But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at the face of their birth in a mirror;
for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
– James 1: 22-24 (NRSV)
The preacher was eloquent. Erudite. Passionate about her message. And, she was part of the ‘ohana, out to disprove the crack attributed to the Founder of her religion about prophets not being heard in their own home towns.
“Look in the mirror and see your genesis face“, she cried, literally translating the Greek for ‘face of their birth’ that appears in the original language of the letter attributed to James, ‘brother of Jesus’. “See how beautiful, how loving, how perfect it is! See what you were born to before the hammers and knives of the world deformed and scarred it! How can you not see that you were born to loving obedience of the Word of God! How can you not see this, how can you not long to return to the bliss you were meant to have from your birth?”
Eloquent. Erudite. Passionate. Theologically sound.
Only one problem.
The metaphor is exactly backwards.
Study after study, of humans and other lifeforms with meaningful behavior and any sort of social interaction with conspecifics, has shown that neonates are born to selfishness. The mind, what there is of it as yet, behind that cooing little face knows only what it wants right now, and how to get it right now. Usually by screaming.
Ask any harried parent of a one-year-old who has just learned the meaning, and power, of the word no, and how to apply it. Liberally.
Ask that parent about the truth of the repeated scientific observation that the ‘cuteness’ of offspring, be it eel or elk or Ethiopian, has evolved to protect those offspring from the consequences of their selfish transgressions. Consequences that would be swift, even deadly, if the transgressions were committed by adults.
Ask that parent about the sacrifices made to protect the child and all around it while the child learns that no is not a magic talisman but a social gambit, a tool that requires (OMG!) discipline for its effective use. No one-year-old (Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba fervently hopes, knowing himself, alas, to be wrong) has yet come anywhere near the hammers and knives of the world. Unless one counts the desperate grasping of parents for self-preservation. The world (usually) cannot be blamed for the child.
And ask any supermarket checkout person about the parents/guardians who have proved unequal to the task of teaching discipline to the child, or have given up on it.
Social discipline is not innate, it is learned. And, in general, the more complicated and organized the society, the harder the learning. And, the stricter.
You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.
– Proverbs 6: 6 (The Message)
Yeah, scientists have. Exhaustively, Professor Wilson.
First of all, priests of Jahweh and proverb writers, no male gets to say anything about the proverbial industry of ants (and the social bees and wasps). Males lounge around the colony, swiping food from the common larder and generally being useless. Until it’s time for them to mate. And die. You’ve heard about some guy being only half there? That’s the male ant, or bee, or wasp. Literally. All of them.
The women do all the work. All of it. Yes, that does sound familiar.
But once again the proverb writers got it wrong. Every ant in the colony is told exactly what to do, at all times. Chemical signals, most of them originating from the queen, dictate all activities. They even regulate sex! For those chemical signals act to ensure that the worker females remain sterile and don’t go running off laying eggs and trying to set up shop on their own. Yes, this does happen, especially in species with less strict social structure, and especially if and when the queen gets sick or otherwise loses authority over the colony. The usual result of this, if royal authority can’t be restored, is death for all. Because the selfish behavior of the individuals of the colony cannot sustain the colony, and the individuals generally can’t make it on their own.
You think your boss is dictatorial? How’d you like to have your queen tell you to turn yourself into a honeypot? Or else? And have it never occur to you to be anything else? Because of discipline??
The metaphor is exactly backwards. Your “genesis face” is not something you’re born with. That face may be perceived to be beautiful, especially after the attending physicians have wiped the wax, slime, blood, and pee off of it, but only as a trick to prevent the parents from dispatching this overgrown self-centered parasite like they would a flea or a worm. A trick that is unavailable to adults, obviously much to their regret.
No. The “genesis face” is a reward for having mastered the discipline needed to be considered a loving obedient member of the ‘ohana of God, the deformities and scars administered by self and others as a result of rebellion against the discipline, administered in the attempt to return to the selfishness you actually were born with. The “genesis face” is the face of the Buddha upon achieving Nirvana. Upon mastering the discipline needed to achieve Nirvana. It is the end of the journey, not its beginning.
But it’s oh so much easier to convince people to join your ‘ohana if you can convince them that they were born to belong, rather than telling them it’s something they have to work at. And sacrifice themselves for.
“Why,” said [Watson], glancing up at [Sherlock Holmes], “that was surely the bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?”
“Except yourself I have none,” he answered. “I do not encourage visitors.”
– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Five Orange Pips
Sherlock Holmes. Master detective. Champion athlete. Ideal reasoner. Fit and handsome.
And friendless. An ‘ohana of one. By choice.
I make a point of never having any prejudices, and of following docilely wherever fact may lead me.
– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Reigate Squires
Which, in this story, led Holmes to the unthinkable conclusion that the leading citizens of the district had committed the crime being investigated.
Led Holmes to put evidence over ‘ohana. At the risk of his own life. Which the Reigate Squires would have quickly put an end to, if Watson and the local police agents had been just a step or two slower.
And at the risk of later commentators meditating publicly on his mental illness. A common trick for gulag fans everywhere.
Authentic scientists, and those, like YFNA, who pretend to be scientists despite not having the requi$ite credential$, commit themselves to a life of putting evidence over ‘ohana. And then wonder how come they don’t get no respect. How come the society – the ‘ohana – around them is so ridiculously anti-intellectual.
Because, sooner or later, the ‘ohana – the family – demands that you accept something, that you do something, that you believe something, that is against all evidence. As a token of your membership.
Accept this discipline, and the family will back you, help you find your “genesis face”, help you believe that you were born with it, born to it.
Reject it – and you’d better hope you’re the best that’s ever been, buddy, and that you can find a Watson dumb enough to share it with you. Because the evidence will just leave you in no man’s land, unwelcome on either side. Which is no place to be when the ‘ohanas start shooting at each other.
Family. They’re the only ones you can depend on.
– Tony Soprano
Beloved, I am your Watson, and I think that makes me pretty darn smart.