Thursday, 24 November 2011

the myth of sisywoof

There is but one truly serious philosophical question, and that is, “would you rather be a dog or a frog?”. Although on first sight the answer seems obvious and inconsequential, on closer inspection it reveals a profound rift in human nature, society and politics. The question strikes at the very heart of what is to be human and has wide reaching implications on what it means to be alive and share the world with other people.

The current holder of the much coveted title of "Asker of the One Truly Serious Philosophical Question" is Albert Camus (5’ 7”, 162lb) with “why don’t we all kill ourselves?”. And sure, Camus does get you for a minute, “why don’t we all kill ourselves?”. But the italics reveal the fundamental flaw with his question - it is built on a foundation of negative energy, man. You could even call it the fundamental floor, so firmly are the entire walls and roof Camus’ question grounded in this negative foundation.

When rephrased with the benefit of a positive mental attitude, the question becomes “why do we all kill ourselves?”. The answer is obvious: we are unhappy with life. To progress further we require the most powerful instrument of philosophical inquiry known to man: the five-year-old child. The five-year-old child asks why? Life hasn’t worked out for us. Why? Now we bifurcate. There are two possibilities: 1) Because we have chosen the wrong path and 2) Because bad things have happened to us. I will dismiss option the second because people who answered thus do not believe they are in control of their own lives, so cannot yet benefit from the insight that “would you rather be a dog or a frog?” provides.

Returning to the first branch - because we chose the wrong path - and tempting our five-year-old child back with the promise of free Dib Dabs (there are no Dib Dabs, sorry) we can resume. Why did we choose the wrong path? We were unaware we were choosing the wrong path. Why? Because the choice was not made explicit. Ch*#ce!! A small joke.

But I am only humouring Camus by following this line of reasoning. I do not for a single minute accept that “why don’t/do we all kill ourselves” is the the only important philosophical question. Had he not considered - in all his quiet sitting and thinking, all his years of philosophising and navel gazing - the earth-trembling ramifications of “would you rather be a dog or a frog?”.

And so we return to the question in hand, having crumpled Camus and discarded his musings with but an inward slight of the fingers and a limp flick of the wrist. Ask any man or woman and everyone wants to be a dog: well groomed fur, a nice house, friends, a warm bed to sleep in. And this seems reasonable. Ask a child and you get a more mixed response: the lure of the frog is tempting. The freedom, the high jumping, the self sufficiency, the pond, the reeds, the inflatable throat pouch.

But as children get older they do not realise they are answering this question - making this choice - every day. Pretty soon they end up as comfortable dogs obeying their master for treats and pets and “who’s a good boy? Yes you are. Yes you are a good boy. Yes you are.” Without thinking, they have ended up a dog.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to be a good boy as much as the next sinner but I don’t need some petit bourgeois family rhetorically questioning my status as the aforementioned moral male and patting my head. I know I am a moral male by the decisions I have made as a sweaty toad. I have given my pond weed to those less fortunate frogs. I have saved tasty looking worms for the neighbourhood birds. I have waited my turn on the diving board. I am a good boy by virtue of my actions.

Conversely, a dog may well be a good boy but he is only so at his masters hand. The dog suppresses all his natural urges: to shit and piss where he likes, to bark long into the night, to hump other canines regardless of breed or sex. He is very much Pavlov’s dog for Pavlov owns him and controls everything he does. He cannot be his own good boy, his own moral male. He is Pavlov’s dog and must live his life according to Pavlov’s moral code.

Pavlov, or anyone else for that matter, would never consider training a frog for his twisted purpose. Frogs are too stupid. Too dirty. Too cold and wet. And herein lies their strength. What appears a weakness to the causal observer, allows amphibians to be their own master, to live in a muddy hole, to dive as much as they desire. The world is there lily pad. They live on land and water. Jump, leap and croak. They can swim in any pond they like and are free to hop away at the inflation of a pouch.

pavlov’s frog

Having taken the dog psychology world by storm Pavlov, not wanting to be a one hit wonder, turned his attention to other fields or, more accurately, ponds. Everyday he would bring some dead flies down to the pond on a bone china plate, ring his bell and scuttle back to his observation point in a nearby bush.

The frogs didn’t give a single ribbit. Well, at first they were cautious of old man Pavlov. He was, after all, larger than them and it is always wise to be wary of those larger than oneself. But soon they realised he was a stupid old man with a bell and continued swimming, basking and mating. What joy!

Sometimes a frog would humour Pavlov and approach the plate of flies and stick out his tongue. Pavlov's eyes would light up. He would lean forward, ringing his bell furiously. Then the frog would inflate his throat pouch and release a mighty fart. Pavlov, would jump back and fling his bell over his head, which came crashing down and set off all the dogs in the neighbourhood. What a bell end.

All of this Pavlov dutifully recorded. These frogs are stupid, thought Pavlov. The food is right there and yet they just stick their tongues out and fart. Perhaps they are blind. To test his hypothesis, he captured a frog with his specialised frog-catching apparatus, pulled a specialised frog-shining torch from his pocket, flicked it on and shone it in the captured amphibian’s eyes. “Piss off Pavlov,” said the frog. “First your incessant ringing and now with the light. Go run around outside. Go for a swim. Eat, drink and be merry. Sleep with beautiful women. Heck, sleep with ugly women for all I care, just piss off!” And he enunciated these last two words to make absolutely certain Pavlov heard. But Pavlov had never bothered to learn Frog and continued waving his torch in the creature’s eyes. He doesn’t seem to like that, thought Pavlov.

Pavlov is stupid, thought the frogs. We are not dogs, we are frogs!. We do what we want. We don’t respond to the ringing of bells. We don’t go out at the designated time for walks. We walk to our own schedule, sometimes not at all. They inflated their throat pouches.

Pavlov continued his experiments for some years until he suffered a particularly bad wrist strain – a result of too strenuous bell ringing of one kind or the other – and was hospitalised. In hospital he was introduced to one of the fashionable infections from Southern Europe that were going around at the time. He coughed and spluttered and complained about a pain in his chest for a few weeks, but the doctors and nurses were a little busy getting to grips with the new filling system that had just been implemented and didn’t have time to investigate his moans to the fullest extent. On his death-bed, he thought back over his days. He thought about ringing the bell and shining the light. He heard his own bell, saw his own light and salivated his own saliva. He let out a long horse sigh and gave into the bell. Gave into the light. The frogs continued sunbathing as before. The dog died since no one was around to feed it.

the myth of sisywoof

Camus had heard a rumour that dogs need exercise and, realising that by keeping the dog in his house he was depriving him of such, decided to take Sisywoof for a walk. They proceeded to the park, sticking to the designated footpaths with Sisywoof walking dutifully at Camus’ pace for some time. Suddenly Sisywoof noticed something across the park and his instincts kicked in. He bounded to the delicious looking Labradoodle, sniffed her bum, inhaled the sickly sweet fragrance and, smelling that it was good, mounted her like a virtual CD-ROM drive - with some messing about with the options.

“Sisywoof, no! Bad Sisywoof!” shouted Caums. Sisywoof looked around, saw his master, forgot him instantly and continued plunging the depths of the pleasure well. Camus pulled a small television remote from his pocket, pressed a button, sending a signal through the air which, on reaching Sisywoof’s collar, sent an sharp electric shock through the dog’s veins. Sisywoof whimpered, dismounted and returned to his master; ears down, tail between his legs, a glint of human sadness in his eyes. “This is not the designated time, nor specified location, for mating Sisywoof. You are a bad dog.” Sisywoof averted his eyes, submitting to Camus’ will. Camus forgave him and they continued on their walk.

Soon they reached a large hill. Sisywoof had been here before. Yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Camus withdrew a tennis ball from his pocket and one of those ball launcher things, loaded the launcher and launched the ball to the top of the hill. Sisywooof chased after the ball, grabbed it in his mouth at the top and bounded back down to Camus, who promptly reloaded the launcher and launched it again.

The process continued until Camus got bored and went home. The dog had had a great time, stuck his tongue out and wagged his tail. I am a good boy, thought Sisywoof. Yes I am. Yes I am.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

where do clouds come from?

There is a cloud factory behind those hills. It was built by the council when the sweaty towns people held a huddle to discuss the lack of shade in the area, and came up with the idea, and subsequently the proposal, to build a cloud factory. There was a lot of, "Well, yes we do like the shade but we don't want a cloud factory in our back gardens. Not next to our rivers. Not on our hills." and then the odd, "How about behind the hills?" and then a reluctant, "Hmm, yes... that could work.".

So it was agreed. The cloud factory was built behind the hills and has been churning out clouds ever since. The only problem is that it produces thousands and thousands of aspirins, and we just don’t know what to do with them. No one really gets headaches around here and when they do they normally occur in the bit of the head that remembers the cloud factory produces aspirin.

Actually, there was one bird who always had a headache. A poorly little partridge. He would have harrowing dreams and wake up with terrible migraines. When he heard about the aspirin from a local squirrel, he rushed to the factory immediately to gobble down a couple but they were too big for his beak. He tried to break them in half but his beak lacked snap. He cursed his beak and returned defeated to his agony.

But anyway, the council, unaware of the plight of the partridge, decided to dig “a big-a hole-a” to put the aspirin in. The only problem was that all this granite came out, and they had nowhere to put that. The granite just did what granite does best and sat there looking cold, grey and miserable. There was the customary amount of um-ing and ah-ing from the townsfolk until those who were most finicky, and had the least amount of actual things to do, wrote some impassioned letters to the council.

In response, the council drew up some papers, which basically said:

To whom it may concern,

The granite is your problem.

Lots of love,

The council.

They sent the papers to the Department of Mining, who promptly amended whose problem it was and passed them on to the Department of Rural Affairs, who also had a good go with the Tipp-Ex and sent them over to the Department of Trade, who put the granite on eBay. Despite the starting price being a lone penny, no one bid due to the exorbitant shipping costs.

That’s when, and how, John Fisher found out about the granite. He was leader of a slightly mischievous, and particularly frolicsome, guerrilla-sculpting-circle known as the Gleemasons. Their aim was to bring about societal change by carving large statues of smiling gorillas in places where you would not expect to see large statues of smiling gorillas. They would commonly remodel town statues to their own design. Public walls were also a popular target. On seeing the large quantity of granite on eBay, Fisher began developing the idea that would eventually become his magnum opus.

He planned furiously in his parent’s basement which, although not the normal way to plan, was a way in which John was very familiar. The walls of his subterranean headquarters were rapidly covered in blueprints, maps and pictures of gorillas. When he was ready he called an emergency meeting to which many of the most talented Gleemasons attended. He detailed the plan as follows:

1. Get some tools and that together.
2. Fill my van and drive to the granite.
3. Carve some fine gorillas.

Carve they did, and fine the gorilla's were. About two-hundred of them in total. One gorilla was a particularly astonishing feat; chiselled into a huge piece of granite stood vertically on its end. The gorilla carried his head with such majesty, his arms with such power, his expression with such pride. His eye’s were stern, but the corners of his mouth were slightly upturned. Fisher named him Nigel after his father who had recently passed away. To look at him, and the rest of the Gleemasons agreed, gave a calm appreciation of life.

Pretty soon a dog was out walking his owner and dragged him past the statues. When the owner saw what was entrancing the crowd of people, he text his wife informing her of the sensation and by lunchtime the whole area around the gorillas, right up to the aspirin pit, was a sea of people all smiling like the gorillas themselves. People were hugging and laughing, and someone started a little chant of “Nicey Nice Nice, Nicey Nice Nice” which got a bit more raucous then petered out.

The council, on seeing the attention the gorilla park was attracting, drew up plans for a fence around the site with a small admissions booth at the entrance. This probably holds the record for the fastest time for planning permission to be granted.

No sooner had the workmen pulled up in their trucks, it started pouring down with rain and they withdrew to the shelter of their vehicles. John Fisher smiled at the rain running down Nigel’s face; it looked like the gorilla was crying, but, with that little smirk, they were not tears of sadness. Fisher’s smile widened. Suddenly he could see a strange white foam spreading across the ground. It was lapping about the gorilla's feet. The poorly partridge flew down and landed on Nigel’s tail which was poised just above the lake of bubbling aspirin. She slurped up some of the relieving effervescence. Fisher beamed, “Well done clouds, keep doing what you’re doing.”

Sunday, 10 July 2011

a thing begins

Ah, the tenth of July. Could there be a more appropriate day for a thing to begin?

It's exactly six days after American Independence Day and two weeks and six days since the summer solstice. Hmm... six... six and six? I'm pretty sure a pattern's emerging. Off stage a faint meowing is heard. Shut up Coincidence Cat! Meowing like you exist at every coincidence that happens to coincide. Yeah that's right; scuttle back to your scratching post. Have a nice, long scratch.

Sorry about that. The place seems to be overrun with cats. But you'll meet them soon enough. Or perhaps not. Anyway, this thing that's begin-ed. This thung that's begun. It's no Declaration of Independence. It wasn't danced into existence by druids. It just began. I guess... sort of like the universe. Although, the universe is arguably a bit better. Still, neither of them existed, and now they both exist. They eased themselves out of waves of potentiality. Are they potentially waving at me? Or is it the person behind me? Shall I wave back? Potentially.

There are a lot of customs available to draw on at the start of things. We could smash a ribbon or cut a bottle. Throw a thing-warming party. State a few aims. Maybe a hypothesis? A null hypothesis even? But I think the customs are all pointless in this situation. They're null, with the null hypothesis being the nullest of the null. I can already tell that the thing is going to have a hard time being just a thing and not digressing into a majig or a mabob. And any grand visions of what's to come are only likely to be proved wrong, or unnecessarily restrict the thing's course of movements. Which may or may not be the last thing we want to do.

Still, for now it's only a little thing and I say give the poor bugger a chance. Let it go where it wants to go. Let it do what it wants to do. Let it—oh, it's slinking off. Alright then thing, off you go. Until next time thing. Until next time.

Image: Lisa Lightfoot - Wave of Love