You know how in the movies folks always have an angel and a devil pop up on each shoulder with advice? Well, for me it’s not that simple. I hear a myriad number of voices in my head (uh, strictly metaphorically) giving me advice, or explaining what I’m seeing.
Here for your consideration are the Top 10 Voices in Al’s Head:
1) Ayn Rand She is the top stern father figure. “A is A.” The towering castle of your life must be built on the strictest foundations of adherence to reason and truth, for castles made of sand fall in the sea. She brooks no foolishness. I hear her voice frequently while watching news of the war on terror. For example, her classic description of evil as “the hatred of the good for being the good” rings in her harsh Russian accent every time I hear of another Palestinian suicide bombing.
2) Robert Anton Wilson is the permissive mother character in this lineup. He is the yang to Ayn Rand’s yin in my worldview. He wrote a play called “Reality Is What You Can Get Away With.” This represents exactly the opposite outlook from “A is A.” He emphasizes careful analysis of the limitations of absolute knowledge, based on the limitations of our biology. His psychological insights build on an eight level model of human consciousness that is really useful in understanding my own thinking, for starters. I see his funny face as I start firing up on a lower level mammalian territorial circuit, and relax. I think of his favorite maxim “The map is not the territory” when my own BS (Belief Systems) seem to start diverging from the facts on the ground in front of me, and start re-examining my premises. [Funny how this comes all the way back around to Ayn.]
3) Robert Heinlein was a top of the line model of the freethinking, but tough-minded American. Stranger in a Strange Land turned the classic Protestant religious models of my youth up on their head and pulled them inside out and plunked them right back down. The logic of his religious mega-orgies seems perfectly reasonable- at least in theory. Yet his vision of the price of freedom in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress demands the strictest of honor and sacrifice.
4) HL Mencken provides the eloquent voice of pure joyous youthful iconoclasm. His wicked grin and fine cigars are the most highly educated and thoughtful form of the naughty schoolboy. He was the bane of all cheap morality and self-important blatherers, from the downscale preachers to the great scheming politicians with plans to save the world- at taxpayer expense. He hooked the defendant in the Scopes Monkey Trial up with his attorney, and then rushed in to cover the trial as a newspaper reporter. Ha! We’re having some fun now. He had a perfect combination of recognizing human failing without excuse or quarter, combined with a good-hearted acceptance of human fallibility that largely eliminated any sense of malice or misanthropy. I often have his cigar-chomping grin looking over my shoulder as I’m writing some scathing mockery of the buncombe of the day.
4) Elvis Costello keeps the emotional politics real. Besides just being one of the best hook-writing composers in modern popular music, he has a unique clarity of vision for the political machinations of human relations. He shines a light on all the ways of emotional manipulation and vulnerability, and how all those wires get crossed. You could spend a few hours in the maze of “I Want You,” separating the strands of stubborn obsession, unhealthy desire, masochism, and…love? As a corollary, much of the impacted emotional content comes encoded in the deep keyboard neuroses of Steve Nieve; sometimes it’s him that I’m hearing in a moment of heartbreak, crisis, or indecision.
5) Stanley Kubrick had a great way of reducing animal psychology to a perfect chess game. The pure logical inevitability of Dr. Strangelove has made a lasting impression. It has to be possible under the combination of high technology of the weakness of our mammalian psychology, and under enough possibilities seems inevitable that we will eventually in fact have nuclear bombs flying because some general couldn’t get it up, or some similar wounded ego scenario. How many times in some uncertain moment with a female have I heard General Ripper’s explanation, “I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence.”
6) Matt Groening Often, life seems like one big continuing episode of The Simpsons- only usually not as funny. As often as not, Homer’s sloth and disregard for social norms seem to be the most practical strategy. Even the evil Monty Burns caustic contempt for his fellow man has the strong ring of truth. I veer between Lisa’s dismayed idealism and Bart’s cheerful cynicism. Indeed, the first words out of my mouth are often, “I didn’t do it, nobody saw me, you can’t prove anything.”
7) Kyle Broslofski Other times though, life seems like one big continuing episode of South Park, which may be funnier, but severely more dysfunctional. They capture the real oppression of the society, and the pure lemming nature better than any other art going. The recent “Death Camp of Tolerance” [search kazaa for "south park 614"] captures amazingly well a great deal of the fake nature of modern “tolerance.” Tread lightly on publicly expressing reservations about the liberal social orthodoxy.
8) Tom T Hall set a great model as a humble thinking country boy. He may be the most accomplished country songwriter ever, certainly in the top half dozen. He’s never gone on like he was some big shot, but he knows that he’s done some quality work. He has a certain way of careful observance of the people around him, an awareness and quiet empathy -without cheap sob sister display- that I aspire to on a good day.
9) Richard Pryor gives the voice to many of my frustrations, and gives voice to my feelings of oppression, which are fairly universal. He’s my idea of an everyman. Sometimes it’s fury at being screwed or simply disrespected by The Man. Ultimately, though, black and white, rich and poor, we end up facing many of the same indignities and fears. “Whether or not you can survive death- that’s the ultimate test for your ass, ain’t it? So far don’t nobody we know has PASSED the ultimate test.” Ultimately, we’re all niggers up in this bitch.
10) Jesus Christ of Nazareth I’m not a Christian; I don’t believe in the resurrection. Nonetheless, the general thrust of the teachings of Jesus, of loving thy neighbor as thyself, seems to have great value. His words and ideas often seem to be the most practical and even the most satisfying advice I can offer. For being an atheist, I don’t know how many times I’ve started trying to advise someone by asking “What would Jesus do?”
Of course, the words of Jesus often are directly in conflict with Ayn Rand back up on top of the list, which ends up with one of them on each shoulder going at it. And on it goes…