The Middle Finger in Classical Art
by Ed Malin
Derek Jaworski had nothing left to lose. He held his two middle fingers high, and laughed like he hadn’t done since he was knee-high to an NBA player.
Down below him, the river coursed whitely over jagged rocks.
He had just planned to walk home.
Then, the punk had picked a fight with him, Derek had landed a few punches, then picked his pockets. Casually, Derek had continued on his way home.
Now, the fink had called the cops?
Derek was on a pedestrian walkway on the bridge over the river.
On one side of him, a car with blazing roof lights informed him to keep his hands up. So far, he was doing that. The middle fingers had not been requested, but this was something white boys got away with on the regular.
It was the middle of the day, though, so the cops were being gratuitous with flashing their high beams at him. For his own good, Derek blinked and closed his eyes.
Why was the bridge shaking? Why was an ear-splitting siren messing with his other senses? His middle fingers got stuck right into his ears. Hopefully, the cops wouldn’t shoot. Derek’s surprise mounted as he opened his eyes to find himself in an alien spaceship.
That is, he was strapped to the wall, in a metal object, heading upwards, tilted vertically.
It kind of reminded him of this one amusement park ride he had been on with his friends, who had remarked he had “screamed like a bitch”.
Shortly after that, in detention—the place you go when you punch someone for saying something like that—a kindly teacher had mentioned that we all have moments of personal growth. OK, this rocket ride could be the growth of something big.
Shame there was so much noise. He couldn’t easily talk to the aliens, though they seemed nice enough. But in only a few minutes, the ship turned its orientation to the side. They had left Earth’s atmosphere.
The aliens were all wearing hoodies. No joke, they had some kind of fashion sense. As they stretched out their green hands and lowered the hoodies, Derek saw pointy ears. Pointy ears with multiple piercings.
“I hope it’s cool that we took you for a spin,” one of them asked Derek in a neutral tone.
“Who are you guys?” Derek wasn’t aware of having said this. The words more floated in his head.
“We are the Alpha Centauri Tocharian fan club.”
Derek now knew there was something he needed to know but didn’t know. Alpha Centauri, that was the nearest sun to the Earth. What the heck was a Tocharian? Some type of precious stone? An eponymous Armenian invention among the many others he didn’t recall? Possibly, a kind of hand gun?
Derek thought UMM, which felt very loud in his head.
You really don’t know about us? Hey guys, that’s great! The humans really kept us a secret!
The alien was thinking directly into Derek’s head. Applause of some kind rumbled around the ship.
Derek remembered one time his guidance counselor in school had referred him to a place that dealt in motivational speaking. It was called, so long ago, could he remember? It was called the Agency Agency. Such an uninteresting-looking man, his guidance counselor, always reading books. But, Derek reflected, he did seem to be doing exactly what he wanted to do in life.
One of the aliens approached him, obviously excited. Derek surmised this because the alien was staring at him and moving his left ear from side to side and then his right ear from side to side, basically showing off.
We want to explain the mystery to you, dude. The fate of your species, well, certain of them, has been thanks to us.
Derek raised his voice. “I hope you don’t mind if I speak.”
The aliens continued to broadcast into his head, telling him they didn’t mind, it was OK if he wanted to vocalize and it was OK if he wanted to just go mental.
It was like this, the alien continued. Southern Siberia, 8 thousand years ago. Our spaceships were flying over the region during the summertime. If it had been winter, we probably wouldn’t have noticed anything with all the snow. But, in the summer, we saw from a long way off, this one white dude with tattoos all over his chest. He was standing in the middle of a circle of other people. He stood up at his maximum height, tall like what you would call a basketball player. And he raised his hands up high above his head, and then he extended both middle fingers. All around him made a loud cheer, banged things together, stamped their feet. What was the meaning of this gesture? We theorized he was daring the sky to strike him with lightning. But what did we know. This man liked to act even taller than he was. And did he freak out when our spaceship landed in the field next to his village? He didn’t some of the others were a little concerned, and jumped down into their tunnels and caves where they spent the cold times. We came out and talked to this guy….
Derek interrupted, “When you say you spoke to this guy 8,000 years ago, you mean your ancestors, right?”
We know for some people that is a very long time ago. But not for us. I was there. I was only 100 at the time. Now, there were others in the crowd who wanted to show us their middle fingers, as though to suggest that theirs were bigger or something. But, we patiently taught them that what really matters is when everyone worshipfully sticks up the finger as one, so that all grow and manifest consciousness together.
They liked us. We liked them. We didn’t like it when after a while the temperature dropped and white stuff fell out of the sky.
“That’s snow,” Derek said.
We found that out. All the hoodies and bear skins didn’t help us adjust to that, so we made the people of the finger a mighty fine proposition. They could come onto our spaceship and live on our much warmer planet for a while. It wasn’t easy to explain these things, but the warmth part was very appealing.
Another alien chimed in. it’s a good thing we were on a mission to unload come cargo on Mars, so when we passed Earth our ships were like really empty and could hold the whole community.
Coincidences are part of the flavor of the interconnected life.
“I have so many questions,” Derek thought.
And we’ve got answers.
“On your planet, is the gravity like Earth? What did the people…”
“Aha, that’s who they are.”
Ancient people. They are their own section of the Indo-European language family.
“Which means,” Derek thought, “they branched off from Iranic and Celtic and Armenian and all the others like 8,000 years ago.”
Hey dude, I didn’t know you were such a nerd!
“Look,” thought Derek, “when you don’t have friends, and it doesn’t feel like you have a future, sometimes you look back into the past for fun.”
It is conceivable.
“But wait, are you saying that’s why Tocharian languages are distinct from the others as of 8,000 years ago? Because you took humans to your planet?”
That’s part of it. What we’re saying is, that’s why Tocharian was exactly the same 8,000 years ago as 4,000 years ago.
But you wanted to know how the Earth folks adjusted to our planet. Well, the pull is indeed just a little less than on Earth, and that means it’s a little like flying or walking on air, things like that.
“Was it hard for humans to deal with that?”
Not after they discovered reduced-gravity sex.
Derek was not in the habit of raising eyebrows. And yet.
The alien continued. There were a lot of things to do on our planet, of course. And the days are a bit longer than yours. So the reduced gravity sex became more and more complicated. And the population grew, and the genetic stock became very strong indeed.
So, our administrators settled the humans in three colonies The three colonies were in contact with each other, and also had autonomy.
Eventually, our scientists saw that the atmosphere was thinning. Our species made plans to move to an adjacent planet. At that time, the human population held a vote and asked to be returned to Earth.
We need a few more ships for the return trip. It was also agreed that the three Tocharian colonies, known as A, B and C, would be placed in their own locations on Earth, not so far from each other but with enough distance to maintain their independence. It turned out that those three locations were on different sides of a lake which had dried up and became the Tarim Basin, a real dessert with oases around it.
And what did the humans do when they were back in Earth’s gravity? They domesticated horses, really quickly. Much faster than other people around there. It felt more like flying.
That kept the Tocharians strong and in control of the area. They had to be. There was a whachacallit going all the way to China…
Thank you, Derek.
“Horses and, the other kind of riding you mentioned…the ladies must have loved that.”
We would cruise by Earth every few centuries. At first, things were like on our world, with gender equality. Then, something took over. Not gravity. The men became more bossy.
“Perhaps the transition to a sedentary lifestyle and a commodities trading economy….”
This guy is such a nerd!!
We agree with your assessment, projected another alien. Sometimes, we would flash lights or make the stars move so a little more female rule would occur.
That Yang Guefei was special, right?
That’s in the future for our story.
But what is the real force of civilization, besides using camels to haul silk in exchange for cash?
Derek is on a roll with butter.
Hey Derek, any guess if the Tocharian of a time when they were Buddhist was closer to India or China? Let me show you a manuscript picture on this screen.
“Well, when written Tocharian appeared, I see it was in a slanting style of the Brahmi script from India.”
Even thought they were right next to China?
“Doesn’t matter. Tocharians were in a position of power. They took up whatever parts of the culture they wanted. It seems they were religiously progressive. ”
Aren’t we going to congratulate Derek since Tocharian A, B and C all were closer to India then China? Even the Persians eventually wrote in Aramaic and Arabic scripts.
Great job, Derek!
“My question for you is, knowing what you know about white boys giving the middle finger, ar e you confident this was something copied by China in their artwork and not vice versa?”
Derek, for someone who was just cornered by the police, you are really killing it in history class.
It really comes down to one man. From Kucha in the 4th Century.
He lived in India.
“I don’t know a lot about these people and places.”
You know Nagarjuna’s contribution to Buddhist philosophy?
“Emptiness is the source of new things. ”
And yet, in a world of emptiness, it is best to avoid extremes and chose the middle path.
That is Kumarajiva’s contribution. What he translated from Sanskrit into Chinese.
“OK so let’s say I chose the middle path. The two extremes are still there, right?”
They are until you see that the observer and the observed are one.
“Yeah but even if they are, now you have three.”
Kumarajiva understood this The other two, the extreme, are either trivial or dangerous but in any case, they are distractions.
“Distractions from.what? Emptiness?”
You have to look really closely Into to the middle. If you do, you will see the Buddha Mahavairocana.
“I don’t understand.”
Not understanding the ineffable only gets worse if you try to talk about it.
This is the gist of the Lotus Sutra, which Kumarajiva also translated.
“What can you do about something you can’t talk about?”
Are you sure you want to know?
What you do with it is like this.
At this point, the alien was using the fingers of his hands to make a gesture.
See, this middle finger represents the observer. And these five finger s of the other hand are elements of this world, which encircle the observer . Are these hands two? No, they are non-dual!
“Where do we first see this middle finger her geartyring.”
In Nepal, then China and along the Silk Road, then Japan, Tibet and Mongolia.
The philosophers wrote about the Great Sun Buddha, but other s used the finger to rebel. against all the words.
“So what you’re saying is, even as the greatest Chinese empires tried to put their own spin on the mystery of the middle finger, and as much as Indian theologians tried to sublimate these feelings, they just became more intense.”
I am trying to say that, but you said it better. Want to talk about Tantric rituals next?
“I’m not comfortable looking at statues having sex with each other. It doesn’t leave me unaroused.”
“What happened to the Tocharians?”
They continued to be more successful than the surrounding Bac trians and Sogdians. Then, Islam came to the area.
“Are there no representations of the middle finger in Islam? ”
Just mosques with big towers.
“Thank you for explaining the mysteries of Tocharian language, history and culture as well as the absurdity of white rage.”
Of course. Would you like to visit Kucha and Dun Huang later, perhaps check out the Buddhist cave art?
“Sounds amazing. Wait, after meaning after we visit your planet? We’re there? What other stuff did you invent and give to humans?”
“That was you?”
Something so bizarre it would have to come from aliens.
“You don’t understand. I’m straight edge. I’ve never had beer. This may be an allowable exception.”
Sure only 0.1 burflecks alcohol by volume. And that’s not a lot!
“Do you have zero gravity skate boards?”:
I can see this will be a real learning experience. Come on, young man, let’s raise our fingers and journey forth.
And they did.