“The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. - Jean Baudrillard
“For those of us who are not French theorists but who know the difference between a motorhome and a single-wide trailer, a simulacrum is something that represents something that never existed. Or, in other words, the only truth of the thing is the lie itself.”
This particular journal entry is not exactly an update on our journey. I’ve got shit on my mind. Writing that shit down is helpful. Publishing it here is probably not necessary, but I want to, so I do. In other words, if you are looking to read a journal entry which updates you on what Tiffany and Pelé have been up to, this might not be the best one to read.
If you are convinced your body is occupied by an immortal soul, and are not interested in hearing otherwise, feel free to skip this journal entry entirely; it only gets worse from here. If, like me, you question that arrangement, perhaps we share a similar experience when considering what else might be driving our personal ships, if not a soul. Seriously, if you are even remotely offended by ideas about religion or the nature of consciousness which differ from yours, please close this window and don't look back…last chance!
I was raised Catholic. My family is Catholic, I attended Catholic school from the age of 5 until I was 18. I don’t remember when I was told this, but I remember believing I was born with a soul which would be with me forever, even after death. Actually, after my death is when my soul was meant to do its best work. In the mean time, between the magic moment of my conception, and the liberating moment of my death, my soul was to be culpable for my behavior. It was meant to be the cable which gave the vessel of my body its divine connection, and provide my body with a pilot.
One of the many upsides of having temporarily escaped the gravitational pull of responsibility is that I have time to consider, at my own pace, just how I feel about things. For example, what I now think of as my consciousness, I once thought of as my soul, minus the bit which happens after death, of course. I’m not exactly convinced of that reality. In fact, while I can’t be certain either way, I seriously doubt my consciousness does much of anything once I kick the bucket. At least, I hope it doesn’t. That is an entirely different discussion for another time.
For now, to be clear, I’m not a fanatical or militant atheist. I suppose I am an A-theist, since I don’t believe in God, but I also don’t know for certain there isn’t one. I’m agnostic, I guess, but belonging to a group is not something I’m looking for either, so I’ll pass on labeling myself too clearly. Let’s just say that I am skeptical yet constantly in awe of the grand mystery of existence.
However, when I think about what my consciousness actually is, I am running into similar issues as the ones which disabused me of the notion of possessing an immortal soul. I am no longer convinced my consciousness is anything particularly special. I run into and trip over the concept of free-will and individualism like an intoxicated child whose been stealing drinks from adults at a party; I don’t quite “get it”, but the effects are powerful.
For instance; who is it that is reading these words on this screen? Is the “you” who can read, write, click buttons on a computer screen and parade her great taste in reading material, just the sum total of all your experience, mingled with an accent, ideas and subsequent judgments about the way things work? Or are “you” simply a biological trick, an electrochemical response to the stimulus around you? In other words, are we biomechanical robots, or is there something truly special in the human animal, unique in all of the animal kingdom? In either case, “you” and “I” are likely not really here.
Of course we are here, in that these experiences are happening to someone, and that someone is having their own experiences. My issue is with the “someone” in this scenario. Every single “someone” in the world may just be just a story teller, looking for meaning behind their experience. In other words, that electrochemical drive which gives voice to the person in our heads who each of us recognize as “me”, may just be that, a voice in our heads.
Much of what I’m going to mull over here has been the result of two things. For one, I’m reading a book by Yuval Noah Harari – “Homo Deus”. It is absolutely worth reading if you are interested in what kind of animal you are, and where you feel that animal is headed. Secondly, we are traveling through a part of the world which makes one think regularly about the places from which we’ve come as a species, and what has happened between then and the present moment.
When I consider what type of animal I am, I find non-human animals are in many ways superior to the human animal. For instance, as far as I can tell, no single fish feels the need to convince any other fish of anything, ever. Fish need to be excellent at fishing and bad at getting caught. If they are also good at making other fish, then all is well. Simple, clean, and obviously the story I tell myself about fish.
Of course, a fish needs a story like a bicycle needs an artichoke.
When I was no longer able to believe in myself as the owner of a soul, I didn't realize I was clinging to the idea that even without a divine spark, the character of man was somehow of a singular nature. It is difficult for me to consider that our personalities are the result of millions of years of time and mutation, and are not born of some other origin, unique to humans .
As we continue to travel through Mexico, I am confronted with stories of cultures long past. I read about their beliefs, their military struggles, their agriculture, their economies and the resulting artistic expression. We have toured ruins, seen artifacts, puzzled over museum exhibits, and have done commerce with what remains of their descendants. In all of this, I have to wonder about just “who” was driving those ancient ships of consciousness? “Who” was it that told themselves “to sacrifice my daughter so that she might speak to the rain gods is a good idea”, or, “if I find gold in this land, it will make God and the queen happy, and all of the death and discomfort worth the effort.”
If you believe in the immortal soul (and somehow continued reading), then these people, indigenous and colonizer alike, were possessed of souls which witnessed and participated in atrocities of monumental proportions. If he had a soul, would Hernan Cortes be in hell? And if he was, would Montezuma be there with him?
These questions are not relevant to my larger point, and I assure you there is one, but they are interesting enough to me to write them down. The questions relevant to my eventual point however, are the following:
1. If what I think of as “me” is merely a blending of my intake of experience and my need to make sense of it, then am “I” really here?
2. Is it possible that every human action is the result of story telling mapped onto experience for the purpose of making sense of our decisions?
3. If we are just going around and believing stories, what new stories await?
I consider the people we are learning about as whole cultures, - Zapotec, Olmec, Maya, Toltec, Spanish - and I try to consider them as individuals as well, with their own hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and problems. I also think of them the same way I think of myself and my contemporaries, as people in desperate need of stories to make sense of a particularly chaotic world.
For instance, I take for granted that the story of the germ theory of disease is something upon which I can genuinely rely when I am ill. There are steps I can take to get well, based on a theory about microscopic germs which are fucking me over in some measurable way. In another time, my illness could have been interpreted by another story teller’s prerogative, wherein my illness was a well deserved slight upon my person for not praying to Jesus, or for not having been generous enough to the gods with my sacrifices.
The differences in these two world views, scientific faith and religious faith, are fleshed-out by testing theories against measurable results. Blind faith, regardless of evidence, versus the need to prove your hypothesis wrong, or accept it. However, the net impulse behind these two methods of dealing with the abject misery of being ill are the same; we need answers to nearly impossible questions, and the best story wins, every time.
The more I see of these ruins, ancient temples, historical timelines and the eventual arrival of the Christian Crusader, the more I am confronted with something quite new to me. I find myself disliking Jesus Christ. His image, eyes closed in pain and suffering, wearing a crown of thorns, bleeding and tortured, disturbs me in a way it never has before. Even the simple figure of the cross endorses a subtle guilt somewhere in my mind. I see these elaborate churches, filled with stolen gold and opulence which contrasts in a cruel way with the homeless, poor, or otherwise suffering people outside.
To be fair, I don’t actually dislike the guy called Jesus from the bible. As fictitious characters go, he was great. He could perform crazy miracles, was liberal with his eastern philosophy lectures, had lots of daring quests, was good at throwing parties (loaves and fishes, water to wine), and his stories and friends were all super interesting. I have to say, growing up Catholic, I always thought of Jesus as an all-around wonderful guy. In my mind, he looked a little like a country singer, and gave his speeches in an American accent. For what it’s worth, I think that impulse might be universal (Black skinned cultures often picture Jesus as a black guy, in Korea, he looks Korean, I’ve seen Hispanic looking Jesus, etc…).
No, what I dislike is how the idea of Jesus, and ideas like Jesus (Think Google, Coco-cola, Democracy, Capitalism) have been used to change the course of history and culture around the world. I’m somewhat focused on the way this all went down in Latin America, but the same thing has happened in Africa, Asia, Australia, The USA, and many just about everywhere I can think of.
I would like to point out that I have no quarrel with people who love Jesus, necessarily. I’m genuinely happy for people who have faith in Jesus and believe in God. My own family is filled with and wonderful people who will never invade another land and force their belief in Jesus upon a population of non-believers, and I’m grateful for that. My own issues with Jesus are my problem, and are not a reflection of how I feel about the people who accept him as their savior. This is a problem with story-telling, and how we abuse it and how it abuses us in return.
I would also like to point out that I think the gods of the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, Hindus, Greeks, and countless other cultures are equally matched in my estimation. The God of Abraham, Jesus, Isaac, Mohamed, the Pope, and Joel Osteen is no different to me than the afore mentioned gods. They all have the same chances of being real or false to me. I couldn’t possibly tell you that I know one to be real and one to be false. Intuition, the guiding force in my own personal fiction, tells me that the whole idea is flawed from the top down. In other words, if I’m wrong, there is a good chance I’ll see plenty of you in hell, or in one of the many other interpretations of the afterlife.
Here is what I see happening. A culture existing in a remote part of the world where Jesus hasn’t yet landed on the shores is busy collectively filling its head with its own complex and interesting stories and explanations for the inner workings of existence on the planet. One fine day a crusader arrives, notices the natives are practicing a faith which he finds repugnant and backwards, and tells them that HIS GOD has something even more powerful up his sleeve than all of their false gods combined. For His God so loved the world, that he sacrificed his only son, so that all might live!
They flip the whole thing on its head, and make man the most important thing in God’s universe. Provided man is willing to do the same for God, all is well. The interesting catch here is if you somehow fail to worship and obey God, your daily life may or may not suffer, but an eternity of pain and suffering awaits you after you die! Remember, these peoples, (Aztec, Maya, Toltec, etc…) did not have a place in the afterlife specifically dedicated to eternal torture. For instance, in Aztec culture, where and how you spent your time in the afterlife was not a function of how you lived, but rather how you died. Regardless of either, you were never sent to a place of eternal torment, as that story had not been told and as such the concept did not exist before the benevolent and loving Jesus arrived.
Instead of man sacrificing other men, women and children in an endless procession to a pantheon of gods and demi gods, a single, all-powerful God sacrificed, and humiliated his only son for man. This sacrifice was not for the sake of a bountiful harvest, fertile women, or for victory in battles fought in this life, but for all things which will come after death.
These were simple concepts, compared to the wildly complex and multi-deity governed worlds of the Maya or Mexica, but they were concepts which packed a serious punch. If you want to control people, you’ve got to have a powerful story around which they can unite. Just imagine what it would have meant to someone meeting a missionary for the first time, when the image of the son of the only God that is meant to be real, in his last tortured moments on the planet, is what the missionary is wearing around his neck when he is beseeching you to fear his God; that is some seriously powerful shit!
So, we continue to sift through the broad notes of anthropology and archeology in this beautiful country. We do our mild investigations in museums, temple sites, churches and ruins. The resulting insights are a mixed bag. For one, I no longer see Jesus as a comforting country singer (and actively dislike him). Secondly, I find myself second-guessing whether or not the voice in my head who I think of as “me” involves anything more meaningful than the digestive enzymes which break-down the street tacos I can’t stop myself from eating.
Fortunately for me, the process of being “me” allows for multi-tasking. I can second-guess the nature of consciousness, feel dismayed by my former lord and savior, and manage to have a great time doing it. My prowess for creative fiction is absolutely dwarfed by my capacity to convince myself that anything is worth doing, so long as I’m enjoying it.
On that note, here are some pictures and memories from the last several weeks of our journey!
Above Left - Our new friend and owner of restaurant Cus, Cus, Cus - Victor Román Romero González
Pelé wrestles with his new friend in Cuajimoloyas, MX
Our pals @ El Rancho RV Park - Pepé, Pacco, Couch’s, Robert & the hardest working man in Oaxaca, Cali.
Our friend Helena, co-owner of the Oaxaca Spanish Language Cooperative where we took another week of classes.