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That Internal Witness

By Michael D. Speir ~

Fandom is basically religion. I’m convinced the same psychological impulses lie beneath both phenomena.

English: Rodrigo y Gabriela performing at Sasq...
English: Rodrigo y Gabriela performing at Sasquatch 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’m a huge fan of Rodrigo y Gabriela, the Mexican couple who play guitars like few others on this planet can. In fact, it’s become almost a meme among their admirers that the pair are in fact extraterrestrials, so seemingly preternaturally stunning are their performances. I allow myself to be caught up in this diversion, too, speculating about what star their home world circles and commenting on the skills of the plastic surgeons there, who have almost perfected the art of making squid creatures look like humans. Those fingers, though— They haven’t got the fingers right yet, and maybe it’s better that they don’t.

Have you ever thought about how arrogant the whole idea of genius is? Oh, I’m not talking about the attitude of someone claiming to be a genius. I mean the whole idea. Do you know what a “genius” is actually supposed to be? It’s that smokey fellow who wafts out of the lamp when Aladdin rubs it, a being that can grant wishes and do other magical things; things lying out beyond the range of human ability. (“Genie” is really a respelling of the plural form.) We watch somebody like Rodrigo and Gabriela and think to ourselves, “You know, if that were humanly possible, I could do it. I can’t do it, so they must have an unfair advantage; a supernatural edge—a genius.” The charge of genius, then, is something of an ego preserver. It’s not that they’re better than me. They’re cheating!

It’s the impetus behind so much superstition: “I can’t do it,” or, “I can’t understand it, so there must be something otherworldly involved.” Nowadays, of course, we’re less inclined to credit actual geniuses, angels, demons, or even gods. If I have a weird experience on my bed during the night, I wasn’t visited by incubi or succubi like they were in the Middle Ages. No, I was abducted by aliens; and for some reason we credit extraterrestrial aliens with capabilities way, way beyond our own.

Now, when we call Rodrigo and Gabriela extraterrestrials, we don’t mean it seriously. But we do marvel at a virtuosity that incites a kind of superstition. We may not really think they’re aliens, but obviously the idea has occurred to us. It’s a way, albeit jocular, of accounting for what we don’t understand. There’s no question that their gifts inspire something akin to religious awe. Even realizing all this, I nevertheless find myself being sucked into the bowels of the thing, chuckling as I slide. I’m amused at my readiness to submit to such a diversion and at what I learn about myself as I trundle on down.

It feels good because a comfort comes of knowing others agree with us. We must be on the right track if we’re not alone in our opinions. We have a sense of being more secure, standing shoulder to shoulder with like-minded persons.Recently, after their performance in Helsinki, a fan who had attended came to their Facebook page and entered this comment: “I’ve been to concerts of all the world’s top guitarists, but I’ve never experienced anything like that!” I remember my reaction upon reading it. A warm, gushy, confirmatory resonance welled up from within my innermost being, witnessing to the truth of what was being said. Well nigh overpowering, it was. I reached to brush away a tear. Surely, what I had just read was capital-T Truth. It reminded me of something. What?

I had it! I used to feel that same sensation when I heard my favorite preacher teaching on some vital point of the Gospel. Not similar; not just reminiscent of—no, it was the very selfsame experience. What did it mean? Then, it had testified to a divine visitation, the presence of the Holy Spirit confirming to my spirit the truth of what I was being told. Now? Who knew the Holy Spirit was such a Rodrigo y Gabriela fan? And they’re, what, Buddhists? How ecumenical of Him!

But, no, it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t when I heard the preacher and it isn’t when I read laudatory commentary about Rodrigo and Gabriela. Obviously, this “internal witness” is merely a psychological phenomenon, a “feel good” sensation that overtakes us when someone is confirming what we want to believe true. It feels good because a comfort comes of knowing others agree with us. We must be on the right track if we’re not alone in our opinions. We have a sense of being more secure, standing shoulder to shoulder with like-minded persons.

But I’ve taught myself to be more self-critical. Not too long ago someone left a comment to a YouTube video of Rodrigo and Gabriela playing. “They’re they world’s greatest living guitarists!” this fan enthused. I wanted to jump up, pump my fist, and scream, “Yes!” At some level I shared the belief that nobody else could play like our heroes. Alas, it didn’t take long for the rational module of my brain to kick in, slam on the brakes, and shout, “Whoa! No, they’re not. I don’t know how I’d even begin to formulate a defense of that claim.”

It’s a little sad, the loss of faith. Indeed, I know from experience that it can be traumatic in cases. Delusion can feel so much more comfortable than reality. But there’s a joy that comes of embracing reality, too. Nobody ever gets it all right. I haven’t and won’t. But little by little I’ve chipped flakes off of the pretty, stony shell of fantasy that has too long encrusted my reality. I’ve found it thin and brittle, hiding a whole universe that actually becomes more wondrous as it’s stripped of its tawdry shroud.

I mean, isn’t it crazy that mere earthlings can play guitar like Rodrigo y Gabriela!