Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Cosmology / Magic /
@ K. 1999 02

no taboos

In the late 1990s I added a graphic-dependent section on Taboo to K.’s Magic folder, now let me see how well I can recreate it here:

This Home Page is a


The drawings are of course by pk.

Compare contemporary culture with other cultures, including our own past, which we now regard as primitive, naïve, corrupt, superstitious …
One movie you know will be about corrupt cops just from the first second of the opening score and the opening lighting; another by the same tokens will be about noble heroes in blue. In the bar, all cops are on the take; in the courtroom, all cops are noble heroes in blue.
The medieval peasant in the tavern could hear Chaucer quoted and laugh and say “How true”; in Church, he couldn’t: he had to believe: not just in Jesus, but in his priest, not just in his priest, but in his king and in the king’s knights.
Thus there are places and times where the truth is OK and other places and times where the truth is taboo. (Naturally, I’m not saying that cops are corrupt by virtue of being cops, that there are no exceptions. The point is that the generalization that cops are there to serve the public is false. Once one cop is found to be corrupt the default assumption is successfully falsified and should be kaput forever. It’s only under Cartamania that disproved generalizations reign immortally.)

This site, pk’s mouth and pen, is a taboo free zone.

2000 08 23 When I have time I’ll have to clarify the following (and scan my home page to see where I may already have half done so: then re-coordinate all):

We all know taboo means forbidden. How many of us know that anthropologists (like Sir James Frazer) tracking the concept find that it primarily meant sacred. The taboo was forbidden because it was sacred, not because it was evil. This or that is taboo because your blood, your hymen, your whatever, the whatever … was the proper province of the god, the magic, the fate …

As taboos trickle down the connection can be obscured: the primitive man couldn’t see his mother-in-law’s breasts (even though she had (almost) free run of the village bare-breasted) because: and then there can be a long (unpublished) list of synecdoches. He’s not supposed to see the breasts that suckled his wife, etc. (though everyone else may). So he’s got to twist his movements like a pretzel to avoid seeing his mother-in-law at all. Then we, a different culture, related, but not closely, come up with simplified “causes”: it was taboo so as to extend the prohibition against incest to in-laws: no-see, no-desire. But that’s all angels dancing on a pin: as with coincidences between say Jewish dietary law and good hygiene. Pure coincidence. The etiology is magical: practicality is coincidental.
Of course coincidental prophylaxis can still aid survival: thus dumb magic may die out, coincidentally “smart” magic may bear fruit.
(“Now” again:) Thus the medieval peasant, because of Chaucer and the tavern, may believe that he’s undeluded, a free thinker. Every USian 12 year old, because of TV, Hollywood, and peer talk, may think he’s undeluded, a sophisticate [note].
No. It’s part of the taboo. Even the Church tolerates Halloween, the one day of the year where the other gods and goblins can be, must be, acknowledged.

I’d like to discuss with someone like Umberto Eco, how different the 12th & 4th centuries, or the early 14th vs. the late 14th, would have been, with regard to Chaucerian irreverence (toward the Church that is: notice the monks get laughed at while the knight is respected: the state is winning in 1395).
Compare how satire is received according to the background: the lighting and soundtrack. In certain lightings, satire is compulsory: like being forced to laugh at Bob Hope or Mark Russell once in four years; at other times, the truth teller will be put in the stocks or worse and nobody knows it better than Bob Hope or Mark Russell. There’s something wrong with a Will Rogers dressed up like a cowboy and twirling a rope in front of a nightclub audience. It’s like a priest confessing to the Church’s treatment of Galileo while not mentioning the current population of the dungeon.

I doubt that society is possible without taboo, superstition, hypocrisy. I can have no idea how many superstitions I unconsciously swallow, how many taboos I unknowingly observe. All I can know is how frequently I look around me and see everyone else bowing their head or throwing salt over their shoulder while I am not.
cf. Mario Puzo’s Third K talking to terrorist and Third K assassinating terrorist. The judge is a different man in chambers from on the bench.

What makes Jesus Jesus or Chaucer Chaucer or Twain Twain? How can you tell the wag Mark Russell from the Mark Russell in a tux, 80 Lbs. of lard now corseted underneath? pk’s 1970 Nixon letters from Groening’s 1999 Futurama?
Jesus castigates the Jews. Read the Bible: the Jews castigate the Jews. The Jews aren’t following God very well? Come on: that’s a Jewish point! So what’s this Jesus adding? It’s a question of timing. If you’re a wag on wag night, had the tickets printed way in advance, have the church’s imprimatur, then you’re part of the church, part of the superstition, the taboo. It’s only if you are a wag during Easter mass, that you are a wag-wag, not a Russell wag, and we’ll see the spear stuck into you high on the cross.

cf. Oedipus. It’s foretold about Oedipus that he’ll grow up to kill his father and screw his mother. He does. Then it’s a big surprise.

To be Jewish means to sit together in a group and mourn how old Jews ignored Moses: we, in contrast, follow him.
To be Christian means to sit together in a group and mourn how old Jews ignored Jesus: we, in contrast, follow him.
To be pk means to stand outside the group and tell the Christians that they too ignore Jesus.

The Mark Russell says it and gets dressed in a tux, the pope says it and gets dress in gold and silk. But they say it by a prewritten calendar. They say it on-cue, and never say it off-cue. The guy on the cross said if off-cue. Or: said in on-cue, but cued not by the guy who thinks he’s the director.

Ellington was fired from his first band job. The Duke played a counter melody while the rest of the band was synched. The crowd loved it, and the bandmaster loved that the crowd loved it, but he still punished Duke for running counter to his cue. (Good for us: would we have the peerless Ellington opus if Duke hadn’t been fired after his first night of his first job?)
So, Oedipus: if you didn’t want to kill your father, why did you kill any man without first comparing DNA? If you didn’t want to sleep with your mother, why did you sleep with any woman without first checking her teeth? (Of course Oedipus didn’t know he was adopted.)
If the Jews really cared about their Jewishness, wouldn’t they have to listen to all prophets? Wouldn’t they have to refrain from ignoring any?

If Christians want to stay Christian, wouldn’t they have to refrain from falsely arresting and judging anyone? To do that, wouldn’t they have to refrain from arresting and judging anyone? Wouldn’t society therefore have to cease to be society? (at least cease to be a vertically hierarchical society: a society of authority, and compulsion.)

Or do I still have everything backwards? Maybe the really holy thing is to ignore God and then put on sackcloth once a week. Maybe we should kill every comedian who tells a joke without waiting for us to put the spotlight on him and give him his cue and then put on sackcloth once every four years. Maybe we should crucify and cannibalize every vagrant and then put on sackcloth every thousand years.
Jewishness, Christianity … are our admissions that we are what we are, stylized so we can confess without having to hear or acknowledge our own confession.

It seems to me that any ‘Ian, to prove that he’s ‘Ian, should always have to prove that : 1) he’s never crucified anybody 2) never been part of the crowd 3) never accepted a salary 4) never followed orders from any human …
That’s right: that’s what you have to pretend is so in the nightclub and prove isn’t so on capital hill. You have to watch the lighting. Always someone else’s lighting. Prove that you’re a cue-follower — no, not God’s; some other Hss — and you can jockey for the highest seat in the Vatican.

2004 02 07 Well, well. I threw this up in 1999, knew it was a mess, didn’t look at it again till now (when I want to add something), and … I don’t think it’s that bad. A little choppy: my journal style: part clipped from my journal, if I remember.

I return today to pledge that I shall defend taboo as soon as I can make time.

Quick forecast: As Freud pointed out, “primitive” taboos weren’t reasoned about: if you see your mother-in-law’s bare breasts, expect to die. There’s no pleading with a judge, there’s no hiring a lawyer. If you step off a cliff, expect to fall. You can’t bribe gravity. There’s no use screaming at nature that you didn’t really step off the cliff, that it was a mistake, that you were drunk … No, you just fall. Thus, taboo was akin to natural law; not at all kin to human law (even though taboo emerged in human culture). I think I like taboo better than law.

2008 05 25 Trying to see your own taboos is like trying to see the back of your head. It can be done only indirectly and with assistance. You need a mirror. You’ll do better with a set of mirrors, assisting each other. And you need not to be fooled by your mirrors.

The Unity of Generation Gaps:
In the same way, each generation sincerely (sincerely-ignorantly) believes itself to be the first generation with integrity, compassion, morals … I didn’t dare show the students of 1968 how I was laughing behind my sleeve at them: they had no idea how much they looked exactly like my generation, like my parents’ generation … (Can you imagine people feeling virtuous because they supported Roosevelt?)

Pro-Taboo: Counter View

I hope you noticed that my title on the above file, Taboo Free Zone: The Immortality of Superstition, is self-contradictory. If I understand Godel right, we should expect no better of ourselves. Hospitals claim that the bandages are sterile: send them to an independent lab, then another, and another, and check. Physicists talk of vacuums they’ve made: nothing? really nothing there? If superstition is immortal, then how can anyone offer a taboo free zone? Easy: just by being human.

In 1995 my first couple of home page files went up: my fiction, a quick bio. I was busy with, but in 1996-1998 the first few Thinking Tools and Society and Scholarship files were added. By 1999 I was going gung-ho on the Society section, and this subsection initiated in that period. Here I am today to smooth it out, but I’ve already exhausted myself with just the technical stuff needed for a renovation: a new folder made, links found and updated … But now the file is here, a scrapbook of complications. The next changes will be easy.
For the moment I just emphasize: saying that we’re free of taboos is as preposterous as saying that we’re telling the truth, or that the government will be fair … or that the church speaks for God … Good intentions and actual accomplishments seldom match.

Social Epistemology

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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