Columnist for Tuesday, 5/8 - Betsy Shebang

People are Idiots

"Betsy, tell us about the eternal battle of good and evil."

"Okay, but first, I'll have to tell you about my idiot brother."

So, my brother just bought an S.U.V., because he's an idiot. He refinanced his condo, got a big loan and could then afford to push his future that much closer to the Great Cliff. He did so, he says, because he goes to Yosemite twice a year and he's tired of renting a truck when he does. (This, you may notice, is like buying a boat because twice a year you eat fish.) My brother also paid off his credit cards with the loan money, weirdly proclaiming himself "out of debt". I'm considering buying a bigger couch for his family to sleep on when his wife gets pregnant and they lose their house.

Don't get me wrong. It's a beautiful shiny enormous vehicle, the perfect gadget to distract from life's incessant setbacks. For a while...

Bill Hicks used to have a phrase for this kinda thing: "Sucking Satan's cock". Catholic churches still blather on about rejecting Satan's tempting offers, as if the dark lord were going door to door, installing cable with an eternal damnation subscriber package; but not a word is spoken in church about the parishoners who buy projection TVs and disposable camcorders with credit cards they can't pay back, the purchase made not with money but a form of eternal servitude. All that crap about one holy and apostolic church don't slow down the procession one bit.

See, I'm in touch with my inner dork, but those trapped inside other people irritate the hell outta me. I'm not even talking about the truly stupid folks, or people who seem stupid but maybe aren't, like the one English-speaking guy who works in every auto wrecking yard. I'm talking about scientists and engineers and folks with degrees who say stupid things because they have more authority than they have knowledge. In the coming weeks I will list several examples, being as how it's my hobby to discredit people more educated than me.

Smart people, for example, say stupid things about "what people have over the animals." Against the sweeping torrent, I must offer my modest insight.

People Of Earth, Here's The Way It Is: human beings have something "over the animals" - we're winning the territorial invasion, so we must be superior somehow, just like the Nazis almost were - but nobody has defined exactly where the borderline between Us and Them is located. The difference between people and animals is not that we use tools; a monkey will use a stick to dig termites out of a hole. It's not that we use syntactic language; the honeybee can give elaborate geographical directions by wiggling its butt, while we say things like "how's it going" when we really mean "grunt, baaah". It's not that we think abstractly and they don't; we might as well claim to enjoy life more, for all we know about how and what animals think.

But we have something over the animals, right? It's not like we're managing to wipe out species after species just by coincidence, right? It's not like we decided that we had to have something "over the animals" before we decided what it might be, right?

In fact, we do have something over the animals...and not just an abstract quality of being "smart" that allows us to make clothes out of dead things and work around the other weaknesses that came along with our self-domestication.

What people have over animals is that we can make up our reasons for doing things AFTER we've done them. It's a fabulous trick, like time travel. Why did I by an SUV when I couldn't pay off my credit cards? "Because I travel to Yosemite twice a year, and it just made sense." Why did I watch videos instead of completing my taxes before the deadline? "Because New York State tax forms are fucked, and, uh, Joe was going to be visiting next week." Why do we proclaim ourselves superior to the animals? " because we have souls and will go to heaven, whereas they are creatures of instinct, doing only the barbaric unholy things that God put them on Earth to do."

So, that's the short version. The longer version is that we are each two creatures: the one that does things, and the one that comes up with a reason why we did them. There's a term, "peak experience", coined by I forget whom, that refers to some brief time spent at the zenith of human sensation. I submit that a peak experience is a moment wherein an overwhelming wave of personal involvement in life temporarily removes one from this cycle of endless rationalization, leaving no fence of bullshit between our personal, sensual experiences and our perception of them.

Imagine you figured this out thousands of years ago. You kinda knew you weren't an animal, but you also kinda knew you were an animal. It's as if you had once been an animal, and you now had become a little creature riding around inside the animal, apologizing for its actions and trying to ride the snorting creature through the obstacle course in precise fashion.

You'd feel pretty weird about this transformation, of course; you'd want to apologize for having left your animalhood behind, even while you continued to apologize for the clumsy way you were galloping your beast through the obstacle course. Either way, you find, you're knocking a lot of stuff over.

So, perhaps you'd write a book, to share these thoughts. You'd tell the story of people like you, who started out as animals, just kinda prancing around naked, all of life an incessant interpretive dance. And then one day, the story goes, you somehow find the one way you might fuck up this groovy situation, which is to figure out that who you are might not be the same as who your body is. So, like, if your body ate an apple, it wasn't actually your fault that your body was eating the apple; it was the fault of whatever nasty creature made you eat the apple. Or so you decide, after you ate the apple.

Really, it would be pretty disturbing. You don't know why you do the things you do. Maybe the Devil makes you do them. Maybe you need a vacation. Maybe you need to spend the weekend in Yosemite. Or maybe you just need to go shopping. That always makes you feel better. For a while...

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