Friday, February 12, 2010

Writing the God Removal Machine

As a reasonably overschooled individual, I know that "Deus ex machina" refers the the machine from which the gods might be introduced to a stage production. Literally, a crane for lowering in the plot fixer, the god, who intervenes to make things right. Figuratively, a clunky plot which just couldn't happen in real life.

As I am instructed repeatedly, faith is found at that intersection between fate - what just happens - and meaningful coincidence. It is a choice, in other words, about how to interpret. And there is meant to be no possibility to influence what has happened, because that would to be tempt fate or cheat God, depending on your choice of words.

Science chases down this nexus, trying to the extent possible to find that final intersection between what can be known (and manipulated) and what is only random. And, by definition, what gets left out as random is meaningless. God's province, if you will, or the Fates'.

Now you know I like to play with metaphors from science. You know I can't write - good writing tells a story, and it has to be a story that's not my own. Good journalism starts with interviews. Good story telling starts with characters. I don't know what the hell I'm doing here, but I'm pretty sure it's not good writing.

But I do have something to say, which can be a plain old burden a lot of the time. And I don't really wish to expose the fact, any more than I have to, that I am just a plain old lousy and flawed human being without a hell of a lot to recommend me in the virtue, talent, and accomplishment departments. But let's not kid ourselves here, I obviously think I'm pretty smart, whatever the hell you might mean by that. (I can't even keep my grammatical "persons" straight! You, me, I, us, we, whatever)

Anyhow, my main big metaphors from science have to do with the fringy stuff. The quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity, the big bang and the chaos theories, with all of which I have some glancing acquaintance. As much as a journalist might have, say, with those he interviews for a story. Instead of just thinking and writing all by myself about what the Saints' win at the SuperBowl might mean to Buffalonians who were "cheated" out of our win, I could have and probably should have asked a few.

But I was wanting to stuff people's heads, like a bad teacher wants to do. I wanted to fill your head with stuff I've already worked out in mine, across the ages to the extent that I can, by reading. Sometimes even across the cultures.

And you know, in addition to not knowing how to write, I never do bother to do the math. Just like the beginning of A Serious Man - yet another Coen Brothers grim fairy tale so far (it takes almost as much longer than you might be willing to spend for me to watch a movie as it does to read a book) if you don't know the math, you don't know the physics.

But you know, just like the Coen Brothers, I think, or Avatar for that matter, I'd like to turn that problem on its head. If you don't do metaphor, you just can't get physics. Nevermind the math.

I did finally see Precious - I had to wait until I could sit next to someone, since I was a bit timid about seeing it alone, plus I didn't want to have a rewind/reset button at my disposal. The novel it's based on is called "Push" and I'm going to have to say that this term refers to the same thing I've been wanting to do in my writing. It's a kind of abuse of you, for which I'm truly sorry.

Precious is so abused that she can barely make out letters. She's illiterate not just because she's been abused both at home and in school by feedback clearly telling her she's stupid, she's illiterate because the very leastmost modicum of energy required to make sense of any symbol has been, well, pushed right out of her.

And so the turning point in the film, and I'm sorry but I don't really quite care if it's a spoiler, is when the teacher persists, pushes if you will, and Precious realizes she can learn to read. And later, she tells her social worker, "I like you, I really do, but you don't have the strength to handle me." Talk about a Turning Point. You couldn't deal with my life, educated boy.

So, you know, I'm feeling humbled just about all over the place now, but I'm still going to try to tell you something. It's that old E=MC² thing again. Where Mass gets equated to Energy, according to the speed of light. Where the speed of light becomes the Universal Constant, and the Energy and Mass become all shifty depending on point of view.

We're all familiar in real life with how time is the same as distance, or money depending on what interests you most. It takes time to get there from here. It takes money to save time. You can mix and match these around as much as you like, but you can't deny you know what I'm talking about. Machines to collapse these distinctions are the fruits of our sciences, embodied now by engineered technologies and techniques.

Sure, you're going to say it's not all about cars and planes and Information Technologies. What about Biology and genetics? Well, what about them? There's still that matter of getting down inside the machine-like parts to find that originating impulse, or what went wrong, or what could go wrong. As in, it would be aweful to die just before "they" come up with the cure for what ails you. That time and money and distance issue again.,

At the center, where moral choice resides, at the heart of the matter, we just have to leave a question mark or maybe God, depending on your choice of words. But, see, here's the thing, God, the word (thankfully at the beginning of the sentence this time, so I can hedge), is like "green numbers," it has no "content". There's no there there, and so the question might become what harm is caused by putting a word in the place of the question mark. For which the answer is a quick scan of history, or current events for that matter. So, I'll leave that Word (whoops!) alone for a moment longer.

But no-one really thinks science, as a process, is going to reveal that mechanism for choice. Well, except for the Geek Rapture folks, but you know what I think of them, right? (if you do, then tell me, because I can't figure it out) There are lots of proposals, but in the end, everyone's pretty sure it will end up, like in quantum mechanics, at the fringes where mechanism meets probability. Kind of like that Coen brothers movie. Hmmm I wonder how it ends?

So, choice might be right about at that spot where chance meets implication. That faith thing again, except that in this case, you're having a kind of faith in yourself. Your choices, over time, might even define your character. If your life is not some kind of big act, then you might even deserve some honor. That kind of thing.

And if you give God (whoops, sorry, there He is again) all the credit, it's pretty much like cheating, don't you think? Shouldn't you just give Him all the blame too? But I'm OK with that formula I overheard now while waiting to give blood to check my viscosity so I can keep on breathing and stuff; "the way I see it is every time you resist those temptations, you know for steak or wine or ice-cream you shouldn't be eating, you're resisting the devil, you know, and moving more toward God".

I might quibble with the moral content of choice at that level, but I at least get the idea. Faith means choice means a push, of yourself, in a certain direction, and you couldn't always do it yourself without some guidance about the right direction. And lots of times, you really don't understand all the reasons, but you have a sense of which would be the right direction, and if you have character, you take it. That kind of thing.

But distance from moral content gives a kind of deniability of implication. I didn't exactly feel responsible for the condition of Precious up on screen; girls like her I mean. I would never treat my kids the way she was treated. And frankly, the movie was kind to me that way. It wasn't pushing anything down my throat, or into my head, it led me to form my own conclusions, and decide for myself just where my implication is. But it never did let me just turn away. It didn't hide the truth either. I didn't make me turn away the way Tarantino does, for instance. I don't ever want to be that practiced in my reading, er, viewing.

Physical distance, cultural distance, neighborhood distance, school distance, these can all be ways to disimplicate ourselves from moral choices we must and by omission all the time, do make. And who would ever see the need to live outside and be cold all the time to be moral? That's not the point.

The point is that there really is a different non-mathematical equation which must always also be kept in mind. That's the one where disimplication by distance - that point of view thing - squared, if you will, times the gravity of the situation (um, not quite punning, but I'm not sure yet) equals your character. Your moral content. If you will. Your meaning-making energy potential. Your worthiness for love.

And in the case, the Universal constant, which not quite co-incidentally is the same one the Bible uses, is that each human is decreed at the outset to have the identical same character value. (see what I mean about not being able to write?)

The universal constant, in other words is humanity, which doesn't get to be assigned a weight in this equation. It's a constant. That's what constant means, dummie. Sorry, talking to myself again, but I think we all already agree about that, even though we hardly ever act that way. Because, well, it's kind of scary. We don't know how to behave across the boundaries. But we would never want to live in a world where human lives were differentially valued.

Even though, ahem, that's how insurance rates get calculated. Even though that's what grades in school come to mean. Even though that's what gets meant by money. But, to be fair, we are having a really really hard time figuring out how else to do it.

My radical proposal (I'm such a radical! That's my only saving grace in the how strong are you really contest) is so trivial. Just write God out of the equation. It's not that big a deal. Really. It's, well, trivial (I never quite know if I'm punning).

It goes like this. Written words are what connects us, as humans, across time and space and sometimes even cultures. Written words guide us toward good moves, even when we're alone in private. Written words inform that part of us which so often gets mistakenly labelled too, as soul or the ghost in the machine fallacy or the intentional fallacy or the pathetic fallacy, you know, where you project human qualities onto animals and other, um, things .

God, the Word now, is a cop-out. It lets us off the hook. It's too easy anymore, and I'm not saying it always was, I'm just saying now it is. Now, at this point in the history of science, the compilation of too many words for just one, ahem, soul to master, to where the most sensible way to navigate the choices is just by random. It's how I do it. Almost. Sort of.

If we just netFlix up everything so that only the good stuff rises to the top, in just the way that they stock the shelves in stores now such that you never can find the oddball stuff, then we will have lost the ability to read the world at all.

Our economy now is quite literally organized such that each of us, the least of us, is made to feel responsible for what in the end has been a setup by those in power. That's what Marx meant by the internal contradictions of Capitalism. We're at or beyond the endtimes for that kind of logic. And that's because the markets have been so perfected - made so friction-free to crib a few of Bill Gate's words - that the fatal flaw in the logic can no longer be avoided.

If we're all responsible, then no-one's responsible, and at the core of corporations, which are now just massive structures for moral disimplication because everyone needs a paycheck, there's only someone getting paid a whole lot of money to set you up. The good news is that you have to pay an incredible amount for someone to do the devil's act.

But you know, the crane, that god removal machine, is right in our hands, and I'm pretty sure it has something to do with writing, and something to do with our real human hearts (which in Chinese now, remember, is the same word as mind, but sorry, I didn't mean to talk down to you again). Why not use it to remove the devil(s)? We can run our own damn stories without your Logos all over them.

And the word which can't be spoken but is the real word, can have a space to come back in. The everything is nothing paradox of God. Without all the religious stuffing which is just a way for men to keep control. But there I go getting carried away again . . . . (and where does the punctuation belong in my title?)

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