November 16, 2008

Politics (and Other Human Weaknesses) Explained, Part 2

So Obama will be President in two months. Since his name is now plastered on t-shirts and White Houses, Rush Limbaugh figured it couldn't hurt to stick it in one more place. Rush is now calling the current state of the economy "The Obama Recession."

Meanwhile, Georgia Congressman Paul Broun took the Obama clause and tacked on a Hitler rider. Apparently, since Obama proposed forming a Civilian Reserve Corps to maintain the nation's infrastructure in the event of an emergency, what this really means is that Obama is building a force "as strong as the army" as possible precursor to a totalitarian takeover. Apparently, no longer content with inconveniencing Labor-Day travelers with closed lanes and detours, the nation's highway workers plan to rule us all with an iron steamroller.

So who makes up stuff like this and says it in public? Kooks, right? Fanatics, self-marginalizers and other soon-to-be-former leaders of the free world. Not us. Not normal people.

Two-three years ago, I posted pretty regularly to the alt.slack newsgroup under the name Ergonomicon. alt.slack is a forum for the Church of the SubGenius, that famous parody cult of non-joiners and other smartypants who don't want to go along to get along. Once a year, the Church gets together to celebrate the annual end of the world. What could be kookier?

The Church is not tax-exempt, and therefore not a real church. However, this fact is lost on a lot of alt.slack posters -- along with other, more tangible citizens. Once in a while, they decry this fake church as a false religion.

Which is totally untrue, because the Church of fake kooks turns about to be a magnet for real religious kooks. In practical if not spiritual terms, this means that alt.slack is flooded with kook spam.

Back in the day, one of these particular kooks cranked out an astonishing number of moralistic conspiracy screeds. At least I think they were screeds, because what they really were was unreadable.

However, at least one poor soul decided to read them anyway -- and be amazed at what they implied about the indomitability of the human spirit. Or something.

That amazement kicked off a thread about the nature of kookdom. Toward the middle, I threw in my two cents. The thread is well worth reading, even if the subject matter gets a little disgusting.

As the thread grew, I thought some about what makes kooks so kooky, what makes fanatics so self-justifyingly fanatical. And of course, I came up with a half-assed idea about the origin of human language and culture to justify it all.

My idea is in the thread, so I won't repeat it in detail. If you want to see the whole thing, search down the thread for the name Ergonomicon. (Strangely enough, not my given name). If you don't want to read the whole thing, then briefly my idea was this: language and culture evolved as replacements for the waning human sense of smell.

Now do you see why Part 1 of this series focused so much on belabored stink-based metaphors?


Bear with me.

All social animals need a way to identify who's in their group and who's not. In my fantasy world of how things work, the way they do that is by sniffing each other's butts. However, humans don't really have that option anymore, since our butts are no longer at eye level.

Fortunately our mouths are at eye level, so language is a good replacement. And even better, culture is all around us, no matter where we look. What better ways than to broadcast your group affiliation?

Actually, calling language and culture a "replacement" for scent is the wrong word. To really describe what they did to the human race, you'd have to use terms like "hostile takeover". The innocent prehistoric rituals of butt-sniffing and poo-flinging were transmuted into something far more protean and insidious.

See, if you compare language with the sense of smell, there's a big difference. A social animal with a sense of smell has one thing -- a butt. Assuming consistency of diet, the animal is powerless over the smell of that butt. Another animal, sniffing that butt, can only smell the way the butt actually smells. In other words, butts don't lie.

But language, on the other hand...

To be continued. Again.

September 24, 2006

Further Ruminations On Eating

I like alcohol, but I've never been a beer person. Since I was so antisocial as a teen, I never got initiated to beer as part of any coming-of-age ritual. So its bitterness remains an unpleasant experience, untainted by feelings of comradeship.

The sensation of bitterness probably evolved to let you know that what you were eating wasn't good for you. So I wonder at what point bitterness evolved from indicating "poison" to indicating "alcoholic oblivion". I think the overall search for oblivion was somewhere in there, especially when the bittersweetness of love just wasn't dragging you down far enough.

I drink wine, but I'm convinced I'm not really a wine person. Based on descriptions of wines, I'm convinced that wine is mostly drunk by people who like to put random things in their mouths and then critique them. If you can say that what's in your mouth has "overtones of slate and petroleum," then it probably ought not to be in there.

I wonder if it's only the English language that describes emotions the same way it describes food. "Bitter", "sweet" and "sour". ("Spicy" isn't so much an emotion as a culture). In some ways this makes sense. If you want to get anything out of English food, you have to induce the correct emotion while you eat it.

But what about the fourth flavor? Can you ever really describe your feelings as salty? Salt is more of a preservative than a food or emotion. This makes sense for pirates, whose lifestyle demands that they hide their true feelings beneath a crust in order to get along. But does it make sense to anyone else? Perhaps, since those of us in the First World are creation's most rapacious pirates. The world is our menu. Yes, thank you, I'll have the Mineral Rights a la West Virginia. And please pass the salt.

On an anthropological side note: was blood the prehistoric equivalent of ketchup? Like ketchup it's both sweet and salty, with the plus that it's a lot easier to get out of the container. That is, once you manage to pin the container down, and you have something sharp. Blood really goes with everything, especially in school lunches.

Time for breakfast.