Sunday, August 29, 2010

Avatar and the Matrix

For those who saw the film "Avatar", we can all grasp how Jake Sully came to understand an alien people, and to find that some aspects of their culture superior to the one we came from. We can understand how a person can change to become somewhat different from how he started out - and that that change is for the better. Certainly, Jake would have seemed weird and incomprehensible to most of the humans who had no concept of other cultures, or any inkling that he might have learned something that they had not.

I feel that this is, to some extent, what has happened to me. I have changed - become quite different from the lower-class-family small-town boy I grew up as. And that the people I grew up with and love have not. Of course, those that remain have their own experiences in maturity - but not the same kind that I have. And this has made me, it seems, nearly incomprehensible - I am reduced mostly to small-talk when talking to my own family.

How did this happen? Some things are obvious - leaving the home and family to spend years in the military overseas - learning foreign languages and cultures - the powerful culture shock I had in 1991 in Russia - such a stark contrast between a society that had become fully capitalist, with everyone's lives dominated by commerce and commercials, and a culture where they were not - where suddenly, the total absence of TV, the difficulty in merely obtaining food which caused me to lose 30 lbs that year, cleared out the glut of fast-paced images and fast foods that fill our lives, both literally and figuratively. Witnessing my wife's grandfather's death and funeral made me question our way of death, and how we sweep everything under the rug, and have strangers handle the death of our loved ones. The examples are too many to try to tell here, although maybe I'll recount some later.

Other things, not so obvious - the personal earthquakes I experienced, first in almost losing my now happy marriage and even a home for a while, then rebuilding my life on the left coast - learning what was most important to me and to do whatever I had to to get it, which led to restoration of family and serious acceptance of the Christian faith as an adult, as well as the professional earthquakes which convinced me that I simply could not be a 'valued member' of a "community" and live my professional calling (combined with my wife's general unhappiness and loneliness in the US), led to my packing up and going back to Pandora, er, I mean Russia.

And lastly, it was my serious acceptance of Christianity - the rejection of nominalism (go to church on Sunday and live for me me me the rest of the week and being OK with that) - that was brought about by thinking, really thinking, for the first time in my life. How I managed to go 38 years before really beginning to think is still almost, but not quite, a mystery to me. It was CS Lewis that was my co-pilot in my first years, and I still respect the man more than, well, almost anybody, in terms of thinkers.

And this is where the Matrix comes in. If you've seen it, you'll grasp the idea of people living in complete unawareness that everything that they are living is a lie.
How could you possibly tell anyone in the Matrix that? As far as they are concerned, that's the only reality there is, and they'd treat you like you were crazy (and maybe even try to lock you up).

It was first Lewis, and then GK Chesterton, who began to 'free my mind', in the way Morpheus did in the movie. What I learned was, being as short I I possibly can, is that we all grow up in an environment we didn't make, we have practically no control over, and that we take for granted. We cannot seriously imagine things being any other way. As I said, we take commercials for granted. We are not outraged - we say "Well, somebody has to pay for it", and the idea that it need not be the masters of business doesn't cross our minds. We take public schools for granted - and we cannot seriously imagine any alternative to them - to their bells and structured subject lessons of 50 or so minutes, 20-30 children to one adult (a professional and a stranger) in monster schools of hundreds or thousands of children. We can't imagine alternatives to lives built around automobiles where both parents work and send their kids to said school. We have certain ideas about history and politics, what little we retain from our muddled schooling, that we mostly hated and did everything we could to avoid or subvert (and rightly so), so that we think we know that we live in a democracy, that we can change things at elections, that the Reformation freed people to think for themselves about religion and that Susan B. Anthony was a great woman who did great things (although we might be challenged to name details of exactly what they were). We know George Washington was a great man, but we don't really know why. (Certainly most of us never read what he had to say.) Etc. etc. We think we know all of these things.

What I learned is that many of these things are simply not true at all. Or are conflated to being equally important to the truly important things. And that our very language has been subverted to enable a particular world view - one totally hostile to that of our grandparents' - to dominate us and our children. We know that homosexuality, for instance, is really wrong (or at least our grandparents were certain of this) - and yet our children are now being taught that it is completely 'normal'. We know that our faith is important (I hope) but all of the messages in the world around us are telling us that it is not. We are surrounded by an attitude that you can believe what you wish - because it doesn't matter what you believe. What you believe (according to this monstrous stealth philosophy that rules our land) does not and can not reflect truth that also affects others. (I call it "pluralism" for shorthand.)

Anyway, it's proven very hard to communicate any of this, and I think that the only reason I have learned as much as I have is because I really did get completely outside the fishbowl in which we live, and have been able to see it from the outside. A reason it's so hard is because the very language we use is filled with falsehoods, and we don't even know it. We use terms like "partner", "relationship", "gay", "discrimination", "intolerance", "hate crimes", etc without batting an eye. Some of it is rhetoric that bombards us every day from the mass media. Other terms have entered our language in the past century and are now used universally - we know no other way of saying things anymore. (The term "have sex" was coined in 1929 by that great "friend" of Christian morals, DH Lawrence - Lady Chatterly's lover, anyone?) If we compared how we talk today, and how our ancestors talked 100-150 years ago, a lot of falsehoods would stand revealed for what they are.

A problem I've encountered is that I have expressed my new-found objections to such language impatiently, leading people to perceive me as judgmental, radical, or simply eccentric (ie, weird). So I've decided to jump-start my blog, for a new purpose - an attempt to communicate what I cannot say over the phone, because I do want to be understood, and not seen merely as 'the weird uncle living in Russia'. Hopefully, I can make a little sense here of the things I could not before. Any comments and questions are welcome!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thou art eminently correct...language is constantly morphing, evolving, or whatever the latest correct lingo might be. Alas, we poor mortals have no choice but to be swept along with the tide and use the vocabulary of the day if we want our listeners to understand what we have to say
IMHO, all crimes are hate crimes, because who ever heard of a love-murder? 'Partner' covers people who are not married, people who are married, business associates, and even a dog that assists a policeman! This one saves a lot of ink, trees, and stress on keyboards.
The best we can do is maintain honesty in our own hearts, and be a good example, for we can never convert our listeners by arm-twisting.

10:19 AM  
Blogger rusmeister said...

I would agree that we may have to use the language of our listeners to communicate, at least initially. Charity may require us to speak other than what we think at times.
But if we can, should we not communicate that it is the language itself that is wrong? Are our listeners so unintelligent as to be unable to grasp that when explained to them in their own language?

It doesn't matter that we save ink or keyboards if we are, even unintentionally, communicating falsehood - a false and incorrect understanding of what the phenomenon is. It surely is possible to take language back, and everywhere that we find modern language to be wrong, to either revert to the "crude language of our forefathers" (GK Chesterton) or to develop language that expresses truth. A good example of the latter is "same sex attraction" and that it is something one suffers from. Non-judgemental, completely Christian, identifies the nature of the problem - and that it IS a problem, without the false ideas of natural (in the sense of 'good', 'normal') ontological being that "homosexual" does.

I think we can not only attempt to attain honesty in our own hearts - I believe in the intelligence of others enough that I think it ought to be possible to communicate ideas and, having learned a truth, to act on it and change my own habits if necessary. I don't think that's arm-twisting. If they are unwilling or unable to grasp truth (an imputation that they are unintelligent or deliberately self-deceptive) then of course, there is nothing to say. But I think better of my loved ones than that and hope that something of value can be communicated, and having communicated it, to clear away the webs of falsehood created by modern language.

6:53 AM  

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