The Deadmau5 Lesson on Religion’s Future

March 9th, 2012   by   Andrew

Possibly part of the (eventual) conclusion to the series God: From Magic to Motivation

An article on the site Genealogy of Religion entitled The Magic of Religion got me thinking about the future. It also got me thinking about music, fiction, what is and what should be.

Deadmau5 (Dead-mouse) is a DJ from the Niagara Falls area. While hanging out on some internet forums, he told a story about finding a dead mouse in his computer tower. He got to be known as ‘that dead mouse guy’. He then adopted the handle for himself (and modified the spelling).

While doing some work on 3D computer graphics, he built a mouse-head helmet. He tried out the helmet as part of his DJ show and people seemed to love it. They danced more and the parties got bigger and better. The light shows got bigger, and the concerts got bigger. The helmet itself now has LED lights. Words and images scroll over the helmet making the show all the more fantastic or “unreal”.

He’s constructed a loose story around the Deadmau5 thing. A character based on his cat, Meowingtons, has overpowered Deadmau5, hacked his beats and stolen the mouse mask. It’s all a fiction, creating a place of wonder, fun and excitement. And people dance to it.

Deadmau5 is kind of a scrawny, wiry guy. I’ve heard he’s addicted to Coca-Cola. When he comes on stage he waves to the audience and holds up the mouse mask to great rolls of cheers. When he lowers the mask on his head, the music starts and the magic begins. People bounce and smile and dance for hours. At the end of the night, the helmet comes off. People leave the concert feeling exhausted, exhilarated, and feeling part of something beyond the ordinary reality of life.

How can religion can play such an important role in our history and our personal lives if based on fiction? It’s been suggested:

Groups that dance and chant together seems to have some kind of fitness not found in groups that don’t dance and chant together.

Religions are in the business of reality management – motivating people to behave in effective (or at least predictable) ways, regardless of the accuracy in their portrayal of reality. Religions, like fiction, are in the business of making up what should be.

Interestingly enough, two of the world’s oldest cultures have changed a lot recently and now seem poised to dominate the world’s next century. Both have given the world physical disciplines. For example, Tai Chi comes from China. Yoga comes from India. Both of these physical disciplines can be done in groups or individually.

The future of religion might look a lot like the past. The groups that dance and chant together, that consciously participate in what might be fiction, in order to effectively transform what is into what should be, they will have a fitness that outperforms groups stuck on insisting their story is correct reality.

Maybe if the west had a more physical discipline instead of a more metaphysical pursuit, it would have a different fitness for today’s challenges.

Before I started this series of posts, I was thinking of doing a series on quirky new religions based on fictions – Disney-ism, Jedi-ism, Dude-ism, Matrix-ism. I think I want to get back to that. They might be more influential on our future than we can now imagine. And they might have just as much influence as the secular habit of going to the gym to work out alone.

The knowledge that Deadmau5 is just a guy, and not some computerized mouse, doesn’t wreck the fun or the enchantment. People will play along if he keeps them dancing, and as long as he continues doing innovative stuff. In terms of checks and balances, I’d imagine it’s just as important that Deadmau5 doesn’t take himself too seriously either. At the end of the night, after all, he does take off the helmet and reveal that he’s just a guy.

This says little about morality, I guess. But it says something about aesthetics, and what we can be motivated by.

What do you think?


My Recent Empathy Fail

January 14th, 2012   by   Andrew

Part of the series God: from Magic to Motivation

And my head told my heart, ”Let love grow.”
But my heart told my head, ”This time no,
This time no.”
~ Winter Winds, Mumford & Sons

I’m calling the guy Tyler. I don’t know his name, but he might have been twenty, and the flat beak of his hat made me think he could have been named Tyler. Or maybe it was his teeth. I doubt that he’d ever been to an Atlanta Braves game, considering Atlanta is close to a thousand miles away from here, but maybe there is something significant about the good old team from Georgia. Maybe Tyler thinks their s%$t makes him look good. Maybe Tyler was never told the importance of seeing a dentist regularly. Maybe there is a lot about Tyler I don’t know.

After that night, I don’t want to know much about him. He could have destroyed my music equipment.

A friend and I were playing in a small pub in a small village of less than 3000 people. I lived in that village for a while, from Kindergarten to Grade 2. Today there is one Subway restaurant and one Home Hardware store and one IGA. I don’t think there is another franchise within the village limits. Everything else is Mom & Pop stuff. They do have a Family Dentistry Centre though.

The crowd is always great there when we play. Small in number, but they want to sing and they want to have a good time. The owner of the place sang a song with us. I think half the people in the place came up and sang something. Late in the evening the weekday cook came by and she took turns with an older couple in playing either the bongo or the tambourine we brought with us.

Tyler came in with his girlfriend and sat at a table for two. He drank. She texted. After a pitcher, Tyler seemed to realize there was live music, and that others were enjoying the music. A sociable guy in the crowd I’m going to call Jake introduced himself to the two and invited them to join his crowd at a bigger table. Jake is a regular and a good guy. He sells cars during the week and has won the heart of the weekday cook. He was sitting with my wife and some friends.

Tyler lost more and more of his balance over the night. His girlfriend lost more and more patience until she finally decided to disappear. Tyler didn’t mind if she went home, though. He thought he had new friends. And, he became more and more infatuated with a blond at the table. He was a man of persistence and repetition. Even after it was explained several times clearly and calmly that she was neither interested or available, he continued his pursuit. He was a young, motivated man.

When we took a break I learned that Tyler had been shuttled from foster home to foster home as a kid, and then group home to group home as an adolescent. He didn’t have much education, but he did have a three-year-old child that didn’t like him much and a girlfriend that he didn’t love. He was trying to do the right thing, be there for his kid and for the girlfriend. That’s what he’s supposed to do, isn’t it?

It’s amazing how easily personal information flows from the self-medicated. And don’t worry if you didn’t catch it the first time, because they will tell you again and again, just to make sure.

I told this story to a friend that’s a social-worker. Very quickly my friend said, “Don’t tell me his name! I might know more about him than you do.” Tyler might very well be one of my friend’s case files.

Tyler requested a song. After we played his song, he forgot and requested it again. We played it again but he quickly turned around and went outside for a smoke. At the end of the night, he came over to us while we were packing up and requested we play his song again. He was sorely upset that the night must come to an end and he turned to share his disappointment with his new friends at the bar. In that turn, he bumped a table, and let go of his glass of beer. It fell, all of it, into the crate I use for my electronic effects board and my cords. I watched as the liquid soaked into the crate padding, coating the metal casing of my effects board, obeying the demands of gravity and seeking the most efficient routes down and through, down and through.

I remember looking up at the guy. I remember wondering how often I’ve probably worn that same serene, self-medicated face. I remember going over everything I heard about his life, how he may have been the unfortunate loser in almost every possible lottery that life throws at us. He had no say in the genes he was given or in the level of intelligence he might have been born with. He had no say in the parents he was born to, and almost no say in the habits and values they instilled in him. He likely had very little control in the decision-making process that selected his foster homes or his group homes.

And yet he still had the power to drastically change one girl’s life. He had the power to create another life. And he had the power to dramatically threaten a complete stranger’s property. Each of these things probably needed mere seconds and the haphazard coordination of circumstances. Does he have his license and a car to drive too?

How much of Tyler’s life was Tyler responsible for, when he didn’t have either the genetic tools or the nurturing environment to inspire in him a desire to change? What would make him want something more in his life? Even if it is just a dang shame, and society has provided him every opportunity to shape up and value what all the rest of us value, it doesn’t matter. He still has the power to fuck up our shit, by his mere presence!

My brain went out to him, thinking his life was little more than a determined series of events set in motion by things of which he has only ever had partial (maybe illusory) control. My heart said, “Get this guy away from everything you hold dear.”

In environmental terms, the guy is toxic, a stumbling bag of entropy. In religious terms, he was evil – evil by ignorance more than by intent, but still dangerous enough to bring complete disorder. In psychological terms, he was not properly motivated, not adequately socialized to function positively or take on responsibility. But all that doesn’t matter! He nearly broke my stuff!

Andrew Coyne had an article in Maclean’s Magazine a while ago on the differences between the Canadian and the American Occupy Wall Street movements. He suggests the elite classes have a lot of upward and downward mobility when it comes to finances. The lowest 10% of society, however, have practically no mobility and no resources to change that, except maybe their own motivation. According to the stats he collected, getting the poor out of the poor house wouldn’t actually take that much money, relatively speaking. If we increased the personal income taxes of our supposed super-elite class by 10%, that would be only enough to take care of 1/3 of the problem (ignoring other consequences for now). This option is obviously ludicrous, considering a hike that huge could start a civil war in the luxury class. If we increased the federal retail tax by 2% (that means on most consumer purchases of goods and services), that would likely bring in enough funds to move all the country’s poverty-stricken into respectable, safe lifestyles… for one year… conditionally. Changing the corporate tax levels would have too many other consequences, short and long term, that it’s just best to find better alternatives.

The problem is, the poor would still be poor, no matter how we juggle the numbers. People don’t change when money is thrown at them. They just make more expensive mistakes. And maybe most important to me, Tyler would still have the same power and ignorant inclination to mess up the lives of those around him. Even if he does mean to do the right thing.

Strangely, religions have always had an obsession with the Tylers of the world. Religions spend a great deal of energy and effort on either changing the motivations and minds of those that drain society, or at least minimizing the problems they do create. It’s something we need to pay attention to, since this the western world seems to be trending away from religious involvement and participation. The greedy, the ambitious and the rich take care of themselves. They always have, whether we want them to or not. They have to the tools to do it.

If we don’t take care of the religious, then the religious don’t take care of Tyler, and surprise surprise, he doesn’t go away. Instead, we still foot the bill (and my social worker friend has a job through a government agency). It seems like no matter what we do, we’re stuck paying for Tyler and for the person that tries to change Tyler into something more benign or productive. Otherwise, Tyler will find a way into our daughter’s pants.

I’ve spent most of my life in “economically depressed” places. Due to a couple of personal shortcomings and “unforeseen circumstances” (read: not facing my dragons), I’ve failed to sustain my entrance into the middle class. A lot of that has to do with my motivations though.

I want to feel for Tyler. I really do. But I have to admit, with some shame, that even now when I think of him, I can only see somebody else’s problem…

Stephen Colbert once said about America:

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.

I don’t think this is just a problem for “Christian nations” (if there is such a thing), and I don’t think that Jesus is the answer either. If it was, well wouldn’t the problem of Tyler be fixed by now, or at least faced up to?

(After all, Jesus didn’t inspire every troubled person he came across. But he did hang out with them and recognized them as part of his community.)

I think too much discussion is around who is right, or who has got it all correct. I think we need to start by asking, “Who has what power, and what are they motivated to do?” Tyler has the power to impregnate our daughters and destroy the things we hold dear. Moving away from Tyler or depriving Tyler of education and opportunities doesn’t seem to do the trick. He’s not changing. If Tyler is rich or ambitious, our daughters might actually be taken care of. Maybe that’s the only way we are going to understand how Tyler could be part of our family? That is, if Tyler thinks he should do the right thing.

Let’s find a better way to motivate him.

I’m starting to believe that the only religions I can trust are like the Tylers of the world (and even the ambitious of the world for that matter):

limited to benign pursuits,
able to keep their hands out of our children’s pants,
and mindful enough to not spill their drinks on my stuff when I am enjoying the rituals of song and fellowship.

What do you think?

“God sets down the melody; we offer it back to God”

December 18th, 2010   by   Andrew

Part Four in this series: What do you mean by God?

George Hermanson is the director of the Madawaska Institute for Culture and Religion in Ontario.

Most believers have had a mystical or religious experience, according to Hermanson. But he sees many believers in a quest for religious authenticity — searching for an understanding of God and transcendent experiences that make sense today. He sees the answer in panentheism and a relational view of God.

“Panentheists experience God as both subject and mystery — the personal and the eternal.” God, in this sense, is the world, everything in the world, a source for the world, and also everything beyond this world. For Hermanson, this is the source for the act of creation and the source for order out of chaos. “God depends on the world because the nature of God’s actual experience depends on the interaction with all living reality.”

Reality is a kind of unfinished creation for Hermanson and God offers possibilities with which we can play – sometimes we mess them up and sometimes we progress forward. This relational nature is built upon call and response, a theme in Christian theology.

Hermanson uses the image of a jazz group. “God sets down the melody. It is passed on to the others in the group, and they get the feel for it. Each, in turn, adds originality, colour and difference. God now has to work with what was created by the subjective experiences of the players.” It is a combination of form and improvisation, play and discovery.

Hermanson believes that by experiencing the world we experience the presence of God.

My two questions:

1. What do you think of this description of God? Is this a useful description for God today? Is this meaningful for you?

2. What does this mean for the Bible? Would the Bible be an authority-text under such an understanding of God? Would the Bible have to be edited? (and by Bible I’m willing to mean more generally ‘sacred texts’.)

What do you think?

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Original article (scroll down for Hermanson)


I Hope You Dance

November 24th, 2010   by   Andrew

Some friends and I have been playing music in a number of local pubs and bars. It started around the birth of one friend’s second son. Kids can be quite the inspiration. I don’t know the full situation, or the series of conversations, that may have got him motivated to start playing for money once again, but it seems to satisfy two goals in his life right now. One meaningful and the other mundane — build up an education fund for his children, and keep the gas-tank full.

There is another pay-off in his far future, as I see it. What a great conversation starter it could be: “Music put my boys through college!”

I’d half-forgotten the old ways of the local watering-hole. Not surprisingly, the rituals still manifest themselves. A night can be dead and tired. A table or two worth of people stretch out the obligatory conversations.  The empty spaces and unused pool table remind everyone that there just ain’t no party here. Songs end to the hiccups of clapping from two or three people. It almost sounds like we caught them by surprise by ending the song. Sorry to shake you awake from the slumber of taking your surroundings for granted.

But it isn’t always like that. A song might tickle one woman in a pleasing way. Or maybe it’s a table of them. They announce their approval, pick their way through the obstacles and form a loose circle on the dance floor. They smile and move, and the band smiles and tries to get a little tighter. The lack of practice, and the alcohol, make the movements awkward but oh so very honest and genuine.

And the place changes. It may only be for a brief moment, but at least it happens.

After that one song the band scrambles through their list to find something that might call up that moment once more. And if the choice is good, and if the women continue to dance, and if things work just right, you might get one or two men to join in.  Maybe even more. You might even get the whole place up. The dance gets a little more awkward and complicated, but the smiles grow all the more.

People become easier to talk to. The music becomes more fun. It becomes a good night for everyone. And it can happen with ten people, or fifty, or two hundred.

When I was a teenager, my father was a minister at a small church. Fifty people at a Christmas service. It was built small to serve the northern section of a small town. In my confirmation classes I can remember only two girls about my age.

They were beautiful things, and both of them made me very self-conscious. They would tease and laugh about how certain church members stood and ate pieces of cake off half-folded paper plates with those small plastic forks. It was a safe environment where I could be awkward and quiet and smiling but not get into any trouble.

Neither of the two girls went to the same school as me. The only social connection we seemed to share was the church. I may have seen one of them at a house-party. And I never worked up the guts to try anything with either of them. Like try to get to know them as people, I mean.

I’ll blame the church for that. It was too safe, too fixed. Nice people, but very little movement.

It could very well have been the right environment to meet girls after all. And since they were church-girls, they might have even had patience with me and my painfully uncomfortable fear of everything physical. I was a real priss as a kid. How can your own skin feel like a stranger standing too close to you?

But really, there were no church dances. There was very little going on physically in the church at all. In some ways I did know that I had to get out from my uncomfortable skin. Even my favourite hymn teased me with little glimpses of the way to paradise, but there was so little in that church that seemed to heed such a call.

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,

I danced for the scribe and the pharisee,
But they would not dance and they wouldn’t follow me.

They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance, and I still go on.

I’ll live in you If you’ll live in me -
I am the lord of the dance, said he. (wiki)

If I had seen them dance, maybe even just once, that may very well have been the end of me.

There is a salvation in getting the approval and acceptance of some sweet, pretty thing. Even if you just catch their eye for a moment, or get a chance to dance. You become something meaningful to that other person, and get a teasing, delectable introduction to somebody else’s self.

What do you think?


A Salute to Dan Piraro

May 17th, 2010   by   Andrew

Over the weekend I have been messing a little more with video and audio. Some of the writing may be clearer if you just watch it on youtube instead of here, or just make it larger.

Please tell me what you think!

Dan Piraro’s blog can be found here.

Zuul’s Evil Disco — I don’t really know if they are still together as a band, but the website is still up.  Seriously, for the small and uninspiring bar it was, ZED put on the most amazing live show. All energy, all party, all go. I had to buy a cd.

Returning to Leonard Cohen

May 14th, 2010   by   Andrew

Last night I was eating my rice and salmon and flipping through channels when I stumbled upon Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen. It is a kind of documentary/interview with the man in the grand ol’ time of the mid-60s. (45 minutes of black and white! And not just for effect!)

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It’s funny, you know, but we used to stumble upon stuff all the time, but now when we do it there is an official sanctioning in place because of interwebbing. We used to dig things, if you dig, but again that’s the old form, daddy-o. Today, we digg.

I’m just saying that we haven’t changed the meaning so much. We are just starting to change the ritual.

Anyway, I was really happy to get this little reminder from the old tech tv (does it even get capitalized anymore?) because I didn’t really know what to do for Friday’s post. That’s how I remembered  Leonard is always there for me.

Some time ago I posted Curing, a mash-up of some my ideas over a Cohen song. Today I present for your view and commentary, another mash-up. And as I asked before, what song do you figure this is inspired by?

Crossing

By Andrew Gilchrist, with cred to Cohen

And you want to travel with him
you want to travel blind
and you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body
with his mind
-  Leonard Cohen

I was born like this, I had no choice.
- Leonard Cohen

I hear you now, a strong voice from the tower,
I sit in the alley, patient head bowed lower.
Desperation, longing, I want to understand,
The practice is over and you excuse the band.

Says one man from his lonely tall tower,
You see a drowning man but I can see a sailor.
But down the track there stands another tower,
Where a woman and a memory can make of you a singer.

The angels tied you down to a table you say,
Or was it at the crossroads of a Holy Roman Causeway?
You see there is something I feel I need to know:
How do you speak so sweetly from your window?

That Sistine sailing ship called Bounty, State or Splendour,
Has saved a man or two from the drowning water.
This Sistine oil tanker with righteousness in tow,
Stains like a bug smeared on the reflection of a window.

Tower of the Broken G-d and Tower of Song,
What did you get from suffering so long?
I guess you already know, anyone could have told you,
It can get pretty lonely if you’ve got that kind of view.

She is still, she is longing, holding up that mirror,
Telling you it’s taller than any vaulted tower,
You can see the bridges burning deep in the reflection,
And the poor keep selling off the license to their station.

Can you build a bridge that makes a cross over the water,
High enough to let pass any sailing ship or tanker?
Could anyone direct such a traffic jam from above,
The water and the mirror, the causeway and the tower?
Did you see this coming like lovers too close together?
Can you see the crossroads being built by love?

Then you ached and your hair turned grey.
Have you travelled too long on your Holy Roman Causeway?
You see there is something I feel I need to know:
Is this why your voice sounds so sweet from your window?

This Sistine sailing ship can glorify the water,
That Sistine oil tanker can make a mess of the mirror.
On reflection that bridge better be built on something strong,
To hold the traffic of a causeway and a mighty tower of song.

Sail on, sail on, sail on…
- Leonard Cohen

When you’ve fallen on the highway
and you’re lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you’re feeling
of course you say you can’t complain-
- Leonard Cohen

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All blessings! Have a good weekend!