos so long as it means people are paying attention and that he’s getting his way or making his mark.

So, to the leader of what’s often been referred to as the “free world,” if you’re reading – and while I doubt he is, it isn’t too far-fetched given how much online media criticism he’s been known to actively consume in a given day – even if we disagree on a number of policies, can you at least throw me a bone and let me forget about you for a while, let me go back to thinking and writing about the things I much rather enjoy writing? When I start to worry that our country’s freedoms and very way of life are in peril, I can easily become distracted. Do us all a favor and take a chill pill with a glass of humility, turn off your TV, and have your son put a password on your Android so you can’t access Twitter anymore.

And for those who feel I’m getting worked up over nothing about this totalitarian, democracy-in-peril business, I don’t want to hear the “It can’t happen here” song and dance; an idea of government is only as resilient or fragile as the people defending it or trying to tear it down. And the Titanic sank. And the Roman Empire.

It actually CAN happen here if we let it, and I’ve learned my lesson along the way; I need to be more educated and plugged into the political process (though hopefully I don’t have to write about it again anytime soon). And that, my friends, is the silver lining of 2016. I’m hoping we can get back to some normal Democrat vs Republican arguments like whether or not to raise taxes on the upper class. I’m not holding my breath, though. I so much long for good old “boring” politics again.

And now that I got that distraction out of the way, I can speak to the real distraction that has distracted me from getting to my regularly scheduled blogging…the distraction of death. I can explain…

Death Is Scarier Now (That I’m Older)

So many things are simpler when you’re a kid, death and religion included. I mean, yeah, dying would suck – or at least the process of dying – but then you just go up to heaven anyway, which is a million times better than earth (all joy, no pain), and while it may take a few years for your friends and family to die and join you, you literally have eternity to spend together afterwards, so it’s easier to be patient.

But as I got older, I realized there were other religions too (I had once thought Christianity was, itself, religion), and they don’t necessarily agree with Christianity. Some religions thought there were multiple gods, some thought WE were god, some thought when we die we come back as a tree or a badger or maybe just a different human until we could become enlightened, break the cycle, and spend the rest of eternity in nirvana (which sounded a lot like heaven to me). And then…and then there were…oh dear lord…atheists.

Evidently the atheists didn’t even think there was a god! OH MY GOD! What do you do with that information? Did that mean they just believe in the devil and hell? Devil worshippers? Well, maybe some, but on a whole, no, just neither. They just thought that when we died, the lights turned out, and that was it. Memory? Gone. Consciousness? Gone. No future, no past, no present, just nothingness without a chance of parole or reinstatement…biological, spiritual, or otherwise. Like you just go to sleep and…

What if they’re right? That certainly explains a lot about the anti-aging and trans-humanist movements. I mean, if that’s really it (dying and then nothingness), and someone gave me some sort of hope of living longer or forever, even the smallest nugget of 0.00000000001% chance of maybe, I’d take it in that scenario. Anyone who says they wouldn’t is either lying, truly 100% believes in their religion’s afterlife, or doesn’t really care for the material world and is okay with eternal sleep (sans dreaming). I mean a good nap and a lucid dream can be nice, but come on now…

I’ve honestly been struggling with this a lot for at least ten years, and most notably the last three or four (obviously, I wrote this death post a few months ago). I went from “When you die, you go to heaven” to “When you die, you might go to heaven” right around age eighteen, and I never really dealt with it. That’s a yuuuuuuge “might” in the second version of the statement.

I had my whole “life” plan basically mapped out: Go to school, work for a while, retire, and die within about eighty years, then spend eternity in heaven. I wasn’t certain of exactly what was going to happen in those first eighty or so years, but I had the next ten billion gazillion mapped out exquisitely well, so what’s the difference? The rest was peanuts, as they would say. I even had a nice, organized timeline graphic for it:

Original Life Plan

I was pretty proud of the graphic. It took a lot of time to make, and if anyone asked me what my life plan was, BAM! I could just flash the graphic. But then suddenly I had to revise it to this:

Revised Life Plan

So now I don’t know. I’m not saying I don’t believe Christians or Muslims or Hindus or what have you, but I am saying that I, myself, am not certain about any one of them. They all have ways of making sense, and at the same time they all have an appearance of being a nice, pleasant distraction, a comforting way of avoiding head-on the painful contemplation that has been consuming me for the last ten years (most notably the last three or four).

Perhaps Some Enlightenment

For anyone in the same proverbial boat as me – worried that atheists are right but your ego is ever so tightly bear-hugging your mortal life as you would a palm tree in a hurricane – there have been two things recently that have given me something to think about:

One is the idea that we may very well be living in a computer simulation. I know, that sounds totally ridiculous, but Google that idea and read a little. If you know anything about artificial intelligence, or you’ve seen The Matrix, it’s not all that crazy. If it’s true, then perhaps when we die we pass on to “real life,” instead of, but similar to, Christianity’s heaven, where we live for who knows how long, maybe forever.

Or maybe each simulated death passes us up one level within a bunch of computer simulations (reincarnation), with the last one finally being the “real” life or like nirvana? You know, kind of like passing each successive level of Mario Brothers until you eventually beat the game. Given as little as we really know about the universe, I like a crazy idea such as this for the simple reason that just maybe it, or something like it, is actually true rather than just eternal nothing. We did once presume the earth to be flat, after all.

For the second idea, I stumbled upon a video of philosopher Alan Watts the other day called What If When We Die We Wake Up? His assertion is essentially that the only thing that dies is memory. What we think of as “I” is an illusion of the ego, and there is one pervasive consciousness in the universe; we are simply a part of it, perhaps temporarily “plugged in,” if you will. Our physical body will soon die, but many other lives will just begin, sprouted from the same universal consciousness, and any one of those lives will think of themselves as “I” just as we do. In that way we never die.

I’m not sure how comforting that all is yet, but I also know spirituality is a journey, not a thing to be “won,” much like my assertion earlier about governing the state. And while I (or rather my ego) would prefer real continuity of life – that my memory would persist through space and time – maybe I can compromise on a perspective that at least maintains continuity of consciousness. Perhaps someday “I” will be reborn and live a new life; I just won’t realize that it’s my second (or even my thousandth) time around the spiritual block, as you might say, same as I don’t remember now any life before this one.

A Spiritual “Coming-of-Age” Tale

The one thing that always bothered me about Christianity, even as a child, was this idea that entry to heaven was conditional. And not that it was conditional upon doing good things for people (that I can get onboard with) but conditional upon believing. You had to have unwavering faith in the lord as your savior…God, Jesus, all that.

So what was I supposed to do as I lie there in bed, a frightened child of maybe ten whose runaway mind dared to question faith and a bearded god and walking on water and other such miracles? Why, I shut it up, of course, because had I not, I’d have gone to hell someday! I didn’t dare even speak my thoughts to anyone for fear that if they knew, they’d tell god or some silliness such as that, and I’d be busted same as I would be for not finishing my algebra homework if and when my teacher found that out too.

Side Note: That last part about algebra never happened; it was merely a fictional scenario created to illustrate a point. I was a Type A perfectionist and utterly terrified of disobeying authority, so I always did my homework on time. I mention this so that any readers who knew me well as a student won’t call me out for such blatant personal misrepresentation.

Eventually, around age eighteen, I decided that it was preposterous to be damned to hell for having a thought running through my mind saying “What if there is no hell?” Besides, it seemed to be more spiritually mature to at least admit ignorance rather than outwardly portray some sort of fake certainty. I didn’t think “fake it till you make it” would work for spirituality. Either way, should there be a god, he’d know my thoughts. And if he (or she) were to be compassionate, they wouldn’t damn me, a mere mortal, for ignorance. Right?

Do Any of Us REALLY Know?

It always seems odd to me how convinced and certain someone of faith can be on the subject of something that, to me, seems to be at the least an extreme uncertainty if not an outright impossibility, this concept of god and afterlife. It seems as odd to me as the way our president appears to be absolutely convinced that he certainly had the most attendees ever at an inauguration event. In all fairness to devout religious folk, however, at least only one of those is quantifiably, provably wrong.

Do the most hardline Christians really never even question? Never even wonder? Not even alone at night, looking out the window at the stars, do they even give second thought as to whether the prayers they speak truly have a receptive audience in the heavens?

My grandfather, who was an extremely devoted Christian and pastor, once told me the following when I asked him about his faith: “Brett,” he said, “I look at it this way. If there is no heaven, then nobody’s going. And if there is a heaven, well I’d sure rather be on that side of the game than the other.” When I think of Christianity, especially the charitable and moral parts of it that bring love and positivity to the world, I think of my grandfather. Even he, though, was humble enough to admit he didn’t know for sure, just that he believed. That combination of passion and humility is something I so much respect and will never forget (unless memory, in fact, does die when we do).

So, Grandpa, if you’re reading – and I know you are if you’re able – whether you’re up in heaven, soul in tact and dancing with Grandma, or merely spread out amongst the collective consciousness of the universe, infinite in space, I miss you…and I’m with you all the same.

Now back to my regularly scheduled blogging…

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