Monday, April 1, 2013

No Going Back

I have become one of the crazy people.

Which isn't to say I wasn't crazy already.  I've been crazy for a long time, for varied reasons, almost all of them because I know things that other people do not.  That wasn't the plan from the beginning ... but as I was willing to read books while other people were not, some kind of rift was bound to grow.

For instance, I knew at 13 that there was nothing wrong with being homosexual.  I didn't happen to be one, but I had tore through a number of psychological studies on the subject.  It was interesting that the word 'faggot' was so pervasive and common in the hallways at school but no one - absolutely no one - was willing to talk about what a faggot was.  This being 1977, in grade 7 learned that homosexuality had been considered a mental disease right up until I had been in grade 3.  I saw The Boys in the Band on very late night television somewhere around that time, back when the CBC was willing to show that sort of thing after midnight ... I was allowed to stay up as late as I wanted on Friday nights, so it must have been a Friday when I saw it.

For anyone willing to let go of assumed 'truths' and just evaluate the subject on its principles only, its obvious that a human being is a human being, lips are lips and love is love.  Yet here it is, 35 years later, and what I realized at 13 is right now offending the hell out of someone whose reading this.  Oh well.

Education is a terrifying thing.   The chances are if you start reading something, anything, there's a chance that it will make an argument or present evidence that will expose something you've considered to be true for all of your life as a big pile of shit.  Hearing another person speak, either with words or in voice, is a risk.  You risk realizing you've been an idiot.  You risk realizing that you'd rather go on being an idiot than having to change your mind.  You risk realizing that things you've said and people who have heard you has made it clear to all and sundry that you've been an idiot for years and years ... and that quite possibly most people who know you know that about you.  That is a very hard pill to swallow.

The safest way to avoid that is to avoid reading.  Your next strategy must be to avoid everyone who doesn't believe exactly what you believe ... or at least, if you disagree on something, it's something safe like football or whether or not something is a bad movie.  The LAST thing you want to do is read some random blog you've found on the internet.  That blog, and what it says, might very well fuck you up.  You don't want that.

At 48, I have tried to hold onto a willingness to change my mind about things.  I think back on some of the big moments in my life when I've done a 180 about something.  For instance, I remember the day I stopped believing in God.  I was sitting on the 4th floor of the university library and I was immersed in several texts about pagan religions, comparing what Christianity had ripped off the Egyptians and the Norse (at this time of the year, we are all wondering how the Easter Bunny happens to lay eggs).  I had known some of this stuff before, but I'd found some books that just went on and on and on, with hundreds of references associating saints and beliefs with pagan originals.  My faith had been hanging on fingertips for sometime, but I'd been hard-grounded in Lutheranism and somewhere deep in my 'soul' I just couldn't quite let go of that.

And then, working my way along the shelves of art and history, I stumbled across Camille Paglia's book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, and my head exploded.  A lot of different things all came together at the same time.  I was in my last year of my Classical History degree; I'd been reading all this material on paganism; I'd tackled Origen, Tertullian and Ireneaus from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and all in one swoop everything I'd ever believed about our culture and how it fitted together came crashing down.

It would be hard to explain, but if you haven't read extensively about how the Christian religion really began, then you haven't any idea to what length the whole western culture has been seriously duped.  For me, God didn't die that day.  I just wised up.

I started going to university in the first place because I had been working as a statistical clerk in the real world - without a proper education, but quite successfully - and I didn't like it.  That was 1985, and I felt like Dan Ackroyd's character Stantz had said in Ghostbusters, released the year before:  "I liked the university.  They gaves us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything.  You've never been out of college.  You don't know what it's like out there.  I've worked in the private sector.  They expect results."

I couldn't imagine anywhere I would rather be than the university ... but I couldn't afford it.  And then I learned that you didn't have to pay student loans back unless you stopped going.  I thought that was slashing brilliant.  I remember my friend Todd and I were in my basement apartment, he told me that and I made him get up and go with me to the university that afternoon.  Within two hours I'd applied and within a month I was starting my first classes.  I remember how fast it was.  I had met the woman who would be my wife on October 23rd, 1985; she was a university student, finishing her teaching degree.  When I met her, I hadn't even considered going to university.  Yet I started classes the first week of January, 1986, a little more than two months later.  And I would continue going to university for the next seven years.

Oh, I did other things too ... student loans won't cover everything.  I did some acting, I wrote freelance, I got married, I had a daughter ... those were busy times.  But university was marvelous.  I could take 15 hours of classes a week, finish my actual academic work in half that time and manage an honors grade point average and then fuck around playing D&D and bridge, plus spend a lot of afternoons in the campus pub drinking.  Twas the life.

Problem was, with 30 course credits under my belt, I was getting educated.  You can only take so much history, political science, English, geography, anthropology, religious studies and Latin before it begins to change you, whether or not that was your intention to begin with.  So it happened that I was in my prof's office, defending a paper I'd written on comparing core samples out of Greenland and evidential effects on the climatic patterns of the 5th century B.C. Middle East, describing the collapse of the Nabatanean Empire due to the desertification of much of modern Saudi Arabia and western Iraq ... and the prof was clearly not getting it.  He had no experience with ice cores (I'd been working on core samples for Gulf Canada back before I'd started university), he had hardly any real grounding in either climate or geography, and he simply wasn't prepared to grade a paper that used science to explain why a given culture failed.  His expertise extended as far as contemporary sources, and did not include comparing those contemporary sources with pollen samples from Greenland - although those were, of course, exactly as contemporary as Herodotus.

The argument went back and forth for about twenty minutes when I realized, all at once, that I had completely circumvented myself.  Here I was, in university, trying to give results ... exactly the sort of thing that Ray Stantz had said universities did not ask for.  I remember telling the prof suddenly that I'd accept the B.  Then I went down to the registar's, and changed my courses for the next semester so I could take the one credit I needed in order to graduate.  Bing bang boom, I was out of university.

I have tried to deliver results ever since.

Well, I've belabored this point enough.  Three and a half months ago, I had another of these moments.  And it was brought on by this video (please note the title on the youtube file is not the title of Robert Lustig's talk):

The video is long.  It is not sponsored by popular media.  It is not dumbed-down for people who do not understand chemistry.  He's clearly speaking to students.  I remember sitting through it, fascinated and skull-sweating my way through his references, wishing I'd taken more chemistry in school.  I am not going to try to paraphrase it.  Either you want to understand something like this, or you don't.

For myself, I was convinced.  I haven't had a piece of candy or chocolate since.  I have tried to do all I can to remove industrialized fructose or sucrose sugar from my diet.  I don't see this as 'dieting.'  I see this as not eating poison.

And still, for these last months, it has been next to impossible to explain to people that I'm not 'resisting' eating certain 'foods.'  I'm not wishing I could.  I am not experiencing withdrawal.  I am quite content to never eat these things again ... assuming that is even possible.  If it should happen that I am dumb enough to revert, I'm hoping that enough time passes that when a morsel of chocolate again touches my tongue, it will taste so awful - and I'm sure it will already - that I will wonder how it is that other people can put up with it.

I simply have comprehension.  And this is bound to radically separate me from anyone who doesn't have it.  Nothing I can do about that.  Simple fact of life.  I know things others don't know.

Wrapping this up then.  I ask you, the gentle reader.  At this point, is there really any need to talk about why I play D&D the way that I do, as opposed to the way that other people do, or the way that I did when I first started?  We ought to be able to guess, perhaps, that I simply moved on.  I learned a better way to play.  And I don't want to go back.  I can't even imagine going back.


lars_alexander said...

'Being crazy' is, when used in everyday talks, often rather more a label than a state of mind.
'Being educated' often amounts to the same thing :)

I enjoyed reading this article. It will stick with me for a while, as I have been thinking about same and similar things for the last years (university, religion, sugar).

I wish you all the best!

Unknown said...

Invigorating, as always. Bought a copy of Pete's Garage based on what I read here, and am not disappointed. Please always keep these mind-openers coming.

cityofdoors said...

I don't always agree with you, and often reading your blog annoys me, but it is often because I am envious of how your brain focuses so well and mine doesn't. So reading your well reasoned and highly accurate output highlights my own weaknesses.

However, getting frustrated at you has made my own thinking clearer more than once. So even though I don't read your blog very often, I do hope that you continue to post things just like this for as long as you can.

Taren said...

Great link to Lustig's talk... thank you for posting! Definitely inspiring material. Yikes!

It's that kind of thought-out and committed approach to living that draws me to your D&D blog... it's refreshing that you bring your intellect to bear on all subjects you're passionate about. All too many people shuffle along eyes closed and humming tunelessly. Deliberately oblivious to anything that might disrupt the comfortably paced ambling.

Thank you for posting!