Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto: Wash Your Mouth Out!
There was an old hermit named Dave,
Who kept a dead whore in his cave,
He said with a grin,
I know it’s a sin,
But think of the money I’ll save!
There was once a gent from Nantucket,
Whose cock was so long he could suck it,
He said with a grin,
As he wiped off his chin,
If my ass was a cunt I could fuck it!
There was a young lady from Eeling,
Who had a most sensual feeling,
As she lay on her back,
She played with her crack,
Then came all over her ceiling!
This may well be the most important chapter in this book, because this chapter — more than all the others — is about the very essence of what you and I are, and how it is that I’m even communicating with you.
Yet I start it off by quoting three dirty limericks.
I’ll connect it up for you by the chapter’s end.
This chapter is a discussion of why — at least for the moment — you and I are not gods, angels, or supermen, but human beings.
Gods, angels, and supermen do not need language to communicate with each other, either spoken or written. They do not need books. Gods, angels, and supermen can communicate with each other directly by sharing the images of their thoughts, directly sharing their emotions, and if they need language at all, it’s not words but music and dance. If they need to store memories or history, that’s what trees are for.
Ayn Rand, in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and Alfred Korzybski, in his book Science and Sanity, could not disagree more about Aristotle as the starting point for exploring human construction of thought.
Rand’s arguments are about a pyramid starting with sensation, building into direct apprehension of things as “percepts,” then rising to thoughts no longer dependent on reality called “concepts,” which she believes can — possibly except for mathematics — only be expressed by words.
Korzybski starts with what he calls “negative axioms.” A photograph of a thing is not the thing itself. A map is not the territory. The symbol is not the referent. A word is never the thing itself.
But even starting in such opposite directions, Rand and Korzybski agree entirely about the nature of human beings as symbolic language-using beings. To Korzybski, it’s our ability to remember the past and anticipate the future — what he calls “time-binding” — that’s the essence of our nature as human beings … and it’s our symbols that make it possible. To both Rand and Korzybski, to the extent that our thoughts are drawn from and tested against reality, to that extent we are functional. To both Rand and Korskybski, to the extent that our thoughts fail to reflect reality, to that extent we drive ourselves to do crazy and destructive things.
Rand and Korskybski are both enemies of the thought — perhaps “fear” is more accurate — that the use of words touch and control real things. A teenager whose rebellious words to a disciplining parent — “I hate you! I wish you were dead!” might suffer endless guilt if those were the last words spoken before the parent tragically died, hit by a train while stuck on railroad tracks, a few hours later. The grief of the parent’s death might go away. The thought that somehow the words were a curse that caused the accident might never go away. Rand, Korzybski, and a psychiatrist would all argue that the teenager’s guilt was misplaced because all modern, reasonable people know that angry words can’t trap a parent’s car in the path of oncoming trains.
The idea that words and other symbols do directly control reality — without a known path of causation, such as voice-recognition software operating a mechanism — is the basis for all sympathetic magic and much superstition, ranging from Voodoo to Kaballah.
If there are worlds touching us that we can’t see — and even modern physics contemplates the idea that “perhaps only a millimeter away” there could be a parallel universe whose gravitation affects the 95% of our own universe whose matter and energy is “dark” and unperceived by us — then who’s to say that living within dark matter and parallel universes aren’t all the creatures of legend — imps, pixies, gremlins, demons, and guardian angels?
That’s the idea Ayn Rand was scoffing at when she wrote that the universe isn’t a haunted house.
I actually wrote a limerick of my own years ago in tribute to this idea:
Thank Rand for the World where A is A,
And not any non-A you wanted,
For if t’were not so,
Then as these things go,
The whole Universe would be haunted!
So when words are forbidden, it’s often because of the superstitious belief — the primal fear — that these words have power directly to affect reality.
Jewish mysticism — Kaballah — expresses the belief that the text of the Hebrew Torah is the actual “DNA” code for God’s entire creation of the universe. This belief is expressed throughout mainstream Judaism where the name of God is not used but expressed through euphemisms such as “the Eternal” and “the Almighty,” where Torah scribes leave out the names of God from their copying until the very last step — for fear of making a mistake and having to extinguish the divine name — and where even the English word “God” is written as “G-D.” The 1979 comedy Monty Python’s Life of Brian makes fun of New-Testament-era Hebrews stoning blasphemers for saying the name “Jehovah” in a hilarious scene where eventually — for accidentally saying it — everyone is stoning everyone else.
Christianity picks up this idea from the Hebrews and the Gospel of John accordingly starts, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Both the Jewish and Christian belief is the opposite of Rand and Korzybski’s — and the psychiatrist’s — argument that words are just symbolic and do not control reality. The Jewish and Christian mystic — no less than the Voodoo priest — believe that the word is the thing, the symbol is the referent, the map is the territory, and that God’s Word is the very power of Creation, itself.
No wonder all offspring of the Hebrew religion — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — condemn a sin called “blasphemy”: the sympathetic magic contained in the words you and I speak are regarded as having the power to bless or damn.
Controlling usage is also a means of defining social classes. In the UK “Received English” defines the speech of the upper class, often as much today as when George Bernard Shaw, in his 1913 play Pygmalion, (made into the 1956 Broadway musical My Fair Lady) portrayed how lower-class speech acted as a ceiling to upward mobility. Similarly, social preferencing against American Southern usages and accent is still common in America today as an indication of lower-class speech, whether “redneck” when used by whites or “ebonic” when used by blacks.
I talked in Chapter 11 about how growing up I was a fan of Mad Magazine. I don’t have the back issue where I can get it, but to this day I remember a Dave Berg “Lighter Side” cartoon strip from the early 60′s about a next-generation where Beatnik parents have teenagers who rebel against them by being respectful, neat, serious, and pious.
Ironically, Berg came frighteningly close to describing the relationship between my daughter, Soleil, and myself. I’m from a generation where four-letter words are not only not forbidden, but often mandatory. In the Dave Berg reversal of parenting I’ve lived through, my daughter is constantly telling me to clean up my language.
But if I, and others of my generation, say “fuck” a lot, it’s because we know those who fought for our right to say it paid dearly.
In the 1993 movie Matinee two teenage boys are shown sneaking a record of Lenny Bruce’s stand-up monologue, “Tits and ass.” It was, perhaps, the mildest of Lenny Bruce’s forbidden stand-up routines. On October 4, 1961, Bruce was arrested for obscenity during a performance at San Francisco’s Jazz Workship where he used the word “cocksucker” and did a riff on the sexual innuendo of the verb “to come.” Bruce was convicted of obscenity after a performance at Greenwich Village’s Cafe Au Go Go, prosecuted by New York District Attorney, Frank Hogan (may this cocksucker roast in Hell!) and died many years before Republican New York Governor George Pataki pardoned him.
Dustin Hoffman performed many of Bruce’s routines verbatim in the 1974 movie Lenny — and wasn’t arrested for it.
Once arrested after a December 1962 Lenny Bruce performance at Chicago’s Gate of Horn, where police stopped the show and arrested Bruce for obscenity, audience member George Carlin was locked in the back of a police wagon with Bruce merely for refusing to show ID to police.
Twelve years later George Carlin carved out freedom territory of his own when he was arrested for disturbing the peace when he performed a stand-up routine at Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Summerfest called “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The seven words were “shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.” In 1973 Pacifica Radio’s WBAI in New York broadcast another Carlin routine containing the seven words, and a listener driving in a car with his son complained to the FCC, resulting in a 1978 Supreme-Court legal decision in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation that upheld the FCC’s right to censor broadcast language.
George Carlin later expanded his list to over 200 words. Other stand-up comics, such as Richard Pryor, expanded the liberated vocabulary to the word “nigger” — although that didn’t do Michael Richards much good, because unlike Pryor he was white. Freedom of speech in America today divides along racist grounds.
I portray the costs of performing politically-incorrect comedy in my 2009 short story, “The Laughskeller,” in which comedian Jerry Rhymus — banned after a successful career in mainstream media after performing an over-the-top routine — now plays two shows nightly to extremist audiences at an underground Nevada club, beginning his routine to the first show, “Who wants to kill that kike-loving commie nigger motherfucker in the White House?” and to his second show, “Who wants to kill that Zionist-loving fascist fake-nigger motherfucker in the White House?”
It wasn’t the first time I played with the usage of language in my fiction. In my 1983 novel, The Rainbow Cadenza, I portray a future in which the word “fuck” is only used to denote sexual intercourse, and the vernacular uses of the word “fuck” have been replaced with the word “rape.”
Currently the FCC stands as a capricious bully, fining broadcasters and performers based entirely on non-objective criteria for what they consider either serious or provocative usages — only the former being allowed. “Shock jock” Howard Stern and his broadcast stations were fined by the FCC so frequently that Stern fled broadcasting entirely in favor of FCC-unregulated satellite radio.
There has been some loosening of standards since the 1939 controversy of Clark Gable telling Vivian Leigh, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
The first time the word “bullshit” was heard on American network television without being bleeped was the broadcast of Paddy Chayefsky and Sydney Lumet’s Oscar-winning film, Network.
The word “ass” wasn’t allowed on The Tonight Show before Jimmy Carter told reporters during the 1980 presidential campaign that if Senator Ted Kennedy ran against him in the primaries he would “whip his ass.”
It took broadcasts of rescue-workers on 9/11/2001 before the FCC allowed the word “fuck” to be broadcast.
Charlton Heston was so offended by the rap lyrics to Ice-T’s 1992 recording “Cop Killer” that he performed them at a stockholder’s meeting of the record’s label, Time Warner.
If there were a Monty Python version of this event, the assembled stockholders of Time Warner would have had to stone Charlton Heston for his blasphemy.
In my imagined version of the scene, when he’s hit by the first stone Heston would be miraculously transformed into the costume he wore in his Oscar winning role of Ben Hur.
Of course it might be more appropriate simply to recall Charlton Heston’s performance with Johnny Carson on the December 12, 1972 broadcast of The Tonight Show, in which Charlton Heston performed the following limerick:
There was a young lady of Norway,
Who hung by her toes in a doorway,
She said to her beau,
“Just look at me, Joe!
I think I’ve discovered one more way!”
Next in Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto is Chapter XIX: Don’t Look Now!
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
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