Tag Archives: Social Media

An Audience of None

book of the dead

Who will judge us, and by what measure?

We closed our eyes upon the living world and awoke to find ourselves standing in the presence of a powerful being, being both jackal and man.  We do not fear him, but rather the great set of scales besides which he stands.

In one hand he carries a single feather, plucked from the wings of the goddess of truth.

He places that feather upon the scales, and then reaches out toward us, into us, and though we are not harmed, we see that he carries our heart in his easy grip.

This two he places upon the scales.

A heart weighed down with a lifetime of regrets, and a feather infused with the weight of justice.

The scales tip, one way or the other, and we are judged.

 


 

The taste of the coin lingers as the small boat finally comes to ground.

We step eagerly over the shallow rail and onto solid earth, with only a brief glance backward to see that the cloaked ferrymen is rowing away again, into the gloom from whence we came.

There are three paths before us, and three kings, sons of the sky father, the keeper of oaths.

In life, their judgements were fair and true.

In death they will not fail us.

Our story is all told, we need only an ending befitting our tale.

Was our life one of goodness, or evil, or were our deeds unremarkable, our life wasted?

The story goes on, and we are judged.

 


 

Our ticket to eternal reward has been purchased in blood.

And now, after a long sleep, we shall rise and collect our due.

All around us they gather, the people we knew and loved and feared and hated.

But we have no eyes for them, nor they for us.

Our attention is arrested by the light which drew us from the grave, a light that touches every part of us, that burns away the shadows so that we are revealed completely to him.

Did we store our treasures in the old world, or in the new?

Eternity yawns before us, and we are judged.

 

Always we have been judged.

We crave it and we fear it like no other thing.

For as long as we have walked upon this earth, we have given ourselves to the gods for judgement.  The names change as we move from tribe to tribe, as do the specific details, but in the end we imagine ourselves laid bare in the eyes of those who will rule, finally, upon the content of our lives.

I have wondered, sometimes, if the gods and the ancestors volunteered for this duty, or if we somehow pressed them into service?

Just lately, I have wondered if their long obligation might be coming to an end.

We have found a new God of Judgement, it seems, better than those we have previously known, more responsive and immediate in both its praise and especially in its condemnation.  This new god does not wait until we are dead to pronounce judgement upon us.  It watches us with a billion eyes and when we are found wanting, the punishments of this new god are immediate and scathing.  No more waiting around for the privacy of the grave, no more scriptures or doctrines to follow and uphold.

Have you guessed it?

We did this.

We reached out and opened the eyes and ears of the world.  We gathered them all together in one place, where they could speak in one voice.  And before the echoes of our celebration had died away, this shambling titan began to reach out in complete and utter condemnation of everything within reach of its great and dissonant voice.

For once, we’ve given the atheists what they wanted.  We’ve swept aside the old gods and shown that we can do things far more efficiently by ourselves.  And what a job we’ve done!

But I think I was more comfortable when Anubis was weighing our hearts against the Feather of Ma’at, than I was a few weeks ago, watching a young woman torn apart on Twitter because she didn’t put her hand over her heart when the national anthem played.

I don’t care for this new god.  It is hungry and arbitrary in a way that makes the most capricious of the old gods seem tame by comparison.

It is not a god we can fight.  There are no temples to burn or idols to smash.

If we would not give ourselves fully to this new god, we must then seek to starve it, to deny it our attentions and concern.  We must live our lives freely, without casting arbitrary judgement on others and playing our brief parts for an audience of none.

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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, The Gods

City and Tower: A Prophecy Found

I had a moment of revelation recently, one that drove me into the pages of the Bible.

Don’t worry folks, this isn’t my “I found Jesus and renounced my heathen ways” post.

Not even close.

But I did find a Biblical prophecy that I feel certain is, even now, coming to pass.

And that’s kind of a big deal for me!

If you know me at all, or if you’ve so much as skimmed through any of my writing here, you have to know that I don’t put a lot of stock in the Bible, and even less in the so-called prophecies there-in.

That is not to say that I am unfamiliar with them.

I received many a heaping helping during my childhood in the Bible-Belt, and then later, as my interests turned toward the study of mythology in all its varied forms, I researched many of them on my own time.

And what I found, in almost every instance, was that Biblical prophecies are typically nothing of the sort.  Instead, they usually turn out to be descriptions of events that had already transpired when they were written down.

That these passages have been reinterpreted as representative of future events has, I think, more to do with the apocalyptic mindset of a later generation of Christian readers, than the intent of those who chronicled the myth-historical origins of the Hebrew tribes.

The core belief of Christianity, after all, is that the end-times are imminent.  Therefore, all prophecies must be happening in the now, the signs must be there, you only have to know where and how to look for them.

So imagine my surprise when I found one sitting there, out in the open where everyone can see it.  And it’s one that I’ve never once seen it listed, or had spouted at me by someone trying to prove that the Bible was inspired by the mind of God.

All the others I’ve been able to discount.  But this one, this one is just huge.

Let’s go through it.

Genesis Chapter 11:1-8

1 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.

2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

3 And they said one to another: ‘Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.

4 And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’

5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6 And the LORD said: ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do.

7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’

8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.

Everyone knows this story, right?  It’s the Tower of Babel, and what we are supposed to believe it that it explains why people all over the earth spoke different languages if they were all descended from the handful of folks that made it through the big flood on the Ark.

More The Confusion Of Tongues

But let’s take a moment and look at it with an eye toward recent events.

  1. Suddenly there was this thing called the Internet, and everyone everywhere could talk and share ideas with each other.
  2. Suddenly, all the important stuff seemed to be happening in one place: On Line.
  3. Apparently, building stuff with bricks and mortar was some cutting edge technology back in the day, so imagine instead a world built of data, a marketplace of ideas.
  4. They built for themselves a city and a tower, and they called it Social-Media and Facebook.
  5. And then God got bored one day and logged in to see what the buzz was all about.
  6. There he found groups devoted to Yoga and Cosplay and something called GrumpyCat, and discovered, to his absolute horror, that everyone wasn’t talking about him.  And when they did talk about him, it wasn’t always in the most complementary fashion.  New ideas were the meat and drink of this strange new land, and the potential broadening of experience and understanding was the hope of the dawning age.
  7. At this point, he closed the shades on his house, took his phone off the hook, and started hacking a bunch of his followers’ user accounts (‘cause hiding your passwords from an omniscient deity is kind of a bitch).  Once in, he started posting memes debunking climate science and claiming that president Obama is a Muslim.  He was always ready with poorly edited PlannedParenthood videos, and made up statistics on a thousand topics.  He started posting about “Keeping Christ in Christmas” before retailers were finished dumping all the unsold Easter candy, and whenever there was a shooting in a school he was johnny-on-the-spot to suggest handing out handguns like candy.
  8. Now this was stuff that no thinking person could believe, and yet they did, because they heard it repeated again and again from their friends and loved ones, and it was on the internet so it must be true.  Right?!  Fact-checking became something that only intellectual snobs with too much time on their hands bothered with.  The traditional meanings of words like “fact” and “opinion” were switched, and pretty soon no one could communicate with anyone else, because all appearances to the contrary, not as single one of us is still speaking the same language.

It’s all right there in black and white!

And it has to be God doing it because no mortal could lay the bullshit down so think.

Errr…, maybe Trump.


There are those, I am sure, who will find these revelations offensive.

I understand that I seem to be reducing the almighty Abrahamic God to nothing more than a giant internet troll…, and if I am, isn’t that still better than taking a literal interpretation of the story, which has him (an omnipotent god) scrambling like crazy to muck up human language before the mortals figure out that by working together, there is nothing they cannot accomplish.

Nah, it has got to be the internet thing!

I found a Biblical prophecy that I can believe in.

Doesn’t mean I’ll be joining team Yahweh, of course.  I mean, however you choose to interpret the story, it is not exactly what I would call a ringing endorsement.  But it will definitely change the way I approach conversations on the internet.

A city and a tower with its top in heaven…,

It was a nice idea.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion

Live the Moment • Tell the Story

10% of all the photos ever taken were shot in 2011.

Over the past few months I have noticed this statement, in a few variations, appearing all over the web.  Most recently, it’s been used by Western Digital as an advertisement for media backup solutions, but as near as I can tell, it originated in the September 2012 issue of Fortune magazine.

I’ve been unable to lay my hands on that issue to see if the person making the claim had numbers to back it up, but it feels true.

Ten percent of all the photos ever taken, throughout history, eclipsed in a single year.

I think it safe to say that, by the end of the decade, we’ll have captured more images than in the entire history of photography.

It’s an amazing thought.

It’s also a little horrifying.

“Why horrifying?” you might ask.

Is it because of the sheer volume of poorly composed dreck that is flooding the web?  Am I really so repulsed by the thought of a million million women making the duck-face at themselves in harshly lit bathroom mirrors, or the myriad badly filtered images of uneaten plates of food, or the seemingly endless parade of bare feet, knobby toes firmly planted in the indistinguishable sand of beaches both exotic and mundane?

No.

Okay, yes – a little (I mean really girls, the duck-face thing is in no way attractive).

What I’m really talking about here is a shift in the way we experience the world and how we relate those experiences to others.

What I am noticing, more and more, is that we are not living in the moment so much as we are interposing a camera-phone between ourselves and the moment with the hope of either capturing it for later, or disseminating it to others, instantly, via social media.

Yeah, that’s neat.  Now stop it.

I mean it.  Just stop.

Yes, I see the blurred and jerky video you took while at the concert.

Now put it away and tell me the story.

Tell me how you felt the music move you and how you moved with the music.  Tell me about that moment when it seemed like you made eye-contact with the lead singer and for a moment it was like he was singing to you.  Tell me about the energy that boiled around you from all the other people who were grooving and dancing and sharing in the power of the moment with you.

Can you do that?  Can you tell me that story if you were standing there holding a phone up between you and the band, watching the thing happening right in front of you, all around you, on a tiny little screen?  Tell me, while you were filtering the experience through bits of metal and plastic, were you really even there at all?

We’ve stopped telling each other stories.  We’re out of practice.

We used to do it all the time.

We lived by the stories we shared.

They defined us, our experiences, our culture and our history.

The pictures were always there for us: crude drawings on cave walls that held within them the secrets of creation, waiting only for the right storyteller to release them.

Later, we began writing things down, and that was better because the stories could be preserved longer, even if they did lose a little of their life and spontaneity in the telling.

Still, the pictures were there, and later the photographs, to lend support to the tale told.

When did we turn the world on its head?

When did the story become the thing that was there to support the photograph?

When life presents you with the extraordinary, try living within that moment instead of just documenting it.  Your memory is worth a thousand pictures!

When life presents you with the extraordinary, try living within that moment instead of just documenting it. Your memory is worth a thousand pictures!

“I saw this amazing thing this morning, here, let me show you.”

No.

Stop.

Put the phone away and tell me about the amazing thing you saw.

Tell me about it because I want to know how it looked to you, how it sounded, felt, smelled or tasted.  Tell me about it because if it was so amazing, I want to know that you experienced it and were not just there to take a picture of it.  Tell me about it because, if you can do that, if you can tell a story about the thing you experienced, it means that you thought about it, that you used your mental faculties to string the events into a narrative which means something to you and is something that, in the telling, may mean something to me.  Tell me about it, so that you will tell the story again better the next time, and the next, and the experience will live on, instead of becoming just another neglected pic in your cluttered camera roll.

The best way to share joy is to have experienced it.

The best way to share joy is to have experienced it.

Live the moment.

Tell the story.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Photography

The Mirror

She crouched in the middle of the gallery floor and we stood outside, watching her. She clung to that spot, naked, neither posed nor at rest, her face turned away from us in base humiliation.

And yet she was looking right at us, her green eyes meeting our own, challenging and defiant.

She looked so alone in that barren space, separated from the rest of us by the windows and the locked glass door.

I wondered how it must feel for her as we crowded around her in the confined space of the gallery floor, looking down on her in mingled loathing, and confusion, and lust.

We had talked about her plan a few days before. At the appointed hour, she would lock herself inside the student gallery (having reserved it for the week) and then disrobe. Lined up in a semicircle around her perch, a row of tall dressing mirrors, of various sizes, were all angled in such a way that anyone standing at the glass doors and windows of the gallery would have a clear view of her.

She would then spend the next several hours waiting there, until either she could endure it no more, or the university officials got wind of the ‘happening’ and shut it down.

Unlike other student exhibitions in the gallery, there were no flyers posted ahead of time, no advertising of any kind, except by word of mouth.

I was one of the few she asked to spread the word for her, one of the few who knew what she was actually planning.

I was surprised that she had confided in me at all. I hardly knew her, although I had heard many rumors. People whispered (in overly loud voices) about her. They said that she was ‘easy’, and that she ‘put-out’ for anyone who so much as looked in her direction.

This, I thought, was highly unlikely. She’d have never had the time.

The fact is, everyone was looking at her. She was gorgeous and she moved with a sultry catlike sway that both turned heads and dredged jealous innuendo out of otherwise friendly people.

I was working late in the ceramics lab when she found me and asked me if I could spread the word about her ‘happening’ the next day. She warned me that there could be repercussions for anyone found to be involved. When I asked her why, she told me what she was planning.

As I said, I’d heard the loose talk about her, and I could only imagine what a display of this sort would do for her already poor reputation. When I tried, haltingly, to express that concern (without saying outright “but people already think you’re a slut”) she offered me a smile that said she knew exactly what people thought of her.

The MirrorAnd then she said, “I want them to see how they look at me.”

I didn’t get it.

The following morning, I casually spread the word, and then I joined the small crowd that had gathered outside the gallery.

Everyone in the gathering was talking at once; “How conceited to be making such a show of herself…, she’s always been an exhibitionist, have you seen how she dresses…, slut…, not like she’s showing anyone anything they haven’t seen before…, poor thing…, nice tits…, her parents must be SO proud…, what is she trying to prove…, this is NOT art.”

I looked at her sitting there.

I wanted her, and I felt sorry for her, and I still didn’t get it.

And then I looked up at the mirror, at the reflection of myself and the others framed there. I saw our faces, the faces of people looking at her in condemnation and pity and lust and I suddenly understood what she was trying to do.

“I want them to see how they look at me,” she had said.

She was not the show.

She was not the art.

We were the ones on display, exposed, naked.

It wasn’t a pretty picture.

And that’s the thing about art: sometimes it is ugly and vulgar and even poorly crafted, but those are not the qualities that determine its true quality. Good art does more than just liven up the room, provide pigeons a place to roost, or moulder away in some gallery. Art should make you think and question, it should challenge your way of looking at the world around you by offering you a view of that world from a perspective outside your own.

“…the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

—Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

If art, in whatever form, is the mirror we hold up to nature, it may be then that wherever we see ugliness, we see only the reflection of what is unpleasant in our own selves.

That lesson has stuck with me ever since, although I have not thought about that naked girl on the gallery floor, or the mirrors, or the leering scorn reflected there, in many long years.

And then, last week, all of social media seemed to explode with outrage over Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMA’s and the memories came flooding back.

I cannot claim to have any special insights on what it is Ms. Cyrus is doing.

Are her over-the-top gyrations and silly facial expressions truly meant to entertain? Or is this current incarnation simply another character, a “bad-gurl” caricature, designed to bookend the overtly wholesome “Hanna Montana”?

I don’t have the answers to those questions and I don’t really care.

Far more interesting to me has been the public reaction to her performance.

In the last week I have seen the foul-mouthed, the oversexed, and the neglectful parents making common cause with the puritanical, the self-righteous, and the holier than thou, to cast dreadful aspersions upon Miley Cyrus, upon her parents, and upon the “society of permissiveness” which they claim is at fault for her debauched antics.

Behind all the sneering, the rolling eyes, the pity, the slut-shaming, and in the secret heart of the teary-eyed pious, folding their hands in prayer for Miley’s soul, lurk the real players in this little drama.

And to them all I say, “look in the mirror.”

It is one thing to critique the art and quite another to demean the artist.

When you gaze down upon her from your lofty heights and cast your stones, you would do well to remember that.

She is not the show, and the real shame belongs to you.

****

The event in the student gallery was brief. University staff quickly dispersed the small crowd, entered the gallery and escorted the young student out, robed and weeping silently. Word spread, and the details of the event became more inventive with each passing day. The gallery remained closed and dark for the remainder of week and the administration threatened to revoke the privilege of managing our own gallery, should anything of that nature ever happen again. They were deeply disappointed in the irresponsibility shown by those involved.

They were also, they claimed, concerned for her safety. By exposing herself that way, she might have given people the wrong idea, and someone might act on that.

In other words, “she was asking for it.”

Because women who dress or act a certain way always are, right?

Of course the rumors didn’t go away, but then neither did she.

Sometimes when I’d pass her in the corridors, she would catch my eye and smile.

It was the smile of someone who knew she had shared a secret.

We had each stood naked before the mirror.

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Filed under Art, Culture, Modern Life

Losing My Voice

This always happens when I’ve been sick.

First, there are several days when I feel truly wretched and I don’t want to move.  Then follow a few weeks wherein I am functional, but grow easily tired and am plagued by annoying reminders that I am still not altogether well: hacking cough, draining sinuses, headaches…, you know the deal.

Finally, there comes the point when I finally feel healthy, but my voice simply decides to vacate the building.  Any normal attempt to speak will generate something akin to a hoarse whisper.  Should I attempt to raise my voice, the best I’m likely to come away with is an embarrassing squeak.

The treatment is exactly what you would expect, I’m supposed to rest my voice and drink plenty of liquids.  Warm decaf tea is the best choice, but plenty of cool water is called for as well.  Things to avoid: drinking alcohol, caffeine and taking anything that provides a numbing effect on the throat.

I am also advised to go without speaking for as long as possible.

No problem, except of course that my job requires that I speak to people all day, in a very noisy room.

Perfect!

I would consider calling out, except that they’ve been making a big noise about how much everyone has been doing that lately.  “Conversations about attendance,” they say, and somewhat pointedly, “are being had.”

Well good luck having a ‘conversation’ with me about anything for the next several days!

It’s an unpleasant feeling – losing one’s voice.

We are a people that have grown very accustomed to expressing ourselves at every opportunity and through every conceivable form of media.  We display our opinions on the t-shirts we wear and plastered in decal form on our car windows.  We post an endless parade of links to Facebook and share our every passing thought on Twitter.

And mostly, it’s all about nothing.  Some guy spends two-hundred and fifty-two words in a blog post talking about how he’s got laryngitis and we’re supposed to care?!

As a culture, we often forget that just because we can say something, it does not always follow that we should.  Mostly, I think, we just like to hear the sound of our own voices.

I follow a fair number of bloggers who I think do an excellent job of discussing important subjects in an entertaining and informative way.  Most weeks, I try my best to do the same thing here.  We put the words out there and we hope that people read them and will be moved in one way or another.  As often as not, I suspect we are mostly talking to each other.

Our circles of influence, when they exist at all, are fairly small – even in a world wide web.

And yet, once in a very great while, there is something that demands to be said despite the fact that not enough people are willing to say it out loud.  It is in those moments that social media redeems itself for all the YouTube cat videos and Instagram photos of poorly photographed food.

A few weeks ago, we watched Facebook turn red as member after member changed their profile pictures to the now iconic red square with pink equal-sign.  This simple and wordless display of solidarity from those who wanted to show their support for marriage equality was a surprising change from the echo-chamber of trivialities that we have become accustomed to.

While I am sure that brief display will have no influence on the High Court’s decision in the two cases they are pondering, I cannot help but wonder about everyone else on the other side of that philosophical fence.  After seeing how many of their friends were willing to show support for this particular cause, how many more will be forced to rethink their positions on this issue?

Several excellent versions of this symbol appeared over the course of a few days, but as someone naturally disposed toward the worship of goddesses, I can't help but favor the version on the left.

Several excellent versions of this symbol appeared over the course of a few days, but as someone naturally disposed toward the worship of goddesses, I can’t help but favor the version on the left.

Time has passed and most of the profile pics have returned to normal.  We have painfully short attention spans and a refresh of our wall feeds will provide us with a host of new distractions.  Maybe this topic seems dated now that a few weeks have passed.

Maybe…,

There is an equalizing force implicit in social media, allowing once silent minority voices to be heard above the everyday clatter of the waning majority.  These conversations must continue, even when our voices fail us.

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