A Slightly Philosophical Question, Concerning Rock Stars and Space Aliens

Oh the heads that turn / Make my back burn / And those heads that turn / Make my back, make my back burn / The sparkle in your eyes / Keeps me alive / And the sparkle in your eyes / Keeps me alive, keeps me alive  —The Cult

     At the time of writing this I am in the midst of a migration from upper Burma to the United States (well, sort of: California). So I’m currently sticky and sweaty in a suburb of Rangoon; and with the heat and stickiness and commotion I’m simply not in the mood to write anything “heavy.” So what follows, although it may have some real profundity for all I know, isn’t particularly “heavy.”

     Today while checking out my YouTube channel and looking over the recommended videos, along with the news and political/social stuff like Jordan Peterson and Styxhexenhammer666 I saw an old rock ’n’ roll video from the late 80s advertised, “She Sells Sanctuary” by The Cult. I almost went to a Cult concert once, long ago, and owned a Cult tape, although “Sanctuary” wasn’t on it. The main reason why I opted out of going to the concert (a friend of mine wanted us to go) was that I just wasn’t all that impressed by the band. Their song lyrics in particular seemed pretty damn lame. But anyway, out of idle, casual interest, plus maybe a hint of nostalgia, I broke a minor rule of monastic discipline and watched the video.

     As rock ’n’ roll goes, the song is all right. It was popular thirty years ago. But what really struck me about the video was a kind of inspiration to it, a very human element that is hard to put into words. The video seemed to be a strange encapsulation of what it means to be human.

     Allow me to explain in a roundabout manner, employing space aliens. Let’s assume that there are intelligent alien beings in this universe—which is pretty likely considering how big the universe is—and let’s further assume that some of them have taken an interest in our planet, and in the meteoric career of the peculiar primate species Homo sapiens. Let’s also assume that these are really alien, evolved along different lines from us, and not some ridiculous green men with pointy ears, who are no more than modified humans, resulting from the lack of imagination of most writers of science fiction. These are intelligent, sensitive beings who nevertheless have evolved along entirely different lines from us.

     Well, here is the question: Which do you think would have these alien scientists more fascinated with humanity—a silicon chip, or this video by The Cult? I would guess that a lot of people, especially head-oriented scientific types, would consider this to be a no-brainer: of course an alien intelligence would be more interested in our highest technological achievements than in our cheesy pop music. But consider: they might easily understand the silicon chip. It could well make perfect sense to them. It may be that civilizations throughout the Galaxy have come up with similar innovations. But how could a non-human possibly understand “She Sells Sanctuary”? Why do these upgraded apes cover their bodies and modify their hair so strangely in this video? Why do they try so hard to make these odd vocalizations and technologically enhanced rhythmic instrumental noises? Why the repeated closeups of the singer’s mouth? Why does he move in the peculiar way he does? A silicon chip may not be particularly human, but “She Sells Sanctuary” is about as human as it gets, and I’d guess that an alien mind might be hard put to “get it.” All that is lacking from the video is shots of the sea of young people in the audience, half of them loaded out of their minds, moving rhythmically in a state of rapturous exaltation, with young females screaming, and a few crying. A non-human might be totally mystified, totally incapable of “getting it.”

     Hence the greater fascination. Why??? Why do humans do this?

     This is it. This is humanity, in all its semi-intelligence and irrationality. We are not robots. We are not inherently logical, reasonable beings. And we sure as hell are not going to live up to some brilliant theory, utopian or otherwise, as to how we are supposed to be. We are animals, messy, foolish, loud, unsavory primate mammals who somehow learned to speak and make tools, and eventually to create empires, build cathedrals, write symphonies, yearn for the stars, and produce silicon chips.

     To be fair to the aliens, human nature is not fully understood by the overwhelming majority of us humans—in fact some of us, in our profound ignorance and lack of self awareness, even deny the very existence of inherent human nature. Why do we like rock music? (“Because it sounds good!”) Why do we like puppies? (“Oh, because they’re so cute!”) Why do we do or like most of the things we do? Most people don’t bother to understand it, and just go with the flow. Even sophisticated theories concerning the biological evolution of music appreciation, puppy appreciation, etc. only allow us (plus maybe some alien scientists) to get some handle on the basic mechanics, maybe, without really exposing in its full luridness the reality of what it is to be human.

     An inability to really grok the human condition may not only make us incomprehensible to the 4-dimensional anthropologists of the planet Tralfamadore, but it is also an insurmountable iron cliff for those intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) idealists who dream of socially engineering utopia, or even just a better society. People are too messy to follow artificial rules very well, and the theorists in ivory towers reject the very existence of the natural, instinctive rules that we follow without even realizing it.

     So, the best we can do, and this dumb song inspires me with this sentiment, is to revel in our messy humanity, or at least be in some sort of harmony with it; to just be ourselves and do the best we can manage, and maybe not even try to figure out why some girls cry in the presence of rock stars.

     Then again, maybe this all just demonstrates why Buddhist monks aren’t supposed to listen to music.

If you watch the video, which of course I recommend, I advise you turn up the volume really LOUD.



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