Over the past hundred years, human beings have grown dramatically in both height and weight. Many of our greatest Americans, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, stood less than 2 feet tall. Some scientists believe that our recent growth spurt is because of hormones and steroids in our milk, while others believe that better nutrition and health care have been the major factors, but it is an incontrovertible fact that humans are becoming enormous.
The average American male today stands 5 foot 10 and weighs 190 pounds, while his female counterpart is around 5 foot 4 164 pounds. If you look at the numbers in 1900, it may surprise you. Did you know just over 100 years ago the average male was a mere 3 foot 8 and 90 pounds? Women were even more diminutive, standing a shade under 3 foot 3 and weighing 64 pounds. This amazing statistic grows frightening when graphed on a curve. By the year 2025, it’s expected that most American men and women will be larger than 8 feet and over 500 pounds.
A larger sized American will mean the need for more food consumption. Several solutions have been proposed, but the most commonly accepted possibility, proposed at the UN only last month, is the eating of all natural born German citizens. Germans are high in protein and contain the most calories per human of any possible cannibalistic meal. Not only is a diet high in Germans filling, they are also extremely healthy. Germans contain more Vitamin D than any current race and, as we know, without Vitamin D most humans quickly devolve into bloodthirsty, raging werewolves.
Some doctors are proposing radical solutions for the recent trend in human size. A shrinking procedure, first created by Doctor Julius Sandberg in 1998, has allowed giant people to reduce their height by as much as 5 inches. The procedure, which involves humans beings trapped in large machines similar to dryers and put on spin for over three hours, has produced reliable results. Another more controversial technique, which involves eating the pituitary glands of baby elephants, has gained some popularity in the news but has yet to yield the same results.
These solutions, however, have come at a great cost. Over 40 percent of those who participated in the size experiments have began taking on mime-like qualities, including a pale face, inability to speak and the unnatural urge to pretend they are in an invisible box. Several patients have spontaneously exploded while on airplanes during takeoff. One patient even had her forehead expand rapidly until it was more than 5 feet long and 3 feet wide.
The rapid growth of human beings could cause untold suffering to people as they struggle with the aches and pains of a frame and a world holding well more than it is supposed to. However, the economic benefits that would come from the aggressive augmentation of the human form far outweighs the problems. Doctors, hospitals and insurance providers will make billions as bones snap under the pressure of the added size. The construction industry will be revitalized as buildings are reshaped to house the new race of giants. A whole new economic boom based on the resizing of nearly everything could create a golden age for these gravity-taunted monsters. The future is sure to be very big and very bright.
The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be: Reflections on The Significance of Teaching and Learning History
I believe strongly that one of the most significant things that can be gained through the study of history is a more profound understanding of the experiences of another human being. We can never completely understand what a person has felt or known, but it is possible to see a vague reflection of their condition. The full scope of human understanding is probably far beyond what a single person can ever completely grasp, but in the search for the meaning of individual moments in time, it is possible to see deeper into what it means to be that particular human in that particular moment. That understanding can grant us the grace that comes with feeling a genuine connection to those who we may not physically ever meet. This connection allows us to know more of what it means to be human. For me, this is the most important reason to teach and learn history.
Often, the study of history is presented as a magical panacea for all that ails the human race. I don’t believe history can “fix” anything. The most well-worn and wildly inaccurate cliché about history is that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Students are often programed like robots to repeat that as a way of explaining why it is worth spending hour upon hour of their time on earth pondering the actions of William the Conqueror or Marie Antoinette. Granted, explaining the deeper meaning of history is a labyrinthine task, but simply leaving students with the veiled threat about how not paying attention to a lesson may leave them to the brink of extinction is hardly an effective means of fostering a long-term commitment to learning. Nobody knows what patterns will unfold as time passes. Studying what has happened is not a recipe for understanding what will happen.
One of the few recognizable truths that the subject seems to offer is that it is impossible for history to ever repeat itself. Sets of circumstances are always unique. Sure, there are similarities between the French and Russian Revolutions, but to argue that history was merely re-running an episode of “The Revolution Hour Hosted by Vladimir Lenin” is a grotesque simplification. My experience has been that historical themes that “repeat” themselves only look that way if one is paying little attention to the actual circumstances of the event. There are nearly infinite numbers of minor unrecorded actions and forgotten decisions that made the event what it was. We know so little and presume so much.
By understanding the past, we gain little insight into our future. Even if I magically found a way to absorb every moment of the past, I strongly doubt that I could even know what the weather was going to be like a week from Sunday. The future is created by the sum total of the actions of human beings in each particular moment. I have not been given the machinery to synthesize a trillionth of the events of a given millisecond. If they all count for varying degrees of something, then how on earth could I possibly expect to understand the moment I’m in, let alone the ones that will come next?
The problem with a historical outlook that is built on gaining future “results” is that it obscures a much more powerful purpose for historical study, which is to genuinely understand something that goes beyond ones own wishes, desires and beliefs. Historians often try to bend events into coherent themes in the hopes of explaining large blocks of time. This form of historical shorthand is necessary on many levels, but when it comes to supersede the experiences and events that have taken place, then it becomes a major barrier to the path of empathy that true engagement with the subject can create.
If the goal of learning history is trying to predict the outcomes of a series of events, then it is certainly not an effective tool. However, history may well be one of the greatest engines ever created to teach empathy and compassion. The problem with teaching students to believe that history follows certain patterns is it robs them of the understanding of what a remarkable role uncertainty plays in history. Students often ask why a certain historical actor was so dumb as not to see how obvious their fate was to anyone who paid attention. After all, we know how all the stories end. The problem is, historical actors do not know how their lives will end up. They are making decisions in the moment without the benefit of hindsight. No historical pattern can guarantee a persons well-being. They were fishing around in the dark just like we are. They didn’t know how they would die, they didn’t know what their actions would mean and they certainly didn’t have the benefit being able to walk away from their stories when events became too challenging. We don’t either. This basic human truth should be the bedrock of any exploration of history.
To attempt to fully comprehend meaning of even one moment of a human life is an awe-inspiring goal. Even with the comparatively small amount of information we have about the lives of our fellow travelers, when we can see a flicker of their humanity we have granted ourselves the wonderful kinship that comes with knowing that we are not making our journey alone. Humans can survive perfectly well without studying history. The past, however, can teach us so much more than simply how to survive. It offers us an amazing window of insight into the miraculous complexities of what it means to be alive. This understanding is history’s truest gift to us. This is why it is worthwhile to learn about the past.
Heartwork, the 1993 release by Carcass, is easily one of the most compelling metal albums ever recorded. First and foremost, it is an explosion of monstorous guitar riffs, frenetic drumming and raging energy. The music is captivating and overwhelming. Heartwork is a remarkably powerful lyrical album that deals intelligently with issues like globalization, dehumanization and existential dread. The music has been widely praised by many music journalists. The lyrics, however, have been given scant attention. Jeff Walker, the band’s singer, bass player and chief lyricist, envisions a world that is entirely devoid of human feeling or empathy. Walker’s adept use of language, particularly double entendre, lays bare the man’s inhumanity in all of its baseness. His world is an empty one, filled only with sorrow, guilt and deep-seated hatred.
The album behaves like a book, each song a chapter examining a set of widely held beliefs and contrasting them with his vision of a world gone completely insane. Over the next few months, I will attempt to analyze the themes and ideas song by song in an attempt to convey the inventiveness of Walker’s lyrics as well as the perspicacity of his message.
Welcome, to a world of hate
A life of buried dreams
Smothered, by the soils of fate
Welcome, to a world of pain
Bitterness your only wealth
The sand of time kicked in your face
Rubbed in your face
When aspirations are squashed
When life’s chances are lost
When all hope is gone
When expectations are quashed
When self-esteem is lost
When ambition is mourned
…All you need is hate
In futility, for self-preservation
We all need someone
Someone to hate
Buried Dreams is a nightmare vision of a world completely unconnected to its humanity. It serves as an overview of the themes that are addressed in each song and is a great starting point because it contains the most unambiguous lines on the record. In Walker’s “world of hate”, humans begin their journey in life filled with hope only to see that hope slowly eroded by the fixed nature of reality. This reality is the death and pain experienced by all humanoid beings. It is immovable, unchangeable and constant. Humans search blindly in the dark for some reason, some deeper meaning that will connect the dots and make the pain they experience intelligible. We fill ourselves with illusions in order to soften the blow of this horrible truth. As the truth becomes more real, we grasp harder at the illusion but ones commitment to an illusion will never make that deception a reality. We slowly come to terms with the understanding that there is no connection, there is no one tending the fire and the center simply does not hold. Once this veneer of meaning has been stripped away there is nothing left to hold onto but pure visceral hatred.
By experiencing hatred for something, we are given the ability to overcome our basic alienation from ourselves all the while connecting to the other beings around us. Love would be another way to connect, but the drawback of love is that it is fleeting. Its initial joy is snuffed out by the understanding that our basic existential problem, death, will cause love to one day give way to sorrow and despair. If you connect with hatred you never have to feel loss because the eventual vanquishing of your foe will be greeted with a feeling of joy and accomplishment. No one mourns the death of their enemy.
On the surface, the lyrics could be read as a simplistic explanation of the rise of fascism in Europe in the 30s and 40s. A society like Germany, which was drowning in debt and filled with impoverished humans recovering from the insanity of years of mindless trench warfare, was ready for the message of hate that Hitler brought. I believe the song is meant to have much more of a timeless message with broader overtones about the human condition. The line that universalizes this song is “in futility, for self-preservation, we all need someone…someone to hate.” This is a Hobbesian view of a world of beings so frightened of death that they are willing to do anything to avoid it, even if they know that their actions are eventually pointless. We are willing to create a Leviathan that may kill us for our disobedience in order to be safe. The wall each of us run into is death and we are willing to embrace any idea that allows us to fully avoid thinking about our eventual consequence. We are willing to embrace ideas that are self-destructive in order to escape the fear of death. If this isn’t true, then how do you explain war? This horrible irony of our basic condition is that we long to avoid death, but we do so in a way that often hastens its coming.
And so our dreams are buried as we are carried kicking and screaming to our own certain demise. We mask our fears with delusions of enemies all around us. We think that we can stop the inevitable if we bomb that thing or execute this thing but with our last dying breath we are reminded of the futility of all of it. Even hate cannot save us. The final, horrible irony of our Buried Dreams is that we will eventually be buried next to them.
(I am pretty darned excited to announce that this series will also be running at MindOverMetal.org, one of my favorite metal sites. Special thanks to my homeboy Metal Matt Longo who not only agreed to run the thing, but even gave me a fantastic title for the series and some killer editing ideas. Anyway those dudes speak truth and wisdom over there, check’em out)
I’ve been doing this for three months and I decided, since the point of this blog for me is to better understand the mess in between my ears, to do a quick inventory of what I have learned in doing this. Personally, I’m not a big fan of this sort of exercise, but I figure I can indulge my narcissistic tendencies for a few lines. If you are not one for eavesdropping on the self-reflections of a stranger, this is probably the column to skip. In fact, this column is probably of no practical purpose to anyone except me. I’m sure I could think of something to say where it could make it seem like I’m trying to present something of value to the human race and how we’re all the same in some ways and all of that, but it would be highly disingenuous and I haven’t the time or interest to bother. If you can find something worthwhile in the next 900 or so words, more power to you. Away we go:
1. I really enjoy talking to strangers. I get a genuine buzz out of the reply part of the column. I am really excited to see what people think of what I wrote and I like trying to synthesize their ideas with mine. I’m like a 17 year old waiting for the limo to show up on prom night every time I see one of those “Please Moderate Comment” messages in my email inbox. Getting a reply never fails to make my day.
2. I’m a heck of a lot meaner than I thought. For a good number of years, I have functioned under the assumption that I was over the whole “being evil to people” thing. I spent a good portion of my teen years and some of my twenties being downright cruel to others because I liked how the words I was saying sounded. I had a notion that this was gone, but I have had a few moments where I felt bad blood boiling up to the surface again. Sometimes, I get hooked into the rhythm of how things sound and forget that I am talking about another human being. There are moments where I think I would probably throw my grandmother off a speeding train just to see if she’d bounce. I’m not particularly proud of this aspect of my character, but it’s real.
3. Sarcasm reads different than it sounds. I check in with a few of my friends who know me off of here to get a sense of how things came across on the page. What is astonishing is that points I make that I think are obviously sarcastic do not always translate how I think they do. How it sounds in my head is not always how it sounds in other people’s minds.
4. I have no idea what the reader is thinking. This could really be 3B, but I felt like it deserved its own number. There is a weird calculus that must be considered when writing to an audience. You aren’t just thinking of the idea, but also what people will think when they read the idea. Throw in the fact that I don’t really know a lot of the people who are reading my stuff and I get a sense that I am never really going to understand how things are going to be perceived, but I can’t help but to try to figure out what the reader is going to see in my words. The stuff I’ve written that I liked the best is usually way different than the stuff other people have said they liked. It’s a heck of a mystery. What makes it somewhat frustrating for me is that in person, I’m halfway decent at reading a persons response and flowing off of that. In writing, I really am not sure how to do that yet and I’m not sure I’ll ever know or if it is even possible.
5. I am terrified of repeating myself or writing a boring column. There are several things of written that I read and thought, “Wow! This is horrendously bad.” Mercifully, I have not included most of them on the blog (but there have been a few that made it). The worst thing I feel like I could ever do to a reader is bore them. I also worry that I am going forget that I used a line and repeat it in another column. The second one is an odd thing to be worried about, but it wakes me up sometimes in a sweat.
6. Speaking of blinding fear and panic…I am frightened I will run out of ideas. I don’t even want to write about this one because I’m afraid that the god of ideas will decide that to punish me for some earlier, unnamed transgression and the part of my brain that produces creative ideas will seize up like the engine in most any Ford that gets over 125,000 miles. I now have even more respect for people who do this for a living on deadline. I try to imagine doing this and attempting to be interesting for 300 or so days during the year. The thought terrifies me. I think I would sleep about 20 minutes a night and would probably end up in a padded cell scrawling the lyrics from some Beach Boys song in mustard on the wall. Grantland Rice wrote constantly for over 50 years and barely ever wasted anyone’s time. Isaac Asimov managed to knock out over 400 books. I’m only three months in and I’m already doing the hackneyed “talk about myself and what I’ve learned” column.
7. Commas are infuriating. I never know when to use them and they always seem like they are in the wrong place.
8. Spell check will not catch sentences that are just plain awful. It only manages to catch spelling and grammar mistakes. I have snuck some genuine garbage past its watchful eye without a hint of a squiggly green line.
9. I am even more obsessive about this than I thought I’d be. I stayed away from doing this for a while because I have the type of personality where I get very, very into things. I knew this would be an issue going in, but wow. If my wife has to endure another dinner table discussion about potential blog ideas, I’ll shoot me for her.
Enough of this already. I’ll try to get back to something interesting next time. Maybe I can write about what I did on my summer vacation or an exciting tell-all piece about my favorite flavor of ice cream.
Lately, I have found myself more and more interested in the Christian idea of hell. Maybe it’s the awful chill of winter. Maybe I’ve been listening to a bit too much black metal. I’m not quite clear what has put me on this mental course, but I have spent a good amount of time thinking about what it would actually be like to be in hell. I don’t even really believe that hell exists. I am not completely against the idea, but I accept that I have no way of possibly proving its existence or non-existence to myself, so I just figure I’ll find out after I die. That is not the part that really interests me. What I want to know is what, assuming that hell is real, would torment a human for eternity.
In the Book of Matthew, we are warned to “be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” To be honest, I find this quote a bit odd. This implies that we take our body with us to hell. If this is true, one must wonder what that thing in the casket back there on earth is. Is that a wax replica of us at the funeral while the real body goes to hell? Is your body snatched out of the coffin and sent to hell the minute you enter the ground? (But then, what happens if they dig you up?) Does God duplicate our body and send that one to hell while the real one is on earth? Is the body I am currently in an illusion and my real body somewhere in the ethers waiting for judgment? In that case, can I blame the illusion body for the sins committed on earth? After all, the earth body did the things I am getting sent to hell for. As the eloquent, renowned philosopher Silkk The Shocker once said, “It ain’t my fault!!!”
If it is just your soul in hell, that opens up another can of worms. I can specifically tell you that the conditions of hell would be awful on my body, but I can’t predict what extreme heat would do to my soul. No part of the Bible mentions the soul having nerves, so why should we expect that it would feel pain in the way the body does? If it is physical, it is capable of feeling physical pain, but I have not often heard the soul described as a physical thing. It is usually thought to be a spiritual entity independent of the flesh. Most descriptions of the soul are of the ghost in the machine variety, where the soul is a non-physical being that steers our body around then hops out when the body is no longer sentient.
In order to move forward with this line of questioning, I’ll pick the most likely scenario, which is that the soul just recreates your body once you get to hell. There is no reference to this happening in the Bible, but this explanation gets my body in hell, which for the purposes of this argument, is where I want it. Then, we run into another problem. Revelation says that you shall be tormented “forever and ever”. If hell is supposed to be eternal, how can the body and soul be destroyed? I mean, once you are destroyed isn’t that it for you? If the torment of hell is supposed to be eternal, how can it be that you are destroyed? Revelation refers to hell as “a second death“, but what happens after the second time you die. Do you continue to go to new hell after new hell? Do you die and wake up again?
Let’s assume that my body and soul are now in hell which is described in the book of Revelation as being “the lake of fire and brimstone”. I think that would be really terrible…for a while. The thought of an extended amount of time in extreme heat is an awful thought. 20, 30 years would be gruesomely terrible. 100, 200 years would be worse. But, after some point, wouldn’t I just get used to it? I mean, the thought of eternal fire is terrible, but eternity is a long time. My immediate reaction would be a period of unbridled misery. But, after a while, wouldn’t I forget what normal earth temperature felt like and become hardened to the torrid warmth? After a period of time, wouldn’t I get used to the pain? I don’t think this would happen right away, but we are talking about eternity here! Even if time is different between hell and earth, there has to be some point where a person accepts their surroundings, no matter how miserable. To understand this phenomenon, imagine a thought experiment where from the age of 15 to the age of 100 a person named Bob was awakened by a right hook to the face thrown by Mike Tyson. Day after day, Bob is waylaid by a vicious shot the skull from the former champ. The first 10 or 20 years of this would be awful, but after some period of time wouldn’t Bob simply adjust and accept the beating as the way things are supposed to be. Bob would be able to brace himself and would build up a tolerance to this sort of abuse. Any brief survey of history would lead one to believe that humans have the miraculous ability to adjust to nearly any set of awful circumstances.
Another problem with hell as it’s currently constituted is that going to hell actually removes one of the most dreadful aspects of being alive…. death. In hell, one doesn’t really seem to have a rational reason to fear death. The terror that humans feel from never knowing for certain what the afterlife is has been removed. Dying in hell would be a relief to many who are stuck there. Endless, painless silence would seem to be a good deal better than eternal torture.
There are some basic structural problems with the idea of hell that I cannot quite reconcile. I’d like to believe that whole thing is just an idea created by humans to scare people into doing good, but maybe that is not true. However, if it is real, you have to question its effectiveness. I really have to wonder if it is the most efficient possible use of a sinner’s afterlife.