Reminiscence: How I didn’t kill three people

It was magic, I tell you. The car never moved, only the road had. 

One summer’s morning in December 2015, awoke to reality and saw that I was driving a rundown SUV up a mountain in nothing but my boxers. There were three other people in the car and I was the only one awake.  

A few hours’ previous, my then asleep travel partners and I had rolled out of the waters at an unmapped beach exhausted, and right into our car as one big wet jumbled mess. Marion, whose car it was and Jesus (not the son of God) lay sprawling in the back, asleep. Natalie- a log of wood in the passenger’s seat and I, with nowhere else to go, sat in the driver’s.

Ha! Imagine if I drive now, I thoughtGhastly images of lost control and crushed sheep crossed my mind; I wincedI grasped the wheel with both my hands in an attempt to feel, for once, in control when Marion tapped my shoulder, handed over the keys, said “You drive, and promptly went back to sleep.  

No, Marion, how about I not. It’d be so unwise of me to drive an automatic car for the first ever time in my life on a long and hilly highway in a foreign country, where I had never driven beforeSuicidal, I thought, as I pressed the brake and ignited the engine. Suicidal but fun.

About five kilometers from the beach, it happened. I saw the speed limit- 35. The tachometer hovered at 34. Good. A tiny bridge came up and I’d crossed it when I simply stopped driving and the road took over.

Acres of pasture lay draped all around the hills just folds in its cloth and the cattle its polka dots. The road went unfoldingan endless carpet- hugging the contours and moving our car. I sat within- like a moviegoer, though far more naked, watching reality happenEvery few kilometers, New Zealand tapped my shoulder and gave me directions, it told me to watch out for the sharp curve ahead and for the bumpy road in between, to drive slow now and go fast here. 

The road took us all the way up the hill, past the giant sand dunes of Te Paki, to the teardrop-shaped car park at Cape Reinga. The car hit a speed bump and the road ceded control back to me.

Natalie awoke just as I looped through the lot, rushing to the one empty slot right at the end. A narrow gap between a huge pickup truck and hard concrete lining, it looked as if it were hastily carved and placed for my use. I made a sharp right into it, without brakingNatalie shrieked. Marion woke up. Jesus swore. And I parked it. Tight, snug and just in time. 

It was magic, I tell you.

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Musings: The typing dead

One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.
– Bertrand Russell

The ubiquity of the internet gave birth to one of the 21st century’s most banal and detestable cultural phenomenons: fandoms.

Fandoms are groups of fans that share common interests over mutual feelings of empathy and kinship. They sound tolerable on paper, even pleasant. But one mustn’t speak unless one has survived the horrors of their online orgies. Fandoms discuss everything- right from the daily outfits of their Objects of Devotion (OoD, from here on) to intimate details like dress sizes, blood groups and, yes, even their children.

Consider the recent case where the internet had a meltdown over the published photos of a pregnant Beyoncé. Fans congratulated her, suggested baby names, extolled her physical virtues and called her pregnancy sublime. Some reached the conclusion that very few women could carry a pregnancy off with grace like her’s. Honestly, how is her pregnancy in any way significant? Or different, for that matter, from millions of other pregnancies?
Beats me.

As such, fandoms have manufactured countless zombies devoid of individual opinion. These zombies create gaudy social media profiles full of pictures of their OoD. These profiles serve as podiums while they discuss, debate and ultimately swear allegiance to specific fandoms. This process is repeated and loyalties are reaffirmed, multiple times. Quite often, this is done through vague code on public profiles. This is a tactic fans use to stymie their less aware peers and spark their curiosity. Their online revels are voyeuristic as they bask in the attention their posts garner.
The hypocrites might allege libel and sue me over this, but this is true. Invariably and undoubtedly so. I was  a part of this mess as well, until I chose the burdens of a real life over the shackles of an online one.

All of this bears the semblance of a militia recruitment campaign. These fandoms, at first, name themselves. Then they begin to collect under this name, their banner. They market their values and lure people into an online army. How this works is through a complex system of social reward, best explained through the example of Pavlov’s dog. Initially, one is encouraged to declare affiliation to a fandom, subject to peer approval. Once this initiation is done, the wheels are set in motion. Every post one makes in support of the fandom, points of approval are gained. Like Pavlov’s dog, they too salivate at the approach of their food- approval. Soon enough, the approval ceases, like Pavlov’s food did. Yet, like Pavlov’s salivating dog, they continue to ooze adoration in the hope their favourite food returns. As such, over time, these fandoms grow to occupy vast swathes of internet territory- erecting barriers and inventing languages.Doing so, they suck the meaning out of their surroundings.

Look at Tumblr, for instance. What started off as a promising space for bloggers to post and interact has now been reduced to a barren wasteland. It died in the fire it helped set off. It never took much to get the party started. The smallest spike in some OoD’s activity and Tumblr erupts. The fandom citizens crawl out of their holes and instantly leap into a whirlpool of mindless chatter and squabble, severing ties with reality.

There is yet another detestable subspecies, the most insidious of the lot.
Herein, members lament their ‘overwhelming dependence’ on the fandom and the communities it has spawned. These specimens whine about losing sleep over pointless virtual conversations held on electronic screens. Simple, sane suggestions like ‘get the hell off the damn fandom then’ do not enter their brains, which by then have been mummified.
Sympathy, alone, gets them to shut up. These are the kind that want two birds for the one stone they throw- approval and sympathy. Day after day, they re-enter the Motherland, sacrificing precious sleep and scorching their eyeballs under the harmful blue light of their screens, addicted to the concoction of approval and sympathy they get out of it.

Meanwhile, as these online zombies tear themselves to pieces over items of increasing insignificance, I shall quietly catch my TV episodes and the latest chapters of my preferred manga in the privacy of my room. Once done, I will turn the lights off and tuck myself into bed- safe from this epidemic of banality.

For what it’s worth, I refuse to be an insignificant bunch of lines on strange screens- alone and sans purpose.

Musings: The impotency of water & what it portends

If you base medicine on science, you cure people. If you base the design of planes on science, they fly. If you base the design of rockets on science, they reach the moon. Cars drive. Computers compute.
It works, bitches.
               

 – Prof. Richard Dawkins
(when asked to justify the scientific method)

Here lies my case: as a species, we share an immense susceptibility to fantasy.
This is why sensationalism is rampant in today’s reporting. Nothing grabs eyeballs better. Except, perhaps, mysterious little North Korea and its chubby head honcho.

Consider this:

In the summer of 2016, my father visited a few farmers’ collectives. He went to survey their opinions on an upcoming hydroelectricity project. Despite the project’s benefits, the farmers expressed immense dismay. Further inquiry revealed the reason- the farmers strongly suspected that the hydroelectricity project would diminish the water’s ‘strength’. They thought the water would lose its fertilizing power. They lamented the supply of impotent water to the farmlands. 

This might seem like a hilarious anecdote at first. A fond memory of the naivete of the country folk. Look closer, however. It is evidence of the susceptibility I mentioned earlier. We imagine explanations where we lack them. We prefer fantastic conclusions to obvious natural reasoning. Conclusions that satisfy our ego. Adapting these to fit the limits of reason is thought inconvenient. Science is declared ‘limited’ and ‘incapable’. Fantasy suffices, then suffuses,

If you haven’t observed this already, you’re either a part of it or have entirely escaped it. The latter is highly improbable.

This susceptibility is toxic, tantalizingly so. It provides a widely accepted alternative to logical thinking. Science is not malleable. It is impersonal and people hate it for this apparent coldness. Science paints a picture of their lives they cannot digest. More edible and tastier alternatives are sought. Cue: innate susceptibility. Unlike animals, we evolved an intelligence that can imagine. Not just adapt and grow but imagine. We can ask the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘why nots’. This makes for a very potent stew.

Where science proves inconvenient, where it proves harsh- we ignore it. This baffles me. How can one ignore science as if it were a choice? If the rock above one’s head falls, it will hit- regardless of whether one sees it coming or not. Where one’s personal ideas are rubbished by science, one worries. One escapes from its constraints, sailing the ship of imagination. We invent ideas and create explanations that please and encourage. Entire industries have developed around this- religion being the most formidable.

This is my plea- don’t look away. However bleak or cold reality may be, it is the only thing there is. Nothing else exists and in nothing else, will you. We must desist from buying this inherited delusion of convenience. Science cannot be disposed of. Its laws have preceded us and will go beyond us. It is why we are here- products of evolution. It is immune to us, just as it must be. For if left to us, scientific law would be an awkward and insecure apology incapable of deciding what two twos must equal; let alone what flies, what swims or what does both.

Scientific law is inevitable and ubiquitous- the only law that needs no constitution. The entirety of the solar system and all of the galaxies- each bigger and hotter than the other, spread over an endless space, have been unable to achieve the most momentary suspension in the laws of the universe.

How can you?

On Humans

Our common sense and intuition can be mistaken. Our preferences don’t count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
– ‘Man In His Arrogance’, Carl Sagan

The child stared out the spaceship’s window, visibly moved. He strained against the glass, unable to rein his wonder in. His little tentacles wiggled with emotion and his antennas stood erect. Out the window, distant in the blackness, floated a planet. It was the oddest he had encountered so far. A perfect ball of worn-out blue with a smattering of wispy whites and dull browns.

Onbe, isn’t that Earth?’ the child asked.

Veta, Vak-Pak, it is’, replied his older and greener mother. Onbe had many more tentacles than him- thicker and longer. She lay on her side on a bed of neatly tucked white linen, watching her son through large black eyes. Dressed in a blue corset that glimmered in the spaceship’s dim lighting, she possessed all the grace of the galactic elite.

Vak-Pak turned around, leaving smudges where his face had been pressed against the glass. ‘Why are’t we stopping, then? Ante always told me it was a very good planet.’ He hoisted himself onto the bed and snuggled up to Onbe. 

Veta, Vakkoit is. One of the universe’s best’, said Onbe. She softly caressed his green arms as she spoke. ‘But we will not stop here, Vakko. It is dangerous.’

‘Why?’ came the question, immediately. Vak-Pak still stared out the window, his face lit by the faint glow of the lonely planet.

Onbe smiled at the suddenness of the question- the brisk curiosity of a child.

‘It is because of the aliens that live on that planet. They have two hands like us but no tentacles. Instead, they have two legs, much like our monkeys. These things, Vakko, they are really, really bad. They will’- she broke into a whisper- ‘kill us. First chance they get.’

‘Why?’ the question came again, more urgent this time.

‘They just can’t bear anything that looks different. You know, Vakko, these things kill each other just because they can’t bear the difference!’

Vak-Pak sucked his thumb as he listened. He still gazed at Earth, though it somehow looked duller now.

‘Why?’ a third time- more subdued, more deep.

‘They are a bunch of fools Vakko, even worse than our monkeys. They fight over everything. You know, they all believe that there is a Bigger Alien above their planet that can hear them talk and’- she broke into a soft giggle here- ‘that It actually created Earth. These things think that this Bigger Alien made them, too!’

Vak-Pak shifted position and chuckled, eyes twinkling in amusement. ‘But Onbe, that is just silly. Onbe, it is silly because nobody can make an entire planet! If you can, then you can do anything, Onbe! Anything!’ he stretched his arms out as wide as he could to emphasize his point.

Veta, Vakko, I know. But these aliens think the Bigger Alien is real. They keep talking to It and nowadays, your Ante told me, they say even the Bigger Alien talks back to them!’ said Onbe. The spaceship had moved along considerably; Earth now a tiny, blue dot.

Vak-Pak sat up, thumb out and back straight. ‘Talks to them?’ he said, dragging each word out to convey his astonishment.

Veta, Vakko. Some of these things say the Bigger Alien asks them to kill and hurt each other. A few of these aliens say the Bigger Alien asked them to build a city, some- a country. Some even say It asked them to write songs and win at games!’ said Onbe, fully lying down on the pure white bed.

Vak-Pak lay down by her side, antennas still erect and twitchy. ‘Onbe’, he whispered. ‘Onbe, how does this Bigger Alien look? Does It also have two legs and hands? Is It bigger than the other aliens on Earth, like a giant?’

Yella, Vakko, they don’t know what it looks like.’

‘Where does this Bigger Alien live? It looked empty above Earth!’

‘Nobody knows where it lives, Vakko.’

Vak-Pak looked into his mother’s face- one final question burning within.

Onbe, why does this Bigger Alien even help them? What is so special about these aliens on Earth? They sound like really bad things.’

A ghost of a smile played on Onbe’s lips as she drew her son closer to keep him warm.

‘That’s the crazy thing, Vakko. There is nothing special about them. Nothing.’

The spaceship had by now left Earth behind- indifferent to the joys, worries and prayers on that distant pale blue dot.

Musings: My Beef With Spirituality

I cannot remember when last beef and spirituality were in the same sentence, if ever.

A spiritual seeker seeks insight into what one does not already know. One meditates on the unknown to somehow grasp the known. One dismisses the obvious in deference to its alternates. The system of inquiry that allows for such methods is spirituality.

However, there is another occupation which is not entirely dissimilar. There too, one questions the unknown to try and make it known. Therein, one dismisses the obvious in deference to its mechanics. William Whewell, an English philosopher and a gifted wordsmith, termed one occupied with such interests as a ‘scientist’.

Though technically identical in their quests, a scientist could not differ more from a spiritual seeker. The latter relies on the abstract whereas the former employs logic as the tool of discovery.  Scientists make the unknown known on the back of irrefutable evidence. Universal truths emerge as the culmination of their investigations.

What, then, does the spiritual seeker do?

One studies the abstract and the obscure with dubious tools. These tools have no form nor any defined function. They do not operate within the constraints of reality. Inquiries typically precede birth and go beyond death, scrutinizing everything in between.

This is where I sniffed my beef out.

Spiritual inquiry is not built on a scaffolding of logic. It is an attempt to grasp a superior reality with inferior tools. It is random and personal, expansive and fragile- all at once. Spirituality obeys no laws, nor does it contribute any. Fact checking, unfortunately, holds no weight in spiritual inquiry.

Fraught with such inconsistencies, spirituality sometimes confuses fiction for fact. The converse is true as well, sadly.

I consider this kind of inquiry dangerous. To me, it is a haven for those entrapped by dogma. Imagine the endless labyrinths of fact-fiction one can weave herein! Anybody can aspire to spiritual inquiry; intellect not being a barrier to entry. Contrived inferences on the same reality emerge, desperate to reinforce the overarching dogma. Fiction pervades, fact is shunned.

It does not help that spirituality has garnered immense acceptance. It has suffused every zone of life. We have spiritual solutions for workplace issues. Sportspeople win gold medals and credit them to spirituality. Families resolve domestic disputes, courtesy spirituality.

But for how long will fiction shield one from reality?

It is bound to break, sooner than later. And when it does, your happy little bubble will implode. You’re back to the beginning and realize you had actually never progressed. Just imagined it, that’s all, but never have.

Listen, should you ever feel the irrepressible urge to question- stop. Think. Will answering this question transport you away from logic? If the answer is no, proceed. If the answer is yes, good luck.