Of Rats, Mermaids, and Gods

DelusionsA couple of stories in the news about rats and mermaids reminded me of the fact that our world is largely a landscape of self-created illusion. An imaginary realm where reality is a dream and our fantasies reality. Another couple of incidents that happened to me recently furthered my thoughts in this direction. One involved my older step-sister and another some friends of mine.

We live in this amazing world of sensation and our minds are capable of such imagining that it is often difficult to separate those things that we want to be true, that we ideologically believe, from those things that are not actually true at all. One only has to listen to a friend tell the story of an incident that happened to the both of you years before to see this is true. Their version is generally wildly different from yours. Why does this happen? Why do we cling to phantoms when reality stares us in the face?

I’d like to relate my own recent incidents as an example of why we live in this fantasy realm instead of reality. My step-sister is passionate about the topic of Israel and not long after becoming my friend on Facebook I grew tired of her posts on the subjects and removed her from my friends list. Years went by. Recently at my younger half-sister’s wedding I had the chance to speak with my older step-sister (I have five sisters). My older step-sister rather jokingly told me she wouldn’t invite me to any more Tea Party events. At first I had no idea what she was talking about but then it occurred to me the last event she knew before I removed her from my friend’s list was apparently an invitation to a Tea Party rally.

This is instructive. The invitation had nothing to do with why I removed her from my friend’s list but it was, from her perspective, the inciting incident. She sent me the invitation and I promptly removed her from my list. It’s actually quite logical although false. This is something that happens to all of us frequently. Our view of anyone else’s world ends the moment we are no longer communicating with them. We say our goodbyes and they are happy. An hour later we meet again and they are unhappy. What did I do? Are you mad at me? It, of course, has nothing to do with us but involved some other incidents that occurred in the meantime.

Someone gets overly upset at us for some minor transgression. It’s almost certain that they are mad about something else going on in their lives and took it out on us. Yet we feel as if we caused the wrath. That it is our fault somehow. We our the center of our world. Everything that happens, happens to us. This is false of course but we feel it, we think it. When lightning strikes my house it must because of me. I’ve done something, something to anger … who? Who could bring down lightning? Who could cause my hard-drive to crash? God, that’s who. It’s perfectly logical … and false.

The other incident that happened involved, of all things, boy scouts and astronauts! I was enjoying a wonderful meal thanks to my good friend who invited many of us to his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. The son of another friends is a boy scout and we happened to be talking about space. Yet another friend mentioned that all astronauts were boy scouts. My friend’s son, I’m ashamed to say before me, immediately jumped in with the comment, “Except the girls”.

The man who made the original statement quickly said that he meant only the early, lunar astronauts. I smiled and said that another group of astronauts were not boy scouts. Cosmonauts. The man quickly asserted that the Russians actually had a very strong boy scout program. I was somewhat skeptical but he seemed absolutely sure. The mother of my friend then grabbed her cell phone and told me with certainty that Yuri Gagarin was a member of the Russian version of the boy scouts. At this point I capitulated, after all, this was from the internet!

That night I looked it all up. I don’t want to get into details but the Russians outlawed scouting in 1922 and Yuri Gagarin from the ages of thirteen to fifteen was living in a mud hut the Nazi soldiers living in his house let his family build out back, not scouting in the non-existent Russian scout program. Many of the lunar astronauts were boy scouts, but hardly all.

Why did my friends say what they did? This is another major clue as to why we live in this world of delusion. We make a statement that we want to be true, an ideology that fits with our view of the world. Someone postulates reasonable arguments as to the veracity of this world view and we defend our position. If we admit that one thing isn’t correct perhaps our entire view will fall apart. This is extremely common, extremely normal, and I do not hesitate to tell you that I’m guilty of it as well. The more pointed the question the more strident our defense. The war of the talking heads has begun. Rationality has lost.

My goal here isn’t to humiliate my friends. I’ve been guilty of the similar delusions many times. My goal is to urge people to look past their self-centered, ideological view of the world. Look at things with a critical eye and take nothing for absolute truth, whether it be mermaids, rats on Mars, or god.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300+ pages of swashbuckling fun for $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Movie Monday – The Right Stuff

The Right StuffI’m keeping the momentum going on my Movie Monday series with a look at one of my all-time favorites, The Right Stuff. The movie is based on a book by Tom Wolfe that is historical fictional written about the Project Mercury Space Program of the 1960’s. Interestingly Wolfe has said the didn’t particularly like the film but I suspect that happens in the transition between novel and screenplay fairly frequently. They are different mediums and changes must inevitably occurs.

Let’s get back to why the movie is so darn good, at least from my perspective. One of the major themes of the movie is the fight between practicality and blind courage. The astronauts and test pilots are portrayed as both brave and moderately reckless whereas the engineers and politicians are more calculating and careful. Generally courage is portrayed in a more flattering light but the line about what makes the planes fly being “funding” rings true. I think both are necessary components to greatness.

The other beautifully portrayed theme is between the Mercury astronauts and Chuck Yeager who was not chosen for the program because of his lack of a college education. Yeager and the test pilots laugh at the foolish astronauts who have no control but are simply along for the ride but in the end the courage of both groups is aptly displayed.

The flying scenes, particularly Yeager in his attempt at breaking the altitude record, are spectacular and the moment when he goes for the height record and sees the upper atmosphere and stars is truly wonderful. Left out of Mercury … so close and yet so far.

For me the greatness of the movie is the competition between the astronauts as they fight to be the first American in space  (lest we never forget, Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space) and that between Yeager and Scott Crossfield as they fight their own battles.

These proud men compete with one another with all their skills and because of this emerge winners one and all. That is a life lesson that we seem to have forgotten here in a United States where winning is the only thing.

I would urge everyone to compete with sportsmanship as hard as they can and find victory in the effort regardless of the final outcome. Somehow winning has become more important than playing fairly. It is ok to cheat as long as you aren’t caught. It’s ok to foul someone going in for the winning points. I think the world would be better if placed our emphasis on the competition, not the victory. On our behavior, not the outcome.

I pride myself on pragmatism and I can see how people would call me a dreamer but there is evidence of sportsmanship all the time. We see it when a softball team carries an injured rival around the bases, when a basketball player intentionally misses free throws, in rowing where competitors rescue other races. We all applaud it when we see it but somehow we choose to win rather than play with style.

Anyway, that’s what I took from The Right Stuff. Do you agree?

Let me know in the comments.

Just to get a plug for my upcoming novel the idea of sportsmanship is going to be one of the main themes of my fourth book, the Sword of Water. In the book it’s not a matter of losing a game but your life in a world where thugs who understand, but do not believe in, honor can manipulate those who do to the detriment of their country and to the world.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire