Friday, June 8, 2012

Credulity and Crap

Some time ago, thinking myself quite perceptive and witty, I made this observation on Facebook:

"People's willingness to believe a lie is directly proportional to the outrageousness of the claim.  The more improbable it is, the more willing they are to believe."

To which a Facebook friend commented drily, "Well, duh, everyone knows that." What? You mean my epiphany about human credulity wasn't quite as original as I had thought?  You mean everyone else has also noted that humans delight in fabricating, disseminating, and (ultimately) actually believing stuff that is not merely false but egregiously so?

OK, so we can all agree that a lot of the "truths" out there are, in fact, fictions invented by someone for some reason (perhaps just the pleasure of creating a good story) and then glommed onto by other people whose senses are excited or whose interests are served by believing and perpetuating the tale--with, perhaps, some embellishments and additions.

Generally, however, we don't agree that our most cherished beliefs are such fabrications.  Other people, though--God, yes, other people will believe just about anything (and, as my little trait d'esprit suggests, the more outrageous the claim, the more likely other people are to believe it).

So it's quite humbling and not a little embarrassing to realize, at age 68, that most of the unquestioned certitudes that I, personally, have espoused and preached for most of my life are also--almost certainly-- egregious falsehoods.  Because, you see, at various times of my life I have believed, more or less fervently, all of the following rubbish:  America is the Land of the Free, Democracy is the Best Form of Government, Money Doesn't Matter, You Can Be Anything You Set Your Mind to Being, Masturbation Drives One Mad, Jesus Rose From the Dead, Marriage Has Always Been Between One Man and One Woman, Blessed Mary Is Ever Virgin, Jesus Loves Me, Eggs Are Bad for You, There Are Seven Intelligences, Everyone Has Certain Natural Rights, Personal Property and Possessions Are Among These Rights, God Is Everywhere, Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness,  The Natural Approach Is the Only Effective Way to Teach Languages, YadaYadaYadaYada.

What a load of crap has been weighing me down!

After one of my pompous lectures about Greek philosophy, a student once asked me, "So what, exactly, is truth supposed to set me free from?"  At the time, I couldn't answer very well.  But now I can:  from crap.  From the intellectual angst of trying to rationalize, reconcile, and justify all of these patently irrational (but culturally consecrated, hence deeply embedded) lies.

What a relief to be able to admit, finally, that the Jesus fables aren't any truer than the far-fetched mythologies of other religions, that you can't get things by merely wishing for them, that human interactions such as economics and politics are quite simply too complicated to be systematically understood by anyone, that there are no human rights built into the structure of the universe, that any God that might exist is necessarily unknowable and irrelevant, that the only sure good is conduct that advances the well-being of humanity, even though humanity in all its glory commands less than an iota of a speck of a tittle of significance within the infinite vastness of the universe.

Oof.  Just let that all go.  Give it to Jesus--or any of the other gods in that illustrious pantheon of failed saviors dreamed up and passed on by the credulous "crap inventors" who, we really must admit it now, are not just others, but ourselves as well.

Bon débarras!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Intactivism: Somewhat of a Stretch

When I was in San Francisco, in September, Carole and I girded our loins (unlike a great many other attendees) and spent a boozily voyeuristic afternoon at the Folsom Street Fair, a celebration of all that is naughty, kinky, or merely unconventional in (mostly) gay life and attitudes.

I took lots of pictures of pot-bellied men wearing leather underwear ingeniously designed to expose everything that underwear normally hides.  I watched a naked, Brazilian-waxed woman in 6-inch heels being led about on a  rhinestone dog leash and given occasional nipple-shaped treats as a reward for licking her handler's breast. And I gaped, from afar, at a line-up of Bay Area Intactivists, many of whom were flaunting penises with foreskins stretched about two extra inches by some sort of artfully inserted bolt.

I had never heard of "intactivists" before, but there they were, in their dangling splendor, smiling broadly for the cameras and handing out colorful brochures denouncing the evil of "male genital mutilation"--i.e., circumcision. (I was, of course, all the more fascinated to discover such vehement defenders of the 'natural' state at this fair celebrating all that is artful, artificial, contrived, and defiantly anti-missionary-posture nature!)

Apparently, the intactivists are a mostly political organization,  concerned more about foreskin ethics than esthetics (though, clearly, they DO enjoy the beauty of a nice uncut dick--as did Michelangelo, who couldn't bring himself to circumcise his David, future king of Israel).  Accordingly, in 2011, they were instrumental in introducing a ballot initiative to ban male circumcision in San Francisco.  Alas, a spoil-sport judge ruled that, for the time being at least, male genital integrity was less important than the religious beliefs of parents who might seek salvation by sacrificing their sons' foreskins to Yahweh or Allah or Quetzalcoatl.  The intactivists, aroused, vowed to take their fight to Congress.  Grand bien que cela leur fasse!

So, are uncut penises superior (as the Emperor Hadrian asserted, contemplating perhaps his boyfriend Antinous)?  Is "natural" better (as Tristram Shandy must have felt after being penilely savaged by an unhinged window sash)?  Should we let the individual male decide when he has attained adulthood and has had the opportunity to "test drive" his hot rod?  Or is it all Much Ado About Not Very Much (unless "it" has been stretched an additional two inches)?

Probably the latter. Still, as I read one of those colorful brochures with illustrated testimonials, I did begin to think about how basically silly, arbitrary--and yes, unwittingly cruel-- infant circumcision is.  Parents mess up our minds quite enough as it is, couldn't they at least leave our dicks alone for us to do what we want with?  Like, you know, inserting a bolt in the preputial opening and posing thus accoutered for photo-taking voyeurs at street fairs?