"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, July 21, 2017

We All Hear Voices–It Just Depends On Whose

Billy Randall heard voices, or at least so he thought until an audiologist diagnosed him with ‘High Frequency Wave Distress’, a disorder which flipped on certain neuron switches when he picked up high frequency electronic transmissions and distorted them into seemingly human voices.

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He never accepted this diagnosis because the voices were so clear, persuasive, and insistent.  There was no way that they were simply the result of some electronic interference.

His parents, who like most were willing to listen, accept the possibility that their son had a special talent, and help wherever they could, never spoke openly to each other about their real concern – that their son was a loony. 

Billy knew that his parents did not believe him and if anything tolerated him; so after a while he stopped telling them about what he had heard or overheard that day.  More importantly he knew, after a few humiliating experiences, that sharing his uniqueness with friends and classmates was a big mistake.

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Billy’ reception – what he picked up downtown, at construction sites, and at airports – was varied and not unusual.  In some cases it was like eavesdropping like the afternoon at Willow Park when he heard two women from Chicago discussing their recent trip to Alaska.  Sometimes he heard admonitions not unlike those of Father Brophy; and not infrequently he heard what he called ‘otherworldly voices’. 

Not God necessarily, but certainly no one of any consequence in New Brighton or anywhere he had ever been, or anyplace he had seen on television; so by default he assumed the voices were disembodied.  The power of suggestion being what it is, dead people were the easiest explanation.

There were enough movies like The Sixth Sense’ (“I see dead people’) to influence a young mind.
By the time he was a young adult, however, he began to give more consideration to epiphanies and other religious experiences.  Perhaps the voices he heard were indeed those of the many incarnations of God.  If so, these could not possibly be random receptions.  God would not broadcast indiscriminately on the chance that his transmissions would be picked up.  His nature was purposeful.  If the voices were indeed those of God, Billy had been chosen.

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Mark Salzman wrote an interesting book (Lying Awake) about a  nun in a monastery who experiences visions and is regarded by the others as a spiritual master. Sister John, however is also plagued by powerful headaches which, medical authorities conclude, may be serious, life-threatening, and the cause of her visions.  She then faces a devastating choice.  Is this ‘grace’ that she feels God has bestowed merely an illness ? And will a 'cure' mean the end of her illuminations and spiritual salvation?

Billy Randall felt himself in the same situation.  If the increasingly beautiful, poetic, spiritual voices which inspired him daily were nothing but synapses misfiring, then where would he be?  If he ignored the possibility of neuro-physiological anomaly, then he was being irrational and stubborn.  Yet so what if the visions and voices were neurological in origin?  Perhaps God had chosen this particular avenue for his enlightenment.

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Of course there was a third option – that he was becoming what his parents had suspected all along.  Loony.  In fact he could be victim of a perfect storm – a brain malfunction exploited by God to produce miraculous visions; and a serious mental illness causing wild distortions far beyond anything else.

He knew that before he lost his lucidity, he had to do something.  But what? Deny his increasingly profound spirituality? Get a few nips and tucks in his cerebral cortex, stop the interference, and get normal? Admit that the wild visions now accompanying the voices were a sure sign of schizophrenia which had to be arrested before he did something crazy? And where to turn first?

The Church he knew, of Father Brophy was any example, would certainly encourage him just like the nuns at Sister John’s priory did.  Who can guess the mind of God? Take what you can get.
Psychiatrists would give him enough psycho-active medication to quiet the most disturbed bi-polar madman; and neurologists would want to snip a few connections here and there in his brain no matter what the opinions of Father Brophy or medical doctors.

The older Billy got, the worse – or better, depending on perspective – he became.  Living in a large metropolitan area in the midst of a construction boom, ubiquitous electronic devices, and a tangled network of high-frequency connections assured that he heard voices all the time.  Bi-polar disorder was becoming de rigeur as an explanation for all kinds of personality quirks, and New Age religion always open to and encouraging of alternate spiritual experiences, was increasing in popularity and influence. 

In other words, figuring out what was right or wrong with him became literally impossible.
He disappeared after 40; or at least no one in New Brighton had any clue about his whereabouts.  Most assumed that he had not gone the neurological route or he would be still in town practicing law or medicine.  Some felt that he was in a Carpathian monastery in the Alps or some other secluded place where distinctions between neurological disorders and spiritual perception are never made.  Many were certain that he had been committed.

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Truman Capote on more than one occasion said that his book Other Voices, Other Rooms was a son's search for his father who was "a father who, in the deepest sense, was nonexistent”; and "the central theme was my search for the existence of this essentially imaginary person."  Capote always heard the voice of his father, imaginary and absent though he was.

The voice of John the Baptist “crying out in the wilderness” has always been a metaphor for those who refuse to hear the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ.  That of Cassandra has been a secular parallel to John – unheard by those who should know better, who ignore signs, history, and original insight.
Everyone knows the difference between listening and hearing.  When you listen, you pay attention, reflect on the words being said, and either take them to heart or formulate a response to them.

When you hear, your mind is elsewhere.  Words go in and out, thoughts wander, ambience may be felt (the room is too hot or too cold), the attractive woman in the corner and the smell of cooking roast beef noticed, but the speakers words do not register.

We also hear the sound of waves, distant traffic, birdsongs, barking, the refrigerator humming, and the A/C turning off and on.  Hearing is ambient and non-selective.   There is nothing to listen to, only sounds which fade in and out of recognition or are marked by the brain as too intrusive or too alluring to ignore.

Sometimes silence is part of impression rather than the lack of it. The density and impenetrability of Conrad’s jungles are part of their intimidation and terror.  As Marlow proceeds up the river to find Kurtz (Heart of Darkness) he says:
We called at some more places with farcical names, where the merry dance of death and trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb; all along the formless coast bordered by dangerous surf, as if Nature herself had tried to ward off intruders; in and out of rivers, streams of death in life, whose banks were rotting into mud, whose waters, thickened into slime, invaded the contorted man-groves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of an impotent despair.
Nowhere did we stop long enough to get a particularized impression, but the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for night-mares.

Sometimes we hear nothing.  Tunnel vision coopts hearing. We can be so absorbed in writing or reading that all ambient sounds disappear.  We hear nothing.

Listening on the other hand requires a high cognitive function. It takes attentiveness, interest, and patience.  The listener ascribes value to the words of a speaker, wants to record, parse, and analyze them for meaning and intent.  Each word spoken in delicate negotiations has its own meaning whether literal or figurative; whether stand-alone or part of a sentence or soliloquy.
Other authors like Hawthorne have written about ancestral voices. 

The Salem house is a symbol of Hawthorne’s ambivalence, for generations of both sharp-edged, canny descendants and ne’er-do-wells have resided in it.
In almost every generation, nevertheless, there happened to be some one descendant of the family gifted with a portion of the hard, keen sense, and practical energy, that had so remarkably distinguished the original founder. His character, indeed, might be traced all the way down, as distinctly as if the Colonel himself, a little diluted, had been gifted with a sort of intermittent immortality on earth.
At two or three epochs, when the fortunes of the family were low, this representative of hereditary qualities had made his appearance, and caused the traditionary gossips of the town to whisper among themselves, "Here is the old Pyncheon come again! Now the Seven Gables will be new-shingled!" From father to son, they clung to the ancestral house with singular tenacity of home attachment.
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There is a spectrum of voices from those of Billy Randall, Sister John, to schizophrenics, to the imaginary ones of Truman Capote, to the loud but unheard ones of St. John the Baptist and Cassandra, and to the unspoken voices of the past.  There are voices of conscience, fathers, imagination, and penance – some ignored and others which can never be switched off. 

 We tend to give more dues to the voices we can actually hear; but those imagined or recalled are even more important.  Billy Randall was neither deranged, badly wired, or a prophet.  He was only sitting at one end of the auditory spectrum which has little to do with sound.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The War Between The Sexes Loses Its Existential Claim When Sexuality Becomes Inclusive

If progressives are to be believed, sexuality exists on a flexible spectrum.  Clearly demarcated points – e.g., male, female, homosexual – are archaic, limited, and irrelevantly static.  Not only can individuals identify as men, women, gay, straight, or transgender; but transition from one position on the spectrum to another without consequence. 

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An originating female who first identifies her gender determination as macho male but finds herself ill- or wrongly-placed, can correct her course and re-identify as either ‘sensitive’, ‘assertive’ or ‘complaisant’ male.  She can –before final reassignment surgery – revert to lesbian or full heterosexual female status.

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Adam and Eve are discredited mythological figures with no relevance at all to today’s indeterminate sexual identities. The Tantric sexual union of male and female energies, the essential Biblical injunctions to ‘be fruitful and multiply’, the patriarchal nature of the Trinity, and the cult of the sinless matriarch, Mary are outdated social constructs.  The old version of mother, father, and children has been replaced by a sliding scale of sexuality where procreation is a choice no longer predicated on a male-female heterosexual union but on any number of sexual partnerships.

Two gay men or women can opt for surrogate parentage, eliminating the necessity of specific fertility and procreation and relying on a universal, mail order catalog of options.  A lesbian couple can choose from among thousands of sperm donors from Harvard PhD's to Michael Jordan athletes.  A male gay couple can select ova from female Yale graduates, and if they are not satisfied with the genetic quality of their own sperm, can go online for access to the best and the brightest of male superstars.

Depending on perspective, this can be seen either as an unholy arrogation of divine authority or a natural result of bio-genetic advances, social pluralism, and enlightened individualism.

Credit is due to those progressives who have assumed a socio-political position which counters millennia of human history, religious tradition, Darwinian evolutionary theory, and practical common sense.  Their conviction that a reordering of human sexuality for the first time in eons of evolution is right, just, justified and called for; and that they have the prescription for it in a new world order is impressive.

Every philosopher from Aristotle to Kierkegaard to Hume and Camus  have seen sexuality as bi-polar.  Playwrights like Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg, O’Neill, and Albee have understood heterosexual marriage as the crucible of maturity. The war between the human sexes is as essential an evolutionary event as any in the animal kingdom.  Male and female are created differently, destined differently, and determined to fight for turf and supremacy until their end.

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While it is possible to imagine a gay Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’, it is not probable.  George and Martha flay each other to the marrow in a struggle of sexual will; and the crux of the conflict is their imaginary, fictitious, but ever-so-real son.  Theirs is an existential sexual, procreative battle; and no equal partnership of same-sex couples could possibly stand in for them.

Mary Tyrone could never be a man, even in the most deconstructive imaginations of role fungibility.  She dominates her husband and her two sons as a woman, a sexually insistent and unforgiving character that no equitable partnership could even possibly mimic.

Laura, Alma, and Blanche – central characters in the plays of Tennessee Williams – could never be male. Even within the homosexual view of the playwright, these women are dependent on men – fathers, lovers, and husbands.  There are heterosexual sexual dynamics at play in The Glass Menagerie, Summer and Smoke, and Suddenly Last Summer.

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The assumption that same-sex couples are no different from heterosexual ones; that family sexual dynamics equate across the gender spectrum; and that the same sexual power of Cleopatra, The Father, Virginia Woolf, or Miss Julie can easily be replicated in modern trans-sexual relationships simply is not credible.

The sexes were created to procreate; but along with that procreative urge came competition, jealousy, and territorial and social imperatives.  This competition is the sine qua non of human evolution.  It is hard to imagine that a homosexual couple, without procreative sex and without natural offspring could have the same survival drive as Tamora (Titus Andronicus).

It is hard to imagine that a child conceived via a sperm donor and a surrogate mother could possibly have the same existential hold on its ‘parents’ as one naturally conceived. How easy would it be to dissolve a relationship in which the offspring are alien?  Blood has always been thicker than water.

For George and Martha, Albee’s fictional characters in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf fight their fictitious son is more important than a real son could ever be.  He is the essence of marital procreativity – a mutual creation which is the fullest, most complete, and most indicative of their very human sexual relationship. If a fictional son could be this important, it is not hard to imagine the centrality of true procreation.

Human procreation is primeval; and no surrogacy, adoption, or partnership can possibly mimic it.  Fights over heredity in Elizabethan times would have meant little if children had been fungible commodities.

There never would have been a Margaret, or a Dionyza, or a Volumnia in a neutralized a-sexual relationship.

Progressives have argued that the same sexual dynamics – jealousy, she-bear defiance, opportunism, and chicanery – would occur regardless of sexual configuration; but that  is to assume that men and women are no different.  That there are no differing evolutionary imperatives, no sexual prerogatives, and no difference in attitude, demands, technique, or purpose.

Conservatives contend that sexual imperative are hardwired like most else in human behavior.  No matter how much one may try to readjust sexuality, it will always be bi-polar.  Men and women will duel in the same predictable, historical ways as they have always done.  There is no more difference between the sexual drama between Antony and Cleopatra than there is between Sean and Kitty today.
It is the hope of progressives that sexual divisions, categories, and distinctions disappear.  That sexual identity is no longer a matter of biological destiny but one of psycho-social choice.

This can only be a fad, a momentary, politically-driven, idealistic assumption.  While progressives might like to believe that sexuality can be modified and engineered in a way conducive to one-world, anti-competitive harmony, it cannot.  Millennia of history have demonstrated the centrality of heterosexual family relationships.

The War Between The Sexes cannot have a post-modern era, one in which variously identified partners vie for power, influence, heredity, and patriarchal or matriarchal authority.  There can only be skirmishes, firefights, inconclusive family disputes, and bitchy, contentious spites.  Heritage, lineage, family status and social authority will be neutered.

Most importantly these new unions will be without the primal, fundamental, and inexorable claims of potent heterosexuality - the George and Martha flaying to the marrow, the Cleopatra melodrama, and the Miss Julie jumping through hoops.

While we as a society may accept or even embrace non-traditional sexual unions, we cannot ignore the limited dimensions of such relationships.  All societies have relied on on heterosexual union as a fundamental, existential force.  Its jealousies, suspicions, hatreds, and envies have fueled the social competition essential for social evolution. It is no surprise that national conflicts mirror familial ones.

Heterosexual union is the sine qua non of human society.