The 1% Solution

MxMk came up to me today in the dining hall at dinner. He’s reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which I’m going to need to re-read. He said, “I’m reading the part where Hiro and Juanita talk about the purpose of religion, and Juanita calls it 99% shit.”

This is his way of baiting me.

I said, “Look around you. 99% of everything is shit. Do you know Sturgeon’s Law?” Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is shit. When he said that he didn’t know, I explained it to him. “90% of everything is shit. Even the ground is earthworm shit. The whole planet is made out of dust the rest of the galaxy ejected and rejected. Think of it this way… (Thanks, Tom)

“You live in a house, Mx, that represents the whole of human experience. Every birth, every death, every marriage, every artist, every shipwreck, every loaf of bread, is made in this house. There are windows everywhere. Some are small and obscure, like African shamanism. Some are weird and filled with pockmarked glass, like Amazonian witchcraft. Some are huge and sagging stained glass edifices, like Protestantism or Catholicism. Some are tinted green and covered with writing, like Islam. Some are red and very tightly focused, like Buddhism. But all of them are trying to open the house up to light from outside the human experience. All of them are trying to make sense of the wonder just beyond the outer walls of the house.”

Mx nodded.

“And lots of people get focused on what the Greeks called the adiaphora — the extras. The beautiful unnecessaries. Fundamentalism makes this mistake all the time — it concentrates on the window itself, rather than on the light which the window is intended to transmit to us.”

“So yes, Mx. 90% of religion is shit, because 99% of everything is shit. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s 1% in there which is transformative and enriching. That 1% of religion, that 1% of everything, is that which makes everything in the house worth doing.”

Mx nodded again. He didn’t say much, but there was light in his eyes.

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16 comments

  1. Well, the version I use assumes that everybody is trying to get to Chicago, but live in different places to begin with. Not quite as fatalistic.

  2. [chuckles]

    “The fact that some things are 90% shit does not preclude them from being totally crap. It just gives them a good start.”

  3. *nod* you’re quite right.

    I did circle back to him, and said, “you do realize that in some cases, 100% of something is shit.”

    He nodded, but I think the best moment had passed. Another window will open up — he’s too eager to talk sometimes. 🙂

  4. Right. I’ve never liked the all roads to the same city, because clearly it’s not the Roman Empire any more, and all roads don’t necessarily lead to the same place.

  5. MxMk does certainly believe that 99% of everything is shit, but I do think that your window metaphor (a beautiful metaphor indeed) shed some light, so to speak, for him.

    Speaking of shedding some light, the new New Order album is shedding light from my speakers as we speak. So you know.

    -Ben

  6. MxMk does certainly believe that 99% of everything is shit, but I do think that your window metaphor (a beautiful metaphor indeed) shed some light, so to speak, for him.

    Speaking of shedding some light, the new New Order album is shedding light from my speakers as we speak. So you know.

    -Ben

  7. Of course, the obvious counterpoint is that 1% of everything is golden light. Satanism, secular humanism, even simple dry athiesm. You’ve removed religion from a position of authority to just another convenient abstraction.

    Which is as may be.

  8. Of course, the obvious counterpoint is that 1% of everything is golden light. Satanism, secular humanism, even simple dry athiesm. You’ve removed religion from a position of authority to just another convenient abstraction.

    Which is as may be.

    • *nod* you’re quite right.

      I did circle back to him, and said, “you do realize that in some cases, 100% of something is shit.”

      He nodded, but I think the best moment had passed. Another window will open up — he’s too eager to talk sometimes. 🙂

      • [chuckles]

        “The fact that some things are 90% shit does not preclude them from being totally crap. It just gives them a good start.”

  9. Nice. I’ll have to remember that one. I’ve been getting pretty tired of the All Roads Lead To The Same City metaphor I usually use.

  10. Nice. I’ll have to remember that one. I’ve been getting pretty tired of the All Roads Lead To The Same City metaphor I usually use.

    • Right. I’ve never liked the all roads to the same city, because clearly it’s not the Roman Empire any more, and all roads don’t necessarily lead to the same place.

      • Well, the version I use assumes that everybody is trying to get to Chicago, but live in different places to begin with. Not quite as fatalistic.

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