Why I am not a Buddhist

I asked myself, was I content
With the world that I once cherished?
Did it bring me to this darkened place
To contemplate my perfect future?
I will not stand nor utter words against
This tide of hate
Losing sight of what and who I was again

I’m so sorry if these seething words I say
Impress on you that I’ve become
The anathema of my soul

As I was waiting for the battery in my car to be replaced, I bought a Twix bar from the repair shop vending machine.

Now, I love Twix bars. I mean, I really love Twix bars. There is something…unwholesome about the way I love Twix bars. The chocolate layer, the caramel, the crisp cookie crunch…it’s enough to bring a grown man to tears.

I was disappointed by the Twix bar that I bought. At some point in its life, somewhere ‘twixt the factory and my hands, it had been exposed to very high heat. The caramel layer had melted and oozed out the bottom of the bars in a gooey puddle, leaving behind a thin and feeble layer of half-melted and congealed chocolate over a partly denuded cookie center. It was a hollow mockery of a Twix bar, a Twix bar that had shuffled off this mortal coil before it even had time to live.

But I didn’t come here to talk about candy bars. I came here to talk about Buddhism.

I can’t say that you’re losing me
I always tried to keep myself tied to this world
Though I know where this is leading
Please, no tears, no sympathy
I can’t say that you’re losing me
But I must be that which I am
Though I know where this could take me
No tears, no sympathy

In some small way, my desire for a Twix bar brought me unhappiness. The Twix bar I bought did not meet my expectations, and as a result, it did not bring me joy.

Buddhist philosophy correctly predicts my unhappiness. Buddhism teaches, and quite rightly, that the experience of life is the experience of suffering. This suffering, it says, comes inevitably from desire; when one desires that which one does not have, or when one has that which one does not desire, the result is suffering.

It’s hard to find fault in that idea. I could, as a minor quibble, argue that the source of suffering is not desire of and by itself, but rather the difference between one’s expectations and reality; I expected my experience with the Twix bar to be something other than it was, and I was disappointed. Had I had no expectations at all, the Twix bar may actually, when judged on the merits of what it was rather than what I expected it to be, have been quite good.

But that’s really a trivial complaint. The fact is, desire and expectation do lead to suffering, because we can not always expect to have what we desire, nor have the world match our expectations.

Gracefully, respectfully
Facing conflict deep inside myself
But here confined, losing control
Of what I could not change

Gracefully, respectfully
I ask you, please don’t worry, not for me
Don’t turn your back, don’t turn away

When viewed through this lens, the Four Noble Truths of Buddhist thought seem quite reasonable. Nobody likes to suffer; suffering and sorrow and grief are painful burdens, that grind down the human soul and sometimes make the experience of being human unbearable.

Buddhism teaches that freedom from suffering comes through disengagement. If desire results in suffering, then the way out of suffering is to desire nothing. By practicing this, a person can seek to free himself from the endless cycle of suffering resulting from birth, death, and rebirth, and become enlightened. Once the attachment to the world, with its attendant desire, is released, the enlightened Buddhist frees himself from suffering.

And if this is enlightenment, I want nothing to do with it.

It’s hard to say that the Buddhists have it wrong. One need only look around to see that the world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. A litany of the evils of mankind is at once horrifying and clichéd; we have lived shoulder to shoulder with evil for so long that even talking about it seems banal. Engaging the world invariably brings pain and misery; we are so steeped in it that it cannot be any other way.

And yet… and yet…

And yet the flip side of that very coin is the fact that broken desire and unmet expectation is the necessary driving inspiration behind the impulse to do good.

Desire and expectation lead to sorrow and suffering, but in that sorrow and suffering is the incentive that prods us to seek to make more than what exists now, to become more than what we are today. The drive to better ourselves and the world we live in has at its core that very dissatisfaction the Buddhist philosophy sees as the source of all suffering.

Sometimes, it seems to me that Buddhist thought, when viewed from a certain angle, is the philosophy of nihilism. The world is a wretched, miserable place, it says, and engaging it will only bring you sorrow; best, then to transcend it, to disengage from it, to step away from that which you desire, lest your desire cause you pain.

That strikes me as a tacit, perhaps unconscious acceptance that the world as it is now is irredeemable. The world is beyond hope; the only reasonable answer is to forfeit the game, be quit of the whole affair. The Noble Eightfold Path is a road away from the world, teeming with refugees seeking to separate themselves from it.

To that, I say, no.

The world looks as though it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls, it is true. The world rarely lives up even to the most modest of expectations, and the rift between one’s expectations and the unpleasant and often evil reality is a source of suffering. But that is not all there is. In that suffering, we can find the power to oppose evil, and to bend reality to our will. We are not impotent. Indeed, with every passing year, our knowledge increases, and with it increases our power to remake the world into something better.

Evil exists. Suffering exists. The world is shaped often by twisted and corrupt people, people of low ways and mean spirits. But it is shaped also by those who desire to do good–and the desire to do good may bring pain, but it also brings hope, and joy. It is only by engaging the world that we can leave our mark upon it, and by leaving our mark upon it we can know joy that is beyond all measure.

The Buddhist says, the world is not okay. Turn away; leave the world behind you; disengage from it. I say, the world is not okay, and that is why we must engage it, for only by engaging it can we ever hope to make it okay.

Paying for my sins

This past weekend was one of the best I have had in a very long time. I got to see the movie Pan’s Labyrinth with Shelly and figment_j, then dayo came into town for a visit from Chicago, and… bliss. Snapped this pic of dayo and I at Panera Bread using the iSight built into my MacBook:

And now today I get to pay, karmically (karmacally?) speaking, for the wonderful weekend. The battery in my car has died. I know a dead battery when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now. It’s stone dead. It’s definitely deceased. It wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it. It’s bleedin’ demised. It’s passed on. My battery is no more. It has ceased to be. It has gone to meet its maker. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It’s shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile! It is, not to put too fine a point on it, an ex-battery.

This presents, as you may surmise, certain practical and logistical difficulties. Not insoluble ones, as I drive a car with a manual transmission, but difficulties nonetheless. Quite frustrating it is, especially seeing as how, at this late hour, I have little choice but to procure a new battery at the altar of consumerist greed and avarice that is Wal-Mart, and I loathe all things Wal-Mart almost as much as I loathe large, soulless corporations that have forgotten their ethical roots and become little more than gigantic, indifferent profit-vacuuming machines willing to do almost anything and commit almost any atrocity in their quest to improve the bottom line.

But I repeat myself.

And now, gentle reader, I am off, to leave work in quest of a battery that has not shuffled off this mortal coil. I was going to make a pun on the phrase “aggravated battery,” but restrained myself at the last moment. Consider yourself fortunate and escape while you still can.

“So what did YOU do this evening, Tacit?”

I have a problem. I am, you see, plagued by boredom. My days stretch out before me in an endless vista of dreary ennui, because I never seem to have anything to do. At least, that’s what I must be thinking, since I’ve started working on a huge new Web site with tips and tutorials and how-tos on BDSM, in spite of the fact that Onyx 3 still isn’t finished yet, I haven’t touched the book I’m allegedly working on in months, I have at least two other unfinished writing projects on the back burner, I need to set up my darkroom again, and the apartment still looks like a Category 4 hurricane went through it just moments after a Columbian drug gang staged a violent coup in it.

Ahem. Anyway, the first tutorial I’m working on is a photo how-to for making rope and chain harnesses, with the lovely joreth as my model.

I haven’t even begun to process all the images yet, seeing as how we just finished shooting all the pics, but I did pick out this rather lovely image from the raw photos, which I rather like.

Not even on your BIRTHDAY is this image work-safe. Seriously. I mean it.

OK, wish me luck…

I’m about to go talk to the business manager of the company I’m working with about why there’s no money in the payroll account, and when this situation will be rectified.

If I fail to get answers that satisfy me, I think I’ll drive over to the Apple store and see if they need any new Apple Geniuses. (“Why should we hire you as an Apple Genius?” “Well, let’s see. I’ve been using Apple computers since the Apple ][e; I’ve used every version of the Mac’s operating system from System 1.1 through Mac OS 10.4, including beta and developer preview versions; for the last eight years, I’ve owned a consulting business configuring, repairing, networking, and doing system integration for Apple client and server machines in environments ranging from home offices to the data centers of Fortune 100 companies; the last time I was in here getting a recalcitrant DVD burner in a MacBook laptop replaced, I answered a customer’s question that none of the existing Apple geniuses could answer; and oh yeah, I’m a fucking registered Apple developer. So whaddya think? Think I’m qualified?”)

Update: He slipped out the door early today. I’ll have to get him first thing tomorrow.

Okay, so color me naive, but…I don’t get it.

Yesterday, I got a Second Life account.

Now, the reasons I had for getting the account probably aren’t typical. I got the account largely because I’ve heard that in Second Life, users can create their own objects and spaces, and users can use a sophisticated interactive scripting language to attach behaviors to those objects.

I’ve been involved in computer graphics professionally for decades, and I can easily hold my own with the best 2D image editors and retouchers out there. I’ve been using Photoshop professionally since version 1.0.7 and teaching it since version 2.5, and I am, if not one of the best image retouchers in the country, certainly in the top 100.

But when it comes to 3D graphics and imaging, Im completely flummoxed. I don’t know the first thing about texture mapping, or designing 3D objects, or scripting in interactive spaces (save for some dabbling with the old-style text-based MUDs and MOOs, and writing old-fashioned text adventure games back in the day). I decided to get into Second Life first because it seemed like an easy, fun way to dabble a little bit in 3D creation and scripting, and second because so many people belong to Second Life that I thought it’d be easy to find resources online about it.

Now, I haven’t got into trying to create any objects or anything yet. I did explore a little bit last night, though, and color me flummoxed. What’s the deal with Second Life? Is there something I’m missing?

I zapped around on the map, looking for things to do, and from what I have seen so far, Second Life isn’t really a full-fledged virtual environment where you can socialize, interact, and exchange goods and services. Rather, it seems upon my limited exploration to be a virtual version of some seedy Tijuana suburb, as envisioned by professional spammers-turned-casino-owner-wannabes with particularly garish senses of interior decoration. It’s easy to find strip clubs and casinos where you can buy “Linden dollars” with real dollars and then wager those Linden dollars on virtual slot machines, and they do seem to use every underhanded trick in the book (up to and including paying people in Linden dollars to go to their sites and then just sit there, as this boosts their sites’ ranking in terms of number of players active and thus makes their sites stand out on the map of the world), but other than that…

…what’s the point?

I can create a character. I can spend money, if I want, to buy hairstyles and new clothes for my avatar. I can buy vehicles to get around in the world in my shiny new clothes. I can buy entire new bodies for my avatar. And then, once I get this avatar looking how I want, then what? I walk around and look at online casinos and listen to awful hip-hop music?

And what’s with the stores selling four-foot-long cocks for my avatar?

So what does it mean to succeed?

If you’re a printer, or you’ve ever been in the print industry in any capacity at all, or you’ve ever taken a design class, or even if you’ve ever used the “random text” command in any of a large number of different programs, you’ve probably seen a piece of gibberish text that begins with the words “lorem ipsum.” Since the dawn of time, relatively speaking, that gibberish text has been used by newspaper editors, magazine layout artists, prepress people, designers, even Web designers, as “filler” text to let them see, for example, how many columns of type they need, or whatever. The whole text looks like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat. Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi. Nam liber tempor cum soluta nobis eleifend option congue nihil imperdiet doming id quod mazim placerat facer possim assum. Typi non habent claritatem insitam; est usus legentis in iis qui facit eorum claritatem. Investigationes demonstraverunt lectores legere me lius quod ii legunt saepius. Claritas est etiam processus dynamicus, qui sequitur mutationem consuetudium lectorum. Mirum est notare quam littera gothica, quam nunc putamus parum claram, anteposuerit litterarum formas humanitatis per seacula quarta decima et quinta decima. Eodem modo typi, qui nunc nobis videntur parum clari, fiant sollemnes in futurum.

That’s the full version. That, or fragments of it, are used whenever someone has a need for nonsense text to fill in a blank area in a design, until the real text comes along.

Problem is, that nonsense text is not nonsense.

In the groundbreaking book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins put forth a revolutionary new way to conceptualize evolutionary biology–at the level of the gene, not the level of the individual. A gene’s “goal,” in a manner of speaking, is to reproduce itself. Genes that do this efficiently succeed and become widespread; genes that don’t, disappear.

Many people still have a mistaken view of evolution as “survival of the fittest.” Charles Darwin never used that expression [Edit: Charles Darwin did not use the expression until the fifth edition of Origin of Species, where he adapted it as it had come to be associated with his ideas of natural selection through Spencer’s deliberate creation of an analogy between evolution and market economics using the term)–it was coined by a man named Herbert Spencer–and the term can create inaccurate perceptions of how evolution works. Evolution does not necessarily work on the level of the individual at all; for example, all the bees in a beehive save the queen are not capable of reproducing, and so have no chance to pass on their genes. However, all the bees in a beehive share their genes with the queen. So if a bee dies, but its death helps promote the survival of the hive, that particular bee’s genes survive; it is the survival of the gene, not the survival of the organism, that matters.

In many cases, the survival of the organism means the survival of the gene–in many cases, but not in all. And some genes are passed on by individuals who do not express those genes at all. Male pattern baldness and red-green color blindness in humans are passed on matrilineally–you inherit those genes from your mother–even if they are expressed primarily in men. If you were somehow to prevent every color-blind man or every bald man from reproducing, even though color blindness and male-pattern baldness are genetic, you would not remove those genes from the population.

The human genome project is attempting to map and understand every gene that makes a human being. Each of these genes codes for the production of a single protein, and each of these proteins is responsible for carrying out all the tasks necessary to build a cell and make it go. Human beings have somewhere around 25,000 genes, each made of many DNA base pairs; the ntire sequence of these genes has been mapped, and their function is being explored.

And a lot of them are gibberish.

Biologists call this “junk DNA”. It exists in all species over a certain level of sophistication. Some of it is “obsolete code”–stuff that calls for things the organism no longer needs or uses, like gills and tails in humans. Some of it has been selected against because the stuff it codes for has no or negative survival value, at least in the short run. (New research suggests that mammals carry the genes that would let them, and us, regenerate damaged organs or regrow lost limbs, but that these genes are switched off. If that’s the case, learning how to switch those genes on could revolutionize medicine…but I digress.)

Some junk DNA is old or obsolete…but some is not. A good deal of this “junk DNA” is actually the remnants of old retroviruses, viruses that eons ago infected our ancestors and then became inert, their DNA integrated with ours.

Retroviruses are strange beasts. They work in a simple but devious way. They contain a strand of RNA, not DNA, and this strand of RNA has the necessary code for creating a special enzyme called “reverse transcriptase,” bundled together with the viral code.

When the virus attacks a cell, it injects its RNA into the cell. The RNA is snapped up by tiny machines within the cell whose job it is to read pieces of RNA and build the proteins that the RNA calls for. These machines have no way to tell that a particular piece of RNA is legitimate; they read and process any RNA they see. The viral RNA, once inside the cell, gets read and processed just like any other RNA.

The viral RNA tells the machines to build reverse transcriptase. Reverse transcriptase is a molecular machine that take a piece of RNA and writes it into the cell’s own DNA. When a retrovirus infects a cell, it injects its genes. Its genes tell the cell to make reverse transcriptase, and once the cell does that, the reverse transcriptase writes the viral RNA into the cell’s DNA; the viral gene becomes a part of the cell’s gene.

Now, normally, at this point the viral gene pretty much shuts down the rest of the cell, and tells the cell to stop whatever it was doing and dedicate all its resources to making more copies of the virus. This destroys the cell, of course, but it’s how viruses reproduce.

Every now and then, though, something goes wrong. The viral RNA is injected, the reverse transcriptase is made, the viral genes get recorded into the cell’s own DNA, and then…nothing. The viral gene just sits there. It doesn’t activate, it doesn’t take over the cell, it just sits there.

But when that cell divides, the viral gene goes with it. that viral gene is now a permanent part of the cell’s DNA. Sometimes, if a gamete is infected, the viral DNA gets passed on to new offspring; it never actually does anything, it’s just along for the ride. Has it succeeded? If it never gets activated, ever produces anything, but the organism it infected becomes successful and spreads all troughout the world, then that viral gene has been spread throughout the world too, right?

In talking about ideas, philosophers often speak of “memes” rather than “genes.” A meme is an idea; memes–ideas–can spread themselves, and can grow. You can look at Christianity as a meme, for example. People who accept the idea of Christianity want to spread that idea; the idea uses their minds, just as a viral gene uses a cell, to spread and reproduce itself. Christianity is a very complex meme, which has fractured and divided into competing sub-species, and most memes are not that complex, but it’s a good example nonetheless.

So what’s the equivalent of a “junk meme?” Lorem ipsum.

Most people believe that the Lorem Ipsum text is meaningless gibberish. In fact, “lorem ipsum” is a generic term for any gibberish text in the print industry–“Oh, I don’t have Sandy’s editorial yet, so I just put some lorem ipsum into the space where her column goes for now.” But the lorem ipsum text is not meaningless, and it’s not gibberish.

In fact, the lorem ipsum text is Latin, and it comes from a work called De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (The Extrmes of Good and Evil), a study on ethics written by the philosopher Cicero in about 45 BC. The fragment that survives as the modern gibberish text placeholder begins not only in the middle of a sentence, but in the middle of a word; the complete section of the original text begins

Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

Translated into English, the passage reads:

There is no one who who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

One could argue that, viewed from a certain perspective, this passage represents a meme that is successful almost beyond all reason, because it has been picked up and reproduced over and over and over again. But like the viral gene that becomes an inert, non-functional part of its host’s DNA, this meme is “junk;” it is completely inert, and most people do not even realize it has any meaning at all. It’s filler; it’s treated as gibberish, just like the viral gene is effectively gibberish.

But is it successful? It’s picked up and propagated all over the planet; it has spread far and wide, as inert viral genes which have become a part of the human genome have spread far and wide; but is it successful?

A Tale of Horror and Adventure

What you are about to read is a true story. It is a tale of adventure, and courage, and horror, and as such it may not be appropriate for the sensitive. Adults should take young children by the hand, and make sure their arms and legs remain in the ride at all times. Brace yourself, for this tale contains scenes of such horror and woe as to make a grown man weep. You have been warned.

I live in a sleepy little suburb of Atlanta called Duluth. Folks hereabouts value peace and quiet, and not much happens here. Life is quiet, and horror rarely visits this place, save during Presidential elections. About the most exciting thing that happens ’round these parts is the occasional referendum against extending Atlanta’s mass transit system into Duluth…but more on that later.

I live in a small apartment in this sleepy little community, a domicile which is, alas, filled with the detritus of a life of adventure in far corners of the globe. Ancient relics of long-forgotten computers and other prized trophies of a misspent youth fill my living space to overflowing, and with Shelly’s recent move to Tallahassee, where she has precious little space for storing things, my apartment has filled even more.

A couple of weeks ago, Shelly came up to visit, and brought with her such artifacts and relics as I had been keeping in storage with her. Owing to the aforementioned cramped living space I have here, we had little choice save to begin storing some of these legendary artifacts on my balcony.

I have two cats, as regular readers of this journal will no doubt recall. Now my cats, in keeping with the nature of cats everywhere, love little more than to sit in the window and observe the various daily activities of Man and beast as they go by below. The cats particularly love to spend their leisure time in front of the sliding glass door to the balcony, and watch the squirrels leaping about in the skeletal husks of the undead zombie trees outside.

When I first moved to Duluth, the vista offered from the vantage of my balcony was lovely indeed, a stunning panorama of deep forest beyond the apartment complex. Lovely, but fraught with the hints of impending doom, for the trees were…wrong, somehow. The leaves, which should be bright green, were changing, becoming monstrous, turning to sickly hues of yellow and red; within weeks, they began falling from the trees, leaving only the dry bones of skeletal trees.

The denizens of Duluth took this strange and foreboding change in stride. This happens regularly, I was told, every year like clockwork; the trees seemed to the casual observer to be dead, but were actually in a state beyond death, sleeping like the Great Old Ones until the day the stars were right for their return to life. In the spring, they said, the trees would return to life, and roll away the stone to the salvation of us all, or stalk the countryside in search of human blood to feed their zombie reanimation, or some such thing, and that all of this was a part of God’s promise of renewal.

So we see how even the most horrific of things can in time become normal. Humans are a curiously adaptable species.

But I digress.

As I was saying, Shelly’s arrival precipitated the need for storing many of my ancient and hoary treasures on the balcony. Shelly slid open the balcony doors, and a thunderbolt of realization struck our cats, particularly Snow Crash, the more flighty and impressionable of the two. “Holy Mother of God!” he said. “You mean there’s another room out there??! Why was I not informed of this??? I insist, mortal human, that you allow me out there at once!”

Or perhaps that is what he would have said, had he been gifted with the power of speech.

In any event, it should suffice to say, gentle reader, that the cats were fascinated by the discovery that this huge pane of glass was in fact a doorway to places unknown, and they immediately made the exploration of this strange portal the utmost priority.

This is the setting of my tale. The tale itself begins three nights ago, when I returned from a long day’s toil to my humble abode, cluttered as it was with the possessions of my lifetime, and took it upon myself to bring to the chaos some semblance of order. To this end, I began moving things from my living room to the balcony, where I could later properly catalogue them and decide upon their future disposition.

I slid open the door to the balcony, nimbly evaded the frantic attempts of the cats to dash through the opening during this narrow window of opportunity, and closed the door behind me scant millimeters from their pink wet noses.

In that moment, the horror began, though at this point I was as yet unaware of the trials that awaited me.

With my task on the balcony complete, I turned to open the door, and discovered to my surprise and dismay that it appeared to be stuck. “Oh, great,” I thought, “it’s being stubborn. I’ll have to wiggle it open.”

I tugged, pried, wiggled, and yes, gentle reader, even kicked the door, to no avail. A chill seeped into my bones, as I realized that I had closed the door with such vigor that the lock had latched itself, and I was now trapped on the balcony with no means of egress available save for a long plummet to what would most undoubtedly be a grisly demise at the feet of the unliving trees.

I did not yet panic, however. I have endured many trials and adventures at the hands of an uncaring fate, and I felt supreme in my ability to prevail over this misfortune. I renewed my attack on the balcony door with great vigor, pulling and prying and even jiggling it on its track in my efforts to open it.

All came to naught; the door stubbornly resisted me.

Nights in Atlanta are harsh and unforgiving. As time passed, the temperature plummeted into the high fifties. A howling gale, easily two or three miles per hour, began, and the icy wind brought the temperature into the mid fifties or worse. I had only a heavy winter jacket to protect me from the elements, and feared for my survival.

The sliding glass door taunted me, offering me a vision of safety and warmth denied me by only a single pane of glass. I renewed with even greater vigor my assault on the door. On the other side, the cats watched me, and I could almost hear their voices taunting me.

I have known many brave men–noble, strong men, to a one–who have confronted the unknowable mysteries of the Great Cthulhu and the other Old Ones, and one by one succumbed to madness, their corruptible human minds slowly eroded by the horrors they had witnessed and experienced until at last they were reduced to gibbering imbeciles, spending the last days of their lives imprisoned deep within asylums for the insane.

The wind grew stronger and, confronted with the horror of my own situation, I feared my own descent into madness had begun.

The mocking stares of the two cats pressed heavily upon me. I cast my mind about frantically, hoping to chance upon some idea that might free me from my lofty prison and return me to the safety and sanity of a normal life.

I know! A rope! Surely, if only I had a rope, I could climb down from this accursed balcony and be free! I thought.

With that vision to guide me, I began to search through the boxes and parcels stacked high in my prison. And to my great wonder, I found in a large and otherwise unremarkable box, a long coil of smooth white rope. Salvation!

With trembling hands, I made fast one end of the rope to the beam supporting the roof above me. I climbed over the rail of the balcony, and perched precariously on its edge, the free end of the rope in my hand. It was at this moment I realized the folly of my thoughts.

I do not know to this very day, gentle reader, what had possessed me to believe a rope could possibly save me. For you see, I am a pervert; I can use rope to tie people up in all manner of strange and wondrous ways before working my will upon them. I am not, however, Sir Edmund fucking Hillary, or James Bond, or any other person who might use a rope to climb down from a balcony.

I stood there for a time, balancing on the rail with a rope in my hand, and knew the unshakable truth: my position was not one whit improved.

Even in the darkest night, there can sometimes shine a glimmer of light. Within the whirlwind of my despair, a tiny flicker of memory asserted itself: figment_j was due at my domicile that evening, as we had previously made a dinner engagement. I resolved to hunker down, sheltering myself as best I could from the fierceness of te elements, and wait it out, hoping that rescue would soon come.

And arrive it did, almost before I could even have dared hope, before I had surrendered any body parts to frostbite. Se stood below me, bathed in radiant light, and a plan began to form.

I resolved upon a course of action which, though fraught with peril, might ultimately lead me from my dreadful perch. As I explained my plan, her eyes widened in shock and fear, but she summoned reserves of courage from somewhere deep inside and agreed to my proposal. I would, i explained, toss my keys down to her, so that she might walk around to my front door, open it, and let me in.

Now came the most delicate moment. The plan rested on the most fragile hope. I withdrew my keys from where they lay in my pocket, and took a deep breath. The slightest of miscalculations, or a chance gust of wind at the wrong moment, and she might not catch the keys, leaving them to fall to the ground in the darkness. I steeled myself, sent a brief silent prayer of good fortune to whatever supernatural beings might be making their silent way overhead on any of the various mysterious errands that bring them on occasion from the nether realms, and released my keys, sending all my hopes and fears with them toward her waiting hands.

The plan succeeded! She caught the keys effortlessly. At last, I thought, I am free!

But it could not be so easy.

The horror of the night peeled back layer upon layer, like the skin of an onion–a horror onion, made of horror.

Duluth, Georgia, is not quite the quaint and charming place it might seem to the casual visitor. Beneath its bucolic charm lurks a deep, dark, sinister fear–a fear that pervades every corner of this village. Duluth is, in the words of a wise woman who has been my mentor and guide in this land, “scared white person central.” This deep, pervasive fear manifests itself in many subtle and mysterious ways.

Duluth is known, quaintly, for its referendums of which I made note earlier, in which her citizens seek to prevent Atlanta from extending mass transit here. A train, it is feared, might give undesirable elements easy access to Duluth, where they may violate her sanctity by breaking into people’s houses and stealing their flat-screen plasma televisions and other consumer goods, and perhaps even partaking of her women in lustful ways that makes one shudder to contemplate.

A tangible manifestation of this fear hangs on my door as a grim reminder of the dark and evil thoughts that poison this fair place–a second deadbolt lock, with no manner of operation from the outside. When i had come to my abode from my daily toil, I had, in an absent-minded moment, turned that deadbolt.

Perhaps I was touched even then by madness. Perhaps the mark tattooed on my back, a symbol of chaos that has been my protection as I have delved into mysteries man was never meant to know, had caught the notice of a passing sprite, who had seen a dim and shadowy vision of my future and elected to play a trick on me. Perhaps the imp that so plagued the mind of the great Edgar Allen Poe had possessed me in that instant. Whatever the cause, which I doubtless will never know, that fateful twist of my wrist had barred figment_j from entrance to my home, and condemned me to further time in my icy prison.

With hopes dashed, I turned once more to an inspection of the door itself. Doors of this variety, I was once told, can sometimes be removed from their tracks, allowing ingress. I searched once more through the collected items at my disposal, finally settling upon a large screwdriver and a hammer with which I hoped to be able to put to the proof this theory.

The door, like all things in this land, was shaped and twisted by the macabre fears of Duluth-s citizens; it had been designed to resist this manipulation. After much sweating and prying, and cursing in the Old Tongues the things which may if uttered casually invoke great Names from beyond knowledge to the calamity of all, I succeeded in prizing the bottom part of the door sufficiently to let my arm within. I basked briefly in the warmth and light of my home, but victory was not yet in my grasp; the latch of the door evaded my reach.

I called down to figment_j, explaining my need. Something, I said, with which to extend my grasp, and perhaps the nightmare would end! A branch or a stick, or perhaps a rod of metal, as long as…as long as… I held aloft a bicycle pump. About as long as this is. With such a tool, as long as this pump and about as rigid, I might…

Amid the swirling madness, dawn broke. Perhaps I could use the very bicycle pump I now held in my hand! I returned with spirit to the door that had so denied me, and thrust my arm through the gap I had made. One swing, another, a third, and…

Yes! I struck the latch squarely, and with a tumultuous noise, as of the very hosts of Hell breaking ground before the advances of the mighty armies of man, the door yielded and slid partway open.

Victory now assured, I bent my might against it, and within moments it stood open. Warmth and light streamed around me as my will prevailed; somewhere in unknowable spaces where the Great Old Ones sleep, Fate herself trembled.

Afterward, figment_j and I went to Ruby Tuesdays for dinner.

Gah. Still at work.

I have a great deal of work to do, and a crushing deadline that’s looking nigh-impossible. It’s very, very difficult to be properly motivated to get it all done when the company’s payroll account is completely empty.

Hence, I’m being Posty McPosterson today. LiveJournal: because it beats working…

I now have, courtesy of chaos5023, a titanium spork–arguably the coolest piece of cutlery ever created. With that, a steak knife, and about eighteen hundred nuclear bombs, I could rule the earth.

Some thoughts on love, hate, and war

This morning, I received in my email a long essay, written (EDIT: or rather, quoted; this person has since said she isn’t the original author of the piece) by one of the founders of the New Age, Tantric-sex-loving “World Polyamory Association,” claiming that polyamory can save the world. The reasoning, if it can be described with that word, is very straightforward. The essay begins with

Polyamory – the answer to the hate of our world …

Polyamory is not about deception – devious behaviour, wantonness, lust, passion, licentious behaviour or wreckless [sic] abandon. It’s about the ability to see beyond the narrow forms of society’s restrictive norms – be able to reach out … touch, offer … share and grow.

Love is about being compassionate, giving, sharing … becoming whole – not destroying all that is about us … the negative, destructive … evil by-products of hate. Love is about connecting and forming that special bond with those whom we love. It is about reaching – attaining a higher plain in our evolutionary stage as homo sapiens.

When the world has lost all concept of humanism – waging wars – devastation & destruction… outright genocide – killing millions of innocent people (women and children) it no longer possesses any moral compass. We have been rendered to the lowest ebb of what civilization was ever meant to be.

It goes on from there, asserting that since polyamory is about love and that war and terror are about hate, the solution to war and terror is more love–ie, polyamory. Now, I happen to think this idea is bunk, for a number of reasons, but I didn’t come here to talk about polyamory at all. I came to talk about the nature of war, and the nature of hate.

It’s a mistake to believe that love is the opposite of hate. Human emotions aren’t so simple. Love and hate do not exist on opposite ends of the Great Continuum of Feeling, and increasing the number of people one loves does not necessarily move a person away from hate. In fact, it is quite possible, and indeed altogether common, for a person to love some people, and hate some other people, and adding names to the list of people in the “loved” category does not remove names from the list of people in the “hated” category. Only a shallow and tenuous grasp of human emotional behavior would suggest otherwise.

In fact, love can be the genesis of hate, and can sometimes even provide a fertile field in which hate can grow.

Consider, for example, the Palestinian refugee whose beloved family is killed by an Israeli bomb, or the mother of a child killed in the World Trade Center. The loss of a loved one usually results in a strong emotional response, and if a person feels that those he loves have been taken from him with malice, his love for those who were lost can fuel his hate for those he perceives as responsible for that loss. Combine loss with a feeling of powerlessness, hopelessness, or despair, and you can easily end up with a person who expresses his pain and hate by strapping dynamite to his body and blowing himself up in a roadside cafe.

It need not even take any act of malice for this to happen. Anyone who’s survived a divorce or the end of a romantic relationship is likely familiar with how easily and how completely love can transition into hate. The person who one once shared his life, his home, and his bed can become a threatening, spiteful monster in his eyes overnight; the loss of something valued leads to grief, anger is a normal and natural part of the grieving process, and anger is fertile ground indeed for hate.

This is not helped at all by the fact that we tend to look in the outside world for things which justify our emotional responses. Look for reasons to hate someone, and they become easy–trivial, even–to find. So much of the way we perceive other people is in interpretation. If we believe, rightly or wrongly, that someone means us ill, we interpret that person’s behavior very differently than we might if we perceive they love us; and that perception can make the love or the ill real.

There’s a monkeysphere issue at work here, too. At the end of the day, our monkeyspheres–the sum total of those people with whom we can form meaningful, intimate emotional connections–is finite. Not only is it finite, it’s pitifully small; perhaps a hundred and fifty people or so. Past that point, we start taking shortcuts–lumping people into groups, and considering them only in terms of the group to which we’ve assigned them.

There are people who say they love everyone, or they love the whole human race. Those people are full of shit, at least if you are talking about meaningful, intimate bonds of love rather than a vague, poorly-defined, general sense of generic goodwill toward all of mankind. The silliness in the idea that it’s possible to love everyone is exposed by a simple thought experiment: did you mourn the deaths of the hundreds of people killed in the Philippines last month like you would the loss of your lover, or your child? Would it even be possible to function if you did? If the lives and deaths of everyone in the world impacted you the way the lives and deaths of those most intimate to you did, would you be able to survive at all?

The monkeysphere sets an upper limit on those we can love, yet it the same does not apply to hate; love is a uniquely personal, uniquely intimate experience, but we as human beings seem capable of hating people as a class or a group. Witness only those who hate all blacks, or all Jews, or all Americans, or all Arabs, and the fanaticism and obsession with which that hatred burns. We can not seem to love in the same way; one can not feel a deeply personal love for all Muslims, but people can and do feel a deeply personal hatred for all Muslims, or members of any other group, and build the entire shape of their lives around that hate.

Is love the answer to war? Answering that question requires understanding why wars are fought, and that understanding sometimes runs counter to intuition.

Wars are sometimes fought for reasons at least partially rooted in emotion, it is true. It’s not terribly difficult to support the notion that the bitter conflicts in the Middle East are fueled at least as often by equally bitter personal hate as they are by more prosaic concerns, such as control of economic resources.

But it’s not always so straightforward.

Let’s take a look at a very simple question. You are the leader of one nation; I am the leader of another. Your army has four divisions of troops. My army has ten. Our troops are in all respects equally matched. Our nations are at war. When will our war end?

This is the basis of an article with a nonintuitive answer to the question. The most simple answer, of course, says that the war will end when our armies engage in battle, and my ten divisions destroy your four divisions. But is that actually the case?

A sociologist might say that the war will end before it even begins. Given that the outcome is certain, your best course of action is to surrender before a shot is fired; if we do go to war, you will lose your entire army, and you will lose the war.

But in the real world, the answer is neither of the above. The answer is that the war will end when one of us reaches a point past which we are unwilling to accept further loss. Even if my army dominates yours entirely, even if my soldiers kill 170 of your soldiers for every man I lose (as was the case with US and North Vietnamese armies in Viet Nam), if you are willing to sustain losses that are sufficiently greater than the losses I sustain, you will win and I will lose. War then becomes a question of information theory; we will know the victor when we know the point at which one of us is unwilling to sustain further losses.

So. Back to the question at hand. Why do we fight wars? We fight wars because you and I have different and mutually incompatible goals. How do we fight wars? We fight wars by inflicting pain on one another until one of us reaches the point at which we are no longer willing to tolerate any additional pain. This process may be hateful, but it need not be driven by hate; two competing armies do not necessarily hate one another, and nations that were once embraced in war, such as Japan and the United States, can upon the conclusion of that war be embraced as allies.

But the process of inflicting pain during the prosecution of that war can breed hate, and love is not the answer to that hate; indeed, love can be the progenitor of that hate. If in the process of inflicting pain upon your nation, I deprive your people of something that they love, I will breed in your people a hatred for me. This hatred can actually increase the amount of pain you are willing to withstand; if I deprive your people of that which they love, they no longer have anything left to lose, and a person with nothing to lose can withstand just about any pain. A person with nothing to lose can become a dangerous person indeed, as many governments throughout the world might be well-advised to remember.

A person capable of love is capable also of hate. A person who loses that which he loves can easily turn to hate, whether that loss comes through the irreconcilable differences that end a marriage or the acts of malice that begin a war. More love does not mean less hate, for love is fundamentally bounded and hate, sadly, seems not to be.

In the scheme of world events, polyamory is essentially irrelevant. It is a relationship model, nothing more. It does not breed love nor turn hate to love, and people who adopt this relationship model are as capable of malice and spite as those who adopt any other–witness the dot_poly_snark community. In fact, I submit that the belief that polyamorous people are somehow more enlightened, wiser, or more evolved than their poor plodding monogamous brethren is nothing more than narrow elitism, no different save in the details than the belief that whites are somehow better than blacks. Believing one’s self to belong to a class of people superior in any dimension to the rest of the people with whom we share this planet does not breed love, but it certainly can and does breed hate–a nice irony, if one believes the class of people to which he belongs is superior because it is more loving.