A man woke in the middle of the night, and had many thoughts. Let’s call him Tim. He returned to sleep and in the morning he told the neighbors, “Skeletor woke me last night, and told me to go about doing bad things.” The neighbors wondered at this saying, but figured the man was telling a joke.
The next night, the man again awoke, not of his own accord, and realized that again Skeletor had come and was giving much knowledge and instruction. “Skeletor came again last night, woke me up and told me to start an Evil Horde,” he explained to his neighbors. They went away wondering, did this Skeletor really come and wake him? And if so, what might we do to enjoy his loud laughter and evil speaking of Eternia’s anointed?
We might ask some questions of this would-be disciple of Skeletor.
First, when you say, “Skeletor awoke me last night,” you mean you saw him, in the violet anger of his person, and looked upon his yellowed skull face?
So, he put his hand on you, shook you gently, and then roughly, whispering, “Man, wake up. Hey, wake up.” And you said, “Huh, wha? who’s there…huh…mumblemumble…AHHH, Skeletor!!!”
And Skeletor said, “That’s right, fool! Now I have awakened you, and I require you to do my evil bidding!”
And you said, “Hey, that’s totally cool, but it’s like 3 am. I mean, I can’t do a whole lot of evil bidding right now. I’m in my underwear, ahem, non-magical, as you’ve now heard; my hair’s a mess, and like, I gotta thing I gotta do. You know, maybe come back in the morning?”
And Skeletor answered, “Fool! I have chosen you to restore the Evil Horde. Look upon my face. It is yellow and skully, and although I don’t have lips, yet I can pronounce my words without impediment. It’s because I possess the power of Skeletor. Feel my skull face, and my purple muscles.”
And you said, “dude, why don’t you come back later? It’s like 3 in the morning. But if that’ll get you out my bed, I guess I can feel your skull face. Yeah, it’s a skull face alright.”
“Hah hah hah hah hah!!!”
So, we ask, was it like that?
No, the man replies, I mean I conversed with him in my mind, as he is wont to do. But he was in your room? we ask. Yes. And you saw him? Not with my natural eyes. With which eyes, then? In my mind’s eye. Not in your skull? So, you woke up, had some thoughts, and attributed them to a cartoon villain pictured in your mind, who had specially chosen you to restore the Evil Horde? Yes.
Of course, we would say this man is misusing ordinary language.
When he says, “the Lord of Evil came to me,” he means, “I had some thoughts or feelings I attributed to Skeletor.” When he claims, “Skeltor woke me up,” he means, “I woke up, and since I am not conscious of myself waking myself, I attributed that as an effect of a cartoon villain who had wondered into my room from the world of Filmation.” He is asking us to do the interpretive work, or not.
Why not just describe things as they happened, rather than as he repaints them?
Others eager to hear from Skeletor might decide that perhaps this man has been chosen to bring back the Evil Horde, for it is possible, isn’t it? What might I do, they inquire, in order to enjoy Skeletor’s nighttime wake-up call and special invitation?
Perhaps you must be X, Y, and Z. Surely Skeletor doesn’t just visit anyone, as he pleases. He is a busy villain, and wouldn’t waste his time hanging out with just anyone. There must be something special about his chosen.
What seems be the deciding moment is when one decides to describe events in terms not entirely faithful to the reality experienced. There is dishonesty in requiring others to unlock one’s words, and to show they mean something rather less definite than the picture they conjure up. What would we call a man who says, “I saw an alien ship in the sky!” Yet, after questioning, we learn he means, “I saw a cloud that looked like what I figure alien ships look like”? If we must ask further questions to find out his words mean other than what we might call their “literal” meaning, we might say he is deceiving us.
Ah, the poet’s license: William Blake often said he spied angels here and there, but he was a poet, and did not credit these angels with having specific names and giving him practical instruction about how to act in this world, except in a general way he’d call “good.” In cases like Blake’s we can leave unresolved whether he “really” saw angels or not. Whatever he saw, he called them angels.
Tim’s case in the parable is different in an important way.
We could say to Tim, “You may attribute any author to your thoughts, to your unconscious actions, to pictures in your head. But why not attribute them to a lesser being, rather than the greater? Why must the Lord of Darkness be their author, rather than, say, Modulok or Chad? Did he say something only Skeletor would say?”
Surely, there are other beings in Eternia eager to converse with us, and why must every thought and waking up be credited to Skeletor?
In fact, why bother assigning an author to the voices in our head? Except that by an author we hope to give our words authority? The, “I heard from so-and-so” turn that presents some face as a mask to cover investigation into the merit our words?
But doesn’t the truth come whatever its source, and carry its own influence? Do these voices really have an author? Or is it more like a drawing using another being’s words, and those words are read from a script written by a team of writers, drawing on their own experiences with other voices, and so on? Who, then, is the author? A drawing named Chad?
Why say “Skeletor,” except that one can now begin an assault on Castle Greyskull, seeking for its power and throne? Leaving aside obvious obligations to cite published authors in order to give credit, and avoid charges of plagiarism, Why can’t we just report something, a notion, a thought, an inspiration, and not assign an author when we don’t really have an author’s name or face to reference?
Of course, I am aware that some readers will instead be asking, “Is Daymon talking about X, Y, or Z?” I am talking about this way of talking, regardless of who does it.
Note: Also, I am not denying the possibility of supernatural visitors. In my own Cultural History I describe some invasions of my personal space by powerful thoughts, let’s call them; which I attributed to various named individuals. Yet in no case did they instruct me to do such and such, except as it related to something I had written. Mostly correcting me. There the invasion seemingly concluded. Had I simply said, B.H. Roberts came to me, and told me what to write, I’d be, I think, less than truthful. He didn’t tell me what to write, but some thoughts I’d describe as “not my own” suggested what I’d written was not quite right.
The question, of course, is: How do we decide which thoughts are “ours” and which to attribute to some other mind-invading entity? Or, maybe the better question: Why bother assigning names and sources to thoughts?
Isn’t it enough we have good ones, and bad ones? If a thought or sentence persuades us to do good, we can say it came from Christ. Does that mean I can say, “Christ told me to do, say, feel, such-and-such”? I don’t think so. If I read C.S. Peirce, and his writings inform my thoughts, it would clearly be untruthful to say, “Peirce is telling me what to think,” except as I make it clear I mean, “The writings of Peirce, not the actual man.”
By talking as our Tim has in the parable, moreover, we make it more likely others will doubt someone else’s claims about really being visited by Skeletor, leaving them always in doubt that maybe this someone too was speaking metaphorically, or adding interpretation to description. Adding an author does not dissolve our unbelief, rather it promotes it, and builds on the power of their name. It would be more honest to not designate an author where we don’t have a face or a name. Instead, we could speak of what was said, thought, felt, heard, and so on, and decide the merits of their meaning without worry of offending Skeletor or Chad. This is an Article of Faith, perhaps.