Friday, July 5, 2019

You Can Be The Messiah

I figured out that we’re living in Utopia by trying to devise a more utopian Utopia than what we’ve currently got...and discovering that I couldn’t. And I figured out why God lets bad things happen to innocent children by contemplating a world where he doesn’t, and realizing that we’d detest it. I’d like to apply this sort of counterfactual thinking to the notion of messiahs.

The scenario of “Dude appears and makes everything all better" sounds lovely, of course, but it begs the question of what “all better“ would look like. So let’s consider some prospective messiahs, and see how effective their tricks might truly be.
I’ve warned of the perils of climbing ladders before considering whether you really want to wind up where they lead. We think we understood the maxim “Be careful what you wish for," yet it still takes great discipline to bear down and really game out hopes and desires. 56 years into this, I still often turn out not to really want what I thought I wanted. It’s really hard, and this is what I’m tackling the largest possible scale.
HAPLESS MESSIAH #1: Chocolate Cake

Everyone gets a delicious slice of chocolate cake. That’s it. Delicious chocolate cake right here, right now, courtesy of Chocolate Cake Messiah. It’s not long-lasting, and it’s not deep, but if your goal is to salve mankind (if not save it), it’s a reasonable approach to aim to slightly soothe, en masse.

Once the allergic have been released from hospital; and crime victims (following the worldwide blood sugar plunge) have healed their wounds and recovered their property; and the starving have reluctantly returned to their diet of bugs, grubs, and berries having briefly refreshed their deprivation, and the rich (whose main gripe is overabundance) fall into a post-sugar malaise about their love handles, that’s when the relatively few who fully appreciated the yummy cake begin to create sad stories about how it’s ALL GONE NOW. NO MORE CAKE. MAYBE NO MORE CAKE EVER.

All in all, Chocolate Cake Messiah has, alas, made things worse.


Your pain - psychic or physical - is gone. Just like that. Poof!

But then, of course, it snaps right back. Because bodies and psyches are built for it. So the Painless Time becomes a forlorn memory. People flail to recreate it. Cults pop up devoted to reestablishing it. People lose their minds, because pain, which no longer seems inevitable, becomes far more difficult to bear.

As with the Chocolate Cake Messiah, disruption creates unintended consequences. The seeds were instantly planted for pain’s resumption. As is true with all respites, an inner spring contracts, ready to fuel the Drama of the Bad Times that inevitably follow. “This is what we have to lose!" smoothly dissolves into “That was what we once had!", the cycle repeating endlessly. You may try to weigh down one side of the seesaw, but you can’t freeze the process because that’s how it works here in Cause/Effect World, where it’s always something, and where Jane can never stop this crazy thing.

HAPLESS MESSIAH #3: Problem Solver

The problem is that very few people have actual problems (here’s how to tell the difference). They create fake ones as a lifelong project, building woeful narratives like proud works of art. If you puncture it all by showing them that their problems aren’t really problems, you’ve shit all over their Big Project. You will not make friends, much less save humanity.

People fall in love with their pain and with their problems because those things are their big creations; their work; their legacy. The rare problem that’s not self-created is even more valuable. If you can declare yourself a "cancer survivor", it’s like it’s your birthday. It’s your specialness badge!

My mom died last week. I haven’t told many people, and have been amusing myself by observing the moments when I feel the urge to blurt it out. Inevitably it’s when I crave special treatment or consideration. The potential drama badge feels - to quote the inimitable Rob Blagojevich - "fucking golden!" No wonder people mire in this stuff. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! MY SPECIAL DAY!

There’s a new trope among young people: “Don’t try to fix my problems, just sympathize with my bitching" (they don’t use the word "bitching", of course; that’s just me being a prick). Seek out a cave and spend a month or two pondering that utterance and the Deepest Truths will be revealed to you.

So, anyway, Problem Solver Messiah: yeah, good luck with that.

HAPLESS MESSIAH #4: Love Spreader

Emotions are contagious. It’s super easy to make people angry (per above, the easiest route is to try to help), but it’s also possible to delight them. And just as you don’t need to be harmful to anger them, you can shortcut to unearned delight, too. You needn’t spend years developing viola skills or lofty oratory. Emotional nerves are ready to be struck. You needn’t be a paragon of melting loveliness to stoke love (this might be one route).

Say someone gets really good at this and lights up swathes of humanity like Christmas trees, raising human mojo en masse. This is something “spiritual" people often wish for - a pandemic raising of consciousness. So let’s imagine that it happens. What’s next?

Easy one. People channel their newfound ardor into whatever normally absorbs their attention. Ladies: do you find guys creepy and sexually persistent? Well, just wait till their sap rises.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve induced a highly elevated and refined sort of love that’s very non-sexual. Consider the guy I once met who’d driven through Jasper National Park and was generous enough to tell me the scenery was so gorgeous he needed to pull his car over and masturbate - an image I’ve never managed to unimagine (you’re welcome), but which helpfully taught me that, for many people, rote sexuality is like a black hole easily capable of accomplishing whatever the opposite of "transcendence" is.
So Love Spreader Messiah will spur a worldwide spate of masturbation...and much worse. If you’re hopped up on some cause, a great big jolt of ardor will grease those wheels. That’s how planes get crashed into skyscrapers. People who commit such acts are not cold-blooded villains; they’re hot-headed fanatics driven in terrible directions by wild, incendiary love.

Sorry, hippies, but Love is agnostic. As much evil can been perpetrated from love as goodness. That’s why you really don’t want to tinker with the amplitude. The vast majority of people absolutely should not have their heads heated. Most wouldn’t know what to do with the extra zeal, and the rest would stoke whatever dopey or harmful cause they’re into. And none would take a reflective moment to consider how their fervid actions might affect others. Thoughtfulness stems from coolness, not heat.

So if you want to hand out flowers in airports or whatever, god bless, but let’s never, as a world, hack in on the wellspring of it all. Anyone doing so would be not a Messiah but the angel of frickin’ death.

HAPLESS MESSIAH #5: Wish Granter

What do alcoholics wish for? Booze. Will it help them? No.
What do control freaks wish for? Obediance. Will it help them? No.
What do narcissists wish for? Attention. Will it help them? No.
What do depressives wish for? Isolated rumination. Will it help them? No.
What do victims wish for? Revenge. Will it help them? No.

I could keep going. But it should be clear that 90% of fervent wishes backfire, and the remaining 10% (a bigger house, a more expensive car, a pay raise, a more attractive or obliging spouse) represent futile attempts to satisfy the unsatisfiable; to fill an unfillable psychic hole. For someone somewhere, your apartment is unimaginably huge, your car is shmancy, and your spouse is AMAZING. So how delighted are you with your good fortune? 

Obviously, it’s nothing but discontent all the way down the line. So Wish Granter Messiah would, alas, leave us more deeply ensnared in our bottomless neediness.

Where does this leave us? The cake wouldn’t help them; their pain grows back; and making them happy makes them sad makes them happy makes them sad. Solving their problems pisses them off; filling them with love wrecks the world; and granting their wishes just shows how dumb their wishes were.

If you spend years thinking about it, as I have, you cannot escape the overarching truth: it’s not about your situation, it’s about your perspective. Playing the cards you’re dealt. Making lemonade from lemons. So the answer is always to Flip the scenario. To reframe. That’s the only relief, the only salvation, the only happiness. Tinker not with the circumstances but with the interpretation; the subjectivity.
I won’t offer an umpteenth explanation of reframing here. If you’re new to the Slog, you can start here or here, or read previous writings on the topic (in reverse chronological order) here. It’s slippery stuff; not because it’s intellectual/philosophical, but because it’s something almost no one thinks about, even though we all do it constantly. So it’s like trying to explain swimming to fish.
32nd Street is a different universe if you’ve just been kissed for the first time...or if you’ve just been dumped. The two are absolutely not the same streets. While we assume framing is forced upon us by circumstance, we actually have infinite freedom to frame any scenario in an infinitude of ways. We simply forget that we have that freedom, and fall into habits of framing in certain ways, mostly via tropes we’ve seen in movies (see this posting where I survey the empty cinematic clich├ęs we use to stoke our grief).

From a messianic standpoint, it’s true that reframings aren’t always permanent. In fact, the beauty of viewpoint is its endless pliancy. And our churning whirlwind of worldly foibles rules out permanency of any sort. But consider the immediate moment. While human transformation is notoriously rare, every instance seems to have been induced by a reframing of perspective. Whether it "sticks" or not, those who manage to reframe never forget the experience. Shifts shift. So if you’re gonna Messiah this joint, reframing is clearly the way to go.


Framing comes from within, but it’s contagious. If you’re empathetic, and people are willing to have their lenses refocused (i.e they’re not "don’t-fix-my problems-just-sympathize-with-my-bitching" people), it’s not hard to induce a reframing. Perhaps I’ve managed it on occasion via this Slog for some of you; a small magic trick possible because, for now, I’m unfortunately the only person drawn to this least in this way. I’ll explain:
Some people can spur others to reframe in certain ways. That’s what art is all about, for example. As I once wrote, "Art is any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective." Also, gifted salesmen close sales by changing perspective. A number of people have some visceral notion of reframing, and may have developed ways to induce it in others for fun or profit. But I think everyone misses the sheer magnitude - the infinitude - of framing options, and the effortlessness with which perspective can flip, landing anyone instantly anywhere - i.e. on any possible iteration of 32nd Street (this is what the multiverse is). Vast numbers of human beings have laboriously mastered the art of living as if they’ve just been dumped, but vanishingly few recognize they can just as easily choose to live as if they’ve just been kissed. It’s all a matter of framing; a simple flip of perspective.
No other Messiah holds water. "Reframing Messiah" is the only Messianic Messiah; the only one who can really make things better; the only stoker of transformation; the only bringer of genuine freedom and happiness. Reframing is the sole route to salvation. Poke people out of frozen perspectives and into recognition of their infinitely lithe freedom of viewpoint. Tney needn’t be coaxed them toward positivity; it’s better to inhabit a higher vantage point where gratuitous negativity seems needless and is dropped.

Now you know, and you can work on it, and perhaps help others to reframe. If even just a small percentage of people recognize that this is like a smartphone feature they hadn’t realized they possess, a bunch will soon get way better at this than me. If so, you can be The Messiah, and spark an era wherein people remember that perspective is a freedom to choose, not a prison to which they’re condemned.

Leave a person in a quiet room, and he might meditate and one day leave in a state of vast peace. Put some bars on the window and the same person might decay into a debilitated wreck.
I don’t want the gig, and my dawning recognition that I’m weirdly ahead on this gives me the willies. Everyone knows lots about food and beer now, so the world will surely catch up and surpass on framing, too. Please do surpass me. It’s not hard. As I once wrote, there’s nothing special about being first. The first popping kernel doesn't make the other kernels pop. An underlying current carries us all.


Peter said...

Jim, this is one of the best taxonomies of salvation I've ever seen. The others ones I've seen, considering my professional viewpoint (ancient) have to do with messianic possibilities in antiquity, which are useful for understanding the past. But I thhave to stop and think now about discontinuity between the past and the present, and I thank you for that.

Jim Leff said...

Thanks, and I’d be grateful to hear about any thoughts you develop about the discontinuity.

I don’t think there is any, but you probably figured I’d say that....

Display Name said...

I wanna be a beta tester! It is so easy to appreciate the "little" things this time of year when the days are filled with flowers of so many colors and the night fills up with fireflies. At dusk I try to be outside when the very first june bug winks on and the other day I happened to be in my kitchen when the first bird sang out as the sky was just starting to lighten. I was puttering around in the garden about an hour before dusk when I heard a strange sound I hadn't heard in years. A deep rhythmic breath followed by a small blast of flame. A dragon was terrorizing the neighborhood! It was huge as it drifted past my garage roof and so bright. I watched as the hot air balloon landed safely in the parking lot across the street.

Jim Leff said...

Be careful out there!

Anonymous coward said...

Took me hours to read your post, and I still haven't understood every single part. Here's my opinion. Your insights lack scientific data backing them up. What you typed may all be correct and I've certainly gone wrong with science, finding all sorts of scientific studies to back up claims that ended up being wrong.

Therefore, I conclude that re framing probably helps, just as a nice nap or walk makes people feel better. Yet, there most be some limit to re-framing and there are many other causes of depression. Reframe away, but I strongly think that problem solving is important. For example, I just found out that vitamin D deficiency might lead to depression and about one billion people in the world suffer from lack of vitamin D.

Also, perhaps depression is not on the rise at all but improvement in science allows for broader detection of the mental disorder. Just as autism may not be on the rise, but instead be due to broader detection.

"Vitamin D deficiency is very common. It's estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide have low levels of the vitamin in their blood (2Trusted Source)."

"4. Depression

A depressed mood may also be a sign of vitamin D deficiency.

In review studies, researchers have linked vitamin D deficiency to depression, particularly in older adults (19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source)."

Maybe I am wrong, that people want to be depressed and if they have vitamin D deficiency and a pill can solve it, they will deliberately abstain from the pill and solving the problem.

James Leff said...

I never claimed, and never would claim, that my postings here are a substitute for therapy.

I’m offering insight, not cure.

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