What Might Make Us Be In Love
A Potentially Useful Twist on Themes
Weird Opening, I Know:
When I was very young, maybe five or six, I saw a preview of a Twilight Zone episode, a rerun and a classic I’ve since learned, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I only ever saw that clip, but I never forgot the tall aliens, which sort of looked like us, as they were preparing to leave in their space ship with some humans. And they had said that they wanted “to serve man.” The last man was getting on the spaceship, and a woman yells to try to warn him that “to serve man” didn’t mean what everyone thought. You can probably guess the twist.
I figured that would always just be a vague memory. Of course, the internet changed that by the 1990’s. I don’t remember how I ran across it again. The scene has been alluded to many times, including on The Simpsons. That might be why I started my search — which of course would have only taken a minute. I thought of this after a quote from Rhettie’s grandma popped into my head.
You buy the ticket to sell your soul, your mind, your body, they’ll take you whole. — Dorie Kovach 2002
Some of you know enough about Stu and Allie’s story, about the Stralfs, to see some general parallels, and their poem below reflects some of these. Clearly, the parallels are mostly only in the overarching theme, with aliens trying to trick humans.
From Wikipedia, I see that those Twilight Zone Kanamits above were 9 ft tall and resembled us, roughly. Those visitors provided lots of well-publicized technological fixes in order to demonstrate that they were here “to serve man.” Stu’s Stralfs aren’t like that, but they are also trying to trick us in a few ways.
The Stralfs are about the size and shape of a large potato, and they can blend in by changing color and shape. They don’t accomplish their mission by doing anything except influencing us with their sounds. Humans who feel like they have experienced their influence, or maybe have even seen “something small and strange,” don’t say anything for fear of ridicule or worse.
The Stralfs work on us through us, through our influencers and influencers of influencers, and so on. (For us, in a way, it’s influencers all the way down, as the philosopher-philics might say.)
As you might remember, the Stralfs’ goal is to get us to make life here miserable, emotionally mostly but physically too, whatever it takes, so that we’ll all go to their “very very beautiful planet” where we can start over, ideally never realizing that they’ve been behind the whole thing. And actually, their planet is pretty crappy now.
With that, this poem by Rhettie and Wally will make a lot more sense. It’s part of their story, so it’s written as if Stu and Allie wrote it. It was inspired by Rhettie’s dreams and by her Grandma Dorie.
What’s tricky, and what’s always tricky, is seeing where someone’s actions in the world, or attitudes about the world, come from someone or something else, and we absorb ideas without much true thought, because that’s just how we work, and part of the trick we play on ourselves is thinking otherwise.
[Note added 11/20/22: Last night I watched a movie about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian and anti-Nazi activist, executed near the end of the war. I know, that’s a little heavy for all this. What’s interesting is that I was only going to add a little clarification here, acknowledging that it’s hard for us humans NOT to make moral inferences, to look for a Should or an Ought to accept or despise or ridicule, in any writing that seems to have a message of some kind, which is the majority, but that I hoped you could try to suspend that process, subroutine, posture, for these stories, because they’re really about something else. Then the Bonhoeffer story hit me as I started writing, reminding me that all these things, even my weird whimsical stuff, combine to create awareness, salience, priority, and understandings at some point, and that all determines what life is like here. I guess I’d still say that there are some metacognitive things, aside from potential metaphysical things, to consider before even getting into decisions on Should and Ought, and this is, partly, part of that.]
Stu tends to think about what “goes out to the galaxy” in the way of mental models, narratives, stories, and songs. He calls them all “Songs” here. That’s partly because he knows we absorb things with a combination of left and right hemisphere thinking — kind of like how songs work for us, cognitively speaking.
The poem was not written solely to point out Stralfian influence, because we humans do these things on our own as well. It could easily just be about how commerce of many kinds works, but especially in the thought/media realm, which is where we absorb most of our stories — our Songs.
I divided the poem into sections so there could be a little background along the way. Actually, when I first started writing any of these, before I was willing to call them “poems,” I expected for them to be annotated and illustrated. They were just fun (to me) ways of exploring things, and I figured there needed to be more than just the poems, the “Cursory Rhymes for Our Curious Times,” as I first called them. For now, the explanations between the section are sort of like those annotations, like footnotes.
What Might Make Us Be In Love?
The water that you’re swimming in,
is how they play the game.
They add a mix of powdered tricks.
You won’t know who to blame.
But blame you will, just not the ones
who tint and taint your view.
The water that you swim in
colors others and colors you.
The powdered mix was meant to fix
the woman and the man.
The tickets, they will claim, insist,
are fun…and “can improve the Land.”
The amber waves of grain and corn
and beans and cotton grow,
but that’s not what they mean by Land,
they mean the Soil, we know.
By Soil they mean the mind, the sight,
the sea of reality,
what you see, what’s salient, bright,
bathed in complexity.
Their seasons, dyes, they change those things,
to suit their wants and taste.
The Slithering Salesman of Salience rings
the doorbell of your mind, your race.
Your race, human, known to be
above the others, mentally,
but prone to hacks and sophistry;
they’ve grown throughout your history.
Let’s back up a few hundred years. As various industries and technologies improved, which can really just mean information, know-how, and organization, more and more products and trade options had become available, naturally. By the mid-late 18th century both the wonders and woes of the Industrial Revolution, especially in Great Britain, provoked a lot of questions about how civilization should proceed and just who humans were — how we should handle these new ways.
Adam Smith is a famous early social philosopher from that century, from Scotland, famous for writing A Theory of Moral Sentiments and then Wealth of Nations many years later. Neither of these books were prescriptive, they were mostly descriptive with some frameworks thrown in to tie things together.
One time in each book he uses the phrase “an invisible hand” to describe how society tends to move in a particular direction, make certain choices, trends, based on fairly organic social and individual “guidance” which is difficult to completely define, but it typically seems to work out for us. This concept was used to argue against the need for too much governmental control of society and economics, which would not be dynamic enough.
The phrase is now used often to support libertarian policies, especially in support of freer markets. (This isn’t about that argument, but that argument is why “The invisible hand” is so often referred to, albeit as an exaggerated thesis highlighted from Adam Smith’s apparent intentions.)
Here Stu and Allie combine a more nuanced (I would say more accurate) view of Adam Smith’s expression with Allie’s concept of the Star Eyes. She connects a certain area of our thinking, and noticing, with an abstract idea of big-picture caring, as if we didn’t have our usual appetites and concerns about life in our individual bodies, which she calls atom suits, or clay, or shells.
Basically, they’re pointing out that the Invisible Hand can’t help but be blind and ignorant if we are blind and ignorant, willfully or not. So it can wreck things, materially, relationally, intellectually, and eventually end up in “the sea,” which is what Rhettie’s grandma uses as an expression for where dumb ideas get discarded and dissolved. But there’s a lot of pain along the way. The Star Eye perspectives, Allie would submit, can make things work better.
The “Invisible Hand” of Adam Smith
is not without its scars
and callouses and cuts and cysts.
It strangles men.
It strums guitars.
A single phrase from Wealth of Nations
hardly makes the point
that all your ploys and plied creations
…pave pathways to anoint.
He wouldn’t say the Hand
is always wise or has a mind.
It’s just a phrase he used one time,
a metaphor, and the hand is blind.
The only thing that gives it sight
are Star Eyes up above,
not a dream or fight or might
or rights — a different kind of peace and love.
It crawls and mauls to find its way,
through forests and the plain,
it gropes and bruises fruit,
and brings in flies to taste the pain.
It feels an oblong orb, so smooth,
and doesn’t understand,
its squeezing will just crush the egg,
denude and stain the Land.
The hand is blind without those Eyes,
that look like stars in starry skies,
but they’re your hope, to your surprise,
they’re the way to soothe the cries.
It’s true there is an Invisible Hand.
It’s not a god or king.
Its only eyes and only mind,
are from the Songs you sing.
Your little inner Star Eyes,
multiplied across the Land,
could give its sight to you and them,
and this could heal that Hand.
Otherwise, the sightless Hand
will crawl into the sea,
to die and then dissolve.
Not ever after happily.
No, another will emerge
because you’re wired for such as this.
Another few will lead the herds
and find another dark abyss.
But if you’ll look inside your mind
and seek to keep away the grind
of Songs, the stories, that tie and bind,
and taint the water, then you might find…
If you’ll take what all you know,
about your mind and how things go,
forget their tricks, forget their Show,
don’t seek perfection, Utopia, no…
Also, it turns out that Allie was just as intrigued by what David Foster Wallace was saying as I was. I’ve mentioned his This Is Water graduation address before, which might also be why Rhettie’s poem refers to water, the bowl, etc. David was an early critic, questioner, and qualifier of the narcissistic solution and its effectiveness for healing what has ailed us. Not without his faults and regrets, but he was at least saying “Hey wait a minute…” rather than being zombied along in the Invisible Hand. (I watched a Cranberries video today.)
The only thing less interesting than disparaging narcissism these days is people my age talking about music, love, and why poetry should rhyme, or shouldn’t, or anything. But I wanted to mention that all our explorations and experiences, our experiments, change in the light of emergent understandings of cognition — even narcissism changes. (And narcissism here isn’t a moral or character issue — it was a social prescription that developed over decades, at least.)
There are so many recognized contextual factors now in our thinking, our deciding, yet our inherited mental scripts, so revolutionary 600 years ago, with about the same revolution happening every hundred years, even a hundred years ago, even fifty years ago, when a new epoch in shell making began, complete with accompanying anthems, seminars, books, movies, and a nation-wide choir, the old mental scripts are still our antagonistic call-and-response Songs. We can do better now, and it wouldn’t even be revolutionary.
But on a more cozily expansive note, the ‘bit longer conclusion of their poem —
And it’s not about The Water,
D. F. Wallace talked about,
that angel in an atom suit,
his prescient subtle shout;
it’s what’s dissolved in this big bowl,
and what might put it there.
Once that puzzle’s sought and solved,
apart from political care,
you’ll see a love above you,
beyond the bowl, above the air.
And wonder, just what might that mean,
to be in love, for real.
And what might make you be in love,
beyond the stories, powdered mix,
your broadcasters reveal;
beyond the books and salience hooks,
said to make you feel and heal.
From Star Eyes to the Soil,
there is a Care that you can’t see.
Its other name is Love
and it sees your loves differently.
Your loves have had some other names,
the Greeks discussed a few,
Surrounding them and so much else,
this other is more true.
The loves you know are bound on earth,
in passion, rage, sorrow, mirth.
They get you through the day-to-day,
the place won’t work another way.
And do you care? Care that it works?
You do, and that’s the key.
That’s the hint, what’s lovely, lurks,
beneath the shells we see.
Despite the scripts and pithy quips,
inane half-truths and wishful grips
on something whole and real and true
there’s something calling, drawing you.
And that is Care. You care what works.
Most do — down deep inside.
One’s distracted, another shirks,
another builds a shell to hide.
But in that shell, again, it lurks,
that Care for Whole and True.
Despite the snares and peddlers’ wares
— most know what they really want —
what they want to do.
To swim in clearer water,
and to see the Star Eye sky,
to know what’s made the shell
and how to spark your own Star Eye.
An ember dark with ashes
or a jewel entombed in clay,
you wish it could be free but no,
there is no other way.
On earth a Star Eye can’t exist
without an atom shell.
That’s the first shell; some persist
in second shells as well.
The second will protect the first
and forms inside the bowl,
the bowl, with water, tainted,
tinted, tends to take a toll.
A crust then forms, a second shell,
for some it quells their Care.
They forget about their Star Eye
and what shines above the air.
But Care is there, just quiet,
and there might just come a day,
when something quakes and cracks that shell,
and it slowly falls away.
Well, on that day, we hope that
something’s finally been made clear,
that it’s not water, but what’s in it,
that you’re right to fear.
That it’s not Life that hardens you
and buries care for True…
and Good, and Beautiful, and Whole,
it’s what the Songs and mixes do.
That it’s not Life that hardens you
and buries care for True…
and Good, and Beautiful, and Whole,
it’s what you buy the tickets to.
The Big Question For Rhettie
But was Rhettie ready for the misunderstandings and pushback they could get on this? Wally wasn’t sure about it…but he literally just wasn’t sure. Rhettie’s inspirations from her dreams of Bug Stu had been good so far and things seemed to work. Wally was the savvier marketer. Rhettie was…
Okay, I decided this was better in two parts for a couple of reasons. This link will take you to Part 2! (6 minute read)
Thanks for reading.
P.S. The best background in the galaxy on this can be found at The Pie website.