Friday, May 14, 2010

judgement

I would probably argue long and hard to convince you that bidets are better than toilet paper, but I still do not want to use one. Aside from not really knowing how to aim the thing, there is the fact that for thirty-plus years now, I have been taking care of "business" with perforated scraps of dry paper. It is a cultural preference not easily set aside, and although during my tree-planting years I was forced by necessity to learn the joys of hydrated "business"-cleaning with dew-wet fireweed plants, when it comes to the bum I still feel weird about water.

This weirdness is weird, because most all the other cleaning I do in my life involves some form of liquid. If, for example, my son were to leave a little pile of his "leftovers" in the middle of the living room floor, I hardly think I would be satisfied with a few perfunctory wipes with a paper towel. It just doesn't work like that. So why have I allowed my culture to convince me that I still do not want to use a bidet? Is there some sort of conspiracy by an American Compendium of Toilet-Paper Corporations? Does the lumber industry have its lumbering fingers in my bathroom business?

I am not sure, exactly. I have tried to fight my culture, but it hasn't worked. One of my more Euro-enlightened friends once told me that he dry-cleans for the first swath and then whets down the last bit of paper for that fresh feel, with perhaps one final drying swipe. I tried that, but eventually laziness and the weight of culture was just too much. I have learned that while the now near-universal value placed on cleanliness is very much a part of my culture, I am still part of a culture that did not consult the truth when deciding how to clean its many, many bums.

And yes, since you asked I am suggesting that the immensely varied ways we as humans apply universally agreed-upon moral principles are weirdly determined by cultural forces that none of us really understands. Why would I use such an admittedly gross example as the bidet to make a point about cultural determinism? Well, for the simple reason that when we forget where most of our habits and customs come from, things get poopy. Bidets are never the end of it, and the results are often (especially in my own "christian" subculture) laughable. The weird examples are practically endless - I know, because I've been writing about them for years and they never seem to run out. I have written about polygamy, potty words, arranged marriage, and cetera and cetera, on into the infinitum. It just. doesn't. stop.

Considering my position on bidets, it may seem odd when I say that I actually believe strongly in the existence of objective Truth, and even that we can know it. I may qualify that statement by adding that I think we'll never really know that we know it, but I still think there are things that are true and things that are not. I am quick to say that bidets are better than rolls of paper, modesty is superior to immodesty, and that it is far better to respect the things and people of this world than to profane them. I think abortion is a tragedy, people shouldn't smoke weed, divorce for the reasons that mine seems to be happening is wrong, and apples are, in fact, vastly inferior to oranges.

To claim that I view the world otherwise is to disingenuously defeat my own arguments. Where I really run into trouble, however, is when I begin to believe that I, with my puny little hormone-addled, culturally-defined ways of thinking, can absolutely Know what the truth is about anything, once and for absa-friggin-certain. If I think that, then I close my mind to the possibility that I am wrong and severely limit my capacity for love. Perhaps I am even wrong about bidets. Perhaps there are angelic spirits in the water that are seriously offended by the bum-cleaning use they are so disgustingly put to -- spirits that will one day rise up and drown us all in the brownish soup of our perpetual disrespect. I may know some things to be true, but I don't absolutely know that I know them.

I am by no means breaking new ground by arguing for the importance of epistemological humility (which means, basically, that I think I should not be an arrogant jerk about things I can't know for certain). With the exception of a few real whackos, most people aren't really dumb enough to attempt to don the mantle of godhood when it comes to their epistemology. And yet we are, all of us, immensely human. We want things to make sense and we want to be the ones making sense of them; so even as we nod our heads and give obeisance (whether we know it or not) to the accomplishments of  sages who have taught us to doubt our own omniscience,  yet still we think to ourselves, "ah yes, but this or that thing I really, truly do know." In so doing, we abandon our faith and move headlong towards a position that always ends up doing violence to beauty.

It is not particularly surprising that we would try, in this manner, to catch Truth and wrestle it into our grubby little pockets. To live as a human is to name, and to name is to try to tame the wild unknowable mystery of life - to cage the wonder in an attempt to keep the fear at bay.  It is impossible to do otherwise.

Let me say that again: it is impossible to do otherwise. We are human, and it is our eternal joy and frustration to attempt to tell stories that will enable us to understand the unfathomable mysteries in which we live. Everyone does it... absolutely everyone. Even that super-edgy hipster you know who blends up grass and organic crickets with ice and soy milk and then pretends it's tasty - even that guy is still just making stuff up, attempting to define for himself a world in which he writes the rules. But it is very likely that unbeknownst to him, he too plays out a script written for him by a culture in which it is possible for impossibly privileged twenty-something Caucasian males to sit in yoga positions on hand-woven, free-trade bamboo rugs, sipping high-end organic tea as on their two-thousand-dollar Macbook Pros they hammer out blog posts about the necessity of identifying with the poor.

Believe it or not, even this little essay falls into the same ludicrous trap. By claiming to have insight into the inevitable inability of people to really know anything, I too am creating a ridiculous pretension and falling into the selfsame trap. What am I to do?

Well, since I asked, here's what I think; I think I should not be writing posts like this. I think that instead I should be out there making stuff that does not pretend to know, but rather proposes to love the world and all that is in it, all the time. That's right, I think I should be making love. To you, and you, and you and also you -- absolutely all the time. If I sit on the grass, I should make a song and in the melody make love. If I sit at this desk, I should make a story and twist into the passages a little love, or make a painting and stroke into it with my brush a little more love still. If I am with you, I should talk to you and listen to you and even touch you with love. I should do all this love-making because love never, ever wants control over anything. It just wants to be open to it, to embrace it, and to sink into it with joy. I want that. I am done with the folly of control.

So I should stop trying to figure out how things work. I should shut down my mind and my fingers and my mouth and I should learn, at last, to be still. From that stillness, I should begin to tell, very slowly, stories that do not trap wonder, but encourage it. I should live poetically, without pretense. I should, in short, be honest.

But I won't.

I won't because I am human. As much as I want to roll around making metaphorical and literal love to you (and you, and you, and YOU, oh unfathomable Source) every second of every day, sometimes all I can bring myself to create is little arrangements of words. Sometimes, all I can do is lie. This is me. This is who I am, and how on Friday nights and sometimes into Saturday mornings I manage to quell for a while the voices that tell me that I am an idiot, and that all my faith and hope and love are the baubles of a fool. In this act, in this small protest I raise against the dying of the light, it could be that I do make a little love.

But I am not ready to be judged on that. Not yet.

2 comments:

  1. To be me and me and me - to know you , and you , and you,. . . that is joy unspeakable. No pretense. No masks. No hyperbole.

    Just me and you and you and me and you and you and you. Joy. Un. Speak. Able.

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  2. So Raquel came to visit me and had the unfortunate luck of being sprayed on her foot under the toilet stall by someone else's hand held bidet... SO gross. But we laughed about it.

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