Thursday, August 21, 2008

Washington Journal

A Nocturnal Visitation

All roads once led to Rome. Now, sooner or later, every one comes to Washington. I experienced this fact anew a couple of nights ago when I was at home, minding my own business.

There came a distinct whirring sound from outside, as if a high performance automobile were going by, which was impossible, because Wisconsin Avenue is eight stories below my apartment here in the nation’s capital. Perhaps, I thought, a small helicopter was getting ready to land on the roof.

The noise soon ceased entirely and it was again quiet, so I returned to my reading.

Then there was a knock at the window and I looked up to see my old friends, Gidney and Cloyd, the Moonmen, hanging upside down, smiling as broadly as ever.

I opened a window and exclaimed:

- Hey guys -- how did you ever find me here?

- If we told you, we’d have to scrootch you, they said, in unison.

- Very funny. And the saucer? Where’d you park the saucer?

- It’s up there, said Gidney, pointing.

I stuck my head further out the window, looked up and saw just the stars in the sky.

- We set it on ‘hover’ and turned on the cloaking device, continued Cloyd.

- May we come in?, they asked in unison.

- Yeah, like, how long do you think we can hang out here upside down? Do you think we’re bats or something?, added Gidney.

- Oh. Uh, uh, of course.

I cranked open another window, removed the screen and they swung in like acrobats. Flipping in mid-air, they landed on their feet with aplomb and a little bow.

- Well, gosh, guys it’s been a long time. May I put on a pot of the usual . . .

- Green tea! They shouted. Conversation is always like this with the Moonmen. They complete each other’s sentences, and mine. After a few minutes the tea had steeped and the moonmen’s faces took on a contented, dreamy expression as they took their first sips.

- Ahh, they sighed. Just like old times.

- It’s great to see you again. I never expected -- I mean, I thought you had been permanently reassigned to another sector of the galaxy.

- Nothing is permanent, in this galaxy or any other. We were recalled from our previous assignment because of our expertise and experience in Earthling Affairs, said Gidney.

Assuming a suddenly serious tone of voice, he continued:

- We’re on a mission from the Supreme All-Lunar Council to study Earthling scientists since the end of the Cold War and the rise of terrorism. We want to find out if Earthlings are any closer to the spiritual insights they will need in order to become members of the Inter-Galactic Council.

- The smartest people on earth in terms of technological sophistication have developed a puzzling, and, in our opinion, self-limiting materialism that prevents them from the spiritual and emotional growth necessary to become good citizens of the universe.

- Until we are satisfied that such growth has taken place . . .

- We will continue to cloak all of our activities from Earthling view and carry on conversation with only selected Earthling intellectuals, such as you.

- Aren’t you concerned about being discovered?, I asked as I poured more tea. You know, don’t you, that our physicists have figured out that some 95% of the matter in the universe is invisible?

- Of course, they chimed.

- Perhaps they’ll figure out that a lot of this matter is part of the vast inter-galactic civilization . . . . ?, I queried.

- We’re not concerned about that. Remember our comments about the self-limiting materialism of Earthling science. They’ll never get it at the rate they are going. But they might do some damage to earth’s delicate ecology . . .

- and perhaps the galaxy’s . . .

- if present trends continue, they concluded.

- By the way, your tea-making abilities are undiminished. Where’d you get this stuff?, asked Cloyd.

- Oh, it’s grown organically out in California and harvested under the full moon, as you suggested at your last visit.

- See, Gidney, some Earthlings are capable of learning.

They both smiled dreamily and drank long drafts of steaming tea.

- Well, aren’t you concerned that I might mention this visit in one of my columns and blow your cover?

They burst out laughing.

- No one would believe you, said Gidney, shaking his head.

- Remember our comment about self-limiting Earthling materialism, above, continued Cloyd with a knowing grin. Further, nobody important reads your essays . . .

- And still further, they all know that you are an inveterate jokester and would just assume that you were putting them on again, like in your essay on arugula. Remember? You claimed that the original name was Ur-oogla, used by the south seas oogle bird to make its nest more comfortable, or some such. Oogle birds, Moonmen – haha. Obvious nonsense, added Gidney.

- Anyway, getting serious again, can you enlighten us as to how Earthling science has stuck itself in such a cul-de-sac?

- Uh, um, why are you asking me?

- Well, we have asked others . . .

- While disguised of course as Earthling college students and occasionally news reporters.

- We have attended lectures . . .

- queried learned professors in their offices . . .

- but all we get, they continued in unison, is the usual blather about science, rationality, the evils of religion. Scientific materialism, which everyone else in the universe got over millennia ago, somehow remains the only philosophy. They are so dedicated to eliminating irrationality that they have become spiritually dead. And they have no idea how irrational they remain.

- It got so tiresome that we decided to conduct a little experiment, said Cloyd with a wicked twinkle in his eye. So we . . .

- Guys, you didn’t . . .

- . . . scrootched them! They shouted and tried to suppress their giggling.

- But guys, you’re not supposed to experiment on human subjects.

- but . . . but . . . but . . . . no one could tell the difference!

- Guys. Come on. You mean no one could tell that they were immobilized, frozen in place?

- No, no, no. There’s a special setting on the gun to scrootch the mind while leaving the body intact. We wanted to see if any other Earthlings could tell the difference between pre- and post-scrootching.

- So which ones have you scrootched – Dawkins? Hutchins? . . . . . ?

They kept nodding. I went on and on, naming every materialist scientist and polemicist I could think of. The Moonmen just shouted “Yes!” after every one. They were gasping for breath and pounding the floor. I checked the teapot to make sure they hadn’t slipped something into it.

- And, and, and . . . nobody noticed! We scrootched them and nobody noticed!, they repeated.

They were rolling on the floor now, their little green bellies showing under their shirts, which they always wear untucked.

- Guys – keep it down. The neighbors might notice if you carry on like this . . .

I noted with relief that Cloyd was not wearing his shoulder holster. At least I’m not getting scrootched this evening, I thought.

- Now when are you going to un-scrootch them?

- Why bother?

- It doesn’t make any difference, they said, wiping tears of laughter from their eyes.

- Somehow this still doesn’t seem ethical . . .

- Well, if you’re a thorough-going materialist, you can’t get from is to ought, said Gidney with a naughty smirk.

- Don’t worry, continued Cloyd, the scrootching gradually wears off and there are no ill effects.

- Now can you explain the appeal of this desiccated world-view?, asked Gidney as they finally composed themselves. That’s the purpose of our visit tonight. From our vantage point and with our powerful observational devices, we can see that Earthling religion is thriving. Earthlings gather in great numbers to worship a variety of deities in vast outdoor temple-stadii, although you prefer to call this activity “sports.” Traditional religious figures like Pope Benedict occasionally use these facilities as well. Earthlings continue to gather in sites of long historical usage, according to our historians, such as Mecca, the banks of the Ganges, Lourdes. Rites of homage to Reproduction take place all over the planet, in underground “clubs,” “concert halls” and so on. A wide variety of traditional deities receive their due in churches, mosques and temples.

- Yet, said Cloyd, Earthling intellectuals and scientists like to tell themselves that they live in secular societies, under secular governments and that secularization (somehow not a religious movement) proceeds apace. You might as well try to explain. No one else can.

I let out a long sigh.

- No one can understand now how Calvin’s predestination appealed to people in the 16th and 17th Centuries. It no longer appeals to us. The so-called objectivity of the so-called scientific world view somehow appeals to a certain sort of person. Because of their know-how, these are very powerful people, whose opinions strongly influence others. William Blake and a host of other poets have been sharply critical of scientific myopia, but, as you know, not that many people read poetry, or take it seriously if they do. Science is knowledge – the only knowledge.

- Some people hoped, I continued, some years ago, during the 1960s, that LSD might liberate the scientific mind from its cage, but the genuine psychic exploration got lost in the political shuffle, as it were. It’s not at all clear that the behavior loosed by that chemical attaining wide circulation was at all to the good. Now the materialists endorse better living through the chemistry of anti-depressants of limited efficacy and disturbing side effects, but easy to use. Doctors and scientists generally do not want to do anything else because spiritual practices, meditation, breathing, moving to music, and so on, strike them as somehow un-serious, something a witch doctor would prescribe instead of a serious scientist.

- Yes, that is precisely the problem we have noticed. Is it truly hopeless?, they asked.

- No. It’s never hopeless. There are a few people you might talk to: Bryan Appleyard over in England, Charles Townes in Berkeley, Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest, also in England. But they are truly exceptional. The cultural divide between materialist science and religion, not to mention culture in general is wide and getting wider. Contemporary scientists spend so much time just keeping up with their own field and have little time for philosophy. They often have had no training either. I might add that while they are very smart people with a lot of education, they act as if they had flunked kindergarten: they don’t play well with others.

There was a long pause, one of those silences that descend on conversations from time to time.

- Perhaps you could write something, suggested Gidney.

- Like what? A play? A novel? Reinhold Niebuhr has already written about the propensity of the intelligent to self-deceive . . . .

- Yes, we know. He is required reading at the Lunar Service Academy.

- Perhaps you could run for office. The Lunar Council might be able to funnel some precious metals to your campaign. No one would ever know where it came from.

- We’ll advise you, they chorused.

- Could you, uh, scrootch my opponents?

- No need to! They giggled.

- Just go for the gold, suggested Cloyd, with a wide grin.

- Well, I’ll think about it.

Then they nodded towards in each other in the unspoken communication of a long partnership and said:

- Well, it’s time for us to go. Do think about it.

I walked them over to the windows. Their tiny, three-fingered hands shook mine and they grabbed the ropes that still dangled from above, as if suspended from sky-hooks, whereupon they curled into the sky.

- How do you do that? I asked, incredulously, looking up into the darkness.

- If we told you, we’d have to scrootch you, came the chorus from above.

A low mechanical sound followed, a flash of light, and they were off.