Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Eternal

I apologize for being religious two blog entries in a row, but I promise that this will be brief.

I've been reading a novel just now where a real figure's last words, or last-ish words, were reported as being that she would go to find the origin of all things. That rang a note of unison with a respected friend, also a German, who, nearing his death, said that he was beginning to sense eternity.

The thing about eternity is that, as David Byrne joked, nothing ever happens. In eternity, all time is present at once, and so all things are always at beginning and ending, and there is simply being. There is no becoming. Therefore, in the eternal, one is in a continual gesture, alive in all moments that ever could have been or can ever be. That is why God needs no beginning: He is beyond time, and "begin" and "end" only make sense if there is a clock.

That's terribly philosophical, though, and the other idea, that you're going to find out, that you're going to the undiscovered country, is attractive. It's also not any less philosophically sound. After all, saying that God's being beyond time means that there is no becoming leads us to the dead-end of Plato, where the perfect God never creates a thing because creation implies need, which implies imperfection. It could also lead to the engineer God who creates as a part of His nature but could never take part in petitionery prayers. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism demand that God be perfect and yet alive, and living implies some desire, some motive, some engagement inside of time, even if God is beyond time. Christianity says that Plato is imposing human dichotomies on the supernatural.

Besides, it's possible that time is part of eternity, that becoming is what eternity is.

I've thought very little about the after life. This is more out of despair than hope, though. I don't think I'm in line for a great reward, and I try not to think of anyone in line for death, but this is because I've decided that it is something I simply cannot know until I have to know it, and anything I think or say about it until then is bound to be wrong and could very well be distracting. You serve God because you love God, and not because you're going to get a two car garage in your heavenly mansion or because a foul beast waits to rend your flesh if you don't.

I can't say, though, that I'm comfortable with either the undiscovered country or the eternal being. I think I like the latter better than the former, but I have sour ideas of what the former would mean for me, individually. I would find out, most likely, that in my autobiography I was merely a minor character. I might be told the secret and have to say, "Ah! I see now, that if I had only done that one thing, or recognized that one message, it all would have been well, and I would have accomplished something to the glory of God!" To me, these would seem punishments. If I were to go to find out, I would want to find out that my meaning was the fullest meaning I could offer, that I had increased the vineyard, or that my nothing was as much as could have been. That would be comfort, if comfort is part of what we properly seek.

I can't even decide that a reward would be comfort. It may be better to ram my fingers more firmly into my ears and hum as loudly as I can, as the present moment is more than enough for me to worry about.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Penitentiary

The original pentitentiary, as I'm sure everyone knows, was a place for doing penance. The idea was to reform a person's soul, and then the body would follow. We've kept the name, even if we haven't kept anything else. We think, now, that the body controls the mind, and the soul is trapped beneath that, somewhere, maybe. I'd like to write about this some more, but I won't... at least not now. I just picked this title for the post because I need to repent of my million dollar idea.

Satire's fine, but some humor is dangerous. One reader wrote in privately from Stagger Falls that pills like this might one day be made and might lead to a number of deaths. That's true, and drunkenness is, of course, a social malady, and that was sort of my point, that people are beasts. I suppose "people are beasts" is sort of the point of most of my blog entries, though.

Speaking of the bestial, and particularly the puzzled simian, which is the state most humanity is in, whether you believe that simians are ancestors or mirrors of ours, I think naturally of the current president of the United States. Now I won't impugn his intelligence, curiosity, wit, or ability to do the job -- whatever it is -- of president. After all, he is demonstrating that the job is not what we thought it was, and no one is challenging him on that. No, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I want to take a stab at his inside: his claims of being born again.

I don't really believe him, you see. I may be wrong (another point of every blog entry of mine), but I really don't see in his actions anything that resembles the born again experience that I know from my own past. I grew up in a vague suburban church and so I took it upon myself to read the Bible. I read the Gospels several times, struggled through the wordiness of Paul in his declamatory mode, and started looking for the end of the world. I went to Camp Meeting every summer, which was a "tent revival" where we would all be encouraged to repent and "convert" annually. This was done under the sanction of the United Methodist Church, even though that church is not Calvinist and does not support the continual conversion method. The point is that the week of shouting evangelism easily overwhelmed the year's sedate and amorphous conventional church services, and I became not just born again but Born Again. I grew fundamentalist, and I took on board all of the messages of radical Calvinism. It nearly killed me.

My favorite Robert Lowell poem is "After the Surprising Conversions." (Click on that link! Seriously: it's the Poetry Foundation, and they own the rights, so it's a legal version of the text.) He talks about a New England town after Jonathan Edwards comes through and leaves. After the townspeople were awakened to their sinfulness, their utter depravity, and the fact that every moment of the day brought sins condemning them to Hell and a need for abject craving for undeserved forgiveness, they began killing themselves. Lowell has people,
"Once neither callous, curious nor devout,
Jumped at broad noon, as though some peddler groaned
At it in its familiar twang: 'My friend,
Cut your own throat. Cut your own throat. Now! Now!'"
You see, the critical thing about being Born Again (as opposed to what Jesus Christ meant by being born anew in the Holy Spirit) is that it carries with it a profound sense of depravity. It insists, every day, that, every day, you are unworthy of the salvation granted to you, for the conversion that brought you to it required an absolute sense of guilt and insufficiency. It emphasizes, every day, humility and need. Its critical fault is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but when we know what demons incarnate we are, we do not love ourselves at all.

If you want to know a born again president of the United States, it's Jimmy Carter. He told Playboy in 1976 that he had committed adultery in his heart, and those with no exposure to fundamentalism laughed and betrayed that they also hadn't read the Sermon on the Mount very recently. He was and remains humble. He was and remains concerned about the needs of others. He was and remains sure that he must seek God's will, for he does not own it. These things are in sharp relief to George W. Bush's actions and words.

Bush's autobiographical comments mention his surprising conversion always in connection with a profligate past. That sounds like a Puritain conversion narrative. It sounds like the sort of religion that the camp revivers preach. It sounds enough like it to pass. However, it is subtly different from the old conversions, from the old born again movement, from the fundamentalism that we might know. It's Puritain in the way that Oliver Cromwell was a Puritain. It is second generation movement.

One of the most important sections of the Bible, to me, is the Sermon on the Mount, but you needn't dwell there. Consider the words of Jesus Christ: Matthew 6:1 ff. :
"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."
I'll have more to say about that verse later, when I get to Christian Education, but for now let's consider the importance of it by itself. The born again Christian of my generation was shy of talking about his or her religion, and particularly of being public with worship. Jimmy Carter very, very rarely spoke of how pious he was, very rarely spoke of how often he prayed.
Switching over to the KJV, let's see Luke 6:37-8:
"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men given unto thy bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again."
That used to scare me. Judge not, Jesus said. Therefore, I thought the sense of it was plain: worry about giving, about loving, about adding, and not telling other people how they needed to be better. Do these good things for their own sakes, and not because you expect the reward or the fame. The generation of born agains that I knew would rather eat glass than be caught proclaiming their piety, and every time they denounced an evil, they had a twinge of worry that they were judging others. Since they knew that they were loathesome, horrible, miserable, disgusting creatures, they knew that judging anyone else would really be offensive, and they knew that any good they ever did would be just paying the smallest part of the interest on the debt they owed.

Things aren't like that anymore. Curiously, the doctrine of depravity led to a strange form of the doctrine of grace. I have met people who, when told that only those without sin could cast the first stone, said that they were, indeed, without sin, because they were saved. As born again, they had grace abounding that covered every sin, wiped all of them out, and as charismatics, they were led by the Holy Spirit and could not doubt it. Therefore, it was the Holy Spirit that told them to beat gay people, to throw rocks at pregnant women going to Planned Parenthood, and disrupt high school education. Therefore it was inerrant, and therefore, this person implied, what Jesus really meant was that he should cast some stones.

This is the second generation born again. This is President Bush's version. This is a marriage of half-understood doctrines perverted into sanctimony. This is why Jimmy Carter has recently written a book condemning the new type of "born again Christians."

Both forms of fundamentalism are ultimately dangerous, from my perspective. I was forced to leave that type of fundamentalism (the kind I seem to be praising), because the belief in the vileness and loathesomeness of humanity is, as Lowell suggested, only answerable by suicide or spiritual suicide. The other form of fundamentalism is without conscience. It is fundamentally egoistic. As the individual believer believes more and more that his belief justifies his beliefs, he cuts himself off from the voices of the needy, the suffering, and the sinful. Jesus Christ went to the worst houses, dined with the sketchiest people, and had working men and women of low rank among His followers, but the pious contained within the narrow and solitary cloisters of their own minds listen to their inner voice with utmost confidence and declare all the rules governing the fallen invalid.

The one form of fundamentalism is self-destructive, and the other is sociopathic.

I can endorse neither. You can tell that this prednisent is not any type of fundamentalist that either I or Jonathan Edwards would recognize because he believes himself without sin. You can tell that this trend has traction because it promises perfection without society and denounces all dissonant societies as dens of iniquity.

For me, the answer was to move toward a church that honored the sanctity of free will, one that embraced the notion that our reason and conscience and desires are all to be in continual dialog with the spirit of God, one that put a premium on history as God's will both in terms of actions and the development of theology. Finally, it is a church that has a doctrinal core that protects against some of the wilder swings of enthusiasm and avarice. I also moved to the theological position of semi-Pelagianism, as I could not believe that even the Fall could entirely negate the goodness of God's creation (yeah, I know it's a heresy, officially). It was the only way I could remain true to the unambiguous commands of my Lord, to the degree that I was capable, and still hope that I could be turned to some use, after all.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Million Dollar Idea!

This is my idea! It's worth millions, and I know you folks want to steal it, and that's why I am entrusting it to this highly public form, so it will have a date attached to it, and I can prove that it's mine. It's also why I always write under my legal name.

My sister, An, and my little brother, A, are always carousing, getting covered in ejaculations, and having to turn away unwanted prepositions while they seek out that one desired conjunction. It's a phrase they're going through, while I'm now of such a period as to have ceased to modify my subject.

Business runs on the wheels of inefficiency, and liquor does more than Newton can to explain the retrograde progress of our enterprises. It used to be that Amurica was a great nation. Amurican business set the pace for the world, and all the world sat enrapt at Amurican feet to learn its secrets of efficiency, labor insensitivity, and leverage, but the real lessons they could have learned was contained in an obscure part of the tax code. It has been disallowed, and Amurican business has been in decline ever since. Business needed the buoyancy, the bon vivancy, of lunchtime bacchanalia. Our captains of industry struggled up through the ranks in hopes of getting looped at lunch, talking golf, and taking advantage of each other.

No more, alas. Those prudes at the IRS disallowed the three martini lunch deduction, and no one could explain to the stock holders that the lunch expense should be a loss to the company.

That's why I came up with the following cast iron golden idea: ethanol caplets.

Let that sink in for a while.

Imagine: you get some ethanol, put it in a gelatin capsule, and then sell it to those over 21. A beer is about 6% alcohol, if you're lucky and a snob. It's 5% alcohol otherwise. So, of 12 oz., 0.5 oz. is actually alcohol. (For those of you doing metric, that's about, uh, 15 ml.) You can put 15 ml in a pill! So, for a martini, you have to take maybe 3 pills. For a 3 martini lunch, just gulp down 9 pills, and you can prosper in business with nothing smelling on your breath. Furthermore, it should be much less expensive to get the effect this way. The glycol capsule could contain some nice sugars on the inside, helping the alcohol bind, and you can even include B1, B2, and E vitamins to prevent hangovers! You could even take a NoDoz with your Beer Pill to get the edginess of caffeine and the sloppiness of booze. You'll be able to make terrible judgments at twice the normal rate!

It's worth a fortune, I tell you.

Soon, only people who actually enjoy the flavor of alcoholic beverages will go to bars, and how many people could that be?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bastards of Jung

It's Sunday, so I'm thinking theopolitics again. (I'll keep using that term until someone notices.) The photo over there is another I took, altered, etc., and it was taken in The Bronx, NYC, NY, and not in The South. I have not seen an actual minstrel show lawn jockey in the south since 1968. Never mind that. The fact is, I'm thinking theopolitics, which means that I'm writing it, which means it's on a little spiral bound 6" notebook, and that means that I'll put it up here when there is some evidence that someone has read this particular post, which I thought up two days ago, wrote yesterday at the Huddle House, and didn't want to post until my reader saw the not-bad essay on bumperstickers. (It's not as good as the one on prophecy, but it's not bad.) Therefore, you might see my thoughts on Christian Education (and please stop e-mailing me wanting to see them...I cannot answer more than 400 e-mails an hour) some time RSN. It should be before Windows Longhorn is released, anyway.

"Bastards of Jung"
The Archytypical Nostalgia Trip (part one)
I got a "best" of The Replacements. It's a failure as a collection, as it had to be. It is like the best of John Donne in one respect (only), that fans of the early "Mats" and puke-covered Keds are not fans of the late, arch, Johnny "Rude Boy" Mercer style of Westerberg. You're better off getting "Pleased to Meet Me" or "Tim" -- your choice. ("Tim" is great.) Anyway, the record collected the milestone tunes, including one of my favorites, "Bastards of Young." (Hey, I have to have an obvious title at some point.)

I have no idea what the song's title means, but I sing along boisterously, pounding a new moon roof in my Gran Dam and shouting something between "It's yours" and "Detroit" at the end. I glare at cops and old people. I spit on the sidewalk and get a self-conscious haircut. I dream of Kim Gordon with Exene's haircut. In short, I feel it, and more than "Freebird" or "Blowin' in the Wind." It's my song, man.

For you poor narcoleptics who don't know the song, it managed the impossible: it was an anthem for an unmarked, dissolute generation even more alienated than its ancestors by being unpraised and uncondemned, a generation without a cause, a generation sorely pressed by forces that stoutly refused to have a face. We had the mascot of Ronald Reagan, but even the most ardent savages in our midst knew that he had not gotten himself elected nor formulated any policy. He was the first mask president we knew of, the first corporate spokesman president (not the first corporate shill, of course, but the first paid celebrity endorser as president). You could hate him all you wanted, but he wouldn't understand, and he was infinitely not responsible for whatever evil he committed. We couldn't point a finger at a George Pullman of our day or Hard Hats, either, and yet we were dangled empty slogans, silently told in what ways we were cool, and gulped down by the consumer management Combine. We were, in short, an ignored generation, and ignoring a child is the worst thing you can do to it.

Things are no better for today's txt msg PMme gnrtn, although the Combine has offered them better illusions of community than we ever got, but how do you have an anthem for the uncooperating, unclubbable, unacknowledged generation? If you managed it, would they sing along? Paul Westerberg managed it: "Income tax deduction/ One hell of a function!/ It beats picking cotton and waiting to be forgotten." Cool. "Willingness to claim us/ We've got no war to name us": hell yeah! "The ones who love us best.../ We'll visit their graves on holidays at best" is absolutely chilling. He did it by explaining, in a concise form, that we were meaningless, a "blank generation," because everything that would have stuck to us and given us importance had been evacuated. We didn't get enemies. We didn't get friends. We didn't get musical idols of our own generation. We pulled the wool over mass culture's eyes by making ourselves into punk heroes and realized that our parents didn't get the joke and that the result, in the end, was depressing. After all, when you shout out that there is no meaning to be had in fame, the only person you really enlighten is yourself. After you pogo with Sex Pistols, you hang with Joy Division.

To write your generation's song, you have to start with what bothers you and then figure out what about that is actually new. Every generation is constrained, psychologically and corporeally, by parents, and every generation wants to make more love than war, so you have to think about what keeps you from it. Westerberg is right that it is easier for The Vietnam War and McCarthy era generations to clue in. He was also right that the lack of an enemy willing to speak and show himself is infuriating, as bad as having self-involved or resentful parents would be (and heaven help the generation approaching 30 now -- talk about your self-involved parents!), but talking about how your only uniform badge is lack of focus brings to mind the real genius and victory of those who made war on us by fighting FDR and Joseph Stalin with our money and our bodies. Because the spokesmen kept talking about false history (the Fonzie Family that never was) and historical irrelevancies (the march of Communism from Nicaragua to Brownsville over the 9 hour highway Reagan speculated) and outsized lies (racial equality, which, having arrived, obviated the need for any program with "equal" in its name), and because those behind them would never speak of their goals, we never met each other, never managed to do anything.

We met only in opposition. We met to battle, and battle was joined, but often enough we were fighting for fame we derided and attention we explicitly devalued. Those of us cursed with enough self-awareness to agree with Westerberg were simultaneously ennervated. We were singing boldly of our lack of purpose, celebrating the forces that had neutered us by denying us even a target to aim our rage toward. Our daring was confined to sentiments like Cracker's: "Think I'll go find some place to be surly." Our demonstrations were not in the streets but in restaurants and diners the nation-over and were of bad manners and ill humor.

The fact is that our anthem is a pitying moan. Psychotic depression always follows revolution, in music as all else. 1966 is revolution, and 1972 is dead girlfriend songs. (You want proof? Ok. "Honey," "Wildfire," "DOA," "Patches," "Wishing Well," "Billy Don't Be a Hero," "Seasons in the Sun," "Time in a Bottle," "Indiana Wants Me," "Morning After," and "One Tin Soldier" to name just a few dead person songs. There was a couplet of years where everything had dead people in it, from "Love Story" to the evening news. The culture was littered with lachrymose corpses singing or being sung to.) 1977 is revolution (well, sort of...1976 maybe, 1980 maybe) and 1980 (sort of...1985 maybe, etc.) is "Bastards of Young." In this, at least, we follow the archetype. We find out that we hate ourselves only slightly less than we hate those around us, and then we get bummed out about it, and the fact that we were repeating a gesture of disillusion and inertia as old as the species, but without the satisfying gullibility of a Replacement, is really depressing.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Do not read this

Coming soon:
  1. Bastards of Jung (above)
  2. The Unforgiven Prednisent (above that)
  3. Naked Chicks (written, but it bores me with its preachiness, so there will be a delay while I remove the man in the buckled hat)
  4. Road Story #1, which is a lie
  5. Christian Education
  6. The Enema Within

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Semiotics of the Bumper

I have always been agitated by the rhetoric of bumper stickers. In fact, I have been mentally molested by the rhetoric of bumper stickers. I suppose it's because of my age (which is ancient). I was born in the early 1960's, and therefore I am part of the generation of the real Golden Age of television. (By the way, one should use an apostrophe when marking the plural of acronymns and dates. This is to prevent the /s/ being read as a part of the number or abbreviation. I am emphatic about this.) Oh, the "Golden Age of Television" was the era of Your Show of Shows and Ed Sullivan, according to the first historians of television, who became historians of television merely by writing a lot of wistful columns in Variety and other scholarly journals. Those were the years, they said, when television was its noblest. The real Golden Age of television was not noble at all. The content was not best, but it was more irrelevant than any later or earlier time, and therefore it was the Golden Age for television. It was when television was most efficient and powerful in delivering money to its investors, when three networks were at war for advertising dollars, when every American of sufficient means, and many of insufficient means, sat down every night and half of America every day to watch whatever was on. It was the age of advertising.

With the age of advertising came the slogan as cultural centerpiece, when a bastard witticism would be more powerful than any literary work or any artform else. The television shows generated catchphrases, but these hadn't the persistence and ineffability of "Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everyone did?" or "It's the real thing." Don't get me wrong: advertising hasn't lost its power with the loss of television. It's gotten stronger, in fact. When a bent world can be persuaded to pay money to do the advertising for a shoe company and wear a slogan with no semantic value like "Just Do It," it's inarguable that advertising is the central load-bearing column of communication now. That's not the point. The point is that the bumpersticker is, to me, related to the Golden Age of Television and the nascent power of the advertising slogan as a community bond. The armchair sociology involved in that thought is something I'll return to another day, but today I want to focus on only one slogan.

(Everything I write seems so long. I'm sorry.)

Two years ago (my goodness, has it only been two years?), Wonkette had a lot of fun with a George Bush campaign "sloganator." It was designed for Bushers wanting to advertise and create a bandwagon without printing expenses or actually being met, known, or approved by the Republican Party. You'd go there, type in your slogan, like "Catfish Noodlers for Bush," and press a button to get a printer-friendly yard sign. Well, that was fun for some of the less dignified Kerry voters, too. They could go there, too, and put in their slogans, like "It Won't Get Any Better Bush/Cheney '04" or "Run for your Life! Bush/Cheney '04" or "War Crimes Docket: Bush/Cheney '04."

A friend of mine is married. Several married people are friends of mine, but this one was travelling behind a budget vehicle on the highway whose rear (the vehicle's) was covered with the fashionable vinyl siding of bumper stickers. They were for four or so bands that haven't been on the charts, a "Mean People Suck" sticker, and other evidence of mass-hipster humor, and his wife (the friend's) noted, "You know, he could have saved a lot of space with a single sticker that says, 'I'm in my mid-twenties.'" Great idea. If bumperstickers do anything (more deep questions like that on the day I talk about the ICTHUS sticker), they inform others of one's identity. They are the $1.00 identity politics solution. She was cutting to the heart of his discourse: he was advertising only his age, and not his taste, because everything else that his stickers said can be safely assumed by those who assume the mantle of dying adolescence.

That happened years ago. I'm talking about it today because a single grain of sand irritating me has produced its pearl (this blog post, I mean), and that grain of sand is "I X and I Vote." You know the form. Which ones have we seen?
  • I Am Pro-Life and I Vote
  • I Am Pro-Choice and I Vote
  • I Own Guns and I Vote
  • I Pay Taxes and I Vote
  • I Farm and I Vote
  • I Hunt and I Vote
  • I Am a Mother and I Vote
  • I Teach and I Vote
What bothers me about it is that it seems to have lost its way as a slogan. On the one hand, it seems to be a bit of communication to presumed political readers, but, on the other hand, it seems to be an identity slogan. On the one hand, it's like "Mean People Suck" in that it communicates a general identity that is so large as to be unremarkable, and, on the other hand, it communicates something individual and personal that is yet not a true identifier. I guess it's like "Mean People Suck" in that regard, too.

You see, if you try to say, "I am pro-choice, and I vote," your audience is supposed to be some politician who is against choice, and he (or, in the case of Kathryn Harris in Freon County, Florida, she) is supposed to say, "Gosh, I'd better back off on my criminalizing legislation." First, of course, we ask ourselves about the efficacy of such a statement. Is Rick "Corpse Cuddler" Santorum (as the married friend calls him) going to be shocked into a new line of thought by such a slogan? This is even worse when the slogan isn't specifically related to a legislative issue, such as "I am pro-gun and I vote." After all, who is "anti-gun?" There are plenty of people who are anti-unlicensed guns, anti-huge guns, anti-automatic guns, anti-assault guns, anti-particle beam guns, and some anti-electron gun, but is anyone "anti-gun?" The news for "I am a farmer" or "I am a mother" is even worse. I'm told there are people against motherhood and hood mothers, but I haven't any proof of that. No, what these things say is far too general, and they can each be specified much more simply, like the hipster, above, as "I Am A Republican" or "I Am A Democrat," with "I care enough to register to vote some of the time" appended.

On the other hand, as a statement of personal identity, as a definition of how the self is not part of the others, these slogans are not terribly effective, either. After all, and make no mistake, these bumperstickers and t-shirt slogans are about who you are not, not who you are. They each have, implied within them, "Unlike the forces threatening my values, I plan to strike back at the ballot box." The real message of "I am an organic farmer and I vote" is "People are passing laws that threaten my livelihood, health, or happiness, and I will not support them." It's a laughable failure as a message. After all, it is the kind of oppositional identity bred of pure despair and frustration, and therefore it is an identification with a martyred loser or a beseiged minority. It admits, from the start, that the bearer feels all alone and wishes to put a thumb in the eye of the oppressor. Even when the position is actually the empowered and majority position, the slogan is defiance and rage born out of a sense that everything worthwhile is about to be destroyed.

Finally, as a statement of primary concerns, which would be what a real slogan of identity would be, it's a failure, too. Each variant on this slogan is attempting to say "I AM" a particular thing, with the promise that the reader can come up to the bearer and start a discussion or argument or fight. The problem is that very few people actually contain their identities in these issues. The issues are all high level complexes of propositions (sorry...I've been warned about that... they're all social tensions rather than individual ones), whereas identity is a psychological projection into the social sphere. In other words, although I may be passionate about getting us out of the current war and repairing our international standing, it really doesn't come up all that much in conversation. I rarely meet people who say, "You know, I hope we have more war, and screw the international community." Few people who know me would say, "Oh, he's a Democrat and he votes" in the first ten minutes of description. They'd probably comment on my conversational style, my body mass index, my vices, my alledged virtues, my purported learning, and my spastic manias, but they'd be a long time getting to my stance on the income tax.

So, I want to propose something, here. Everyone with such a sticker or slogan, go out and change it. Rip off the first part, at least. Replace it with the thing that really does identify you as a voter, as a person. Let's see some good ones. You know, the thing that your acquaintances (not your friends...if you have friends, you really should be talking to them instead of reading blogs) would say about you.
  • I Am an Alien Abductee and I Vote
  • I Am a Car Collector and I Vote
  • I Am Depressed and I Vote
  • I Hate the Neighbors and I Vote
  • I Threaten People and I Vote
  • I Think I'm Artistic and I Vote
  • I Am Lonely and I Vote
Let's get some real meaning in our slogans. After all, no one actually cares if you vote or what you vote for, so at least let's make the first half of the slogan terrifying.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Delusive? Mine.

There is an hilarious bit (yeah, I'm the sort who says "an hilarious") in Myles ng gCopaleen where he labels as "probably a mistake" a definition of "Intelligentsia" that said, "That part of the nation, especially the Russian, which is comprised of artists, intellectuals, and writers." He speculated that not all nations were like Ireland and had a Russian half. My own Merriam Webster's 11th edition says that an intelligentsia is "intellectuals who form an artistic, social, or political vanguard or elite."

An elite? What? They form it? How on earth do they manage that, when most of them can't stand the smell of the others? What do they get, pray tell, with their vanguard? What troops of the phillistines lay slaughtered by their assinine jawbones?

"A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed keeping rabbits." -- Edith Sitwell
Oh, the braying of an ass could scare away the Scythians, and it can attract jennies, and it does wonders for increasing votes, but I've never once seen it elevate the groundlings nor illuminate the vaccuum of culture or politics. Catcalls can get the audience to throw rotten vegetables, but they've never yet inspired an audience member to write a better play.

I was in the barber shop the other day, reading The Daily Worker. (Those people from Reidsville are constantly leaving copies in the barber shops, train stations, and doctor's waiting rooms. They drop off Chick Tracts, Watchtower, and The Daily Worker, and nothing can stop them, those dirty commies.) Anyway, I figured that, as long as I was there, and having finished getting my news from The Weekly World News, I'd see what the folks in red half of the community were up to, and I saw that they were protesting the President. Well, of all the nerve! Protesting the President is not Patriotic.

[haec multa dissiderata]

But aside from that, the question is what we're going to do. Let's suppose that people listened. Let's suppose that they turned off their Weekly World News TV and tuned into Radio Nation. Suppose that we won an audience. Would we win anything more than that? We're the intelligentsia. We are in our van. We are demonstrating that each issue is complex, that each speaker is wrong, that each comment is in need of palpation. It's a full time job.

It is this question that prompted my resignation from the army of the intellectual. I never could embrace gullibility or accept that a slogan could satisfy or that universal truths could be contained inside "newsbytes" -- or any other octet streams -- but I also felt that all of this seeking after the fault was a distraction. By that I do not mean what the cruditarians do. I do not mean that there is no use in thinking, questioning, and copping a feel on propositions. I mean, instead, that as a profession, and as an elite and as a vanguard it is a distraction: as an ideology, it is vaccuous.

Ideology, according to a Frenchman (which is more noble than a freshman, no matter how much the motivations appear the same between the two), is not a profession but rather a belief about one's position in the productive cycle in comparison with the actual productive capacity. It is somewhat like Kierkegaard's notion of the "self" in Sickness Unto Death, where he says that the self is the ratio of the infinite to the finite as it is aware of itself. It is, in other words, an awareness or a belief. It is an action ongoing and not a statement or organic component. Well, the intelligentsia, such as it is (and it is such a shoddy group of fearful assistant professors that it's better far to hear from them than see them), believes that it is productive by endlessly correcting discourse. It is an ideology of correction and reform, endlessly, and therefore it is a profession that is antithetical to any statement. They must not state anything, must not propose anything, for their position and action is to revise a previous statement.

Living, whatever else it is, is an encompassing motion. To the degree that you are removed from it, to the degree that you are not encompassed in it, you are not truly living. Concentrating always on the corrections leaves us never stating, never acting. Proving that "gender is problematized" in Joseph Andrews pales beside volunteering at a pre-school, where you show young boys and girls a successful woman intellectual. Showing that Uncle Tom's Cabin "fails to escape the distancing Otherness of the colonial paradigm even as it seeks to upset it by replacing a malicious patriarchy with a benign patrimony" is absolutely nothing compared to marching down the street with CORE or trying to save Teach for America. Pointing out that transhistorical subjects are invalidated by Hegelian awareness is pretty sad, if it means that you can't agree that "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a good motto for living.

So, hopes... I set out to talk about hopes, but I seem to have gotten lost in the dig. Hope is always down. Whether in Pandora's box or the Johnson poem I parody in my title, hope is always somehow plutonian. It is the wealth of the poor (plutus...plutocracy... oh, never mind; it's a good pun).

Why would I turn my back on my natural comrades? Why would I toss aside my copy of Commentary and Mother Jones and Chronicle of Higher Edumucation? Well, right now I'm hoping that one of my relatives doesn't have breast cancer. I'm hoping that I can get health insurance for myself. I'm hoping that my best friend my dog's arthritis gives her little pain. I'm hoping that I can survive another fifteen weeks without giving offence. I'm hoping that I can serve my Lord. In the face of these things, demonstrating my intellect by marking the works of others with my urine seems somewhat hollow.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Southern Boogie

Sorry about that intrusion of theopolitics, and especially on a Thursday. I've decided to try to adhere to a schedule with these things. If I write anything at all, I'll try to do particular topoi on particular dagum:
Monday: Things to do in general.
Tuesday: Regrets for things done.
Wednesday: No idea.
Thursday: No idea there, either.
Friday: Recherche du temps.
Saturday: Theopolitics (the sabbath, after all).
Sunday: Religion.

I'm going to follow that schedule, starting today, by talking about music.
"Music might tame and civilize wild beasts, but 'tis evident it never could tame or civilize musicians." -- John Gay, Polly
I mentioned the other day getting a new amplifier. It hasn't arrived yet, and everything in this town is closed on Sunday anyway, except for the restaurants, and no one cares if the underclass has to work on Sunday. I was at the other day, and it said,

"Dear The, we have the following recommendations for you in Music."

They call me "The," which, of course, is a level of intimacy that I allow only to my closest friends. They recommended Our Endless Number Days, by Iron & Wine. That "band" is just one guy, for the most part -- a guy named Sam Beam. He lives in northern Florida, which is a desolation very like southern Georgia, eastern Alabama, and western North Carolina (and all of South Carolina), so I figured I'd hear the record, especially since he had a song called "Sodom South Georgia." I couldn't imagine any town in that area earning such an epithet.

Now, the South is where all the music is made, but it's not where any is heard. I had to rely on Amazon because I'm in a town with a single radio station and no city near enough to get other stations. It's the sort of place that makes XM and Sirius prosper and makes dullards happy. You have a choice: hear nothing or pay money to hear something. There are no record stores in town except for that evil Megalith -- the one that had even the dumb old Eagles change their record's title from "Hell Freezes Over Tour" to "Farewell Tour," because H-E-double hockey sticks is a curse word. The paradox that the soil generates music with its weeds and peanuts and yet maintains a silence around the people is not that surprising. After all, American music began with greater isolation.

When you get to hear nothing meaningful or interesting, you have the choice of either becoming a monotony junkie or a freak. If the former, you will prosper. If the latter, you will get stoned, stumble about, and either die young at home or go on tour and die young. The advantage to learning to love monotony is huge, and yet, given all the penalties involved in it, a good number of folks would rather die, would rather lose acceptance and friends. God bless them. God have mercy upon them. Normality and homogeneity are thick pap. The more you swallow, the more comfortably you swallow. The more you consume of it, the fatter you get and the less thinner and rarer foods will satisfy, the more alarmed you will be when a spice accidentally falls on your plate.

The freaks will be the smallest of minorities, and they will mistakenly think that they must rebel against each other, as well as everyone else, and their adolescent hormone intoxication will get them to misattribute dullness to malice. They are no threat, really. They cannot influence others very powerfully, and they give a safety valve and sublimation pathway to everyone else, so there is nothing to worry about. Instead of starting a union, they'll write "The Ballad of Curtis Loew." Even if they rant "The Southern Thing," they're just getting the choir to pump its tattooed fists. No, no. No harm, no foul.

I'm not suggesting that freaks are more useful in other regions of the nation. They're not. I'm not suggesting that the rest of the nation isn't lumpen. It is. I'm not suggesting that thinking is an occupation for any part of the nation, nor that assumptions are regularly questioned anywhere. No, such things would be unAmerican, if not just unnatural. It's just that there is this thing Kevin Phillips is supposed to have devised called "The Southern Strategy."

"How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" --Samuel Johnson, Taxation No Tyranny (1775, an answer to the protests of the New England colonies).

I don't intend, at this point, to debate from Johnson's narrow point of view, but his broader point of view, that liberty begins at home, is still acute. Instead, I want to answer him. I want, two hundred years late, to tell him why he hears the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes. It is because of isolation. It is because of the efficient marginalizing of difference.

The South is not Atlanta, Birmingham, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Columbia, Charlotte, or Richmond. It is the area between. The South is the interstices between cities. The south is the monocultures that organize themselves around small loci, nearer to the definition of "network" in Johnson's Dictionary than anything offered by Rand MacNally. These local knots are excellent at sending its discontents out along a filament away. The strands are made up of the dissident voices, the gifted and drunken who cannot be contained, and the knots are the power, the small clusters of voices and minds in accord and accomodation, with books of ettiquette in their heads and elaborate rules for dealing with acceptable and unacceptable difference.

I mean in no way to say that it is a bad thing. It is simply a thing that naturally occurs when communities are small enough to establish equilibrium.

So, in such isolation, the voices of concord grow to a point of coercion, and they can easily discount any fact or fiction that would threaten the unison. We yell for liberty because we want more liberty from the things that are not us, not ours, not subordinated to our rules. If your rules are taxation, then we want out -- we do not see you, and you do not honor us, and you do not operate by our rules, and you try to tell us that some of our rules are barbaric. Therefore we need to be free, for freedom is isolation.

The Southern Strategy hinges upon this desire to be separate, to be isolated, to pay no tax to those we cannot place in our order, to obey no law passed by those whose faces we do not know, to pay the salary of no legislator whose family is unknown to us. It is dependent wholly upon those cut off from the upset and unregulated freedom of the cities wishing to desire, most of all, to be entrenched, moated, to be in entire solitude, to be able to cast out its jarring singers and hear no words of the frightening song.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Increasing Your False Prophets

I like to start each post with a quotation, and so far I haven't tipped off my reader that I'm one of those people, so I might as well make it clear, as, from time to great time, I might want to talk about this stuff. (Mind you, I wouldn't, very much, except that certain other people say that I can't.)

"Then if any one says to you, 'Lo, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, 'Lo, he is in the winlderness,' do not go out; if they say, 'Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it." -- Matthew 24: 23-26

"And they will say to you, 'Lo, there!' or 'Lo, here!' do not go, do not follow them." --Luke 17:23

My topic today is the coming of the End. You know, the End? End of Days? Rapture Rangers roving roughshod round Satan's snares, beaming beatifically at the blessings persuant to perserverence of the solitary saints? It's big news, after all. Much money in that. Go and do likewise: scare the Jesus into people.

It's one thing for a couple of disgraced Republicans to make a fortune off of selling apocalyptical fantasies to people, but it's another thing when those fantasies cross the line into Republican Party actions. The dystopian and apocalyptic genre is rich, and the writers of the genre are usually pretty well off, too. Science fiction has had a thing about apocalypse since Neville Chute, and it has even been religiously apocalyptic sometimes (e.g. A Canticle for Liebowitz). It's alluring and sexy to paint the world black with nuclear cinders or Satanic evil, because this genre allows a very special thing to the reader: a sense of being of solitary virtue.

Most of us stumble along, bumping our noses against lamp posts, falling into gutters, and generally being ignored by the world, for the world is made up of only other people, and each has desires. The effect of aggregating 5 billion desires is indifference. (Perhaps that ought to be The Geogre's Paradox?) So, whatever virtues we practice, whether of cleverness or piety, no one really cares very much. What's more, our virtues might not actually be very great, if they were seen objectively, but each one takes discipline and effort for us, and therefore we have a somewhat inflated view of them. That's alright. After all, I know that you're special.

The apocalyptic does this really groovy thing: it takes away the 5 billion desiring beings or it passes sentence on them. It elevates the reader. The reader identifies with the protagonist, and the protagonist is, most of all, nearly alone. Additionally, the protagonist's virtues shine out against the dark background. Against a world ruled by the anti-Christ, Ranger Rick looks really special. Against the nuclear fallout, Randy is really quite clever in Pat Frank's Alas Babylon. What could be better than the end of the world?

The Apocalypse, as opposed to the apocalyptical, is, in fact, a final judgment, a moment when the billions will be cast out and the saints preserved. For Christians suffering persecution, it has been a consoling thought or a worrying one. After all, it is this very idea that has generated Universalism. It is why some rub their hands in glee and others worry that our theology is too restrictive. However, if we look for the apocalypse in the Bible, we seem to be drilling a dry hole. There isn't much. Oh, there is Revelation, but I'll deal with that in a moment. Let's see: we have a bit in Daniel, and we have Jesus Christ speaking in all of the synoptic Gospels of the end, but He does this strange thing, this thing that doesn't help the Tim LeHayes of the world: He says not to believe anything anyone tells you about the end. He tells you not to trouble yourself with it. He says to live each day as if the judgment were upon you, and then that's all you need to do, because you cannot prepare. I hope not very many fundamentalists would disagree that the import of the passages quoted above is that it is impossible to prepare for the end in any way except to be always "watchful." Since Jesus says to be watchful but then immediately tells you not to believe anything anyone says, what can "watchful" mean?

I'm no one's confessor, but I would think that being "watchful" means watching yourself, and I'm no one's doctor of theology, but I would think that Jesus Christ has a higher authority than John the Revelator.

The Revelation of John is a very strange book. Show of hands: how many of you who have read it think it's literal and not poetic? Let's see.... Well, it sure seems poetic. Beasts with ten heads and seven crowns, dragons, etc. Ok, now, show of hands: how many people would define "prophet" as "person who predicts the future?" Hmmm, many hands. So, when Jezebel had 300 prophets put to death, they were seers and oracles? When Elija and Elisha go from town to town and they are always met by the community of prophets, those are all seers? The books of Isaiah, Elija, Ezekiel, etc. are like Nostrodamus? Have you actually read these books? John the Baptist is accounted a great prophet, and Jesus says that he is Elija, but did he foretell the future?

Most prophets are the voices of the Lord. They are the divinely inspired men who tell God's truth to the secular world. They tell Herod that he is in an incestuous bed. They tell the kings that they are forsaking their duty to the Lord. They tell the people to repent. They very rarely talk about what is to come. John's Revelations were prophecy. They were poetic descriptions of the trials of the church in the secular world, and they were talking about how the Church shall withstand all of the afflictions of the evil Roman emporer Nero. They were instructions to the churches. They were absolutely true and totally poetic.

Misunderstanding Revelation as being about today is an old, old game. It is an old, old error. In 999 AD, people freaked out, expecting the Apocalypse. They had many candidates for anti-Christ, too. Furthermore, whether Palestine has been Jewish or not, people have had no trouble at all in locating Jerusalem all over the world. You see, every generation is the worst that has ever lived. Even when people were amazingly pious, when atheism was a capital offense, when one third of the people were going into cloisters, the priests and leaders had no problem thinking their generation uniquely wicked, uniquely oppressed, uniquely deserving of the scourge of God. This tendency is absolutely unavoidable, and, in fact, it is useful for all of us to know how rotten we are and to think ourselves worse than our ancestors, and I wouldn't waste your time talking about it, dear reader, if that were all there was.

One of the things that radicalized my politics was Jerry Fallwell. In 1980, he looked into a network news camera and announced that "You can't be a good liberal and a good Christian." On the off chance that he was right, I decided to be a good socialist and a good Christian. That year was a watershed for our water park slide down into moronia. By now we have splashed. Fallwell wanted his non-organized churches to control politics, and my dear left wing responded with scattershot whines and general hand wringing. We kept saying, "Nunh-huh" as we refused to talk about morality, and they kept growing.

About four years ago, I heard a report on the BBC where Tom Delay spoke to a Christian conservative convention about Israel. He was all in favor of Israel, you see. Now, mind you, the man has made anti-semitic comments, and many of those he was speaking to think little of the Jews, but Delay was entirely in favor of Israel. It had to be supported, you see, because Israel had to get to its Biblical borders. Why? Well, because that will force Armageddon, as recorded in the predictions of John.

You think I'm making it up? Check it out for yourself. There is even a group of ranchers in Texas trying to breed a red heifer so that the Messianic Jews could have a new king (which the fundamentalists could, of course, see as an immediate anti-Christ). It's a neat trick: the ultra Orthodox in Israel get to crown a second David, and the fundamentalists breeding the animal get to enable them to create anti-Christ. It's a win/win situation!

The problem here is....

Well, there are too many problems here. First, Revelation of Saint John is not a fortune cookie. Second, God's will is God's will, and not yours. You cannot make God act. You cannot force God to bring the rapture (if there is one...that comes from John). You cannot force Satan to bring the anti-Christ (if there is one...that comes from John). You cannot do anything at all to comfort, abet, coerce, forestall, or frustrate God's plan for the end. You cannot accelerate it or retard it. As Jesus said, unambiguously, do not go. Do not believe them.

Worse merely than wasting their time and money, though, these people obsessed with "prophecy" and with fulfilling it are committing a tremendous sin of pride. God judges us, and we do not judge God. Jesus said that no man knows the end, that even He did not know, that only God the Father knew. For these dime store evangelists to announce that they know the end is for them to make themselves greater than Christ. For them to try to create the conditions for the end is for them to tell God that His timing isn't convenient for them or that He needs some help. Did God need help with the Incarnation? Where was the Ralph Reed of the ancient world rallying people to get reservations so there would be an overbooked inn? The one part of the predictions of the end that Jesus made that these people rarely identify is the proliferation of false prophets. Oh, they point at Mohammed and various Yogis, maybe a terror leader here, a Cuban revolutionary there, but they don't notice the best part. By announcing that they will create the conditions for apocalypse, by arrogantly making themselves better than Christ and more important than God, they are becoming false prophets. They say, "Here he is!" Do not go.

Leave well enough alone. Live your life on guard, yes, but on guard against your own sinfulness and especially your own hubris. Read Augustine's Civitas Dei some time, for we belong to one city, one nation, and if our secular world is filled with pious and loving people, you will not need to agitate to bring down fire from the skies, and you might even accept the humility necessary to live in a world full of other people, the humility of not having your virtues displayed against an array of corpses.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Word of the Day is "Barmicidal"

(All photos are taken by me, altered by me, uploaded by me, and licensed GFDL.)

"Whoso has sixpence is sovereign (to the length of sixpence) over all men; commands cooks to feed him, philosophers to teach him, kings to mount guard over him, -- to the length of sixpence." -- Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus
"All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income. " -- Samuel Butler
The natural state of life is want and unrequited desire. I got paid yesterday, after a summer of working at a job that had been uncharacteristically capricious hostile lately (see yesterday's mordant meditation on anger), so I have been characteristically despairing over my lack of significance and security and the way the whole world obeys no single set of rules. Therefore, I approached payday with a set jaw and glaring eyes. I would get paid, dammit, and I would get my payback in my paycheck.

It's a stupid idea, of course, but we're not talking about a reasonable universe, so expecting a reasonable response is... is... unreasonable.

One of the rules of the world, enforced more often than others (like "work hard and you'll get ahead," which is obvious nonsense) is what we can call The Geogre's Law #1: Debt Rises to Income. Let's suppose that the money fairy shows up one morning, calls you into your boss's office, and announces that you are about to make an additional $10,000 a year. (I'm no expert on the largesse of fairies, but it's the explanation that best satisfies Occam's Razor when you consider the amount of money some people make.) If that were the case, your first response would be, of course, to shout woo-hoo. Your second response, though, would be to think about all the outmoded objects you have in your life, like your wife, your child's school, your television and car. You would immediately think, "I shouldn't have to drive a ratty old Tercel. It's obscene that people see me in it. I can afford a new Corolla." After all, you can handle it. You think, "My apartment is far too small." You think, "My suits are all old and smelly." You think all sorts of things, and you committ every penny of that ten grand to debts or purchases.

The upshot of The Geogre's First Law is that all of us, no matter how wealthy, strive to live in poverty, strive to live in want. It isn't that we can never reach financial security, but we will find ways to make sure that we have to worry about every month's check. We will find a way to give ourselves anxiety and pain at the very thought of a business downturn, an OPEC upturn, or the income tax. This is necessary, you see, to keep us firmly convinced that we are "middle class."

Some study or other (another blogger would link you to it, but I'm lazier than they are) showed that 70% or thereabouts of Americans believe that they are in the middle class. Further, it showed that most of those making below $30,000 a year thought so and that people making above $200,000 a year thought so, too. Among people who thought they were in the upper class, quite a few making 50,000 thought they were in the upper 5% of income. This explains, partly, why poor people don't vote for candidates who say that they'll get tax cuts and programs for the poor, as they say, "Those poor people? They're nasty! Now me, I make $15,000 a year. I'm middle class." The people who say that they're going to tax the upper 5% of income don't get votes, either, because the lumpen voter says, "Oooh, that might be me. I make $60,000 a year, and I can't afford more taxes."

Most people explain the delusion of the "middle class" by saying that peoples is stupid. Well, people are stupid, and make no mistake, but that can hardly explain it. No, I think The Geogre's First Law explains it. The person making a mite and the person making a mint alike committ their funds, embrace debt, and purchase until they have anxiety, until they have sweat bead on their foreheads when "tax" or "recession" (there will never be another depression, by the way, because no one can use that word without being shot by the political class) come up. They are always needing more money, always needing every penny, and are, in fact, middle class. It's the natural level all monetary liquidity seeks.

Therefore, even possessed of wisdom and genuinely among the poor, I put the check in the bank and headed for a store. It didn't matter which one. No matter what store, I could think of something it sold that mine was too old. As it happened, the big purchase, the equilizer, the item that would again allow me to weep in fear and rage every time I go to pay for a tin of tobacco, was a guitar amplifier. Decades ago, I was a musician. I was successful enough that a good analogy might be someone who plays triple A baseball. I.e. I never made it to the majors, but I was at the top of the minor leagues.

I was a bass player, but that had to end. Apartment complexes don't house bass players. Therefore, I sold all my stuff for rent back in 1988 and got a home made Telecaster in 1994. In 1995, I got a used Marshall Valvestate from a bewildered French man who thought he could sell it to me for the same price he paid. After some disillusioning negotiation, I got it for $150. Eleven years with a dropkick amp is enough, except that it still works. I don't actually need a new, professional grade amp, but, damn it, it's my paycheck, and I'm going to show them all that I deserve it by spending as much of it at one throw as possible.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Poison Tree, etc. (On anger)

"Ira furor brevis est." --Horace, Epistles

William Blake was oftener wrong than right in his conclusions, but he was arrestingly right in his observations. That these accurate perceptions compelled him to fantastical theories no more invalidates them than Lamark's data was invalidated by his laughable conclusions. Blake had it dead on when he saw anger as poison. Like poison, it fires the nerves, quickens the pulse, upsets the digestion, agitates all and draws all thoughts onto itself. That is as far as the analogy goes, however, for anger bears no fruit. It cannot be made into a grenade. If it were possible to make anger into a weapon, we would all be lobbing cyanide grapefuits at each other with superhuman strength and supernatural endurance until all the world was dead or deaf.

No, there is no poison tree, because anger is the quick lime that erodes and sterilizes the soul. As it summons forth monsters from the images of those who do us wrong, as it hits the "replay" button like an insane gorilla in our memories, or like a scourging devil, as it fills our hands with weapons, our mouths with insults, our days with malicious plans, anger does only one thing: it kills its host by parts. Our enemies and tormentors are unaffected by our misery. She will be just as happy with him, and he with her, and the gossip will go on lying, and with as much relish, and be heard as willingly, whether we boil in rage or not. As our nights are shaded red by anger, our sheets dampened and pillows smashed, the enemy rests peacefully, and sometimes even smugly snug. We breakfast on our own bile and dine on hatred, bu tthose who put us to these tortures have their blameless meals.

What, then, do we gain? Anger lies to us. It claims that it is like pain, that it has lessons to impart. It claims, too, that it can cure our diseases by teaching us to bring ruin to those who ruin us. Perhaps, in a state of raw fleshed nature, some part of its boast would be true. Since, however, we usually lack the power to peel the eyelids off our spurning lover as well as the legal license to fire some #3 shot from a 12 gauge into the kneecaps of the rumorsmith, anger feeds our wounds by telling us the remedies we cannot have. NOr is anger teaching us to avoid hurt, if we are at all mature. If it tells us to never love, it tells us an impossibility, and if it tells us to never speak, it cuts us from our reasonable remedy. It is, instead, if good in any sense at all, a cauterizing flame. There is no benefit to it by itself, but it kills the diseased affections, trust, and amity. The pain we feel of anger is the pain we would feel if bitten by a snake with necrotizing venom. Our nerves intact, our muscles -- our motives -- our will -- is turned to dead tissue.

There is no way to avoid some anger, for it is a poison fine enough to pass through any sieve and is a flood large enough to overwhelm any dam. I have found only that I can remind myself that I am doing my enemy's will with anger. I can use anger to quench anger, and that is my only way. I remind myself that my antagonist wants me to suffer, and I give him delight by consuming myself in hate. If she is indifferent, my range cannot impress her. I strengthen my anger's resolve, I trick myself, by refusing to rehearse bitter conversations to come and rehash painful conversations past. The deception is often successful, but it can only work against an enemy outside the walls.

The anger that cannot be dissuaded, misdirected, or fobbed off on a more practical subject (such as the Republican Party) is the anger I have at myself. If it were not forbidden, if I were not acting anger in doing so, I would wish despair on any who gave me despair, for it is the one anger that cannot be defended.

No one undergoes a stronger struggle than the man who tries to subdue himself." -- Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ I, 3, iii
Let us always wish, therefore, that we have enemies who stand firm and throw obvious rocks at us, lest the dog creep into our hearts in the night.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Impulse to Blog

The impulse to blog is alien to me

First, I loathe diaries. I have never been able to keep one, and the scattered pages that I find at the bottom of my bag after a trip to a doctor's office or a prorogated academic conference are filled with alternating sloped and cramped, exuberant and repentent, observations on philosophy and personal misery. They do not constitute a diary, do not reveal what happened to draw out such passions, and explain absolutely nothing. In other words, I write essays rather than journal entries, and every time I attempt to write only about what has happened to me or around me, I end up frisking through the fields of Elysium or diving to the bottom of the Slough of Despond.

"The horror of getting up is unparalleled, and I am filled with amazement every morning when I find that I have done it." -- Lytton Strachey
I sympathize with the distinguished shade. I find that the worst of it is realizing that, as Emerson said, I have taken the Giant with me. I'm still me, despite the respite of dreams. I cannot help writing essays, and I have sought help for it. In my actual life, away from the bombard of electrons and phosphor, I have been told most consistently that I write essays "like Samuel Johnson." Instead of puffing with pride, I generally react to this with despair. I don't want to write like Samuel Johnson.

The problem is that he and I may be doomed to write like one another. Like him, I do not like myself very much. Like him, I am quite sure that all my time is wasted. Like him, the world has endorsed my opinions by refusing to pay me sufficient money or to provide me with a happy wife (or even an unhappy Tetty). Like him, I tend to grow clubs around me, whether I seek to or not. More to the point, like him, I have as my model Joseph Addison but, like him, cannot stomach writing about manners and the titters of society. Like him, too, I can only deal with myself and my authorship of my ideas and emotions by cloaking them in the armor of feigned universal truth. Unlike him, however, I have not been to the printers, not butted my head against the walls of Fleet Street, for, unlike him, the chorus of nay sayers have control of my world.

So, to the impulse of blogging: it mystifies me.

  • Catharsis? No thanks. I have rarely found that writing makes me feel better, except when writing a truly nasty letter to a girlfriend who was now someone else's lover.
  • Sharing and caring? Nah. I don't care and don't believe that sharing will do much.
  • Recording the vitality of my life and shoring against the deserts of vast eternity my poor ego and small life? Well, it's an attractive offer, but there is nothing that suggests that my little all should be saved when so many billions disappear. I haven't the egomania for that.
  • A ticket to power over political candidates? Oh, please! I plan to be plenty political, and I'm an enraged Democrat, but if reason and virtue cannot touch the heart of politics, I don't have any desire to put my fingers in there.
  • A ticket to a book contract? Again, the world has words enough.
So, I have to figure out why I should blog. The only answer that I can come to, the only answer commensurate with honor, is that I write essays, and a blog is a convenient piece of scrap paper.