TIT FOR TAT — A LOOK AT “FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD” BY ROBERT A. HEINLEIN

For my second entry under the “Books” category, I will be reviewing a somewhat infamous sci-fi novel: “Farnham’s Freehold” by Robert A. Heinlein.

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I actually don’t know if “infamous” is the right word, but suffice it to say that this particular novel has stirred up a bit of controversy over the years, at least among people who know who Robert A. Heinlein is.

I personally only became introduced to the man’s writing a few years ago, when I read perhaps his most famous novel, “Starship Troopers.”

I read “Starship Troopers” some years after first seeing Paul Verhoeven‘s film adaptation of it. And to be honest, the film didn’t impress me all that much, at least not the first time I saw it. But subsequent viewings, done on lazy afternoons out of boredom, made me find that I had been in error in dismissing the film so quickly. (I don’t care much for the sequels, by the way.)

A significant part of the story of that film (and the novel) has to do with a slightly modified conception of the word “citizen.” In the film (and the novel; the novel goes into more depth on this issue), one cannot be a “citizen” unless one is in the military. That isn’t to say that non-military people are subjugated, really: the main difference between a “citizen” and everyone else is that “citizens” are allowed to vote. Non-military people, people who aren’t “citizens,” can’t vote.

The novel explains that the rationale behind this is that if one has willingly joined the military – and “willingly” is important; no one is forced to join – one has put his or her own life at risk for the benefit of all humanity. Therefore one has shown that one’s decisions are not based upon selfish whims, but rather on what constitutes the greater good.

To be sure, in our world, this concept seems, to say the least, strange. But in the world of “Starship Troopers,” humanity is no longer divided into countries, at least not in the same way we are divided today. All of humanity is working together to fight off threats from other worlds.

And yes, this idea of “citizens” consisting entirely of military personnel is a little bit, well, “out there.” And I may delve into this issue at some point in the future here on my blog, but not today. I merely wanted to mention it to give an example of the sort of thing Heinlein speculated about.

Heinlein was known as one of the “Big Three” of “hard sci-fi,” along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Glance at the linked article for a better description of the term “hard sci-fi” if you are not familiar with the term, but it basically refers to sci-fi that is (at least mostly) based in actual science. To be sure, notions such as time travel and parallel universes and unproven things like that creep their way into “hard sci-fi” (including “Farnham’s Freehold”), but these things are always dealt with in such a way that reflects current scientific theories about these things.

I honestly don’t remember which of the other two of the Big Three said it – it was possibly both of them; for all the vast scientific knowledge and vivid imagination Clarke and Asimov possessed, they were refreshingly humble in their approach to writing, as was Heinlein – but at least one of them (Clarke or Asimov) referred to Heinlein as the true “master” of science fiction.

And though I have only read two of his novels, I have to say that if he isn’t a “master” of the genre, I don’t think there has ever been one.

In addition to keeping the “science” part of his sci-fi scientific, Heinlein also speculated quite compellingly about the effects his imagined advances in science would have upon society, and also how society itself might evolve over the millennia. And sometimes these speculations seem quite strange; nonetheless Heinlein presents them in such a way that they make complete sense, within the context of the stories themselves.

But enough blathering; on with the review:

“Farnham’s Freehold” begins in 1960s America, at the home of one Hugh Farnham. Hugh has an adult son named Duke, an adult daughter named Karen, an alcoholic wife named Grace, and an African-American “houseboy” named Joe. In addition, Karen’s friend from college, Barbara, is over for a visit.

You may have done a bit of a double-take at the word “houseboy.” And rightfully so. Joe, at the beginning of the novel, is essentially a live-in housekeeper.

And yes, the term “houseboy” may be construed as offensive. Joe is, after all, an adult.

But one must remember that this novel was first published in 1964. At that time, the Civil Rights Movement was going on. Back then, for a white family to have a black “houseboy” was not at all uncommon. Nor was it uncommon for a white family to treat their “houseboy” (and/or whatever the female equivalent of that distasteful term is) as if they were “beneath” them.

I am not saying that was “right.” Far from it. It was wrong, and it was shameful.

But it happened.

Hugh Farnham, the protagonist and patriarch in the story, is not a racist. He treats Joe – who is incidentally mentioned to be in accounting school – the way he treats everyone else. As an equal.

This is not the case for his wife Grace or his son Duke. These two are, to put it bluntly, bigots. They use racial epithets to describe Joe when he isn’t around. Hugh discourages them from doing so, which only makes them angry at him.

Which is typical bigot behavior.

And I think I have given a short peek at where the controversy lies in this novel. It has been called “racist” by many reviewers.

And I have to say, well, I disagree.

The notion that to illustrate racism in a text is to somehow make the text “racist” is…well, I suppose it’s a matter of opinion. In my opinion, if you want to discredit something like racism – as I posit Heinlein was at least attempting to do in this text – well, you have to illustrate what that something is. You have to show examples of it, I mean. And he does that quite well, I think.

But moving on with the plot, Hugh, Duke, Karen, and Barbara sit down to play contract bridge in the kitchen. Grace is passed out, and Joe has gone to bed. Suddenly, an emergency broadcast comes over the airwaves: the USA is under a nuclear assault.

Hugh is fully prepared for this eventuality. As a matter of fact, Duke has just been making fun of Hugh for building a nuclear bomb/fallout shelter under the house, one that is fully stocked with water, food, and supplies.

At any rate, when the emergency broadcast comes over the airwaves, everyone goes down to the shelter. Joe makes a last minute rescue of the family cat, then the shelter is sealed.

Not long after the shelter is sealed, Hugh declares that he is in charge, that he has made extensive plans for rationing food and supplies, and that anyone who has a problem with that can leave the shelter post-haste. Duke, in a somewhat typical “I’m a grown man, dad, you can’t tell me what to do” scene, tells Hugh he does not agree with this arrangement.

Hugh instructs Joe – the “houseboy” – to shoot Duke, if he refuses to comply. Joe, Hugh says, did not make fun of him when he (Hugh) was planning and building the shelter, Joe helped extensively with the construction and planning of the shelter, and Joe was now, for all intents and purposes, the second in command.

Of course, in later scenes – Duke submits to Hugh’s authority and Joe does not shoot him – Duke expresses resentment toward Joe, and his resentment often has an ugly bigoted tinge to it. As do other comments made about Joe.

But Hugh always steps up to Joe’s defense. Hugh does not treat Joe any differently – any worse or any better – than anyone else in his family. And he considers Joe to be part of his family.

At any rate, once everyone is in the shelter, the nukes hit. And they cause damage inside the shelter. It is assumed by everyone that the bombs hit pretty close to where the shelter is buried.

I don’t want to give too much away about the rest of the novel, at least spoiler-wise, but I have to give some things away, things that contributed to the controversy this novel generated.

But first, I would like to mention another sci-fi novel – although this other one crosses out of “hard sci-fi” and into “fantasy,” especially in its sequels – Frank Herbert‘s 1965 masterpiece “Dune.” If one glances at the pic provided at the top of this post, one can see my copy of “Dune” on the bookshelf behind me. I put it there on purpose.

At any rate, if you are familiar at all with the “Dune” series, you know that the government in “Dune” consists of a set of feudal lords, and that the mythology of the series borrows quite heavily from Islamic traditions, or at least Islamic nomenclature. “Houses” in “Dune” strongly resemble “Houses” in the Middle East, as do various customs and things like that in the novel and its sequels.

I do not know if Heinlein read any of “Dune” before he wrote and published “Farhnam’s Freehold” – parts of “Dune” had been serialized in late 1963 and early 1964, prior to its 1965 publication as a finished novel – but without revealing exactly how they got there, Hugh Farnham and his family end up in a “house” that also borrows quite heavily from Islamic traditions.

There is a supreme leader of the house, and a system of servants under him who cannot question his authority. The “law” is based on something similar to the Koran – which Hugh has read, being the amateur scholar that he is – the inhabitants speak “Language,” which is noted to be similar to Arabic, and there are many many slaves in the house, divided by sex. The term “harem rules” is mentioned several times. Men in the house are either “studs” or “tempered servants.” “Tempered,” as you can probably intuit without me explicitly saying so, means “neutered.” While this part may or may not have any root in any sort of Islamic custom, this next part certainly does:

The majority of women are known simply as “sluts,” or else “bedwarmers.”

This is where the main controversy surrounding the novel begins. And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, what I have written about is offensive. It’s horrible. It’s inhuman.

But is it impossible?

Has nothing like this ever happened before?

Does this sort of thing not happen today, in certain parts of the world?

(Are you familiar with the word “concubine”?)

But I suppose the main complaint about this novel is not that, believe it or not. And again, our Hugh does not approve of this situation. He finds it abhorrent. He has a “bedwarmer,” one who I believe is fourteen years old – yes, “ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh” – but he doesn’t do anything sexual with her.

And again, this is not the main point that is brought up against this novel, believe it or not. The main point brought up against it is that the people in charge – the “Chosen” – are all dark-skinned. The slaves are white.

The situation at the beginning of the novel – an upper-middle class white family with a black “houseboy” – is turned upon its head. At the end of the novel, the “houseboy,” by virtue of the color of his skin, is considered to be “Chosen,” and he gets all the privileges the other Chosen get.

Considering the disgusting misogynistic Islamic royalty-type setup of this situation, maybe it is racist, to a degree. Because for certain, other historical monarchies also once practiced sickening things like what happen in this weird future Islamofascist sci-fi scenario. Dark-skinned people are not the only ones who have perpetrated this sort of nonsense, historically speaking, and for it to be such a major plot issue…maybe it is a tad “racist.” But I don’t know; the setup of the house makes for some interesting plot points, points I will leave it up to you to find out about, should you choose to read the novel yourself.

But moving on, Hugh and Barbara – to remind, Barbara is Hugh’s daughter’s friend from college; for another spoiler, the six people at the beginning think they are the only people left in the world for a good part of the novel – become husband and wife at one point. And she gives birth to twins.

They – Hugh, Barbara, and their babies – make it out of the situation, eventually. Joe – who is the source of the “tit for tat” quoted in the title of this post – finds that he likes being the beneficiary of racial privilege. At first Hugh is shocked by this, but then realizes that he, too, despite his not being a bigot of any sort – or a misogynist, or any such thing – decides that he can’t really blame Joe for staying there.

Grace and Duke stay. They are, essentially, pets.

***

Reading back over this summary, I can see how this novel could be construed as wildly offensive, on a number of levels.

But I would like to remind everyone that it’s fiction. As in “not true.” As in “what if?”

At any rate, Hugh Farnham is not a bigot. Or a misogynist. And neither was Robert A. Heinlein – at least not from what I can tell of my limited reading of his work – and neither am I.

But all things considered, this novel was a good read. I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to any fan of science fiction.

Thank you for reading my review of it.

***

And I have let about 36 hours go by, between when I wrote the above review and now. I reread my review of the novel in question, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to post that on my blog.

I am not a racist. I am not a misogynist.

And here I need to make a grammatical point:

“Racist” can be used as a noun, or as an adjective. I think you have to make “misogynist” into “misogynistic” for it to be an adjective, and what I am about to write applies to “misogynist/misogynistic” as well, but for simplicity’s sake, I am just going to focus on the word “racist.”

As a noun, “racist” means, basically, someone who adheres to the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another.

Example:

“Person A thinks that his skin color makes him superior to people of a different skin color. Person A is a racist.”

As an adjective, “racist” means, basically, expressing the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another.

Example:

Person A: “Everybody of my skin color is better than everybody of your skin color, Person B.”

Person B: “That’s racist, Person A. That statement you just made is racist.”

Many people like to make the argument that “people are racist, statements (and books, and any number of things) aren’t.”

And strictly speaking, that simply isn’t true. It is true that “Farnham’s Freehold” is not a racist. It is not a person who adheres to the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another race.

But, is it true that “Farnham’s Freehold” is a racist novel? Does this novel express the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another race?

I don’t really think so. I don’t personally perceive it as such. But does that mean that nobody in the world is entitled to disagree with me? Hardly.

I maintain that it was Heinlein’s intent to denounce racism with this novel. And from my point of view, I would say that he did a decent job of it.

But if you disagree, can I objectively say that you are wrong?

No, I cannot. Heinlein’s approach to racism in this novel was informed by his position in the society of 1960s America. He was a successful white dude*. And so was his protagonist, Hugh Farnham. As Joe (the African-American “houseboy”) mentions, Hugh never had the experience of riding a bus through Alabama as a “[n-word].”

And neither did Heinlein. Does Heinlein’s being a successful white dude mean he can’t be against racism? No! But, at the same time, he may or may not inadvertently have written things that could rightfully be described as “racist” by other people. Including other successful white dudes.

There are, indeed, racist statements made by white characters in the novel. And there are racist statements made by dark-skinned “Chosen” as well, in the imagined future where white people are their slaves. As I mentioned before, though, you can’t really denounce something like “racism” if you don’t show examples of it. And I would argue that’s what Heinlein was trying to do. Whether he succeeded is up to the reader.

I would argue that he succeeded. You may not agree.

At any rate, if you read this novel and are offended immensely by it, I would hope that your being offended would not cause you to label me as a “racist.” Or a “misogynist.”

I don’t consider myself to be either of those things, and I make a conscious effort not to express myself in such a way that may lead others to think I am one of those things.

But if I make a statement – or write a blog post – that makes you think I am a racist, or a misogynist, or any sort of thing like that that I do not consider myself to be, what matters more, objectively speaking:

My intentions behind my actions, which I consider to be anti-racist, anti-misogynist, anti-everything like that, or

Your perception of my actions?

My intentions matter more to me, of course, but don’t your perceptions matter more to you?

If I write something you construe to be racist, and you say “Hey, asshole, that’s racist,” does my saying “I didn’t mean to say something racist” mean that I didn’t say something racist?

No, it does not. Without intending to, in that situation, I would have made a racist statement. And I would have no right whatsoever to get angry at the person who perceived my statement as racist. The only rational course of action in that scenario, from my point of view, would be to say

“I am sorry I offended you. I didn’t mean to say anything racist, but now I know that what I said could be considered racist, so I will avoid saying that in the future.”

And if you are squirming in your seat, steam shooting out of your ears, with thoughts of “language police” and “political correctness gone mad” swirling through your brain, I am not requiring anyone else to follow my own personal approach to situations like this. I am merely telling you my approach. You are welcome to take it or leave it.

I follow that approach because it allows the lines of communication between me and that hypothetical person to remain open. I can continue to learn from that person through mutually respectful communication.

If I declare that they are crazy for calling me a racist (or whatever), I am cutting off the lines of communication.

And of course, if I don’t want to keep the lines of communication open between this hypothetical person and myself, I don’t have to. My perceptions of their behavior are as important to me as their perceptions of my behavior are to them.

Have I lost you? Have I circled back around to where I started, when I started writing this addendum to my review of a somewhat controversial sci-fi novel? Arguably.

But I would like to add one thing, then finish up:

My intentions, I would venture, are less important to you than your perception of me is to you. Am I incorrect?

I didn’t mean to come off as a racist or as a misogynist by giving this novel a positive review (despite all its abhorrent content), but if you feel I am a racist or a misogynist for doing so, how can I prove to you that my intentions were noble?

I can’t.

Thank you for reading.

*As an aside, please consider the inanity of this statement: “I think identity politics is a dumb concept.” Do you see what I mean? Every rationally thinking person in the world supports political ideas that support their own best interest, or at least what they perceive to be their own best interest. What they perceive as their own best interest is inexorably linked to their own personal identity. Therefore, everyone – yes, even you – is part of the phenomenon known as “identity politics.” You can point to special interest groups, which consist of people from this or that demographic, and scream “identity politics is the bane of society!” all you want, just be aware that when you do so, you are expressing your own “identity” in the political realm by doing so. So you may as well just keep that nonsense to yourself; there’s plenty of nonsense in the political realm already. (And yes, that last sentence is my own opinion, which hinges on my own “identity,” and so on and so forth.)

HONORING UNCLE JOHN, ON VETERANS DAY

I suppose that this post should, technically, be classified under a category called “History” or something, but seeing as how I almost have as many different categories here on my blog as I do blog posts, I will sneak in a little bit of my own personal philosophy (which, of course, consists mainly of philosophies I have borrowed from other people) and post it under “philosophy.” Sounds good to me.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am, whenever possible, anti-war. I do not attempt to deny this fact. I believe war should be a last resort, only after all diplomatic avenues have failed, only after economic sanctions have failed, only when there is no other viable option.

Some people mistake this position to mean that I am “anti-soldier” or that I “don’t support the troops.” Again, anyone who knows me at all should know that this interpretation of my position regarding war is utterly false.

I am anti-war because I support the troops. I don’t want to see American service men and women put in harm’s way unless there is no other option.

But this blog post is not being written so that I might brag about how “progressive” or “compassionate” or whatever that I think I am by virtue of my stance regarding war. I am here today to tell a story about a man – a veteran – who had a very positive influence on my life.

His name was John Dollar. He served in the U.S. Navy a few decades before I was ever born.

When I was a kid, from the time I was still in diapers until I was around 13, while my mom and stepdad were at work, I would stay with “Uncle John” and his wife, Kathryn, or as pretty much everyone called her, “Aunt Kat.”

Aunt Kat and Uncle John (both have now passed on) never had any children of their own. But they loved children, and they were both excellent role models (and play companions) for children. I would venture that nobody who grew up in my small community of Lawson, Arkansas since Aunt Kat and Uncle John settled here will deny this. They took my mom and uncle on trips when they were younger. They also took me and my brother on trips a few times. I have more fond memories of my time with them than I can even count.

But again, that’s not specifically what I am here to write about today. Although I suppose I should mention that in addition to being an excellent role model, playmate, confidante, and any number of such things, Aunt Kat was also an excellent cook.

And I do mean excellent. None of us kids who stayed with her ever went hungry. Never. And long after she was no longer able to keep kids, she continued to cook beans and cornbread, turnip greens, or stew, or her famous spaghetti – there has never been any better spaghetti made by anyone, anywhere – and give most of it away to people in the community. Toward the end of her life, she would stand over a hot stove all day, just to be able to spread a little happiness around the community, even though it was very difficult for her to get in and out of her car by this point. “Kat, you didn’t have to do that!” was said often by my mom (and I am sure by several other people), after Aunt Kat pulled up in our driveway and honked her horn, signaling that we should come out and get the food she had brought us, because it was very hard for her to get out of her car and bring it to us.

And we always expressed that she didn’t have to do that, but we were always glad that she did.

But going back to my childhood, I can remember clearly sitting at the dining table in the kitchen with my brother or any number of kids who stayed with the Dollars over the years, eating delicious, home-cooked meals. And I remember something else food-related that pertains to Uncle John specifically: Uncle John would not eat rice.

Not only would Uncle John not eat rice, Uncle John did not like to be in the same room where rice was being eaten or even cooked. He despised the stuff. As in truly and deeply hated it.

Yes, rice, those little white grains that go with pretty much everything and don’t have a whole lot of flavor by themselves. Uncle John hated rice. I am not exaggerating; the man would not sit in the same room with it. He would get up and go outside.

I didn’t really understand why that was until many years later. I had heard abbreviated versions of the story I am about to relate, but never the full version. Aunt Kat told it to me several years after Uncle John had already passed away.

Before I write anything at all about this story, I want to stress that I am not trying to rile anyone up about anything. What takes place in this story took place during wartime. Specifically when the United States and Japan were not on friendly terms like they are today.

I have been to Japan. I spent about a week there in 2007. I hope to be able to go there again someday. It is an incredibly interesting place, and one week is not nearly enough time to even begin appreciating the place.

So if anyone comes away from this blog post with a negative attitude about Japan, please understand that this was not my intention. I am merely relating a story that was told to me, a story that took place when the United States and Japan were not on friendly terms.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not even sure what year this story occurred in, or precisely where it took place. I pressed Aunt Kat for details, but she didn’t remember exactly.

My guess is that this story took place some time around the end of World War II, most likely before the end but possibly a little after. I simply don’t know for sure.

I do know that Aunt Kat and Uncle John spent a decent amount of time living in the Philippines, while Uncle John was stationed there. But again, I don’t know exactly how long they were there, or what years they were there.

At any rate, here is the story Aunt Kat told me, with regard to why Uncle John could not stand to be in the same room as rice:

One day, while Uncle John was stationed “overseas” (I am assuming in the Philippines, but as I said, I don’t know for sure) he left the base, intending to see the sights, I suppose. Without realizing it, he wandered into enemy territory, the enemy at the time being Japan. He was captured by Japanese troops and taken to a prison work camp.

At the camp, Uncle John and many other captured soldiers were forced to work insanely long hours – as long as the sun was out, I think – and they were given very little to eat or drink.

All they were given each day, according to Aunt Kat, was a single cup of tea, and what I believe she called a “cord” of rice. She used some term like that I hadn’t heard before; at any rate they were only given a small bowl of rice to eat each day.

And it wasn’t simply the rice, in and of itself, that Uncle John refused to be around later in life. It was what the rice reminded him of.

And it wasn’t merely working out in the hot sun all day with very little food and drink. It was also being forced to do so at gunpoint. It was also watching other men starve to death, collapse from exhaustion, or be shot by guards.

Uncle John was at that camp for quite a while. When I knew him, he was a fairly stocky man – in decent physical shape, but stocky, sort of like I am now – probably around 180 to 200 pounds. I am guessing.

When he was finally released from the prison camp, he weighed around a hundred pounds, I was told.

I don’t know for sure how long he was there. But he was there long enough to see many more young men come in, many of whom he also saw die there.

Uncle John gave the new prisoners advice about things – how to avoid angering the guards, how to ration a single bowl of rice to make it last all day, things like that – but many of them wouldn’t listen. They would gobble all their rice up as soon as it was given to them, and would find themselves starving and without food later in the day, while Uncle John and others still had a bite or two left.

And, of course, many of them simply cracked under pressure, did something to anger a guard, and were shot.

And again, my writing this is to honor Uncle John, not to denigrate Japan or the Japanese people. If you don’t (or can’t) understand the distinction, I would ask that you stop reading before I continue. As acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa once said, in defense of his film “Rhapsody In August,” one that concerns the long-term psychological effects of the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, “Governments wage wars, not people.” I fully agree with him. If circumstances had been different, if their respective governments had not set them at odds with each other, the men holding the guns in the prison camp and the men being worked to death might have been friends. But I am digressing. At any rate, I am not trying to make anyone dislike Japan or its people, so please don’t assume I am. I am merely relating a bit of history, as it was told to me. Just as Kurosawa was relating a bit of history in his film “Rhapsody In August,” which incidentally is a fantastic film that anyone reading this should watch. It has been called a “propaganda” film by certain American critics; I find that accusation to be beyond absurd.

But moving on, in the prison camp, there was a large, open work area. The prisoners planted crops, or dug ditches, or tended various livestock, or did any number of physically exhausting activities. And let me remind you they were only given a single cup of tea to drink all day.

And let me also remind you that tea contains caffeine, which is a diuretic. Which means it makes you pee. Which means it dehydrates you.

In the middle of the work area was a water fountain. All day, as the prisoners worked in the blazing sun, the fountain spurted water into the air. The water fell into a pool around the fountain, splashing tantalizingly, then was recirculated through the fountain, up into the air, and so on, all day long.

The prisoners were strictly forbidden to drink from this fountain, or even to go anywhere near it. Uncle John saw men who simply could not resist – could not bear the psychological pressure any longer – drop their shovel or rake or whichever tool they had in hand and run toward the fountain.

Uncle John saw these men get shot. Uncle John saw their bodies being dragged away.

Uncle John tried to warn newcomers about things like this. Some listened. Some didn’t.

I had heard abbreviated versions of what I have written several times in my life, mostly from Aunt Kat, while Uncle John was still living. But one day, several years ago, after Uncle John had died, but still several years before Aunt Kat did, she told me the whole story again, along with one other anecdote, one that almost got Uncle John killed.

One of Uncle John’s friends in the camp tended chickens as part of his work load. One day, after they both had been there for quite a while, they devised a plan, one that almost worked, to have roasted chicken for dinner one night, instead of a bite or two of rice.

The friend who tended chickens managed to steal one without being noticed. He stuffed it under his clothing, killed it, and hid it in the outhouse the prisoners used.

Somehow, Uncle John, his friend, and a few other of the men in his bunkhouse (or whatever it was called) were also able to obtain matches, or at any rate some method of starting a fire.

This is a detail I have forgotten. I am kicking myself for not writing all this down nine years ago, when Aunt Kat told me the story.

Anyways, one by one, with the guards’ permission, Uncle John and his friends went to the outhouse. One by one, just a little at a time, they took turns cooking the chicken on the outhouse floor, careful to put the fire out and hide the chicken each time.

Someone from the bunkhouse was always keeping watch, in case a guard got wise to what they were doing. They had an agreed-upon signal, and if a guard started toward the outhouse, someone would give the signal.

Over the course of a night, Uncle John and the other men in on the scheme took their turns roasting the chicken, bit by bit.

Uncle John told Aunt Kat that after the chicken began to almost get done, it was the best-smelling chicken he had ever smelled in his life, despite its close proximity to an open hole full of excrement and urine.

Unfortunately, Uncle John never got to taste that chicken, and neither did any of the other men. Just as the chicken was beginning to almost be edible, a guard noticed the smell, or maybe saw smoke. I think it was smoke.

At any rate, the guard noticed that something fishy was going on and started toward the outhouse. The man on watch saw him and gave the signal, and the man in the outhouse tossed the half-roasted chicken into the shit pit.

The guard found nothing out of the ordinary in the outhouse, and nobody was punished.

But nobody got to eat any chicken, either.

And Uncle John swore off rice the moment he was released from that prison camp. And as far as I know, he never touched another grain of rice as long as he lived.

He loved chicken, though.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for serving, if you happen to be a veteran.

I KNEW HIM, HORATIO…OR AT LEAST I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO — A GLANCE AT DAVID FOSTER WALLACE’S “INFINITE JEST”

For my first blog post under the “Books” heading (this heading will include both fiction and non-fiction), I will write a short, mostly impressionistic little article about one of my most favorite novels, David Foster Wallace‘s 1996 masterpiece, “Infinite Jest.”

Before I get going, I want to tell the reader what this blog post will not be. It will not be in any way “scholarly,” that is to say I will not apply any sort of literary filter to it. The impressions I will give will be my own, and as I am not preparing in any way for this blog post — and as my second reading of the novel in question was concluded almost a year ago — don’t expect any sort of deep insight from this post.

There are a great many essays available online which take a much more scholarly approach, such as this one, an essay which applies the philosophies of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Mikhail Bahktin to the text. I read this essay a while back, not long after I finished my second reading. A major theme of that essay has to do with how the characters in “Infinite Jest” are isolated from each other by the language they use to communicate: that is to say that while they are all (for the most part) speaking in English, their various slang terms and colloquialisms and dialects and grammatical structures and whatnot often hinder any sort of real communication between them. This same phenomenon happens in the real world: people often get into heated arguments over the meaning of this or that word or phrase. I myself have gotten into heated arguments over certain political or philosophical points — both in real life and online — with people who, as it turned out, saw the issue at hand more or less exactly the same way I did. I and my various argumentative adversaries merely used different words to express our opinions, and these words meant different things to me than they did to my (apparent) adversaries. It’s a relatively rare phenomenon — this phenomenon of arguing with someone only to find out you agreed with them from the very beginning — but it does indeed happen. At any rate, as expounded upon in the essay linked to above, “Infinite Jest” illustrates this sort of stunted communication quite well.

But that’s not what I am going to write about tonight. Nor am I going to speculate upon any one interpretation of the novel’s central plot line, like I did with my post about the movie “Donnie Darko.” Suffice it to say that there are various plot points in “Infinite Jest” that are left somewhat open to interpretation.

This practice of leaving loose ends untied, so to speak, was a hallmark of a lot of Wallace’s fiction, including his first novel “The Broom of the System” and many of his short stories. This practice worked to great effect (in my opinion) in stories such as “The Suffering Machine” and “John Billy,” but honestly can get a little bit frustrating, even for the most patient sort of reader.

Actually, it can get extremely frustrating. “Infinite Jest” made me want to call David Foster Wallace on the phone and scream obscenities at him, after I finished the last page of it.

Unfortunately, Wallace had been dead for a little over three years when I first read “Infinite Jest”. Wallace committed suicide in 2008.

Looking back at his fiction, I suppose Wallace’s felo de se is not especially, well, I hate to say it, but, well, not all that surprising. Suicide is a theme in a lot of Wallace’s fiction (including his unfinished third novel “The Pale King“), and “Infinite Jest” is no exception. Depression is also a recurring theme, as is addiction and substance abuse. Apocryphal tales of Wallace’s experiences with substance abuse abound online. You can look into them if you want to; to my knowledge Wallace never really talked about it much publicly.

Addiction is (arguably) the central theme of “Infinite Jest,” one that is (arguably) borne out through the structure of the novel itself. Throughout the novel’s 1079 pages, the reader is swept up to the heights of ecstasy and joy, flung into the gutter of hopelessness and despair, reluctantly pulled back into something close to normalcy — and then it’s over. And you sit there wondering what happened.

So the book sits there on your shelf, and most of the time you don’t think about it, but it’s always there.

And you just know, if you opened the book and read it again, it would be different this time.

You wouldn’t lose yourself to it again.

You wouldn’t obsess over this or that plot point, or scene, or character.

So you open it up and flip around.

And you start reading in the middle of some insanely long paragraph — just some random paragraph at some random point in the book — and after you read a line or two, you begin to remember what’s going on at this random point in the novel, and whose point of view you are peeking in on, and all the thousands of seemingly insignificant little details that add up to a level of scene and character development last seen in the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky begin pulling you back in —

And you close the book. And you put it back on the shelf.

You don’t have time to read this book again, you tell yourself.

You don’t have the strength.

It took quite a toll on you, emotionally, the first time you read it.

It made you laugh. It made you (almost) cry.

It made you want to throw up.

So you leave it on the shelf for a while.

And then you repeat the process above. Multiple times.

And so you decide to just suck it up and read the whole damn thing again. And so you do. And you’re still left scratching your head at the end. But the experience wasn’t as intense this time. So you put it back on the shelf, satisfied that you have gotten all you can out of it, satisfied with the quite visceral experience of reading this masterpiece of modern fiction…

…but almost a year later, you’re still thinking about it. You know it’s going to take you away from whatever you have going on in your life, you know it’s going to take up a lot of your time and energy…

…you know diving into this book again isn’t going to do you any good, not one damn bit…

…but you want to read it again.

And again.

And again.

Because it will be different, you tell yourself, this one last time.

At any rate, the book itself is quite addictive.

There are any number of web pages where you can read all sorts of spoilers and speculation about various unresolved plot points from the novel. This isn’t one of them. I do not want to ruin the experience of reading the novel yourself, should you choose to read it.

As a matter of fact, I feel like I have revealed far too much about the novel already. I knew nothing about the novel before I read it. A friend recommended it, I ordered myself a copy — from my local bookstore, not off of the internet —  and I began reading it. If you have read what I have written here, you know much more about the novel than I did when I read it, despite my not having revealed much of anything about the actual contents of the novel.

You’re not supposed to know what it’s about before you read it. The story begins in medias res, and from the very beginning, the reader is bombarded with terms and acronyms and various odd colloquialisms that may or may not have ever existed outside of the novel itself. Most of these terms are defined, directly or indirectly, as the novel progresses. Some are not. Some colloquialisms — as is mentioned in the essay linked to above — vary in definition and usage, depending on which character is using them.

Some characters are extremely erudite, some are barely literate. Most are somewhere in between. One finds oneself scouring dictionaries for words that don’t exist, words that have been mispronounced by whichever character happens to be using them.

“Infinite Jest” is definitely a challenge to read. But it’s a challenge worth meeting.

At any rate, I would love to discuss it with you some time.

(After you’ve read it, of course.)

BAN BIBLE THUMPING IN POLITICS (TRUST ME, THIS IS A GOOD IDEA)

(Note: I was unsure, again, whether to post this under “Politics” or “Philosophy.” I posted it under “Philosophy” because it attempts to get at the heart of what “freedom of religion” actually implies. Apologies to anyone who may be offended.  — MNW)

You know how here in the USA, we have “freedom of religion,” and how it says in the first amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” and all?

I mean, people talk about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights all the time, then turn around and try to say this is a “Christian nation” and whatnot, when clearly it isn’t and was never intended to be.

Sure, the various denominations of Christianity make up the majority of the religious people in the USA. There’s no argument about that. But what many of these (I have to believe “well-meaning”) folks don’t realize is that by virtue of the establishment clause in the first amendment, that majority means precisely zilch in terms of how the law applies to citizens of the USA.

You can’t make a non-Christian be a Christian. You can’t force people who don’t share your religious beliefs to adhere to the tenets of your religion.

If you want to adhere to those tenets, great! Good for you! As long as your actions aren’t causing harm to anyone else or breaking any laws, by all means, adhere! Adhere to whichever tenets you want! It’s none of my or anyone else’s business what you do!

You say adhering to the tenets of your religion has had a positive effect on your life? Hey, that’s awesome! I am not being sarcastic at all, honestly, I am glad your life is better now than it was before.

You say you want others to benefit from your religion the way you did? Great! Tell them about it. Tell them how it changed your life for the better. Maybe they’ll follow your example. Maybe it will benefit them, too!

But here’s the thing…maybe it won’t. Maybe what worked for you won’t work for everyone. As a matter of fact, let me go ahead and break it to you: what worked for you is not — repeat: “is not” — going to work for everyone else.

You can suggest they follow your example, but you can’t force them to. And if you try to force them to, you are violating their freedom of religion.

And if they tell you, “Hey! I don’t care about your religion! I have my own religion!” or else “Hey! I don’t care about your religion! I think all religions are stupid!” then guess what?

They are exercising their own right to freedom of religion.
They are not violating your freedom of religion by refusing to participate in your religion. They are exercising their own rights!

But getting back to the point of this blog post — or, I suppose, finally getting around to the point of it — I would like to propose something that I think would be beneficial to the nation (and the world our nation is a part of) as a whole:

I would like to propose a new law. This law states that any politician — from a person running for city council to a Presidential candidate — will be disqualified from whichever political race she or he is running in, if she or he mentions her or his religious affiliation (or lack thereof) in the public sphere.

Hear me out! Don’t get mad at me just yet, I implore you!

I am not saying “all politicians should be prevented from going to the church/temple/mosque/whatever of their choice.” I am not saying that at all. Don’t put words in my mouth!

What I am saying is that if we truly have “freedom of religion” in this country, a person’s religious affiliation (or lack thereof) should have no bearing whatsoever on their prospects as a potential office holder.

It’s none of my business what religion you are. Why should I care what religion any political candidate is?

I shouldn’t care. And guess what? I don’t care! I do not give two rotten farts about what religion any political candidate is. I care about the things they want to do while in office. I care about whether those things will benefit my country and the world my country is a part of. I do not care what religion they are, and I do not care if they don’t have a religion at all.

To tell you the truth, the minute, nay, the second any politician starts talking about her or his religious beliefs (or lack thereof), I stop taking that politician seriously.

And no matter what religion you are or whether you’re an atheist or an agnostic or what, you should stop taking them seriously then, too.

How dare I say such a thing? Because the second a politician starts talking about how pious she or he is (or how they think religious people are bad, or whatever), that is when they begin pandering to you. They are not telling you the truth, they are trying to avoid telling you the truth.

I mentioned earlier that Christians make up a majority in the USA. The vast majority of politicians that brag about their own Christianity are Republicans.

If you look at the actual policies these Christian-pandering Republicans endorse, you will find that these policies only actually benefit one group of people: the very wealthy.

Tax cuts for wealthy people benefit wealthy people.

Cutting funding for education, welfare, food stamps, health services for the poor, health services for veterans — all things Republicans do consistently — all these things benefit wealthy people.

It lessens the tax burden on them, and it increases profits for private services they control. Government services ALWAYS cost more after they have been privatized. Always.

This does not benefit any group of people except for the very wealthy.

So why do so many poor and working-class people vote Republican?

Do I really need to point it out?

Are you going to get mad at me for pointing it out?

I suppose you’ll just have to get mad at me then. I apologize for upsetting you.

They vote Republican because they think Jesus wants them to. They vote Republican because very wealthy people who have no interest in anything other than being wealthy talk about how much they love Jesus and how much they love the Bible and God told them to do this and God told them to do that.

It’s horseshit! Every word of it! They are lying to you! They are pretending to share your sincerely-held religious beliefs so you will vote for them.

They take money out of your pocket, they take medicine out of your medicine cabinet, they take food off of your table, my fellow working-class Americans, and you keep voting them back into office!

Why?

Because someone told you this country is a “Christian nation.” It isn’t! It never was! And hopefully, it never will be.

Any time any religion gets hold of a government, terrible things happen. That was true at the time our country was being founded — that’s why we have the establishment clause — and it’s true today.

A religious government answers to no one. Why not? They believe their actions are sanctioned by God, or Allah, or Krishna, or Buddha, or whoever. People get oppressed, people get enslaved, people get slaughtered — and if you speak against the government, if you ask the government why this is happening,  you are committing blasphemy!

Trust me, we DO NOT want the USA to turn into that.

So, getting back to my point, we should pass a law banning all political candidates from mentioning their religious affiliation (or lack thereof) in the public sphere.

The same goes after they are elected. The second they mention one religion (or the lack of religion) as being better or worse than another religion (or the lack of religion), at least in the public sphere, they should be booted out of office.

“But wait!” I can hear you saying. “What about their freedom of speech?”

To that, I say that my freedom of religion, as a private citizen, supercedes their freedom of speech as a public figure.

If I am a member of a minority religion, let’s say, and President Nimrod starts telling people his majority religion is best, and my minority religion is bad, by virtue of the fact that he is President, he has lessened my ability to express my religious beliefs freely.

He has, in effect, endorsed a state religion.

I argue that any time any elected official speaks of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) they are, in effect, endorsing a state religion.

Why do I keep saying “(or lack thereof)”, you might be asking?

Because while atheism is not a “religion,” if an elected official stands up and denigrates religion in the public sphere, she or he has violated the freedom of religion of her or his constituency, also. She or he has designated “atheism” as the official religious stance of her or his constituency, and that puts religious people at a disadvantage.

It’s none of my business what any politician or elected official does or does not believe. And frankly, I do not give two rotten farts what any of them do or don’t believe.

And neither should you.

Thank you for reading.

AN OCCURRENCE AT MIDDLESEX RIDGE SCHOOL — DECONSTRUCTING “DONNIE DARKO”

Fall is here, and I would like to offer a review/interpretation of one of my all-time favorite movies, one that takes place entirely in the fall.

Before I get started, I would like to mention that my Cousin Ronald will be back for more political commentary some time next week, but seeing as how he “ain’t just some lazy goodfornothing what sits in front of a durn computer all day,” and that he “acktuly has a famly and a job to keep up with,” it may be a little longer before he writes another “web blog” post. He wanted me to tell you all that he looked at your comments on my Facebook page, and he didn’t see what was so “gall durn funny” about anything he wrote, but then again he “wasn’t no damn Godless heathen libral,” so it wasn’t surprising that he didn’t know what “Godless heathen librals” would find funny. He told me to tell you he was praying for you all.

If anyone reading has any questions for Cousin Ronald, or would like to read his opinion on any given issue, inquiries can be made to his email address:

cousinronald72@gmail.com

He also wanted me to mention that that email address isn’t his real email address, it’s just the one he will use for “web blog” purposes, seeing as how he doesn’t want to be associated with anyone who is already associated with, well, me.

Moving on.

Since I have already written about 200 words concerning something other than the actual subject of this blog post, I will insert a header here, one that is identical to the title, using some basic html commands. I am new to this, so I need all the practice I can get. So anyways, to remind the reader of the subject:

AN OCCURRENCE AT MIDDLESEX RIDGE SCHOOL — DECONSTRUCTING “DONNIE DARKO”

For purposes of this blog post, I am assuming that the reader has seen the movie already. There will be multiple spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to watch it before you read this. Or maybe not, I really can’t say. “Donnie Darko,” in my opinion, is a movie that can be watched and enjoyed multiple times.

It should be noted, however, that the version of the film I am reviewing is the original 2001 version, not the “Director’s Cut” that was released in 2004. The IMDB default image for the movie title is from the director’s cut, not the original. Here is the DVD cover of the version I personally own, which I procured for five bucks in a discount bin at my local Walmart a few years ago.

WIN_20151017_183140

And as the reader can tell, the webcam on my laptop is not what anyone would call high quality. That’s fine by me, as a matter of fact I cover my webcam with a square piece of a blue Post-It note 99% of the time anyways. But I am digressing.

I want to say first that I am only “deconstructing” this film in a fairly superficial sense. I intend to take certain elements of it apart and view them in relation to each other, but not in any sort of seriously academic sort of way.

So if some college student out there who happens to be a fan of “Donnie Darko” finds this blog post, I wouldn’t recommend that they use it as a source for any paper they intend to turn in for a grade. But who knows, maybe I will provide some insight or other that they failed to think of on their own.

Moving on.

I would like to explain the title of this post: it is a reference to a film I saw as a freshman in a film lecture class at the University of Arkansas many long years ago. The class was taught by Thomas Frentz, who I hope will not mind my mentioning his name here on my blog. His film lecture class was one of my all-time favorite classes during my six years as a student at the U of A, and I have a lot of respect for the man. However, if he wishes, like Cousin Ronald, to not have his good name sullied by association with the likes of me, I will remove it from this blog post.

What I want to express, however, is that his class had a profound effect on me as a movie-goer. After taking that class, I was no longer able to simply watch a movie passively. Every movie I saw following that class had to be taken apart and studied. And on the one hand, this approach to movie viewing has given me the ability to appreciate movies on a much deeper level than I ever had before.

But on the other hand, it made me much more critical of movies, in such a way that many wildly popular movies became simply painful for me to watch. I suppose that was a fair trade-off, but following that trade-off, I don’t think that I would be a very fun person to go to the movies with. And here I am digressing again.

The title of this blog post is a reference to a short film titled “Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce.

In the film, a man — more specifically, a soldier of some sort — is about to be executed by being hanged from Owl Creek Bridge. He stands on the bridge, a noose around his neck, and he walks out on a plank. Another soldier is standing on the other end of the plank. The executioner soldier steps off of the plank, and the man falls.

When he falls, somehow, the noose slips from around his neck, and he falls into the creek below. He swims to the creekside, frantically, while shots are being fired at him from soldiers on the bridge. Somehow he manages to escape, but he does not stop running. The remainder of the short film consists almost entirely of him running. Towards the end, he sees a woman’s face — presumably that of his wife, girlfriend, or even possibly his mother — and he ends up very close to what the viewer can only guess is his home, a large house with (I believe) the woman standing out front, her arms open, ready to embrace him.

And just as it seems like he is about to embrace the woman — or maybe just as he embraces the woman; as I said I only saw the film once, and I think that was in spring of 1999 — the film abruptly cuts back to Owl Creek Bridge, where the man is shown hitting the end of the rope, which he never actually slipped free of. The majority of the film actually occurred entirely in the doomed man’s mind, in the second or so between when the executioner soldier stepped off the plank and the doomed man reached the end of the hangman’s rope.

In other words, the majority of the film was merely a frantic sort of waking dream that the doomed man was having at the instant of his death.

I am not certain if “Donnie Darko” director Richard Kelly was consciously paying homage to “…Owl Creek Bridge” with “Donnie Darko” — the DVD commentary track from the DVD pictured above suggests that he may not have been — nonetheless the two films are quite similar.

On the DVD commentary, Kelly points out several minor details that most viewers — even self-described “critical” viewers such as myself — might not notice, even after multiple viewings. For example, after Donnie wakes up on the side of the road at the beginning of the film and rides his bike home, the red car he passes

is the same car that runs over and kills Gretchen Ross near the end of the movie. This car belongs to Frank, who we find out at the party scene near the end, indirectly,

is dating Donnie’s older sister, Elizabeth.

Another detail that even a self-described “critical” moviegoer such as myself missed was that Donnie wrote a letter to Roberta Sparrow (a.k.a “Grandma Death”), and this is what caused her to be in the street just as Frank happened to be coming back from his beer run, just as Gretchen is lying in the middle of the road. If “Grandma Death” hadn’t been standing in the middle of the road as a result of her finally getting a letter — recall the scene from earlier in the movie where one of Donnie’s jackass friends says “somebody ought to write that bitch”? — Frank would not have swerved to miss her and accidentally run over Gretchen.

And Donnie wouldn’t have shot Frank in the face.

Of course, even a casual viewer could pick up on how Frank’s eye has been shot out when he appears in the theater earlier in the movie

or how when Donnie is taking his pills and Frank appears, Donnie is stabbing Frank in the same eye that is shot out later.

But there are things Richard Kelly mentions in the commentary, such as how Donnie has to bring an “artifact” to a certain point — I am not certain if this “artifact” is the jet engine

that detaches from the plane Donnie’s mom Rose and younger sister Sam are flying on, or if this “artifact” is Gretchen’s dead body — that suggest that maybe Kelly was actually promoting the whole “Philosophy of Time Travel” aspect of the movie as a real thing (at least within the movie itself) and not…well, I would rather not say just yet.

There’s also the matter of the weird “Abyss“-looking things that I can’t find a gif of. You know, like when Donnie, his dad, Dr. Fisher, and Dr. Fisher’s jackass bigot son Ronald are watching football, and Sam is skipping around following that weird watery-looking thing coming out of her chest, and then one of those things comes out of Donnie’s chest, and he follows it upstairs and finds the gun he ends up shooting Frank with? Remember that part?

“I hope they go for a safety.”

Really, Ronald. Shut up. Stop talking. Jackass.

But wait…my bad…it was Donnie’s other jackass bigot friend Sean who told Cherita to “go back to China.”

Donnie had shitty friends. No wonder he had emotional problems.

Anyways, what I am getting at is that there are a lot of things in the movie that simply don’t make a whole lot of sense, strictly speaking. And as the movie progresses, things get weirder and weirder.

The movie isn’t really all that weird at first, not counting, I guess, that the protagonist wakes up on the side of the road at the beginning,

but after Donnie takes his pills, which the viewer can only assume have something to do with his sonambulism, the movie gets stranger and stranger. He doesn’t see Frank until after he takes a pill for the first time, and after that, more and more weird things start happening.

It is my opinion that Donnie takes the pill, goes to bed, and begins dreaming. And the rest of the movie is a dream, not counting the very end where it shows Donnie’s family crying and firemen removing the jet engine from the house and whatnot.

“Sit next to the boy that you think is the cutest.” I mean, come on! Where does that sort of thing happen, outside of a teenage boy’s dream?

It’s also somewhat important that his mother pressured him to take the pill. She was no doubt acting in what she thought was the best interest of her son.

But what happened, at least in the original version of the film (in the director’s cut, the pills were revealed to be placebos), is that after feeling guilty for calling his mom a “bitch,” Donnie decided to take her suggestion and take the pills his psychiatrist Dr. Thurman had prescribed.

And that night he didn’t sleepwalk.

And that night, by some (probably physically impossible) freak accident, a jet engine falls from the sky and lands directly on Donnie, killing him.

The remainder of the movie is, essentially, a dream. But unlike “…Owl Creek Bridge,” it isn’t just the protagonist having the dream. Every character in the movie — or at least the ones shown waking up in the final sequence — is sharing the dream.

Isn’t that hilarious?

…but I might be all wet. At any rate, “Donnie Darko” is one of my all-time favorite movies.

S. Darko,” however, is terrible. Just awful.

Sorry, Sam.

Thank you for reading.

BLACK VELVET, AND THAT LITTLE BOY SMILED

Let it be noted that I was unsure whether to categorize this blog post under “Politics” or “Philosophy.” It has to do with both. I am not sure how long this post will be – I am not doing any extra research for it, rather I am merely putting to virtual paper things I have noticed over the past couple years regarding two diametrically opposed philosophies: Evangelical Christianity and popular atheism. But as these two philosophies have, of late, reached startlingly similar conclusions regarding international politics, and as that confluence of opinion is what I am writing about today, I suppose I will place this post under “Politics.”

There, it’s settled.

First, a little biographical info about yours truly: I was born and raised a Southern Baptist. I have many friends and family members who are quite active in the church, and I love and respect them greatly. I also have many – though admittedly not quite as many – friends and family members who are atheists. Many of them would call me a stupid tree-hugging hippie for saying so, but I also love and respect them greatly.

So again, I am not here to argue the merits of one philosophy over the other. And I hope nobody takes issue with my labeling these two things as “philosophies.” If anyone does, let me explain what I mean by “philosophy”: I mean it as a mode of thought, one that influences one’s actions and day-to-day life, for good or for ill. And I want to stress that I don’t mean any of this as an insult to anyone, I am merely relating my own observations. I might see you (whoever you are) a little differently than you see you, and conversely you might see me differently than I see me. I invite you to comment to your heart’s content on how you see me, either here in the comments section, or on my Facebook page. It is possible that all my observations are incorrect. At any rate, this post is not directed at any specific person, it is rather directed at specific philosophies. And as any philosophy worth having is a philosophy worth critiquing, I hope not to lose any friends – in real life or online – over this post.

A little more biographical info about me: I quit going to church with any regularity in the early 2000s. The principal reason for this was that church had become less of a place that encouraged me to be a better person and more of a place where I was told what to think, who to vote for, and that sort of thing. Perhaps it had always been that way to a degree – I remember impassioned sermons from my childhood on the evils of gay people, for example – but following 9/11, politics and church became so intertwined I just couldn’t bring myself to go anymore.

For example: it was widely preached that every Muslim in the world supported Osama Bin Laden. It was widely preached that Islam and Islam alone was responsible for all the evils in the world, and that the only hope for the future was to either convert every Muslim to Christianity, or else to just bomb the daylights out of them.

Meanwhile, then-President George W. Bush was praying on TV, spouting similar nonsense left and right, taking money away from education and putting it into “faith-based” programs, talking in oversimplified Orwellian terms like “axis of evil” and “the terrorists hate freedom” and that sort of thing.

If memory serves, there was a dramatic upswing in church attendance in the years following 9/11. There are probably many articles written about this already, but I theorize that this dramatic upswing was due to fear as much as it was to anything else.

People wanted to know why the terrorists “hated freedom.” People wanted to know why 9/11 happened. And even though the mastermind behind the tragic event had specific reasons why he talked 15 fellow Saudi Arabians, two men from United Arab Emirates, one Egyptian, and one Lebanese fellow into perpetrating the attack, and even though this mastermind specifically said that he was protesting US involvement in the Middle East, nobody seemed to notice that he had done so.

To be sure, I am not trying to justify 9/11 to anyone. I want to make that crystal clear. What I am trying to do is point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 had actual tangible geopolitical motivations for doing what they did. And yes, while radical Islam was definitely a factor there – they would have been less likely to intentionally kill themselves to make a political point, I venture, were there no promise of a blissful afterlife – it was not the only factor.

But Evangelical Christians didn’t want to hear that. They didn’t want to hear that people in other countries had been affected negatively by the actions of our government. They didn’t want to hear that the USA was not, in fact, universally loved and cherished by everyone in the world.

I want to pause here and say that I am not “anti-American,” nor do I hold any sort of “anti-American bias,” and I don’t hate myself for being American, so if anything like that is bubbling up in your psyche as you read this, I advise you to go take a cold shower and compose yourself.

What I want you – as in you, whoever you are, wherever you are, you, the person reading this right now – to realize is a very simple fact of life, one your parents should have taught you as a child: not everyone is going to like you, no matter how good of a person you try to be. Something you say, something you do, no matter how well-intentioned, is going to piss somebody off. It’s a cliché, sure, but put quite simply you can’t please everyone. That should go without saying, but it unfortunately doesn’t most of the time.

This is true on a personal level, and it is also true on an international level. Even if we assume that the USA has never taken any military action that wasn’t for “the greater good” or whatever, somebody somewhere is going to be offended by that action. Somebody somewhere is going to have a friend or family member who was killed by US forces, somebody somewhere is going to have their livelihood disrupted by economic sanctions the US imposed, somebody somewhere is going to be pissed off that the US took the leader they liked out of office and replaced that leader with someone they didn’t like.

It doesn’t require any sort of “mental gymnastics” or “guilt” or “self-loathing” to acknowledge this. Strictly speaking, it requires all three of those things to deny that this is the case.

“Hold on,” the reader may be thinking, “I don’t remember any Evangelical leaders talking about ‘mental gymnastics’ or anything like that. What are you getting at, asshole?”

At the same time, roughly, that Evangelical pastors and politicians were promoting the idea that the US had never done anything anywhere in the world ever that could possibly motivate anyone to dislike us or want to do harm to us, and that Islam was by nature evil, and every Muslim in the world supported terrorism, another philosophical/political movement was gaining steam: the “New Atheist” movement.

I don’t know who coined the term “New Atheist,” but originally the definition was, essentially, “an atheist who actively speaks out against religion.”

And I want to make it clear that I am fine with the idea of atheists who speak their mind about religion and the harm it can do. I support that fully. I support free thought, I support free speech, and I support science and reason. I agree fully that until the world stops basing its decisions on religious ideas, we’re never going to advance as a species.

And here, someone could make the obvious argument, one I have already made, that without the promise of an afterlife, the 9/11 hijackers would have been less likely to have hijacked planes and crashed them. Islam was certainly a factor.

Just like Shinto – Japan’s native religion – was certainly a factor in the phenomenon of Kamikaze pilots.

Just like Christianity – yes, Christianity – was certainly a factor in motivating Adolf Hitler to try to kill every Jewish person in the world.

Just like Buddhism – yes, Buddhism – was certainly a factor in motivating the South Vietnamese people to side with the Viet Cong.

(To explain those comparisons, “Kamikaze” translates to “divine wind” in English. Kamikaze pilots believed they were doing a divine service to their native land by giving their lives to defend it. Do a quick Google search on “religious views of Adolph Hitler” to find quotations about how he believed he was serving God by killing Jewish people. And, if you have a couple hours to kill, watch the film “Hearts and Minds” on YouTube. It’s a documentary about the Vietnam war, and one Buddhist monk states [I am paraphrasing] that as long as the US remained in Vietnam, attempting to change Vietnam to suit its own ends, the Vietnamese people would continue to fight. And indeed they did.)

And here it may appear that I am, by pointing out that religions other than Islam have played roles in various wars, siding with the New Atheists. But somewhat perplexingly, this is actually where my views and those of prominent New Atheist thinkers part ways.

For example, many New Atheists conveniently overlook the fact that the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were at least partially motivated by George W. Bush’s religious beliefs. God told him to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. Bush actually said that.

Whether he truly believed it is irrelevant. He used it to reduce a complex geopolitical conflict, one that began a long time before 9/11, to a simplistic “Islam is evil” argument that Evangelicals just ate up with a spoon. And so did, amazingly, those beacons of “science” and “reason,” the New Atheists.

Although they’ll deny it, of course. Their thinking, they will assure you, is completely and totally motivated by “reason.”

As a supporter of reason myself, I would like to say that I admire the desire to think only in terms of reason. But I would like to also state, unequivocally, that it is impossible for anyone to base every decision and every judgment call on “reason.” It is impossible. It is, indeed, a consummation devoutly to be wished, but it is not something that is possible.

The most rational person on the planet is still subject to emotion. And like it or not, “fear” is one of the most influential emotions there is. For politicians – and for that matter, for writers who wish to sell books – it is also one of the most useful.

To be sure, New Atheist writers have exposed a great deal of terrible things that happen in the Muslim world. For that reason, I salute them.

But I have to call “bullshit” on their assertion that “Islam” is the sole cause of all the problems in the Middle East. And also on their delusion that US intervention in the Middle East had nothing to do with the religious beliefs of Americans.

I salute them for elevating science and reason over superstition. But I criticize them for the simple reason that this has inadvertently led them to believe that science and reason motivates everything the US and the West does. This is just as simplistic of a worldview as the one Evangelicals promote. This worldview posits that the actual, tangible, real-life military exploits of the US and the West have no effect whatsoever on the world.

The single most common rebuttal this worldview produces, when, for example, it is pointed out that Islamist terror has actually increased since the “War on Terror” began, is that whoever points that out “hates America,” has an “anti-American bias,” or simply suffers from “guilt” or “self-loathing.”

Try to wrap your head around that: if you, an American, acknowledge that not everybody in the world loves and cherishes you simply because you are an American, it means you hate yourself. This is presented as an argument any time any Westerner critiques US and/or Western military intervention overseas.

Here’s an analogy: let’s say you’re driving your car through a residential neighborhood. You’re obeying the speed limit, you’re not intoxicated, but you happen to glance down at your phone for a second, let’s say. You don’t see the dog bounding into the street, chasing an errant tennis ball, and you run the dog over, killing it.

The owner of the dog is standing in his front yard. He saw you look down at your phone, and just for the sake of argument let’s say this person has a high-resolution security camera on the front of his house, and this camera captures not only your car running over the beloved family pet, but also you taking your eyes off the road to look down at your phone, or at any rate to look down at something in your passenger seat.

The dog owner takes you to court, presents evidence that you were negligent, shows your negligence and its bloody result, but you insist that you are innocent. You refuse to apologize or even acknowledge, despite clear evidence, that you were in any way at fault. Your defense is that the late dog’s owner simply does not like you. It isn’t anything you actually did, he’s just an asshole and he hates you because he’s an asshole. You were not at fault in any way.

This is, essentially, the common worldview shared by Evangelicals and New Atheists. That the US and the West have never ever actually done anything that people in other countries could potentially get pissed off about, and that anybody anywhere who complains about US and Western intervention is simply an irrational asshole. And also, if you happen to be an American or a Westerner, and you happen to point out that some people in other countries might not like it when the US and the West invades them, well, you hate yourself. It’s mind-boggling, the level of selective blindness involved in this worldview.

The majority of people from these two groups never interact with each other. The majority of people from these two groups think that the other is their sworn enemy. They don’t realize, for the most part, that their views on international politics line up almost perfectly. They don’t realize, for the most part, that their shared selective blindness is a direct result of their seemingly opposing philosophies.

Many Evangelicals think that the only way to end conflict in the Middle East is to either convert everyone there to Christianity, or, alternatively, to bomb the daylights out of them.

Many New Atheists think that the only way to end conflict in the Middle East is to either convince everyone there to be an atheist, or, alternatively, to bomb the daylights out of them.

Because, both groups believe, people in other countries welcome bombing raids. People in other countries are ecstatic with joy and thankfulness when the US and the West flies overhead, dropping bombs and blowing stuff up. Anyone who dislikes the US and the West for flying over their country and blowing stuff up, both groups believe, is simply either evil or else suffering from some sort of mental defect.

Think about this: how angry were you on 9/11? How great was the feeling that you had been violated, that everything you had ever known and loved was now put in danger? How much hatred did you feel toward the people who perpetrated 9/11?

I know I felt a lot. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but it certainly made me angry. I felt like the sanctity of my nation’s borders had been violated, for sure.

And that was from one single attack. It was a tragedy, I am not saying it wasn’t, don’t attempt to twist what I am saying into something it isn’t. What I want you to understand is that people in other countries do not simply welcome invasions and bombing raids as a show of good will, any more than any American welcomed 9/11. It does not require you to feel guilty to acknowledge this. It does not require you to hate yourself or hate America to acknowledge this, and it most certainly does not require any sort of “mental gymnastics” to acknowledge this.

Acknowledging that you have – even unintentionally – caused harm to someone else does not equate to “self-loathing,” no matter how many times anyone claims it does. It never has, and it never will. It is quite simply part of being a grown-up. A five-year-old might be forgiven for refusing to acknowledge that he hurt someone by pushing them down, but an adult shouldn’t be.

Let’s be adults, eh?

I hope you all have a nice day.

BLUE IS THE BEST COLOR (AND OTHER UNPROVABLE HYPOTHESES)

I suppose I spend more time than most people on social media, discussing various political and philosophical issues. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing: in addition to passing the time engaging others in dialogue, I often learn things I would not have learned otherwise. Sometimes these things change my outlook significantly. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes, well, I just have to log out of Facebook, put my Samsung Galaxy S4 away, and go find something more constructive to do with my time.

Such as writing here on my blog, I suppose. As this is only my third blog post, I hope the reader does not assume that my blog will primarily be extensions of arguments I took part in on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere. It will most certainly not be. But from time to time it will be, as I am confident blogging opportunities will occasionally make themselves apparent through my interactions on social media.

For the record, I do not intend to divulge the identity of anyone involved in these interactions, but I will give the names of published authors cited by these folks. I do not think ill of anyone I disagree with, and I hope they do not think ill of me, though I suppose they are entitled to if they so choose.

Anyways, the inspiration for this blog post came about as such: a female Facebook friend of mine – incidentally one of the most intelligent and well-educated people on my friends list; she also possesses a sharp wit and a keen sense of humor – made reference to something the late Christopher Hitchens once claimed: that women are not “as funny” as men. I believe he might have actually said women are not funny at all.

I will attempt to describe the expression on my face upon reading this: my eyebrows furrowed (not in anger but in incredulity), my bottom lip jutted out and curled up, and my jaw began involuntarily opening and closing, uncurling and recurling my bottom lip as it did so.

I thought back to all the times women (both professional comedians, actors, and women I know personally, not to mention women I know exclusively through social media) have made me laugh, and all I could think of to comment was:

“Women aren’t funny? Is that a joke?”

Someone mentioned that they agreed with the “evolutionary arguments” against women being funny, and due to my lack of vocabulary I can only tell you, the reader, that I only imagined my reaction before to be “incredulity.” If my confused, perplexed, not-believing-what-I-was-reading state of mind upon reading that women are not as funny as men could properly be called “incredulity,” my state of mind after reading that there were “evolutionary arguments” which explained why women are not as funny as men, well, again, my lack of advanced vocabulary demands that I describe my state of mind as either “incredulity in extremis” or “incredulity times ten” or something along those lines.

I commented again, asking if there were really “evolutionary arguments” that claimed to explain why women are not as funny as men, and someone replied “yes.”

As it was getting late, and as I am, in my 35th year on planet Earth, finally attempting to regulate my sleeping and waking patterns somewhat, I made a rather sarcastic comment, logged out, and went to bed, intending fully to continue the conversation in the morning.

My comment was something like this:

“That is hilarious. Heck, maybe it’s true. Men using ‘evolution’ to explain why women aren’t as funny as men…it’s pretty hard to top that!”

I logged back in this morning to find that the “evolutionary argument” regarding why women aren’t as funny as men is basically this:

“Men use humor to attract women. Men have done so for millenia. Therefore women are not as funny as men, because evolution.”

I went back and forth with these gentlemen a little, then finally had to bow out of the argument. They may have seen my exit from the argument as a victory; to that possibility I say “fair enough.” I made the points I am about to make here on my female friend’s Facebook page, and these arguments didn’t convince the people I was arguing with, so maybe they will not convince you, the reader. But anyways, here they are, in slightly expanded fashion:

Being “funny” is not something that is quantifiable. Whether a joke is “funny” or “not funny” is entirely dependent upon whether the person who hears or reads it finds humor in it. For any person who is thinking clearly (sorry for being condescending), the issue begins and ends precisely here.

Christopher Hitchens (God rest, hahahahahhaha)* did not find women to be funny. That is all that is quantifiable about any of this. He apparently debated Tina Fey and perhaps others over this issue, but ultimately the only real issue at hand was that Hitchens did not find women to be funny. Or not “as funny” as men, or whatever.

That anyone chose to “debate” this issue sorta indicates to me that maybe the whole thing was a publicity stunt of some kind. Maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that attempting to use “Men use humor to attract women” as a reason why Christopher Hitchens or anyone else does not find women to be funny is as inane as me claiming that blue is the best color of all the colors because of the sky.

I would simply have let the issue drop, and not chosen to expound on my views here in my blog, were it not that this sort of illogical thinking is widespread among people who like to pretend that their actions and thoughts are guided entirely by “science” and “reason.” But first, let me explain what I mean with regard to the issue at hand:

Hitchens’ opinion regarding whether women are funny is just that: an opinion. He attempted to justify this opinion by making the observation that since men use humor and have used humor practically forever to attract women, then that means men are funnier than women. I have to believe that his argument went a little deeper than that, but as people who take that argument seriously did not go any deeper than that in trying to convince me it was true, I see no reason to pursue the matter any further. As mentioned before, I might as well tell you blue is the best color and get angry when you disagree. The premise of the argument is based entirely upon subjective opinion. It is unprovable outside the realm of subjective opinion, therefore any argument claiming objectivity is, to put it bluntly, inane.

This sort of thing is prevalent in a field of research I have only recently learned even existed. That field is evolutionary psychology. I am not dismissive of the field altogether; some of the claims made are valid, and like any field of research I support it fully. But I do not support the erroneous and pseudoscientific claims it sometimes makes, specifically regarding feminism.

As a matter of fact, most writings I have personally read on the subject are explicitly designed to do one thing and one thing alone: to discredit feminism and feminist thinkers.

Now I am not going to sit here and tell you that every feminist thinker, author, writer, whatever in the world is a genius and all of their arguments are flawless. To assume every person in any field of academic research is above and beyond reproach is, well, stupid.

The basic arguments against feminism by evolutionary psychologists are generally no deeper than Hitchens’ argument that women aren’t funny. I invite the reader to find any that are and point them out to me. I have not seen any. What I have seen is that these arguments primarily are used to justify sexist (and occasionally racist) attitudes using “science.” Again, if anyone can show me examples where this is not the case, I invite them to do so. I am not dismissive of the field entirely, I just haven’t seen much of it that couldn’t be described as I have described it.

If one were to look at the question of whether women are funny, or as funny as men, or whatever, I think it is a bit disingenuous to pretend that “funny” or “not funny” is something that can be objectively determined. As I have already said, humor is subjective. I might think something is funny that you find offensive. Or vice-versa. All the argumentation in the world isn’t going to convince either of us that something is or isn’t funny: we either find it funny or we don’t.

Which brings me to another point I raised on Facebook, though admittedly in a more terse fashion than I am doing here: if we want to determine the psychology of why we find some things funny and other things not funny, we should examine our own psychology. We should ask, “Why didn’t Christopher Hitchens think women are funny?” We should also ask, with regard to psychology, “Why did Christopher Hitchens feel it necessary to justify the fact that he didn’t find women to be funny through pseudoscientific posturing?”

The answers to those questions point to fairly obvious conclusions. To ignore those conclusions, and furthermore to not even ask those questions, is the epitome of unscientific thought. It borders on idolatry and dogma. As do many opinions put forth as “scientific fact.”

I was told that I was incorrect in my assertion that women are actually as funny as men, because millennia of men attracting women through humor proved it. It was in women’s DNA, I was told, the reason that they are not as funny as men.

Which let’s think about that for a second: “Women are not funny because of their DNA.” Let’s take that argument to a logical extension: “It isn’t that I simply don’t find women to be funny, everyone who finds women to be funny is wrong, because it is in women’s DNA to not be funny.”

If you are furrowing your eyebrows and involuntarily working your jaw with incredulity, know that you are not the only one who has done so. This argument is, in a word, inane. It is a perfect example of projection: it allows the person using it to blame their own inhibitions on other people.

To explain what I mean by that, let me point out that yes, there are a great many more male comedians than female ones. This has been the case since “comedians” became a thing, I am willing to bet. And just for the sake of argument, let’s say that there actually might be an “evolutionary” reason for this.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason has something to do with the fact that until fairly recently, women were not even considered to be actually people. This is still the case in a considerable part of the world. Women in the USA were not even allowed to vote until 1920.

“Evolutionary psychology,” at least in my very limited reading of it, does not take one irrefutable “evolutionary” fact into account: women, historically, were reduced to second-class citizens by virtue of the fact that men were able to physically dominate them. To say “women aren’t funny because of their DNA” ignores the fact that women were not allowed to speak their minds, much less be comedians that told dirty jokes, until fairly recently. It is my opinion, one I do not anticipate anyone will be able to change argumentatively, that the reason Hitchens didn’t find women funny was because he was uncomfortable with the idea that men and women are — or at least should be treated as — equals. In short, assuming his proclamation that women aren’t funny wasn’t a joke or publicity stunt of some sort, it should be obvious that this is only his opinion, and while that opinion may or may not have been sexist, his attempt to justify it using “science” most certainly was. May his sexist ass rest in peace.

To say that women aren’t funny because of their DNA is projection, plain and simple. It is attempting to justify the fact that you (if you agree with Hitchens) are uncomfortable with women who do not adhere strictly to the gender roles you have assigned to them in your mind. You are (if you agree with Hitchens) blaming your hangups on the people your hangups adversely affect. You are projecting.

I hope I do not drive anyone to fury by pointing this blatantly obvious fact out. But if I do, so be it. This is how people learn things. If you can prove me wrong, please do so.

At any rate, I hope you all have a nice day.

*Yes, as Hitchens was a prominent atheist writer, “God rest” is a joke, one I find immensely funny. However, if you don’t find it as gut-bustingly hilarious as I do, I promise not to attempt to convince you it is funny by using “science.”

To The Trump Supporter

I watched most of the Trump rally last night on CNN, and something became painfully apparent to me.

Before I tell what that something is, I want to first say that I am not trying to run anybody down. If you like Donald Trump, that’s your business. I can think of about a million reasons why you shouldn’t like him, but instead of making a long list of things that aren’t going to convince you of anything anyway, I am just going to point out one thing about last night’s Trump rally. Specifically about Trump’s speech at the rally.

Though Trump talked for what seemed like an eternity — the crowd cheering when he mentioned people they liked and booing when he mentioned people they didn’t like — he did not once actually mention anything about actual policy he plans to enact if he’s elected.

I take that back: he mentioned something about his idiotic “build a wall” plan to secure the Mexican border. Oh, and he mentioned that he would have a really nice, luxurious door for all of the legal immigrants to come through.

Other than that, the rest of Trump’s speech was simply him talking about how popular he is. He mentioned his reality show “The Apprentice” several times. He talked about how news outlets talked about how other candidates (such as Ben Carson) were “surging” in the polls, and even though he (Trump) was much more popular than he was, news outlets didn’t say he was “surging.”

The vast majority of the speech was eerily reminiscent of self-aggrandizing, crowd-manipulating speeches given by pro wrestlers and pro wrestling promoters. You know, where the guy would come out, talk about how cool he is, run down a few rivals (“I’m not allowed to say their names. Can I say their names?”), and get the crowd whipped up into a frenzy?

That’s what the Trump rally was. It was not a legitimate Presidential candidate telling about his plans to improve the country. It was a celebrity bragging about his own popularity. It may as well have been a WWE event, no disrespect intended to the WWE.

There was no substance whatsoever. No concrete plans for anything. Oh, and when he mentioned how those “hedge fund guys” would be paying “their fair share” if he got elected? Did you notice that he didn’t mention what “their fair share” is? Do you realize that Trump is infamous for running businesses into the ground, manipulating bankruptcy laws, and coming out financially ahead? Do you honestly think he’s going to go after the dishonest types of people who HELPED HIM STAY RICH?

Of course he isn’t. He has no intention whatsoever to punish high-level economic corruption. Trump is the poster boy for high-level economic corruption. He appeals to working-class white voters for three simple reasons: he is white, he is a loudmouth, and he is a TV star. Nothing he has done in the business world or on the reality TV circuit qualifies him to be president.

He is entertaining. He makes vague promises about making the country “better,” of making the country “strong again,” and this appeals to white, working-class voters because they are still under the horribly mistaken impression that the country has not been steadily improving since Barack Obama took office in 2009. The USA, domestically and abroad, has seen a dramatic upswing during the Obama administration. If you, the Trump supporter, do not believe me, do a Google search on the US economy. Do a Google search on job growth.

Hell, do a Google search on deportation levels. The Obama administration has deported a record number of illegal immigrants over the past few years. That should appeal to any rational person who thinks illegal immigration is a problem in the USA.

Of course, if you think “a big wall” with “a luxurious door” is a solution to any problem, you’re probably not thinking rationally to begin with.

Anyways, to the Trump supporter: next time Trump gives a speech, try not to get swept up in the excitement, or whatever it is that he inspires in you. Try your hardest to see if he is giving any concrete plans about what he will do as president, or if he’s just standing in the ring with a microphone, riling the crowd up, a la Vince McMahon of the WWE.

And if this post inspires you to actually look at Trump with a critical eye, and if looking at him critically makes you figure out that you’ve been manipulated — not only by him but by the party he (ostensibly) represents — well, put your new knowledge to good use: vote Democrat.

And do not — repeat DO NOT — attend a Trump rally, run down to the podium, and whack him over the head with a folding chair. I know it’s tempting, but even though Trump is attempting to turn American politics into something akin to pro wrestling, well, just do your best to contain the urge to help him do so.

New 9/11 Conspiracy Theory (that has as much basis in reality as all the other ones)

Osama Bin Laden was, in the early 1980s, an obsessive Wham! fan. When Wham! broke up in 1986, Bin Laden became deeply disillusioned with the world, particularly the western world. Despite his being a member of a very wealthy Saudi family, the breakup of Wham! solidified Bin Laden’s latent convictions that the west was evil, selfish, and who did they think they were, anyway, leaving the best dance-pop group ever to pursue a solo career?

Osama Bin Laden, following his post-Wham! breakup disillusionment, turned to religion, specifically an anti-west brand of radical Islam. Somewhat coincidentally — it is unclear whether Bin Laden ever sent fan mail or other correspondence to either Andrew Ridgeley or George Michael prior to 1990 — George Michael’s debut album “Faith” was released in 1987, one year before Bin Laden’s “faith” prompted him to form Al-Qaeda.

George W. Bush was widely criticized by many following his simplistic public statement following 9/11, that “the terrorists hate our freedom.” This was considered a grossly oversimplified explanation for Al-Qaeda’s motivation for the attack by many, namely those people who understand that the Middle East is not just one big country, but what these smarty-pants libtards failed to realize is that Dubya was quoting Osama Bin Laden almost directly in that statement. It was just a fairly dated quote:

In 1990, following the release of George Michael’s second album, “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1”, Bin Laden — who had hoped that such a “lame” and “dumb” album as “Faith” would prompt George Michael to ditch his “stupid” solo career and rejoin Andrew Ridgeley in Wham! — wrote an angry letter to George Michael which contained the sentence “I HATE YOUR FREEDOM” in all caps. This letter was intercepted by the government, as by this time Bin Laden was making a name for himself as a radical Islamist, and for reasons unknown, the connection was only made over a decade later that Bin Laden had been talking about the song “Freedom ’90” from the aforementioned album, and not “freedom” in general. This was discovered after the rest of the letter was reread: Bin Laden had mentioned in the letter that he felt the lyric “all we have to see/is that I don’t belong to you, and you don’t belong to me” went against his radical interpretation of Islam, which says that wives are in fact the property of their husbands.

Also, none of this is true. I am making fun of conspiracy theorists.

Hopefully you realized that from the outset.