viii: The Yoga of Creative Bechdel Test Failure (Raiders of the Jurassic Ark)

Our first solid reference to a conceptual European dark age emerges from 14th century Italy, or what was left of it, some three hundred years after Rome was finally dislodged from the throne of the western world. There, a polymath named Francesco Petrarca saw fit to cast aspersions on the recent history of his own homeland, directly referencing what he saw as the woeful remnants of the Roman Empire in the surrounding Italian nation-states of the 10th and 11th century, referring to that chaotic period’s essence as “darkness” in contrast to the “light” of the Roman nation of before Imperial collapse. 

Petrarch of Florence was not Florentine by birth, though he claimed the boisterous, curious city as his own. This narrative suited his ego far more than reality; a story of precocious matriculation from the tiny hillside village in which he’d been raised, in view of Florence, but out of reach from it.

He, indeed, had ancestral claim on the city, as his family had once been part of its elite class, before being booted out in one of the many minor and major purges occurring across Italy, especially to the North, where lack of functional resource logistics and shorelines had made things chaotic indeed.

Petrarch’s father was a legal notary, and expected his sons to follow him into the  profession. Ever dutiful, Petrarch would attempt to indulge his father for what he would later call seven “wasted” years of study and work, developing an outsized desire for some kind of escape from his misery, that misery being a clerkship where he had enough downtime to surreptitiously write his epic poem Africa – a Latin treatise celebrating Roman victory in the Second Punic War – which would soon bring him celebrity among the European elite, and establish him as a key authority on the Roman Empire.

14th century Florence was a hotbed of clashing ideologies, with various camps of credo battling fiercely for dominance in a world where constant power vacuums were the norm. Within the city there was a strong desire to return to the stable totalitarianism of Italy’s recent past, but alongside that old set of vicious canards were being planted the seeds of the philosophy that would, in later centuries, come to be known as Humanism – a worldview that centered humanity on the stage of existence in a self-reflective, idiosyncratic manner, attempting to validate a given individual’s worth within sprawling systems that didn’t seem to trouble themselves over the well-being of their constituent parts.

The “Renaissance Humanism” of Petrarch’s day was still very much Christian in the capital C sense, and lashed humanity against a supposedly-solid supernatural core when separating itself from the rest of the natural world. These tenuous bindings, in the face of such a manifestly obvious “new” technology as the value of personal agency, were bound to break, and presupposed the sort of path that the humanism of secular skepticism would tread into the future; once all gods and ghosts were gone, all humanity would be left with, was itself. 

Petrarch was a precocious fellow, with a natural gift for compartmentalization. While he was indeed obsessed with the Roman past of his ambient reality, he also found himself strongly attracted to the burgeoning Humanist worldview that was capturing the imagination of the scholars and thinkers around him. He was attracted, no doubt, by the manner which humanism tends to place us at the apex of the arc of existence, offering up the perfect middle way, with a future inherently ours as a species to claim, whether by dint of a God or the spirit within ourselves. 

This outlook fed directly into his view of history, which settled into an impressively narrow one, obsessed as it was with his own direct experience and the High Roman stories of his youth. He continued to hold, in precious regard, the Italian state, just before the Roman empire hemorrhaged and fractured into violence and chaos. Thus, his humanism placed value in the perception of a beautiful order, which truly only amounted to a new coat of paint on a traditionalist ideology, a central core of preternatural idealism which places more value on how things appear to be, rather than they are. 

To be frank, the fellow was likely deeply bitter about the Germanic nature of the Holy Roman Reboot.

“Picky’s buying blow, right?” the Kid says, once she’s barely out of earshot. He leans back and puts his feet on the rim of the little table, causing it to rock back and forth, to both my chagrin and the obvious annoyance of the increasingly restless table of three next to us.

“Presumably,” I mutter.

“Straight-up dick move, innit, goes on and on about how we’re in a hurry, but she has plenty of time for lecturing and party drugs… Is she gonna share?”

“Signals were mixed when I inquired…” I shrug. “You never even do fun drugs, Kid.”

“Yeah, but it has market value, and one of you dipshits would buy it back from me eventually, at a real healthy markup,” the Kid says. “If people offer to share drugs, they shouldn’t be so fucking precious about how I choose to use.”

“A spoonful of Etch’s stuff is worth, like, two tokens, tops,” I say. “It’s made from, like, fertilizer and reclaimed wastewater or some shit, it’s not like the Drop has an excess of Cacao plantations.” I try to get lost in feed, but can’t find anything to focus on, as all my dumb boystuff message boards are being their typical dumbboy selves, and, not unrelatedly, REMOTE is gummed up with the bullshit discourse the Dipshit AI tends to generate. “Anyway, don’t get me involved with whatever beef you’re trying to stoke right now. I’ve been putting in the effort to stay out of this nonsense.”

Yeah, don’t think I haven’t noticed,” the Kid says. “Thanks a lot for the back up, in like, any situation ever.”

“I don’t agree with you in like any situation, ever,” I say, only kind of immediately regretting it.  “…look, you’re being hyperbolic. I don’t think you’re always wrong… I just think you’re very wrong here…

“You used to agree with me one hundred percent on this blue moons, yellow stars, green clovers, and purple horseshoes bullshit. You used to love slagging off horoscope people…”

“And then I gained a little more perspective and saw that those beliefs, however unusual we find them, are actually not nearly as societally toxic as the beliefs they oppose.”

See, I’m real confused here,” The Kid says, halting the table’s shuddering and leaning in a little with a genuine confused look on his face, y’know, to really sell the line. “I always thought you and I were the kind of guys who didn’t cotton to the lesser evil, especially when the word “lesser’s” doin’ such heavy lifting in that sentence.”

“Your thought wasn’t wrong but it lacked sophistication,” I reply. The Kid’s face indicates he’s not a big fan of this tactic. “Look, Castaneda was a piece of shit carny who got rich making up a guy, but I learned stuff from the first half of Journey to Ixtlan that no one else had bothered to show me,”

It’s a sad truth that can’t be helped; I’ve learned a great deal in life from a lot of just fucking terrible people (if you don’t know the deets on old Carlos, don’t even bother looking it up. It’s gross.)

“Oh yeah, what profound mysteries of boomer wisdom did he impart on you?”

“Well, that “beginnings” and “endings are man-made constructs of narrative, and things like that don’t actually “exist” in any real sense…” I offer. 

“Wow, I bet that helps you whole bunches when you want to dismiss someone’s story, huh, ‘Sorry, Jack, sounds like you had a traumatic experience but you’re just telling me your meaningless narrative of what happened.’ Hard to believe you’re such an unpopular guy.” The Kid pauses, and gives himself a weary stretch of his neck. For a moment I wonder if he feels like he’s gone too far. “Anyway, you learned to tolerate magick bullshit because it expanded your dating pool.”  Nope, guess not.

“Yeah, right, and look how well that’s worked out for me,” I mutter, then realize I’m capitulating to the bitterness of an older version of myself. Yep… they’re all still in there, aren’t they, those old selves? I suppose that one who hasn’t seen the earlier frames, could say I am advancing up this road…

“Tolerating the pretty girls’ astrology bullshit won’t keep them from seeing you as a broke loser,” he spits.

All right, I got it, you’ve made your point,” I say, although I’m not entirely sure that’s true, or if there’s any truth at all to his jabs, as I feel like it’s framed in a patriarchal way I expect from the Kid that’s always easy for me to dismiss. “Look, I’m happy to have your back when I think you’re right and the argument’s worth it, and you goddamn know it.”

”You use that rationale to leave me to the wolves a whole bunch, for as close of friends as we supposedly are,” the Kid notes. “Although, oh yeah, friendship is actually transactional, isn’t it?’

“God damnit, you two really are riled up today,” I sigh. My friends are a bunch of bullies, and I can only be so permissive. …I can only be so… so permissive. “Why do you still gotta be sore over that shit, man? Picky just basically accused you of being a monster, all I did was poke a little fun at your past fuckin’ foibles.”

“I’m not sore,” the Kid replies, his face plastered with his weird, shit-eating rictus grin. “I’m whatever the opposite of sore is, tactically.” 

Picky walks up to the table with Etch in tow. They’re carrying an external phone unit, an object rarely seen on the Drop, usually by those unfortunate(?) souls who are allergic to the omnipresent AR wetware virus with which we’re all infected. With Etch, it’s not a necessity, but very much a style thing, although lately I’ve become aware that “style things” are often the result of anxiety as much as anything else. 

Etch stares at the unit while they sloom over the table. As always, they bring with them their usual bored countenance, belied by the general acute and intense awareness they can’t help but radiate. (As I said, I’m a fan.)

“If I mention how enormously sad it is that you have to hang out with these two losers, does that fail the Bechdel test?” they ask Picky, placing a firm hand on the table to stop the Kid using it as a nervous footrest. 

“Yeah, I think we just did,” Picky says. “We’re definitely talkin’ about a couple ‘a reeeeal dudes.”

“Ah well, worth it, I guess.”

“Hey, Etch,” I say, trying to sound as neutral as possible, which is always a “starting from a fail state” kind of situation.

“Hey,” they say, looking over their shoulder, back toward the counter. Fair enough, not like they ignored me.

Look, I guess I need to at least give a little context here, but there isn’t a ton to say. Etch is an old friend of one of my ex’s, with whom I had a tumultuous relationship that started on shaky ground and ended in catastrophic collapse. As I haven’t always had a handle on even basic human decency, my past behavior has not been consistently cloaked in honor. Even trying to explain myself and the difficulties I had with Ashe would make it seem like I’m abdicating my own responsibility, but since it seems like I’ve already just gone there, I will say… shit’s complicated.  Life is complicated. 

But Etch never really cared for me, except for one short moment where they let their guard down a little and I obnoxiously blew my chance to build any trust, being still mostly a sexist idiot that was bad at befriending women. Obviously I find them cool, they make provocative art and have interesting things to say, and they possess that glib detachment that a weirdo like me is always gonna get a kick out of… but I’ve already pretty fairly three-striked my way onto their permenant shitlist. Again, fair enough.

“Etchy, how goes the bullshit factory?” the Kid says, with unhidden glee. “Sold a lot of useless advice to sad dupes today?”

“Yeah, more than you’ll make sucking tokens, and also cock if that’s what you’re up to today. No judgement from me on your sustenance sex work, though.”

“Hey, both of those things are more honest than selling this horseshit. Not that I’m judging, either. How’s Ashe? Haven’t seen her in a while.” He’s looking at me as he says this, because he’s a huge spiteful bastard.

In professional fake-fighting, when two people are fake-fighting and one of them either accidentally or purposefully connects with an attack that does legitimate damage when it shouldn’t have, it is known as a “potato.”  When this happens, the opponent is more or less required to respond in kind, in order to make things equitable and assure that both combatants are still more or less on the level. This reactionary and necessary attack is known as a “receipt,” and it needs to be a good one, in order to let the original offender know that the transaction has now been completed.

Sometimes, however, the provider of the receipt can go too far in the customary reply.  This can often begin a vicious cycle that sees a real fight breaking out in the background of a fake one.

“As happily married as ever, no thanks to dipshit over here,” Etch replies, nodding toward me, aiding in my good friend’s jolly receipt for my earlier attack on his politics.

“Well I sincerely hope she is,” I say, instead of what I want to say, which is that I, in fact, sincerely doubt it; Ashe isn’t a bad person, really, but she is consistently chaotic in her love life. And one day, pot met kettle. But I’m trying to maintain levels of basic human decency. “I truly do.” Shouldn’t have added that last bit, sounded forced.

“No you don’t,” Etch says, finally letting a look linger on me. I meet their gaze just a little too strongly and quickly look backdown. “Are we gonna do this, hon?” they add, in Picky’s general direction.

“Can I trust you two fellas to sit here quietly while we go off and find the key to the back door?” Picky asks, not waiting for the answer as she and Etch head behind the counter.

“Does a Taurus suck dick better than a Cancer?” the Kid replies, too loudly. “According to the book I just pulled off the shelf, the answer is yes!”  The two flip him off as they walk away, which is frankly way more acknowledgement than the bit deserves.

“Funny shit,” I say, glancing around to try and determine how pissed off anyone around us is. “That Ashe stuff was great, too, A+ material. I assume we’re square.”

“Do you? There you go with that transactional energy again,” the Kid says, grinning his grin and obviously enjoying himself, because, you know, he’s a monster.  Our monster, but…. “I’m not really sore that you called me an ex-nazi…”

“I didn’t call you an ex-nazi…”

“I’m not sore that you called me an ex-nazi because, even if that’s something I wouldn’t self-apply, I’m not about to infringe on other people’s right to label me via my past associations.”

“That’s great, sounds like you’re doing the bare minimum self-reflection thing, and I’m really proud of you.”

“Thus, when people want to gate-keep me out of things, not that they usually care enough to because my particular charms are lost on them, then fuck ‘em, I have no argument, you know?” The Kid punctuates his point by absently pulling his fucking piece out and checking the chamber, the metal click alarming the neighboring table because of course it should, but it’s the Drop, so what are they going to do about it? “I’m never gonna be elected president of the local anarchy club, and that’s ok with me.” 

“Yeah, the most popular anarchist is generally the leader, and you’re not really inspiring any movements, are you?” I know I’m not putting forth my best rhetorical footing forward here, but I’d really just like him to shut up, which is ironic, I think? “Hey, you really gotta play with your fucking gun right here?” All it takes is the sight of one gun to fully remind me how almost everyone else is also packing in this insane fucking world we live in. 

“But someone like you, you wanna live the life of the reformed misogynist, right? Like, you really want that feminist acknowledgement that you’re no longer a bad person…” 

“I never belonged to an organization with explicit ties to right-wing paramilitary “misogynists”, so maybe ease off the gas here, a little bit,” I say. For the first moment, I feel the ever-so-slight sting of him actually scoring a very minor real hit.

“Sure, but people like Etch and Ashe and even Picky can tell a much different story from the one you tell yourself, right?” The Kid’s grin widens as he leans in, sliding the weapon back into his voluminous jacket with a showy flourish.

“Tell me more about the story I tell myself, Kid,” I say, echoing his movement, leaning in and adding in an eye squint in what I immediately regret as an attempt to be intimidating. He does the same, with mock exaggeration.

“Dishes it out like a salty-ass Navy cook busted down from spec ops wetwork because he’s a dangerous liability. Takes it like a daisy-fresh boot on his first patrol, jumping at shadows, just wanting to go AWOL:.”

“You’re mixing your military similes and I bet a certain jarhead we know wouldn’t care for it.”

“Probably not, but he’d likely agree with me that you’re a big fat hypocrite, since he’s known you longer than anyone else but me.“

“Great, yeah. Probably.” I say. Honestly… I don’t feel like eating this particular shit, not from the Kid, not right now. But our argument from earlier in the day, so ancient, so pointless, is still reverberating in my skull. I did take my cheap shot, and even enjoyed it. So like, what can I do? He’s the asshole, sure, but I’m the asshole who poked him, right?

“Look,” the Kid says, breaking his slumping posture and leaning back with a leisurely stretch. “We’re just fucking around here, right? You know we’re square, as long as you appreciate that your as-yet unexamined hatred for others makes you as questionable as me in your own special ways, and you should never expect trust from the people you’ve already so completely betrayed.”

“I literally have never said it didn’t!” I say, perking up and again realizing too late that I’ve been baited.

“Right, I get that, you’ve never had any reason to literally say it out loud, because no one’s put you in the position to, and that’s allowed you to live in a world where your past sins are morally or ethically superior to mine, and buddy, I’m here to keep reminding you that they’re the exact same shit.” 

“I’ll take that under advisement,” I say with as dismissive an air as possible, although to be honest, there’s no question he’s right on an essential level, and there’s the rub about fighting with friends; the ones you love are the only ones who can really hurt you.

“Well, as a dude who thinks that being allowed to think about difficult subjects, no matter what they are, is still a good thing despite weird pushback from a bunch of people who were fine with the first amendment ten years ago, I’m glad to hear it.” The Kid stands up abruptly, apparently feeling like this last word was a good one to exit the argument on. “I’m gonna go take a piss before we resume this cavalcade of mummery.” He pats me on the head as he walks away, which he knows I hate.

“No one has a problem with the first amendment’s protections against government intervention in speech, and free speech absolutists hurt their arguments when they try to hang that shit on their opponents!” I call after him.  “And you can just call it a clown parade, now who’s showing off!”  …People are looking at me, which immediately pings my anxiety. I turn back around and, with nothing physical to look at, or at least nothing that I want to consciously acknowledge, pretend to be interested in my dreary fucking feed.

Humanism’s inert form is a solid, if imperfect, body, centering itself upon the view that the collective whole of personhood is self-evidently and existentially valid. It could thus be said that humanism’s central problem is humans themselves, and by extension the complicated and violent worlds they create and inhabit, rather than the static rubrics they struggle to grasp, in order to sleep more soundly. 

Petrarch, wise as he was, could not escape the context of his own locality, and that context was war, plague, and suffering. He thus found it self-evident to embrace the idea that different humanities had different intrinsic values, based on what he rated as the moral worth of the times to which they belonged.

Hence, the comparatively humane order of pre-fall Rome was self-evidence of Roman humanity’s “lightness,” regardless of it’s well-documented totalitarian crimes against citizen and enslaved person alike. while the ‘darkness’ was represented by the resulting chaos and churn of war between minor principalities and major ideologies all jostling for the few remaining thin scraps of all the soft power the region had just bled away.

 This schism inside of Petrarch was exacerbated in strangeness because the man’s fame allowed him to follow his true passion: wandering. As he matured into his role as an Ecclesiastical Authority for the reforming shoals of the Church (an on-brand role for a Renaissance Humanist if there ever was one) he became famously well-traveled, even being labeled with a typically western moniker of “first tourist” (as if Europeans truly invented travel for pleasure.) 

In his mature years, Petrarch rambled extensively throughout the continent, which would have, in theory, given him a wide view on the complete litany of human experience, and even might have revealed to him how power is subject to its own set of whims and fancies.

But as he made this tour on the Church’s dime and eventually its behest, he was by no means bivouacking; his excursions were that of an elite, roaming primarily within the halls of the elites, and seeing those things that pleased elites. These travels, then, tended to exacerbate his Holy Roman sympathies, causing him to see the light in those places where he happened to find the most welcoming succor. 

Fransesco Petrarca’s ability as a well-written intellectual to craft records that other intellectuals thought worthy of retaining, as well as his dedication to a Godly humanism that saw grace to impart all humans inherent worth, but certain humans more inherent, inherent worth, predicated humanism’s ultimate embrace of a skeptical dualism that would allow it to regard whatever it saw the “core” of humanity, once the godhead had been disposed of, as the only universal specimen of any concern.

It was somewhat ironic, then, that the concept to which Petrarch gave shape was not given a name for another three centuries, by which point the Italian Cardinal Caesar Baronius, who coined the sumptuous latin phrase saeculum obscurum, would cast Patrarch’s own time, and indeed the man’s own Renaissance beliefs, which had become extremely antique under the relentless onslaught of the Enlightenment-era deconstruction of belief, as squarely within the long age of darkness, nor would the good Cardinal too finely differentiate Petrarch from any other citizen of the time which the “Florentine Tourist” was himself so fond of disparaging. 

Turns out that every era, and indeed every person, has their own unique idea of what constitutes a “dark age” of learning and knowledge, with differing cultural worldviews producing wildly different values for what, exactly, knowledge and learning entail. And the less holistic one’s view, the greater capacity one has to see past the darkness around the edges of their perception, like drawing a tiny piece of a map, blacking out the rest, and calling it finished.

And surely we could spend long pages deconstructing the very notion of labeling a period of time one finds historically disagreeable as “dark”, especially coming from the very seat of white supremacist culture, but as the violent and racist framing that the word imparts is self-evident, we can leave it in history’s dustbin, provided dustbins don’t prove to be problematic enough to have to unpack.

Alone now, I try to keep my male gaze to my fucking self, even though there’s a person sitting alone at a table nearby that radiates whatever it is I find attractive about performative femininity. It might be unhealthy and the result of deep anxieties, but in this kind of situation I usually just try not to look in their direction at all, period. If I can get out of the situation without even fully comprehending their full form, cool with me.

Like, I’m sure they’re used to being stared at, but that sure as shit doesn’t make it less creepy. They don’t owe anyone their appearance, nor have I earned it, so… Look, it’s a whole thing, we can get into it later.

Instead, I spend the next few minutes wondering if I should keep some of this recent navel-gazing in the text of our jaunt, or just edit it out like I sometimes do, to try to make myself seem like a more coherent personality. But honestly, that feels exhausting at the moment; everything does, in that gloss-of-depression way, that feeling of walking on thin ice over the void, if I’m also allowed to mix my metaphors today. 

I do want to be as honest as possible; and understanding that you are your own unreliable narrator is a real pain in the ass, because you then need to do something with that information, and it ends up affecting your work in unpredictable ways that ultimately make me uneasy, even if I cannot fully pinpoint why…. Again, this is all navel-gazing bullshit. Look what happens when I’m left to my own devices. I should definitely delete this bit.

I risk a glance at the attractive person, because I’m a liar, most of all to myself. They are indeed an example of a person I can’t help but find beautiful, and they’re staring in my direction, at something just over my shoulder, with such ferocity that I have to look down. I refuse to look back up at them or in the direction they’re staring, even if their look was indicating some sort of horde of rampaging carnies approaching (unlikely as I’m somewhat certain I made sure it wasn’t a holiday,) because frankly I wish I hadn’t involved myself at all in this situation; mostly right now I’d just like to please shrivel up and die. 

Look, I know not everyone is going to identify with my specific brand of avoidant anxiety, but take heart, worried men. No one expects you’ll ever take this level of concern for anything you assholes ever do in public. My totally beta self-cucking can’t hurt you.

My annoying internal recursion is mercifully interrupted by Picky, standing on a chair across the room, snapping her fingers in my direction. Man I fucking hate that, which is just the motivation I need to get up and out of whatever weird headspace I just found myself in.

I rise, and mercifully separate myself from all surrounding parties, both annoyed and lovely, and move across the room, squeezing gingerly between seated clusters of chatting pagans, making my way to Picky and Etch. No one’s looking at me… no one’s staring at me… just hurry on through the crowd… ignore the possible sneers… Christ, I’ve really got my anxiety whipped up right now.

Picky has thankfully been stealing most of the focus with her presumably coked-up antics; she hops off of the table once I approach, landing with a slight wince that she does her best to hide, as Etch jaws on while tapping away at their external.  “…anyway, it’s not like the money isn’t there, considering how cheap rent is around here now that the Carnival’s finally figured out how to put the squeeze on their “non-assets”, not to mention that…” Etch looks up at me for just a second, their eyes thinning.  “…well, you know how I feel about all that nonsense anyway.”

‘Not really,” Picky says. “Considering we don’t really talk unless I come see you.”

“Yes, well, let’s get Mo to the point where she doesn’t radiate displeasure at my mere presence before I start just… dropping by Chicago Street,” Etch says, their hair bristling slightly.

“She doesn’t mean to be such a dick, she really thinks she wants what’s best for me but…” Picky starts.

“Mo does want what’s best for you,” I interrupt, ever so innocently. Why in the world I’ve done this, I do not know. But the regret starts even before I get the first word out. They both turn toward me and stare.

“Explain who asked you?” Picky says.

“Follow up question: explain who the fuck asked you,” Etch adds. I put my hands up in defeat and begin to think of something deflective or conciliatory to say, but they’ve already moved on from dealing with my shit. “Listen, Picks, you know I don’t agree completely with that particular sentiment, but I don’t feel like discussing it in front of an audience. This dude’s a straight squealer.”

“Hey… come on, you guys don’t gotta… I’m not…” I attempt my idea of a charming diffusion, and it is not great.

“She’s not wrong. You get a couple of bennies and like two beers in you and you start oversharing like a motherfucker,” Picky says.

“You know I don’t fuck with benzos… usually, and chatting while imbibing isn’t snitching, that’s… socializing,” I say.

“Parse all you want, you’re still not useful as an information vault, especially because you think you are. You’re more like that seed vault in Reality that was built on melting permafrost but wasn’t built to handle the permafrost melting.”

“I’m a… poorly designed ark?” I reply. Ark… such an evocative word… My mind races to that one time in Reality when we visited that wild place in, like, Tennessee or some shit where these weird evangelical motherfuckers actually built a real goddamn giant Noah’s Ark as a roadside attraction: not the first time it’d been done, but definitely the grandest, and with the most impressive grift attached, since the sect got tons of tax-free state and county cash to build their enormous carny money-sink.

 In return, they (eventually) produced a fairly impressive external structure: a mountainous 200-meter long hunk of wood perched in the middle of a field, hunched over a reflecting pool to add some additional illusory mass, with just enough cash spent on legit art direction to convince the rubes they’re really seeing something fancy. 

Inside of this behemoth is a strange-even-by-evangelical-standards series of walk-through exhibits, featuring all sorts of odd delights, including an animatronic Noah that drops Borscht Belt-level jokes about his wife (“doesn’t look a day over 400!”), and a very prominent section containing various pairs of dinosaurs, which the sect has claimed is totally legitimate, actually, according to their painstakingly strict interpretation of bible science (you know, the science of the bible!)

In terms of out-there protestant evangelical conceptualizations, this dinosaurs-on-the-ark thing is getting pretty close to vanishing over the horizon. It’s essentially the sort of squeezed-through-a-sieve belief you get when you have to force empirical evidence you cannot ignore through the tiny grated holes of your magical thinking. 

When it comes to even micro-evolution, this is usually the way of Evangelical philosophy; that admitting to the obvious, the self-evident, the kind of shit you can see happening in real time if you buy some cultures and a 30-dollar microscope, it would lead to scary things like accepting modernity, along with slightly more conceptual theories like macroevolution or the Earth not being made by a fellow in a week, a few thousand years ago.

That tendency for uniformity is exploitable by your clever carny, however, who knows that it offers a chance for a wacky gimmick that can really help you stand out from the crowd (but not so far away that you can’t peel folks off from that crowd, in small groups, for a good fleecing.) 

And this particular gimmick – that these Ark carnies “buy” into the science of microevolution, up to an arbitrary point of their own selection has worked pretty well, as evidenced by the fact that their grift has actually produced a monument to itself. Without this gimmick, this hundred-million dollar carny grift wouldn’t have been possible for them to pull off.

The point at which this particular sect stops following the science and hops aboard the dinoboat-train occurs in the nebulous region where microevolutionary fact becomes macroevolutionary theory, and even though both concepts share the same observation-based framework and ontological underpinnings, these people see the former as a perfectly reasonable position based on hard evidence, and they firmly believe the latter to obviously be the serpent’s greatest lie.

 Now, squaring the idea that God allows creatures to genetically change, but only just a little bit, is actually a pretty sophisticated threading of an ideological needle, proving once again the dubious nature of most sophistications. But in the end, this particular technology doesn’t amount to much more than the thinnest veneer of rigor and lip service to the value of a shared reality. 

This veneer is then used as a springboard to justify belief in absolute free will in a closed system – the free will to either believe in the idiosyncrasies of the carny cult that produced this ideology, or put one’s faith in the secular foolishness of settled science and anti-contrarianism. The carny’s ultimate point in this scenario is that you get to decide for yourself what’s real, and if you choose something other than what they’re offering, you’re going to burn for eternity.

It’s a set of beliefs accidentally more postmodern than most things people call pomo; so many different texts in wild competition, spinning up fantastic yarns about a non-existent objectivity.

So even though these weirdos are, in fact, hardcore young earth creationists, they’re apparently empirical enough to understand that God, or a global Zionist conspiracy, likely did not plant the extensive pre-Cambrian fossil record as a trick; they don’t deny the actual evidence that giant lizards were, at one point, present basically everywhere on the planet. They also can’t deny that, in order for all species currently present in the global biome to fit on an ark, it would have to be around three kilometers tall, twice as wide, and sixteen times as long from stem to stern – not a super practical thing to build for a mere grift.

Thus, the grimy details of the gimmick: since the earth is very young, and dinosaurs obviously existed, then of course Noah would have had them on the boat, and since there aren’t dinosaurs anymore, they’ve micro-evolved into other species of reptiles in the five millennia since the last genocidal tantrum from on-high.

Likewise, all animals have evolved a little bit from ark-times, taking different paths from the same genetic line, reducing the ark from needing to hold 9 million different species to whatever arbitrary shit they cook up to fit into their barge-shaped building. 

Honestly, this all barely passes the bar for basic coherency, and the guy who runs the place is much more a grifter than a believer, but even if it actually were a serious belief arrived at honestly, it would still ultimately lead to a giant boat full of velociraptors.  

Such a boat did show up in rural Tennessee, finally, after years of delays and numerous questions about the money that went mostly unanswered, because the United States is a fucking bonkers place when it comes to financial exemptions for religious assemblies. The sect got their monument to their own special brand of biblical literalism, one that they could charge fifty bucks a head to see (tax free! parking not included.) 

The locals got fuck all, more or less, as the kind of people unironically going out of their way to see a giant boat on dry land full of fucking dinosaurs tend to be the kind of people who are not particularly inclined to explore worldly locales or spend much money outside of the specific purview of their pilgrimage. 

Anyway, returning to my original thought… something about being a lousy ark, right? I specifically recall a display that was inside of this delightful edifice, probably my favorite thing about the place. It was a tastefully lit glass case, containing detailed models of various arks from different mythologies, with an easy-to-understand description card for each that listed specific reasons, according to the very realest bible science, as to why the other arks, such as Utnapishtim’s Cube from Gilgamesh or the Babylonian Coracal from the Akkadian Tablet, were impractical, and could not have handled the wrath of an angry god like the one from the literal bible – you know, the one that had a bunch of dinosaurs on it. 

And all absolutely proven, in tiny sign form, thanks to a very liberal, postmodern interpretation of the very concept of science….

“Are you daydreaming of the Ark Encounter right now?” Picky says, staring at me with a sly look.

…no?” I reply, extremely convincingly.

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