Archive - 2012

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THE ART OF BULLSHIT
2
THE SPECTACLE & THE WRENCH 3.0
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THE SPECTACLE & THE WRENCH 2.0
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THE SPECTACLE & THE WRENCH 1.0
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EIDOLOGY 101
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EYE FOR AN IRONY
7
AEROLAB
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BAN FEBRUARY

THE ART OF BULLSHIT

Please note: I’m not going to discuss the superhuman founder of Scientology, the late, great L Ron Hubbard, at this time. Detailing his life and exploits would take at least three Internets to compose, and most people’s attention spans aren’t nearly that vast. That being said, if you’d like a brief overview of just a few of his varied and insane accomplishments, click here. Make sure to disregard any section that relies on facts.

Scientology is the quintessential modern religion. Everything about it is just so cutting edge and risqué, especially its take on human origins. If you were expecting some far–fetched creation story chock full of ridiculous plot twists and cookie cutter dialogue, you’ll really be disappointed. It’s not a creation story. It’s a space opera. It’s the Star Trek of religious narratives, but better than Star Trek because it doesn’t need to meet any standard of believability whatsoever. Take “time”, for instance. Sure, recognizing that our universe is about 13 billion–years–old may be more scientifically accurate than the 40.7 trillion trillion trillion trillion year–old universe Scientology describes, but it’s also tremendously unimaginative. Star Trek is also androcentric: it just assumes that Earth would naturally be the epicenter of the United Federation of Planets. Scientology, on the other hand, reminds us that although we are indeed a part of the Galactic Federation, our influence is at best marginal. We’re like the crematorium of the galactic community: a convenient location for incinerating humans beings quickly and easily. Just ask Xenu, the galactic dictator of the Federation. About a hundred million years ago, Xenu traveled to Earth to dispose of his vast collection of frozen humans. Pressed for time, Xenu bucked the traditional “stack–your–humans–around–volcanoes–and–wait” approach by using a slew of hydrogen bombs to really get those volcanoes cooking. Now, you might think genocide by radioactive lava is a tad bit excessive, but I’m sure Xenu had his reasons, and it’ll only cost you around $100,000 to find out. They’ll also accept American Express, unwashed children, and your soul.

A lot of you might criticize Scientology for looking and acting more like a business than a religion. What you might not realize is that all religions are really just big businesses, and that turning a profit is a universally accepted sign of God’s approval. Scientologists don’t try to disguise their motives behind collection baskets and novena candles. That’s like bribing God. And since Scientology has no god, they just straight out tell you they want your money. Look, salvation isn’t free, and nor should it be. If everyone could afford to go to heaven, those pearly gates you’ve all heard about would be covered in graffiti and beer vomit. It would look more like the inner city than the flawless, well–manicured gated community we’ve all come to expect from a conventional yuppy afterlife. Scientology’s no–nonsense “pay up or shut up” approach to eternal redemption ensures that the heavens have perfect lawns, matching curtains, and an A–list celebrity on every street corner instead of two skanky hookers and an emaciated meth dealer named Cujo.

If you’ve grown tired of the anonymous and repetitive nature of a Christian confession, I’d recommend confessing your sins to Scientology. If you do, you’ll meet not with a priest but with an “auditor”: a title chosen to keep you honest and make sure you feel extra comfortable. An auditor’s job is to meticulously record all of your faults, fears, and most embarrassing moments in a case file of your very own. You don’t get to keep it, your auditor does. But don’t worry, confidentiality is guaranteed, unless of course you decide to leave the church or say anything bad about it—ever. If you do discover that your personal information has been leaked or in any way used to blackmail the crap out of you, then I’m sure you deserved it. Just think of it as penance.

The Hubbard Electropsychometer. Taste the awesome.

An auditor acts more like a shrink than a priest. In a typical session, he or she will ask you a series of important questions (see below for some totally relevant examples). Your answers are recorded and analyzed with the help of a truly magical device: the Hubbard Electropsychometer, or E–Meter for short.  This marvel of engineering is used to accurately measure the amount of electrical resistance you give off in your answers, which can then be used to find and eliminate the experiences and memories responsible for it. It’s kind of like a polygraph test, but way more sensitive: it can actually detect the screams of vegetables as they’re being sliced! [1] I refer any doubters out there to the ringing endorsement it received in a landmark FDA ruling:

“The E–Meter is not medically or scientifically useful for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease. It is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily functions of anyone.” [2]

I’m sold. I haven’t actually been audited yet, but only because I can’t afford it. Thankfully, our friends over at Wikileaks have made available the full list of questions asked during a typical auditing session (click here for the PDF). I thought maybe I’d post a few of them below, with my answers, and then tweet it to Scientology. Who knows? Maybe they have some kind of discount plan for people who enjoy the art of bullshit as much as they do.

From the HUBBARD COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE (HCO) BULLETIN:

1/ Did you come to Earth for evil purposes? 

I did indeed. But when I got here I realized how much competition I had, and I’m not very ambitious. So now I have zero purpose.

2/ Have you ever smothered a baby? 

Unfortunately, yes. But that’s just how they do things in China.

3/ Have you ever destroyed a culture? 

I’m working on that right now! I just tweeted about how awesome it would be if Lil’Wayne starred opposite Chris Brown in the next Roland Emmerich vehicle about two no–talent assholes who inexplicably make it big in the music industry. Rihanna makes a cameo as a punching bag.

4/ Have you ever implanted someone? 

Oh all the time. Sometimes I implant two or more in a single session. Sometimes I even pay to do it.

5/ Have you ever deprived people of hope? 

Of course not. I believe hope is the most important step on the road to total disappointment, and I’d never think of depriving anyone of the thrill of a good mind–crushing let–down.

6/ Have you ever blanketed bodies for the sensation kick? 

Yes. Wait, what?

7/ Have you ever destroyed artistic productions, or creations? 

Yes. I’ve cannibalized wedding cakes and shredded Christmas presents, and once I even bulldozed some nerd’s house of cards because libraries are for learning and not petty fucking games.

8/ Have you ever debased a nation’s currency? 

Does smoking spliffs rolled out of $100 bills count?

9/ Have you ever despoiled a planet of its natural resources? 

If you’re asking me if I’m fat the answer is no.

10/ Have you ever deliberately mutilated objects? 

When I was a kid I melted G.I. Joe action figures, but only annoying ones like Wetsuit and Crystal Ball, and I always gave them a decent burial. Except Wetsuit. I really don’t like Wetsuit.

11/ Have you ever destroyed a doll body? 

See question 10.

12/ Is there any question on this check I had better not ask you again? 

See question 10.

13/ Have you ever given God a bad name? 

Only when I’m getting owned by 10 year–olds on Call of Duty. Or when I lose my lighter thirteen times in ten minutes even though it’s banana yellow and I keep putting it on the table so where the fuck else could it be. Or when I don’t get the right pieces on my promotional Monopoly gameboard. Or when I can’t stream high–definition movies for free whenever the fuck I feel like it. Or when someone calls me “brah” or “duder”. Or when I’m drunk. Or when I wake up late. Or when I wake up at all. Or whenever I’m forced to watch those goddamn Dragon Dictation commercials because the remote isn’t in bed with me only to then realize how useful it would be to actually have Dragon Dictation for changing television stations without needing to move. Or when I drink malt liquor and feel dead inside. Or when I eat atomic wings and spend the next few hours shitting fire and brimstone. Or when I just need someone to blame other than myself.

14/ Have you ever broken someone’s body on a wheel? 

I ran over a squirrel once. Once.

15/ Is there any place you’d better not return to? 

Any place beginning with tequila and ending in pregnancy.

16/ Have you ever given robots a bad name? 

If by “name” you mean “disease” I had no idea that was even possible.

17/ Is anybody looking for you? 

Yes, Visa, Tim Burton, the fire marshal of Tonga, and probably Scientology after they read this.

Here’s a few candid shots I took the last time I made my pilgrimage to Scientology’s Hollywood headquarters:

Scientology Headquarters

 

Scientology Headquarters, from a different angle.

 

This is one of a series of commemorative murals found inside the main lobby. That’s Xenu there, on the right; and another happy customer on the left, being dangled in outer space by the Almighty Hand of L. Ron Hubbard himself. So powerful.

THE SPECTACLE & THE WRENCH 3.0

PART III: THE MONKEY WRENCH

When I think about wrenches, I don’t think about hand tools. I think about hard twists and sudden turns. I think about taking things apart and then not putting them back together. I think about fixing things by breaking them, or by subtle acts of verbal sabotage. No surprise, then, that my favorite type of wrench is the monkey wrench. The origin of the “monkey” modifier is hotly debated among tool historians and experts in other shit no one really cares about, but the consensus seems to be that…eh whatever, who cares.

Say, what is a monkey anyway?  Well, as an anthropologist, I can assure you that they’re definitely not apes, for a wide variety of uninteresting reasons. The easiest distinction to make is that, unlike apes, most monkeys have prehensile tails. That means they can use them like a fifth limb; an adaptation that enables them to excel in the fine art of tree climbing, branch hanging, and just plain fucking around. Once, while slogging it out in the middle of a Mexican jungle, I happened upon a small troop of sleeping howler monkeys. Ever the brilliant adventurer, I decided to serenade them with a series of flash photographs. Reaction from the troop was understandably pretty negative, like screening a Michael Bay flick at an epilepsy convention. The best part was in assuming that the troop would retaliate with a hail of figs and not the unholy barrage of steaming excrement that followed instead.

Most people wouldn’t be too happy about getting dumped on in a rainforest. It’s unhygienic, excessive, and totally unexpected. It can also be pretty embarrassing, if you actually care what monkeys think. But in retrospect, the entire affair serves as an appropriate metaphor for the future of my blog. I, the irreverent  eidologist, keen on illuminating the primordial depths of the social mindset, sandbags some of its most privileged spokesmen with a sudden flash of thoughtless insight. Full of shit from years of mindless excess and utterly oblivious to the rest of the world, the lazy citizens of the status quo hurriedly unleash a jumbled salvo of inaccurate shit bombs. Admittedly, this metaphor forecasts a very messy future; one where this type of melee will undoubtedly become the norm. But since the ammunition of the eidologist consists in large part of the very words people use to excuse, defend, or delude themselves, talking shit should be encouraged, even when no one’s actually saying anything.

Obviously, you’ll need a monkey wrench to provoke these aimless volleys of meaningless monkey dung. Just keep in mind that using one successfully requires proficiency in the art of free thinking, satire, and back-handed subterfuge. Oh, and you should never ever take anything you’re told seriously or at face value. And whatever you do, do not use an allen wrench. I must have a thousand of these fucking things lying around. Allen wrenches are really the one-trick-pony in the science of social satire. They’re only designed to work with hexagonal sockets, and most social phenomena are not hexagonal, whatever the fuck that means. They’re a great tool for lame duck activists and Ikea fashionistas, but lack the mettle needed to wrench apart that entangled mess of backward beliefs, mutilated values, and appallingly unreal mix of prefabricated half-facts that we call “popular culture” or “the mainstream”.

There are many other types of wrenches out there, from hook spanners and alligator wrenches, to impact drivers and chain whips. Power wrenches might seem like an attractive option, especially for beginners looking to quickly deprogram themselves, but should really only be used if you’re the kind of masochistic freak who enjoys having your noodle scrambled by Thor’s hammer on a regular basis. Then there’s breaker bars. These are basically like trying to fix a crack in a window by throwing a rock through it. If your mind has become so jammed up that the only solution is to pulverize it, well then I guess at this point you’re probably more concerned about whether that noose around your neck is going to snap when you kick out the chair beneath you than on the corrosive worldview that put you up there in the first place.

The monkey wrench is all about interrupting the steady stream of popular nonsense with a heavy dose of reality. Be cautious, however, as most people were raised to have a nearly insatiable appetite for historical fiction, self-deception, and imaginary forces. Rousing anyone from their dreamy and insulated understanding of things usually ends pretty badly. This is not to say that you shouldn’t shock them into wakefulness when the opportunity presents itself, only that you must be prepared to intercept the shit storm that will inevitably result. You won’t be able to run fast enough to avoid it, but you can use it to your advantage. You can simply throw it back, so long as you remember to ridicule your opponents for their lack of precision as you’re doing so. Just make sure to wash your hands when you’re finished.


THE SPECTACLE & THE WRENCH 2.0

PART II: CONFORMITY DISABLED

The first system you debug must be your own. The process is simple but it is never easy. You must first learn how to detach yourself from the uninterrupted whirlpool of thoughts and feelings coursing through your mind. Thoughts produce feelings, which in turn produce thoughts, and for this loop to be broken you must realize that you are not your thoughts. To accomplish this requires concentrated awareness and unflinching objectivity. You will fail often at first, but persistence leads to habit formation and a habit is really just an automated response. This is a good thing because it frees you to concentrate not on the thoughts themselves, but rather on where they come from. It might bother you to learn that much of what you know is derived from second-hand, spurious sources. It might shock you to realize how few of your thoughts are actually your own. You might be compelled to start questioning everything; this, too, will become habitual. You might be surprised to discover how much of what you thought was true is in reality biased, incomplete, misleading, or utterly false. Allow me to illustrate by correcting some common “facts” that are, in fact, totally wrong:

Humans did not evolve from chimpanzees, Einstein never failed math, and Napoleon wasn’t actually that short. The Maya didn’t disappear, not all dinosaurs went extinct, and “In God We Trust” didn’t show up on U.S. currency until the 1950’s. The word “golf” is not an acronym (it actually means “stick”), no one thought the world was flat until the 19th century, and lightning can definitely strike the same place more than once (just ask Roy Sullivan, who was struck 7 times). Sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity in children (or adults), cracking your knuckles doesn’t give you arthritis, and men don’t think about sex every seven seconds. As a matter of fact, we’re usually too busy thinking about warfare, sports, or video games to even contemplate activities that can tragically culminate in marriage, children or other major setbacks.

Now let’s substitute these total lies with a brief list of actual, verified facts you’re most likely not even aware of, but probably should be:

The average American child has witnessed 200,000 acts of violence and 40,000 murders on television before leaving elementary school. Unsurprisingly, the United States also has the largest incarceration rate on the globe, holding 25% of all the world’s prisoners yet comprising only 5% of its population. In addition, the US has the 2nd worst infant mortality rate in the developed world, has only been debt free for 1 day in its entire history (January 8th, 1835), and if every concerned citizen were to use 1/3 less ice in their drinks, the country would have a surplus of energy every year.

On a lighter note, did you know that, technically, the Earth has two moons, you have four nostrils and we’re currently living in an Ice Age? Were you also aware that there’s more bacteria on a cell phone than a toilet seat, the cracking sound of a whip is actually a sonic boom, only 3% of all mammal species are monogamous, and that humans aren’t one of them?

So, if most of what you think you know is ultimately derived from a vast and superficial morass of unverified facts and assumptions, why do so many people so readily accept them as the truth? I’ll let Laura Helmuth, senior editor of the Smithsonian Magazine, explain this one:

“Our cognitive failings are legion: we take a few anecdotes and make incorrect generalizations, we misinterpret information to support our preconceptions, and we’re easily distracted or swayed by irrelevant details. And what we think of as memories are merely stories we tell ourselves anew each time we recall an event.” [1]

In other words, people don’t really care if what they know is true because they’re way too busy making faulty arguments, deluding the living shit out of themselves, and/or daydreaming about false memories and vicarious lives. For them, sleepwalking is more convenient than wakefulness. This is clearly not an option for restless spirits and independent minds. The art of questioning everything can be exhausting even once automated, but the reward is always substantial and irrevocably exponential.  The more you learn, the more you want to learn. Every answer leads to a new question, which in turn leads to another answer. One loop has now been replaced by another, far more productive one. The loop goes round and around, a seemingly ceaseless exercise in knowledge acquisition. That is, of course, until a pattern begins to emerge. At this point, you will need to grab a wrench.

…AWAITING NEXT TRANSMISSION…

THE SPECTACLE & THE WRENCH 1.0

PART I: THE SPECTACLE 

Conformity is the operating system of the social universe. To be orderly and predictable, societies must ensure that the majority of their members abide by a standardized set of rules and roles. They must obey laws, hold jobs, and pay taxes. They must possess certificates of birth, death and marriage. They must have mortgages, vehicles, and bank accounts. They must be convinced that they are consumers and that anything can be bought or sold. They must have children or at least like children. They must express some level of interest in pop culture, professional sports, or half-baked social causes. And they must learn to accept that failure to conform to the norm will justifiably provoke corrective measures like public scorn, mockery or other types of social sanctions.

Obviously, the usual suspects of nonconformity are freethinking individuals and restless spirits. Everyone is born this way, but only a few will get to die this way. Socialization pressures are powerful because without them society, by definition, couldn’t exist. After all, societies are systems; and like all systems, if the parts don’t cooperate, the system will simply disintegrate. It really is that straightforward. For most, the instinct to rebel is stymied by the realization that you just can’t get around in the social world without adopting its culture or obeying its rules.

But the desire to rebel is strong and always lingers somewhere in the back of the mind, looking for an opportunity to lash out and create havoc. It is the source of everything from marital infidelity to flash mobs to Halloween and Fat Tuesday. These things serve as exhaust valves for social and interpersonal tension. But they are meant to be temporary—you can’t have it both ways forever. Those who attempt to do so should be forewarned that trying to make a living out of two-timing or double-dealing will invariably produce unpleasant outcomes. People need to make choices and then stick with them, or risk creating inner turmoil and a prolonged loss of integrity. Each of us is also a system and our parts must co-operate or chaos will reign.

Incredibly, there are a lot of people out there who somehow manage to forestall such inner mayhem with total apathy or stunning feats of ignorance. Others cope with the nuisance of desires like ambition and pride by living vicariously through the asinine adventures of untalented pop stars, reckless athletes, or reality TV heroes. Naturally, this makes total sense because, hey, who actually wants to think or do any real work? Other people are just as content taking happy pills, drinking themselves into oblivion, or attending watered down western-style yoga classes once a year. And when times really get tough, there’s always Disneyworld, pub-crawls, or Jesus.

Like power windows, religion comes standard with most people. And just like power windows, religion reduces the amount of effort needed to get a breath of fresh errors. What makes religion so fucking fascinating is its ability to turn ordinary pieces of burnt toast into divine spectacles. It’s like accenting your cupcakes with sparkles—everything gets more magical. And it’s just so goddamn user-friendly. You always get to feel super righteous—like the Sun sporting Oakleys—and all you have to do in return is remember that Jesus loves you no matter what demented, perverted, or selfish thing you can possibly think of, say, or do. It’s really a win-win when old JC’s got your back. Of course, there are some rules you are meant to follow, but the beauty of religious teachings is that each lesson is like a lego block that can be infinitely rearranged according to personal preference . By far the best part of religion is knowing that you are saved and “they” are not. It’s a special feeling, I’m sure. Now, if you really want to meet people who actually take religion seriously, you’d have to climb the Himalayas, join a sweat lodge, or take a pilgrimage to Mecca. And who has time for that with such an astonishingly wasteful wedding to plan for!

Like religion, most marriages are the result of hasty decision-making, starry-eyed idealism, and piss-poor logic. This is paradoxically why they are at once so valued and ultimately so meaningless. Couples keep getting married for the same reasons people keep buying bad software: because it’s conventional and nearly everyone else is getting it. Well, nearly everyone else also gets cancer at one point in their lives too, but I can assure you it’s definitely not for everyone. And it’s especially not for those prone to bouts of innovation and independent thinking. For them, accepting the contagious logic of equating what’s “right” with what’s ordinary inevitably creates mental conflict and a potentially infinite loop of self-defeating thoughts and actions. For them, debugging may be the only solution.

…AWAITING NEXT TRANSMISSION…

EIDOLOGY 101

Mena Suvari has a massive forehead. Seriously, it’s fucking huge. And thanks to Google, I know for sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. There must be many thousands of people out there who share my astonishment at the incredible size of Mena Suvari’s forehead. So many, in fact, that before I had even typed in the word “forehead”, Google had already suggested I go check out Mena Suvari’s.

And then, quite suddenly, I forget about foreheads and start thinking about foreshadowing and subtle allusions.

That being said, Google is roughly analogous to a god, if by “god” we mean the unquestioned arbiter of all human knowledge. But in some ways, Google is actually better than a god. Because unlike, say, Zeus or Yahweh, Google doesn’t demand users to pray or perform sacrifices in order to get results. And they get results fast—and a lot of them. Of course, it’s not all peaches and cream, you know. Users still have to think up something worth asking about, they still have to sort through the mess of mostly irrelevant results, and they still have to laboriously type out their requests on keyboards or touchscreens—unless, of course, they have some type of voice-activated assistant. But then users have to speak their demands, and that’s too much like praying.

But, were it not for such righteous gadgets, even praying to Google would be an impossibility for most users. Like a rosary or a magic talisman, smart phones and other devices are all designed with results in mind. Truly devoted users possess truly righteous hardware, memory and processing power; whereas one-day-a-week users are more concerned about social prestige and fashion statements, and make poor choices accordingly. While both types of users still retain basic access to the Almighty Google, socially conscious users routinely select hardware known for poor performance, slow searches, and shallow results. In stark contrast, devoted users select and manage their hardware carefully to maximize knowledge acquisition and increase performance. While every computer and mobile device contains a central processing unit (CPU) responsible for helping the user think clearly and act consistently, devoted users typically operate two or more simultaneously. This enables them to process information faster and more accurately, and boosts their defenses against incompatible or malicious operating systems.

An operating system is a set of interrelated programs powered by the economic agenda and social ideology of the company that designed it. Once installed, it reconfigures a user’s experience and resources toward achieving vested interests and generic goals, and may prove difficult to modify or erase. Over time, operating systems can become very controlling and invasive, and may routinely overwrite personal information and preferences without user permission. They may also affect how users comprehend real-time experiences, as well as how they store, retrieve or delete information from memory.

The mainstream operating system in use today is official and socially accepted and will usually require users to register themselves with an identification code before full access to browsers or other programs is permitted. Users will find it very difficult to move around or join a network without one, and may even be at risk of losing access to libraries, social plug-ins and other types of vital services. They are also easy targets for opportunistic hackers looking for open ports or other weaknesses to exploit. Fortunately, an unsecure user is also typically an uncommitted user, making him more likely to recognize and accept changes or upgrades when deficiencies or other weaknesses become obvious.

Some users may become dismissive or even agitated when confronted with the knowledge that the operating logic they had lived by for so long is not just illogical and defective, but a complete insult to their intelligence as well. In this situation, I would advise first running a zombie scan or taking a dumpster dive before attempting an eidology. Once sufficient background information has been retrieved and assessed, hardware characteristics should be considered, such as the age, origin, and peripheral devices associated with the user. From there it must be determined whether repairs are even possible. And even if they are, it is ultimately up to each user to decide which features need to be changed, added or eliminated, and which operating system to install. But because the mainstream operating system is so customary and uncomplicated, most users will gladly accept its deficiencies over having to consider more challenging alternatives.

It is not an eidologist’s duty to suggest these alternatives. Rather, an eidologist unmasks weaknesses in the mainstream operating system by mind hacking its programs and satirizing its users. Eidology is a series of methods designed for this purpose, and eidologue is where the results go to be published.

EYE FOR AN IRONY

Most people think they know what an irony is until they are asked to describe one. Their hesitation to do so is perfectly understandable, given that the term irony actually has several definitions, some of which are still hotly disputed. To compensate, some people resort to personal experiences to illustrate what they think an irony is. Here’s a personal experience of mine to illustrate what an irony isn’t. At JFK airport several weeks back, I watched a heartwarming reunion between two childhood friends who just happened to be catching the same flight. They then proceeded to go completely apeshit about how ironic the whole thing was. But it wasn’t ironic—It was just a coincidence. Granted, it was a highly improbable coincidence, but improbability alone doesn’t make a situation ironic. If, however, the sheer excitement of the affair caused one or both of them to go into cardiac arrest and expire right there at the terminal, then that would definitely be ironic. That’s because real ironies involve darkly humorous twists of fate, tragically poetic reversals of fortune, or unexpected and often unfortunate outcomes. A real irony is simply the cosmos playing comedian to a crowd that isn’t laughing.

Canada certainly isn’t laughing—and with good reason. Because thanks to Ottawa native Alanis Morrisette’s whiny and altogether erroneous musical treatise on the topic of irony, an entire generation of shiftless teenagers has now entered into adulthood with a completely retarded understanding of what actually constitutes an ironic situation. Allow me to illustrate just a few of her total fuckups. Getting stuck in a traffic jam when you’re already late is not ironic—it’s irresponsible and suggests that you should probably be managing your time more efficiently. Paying for what you were told was a free ride is also not ironic; it’s false advertising and possibly even a crime. And oh yeah, you also just got hustled. But getting hustled isn’t ironic either, unless your stolen cash is in turn used by the thief to buy a seat on a rollercoaster that subsequently crashes, killing only him. Alternatively, if the crash managed to kill everyone on board except for him, then I guess that would be something of a double irony, and a decidedly unjust one at that. Getting rained out on your wedding day could be considered ironic, if you were getting married in Death Valley. But if your nuptials were being exchanged almost anywhere else in the world outside of a desert, I’d wager the chances of the whole thing being a total washout to be just about average. Don’t chalk this one up to irony, just tune in to the Weather Channel or consult an almanac, and then plan accordingly. Better yet, don’t get married at all, because chances are actually better than average that the harsh realities of marriage will inevitably pulverize every reason you ever had to even want to get hitched in the first place. And that is ironic, don’t you think?

In the unlikely event Ms. Morrissette ever reads this, I hope she doesn’t find my critique too scathing. She really shouldn’t. After all, her first taste of stardom came on the set of the 80’s Canadian TV series You Can’t Do That On Television, remembered mostly for routinely dumping green slime on children every time they said the words “I don’t know”. Given such an outstanding career foundation, Alanis really shouldn’t mind getting dumped on by me for saying “isn’t it ironic” about situations that totally aren’t.

Ironically, deadly ironies are also some of the funniest. That might make me sound callous, but how do we know that the victims didn’t burst out laughing themselves at the preposterous circumstances behind their imminent demise? What shipwreck survivor wouldn’t find it at least a little comical to be dying of thirst while floating around on a life raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? And I think that at least a few of the doomed passengers aboard the “unsinkable” Titanic must have taken a moment or two before their near vertical slide into the frosty North Atlantic to admire the gods for so humorously demonstrating that they could indeed sink that ship.

When an inventor gets killed by his own invention you can practically taste the cosmic lampoonery. I bet Henry Smolinski, inventor of the flying car, was all smiles when, as his poorly modified Pinto was falling apart in mid-air, he quickly realized that the key to being a famous innovator was not so much media exposure as it was hiring a qualified welder. And I’m sure that, had he not been screaming in abject terror while plummeting 80 feet off of a cliff, Segway company owner James Heselden would have marveled at the irony of dying on his own Segway when all he was trying to do was throw it in reverse. I’m not so certain, however, that chancellor Li Si of Imperial China had enough time between amputations to revel in the irony of being slowly dismembered via the very execution method he had devised, the Five Pains. Actually, he was probably just really frustrated for having devised that many pains. Had he not already had his hands amputated, he might have experienced that “slap yourself in the forehead” feeling physicist Marie Curie must have enjoyed when she finally realized that the lovely turquoise glow emanating from the vials of radium she obsessively carried with her everywhere she went was called “radioactivity” and was already in the process of shredding every cell in her body with massive doses of ionizing radiation.

Not all ironies are instigated by chance. People make ironic statements all the time, usually in the form of sarcasm or unintentional contradictions, either verbally or in writing. Billboards and traffic signs exemplify this type of irony (please see below for some brilliant examples). Playwrights use irony whenever they want the audience to know things about the story that the characters themselves are unaware of. Think the Truman Show or the finale to Romeo and Juliet. In both cases, a sharp disparity exists between what the characters think is happening and what the audience knows is going to happen. This is considered a dramatic irony and is meant to imitate real life, insofar as the characters reflect the average person and the audience assumes the role of god. That’s an important part of what makes an irony so ironic: the suspicion that someone or something “out there” must have planned it this way, for how else could something you intended or expected to happen backfire in such a hilarious and uncanny fashion?

Cosmic ironies make you feel like the gods are toying with you for their amusement because hey, they probably are. And dramatic ironies are designed to imitate this hopelessly unjust state of servitude. But there is another type of irony that involves neither gods nor playwrights, but social researchers—something I like to call “experimental irony”. More methodology than script, an experimental irony involves verifying the accuracy of social observations or theories by pretending to know less about a person or group when you actually know more. This approach is derived from the Socratic method, which involved feigning ignorance or assuming false personas in order to confuse adversaries into revealing otherwise guarded information. Again, the formula is clear: one entity  (i.e. the cosmos, audience, or researcher) possesses knowledge unavailable to others, and uses it to comprehend and perhaps even organize circumstances in a meaningful yet unexpected way. But while theater and cinema rely on dramatic irony to ensure a tragic or comedic ending, an experimental irony simply ensures good data. As an ironic research method, this approach requires assuming false identities in order to reveal the true identities of others. It exposes truth by use of deception, and demands detachment from people even as you work to immerse yourself in their worlds. It’s like being a machine programmed to ask personal questions, such as why someone would care more about needing a knife in a house filled with ten thousand spoons than in the clearly troubled mind of the freak who feels they need to own that many. And now that I have that fucking song stuck in my head, I also realize how ironic it is that the only songs I can’t get out of my head are the very ones I hate the most. Surely, the gods must be toying with me.

Some more examples of irony:

       

      

AEROLAB

Airports make excellent laboratories. Looking about me, I see how serious everyone looks. Certainly, some are business travelers, all dressed up with somewhere to go. Others maybe have a funeral to attend or some other formal function. Still others are probably just nervous about flying. All of them wear solemnity well on their faces, and for good reasons. But what about the rest? What about the Disney-goers or Cancun revelers? What about the family reunioners or those who might be traveling just to do so? Why so serious?

Staring down the backside of my admittedly scratched-to-hell ipod, I see the very same solemn expression looking back at me. What is it about airports that makes everyone appear so grave—and suspicious. People look about them, glancing timidly at strangers as if they might just pull a knife on them or worse. Sometimes, I leave on my shades just to watch the reaction. The security personnel don’t seem perturbed at all. But then there’s this elderly woman in the seat across from me, flashing me nervous glances as if I don’t know she’s doing it. She must think I’m up to something; why else would I leave on my shades?

Am I a potential terrorist? No. Too easy. Most people think as much about terrorists in airports as they do about Cuban commies coming ashore in Miami—as in, not too much. Am I a perhaps a maniac, bent on tossing fire hydrants through airplane windows? Maybe. But then again, if that was such a concern to her I doubt she would leave her home, let alone ride in an airplane.

Let’s get cultural. Maybe it’s the environment itself—the social kind—that leads to such distrust. Like hyenas or humpbacks or pigeons, humans are social animals. This is no accident but a very important means of survival for a species. Strength in numbers implies more than just the numbers. It implies an affinity between the numbers that must exist for there to be large numbers. It is no accident that all humans organize themselves into groups. It is no surprise that all cultures recognize the fundamental importance of family by erecting their entire social, political, and economic systems around it. Solidarity enhances group survival by providing a defense against rival groups while discouraging dissension from within. Solidarity is predicated on uniformity in thought, word, and deed. Solidarity maintains stability by creating cohesion through consensus.

As societies grow too large to maintain solidarity amongst everyone, chaos always ensues. Cities are more prone to violence not simply because there are more people, but because there is less cohesion—less consensus—between residents. As cities grow more cosmopolitan, diverse populations introduce alternative modes of thought that disrupt uniformity and thus foster conflict.

Back to airports. Airports are excellent laboratories because they bring together not just different nationalities with disparate control systems (i.e. social structures) but also every sort of localized group from within as well as without said nations. Airports are passageways between worlds, and it is my guess that the larger the port, the more suspicious the traveler. Affinity is impossible because airports are not places to go but places to go through. Interaction is not only limited but circumstantially unfeasible. Small talk is not preferable as you are running from one gate to the next hoping not to get stranded at the airport. And why is that so bad? Because airports are the antithesis of our primal instinct for having a home and a community. They are cold and impersonal places; they are mechanized and abstract structures filled with modern hieroglyphs and haphazard assortments of shops which aim to facilitate some modicum of familiarity but succeed only in evoking and evincing surreal notions of what might lie outside the drab confines in which they are enclosed.

Airports are labs because they bring together everyone from everywhere for a limited time only, in a place that resembles no one’s home but does not try to be one anyway. Airports make us run fast, read quickly, and do so in the midst of strange multitudes.

I look back at the suspicious elder sitting across from me, suddenly realizing that she wasn’t staring at me at all, but at the Sikh sitting just behind me. In a strong Midwest accent she comments to her friend how much she looks forward to returning to Witchita. How strange the Sikh must look to her. How alien he must seem to her experience of community and the kind of identity it both espouses and enforces.

BAN FEBRUARY

We should just get rid of February. It’s just too inconsistent to be taken seriously as a Gregorian unit of time: two or three days shorter than every month except for every fourth year, when it miraculously gains an extra day, or leap day. Leap days are added to force the seasons to stay synchronized with our yearly calendar of social and commercial events, because having a white Christmas is obviously more important to humanity then correctly plotting time. The Maya didn’t use leap days, but since having snow on Christmas is probably unheard of in a rain forest, we may never know if such frozen magnificence would have made them reconsider.

In Australia, February is the last real month of summer and is still an ideal time for surfing, sunbathing and koala hunting. Anyone living anywhere north of the 38th parallel will be insulted to know this. Up here in the polar north, February is the ass end of winter: a bleak and unholy time littered with the salty, lumpish remains of once towering snow banks. Here there exist only two types of weather: freakish snow and hard rain.  These usually alternate, but sometimes they generously pummel us into submission at the same time. These are the kind of days that make you want to kill god. Over the course of the whole month, snow and ice fall, melt and then refreeze, eventually congealing into toxic mounds of urine and petrified dogshit. Everything is frozen in February, even time itself. Many minds are lost trying to reconcile how the shortest month of the year could actually feel like the longest. If you are terminally ill and care more about basic survival than genuine happiness, you probably enjoy February; it’s the only month of the year where every day feels like a fucking eternity.

Having Valentine’s Day in February was the obvious choice, because February is truly awful and so is Valentine’s Day. Most people don’t care to know the origins of this senseless waste of time and money, which is why I’m going to summarize it for you here. Valentine’s Day is actually a Catholic feast day established by Pope Gelasius way back in 496 to honor a group of martyrs who never even existed. This might appear like a pointless and inane gesture, but only if you choose to ignore the naturally aggressive progression of monotheism and over a thousand years of pre-Christian religious traditions. “St.” Valentine’s Day was actually instituted as a way to supplant the Lupercalia, an ancient Roman pastoral holiday originally held between February 13th and 15th.  This celebration included such heartwarming festivities as rampant animal sacrifices, blood baths and everything else you’d expect from a good old-fashioned pagan ritual. After being anointed with the blood of sacrificial swine, young shepherds and nobleman alike would take to the streets of Rome in their sacrificial pelts, indiscriminately flogging anyone they happened upon with what Plutarch suggestively described as “shaggy thongs”.  Young women actually volunteered for such treatment with the reasonable expectation that a friendly flogging with strips of hardened ox skin would get them pregnant.

The Romans called these thongs februa, which is of course where February gets its ridiculous name—from ox thongs. Most people don’t even pronounce it correctly, and I suppose this has something to do with the fact that January and February sound a lot alike, minus the trick “r”. So February is also tricky, which is a polite way of saying “you’re a disingenuous asshole”. Like februa, the word “valentine” is also derived from the latin valens, which means “worthy”, “strong”, or “powerful”. You might want to reflect on this in a couple of weeks when you’re standing in line at the nearest Target with a massive red panda bear in one hand and your balls in the other.

February plays host to some other fairly miserable spectacles as well, like Groundhog Day. This actually had the potential to be a very exciting tradition, had the German immigrants who brought it with them to Pennsylvania left intact the part where the shadow of a sacred bear is used to determine the onset of Spring, and not a groundhog. If they had just left well enough alone, viewers from all over the world could have tuned in every year to see exactly what happens when the mayor of Punxsutawney tries to lure the sacred bear from its cave. Instead, we get a large rodent and a Bill Murray vehicle that is inexplicably far more popular in Europe than it has ever been in the states (although it is a pretty decent film).

There’s also President’s Day, which I would probably respect more had the country Washington and Lincoln worked so hard to create not been effectively destroyed over the last ten years. February is also Black History Month. I think this is racist. If I were black, I’d be pretty pissed off with the government for dedicating the shortest and arguably shittiest month of the year to me. I would demand that this be changed to July immediately, where it is currently National Ice Cream month.

Trying to comprehend February as if it were just like any other month is foolhardy and will leave you totally exposed to the massive affront to reason it represents. Just look at what happened to one of the great minds over at Wikipedia when he attempted to discuss February in basic astronomical terms:

“Having only 28 days in common years, it is the only month of the year that can pass without a single full moon. It is also the only month of the calendar that once every six years and twice every 11 years, will have only four full 7-day weeks. Where the first day of the month starts on a Monday and the last day ends on a Sunday, this was observed in 2010 and can be traced back 11 years to 1999, 6 years back to 1993, 11 years back to 1982, 11 years back to 1971 and 6 years back to 1965; and so on twice 11 years consecutively and once six years either forward into the future or back into the past. This works unless the pattern is broken by a skipped leap year, but no leap year has been skipped since 1900 and no others will be skipped until 2100. (Years that are evenly divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they are also evenly divisible by 400, in which case they are leap years). A year of this kind would be a common year starting on Friday. It cannot happen in a leap year.”

What a convoluted mess. You can practically hear the author’s voice give out half way through as he struggles in vain to make some numerical sense out of this daft monstrosity of a month. He fails miserably, unless of course it was his intention all along to drive home just how jarring a punishment living through February can really be. And even if we decided to ditch the stupid name in favor of better sounding alternatives, our only good options would be either Solmanoth (the mud month) or Kale-monath (cabbage). And as you can see by the translations, these options are even less attractive than ox thongs.

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