Tag Archives: humanity

“A.D. After Death: Book Three” by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire

This final installment has been sitting on my desk waiting to be read for a while now, and I finally got around to it. It is fairly long and I knew it would take me at least an hour to read it, so I was waiting until I had enough time to savor it.

As with the first two issues, this one is very text intensive. The story is extremely complex, dealing with memory, guilt, and cycles of rebirth in a post-apocalyptic landscape. And while I am feeling that the post-apocalyptic genre is getting a little hackneyed, this story is really fresh and interesting.

Jonah, the protagonist, has been undergoing treatments that prolong life indefinitely. The problem is, his memory gets more distorted after each cycle (the term used for the treatment). At one point, he conjures a memory of when he first went for the treatment. He is explaining to a woman Inez about why he decided to take the treatment.

I look down at my hands, as if there’ll be an answer there. “I suppose because I’m just… tired of being afraid all the time. Tired of feeling like my life is an egg I’m balancing on a spoon day after day. Because I just live in fear, and this…” and here I look up at her, “this just isn’t who I want to be.”

This paragraph made me think about people today. It seems that many people live their lives in fear, which is fueled by 24-hour news and social media. Not long ago, I had to turn off all my news sources. It had become toxic and made me feel bad most of the time. And like Jonah, I do not want to live in fear.

One of the most powerful moments in this book was when Jonah remembers his mother’s death. He recalls the horror reflected in his dying mother’s eyes, and undergoes an epiphany where he fully grasps why she was so horror-struck at her moment of death, as her psyche was flooded with memories.

And the terror in her eyes… the horror at knowing the truth.

But that’s where I was most wrong. I saw that now. All this time I thought the horror was at remembering–at seeing herself as she was, rather than how she’d hoped to be at the end.

But I knew now that wasn’t the case at all; she hadn’t been horrified at remembering.

She’d been horrified that she forgot in the first place.

That she’d lost her place in her own story.

I knew this to be true, because I felt that way now, felt it with every cell in my body.

Having watched someone close to me suffer the mental deterioration associated with Alzheimer’s disease, this concept haunts me. The thought that it is possible to forget everything that is important to you, all the experiences that make us who we are, is infinitely terrifying to me.

Towards the end of the tale, Jonah is contemplating death, and he realizes that to fully understand the experience of death is beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend.

I thought of children, how impossible math is to a baby, or physics to a toddler, and I got the feeling that whatever death was, it was beyond my perception entirely.

Death is the ultimate mystery. In spite of all the mystical texts written about dying, regardless of all the near-death experiences, the truth is, we really do not know what happens. It will forever remain a mystery for us during our lifetimes.

One last word about this book: The ending is very ambiguous, but in a good way. The author carefully leaves the ending open for interpretation, and I love that. Too often writers feel the need to wrap up a story all nice and neat; but life is not really like that, and this story reflects the unknowns in life that we must interpret through our own experiences. I won’t say any more, because I am not one who likes spoilers.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff.

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The Power of Words in “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

It’s been a while since I published a blog post. I’ve been quite busy with work and travel (went to Spain, which was “fantastico”). Anyway, amid the craziness and busy-ness, I managed to read The Book Thief. My daughter had loaned it to me, saying that she loved the book and felt I would love it too, which I certainly did. I had seen the film, but as usual, the book was WAY better than the movie.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the narrative voice, which is the voice of Death. Omniscient narrators are nothing new, but Death as a character certainly provides a unique vantage point from which to tell a tale, particularly one set in Nazi Germany during WWII. The narrator exudes a strange sense of detachment and sadness, which if you are the Grim Reaper is probably how you would need to be. You would need to detach yourself enough to reap souls, but it would be cruel to do so without some feeling of sadness at the many lives cut short.

While this story is so rich and offers much to explore, I’d like to focus on the power of words as presented in the text.

As a writer, I am keenly aware of the power that words have. They are symbols that evoke images, sway opinions, enlighten, and mislead. When people say that the pen is mightier than the sword, what is actually meant is that words are the most powerful weapons anyone can wield.

Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he devised. “I will not have to.” Still, he was not rash. Let’s allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.

He planted them day and night.

He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany. . . It was a nation of farmed thoughts.

(p. 445)

The protagonist, Liesel (the book thief), loves books. But at the height of her despair, she has an epiphany where she fully grasps the power of words as tools to spread evil.

She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half.

Then a chapter.

Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better.

What good were the words?

She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. “What good are the words?”

(p. 521)

Words, like swords, are double-edged. They can cause immeasurable suffering, but can also heal the deepest wounds. This is why when I see people throwing words around on 24-news stations or on social media, I cannot help but feel concerned. If people would only pause and consider before reacting with words, we would avoid a lot of pain and conflict.

We all need to choose our words more carefully. I, for one, will try to be vigilant regarding how I use these powerful tools, and hopefully I can use them to advance society and humanity.

Thanks for taking the time to read my “words.” Cheers!

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“Timon of Athens” by William Shakespeare

I recently saw this play performed on stage. Prior to that, I had no idea what this play was about, except that it probably had something to do with a guy named Timon who was from Athens. What I discovered was a really cool play which touched on themes that I could relate to. I decided to read the text and explore the nuances of the text.

To very briefly summarize this play, it is about a guy named Timon who was from Athens (surprised?) who was fortunate enough to have some degree of wealth. Timon was very generous and would hold lavish parties for his friend, give them expensive gift, and offer charity to those in need. But after a while, Timon found himself in financial trouble and sought the aid of his friends. It is an old but true cliché, that when you are down and out, you discover who your real friends are. Timon sadly discovers that his friends were false and just hung around to sponge off of him. Not a single person offers to help him. Disillusioned with humanity, he leaves society to live in the wild, certain that all people are solely motivated by greed and selfishness.

Early in the play, there is some foreshadowing of what will happen to Timon.

When Fortune in her shift and change of mood
Spurns down her late beloved. all his dependants
Which labored after him to the mountain’s top
Even on their hands and knees let him slip down,
Not one accompanying his declining foot.

(Act I: scene i)

After Timon’s flattering fake friends turn their back on him, he comes to the realization that humans are worse than animals. Animals would not use each other for material gain, or neglect each other when difficulties arise. This dark revelation affirms in his mind that humans are not to be trusted, and this loss of faith in mankind swiftly turns to a hatred of all humanity.

Timon will to the woods, where he shall find
The unkindliest beast more kinder than mankind.
The gods confound—hear me, you good gods all! —
The Athenians both within and out that wall!
And grant, as Timon grows, his hate may grow
To the whole human race of mankind, high and low!
Amen.

(Act IV: scene i)

While Timon is in the woods, he is accosted by some bandits who suspect he has some hidden treasure. Timon responds by pointing out that nature can provide all of a person’s needs, that money is not required in order to thrive.

Your greatest want is you want much of meat.
Within this mile break forth a hundred springs.
The oaks bear mast, the briers scarlet hips.
The bounteous housewife, Nature, on each bush
Lays her full mess before you. Want! Why want?

(Act IV: scene iii)

As I finished this play, I was reminded of the song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” And while I have had my share of experiences with fair weather friends, I am also fortunate enough to have close friends who have always been there for me in my time of need. For this I am grateful.

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Conflicting Archetypes in “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman: Issue 02

In this installment, Shadow accepts the job as bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday and then has an unpleasant encounter with Technical Boy.

Wednesday and Technical Boy embody two archetypes that are in conflict with each other. Wednesday is a manifestation of the Trickster as embodied in the American con man or highwayman, the person who lives on the road, scheming and chiseling people in order to get by. Technical Boy is a modern archetype, that of technology as a god. There is a tension between the two, and the arrogant Technical Boy views Wednesday as an archaic thing whose time has passed.

You tell Wednesday this, man. You tell him he’s history. Tell him we are the future and we don’t give a fuck about him. You fucking tell him that, man. He has been consigned to the dumpster of history, while people like me ride our limos down the super-highway of tomorrow. Tell him that language is a virus and that religion is an operating system and that prayers are just so much fucking spam.

What is the most fascinating to me about this is the fact that we may be living in a time when new archetypes are forming. The digital age has altered human existence in such a way that it has thrust open the doorway to a place where it is possible for new archetypes to arise. It really feels like we are in the midst of a paradigm shift of such proportions that we may need new archetypes to help us navigate the new landscape.

As I look around me, I see people reacting to this paradigm shift in different ways. Some people are energized and inspired, while others are fearful and seek to return to the relative safety of the bygone era. It’s no wonder that there is so much polarization in the socio-political climate right now. The storm is gathering, so to speak.

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“A.D. After Death: Book Two” by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire

afterdeath_02

This is the second book in the trilogy and it is just as deep and thought provoking as the first installment. Instead of summarizing the complex storyline, I figured I would share a couple passages that I found to be especially interesting.

“Old age is being aware of yourself, your fragility; it’s being scared, and humanity is in its old age now, is my belief. We are a frail old man, aware of our brittleness. All it’ll take is a push. A fall and a broken hip. A plague. A bomb. A cataclysm. And we will start to fall apart, fast, just like your mother did.”

At the mention of my mother, I feel my rage rising, but he stops me before I say anything.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way, Jonah,” he says. “Millions of years of history could change right here, on this porch. With you and me.”

I have been thinking a lot about the current state of humanity, and this passage I think really sums it up perfectly. Our civilization is old, and it feels like it is dying, and I know that makes people scared. This would explain all the insanity that is bubbling up in our world. But this passage also offers us hope. If we accept that our old world is finished, we can make the decision to begin the process of giving birth to the next phase of humanity. Humanity, like everything else, goes through cycles. We are near the end of the current cycle. So we now have a choice: pave the way for the new cycle, or allow ourselves to be extinguished along with the old.

This segues nicely into the other quote I wanted to share.

Imagine it, getting to live over and over, remembering what you choose to remember, shedding everything else; all the time in the world to overcome your fears, to learn all you want to learn, to love over and over, to cycle and cycle through until you’re truly satisfied and proud and … finished?

The cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth for an individual human is also representative of the same cycle on a macro-human level. Humanity goes through the same cycles as individual persons.

I genuinely feel that we are on the threshold of what future generations will consider one of the most interesting and pivotal points in the evolution of the human species. As difficult as it is to live in these times, I am excited to be here and participate in the changes that are under way.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and share in my musings. And remember: “Millions of years of history could change right here, on this porch. With you and me.”

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“Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living” by Krista Tippett

becomingwise

I picked this book up while at the Faith in Literature conference, where I was fortunate enough to attend two conversations with Krista Tippett, as well as a luncheon with her. She was so inspiring that I could not pass on the opportunity to acquire an autographed copy of her book. It was promptly placed at the top of the “to-be-read” pile.

The book is basically a collection of her thoughts along with snippets of conversations with spiritual thought leaders, activists, writers, and poets from her radio show, “On Being.” She divides the book into five main sections: Words, Flesh, Love, Faith, and Hope. There is so much wisdom in this book, that it is impossible for me to do it justice, so I will just share a few passages and my thoughts on them. The first one concerns the power of stories.

They touch something that is human in us and is probably unchanging. Perhaps this is why the important knowledge is passed through stories. It’s what holds culture together. Culture has a story, and every person in it participates in that story. The world is made up of stories; it’s not made up of facts.

(p. 26)

I had a professor in college who specialized in Irish literature, and I remember him telling me that stories mattered. That has stayed with me throughout my life. There is power in stories and poems. They convey something about the human experience that cannot be expressed in a spreadsheet or a graph. It saddens me when I talk to people who say they never read fiction or poetry, because they don’t have the time or they only want to read “factual” books. These individuals miss out on something unique to the human experience, a communal sharing that our society desperately needs.

Growing up, I connected to the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s and did my best to carry the torch of social change. But after a while, I became disillusioned, and Krista captures what it is that has changed between the 60s and today.

A comparison was made with the 1960s, another moment of social turmoil, including many assassinations. A journalist said that he thought the difference between the 1960s and now was that even though there was incredible tumult and violence, it was at the very same time a period of intense hope. People could see that they were moving toward goals, and that’s missing now.

(p. 156)

It is hard to remain hopeful when we are bombarded with negative stories via social media and network news stations. I really make an effort to stay positive, but sometimes I can’t help feeding in to the hype. One of my short-term goals is to try to be more positive and hopeful.

I have always been fascinated by both science and mysticism, which is why the following quote resonates with me.

Both the scientist and the mystic live boldly with the discoveries they have made, all the while anticipating better discoveries to come.

(p. 186)

What I love about science and mysticism is that they both seek to illuminate the hidden mysteries of existence. There was a time when the mystical arts and the sciences were aligned. That changed for a while and the two were at odds. But lately, I see the paths converging again, and I think that it will ultimately be the unification of the scientific with the spiritual that will usher in the next stage of human evolution and ultimately save us from ourselves.

With all the negativity, divisiveness, and hostility that I have seen this past year, this book was exactly what I needed to shift my perspective back to the positive. Too often my cynicism kicks in, but Krista reminds me that there is always hope and that we should never stop striving to improve ourselves and the world around us. I want to close with one more quote that really captures the importance of this book, which I hope you will read soon.

Our problems are not more harrowing than the ravaging depressions and wars of a century ago. But our economic, demographic, and ecological challenges are in fact existential. I think we sense this in our bones, though it’s not a story with commonly agreed-upon contours. Our global crises, the magnitude of the stakes for which we are playing, could signal the end of civilization as we’ve known it. Or they might be precisely the impetus human beings perversely need to do the real work at hand: to directly and wisely address the human condition and begin to grow it up.

(p. 14)

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Memory and Consciousness in “Neuromancer” by William Gibson

Neuromancer

I had high expectations for this book because I had heard so much about it, and I suppose as is often the case when you have expectations about something, the book did not quite live up to them. Not that it was bad; on the contrary, it’s a very good book. It’s just that the cyberpunk genre has become kind of cliché at this point and even though this was the book that launched the genre, it ended up feeling old. I suspect that had I read it 30 years ago, I would have had a completely different experience.

The book is about a hacker and a samurai attempting to “jack in” to an artificial intelligence (AI) program. Much of the book takes place in cyberspace, or the matrix. Yeah, if you didn’t know already, the book influenced the films, which made it hard for me not to picture Keanu Reeves jumping around and overacting.

“The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games,” said the voice-over, “in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.” On the Sony, a two-dimensional space was faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spacial possibilities of logarithmic spirals; cold blue military footage burned through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire control circuits of tanks and war planes. “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding . . .”

(p. 51)

For me, the most interesting aspects of the book deal with consciousness and memory. Human memory is described using the holographic model, which is a concept that I accept. I do not think of consciousness and memory as linear, but instead as existing everywhere at all times. The challenge is access.

“I don’t have this good a memory,” Case said, looking around. He looked down at his hands, turning them over. He tried to remember what the lines on his palm were like, but couldn’t.

“Everybody does,” the Finn said, dropping his cigarette and grinding it out under his heel, “ but not many of you can access it. Artists can, mostly, if they’re any good. If you could lay this construct over the reality, the Finn’s place in lower Manhattan, you’d see a difference, but maybe not as much as you’d think. Memory’s holographic, for you.” The Finn tugged at one of his small ears. “I’m different.”

“How do you mean, holographic?” The word made him think of Riviera.

“The holographic paradigm is the closest thing you’ve worked out to a representation of human memory, is all. But you’ve never done anything about it. People, I mean.” The Finn stepped forward and canted his streamlined skull to peer up at Case. “Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t be happening.”

(p. 170)

One of the questions that challenges us in the cyber age is whether consciousness can exist in a machine, or an AI. In the book, Gibson hints that probably, true human consciousness requires flesh in order to exist, that it is somehow encoded into our cellular and genetic makeup.

It belonged, he knew—he remembered—as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read.

(p. 239)

Is it possible that eventually an AI will develop consciousness? What will a conscious machine look like? How will that affect humanity? These are questions that have terrified and fascinated people for a long time. I suppose it is possible. And questions like these, which percolate to the surface as you read this book, are what make this book worth reading. If you are like me, you will have to overlook the parts that now feel cliché and hackneyed, but if you can do that, you will find some interesting and challenging concepts to explore.

Cheers, and thanks for stopping by.

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