Conjuring Your Perception

So recently I have been rocking out to “Termination” by Book of Black Earth on a pretty regular basis. I think my favourite part of the song though is the last minute or so, which closes with a rather intriguing sample from an interview panel featuring a Christian and a Satanist. As you would probably expect from this sort of setup, the Christian interviewee gets trounced in the debate:

Christian Dude: “To suggest that you can create your own reality, my goodness, that’s what they did in Tiananmen Square. That’s what they did in Germany in 1933. […] These are examples of people who created their own reality.”
Satanist Dude: “Everyone creates their own reality, the thing is, you speak for a consensus of reality that is acceptable. We speak for one which, at this point in history, is not acceptable.”
Christian Dude: “Oh, so it’s a question of who manipulates the media, who has the most money to put their reality forth? But would you pardon me for saying that I find the world where your ability to conjure your own reality that you perceive as being a very frightening world for people like me. Because you see, I am guided by some codified rules that tell me what is right and wrong. In your world, I’m not so sure I’d feel very safe.”
Satanist Dude: “Well that’s your problem. […] In the Satanic world of the future, Christian churches will be allowed to continue, because they pose no threats to us. We don’t need Christianity, Christianity needs us.”*

The Christian interviewee’s obliviousness to the fact that everyone is conjuring their own reality to at least some degree is just the first of many events that have occurred to me recently which have gotten me thinking about perception and reality. As the old saying goes, “seeing is believing”, but it seems pretty clear that our perception is not necessarily truth. Maybe this is a pretty obvious statement when you really think about it, but it seems like many people just aren’t confronted face-first with this idea, even though it plays a major role in much of human conflict (both on the large and small scale).

For example, one of my brothers didn’t realize he was partially colour-blind until about a year ago when somebody asked him to grab them a flower with a specific shade of blue. When he wasn’t able to locate these flowers, the person realized that my brother is actually unable to see this shade of blue, and that it actually appears purple to him. As far as he knew, the flowers were always purple and really, within his perception of the world, they still are – he’s just aware that other people see it differently now. “The Dress” was a similar case of this on a larger scale, with a large portion of the “controversy” it created coming down to people realizing en masse that not everyone sees the world the same way that you do (and then trying to force that viewpoint on everyone else, naturally).

Hell, even animals perceive the world differently than we do, with some being capable of seeing in different spectra – a yellow flower may be lit up with neon signals for insects, or your brand new car has some sort of unseen signal which tells all the pigeons in the area to defecate on it constantly (okay, maybe I’m joking about that last one). Bloodhounds’ sense of smell is so acute that they can essentially smell into the past at lengths of time stretching as far back as 300 hours.** We need to take into account that the world we see is just a small part which humans are only capable of picking up on.

Left: what you see. Right: what a bee would see.

One of the scientific methods that can measure differences in perception is through the “clock test”, which is used to determine the severity of neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease. You might be familiar with the idea if you watched the first season of Hannibal. Basically, the test requires the subject to draw a clock – simple, right? Well the results can be pretty surprising as patients with neurodegenerative diseases draw their clocks lopsided, squeezed into half of the face or even just as a series of unintelligible squiggles. As far as they know, they’re just drawing a normal clock, but to the rest of us their drawing appears far different than how they perceive it. Such imbalances can be chemical as well as physical. A similar idea went into that viral website of the man who took dozens of different drugs and drew a self-portrait for each one. This little experiment, while not exactly scientific, showed how chemical changes in the brain can wildly affect how a person sees the world.

In addition to my taste in black death metal, another occurrence which has gotten me thinking about perception is that I have recently finished reading John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. The book was significantly more out-there than I was expecting – I was just looking for first-hand accounts of the Mothman legend, what I got was lots of theorizing about extra-dimensional entities and accounts of people who were contacted by aliens. It was incredibly strange and unbelievable, with a large percentage of my reading time being dedicated to trying to figure out what the hell was up with John Keel. There’s really only a few ways you can attempt to rationalize the claims in The Mothman Prophecies: call Keel a compulsive liar (which I don’t really think is the case) and just dismiss it all outright, take his claims at face value (mischievous extra-dimensional beings are totally real I guess), or try to figure out what sort of skewed perception he has which is putting him at such great odds with rational society. This is harder to parse than you’d expect, since he has a very level-headed, analytical personality and is careful to note that he almost always has some sort of witnesses to his first-hand experiences. It’s almost convincing… until you step back for a second and remember that all his claims of extraterrestrial contact and shifty conspiracies are completely unsubstantiated in our modern world, and especially with the modern proliferation of cellular technology. Did he have schizophrenia or some sort of mental illness? Were his contactees suffering mass hysteria? Was every Ufologist on PCP in the 70s? I honestly have no idea, but the conviction with which Keel lays his unbelievable case forward is one of the more extreme examples I’ve experienced of how irreconcilable perception can be between two people.

This disconnect between perception and reality has repercussions on religion as well. Christianity (along with many other religions) likes to claim a monopoly on the singular truth of the world – in fact, “The Truth” is a bit of a dog-whistle term within Christian culture. However, if even a mentally-sound person isn’t able to perceive the world quite the same as anyone else (not to mention the countless individuals with physical impairments), just how concrete can we consider The Truth to be? In regards to sin and punishment, Christianity likes to assume that everyone is on an equal footing, but the “reality” of the world shows that this is clearly not the case. What about the woman who insured with my company who suffered a traumatic brain injury which drove her to commit suicide? Is she responsible for the actions of a clearly damaged brain? Or what about the man in my grandmother’s retirement home who fell off a roof and hit his head, eliminating the man’s entire personality and mental acuity in the process? When you are essentially transformed into an invalid, can you even be held accountable anymore? I’ll be honest, these sorts of questions trouble me quite a bit, and if we’re going to insist that we have a just God, it pushes me closer and closer to a universalist perspective.

Naturally, this wouldn’t be an IC2S post without some sort of ideological commentary, and as you can expect, it plays a part in perception as well. Ideology acts as a sort of cognitive filter, whereas a person’s physical limitations (mental illness, colour blindness, etc) represent a more fundamental structural base. As I have discussed on a number of occasions on the blog, ideology becomes a framework through which we understand the world. This is how we get unintelligible people like Matt Walsh or people who believe Lego Wheelchairs are a slippery slope into publicly accepting wolfkin. And yes, this is how someone like me ends up writing a ton of blog posts about feminism and social justice.

So we’ve established that everyone only sees an objective perception of the world and not “the truth” – what do we do with this knowledge? Well ultimately that’s for you to decide, but I have a few recommendations. Be aware that other people may feel differently from you and treat them with due respect. Be open to other peoples’ ideas. You don’t necessarily have to accept their views, but don’t dismiss them outright. This is the basis of tolerance and an enriched life. Also, be aware that if someone is peddling a monopoly on “the truth”, they’re probably full of shit.

Oh, but be sure to read I Choose to Stand religiously, because I’m always right.

Only throwing this in here because I know I’m going to have to explain that was a joke eventually…

*Obviously this last statement is pretty much bullshit. Satanism is a counter-cultural movement, but if it suddenly became the dominant religion then it would begin consolidating power just like every other popular movement in history.
**In doing some of the research on Bloodhounds, I came across this stinker from the always-entertaining Answers in Genesis. In it, they state that the Bloodhound’s nose is so amazing that it could only have been created by God. However, this is ignoring the fact that an evolutionist would not claim that the Bloodhound came about by accident – if we accept that dogs are descended from domesticated wolves, then the Bloodhound would have been designed through successive breeding. Is it that difficult to picture the best trackers amongst the wolf-dogs being bred together to produce an uber-tracker? Of course, this is AIG and they aren’t exactly known for their amazing debating skills.

Please follow and like us:

Vengeance Is Mine

So I finally got around to seeing The Revenant last night. I enjoyed it, maybe not quite as much as Birdman though (that said, it was clearly intended to be more of a crowd-pleaser than Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s big Oscar winner). As I often do when I see an interesting film, I decided to Google it to see what sort of conversation was still on-going around it. The first entry on Google’s news feed really caught my eye though: The Revenant Calls for Critical Christian Response.

Having just watched the film, I find the notion of Christian critics considering The Revenant to be a very good film for Christian audiences to be a baffling notion. It’s about as pure an example of the revenge narrative as you can get, a concept which (while very popular amongst storytellers and audiences) is very much at odds with the Christian philosophy of radical enemy-love and “turning the other cheek”. The article agrees with me on this response, and also lists 10 films which are typically considered very “Christian” within the popular critical consensus:

  1. The Matrix
  2. The Tree of Life
  3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  4. American Beauty
  5. Fight Club
  6. The Lord of the Rings
  7. The Shawshank Redemption
  8. Magnolia
  9. Braveheart
  10. Saving Private Ryan

Now, aside from The Matrix, The Tree of Life and The Lord of the Rings, which are all bursting with Christian themes, many of these films seem like a stretch to me. I mean, The Shawshank Redemption is all about hope, but that’s hardly a theme that really resonates with damn near everyone (hence why it has been IMDb’s top rated film for close to a decade now). Saving Private Ryan is arguably a Christ metaphor if you twist it into a pretzel, but if for example I was asked to mark a paper based on this argument I’d have a hard time accepting the premise. And what the literal hell is Fight Club doing on this list? As much as I loved that film, it is far easier to argue that it is a Marxist film and/or satire of modern macho-masculinity than a Christian film. I have no idea where they even start that argument. I’m sure there are other films on there which are just as baffling (unfortunately, I haven’t seen (enough of) American Beauty, Magnolia or Braveheart to comment on them, but I have a hard time seeing Braveheart in particular as being a Christian narrative.

By the way, I should make it clear that I’m not exactly shitting on these films. I’m not so stupidly religious that I can’t enjoy a film on its own merits or outside of my convictions (hell, one of the more intriguing films I saw this year was The Witch, which is debatably Satanic). Again, I really liked The Revenant, but I’m not deluded enough to believe that my enjoyment of it should be a validation of my belief system, because within that context it was an incredibly ugly film. Are Christian critics arguing that it’s “Christian enough” because it has spiritual themes, a central character who “rises from the dead” and that the hero stays his hand at the end? That might actually be enough if the film didn’t completely subvert each of these criteria – the spiritual themes amount to ambigious visions of the hero’s deceased family, our “risen Christ” comes back to sow death and destruction upon the man who wronged him (which would arguably make him into an “anti-Christ”) and the stays his hand at the end, but in doing so not only doesn’t forgive his enemy, but hands him over to his other enemies, who proceed to scalp him alive. Yeah, some lesson learned there, eh?

Naturally, another part of the article that resonated with me was the authour’s questioning of the masculine-dominated Christian critical opinion. This is obviously coming into play with such selections as Fight Club, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart, where violence and masculinity are the sources of power, rather than forgiveness and mercy (in fact, Upham’s big moment of character development in Saving Private Ryan comes when he guns down a German soldier after letting on live earlier in the film in the same scenario). This definitely seems to tie into the reception of The Revenant, which has absolutely no room for forgiveness in its heart and very much is a glorification of violence (again, not that I think this is necessarily a bad thing, I just don’t think it’s a Christian thing).

Of course, I also question where these “Christian critics” are coming from. It’s pretty well known that there’s a strong culture of violent retaliation amongst conservative Evangelicals in the US which we saw with the acceptance of the Iraq War, or the typical response whenever there’s a terrorist attack on the news (“let’s bomb those damned sand n*ggers back to the stone age!!!!”). Coincidentally, today is the 5th anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, a day which saw people literally out in the streets celebrating. In hindsight, the celebration was premature and The War on Terror was only going to get worse (in fact, The War on Terror was in itself an escalating factor in creating terror), so his death solved little. I can remember my own reaction at the time upon hearing the news and seeing all of the people celebrating over the death – wasn’t that a little barbaric in itself? Weren’t we so angry to begin with because we thought they were celebrating over killing our own people? It especially rang true when, just a month later, Jackass star Ryan Dunn killed himself and a passenger in a drunk driving accident, but people were crying that you couldn’t speak ill of the dead – to which I quipped that you couldn’t criticize the guy unless he killed another 3000 people along with him.

Anyway, the point here is that we, as a society, are obsessed with violence. However, as they say, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. If we perpetuate the cycle of violence, it only makes things worse – just look at the shitstorm that we created in Iraq and Syria for a current example. Revenge is fun on the big screen, but when it spills over into real life and begins to inform our belief systems, then it’s time for some introspection.

Please follow and like us: