Greatness: Self-Determinism and the Nature of Reality

One of the most fascinating aspects of human history has been the remarkable success of the human species. Man, pitted against all Nature, has been able to thrive in nearly every climate. Man’s dominance over his environment can be seen in every aspect of his life. Man acts as Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, building environments to suit his needs, maintaining them according to his expectations, and destroying them when and where they no longer suit him.

Man exerts his control over his environment in many ways, from metaphorical response to concrete pragmatism. From his earliest days, Man has used storytelling to create meaning and understand the world around him. By interpreting natural events in mythical ways, early Man was able to conceptualize the complexities of his environment in his own terms, and then respond to the story, rather than the base environment, in a way that allowed cultures to unite and prosper in pursuit of common goals. By sharing stories, individuals were able to share their interpretations of the world in which they lived. While the creative story defines the meaningful world in which Man lives, his interaction with that world tends to take a concrete form, in the use of tools and technology. From the crudest axe to the particle accelerators and nuclear reactors we see today, Man has long sought to use the elements of his environment to shape it into one more suited to his desires. Whether building structures for safety or damming rivers for power, whether moving mountains for easier travel or developing medicines to double his lifespan, Man uses technology to shape the reality he encounters into the reality he desires. Even within his own communities, Man creates reality, building up social structures to define the roles of community members, and manipulating expectations so that the creative energy of a multitude might work together to strengthen their shared environment. This last process can be most clearly seen in any established institution, from the covenant of marriage to the culture of Western Science, societies work together to construct shared systems of control on their environment.

Of course, these institutions are as much devoted to sustaining as they are to creating, and this can be seen clearly in the tendency of such systems to incorporate a great degree of tradition and respect for history. The base concept of “culture” — that is, the collection of human creations that most clearly illustrates a society’s constructed environment, most commonly in art and stories — is a maintenance force. That is, the cultural works of a society are valuable precisely because they are able to illustrate aspects of the society’s constructed reality, and encourage an audience to continue to construct for themselves a similar reality. By “constructed reality,” I mean those aspects of a society’s environment that are not inherent, not absolutely natural. This extends to every manufactured good, every built structure, but also to ephemerals that factor — in a very real way — into the lives of the society’s members; ephemerals such as morality, covenant relationships of any sort, and higher-level constructs such as worldview that, though based on the natural environment, will not naturally occur in precisely the same way from individual to individual, or society to society. Whenever a society agrees to share a constructed reality — again, from a similar architectural style to a generally compatible worldview — the society tends to devote itself to the maintenance of this constructed reality. On the most practical level, this is seen in Man’s animal instinct to survive, as the individual seeks to maintain a reality that includes him, rather than accepting nature’s proposed reality that…doesn’t. This same practical survival instinct echoes through all levels of a society’s constructed reality, as people strive to maintain what they have built, encouraging others to accept their own creations, and defending them against outside threats. Just as Man’s creative aspect can be found in the tools he uses to create, so too his sustaining aspect can be seen clearly in the tools he uses to measure and to record. Man’s clear desire to ever-more-perfectly measure and describe the world around him arises out of a desire to defend that world, to replicate his reality as faithfully as possible, whenever it is threatened.

Any force capable of creating and sustaining, must necessarily be able to destroy, as well. Consider the example of Man’s animal desire to survive, used earlier. This very basic sort of sustaining can only be achieved through the act of destruction, whether of plants and animals used as nourishment or of enemy creatures competing for resources. In the same way, Man’s power over nature includes a powerful destructive aspect on every level. Just as story and myth are used to create a meaningful worldview, there are methods of philosophical and rhetorical speech that can be used to destroy constructed meaning, from Nihilism to parody and satire. Furthermore, some methods of constructing meaning, such as Rationalism and Western Science, simultaneously construct meaning while destroying any other constructed systems that might rely on the same source material. Of course, Man’s destructive nature is not limited to his own constructions, but can also be bent against his base environment, destroying aspects of it that stand in his way (such as a mountain demolished to clear a path for a highway). Naturally, such destruction must also extend to those competing with Man to define his environment — namely, other societies of Man. Thus we have seen, throughout history, the violence and brutality of war, the viciousness of execution and murder, as Men ultimately destroy those who would challenge them to define the environment in which they move.

It is easy to focus on this last aspect of Man’s power and despair. It is equally easy to look on great works of art from time gone by, and regret what has been lost, or to consider Man’s wondrous accomplishments and marvel at the greatness of Man’s spirit. It is most important, though, to consider the whole aspect of Man’s power, to see clearly the ways in which Man builds environment (and maintains it, and destroys anything that would challenge it). It is important to understand the whole picture, to consider the parts together, so that we can more wisely interact with our fellow Man, and more powerfully, more perfectly shape an environment that will benefit us all.

(Click on Comments for links to previous posts on this topic.)

God and Greatness: Honesty and/or Truth

This is a bit of a puzzler….

Y’see, I’m a fantasy writer. I write fiction. Not, y’know, professionally, because apparently it’s not good enough. Pah. But deep down, that’s who I am. A storyteller. That’s quite apparent to all of you, of course.

And in the course of becoming that, you have to confront the possibility that making up stories is the same thing as lying. In fact, that’s a popular way of describing little children who tell lies — “he’s telling stories again.”

But at the heart of all good art is a lie. Every piece says, “The world is this way.” And the world is not that way. The world is more complex, or uglier or, in some cases, much prettier. Art is not reality — it’s an expression of reality.

And unless you’re growing up in an extremely fundamentalist household (which I wasn’t), it’s pretty easy to realize that our culture recognizes the value of a story as literature. So that little moral qualm quickly passes.

(Note that this hasn’t always been so. You may be aware that theater still has a lingering reputation of being a little skanky, for some reason. There was a time when the Church — and, for reference, this was a time when the phrase “the Church” could only refer to one institution — made it very clear that telling fictional tales was the equivalent of bearing false witness, and pretending to be someone you weren’t was nearly as bad. Morality plays got by, because they were a method of teaching Bible stories to the illiterate masses, but drama was strictly forbidden.)

Anyway, the point I’m getting at is this: from a very early age, I’ve been wrestling with the difference between truth and honesty. And I’ve generally been losing that match, too. When I was in middle school, I told some laughably ludicrous lies about my own past, about who I was. It made sense to me — I had just moved to a new state, and a new school, and none of these people knew my story, so when they started asking about it, why tell them a boring tale? Y’know? So I made up something with some flash and dazzle.

My whole life I’ve lied, to be perfectly honest.

(Yeah, that line made me smile.)

And this post comes from several discussions I’ve had with all of you, and those with Daniel and Toby particularly. There are clearly times when telling not-truth is okay. There are times, at least according to social convention, when it’s actually good. But, clearly, there are times when telling not-truth is quite destructive.

What’s the line? When is honesty right, and when is it just anti-social? Daniel and Toby have both, at some point, come to the conclusion that our society is far too comfortable with untruth — that what we need in our lives is a great deal more honesty. Instinctively and intellectually, I disagree.

There’s a thing I know. I’m not quite sure where or when I learned it, except that it would’ve been sometime before high school. See, the Ten Commandments include that one rule, “Do not murder.” Well, in Aramaic (that’s right, isn’t it?), there are several different verbs for “to kill.” There is a generic word that means to end another person’s life. There is a word that refers to killing in battle, and another that refers to a judicial execution. And, finally, there is the word that we would translate “murder.” It doesn’t necessarily imply specific circumstances, but it states that this killing is socially and legally forbidden, and therefor a criminal act.

The commandment against murdering is precisely that. I know people who are against the death penalty on the grounds that the Ten Commandments forbid killing. That’s what I’m getting at. The commandment specifically doesn’t forbid execution, it forbids the act that the person is getting executed for. (And, since I’m here, I should pretty much state that I don’t think the Ten Commandments should be considered the primary deciding factor in decisions concerning present-day American judicial policy. Just that I know people who do.)

But, back on topic, I wish that I knew the relevant Aramaic to let myself off the hook for the lying thing. That is, I kinda wish I could appeal to some higher source, and get those boundaries of what’s wrong, what’s okay, and what’s right.

I guess since we’re at the Ten Commandments, I’ll glance at them real fast. The phrase there is, “bear false witness,” and I get that the phrase is not just referring to witnesses in criminal proceedings. However, it does imply a certain degree of specificity that I’m comfortable with. Telling a story for entertainment purposes is not the same as claiming, “and because Superman did that, you have to vote Republican.” That is, claiming that the implications of a fictional story impact the hearer’s (or reader’s) life in a compelling way.

Hmm…I think I’m back to Christian Leadership here, in a way. I guess I feel that the difference between a story and a lie is that a lie is forced upon the hearer (or, presented in such a way that it will be taken as forced), whereas a story is presented as an opportunity for the hearer, to take or not at his discretion.

That’s a fairly vague line, though, and it doesn’t cover nearly enough of the ground I need to cover. What about self-image? People have this amazing tendency to become what they believe they are. Tell a child that he’s a genius, and you’ll be surprised how smart he turns out. Tell a child he’s an athlete, and he’ll be incredibly apt. Tell a kid he’s an idiot and a bum, and he will be. There are limits, naturally, but a person’s self-image clearly and consistently guides his future development.

Given that, there is value in telling un-truth for the sake of growth. It’s what our myths are all about. We say, “a man can be like Hercules,” not because anyone ever particularly was like Hercules, but because focusing on that potential encourages us to grow toward it. That’s the beautiful value of ideals. Ideals are not real (and therefore not true). They are better than true. They are honest.

Then again, a dishonest person could use that very line of reasoning to destructively conceal his own failings — to justify a lie, in fact. Sure, I’m an alcoholic (not me — this is just an example), but I don’t want to be an alcoholic, I know I shouldn’t be an alcoholic, and so I will claim not to be in the hopes of growing into that potential. I will sneak and hide what I am, telling a lie for the greater good.

How is that different from telling your child that he’s a genius, in the expectation of him becoming one? To bring it into closer parallel, let’s talk about playing along with someone who’s pretending not to be an alcoholic. Believing that he can become sober, you pretend, with him, that he already is. How is that different from encouraging your child toward a potential he has not yet indicated? How is it, fundamentally, different from saying, “No, honey, that outfit does not make your butt look big”?

Honestly, I don’t know. I recognize that it’s a real problem, because a broken person’s best hope of getting fixed, is in his recognizing the break. However, I also believe that a person’s best chance of becoming something incredible, is in convincing himself that it is perfectly credible.

Hmm…I’ve come to no conclusion here — just raised some issues. Please feel free to carry on the argument. I look forward to the discussion.

Greatness: Man’s Divine Nature

Okay, for several of you, about three paragraphs into this post, you’re going to think, “He’s talking about me!” And that “me,” in case you didn’t catch it, is shrill and outraged. Honestly, though, this is something everyone needs to hear, often. It’s not directed at or wholly inspired by any one of you. (No, not even you.) But, if it happens to speak to your own life, now, take it to heart and be glad at the coincidence that placed words into your life right where they belonged.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

But here’s the thing: everyone you encounter in your life is a person.

I need some snappier way of saying that, a clever phrase that will stick in your head and pop into your thoughts right when it’s needed. Maybe before this post is through I’ll come up with one. For now, though, we’ve gotta settle with the boring, apparently obvious “everyone you encounter in your life is a person.”

That’s a big deal, though. We live our lives inside the first-person point-of-view that so many authors have discarded as being too limited in scope. Each of us sees his life as his own story, and all the people he encounters along the way are just characters, just plot developments that push his story this way or that. Some of them we love for the impact they have on our lives. Some of them we hate, for the same reason. And the named characters keep coming back, keep affecting our lives in different ways, so maybe our feelings about that person change, shift, over the course of the story.

Even so, making another human being into a dynamic character in your story isn’t enough.

Because, behind his eyes, he’s living his own story. He’s got a whole world, a whole life of his own to live. He’s conscious and aware and trying to live his life well. Where it intersects with yours, there is conflict. In writing, we refer to all of these intersections as conflict. It could be a fistfight or an embrace, but it’s still conflict. It’s two stories trying to come to terms enough for each of them to move on, in their own directions.

This post isn’t about the story metaphor, though. In fact, my main point is that the story metaphor completely defines most of our lives, and it’s totally wrong. Or, rather, dangerously limited in scope.

Everyone you encounter — whether it’s a friend, a loved one, or a perfect stranger — everyone you encounter is living a whole life, is a person encountering you at the same time. And every one of us (I’m convinced of this) is trying to live a good life. What exactly that means changes from day to day, but every one of us is trying to live a good life.

I know you are. Right now, you are.

And yet, even so, you make mistakes. You say something offhand to someone you really care about, and it’s just devastating to them. You’ve done that, without ever meaning to offend, and you’ve seen the impact it had on their lives.

You act, trying to do something good (or at least something pleasant), and years later you see how your own actions are impacting the lives of people you’ve met, people you care about. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways, and you never really know which will be which.

Sometimes you just act like a jerk. I’m not accusing you, I’m just reminding you of something you know is true. Sometimes you’re in a bad mood, and something touches you off, and you just act like a total jerk. It’s a short-lived thing (because you’re not a jerk), and next moment you’re back to trying to live a good life.

And that’s okay. Life is a learning experience. You try to get better as you go along, which is the same as saying that, all the time, you’re trying to live a good life.

Now…change perspectives. Think of someone you encountered yesterday. It can be a stranger, or it can be your spouse. But think of someone specific. Think of someone you encountered yesterday, and realize that that person was trying to live a good life. That person was an awareness behind his eyes, looking out on the world and making decisions about it. Maybe he said something that hurt your feelings. Maybe he acted, in a way that will impact your life down the line (for good or bad). Maybe he was just a complete jerk.

But he wasn’t doing any of those things to you, y’see? He’s living his life, just like you’re living yours. He was making decisions, and maybe floundering and maybe just shining like the sun. We do that, sometimes, too. You do that, more often than you realize. You’re just going along, trying to live a good life, and out of nowhere, BAM!, you actually do. You flare up like a nova, and shed beautiful light on the lives of everyone around you.

I’ve seen you do it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have invited you to read my blog.

And think about your own life. Sometimes you’re awesome. Sometimes you’re horrible. Through it all, though, remember that you’re a Child of God. You are this amazing thing, this beautiful, boundless potential, and you’re living a life learning how to live up to that potential. Remember that you are everything that you could one day be. You are the brilliant, shining moments, and the cost of becoming that, the very process of becoming that, necessarily includes the sleazy, cruel, selfish moments, along with all the rest.

And that stranger who just cut you off in traffic? He’s the same thing. That’s one of his bad moments, but he’s a Child of God, and you had better believe that there’s times he glows in radiant beauty. The same is true of everyone you meet. Every person, every single person, is a little bit of divine spark trying to learn how to shine. And all of them are seeing the world through their own faulty eyes, trying to guess what it all really means (just like you do), and making decisions, and making bad choices, and stumbling through today because, please, maybe tomorrow will be better.

That includes people close to you. That includes your Mom or your Dad. It includes boyfriends and girlfriends and spouses and siblings and children who just won’t treat you like you deserve. They’re looking at a world they can’t quite get, they’re fending off frustrations and trying to find their purpose and wrestling with the injustice of it all, and when you cross their path, when you enter their life, they make a decision that will impact you.

And it may be good, and it may be bad. Switch perspectives again. You encounter someone in your life, someone important to you, someone you care about, and you make a decision that will impact that person’s life. It may be good, it may be bad. You want it to be good, but you know from long, long experience, that there’s equal chances something will go wrong.

All of us, every one of us, is trying to live a good life. It’s fair to be hurt when someone hurts you. It’s fair to be annoyed at someone acting like a jerk. But remember, always remember, every single one of those people is a little bit of divine spark, trying to learn how to shine.

I challenge you, personally, to try to see that in people. Try to see people as people, wherever you encounter them, not just as characters in the story of your life. Try to remember who they are.

And, in a very specific application of this, here’s your homework. Think of someone you care about, and who you know cares about you. Someone who has hurt you so bad that you almost discarded them from the list when I said, “and who you know cares about you.” Think about that person, and the thing he or she did to hurt you.

And think about a time when you made a choice about someone important to you, and you hurt them. Whether you meant to hurt them or not, you made a choice that hurt their lives.

Dwell upon these two things, and find the space behind this person’s eyes. Find the space inside his or her own mind, where the offense happened. And try to recognize it for what it was, rather than what it became within your life.

Please? For me?


On the drive in to work this morning, the fog was incredible. Glancing out the window, even now, it still is.

Actually, while I was on the highway, I was thinking, “This fog isn’t that impressive. It couldn’t even cause an accident at 75 mph.” Well, actually I thought, “at seventy-five miles per hour,” because that’s me.

But once I got off the highway, and down onto the streets, it was incredible. Maybe forty feet of visibility, probably closer to twenty. After that, a blank wall of white.

Driving through it, it felt like I was building a world around me as I went, forging a path through nothing, forcing memory and imagination into the shape of reality.

Too bad all that exercise led me back to work, but it was worth it for the drive. Beautiful.

God, Government, and Greatness: Adoption

I have my doubts that I will get across everything that needs gotten, but there is a base concept of Adoption which I really need to establish.

I may have mentioned this to some extent in my earlier posts on Goverment (Monarchy specifically), but I couldn’t find it if so, which means I didn’t go into enough detail.

First, I’d like you to read a passage from Romans 7. It’s verses 13-19, 22-23. The two verses I omitted do not significantly change the meaning of the text, so I’ve cut them for clarity. By all means, feel free to read the entire passage in context — I’m just not quoting it all here.

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed….

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

This is not, of course, the only place we see reference to God-the-Father or, by extension, the members of the church as his sons and daughters. In the book of Romans, though, Paul is able to draw upon that concept more fully and powerfully because of the Roman cultural practice of Adoption.

Our culture has established its own ideas concerning adoption, specifically the conception of a second-class status for adopted children. It’s silly, it’s an easily-dispelled idea, but it’s one that persists in our culture and, honestly, that’s how we feel in relation to God. When Paul says that we’re the adopted sons and daughters of God, that makes perfect sense to the American mind. We’re not his REAL kids, but he was generous enough to adopt us.

That’s not how Adoption worked in the Roman empire.

(I referenced Goverment in my tagline, and that’s about to come into play, too.)

Y’see, when we think of old-timey inheritance, we generally think of a system called “primogeniture” whereby the first-born son inherits the entire wealth (including titles) of the father. This is one of the huge stumbling blocks of monarchy as we imagine it — that terrible corruption of passing the throne from Louis I down the line to Louis XVI.

The Romans had a system in place to prevent that, to some extent. Adoption. It was the responsibility of a Roman man to choose his own heir. It could be his first-born son, but a first-born son was not actually born with any inheritance rights. In order to pass his estate on to his first-born son, the Roman gentleman would have to adopt his son as his heir. He could just as easily adopt a nephew or a brother-in-law or, more likely, an apprentice or assistant. It was his responsibility to choose an heir who could effectively maintain the estate he would inherit.

Obviously this system was open to abuse of its own. I’m pretty sure most of you are already thinking of Nero and Caligula, and after all, who is going to try to hold an Emperor accountable for living up to his social responsibility? The Emperors did hold their followers responsible, though, and there were dozens (hundreds?) of kings within the Roman empire who were compelled to choose fitting heirs, and bound to that decision by the process of Adoption.

Adoption, then, was not an act of mercy or compassion, but one of investiture. When a Roman adopted a son, he proclaimed to the world, “I approve of this one. He deserves to one day own all the wealth and power that I possess.”

And that is what God has done with us. That’s the entire point of this passage in Romans. God has Adopted us into his sovereignty — not just into the comfort of his home, but into the position of wielding his great might. We have been proclaimed worthy of becoming like God himself.

Here’s the important bit “we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

We have been made Sons of God. We have been given all the power Christ bore when he walked the earth, but more than that. We have been promised the full power of God. This is the confidence he has shown in us. This is his expectation of us. Because adoption is a responsibility as well. We must live like Princes, in training to someday assume the throne. That’s the “sharing in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” bit. And that’s an amazing position to be caught in.

And — this is what irks me — it’s a role that we are not taught! My dad taught me about Roman adoption, and what it means to be a son of God. Other than that, I heard not a word. Have any of you heard of this before, from anyone other than me? We’re taught that every one of us is a foot soldier in God’s army. We’re taught that we’re prey the lion is stalking. We’re taught to think like the Israelites, for whom God provides manna. We’re taught that we’re like the lillies, and God will clothe us in beauty, or that we’re like the birds of the air, and God will fill our needs.

But that’s not even the point of that passage. Jesus cries out, “how much more, then, will he do for you?” We are not just soldiers, we are not just cute little animals and pretty flowers. We’re not even like the trackless Israelites, but like Moses who led them, all radiant from the Glory of God. We’re Princes. We’re Kings and Queens, arrayed before our Emperor. Stand up! Be proud, ye heavenly powers. The armies of angels are our armies.

Remember the parable of the prodigal son? Remember how he went away and sinned, and because he had squandered his wealth, he lived among the pigs, and lived like a pig. That’s what we’re doing, and the whole point of the story was that it was never necessary. Stand up! Go back to the wealth and the power that is your due — not on your own merits, but because you have been adopted by the most powerful benefactor reality has ever known.

Live like it. That’s your responsibility.

Government and Greatness: The Contemplative Way, and the Active Way

This is an excerpt from King Jason’s War, that I enjoy. It is, here, entirely out of context, but I’m hopeful that it will still make some sense. It describes, I think, some of what’s going on between the radical Liberals and the radical Conservatives, in these days.

“It’s amazing, really.” Jason sighed. “They have their expectations of the world, of how it works, and the world just seems to shape itself around them.”

“That is generally the way of it, with noblemen.”

Jason growled, “It’s not just the people. Sure, you’d expect it to be that way with people. All the commoners know that the nobles are in charge, so they conform to the world as the nobles see it. But…I mean…everything. The Eskiem certainly don’t credit our Peers any authority, but look what has happened. The Peers want a war, and the events of the last few hours seem to guarantee one! Reality shaping itself around their expectations.”

“There is more to it than that, Jason—”

“But the worst part is,” Jason took a deep breath, eyebrows furrowing, “the worst of it is being me, living in this world of my own that doesn’t conform to their expectations, but watching their world move right along in spite of me. They see a war as right and necessary, and my little objections—”

“You have not been entirely sure of your objections, Jason.” Robert interrupted, softly, but Jason stopped speaking and listened closely. “Are you suddenly sure that you stand against this war?”

“Not…well, yes, but…. No, I see your point, but even so—”

“They believe, and stand by their beliefs. You doubt, you take time to consider, and your search for real understanding makes you hesitate, makes you wait for more information. Meanwhile, they act in their quick confidence, and the world has left you behind.”

“It’s not fair, Robert. It’s not right that recklessness should have the upper hand.”

Robert started to answer, but then stopped, thinking. Finally, he said, “It’s not necessarily recklessness, Jason. Their path, their whole worldview, is one of confidence and action. Yours is one of contemplation and philosophy. Yours requires patience, and care, and long years to attain its end.”

“But what do I do about this war? This decision must be made today, no matter my own patience.”

Robert looked over and met his friend’s eye. “Are you truly asking my advice? Do you want my answer to that question?” Without hesitation, Jason nodded. “Then here it is: your path has nothing to do with this war, or any one war. Your philosophy is not one that shapes decisions, but worldviews. If you stand against this war, the war will happen anyway. If you become king, you will have a lifetime to change the way this nation views the world around it. My advice, good and true, is to say your piece, and then let the Council make its decision in this matter. Then commit your reign to crafting a world where we will never have to face this decision again.”

Greatness: Change

It’s easier to initiate change on objects in motion than on those that are sitting still. Once change happens (for good or ill), you have a special opportunity to initiate a little change of your own.

It’s complicated, though. Sometimes you want to make a change in a particular directions, other times it’s toward a particular destination. Chaos is GREAT for initiating a change in direction. It’s too random to target a precise destination, though.

Every now and then, for precisely this reason, it’s good to spread a little chaos of your own. Mix things up (harmlessly, of course, if you can manage it), and then bend the world in the direction you want to go.

But the other aspect is the real point of this post. Sometimes the world changes violently, against your will. Lemons and lemonade, my friend. You can mope once things have settled down (you won’t REALLY know how bad the change was until it’s over ANYway). Meanwhile, spend your energy making what good you can.

That’s my advice, anyway. Also, live well.

Greatness: From Me to You

This is what I would have you know:
Life is big. Really big. It’s amazing. It’s…dynamic. We stop it from being so, every day, for our own comfort.

That’s okay. It’s nice to be comfortable most of the time. There’s a certain thrill to going camping, sleeping under the stars, eating fresh-caught fish pan-cooked over a little campfire. But…well, we don’t have to live like that. Camping is just a fun little bit of excitement we can sprinkle into otherwise comfortable lives.

What I want you to know, what I really want to get across to you, is that the comfort is something we’ve made, for our own sake. We haven’t changed anything underneath — it’s all still there. We CAN still go camping. You can go camping within an hour’s drive of Denver and it feels like the most remote wilderness in the world. Even with all the civilization that is Denver.

This is important. This is a big deal. You can step outside of your comfort, into excitement, into magic, into legend. It’s all there. Jason and the Argonauts, David creeping into Saul’s camp, fire from Heaven and so much for Baal. Not just that, though. Garden State. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. American Beauty (*sad sigh*).

Think of your favorite movie. Your life could be like that. It’s not, because it’s more comfortable to not live life like that. But you could wake up tomorrow and make your life like…whatever movie you’re thinking of. Life is that big, it’s that powerful.

I’m not asking you to. I’m certainly not suggesting. Hell, how often do I actually go camping? It’s nice to know it’s an option, though. Remember that, when you’re feeling trapped or bored or insignificant.

Greatness: Constructed Reality and You

Here’s the thing: you’re already familiar with constructed reality on a day-to-day basis.

Have you ever had a dream that felt real? So real you couldn’t tell it was a dream until afterward? A dream in which all the pieces fit together, logically, within the dream (even if they seemed entirely absurd after you woke up)?

That’s a constructed reality. Dreams are our minds’ way of communicating to us, when we’re unwilling to listen to direct signals. It builds up a whole world for us, a whole universe, and lets us experience what we refuse to accept in logical impulses.

My point is this: our brains are GOOD at building realities. We all know it. We all experience it all the time.

Have you ever seen someone hypnotized? I very much hope so. It’s an amazing experience (being hypnotized, yes, but even just watching). You tell someone he’s a chicken and he begins to behave as though he’s a chicken. Yeah, that’s a silly one. My favorite is the three-year-old. Watch how someone becomes a three-year-old, within his own mind.

As a matter of fact…HAVE you ever been hypnotized? You can realize you’re participating in an imaginary universe (you’re conscious the whole time) even as you are completely submersed in it. You’re not ACTING, the suggested scene becomes truly real for you and imposes itself on you, but there’s a part of Man that can sit outside and watch, even as the body and mind are caught up in the illusion.

That’s a very important point, right there, and it’s what keeps the rest of what I’m saying from being just mad, useless ramblings. We are capable of stepping outside and watching the play, even as our bodies and minds are trapped within it. Most of us choose NOT to, which…

Well, you’ve heard that rule about hypnosis, that the hypnotist can’t make you do anything you normally wouldn’t do. That’s not entirely true. It’s possible, in normal hypnosis, to let the monitoring part of your mind…go to sleep. Most people don’t (they don’t trust the hypnotist), but it’s possible, and then you just go along.

It’s also possible, as a hypnotist, to build so deceptive a world, so captivating an illusion, that the environment itself (rather than your suggestion) causes the hypnotized to do something they wouldn’t normally do. Maybe you couldn’t Command a hypnotized woman to take off all her clothes in front of a huge audience, but you could convince her that her clothes were full of vicious, biting ants….

Both of those are real concerns. What we do, with our science and our logic and our arm’s-length consideration of philosophy, is put to sleep that monitoring part of our mind. We like to stop thinking of this world as an illusion, because that’s less WORK. It also means we no longer have the freedom to manipulate our own role within it, or to stop the play if it gets too absurd (or repulsive).

We need to be reminded, from time to time, that the reality we’re living in is just an illusion we’ve dreamed up for ourselves. We need to look at it from the outside because we (especially we Christians) know we have that power, that perspective. Constantly examine your life, your reality, to make sure it’s not misusing you, not leading you down paths you don’t want to follow.

Greatness: Okay, for Real, The Matrix

(Now…I always have trouble in these conversations knowing exactly when to STOP. That is, I can’t necessarily tell when I’ve lain a foundation AND drawn an explicit conclusion. Or, more often, I’ll lay a foundation and think the conclusion is so obvious that it would be insulting to ACTUALLY state it explicitly, and so I don’t, and then find out I was overly obscure.

That will be an ongoing issue. Any time you see me drop a conversation before I’ve made my point, and you’re not quite sure where I was going with it, please mention that in the comments, and I’ll try to fill out my argument.

All that said, today’s post might be going too far. If you already know where I’m going tying in “The Matrix,” please feel free to skip it.)

(See! I made it past the parentheses this time! Well, not yet….)

The Matrix took me entirely by surprise. I suppose it did that for most folks since, coming into the theatre, all we really knew was that Morpheus couldn’t tell us what the Matrix was. And something about Kung Fu.

It was, however, in its entirety a visualization of Post Modern Social Constructionism. I’m not trying to use The Matrix as a metaphor or anything — it was very clearly drawing on these ideas from the beginning. It’s useful to me, as it has provided a very popular, base-level understanding of what Social Constructionism implies about the universe.

(Okay, I’m sometimes a stickler for proper typography and whatnot, but I’m writing this on a forum that doesn’t EASILY allow for hypertext markup, and I’m going to be referring to The Matrix far too often for me to switch into Edit HTML mode, add the less-than-i-greater-than brackets, and switch back out every time I name it. So I’m just going to throw it in title case, and trust that all of us consenting adults reading this article can recognize that I’m referring to the movie whenever I capitalize the “The,” and to the computer construct when I don’t, and make your best judgment calls when I start a sentence with it….)

The Matrix presents us with a universe exactly like our own, reality just as we know it, and then proceeds to demonstrate that this reality is simply a constructed hallucination — sensory input fed directly to our brains. Remember the “brain in a vat” question that I posted about early on? It’s been around for AGES. The Matrix is just another story along the way that has played with the idea.

In the Matrix, all the people are sharing in the same hallucination. They can all point to the same object, and say, “That object is red, and round, and suspended from that tree-shaped thing.” They can coordinate their descriptions of the world, and verify each other’s claims about reality, and successfully build more and more complicated technologies that function more and more effectively based on their observation of this entirely fictional reality.

(Did you catch that? It’s science, as we know it. We SEE it happening within the movie. Neo’s a hacker, after all. Within the Matrix science examines and describes and tests and discards disproved hypotheses and — within the story — all of that only succeeds in supporting the artificial reality, none of it has any ACCESS to the kind of information that would serve to reveal Real Truth. Science can only test the materials of observable reality, which is self-supporting.)

Now, for the sake of completeness, I’m going to make some explicit comparisons. Whereas the reality inhabited by most of the human population in The Matrix was one built using computer code (machine language), Social Constructionism (at least my form of it) proposes that this reality is built out of human language. Whenever we interact socially with another person, we are taking part in (ahem…”jacking in” to) the constructed reality — the shared hallucination of what is real.

In other words, the fake world which we are fed to keep us docile and powerless is provided, not by malevolent machines seeking world domination, but by…us. By our constant desire to understand the world around us, down to the last detail.

So. In The Matrix we have a scene where Neo and Morpheus face each other in a construct training room, and they fight (yada yada), and Morpheus asks, “You think that’s air you’re breathing?” And…well, the whole point of his training is the realization that everything around us is a fiction that we are fed. And, if we choose not to play within the rules, then we can be stronger than human bodies are capable of, we can leap farther, we can defy the laws of gravity (because they’re “rules” that people choose to obey, not governing forces with authority over us).

Christians believe this, on some level. Christians believe that all of natural reality, all the laws of this reality, are “rules” that we, out of politeness, choose to go along with. Otherwise how could Jesus have called a man forth from death? How could Elijah have raised a dead child? They weren’t practicing medicine, they were performing miracles. Walking on water, turning water to blood (or wine), blotting out the sun or causing it to stand still for half a day (or cast its shadow backward several steps). We BELIEVE that the laws of nature are pliable. Social Constructionists explain why.

So why are there walls? Why don’t I have a big pile of gold? Why don’t any of us fly? Eh? Eh???

There’s a reason I keep referring to it as “reality,” in spite of my claims. It IS real to us. There’s a scene in the movie where Trinity looks all serious and says, “The mind makes it real.” That’s exactly it. Social Constructionism is something that happens within our mind — our only connection to our environment. If our mind believes there is a wall ahead of us that will block our way, we will not be able to walk through it. If our mind believes we are bound to the earth, it won’t let us fly.

Yeah. That’s an easy one to prove (or at least, to support) in the negative. Not so easy in the positive, because I don’t know anyone who has achieved transcendence on such a level that he can bestow it on others.

Y’see, even if you MET someone who had freed himself enough from the constructed reality that he could fly, YOU wouldn’t believe he could fly. It doesn’t work within your universe. And your mind would be doing everything it could to keep him from flying or, if not that, to convince you that he wasn’t. At long last, you (and those sane folks around you) would probably just convince yourself it was a dream or hallucination, if nothing else worked.

Right. Tricky. I’m not trying to play word games here to wriggle out of an argument. I’m just recognizing that I CAN’T logically prove to you a system that, at its basest, denies the practical accuracy of logic.

And, to sell out all those Social Constructionists depending on me for a dispassionate, reasoned answer, I can’t provide that, either, because my philosophy was born out of my religion. I already TOLD you where the positive proof comes from, for me. It’s in axe-heads floating to the surface, and snake-statues curing poison, and ten loaves becoming twelve basketsful, and that fig tree and that mountain and the fish with the denarii in its mouth.

It’s right there in Genesis. God made a world outside of Heaven, a temporal place, and in it he constructed Man out of temporal components, but breathed into it Life. He made Man in his own image — Infinite, but wearing a temporal suit.

So. We (the movie and me, both) propose a world of Real Truth, that we can’t see or touch or taste or feel, but that is yet somehow far more important than the environment we experience, and a reality that we CAN see and touch and taste and feel, that exists only as a dream which we are all sharing in.

Not only that, but it’s vitally important to exist within that dream world, but a Man can do SO much more within it once he has recognized it for what it is. He’s still vulnerable — always vulnerable to the seductive lie that imagined reality IS Real Truth — but he’s able to do more than all the dreaming sheep around him and, with any luck at all, liberate a few of them along the way.

There we go. Now I’m done with The Matrix unless (miracle of miracles) we get some comments conversation going.