Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
Sermon for Today: Shallow Depths!
3/16/2008 6:18:45 PM
A few reflections and observations on moral versimilitude of the NASA persuasion, with a dash of two of religiously tinged sardonicism tossed into the mix for good measure. By the way, please keep those contributions coming in, and those who haven't already tithed 10% to help keep our mission serving the cause of child-molesting priests, please give generously. God bless you...
“It’s raining, it’s pouring, and the old man is snoring”. So starts the timeless children’s song. It is indeed raining outside; the drops fall huge and heavy, each one plunging down from the gray skies outdoors like monolithic tears shed by some sorrowful God that transcends all human comprehension.
My use of the word ‘God’ here marks my commentary with equally huge and heavy dribbles of the utmost liquid irony, since I do not myself subscribe to gods or goddesses of the conventional religious sort. Still, despite this fact of my life and the additional fact that I enjoying using an imaginary deity’s name in my speech from time to time, I found myself immensely entertained a few nights ago when Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece “Time Bandits” aired on a local television channel. Among many wonderfully amusing moments found in that brilliant film there is one in particular that unfailingly reminds me of the unknowable and infinitely mysterious mechanisms of life we human beings all figure substantially in, whether subject to religious interpretation or not.
I refer to the scene in that film whence the 6 small characters who are The Supreme Being’s shop assistants are transported via a wormhole by The Source of All Ultimate Evil back to the “Time of Legends”. They find themselves suddenly plucked from the deck of the sinking liner Titantic and dropped on the deck of an ogre’s sailing ship in another time-space dimension. That same ship in the next scene is suddenly borne up out of the water on the head of a colossal giant who emerges from the ocean and strides for the shore. When the giant finally reaches land, he steps out onto the beach, near which is a tiny, rickety cottage inhabited by two equally tiny fantasy creatures (apparently a married couple) who are in the midst of a heated domestic argument. In the next moment, as they bicker away about some unfathomably trivial marital irritation, the giant’s huge foot falls out of the sky above them and instantly crushes them, their flimsy cottage, and supra-superficial discord into microscopic fragments of dust.
That scene remains with me as a brilliantly allegorical illustration of the seemingly inexplicable, fate-filled circumstances of our existence, as we human beings similarly become so caught up in our terribly petty little daily concerns that we are rendered equally oblivious of that massive allegorical foot of unknowable destiny that hovers over the lives of all of us. That fateful pedal extremity of the unimaginable, completely unforeseen and poised to instantly render the utter absurdities with which we preoccupy ourselves moot, can and often does fall out of a blue sky without warning. As irredeemably superstitious creatures, it is common practice among ourselves to attribute this to the will of some sort of a God or another, depending upon your particular quaint set of quaintly primitive beliefs (Christian, Islamic, Zoroastrian, or whatever). Whatever the causative source, however, the bottom line result is that in a single instant everything that formerly seemed important to you is rendered utterly and absolutely meaningless. Within the span of that teensy, tiny fragment of time, your whole universe may be (and frequently is) turned inside out and stood on its head in the most grotesque manner conceivable. Despite our unending attempts to discern our respective fates by some religious standard or another, and order our lives accordingly, the awful certainty of that sudden end to all physicality is a lot like inevitability of that stuff that comes out of our rear ends. Phrased another way, fæces occurs.
Last year, that unexpected Kosmik Foot of celestial excrement dropped on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in the form of Astronaut Lisa Nowak’s sad emotional ‘breakup’ on reentry to the conventional atmosphere of her personal concerns. In a matter of a few moments, a terribly bright and talented, highly trained and educated woman was transformed from a heroic national semi-deity and role model for countless women into the nation’s abject ‘evening news’ laughing stock of the moment. Additionally in those instants, the better part of a national investment of half a billion dollars or more went up in a puff of smoke not dissimilar that in which the space shuttle Columbia vanished a few years ago. The sad thing about this most recent incident is that while the loss of a space shuttle full of brave astronauts made instant heroes out of all of them (and NASA), Nowak’s fall from grace not only personally subjected her to the cruel ridicule of nearly 300 million Americans, it also irreparably damaged the entire squeaky clean NASA image that that organization has striven so hard to control and cultivate throughout the past 50 years.
Predictably, a number of pungent cartoons appeared almost overnight, each dealing with this sad turn of affairs. Several struck me as further examples of the sort of brilliant creativity evidenced in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Time Bandits’ film, since that film succinctly sets the operative functional context within which much of our nation’s affairs take place today; as deftly as a so-called ‘surgical strike’ takes out a military target. The sad fact is that too much of America’s popular consciousness is in fact too shallow to splash around in any truly virtuous deep-end of life. Nowak’s recent emotional melt-down is simply a good example of that national trait in action, but then, so is our involvement in that useless, infinitely costly, and tragically ill-conceived American military adventure in the Middle East known as Iraq War II.
In Nowak’s case, it should be clear enough to any broad-minded and acutely perceptive person that despite all her inherent intelligence, her attainment of high academic achievement, and the tremendous amount of time and money spent to train her to function flawlessly as an astronaut, Lisa Nowak was still 1) a human being, and 2) a woman.
There is a common, if highly specious, impression on the part of the public (largely fueled and creatively enhanced by the endless efforts of NASA’s public relations wonks) that our space program heroes and heroines are somehow larger than life…somehow more perfect and irreproachable than the ordinary three brain cell drabs that populate our cities and communities who go around committing gratuitous drive-by shootings at random, abusing wives, and shooting their unwanted offspring. Like all deliberately engendered and disingenuously perpetuated misconceptions, that squeaky-clean perception of moral and behavioral purity is simply not true, for Nowak, despite all that glittery veneer of erudition she managed to manifest in the past, was no more exceptional on an ordinary emotional level than you or I (or a banana slug, for that matter).
One thing that is often overlooked by us, and probably not least in part due to the frantically rushed pace of life our society forces us all to live, is that each and every one of us exist under a tremendous amount of (largely unnecessary and highly artificial) induced psychological pressure. The total amount of that pressure each of us bears is usually proportionate to the level we occupy in the greater hierarchy of our contemporary social concerns. Those at the very top of this particular food-chain operate of necessity at the highest levels of stress, pressure, and constraint (both emotional and intellectual). Nowak is the most recent example of the all too readily possible effects advancement into that particularly evolved vanguard of human life expression may have. What the public does not see (again thanks to very careful PR management and the co-dependent participation of today’s deliberately dumbed-down media) is the fact that in reality, NASA’s astronauts are subject to significant levels of chronic dysfunction (alcoholism, sexual deviance, substance abuse, etc.) that are not all that far below the rates found to be indicative of the ordinary population. In other words, although these public figures are all highly trained individuals, we often lose sight of the fact that they are still mortal and therefore still capable of committing egregious errors, perhaps even exceptionally extraordinary errors (as was the case in Nowak’s circumstances). Certainly Nowak’s actions, regardless of their actual intent (and given her high public profile), were not something that can or could be easily overlooked, or passed off as an inconsequential variation of the norm.
At the start of the American space program, back in the late 50s, our astronauts were selected from a very small and carefully screened group of candidates that was comprised for the most part of qualified and greatly experienced male military pilots. At that time it was a well understood fact that people who flew dangerous and high performance military aircraft knew that the mission always came first. That is, the operative military understanding was already in place that when it came to combat and the incredible hazards aerial combat involved, all personal emotional nuances were put on hold, neutered, or otherwise entirely removed from the scenario until the job was done and the target (or themselves) ‘taken out’. That is the essence of the military experience, after all: unquestioning acceptance of orders and abeyance to all personal attitudes and ideas that might run contrary to the given national military objectives.
Men have traditionally been trained towards that expected end as warriors and despite the occasional failure to live up to that level of combat expectation, any man who was unable to ‘hack it’ either voluntarily removed himself or was involuntarily removed from combat by those in command. This is the way the system has always worked and that is the way it was up through the time the Mercury Seven astronauts were chosen as the first Americans to challenge the hostile regions of space. Those men of the Project Mercury still had their individual failings, but because the ‘system’ was still very sexist and male-dominated at that time, the NASA PR gnomes usually managed to cover up the ‘peter tracks’ left in the sand by these early space ‘heroes’. [Note: I say this fully mindful of the fact that 13 American women had also been initially chosen to undergo astronaut training shortly thereafter and that it was only a fluke of administrative action that eventually rescinded the program, despite the fact that these highly qualified women had by then very adequately demonstrated their capabilities to carry out flight duty as spacecraft crews. More information on this little known aspect of our space program may be found at the following website: http://www.mercury13.com/. It should be further stated that despite the establishment of that early women astronaut training program, at that time it was never seriously anticipated that men and women would fly spacecraft as fully integrated and interactive male/female crews].
All of that suddenly changed in more recent decades when the growing women’s rights movement of the 60s and 70s challenged the traditional concepts and premises of male sexism. The inevitable end result was a gradual but inalterable change in the gender structure characterizing all American institutions, including those of the US military forces and the national Aeronautics and Space Administration, that led to women attaining near-equal status with men within NASA’s ‘manned’ space flight programs (and within the military). Suddenly we had female fighter pilots and female astronauts, but in NASA and the military there was even more of a challenge to face than in the non-military sphere. Men and women were flying with and fighting next to each other for the first time and as any idiot can imagine, despite the fact that they all wear similar flight suits, space suits, and/or uniforms, under all that gear they possess distinctly different physiological attributes and emotional quotients.
Despite all the advances of science and technology therefore, it is still absolutely impossible to nullify or eradicate entirely the most utterly basic biological aspects of human existence concerned with mating functions and sexual attraction. Even in the highly sophisticated confines of an aircraft or a spacecraft, nothing will ever render those factors completely and unequivocally null and void. Thus the stage is set for the possibility of circumstances and situations never before encountered as men and women blaze new trails together into the unknown territory of space. Nowak’s collapse to an emotionally primal state (likely brought about by the inordinately high levels of stress imposed upon her by all of these factors mentioned above) is therefore (somewhat paradoxically) both entirely unpredictable and completely comprehensible.
What is so profoundly sad about Nowak’s particular personal circumstances is that due to all the shallowness that characterises virtually all aspects of contemporary American popular culture (a shallowness further reinforced by the contrived trivialness of today’s popular media and television shows) and the obsessive preoccupation with Hollywood personality cultism that totally saturates the awareness of ordinary people in our society, Nowak will likely never rise above the basic shame of her single, momentary lapse of good judgment. To all effects and practical purposes, and despite all of her highly commendable prior accomplishments, she will likely remain the butt of national humor for the rest of her life. Jay Leno and all the other late night TV entertainment shows have certainly given ample evidence of that, already.
In this sense I am profoundly sorry for Lisa Nowak and simultaneously outraged at the lack of understanding and compassion demonstrated by the average American for one of its high-flown, but now grievously fallen heroes. In examining the situation from the comfortable vantage of hindsight, I feel confident in safely repeating what I have often said before: that all of life as we know it is ultimately ALL about sex, mating, pairing-up, and the basic sexual attraction between the human beings (note that I was careful enough here NOT to say ‘between a man and a woman’, since the subject of sexual attraction is far more complicated than that…). Take off all that fancy space-gear, remove the flight suits, and put two individuals (one male and one female in most cases) in the same room together, and it’s as if you have suddenly removed several thousands of years of structured civilization. In that instant, it’s back to square one and the dawn of creation. All those fancy toys that science and technology have endowed us clever opposed-thumb higher primates with are mere inconsequential artifacts that the biology of basic sexual attraction cannot ever dispose off entirely, no matter how sophisticated the approach and no matter how impressive the technical science underlying it. In the end we are all figurative Adams and Eves in that proverbial biblical story, about to be expelled by God from the Garden of Paradise as sinners (don’t forget that I am, after all, an atheistic alien and this use of the term ‘God’ is simply a handy figure of speech that all you primitive Earth creatures can more readily relate to).
Consider, if you will, a crew of astronauts on their way to Mars, as shall shortly be the actual case (with any luck and a budget allocation of several trillion dollars). There will definitely be both men and women in that crew, as certainly as we are immersed in Iraq’s lamentable violence up to our sorry asses. What if a male and female crew member develop a sexual attraction, either beforehand or en route? Or, even more sobering to think about, what if that crew has two men or two women who are sexually attracted to each other? In today’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment anything is possible. It is not inconceivable that two male homosexuals or two female lesbians could successfully cover up their innate sexual proclivities to the extent that such a scenario could take place. I admit that such a development is highly unlikely, and even more so now that NASA has been rather dramatically reminded that it needs to significantly bolster its astronaut psychological screening efforts; nevertheless, it is still a remote possibility.
Don’t think for a second that the results of such a mutual emotional-meltdown situation, occurring under the intense microscopic scrutiny of a whole nation, would result in anything less than a massive field-day for all the ‘Shallow Hals’ that populate our nation. It isn’t hard to imagine that such an event would inspire a whole sub-milieu of novels, books, films, and media sleeze-feeding frenzies, given the nations’ seemingly insatiable appetite for tawdry, sordid lapses of sensibility and regular lapses of good judgment in everyday life. After all, it never hurts, as this most recent example has tragically shown us, to remember that the higher one flies into space, the longer the fall back to Earth.
Above all, it is well advised to understand that due to the ever-precarious nature of human emotions and our terribly vulnerable nature as living, thinking, and feeling creatures, transcendently marooned on a planet with no definite consensual understanding of exactly why that is the case, there is no such thing as absolute certainty about anything in our lives. In that sad context we are all potential Lisa Nowaks poised on the verge of a great leap into that infinite void of shameful tragedy that awaits any one of us just beyond the next wormhole entrance.
And now, please excuse me. I’ve just received a call from the Church Elders about one of our priests who has an unfortunate tendency to engage in acts of pederasty. I presume the meeting called just now will be for the purpose of hiding this unhappy fact from our parishioners and the public. Tsk-tsk. What WAS Father Dominguez thinking?...
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