7 Oct 2010

The world is everything that is the case.

Gustav Mahler and THC are a good combination but I won't say why. Can't be bothered. You'll just have to take it on faith that I'm right, the same way I take it on faith that when I said that years ago, while pleasantly cannabinated, there was a reason. It was something about the THC freeing me from my thoughts. The thoughts kept me on a low frequency. But there was something under the eyelids, running through the blood, coded in the body, that was beyond thought. The THC trance let me slip behind thoughts, unnoticed, so, sensation. There I could soak in more sensory detail than when consumed with thoughts, and I would trip on that detail with more detailed thoughts, and become consumed with those. Okay, I guess I can be bothered.

This feedback loop did a lot to music, but there was something about Mahler's in particular that was like kindling for a fire. Especially in the case of a freshly cracked-open mind, there was synergy. As I pretend to remember, with the trance in effect I could break through that obnoxious edifice of german romantic affectation - to savour the meta-musical motivations on the other side, the Gustav gravy.

One of the first times I ever got stoned - and it was from two or three pot cookies no less - I was listening to a Mahler symphony, the first maybe, and writing writing writing till my wrist was sore, then writing some more, and actually feeling what I was supposed to feel from it, what I'd felt inadequate about not feeling before, that this music contained a world - and I was living there, not here.

Now my world contains everything, even Mahler's music, neatly digitalized and categorized. Everything's been made case sensitive, it's either this or THAT – it’s just how things are. I can distract myself by thinking of possibilities, states of affairs that should be, that would make the world a nicer place for me, but that grows tiring, and why bother, cause really, there's just this world. Case closed.

The world is everything that is the case. So said Wittgenstein, like it meant anything. Like everything followed from that.

Accordingly, I exist. Well, I'm starting to believe it now, if I remember anything that's real. Wouldn't say I feel it. I feel about as real as a can of Coca Cola Classic. That's about right. But I can believe in things that I can't feel, right? Like electromagnetic fields. Or the suffering that is beyond the spectrum of normal human experience, that presumably happens when circumstances trigger an organism with a highly developed nervous system to alert its central processing unit to mortal danger - danger that is, in this hypothetical circumstance, unavoidable. Too late - C3PO forgot to shut down the garbage mashers on the detention level. So yes, you're being crushed and it hurts beyond all reason, and the only thing that ever came close was the nightmare of eternal tickle torture trap, and yes, we know there's nothing that can be done to escape the garbage masher, so all this pain is redundant information - but we can't re-wire a million years of evolution in 30 seconds. Just be glad that your highly developed, or at least moderately developed nervous system will be shorting out in 30 seconds. If it's not even moderately developed, well god bless you, you probably won't give a damn anyway.

Yes, you, I'm talking to you. I can't go so far as to believe in your suffering, not only have I not felt it, but I think you probably need more than a few million neurons to rub together before suffering like that can be felt. You might as well be clay to me, you're like Gumby, except you're not cute and anthropomorphic, you're Grungy. You're a substance, you're scum. Not that there's anything wrong with that, everything in its right place. Maybe you're spongy grunge, and you'll even survive the garbage compactor, that's a perk of not really feeling much, I figure.

So why do I worry about these creatures I say are "presumably" living on this planet with me, these living creatures, ones I can lose seconds of sleep over killing, because they're pests, or I'm hungry, seconds, but not nights, nowhere close to that - who do I worry? If they don't even have moderately developed nervous systems. Well because... what if they do have that? What if they're developed enough? How the hell would I know? It's worrisome - being complicit in a system that blithely slaughters and tortures anything that's other, if it's convenient to do so - even organisms we wouldn't pronounize with "it", but rather "he", or "she", like animals with genitals that walk and squawk, but don't really feel, presumably.

Basically, if we're picking our nose, or jerking off, or whatever, and there's a creature with eyes, staring at us, and we don't feel embarrassed, or really care that this creature is there, then unless it's our mother, or doctor, or significant other, it's fair game, to be eaten, or experimented on, or whatever. It doesn't really count. By some inscrutable calculation, it's deemed not to be on the complicated neurological level where suffering matters, so why should we burden ourselves with concern? And concern would be a burden too great to even imagine. I mean, if we could start from scratch we'd have a good start at being saints, or at least noble savages, but going from here to there means admitting that business as usual is comfort, and able - and luxury needs and breeds blood.

In this vicinity is also the solution to the problem of solipsism. It actually worked for me! Imagine that - thinking my way out of a philosophical problem with ethical ramifications - well, Sartre helped.

Not that it was really a problem, though it's caused me worry. Cause I always felt that other people were real. It just felt right, like a can of Coca Cola Classic. But I always wondered, on what basis could I believe it was true? I couldn't really think of one. I was stuck in my head, though I'd deal with people as honorary minds, on a pragmatic level. No reason not to.

Then it was explained to me what I'd intuited all the time, which was that it makes sense to extrapolate from my own experience. I can, and do, believe in my own existence, insofar as those words have any meaning. I can feel it. Dasein, I'll say, since I'm quoting existentialists today. So, as I observe myself and feel myself act and re-act to life, I attribute values to things, most crassly in pleasure and pain. I can observe others doing what seems to be the same, more or less. I can observe them with all my senses. But I can't feel them. Not like I feel myself. Still, by extrapolation, it's not hard to imagine them as thinking feeling beings like me, given their behavior, particularly in response to suffering and joy. And I'm not talking about a narrow range of observable behavior like you get with studies of rats and monkeys. I'm talking about a hugely nuanced and sophisticated palate of behavior, colored and shaded and mutated and facilitated by language that I share in. More or less.

That's enough I guess, though unsatisfying in a way that even love can't cure. I have loved, even romantically, and hopefully I will again one day, and back in those glowy glory days, I felt others in a way that still wasn't feeling inside their minds, the dasein of their experience, but I could feel their touch - and their contours, tactile tips stretched out for me and only me, of all the others in the world, that was quite something, enough to make me a believer. Cause I'm not so different. I may have been born on Altair-4 but I'm feeling more human every day, for better or worse, mostly worse, though I haven't died in a car wreck yet. I wasn't born yesterday, I've had at least a week on this planet, enough to learn some of the conventions for fast-moving city traffic. And when I observe the functions of these earthlings, I find that they're mostly consistent with my patterns.

Mostly consistent...

Yes, it's the crack in consistency that's so fascinating! How the deviations in their behavioral patterns, implying still more perverse deviations in their thinking, make me feel like I'm from an alien homeworld. Sometimes I call it Altair-4, a little private joke. In some ways I deviate so radically from everybody that I don't want to consider them real. And sometimes I hurt so much and life seems so hard, that I want to think I'm a special case, and my level of suffering is off the charts, and the rest of the world, they don't really feel as deep as I do, and that's how they can function so well, and be so much better than I am.

But everyone's a little weird to everyone else I guess. Some are a lot weird. And it pains me to think this, but it's probably true, that my suffering is nothing special. I think Rob Wright, or whoever wrote the lines to that Nomeansno song, once felt exactly as I do, when he sang: "It's hard enough - hard enough - just to survive, just to be alive." So often, everything feels so heavy, like someone turned up the gravity, and there's so much I know I should be doing, but what to do first, and the first thing is the hardest thing, and anything is like moving a mountain, and what's the point anyway, what good will come of it? The only good that ever seems to come is accidental and unpredictable and gone before you know what hit you. You can only look back and think, shit, how did that happen? That was awesome, how can I make that happen again? Let's see, I did this, and that, so I'll just try that again, but, fuck, why didn't it work? Goddamn gravity, it's 2010, where's my jetpack? I think somebody did turn up the gravity, and when the gravity's on high, things are so so goddamn serious, and it's not like I want to be a queen, but I'm stuck in this costume drama, they locked the playhouse doors. And when that happens I try to make gallows humour of it, and turn the script into a farce for my own amusement, but I always somehow skip the gleeful cynic stage and bottom out to dry meaninglessness - it meant so so much, too much, a minute ago, then somehow instantly inverted to no meaning at all, that undead feeling like someone scooped out my brain and I'm just sleepwalking through life for no purpose.

But I'm not that special charity case. The world is full of cases. Things that are the case. Is it the case that I would think these same thoughts if I felt differently, physically, and how much differently would I have to be wired neurologically? And what if you took that neurological structure and planted it in a different body, one of these other creatures I presume to be real? What would I feel? What thoughts would that drive me to? how much different would it be? That question fascinates me. But it's not as interesting when I'm "planting my neurological structure" in another body. But I said that cause I'm trying not to be straight up Cartesian, and be dualistic about mind and body, cause that's obsolete so I hear, even if the mind-body problem still exists. But say you just take my experience, my dasein, puree it nice and smooth in a blend-tec blender and funnel it into someone else's brain - what the fuck would that be like? I want to know, not that I ever will. On what grounds can I say to someone, stop your whining, this is nothing, or you know nothing, or all the things I usually don't say, but think instinctively.

I don't know. But it was a whammy for me, to have a reason to believe in others. I had to re-invent the wheel, for myself. I'll re-invent a thousand more wheels before I'm through, surely. So, I make the leap of faith to other humans, as existing, and deserving the rights and privileges of beings on a level of neurological complexity comparable to my own. Complexity = feeling, which seems like a crude calculation, like I must be missing something, but it's the best I'm willing to offer, excepting philosophical asides on these issues - cause I live in a jungle with pests and tasty flesh and I can't be arsed to be a vegan. When I'm licking the MSG-laced residue off a bowl of instant noodles I've just drained, and my cousin bursts through my bedroom door, I feel in that instant that his existence can't be trivialized away. If he was just an illusion, a projection of my mind and nothing else, why would I be embarrassed under his gaze? Even though he's just a kid and gives even less of a shit about etiquette than I do, I still extrapolate to his perception of me, and see myself through an external other's eyes, and feel chagrined at what I must look like, licking up the noodle residue like a pig in a slop bucket. My cousin is on this level, of perceiving that, or at least the potential is there, and the potential of a vast spectrum of experience that we can share in. I know this and feel it.

That's how I get out of the problem of solipsism, and also how, come to think of it, I can live with myself, for being complicit in the global industrial meat-grinder - by that I mean, the system that has such little respect for life, other than narrowly defined conceptions of selectively sanctified human life, that differ from culture to culture. I can't reach out and feel a neurological sophistication that I relate to in the creature that looks back at me before a baffled series of sniffs, what is this thing, will it harm me, does it have food? If it's a cat, I think it's cute and pet it, and imagine it takes comfort in my presence as I indulge pathetic fallacies. What I observe is obviously a neurological structure in the case of most animals, but the level of complexity seems to matter. Gives my moral code some flexibility. A lot actually. But that's so convenient. I get to think cats are cute and cuddly, and thus, more worthy.

Man, I can't believe it took me this many words to get here. And now that I have, the point has slipped out of my grasp, I haven't really solved anything, for me. I relate to humans by extrapolation, generally. I relate to other creatures differently, in ways ranging from cuddling them, to buying their frozen carcasses at the supermarket, to spraying them with raid, to being blissfully unaware of their existence, or perhaps miserably unaware, if there are, say, trans-dimensional beings of energy who would be happy to enlighten me to an exponentially more harmonious existence if only I would be open to their reality. But if I try and extrapolate to the other creatures that I callously write off as non neurologically sophisticated, I arrive at... what exactly? I thought I had an answer to this that would fit into some kind of scheme, but, what do I arrive at? I can only extrapolate in a negative way, well, I'm this, they're not this - a certain amount of common ground can be guessed at, if we both have a nervous system then we both feel pain probably, but how do you perceive pain, etc. etc, fuck, I gotta put this post down.

Anyway, this is nothing like a justification. I'm still not comfortable with my place in the system. It troubles me. I can only come up with post-hoc arguments for intuitions that feed my addictions, to food, fuel, comfort, technology, digital media. The intuitions that don't feed those addictions? Well, at least I have them. I lose seconds of sleep over them, minutes, sometimes hours. Good thing I still have a few hits of trazodone left.

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