PSYCHOCONTEXTUAL STASIS…OR SOMETHING

(The following is another “note” from my personal Facebook page, one I wrote in June of 2015 after randomly coming across this article online. Suffice it to say I had been reading a good bit of David Foster Wallace at the time. — MNW)

As the woman featured in the article says, it is not unusual for a person’s appearance to change significantly between the ages of 16 and 27.

But because she was a well-known character (apparently) in a well-known movie (or series of movies; I have never seen any of the movies from the series in question, so I don’t know if she was in one or more than one of said movies), her physical appearance, at least as it appears to be to all of the fans of this movie (or series of movies) has (had?) attained a sort of psychocontextual stasis in the minds and/or collective unconscious of the fans of the movie and/or series of movies in which this woman played what I assume to be a significant role. As I mentioned I have never seen any of the movies in this series, other than a few minutes here or there when this or that (and it seems like maybe more than one at a time) cable network(s) was/were showing movies from the series in question. And I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what was going on in these few minutes I saw, but to be fair I kinda got the impression that if I had read the books this series was based on, these nonsensical few minutes I had seen might have made sense, if only in an overly contrived and (at least to me, remember what opinions are like) uninteresting sort of way.

This woman — who like all of us is a biological entity which ages and changes over time — was associated with a character from a movie (etc.) that has become ingrained into the minds and/or collective unconscious of a significant percentage of the general population. This significant percentage of the general population, however, has a static (in that their only identification with this woman is limited to however much screen time she was given in the series in question, etc.) mental image of this woman, one which is not realistic, considering that the image or visage or whatever of this woman changes not only over the period between ages 16 and 27, but also on a daily basis, often fluctuating between opposites with regard to this or that physical trait.

This fluctuation is not gender-specific or even species-specific. Men also change in appearance over intervals of time, as do all other animals, as do all other plants, as do all other living things.

So it may or may not be expected, within the conscious and/or subconscious mind of a moderately evolved and therefore self-aware organism, that a psychocontextual (I just made that word up, as far as I know) sort of “stasis” might be something to be desired.

Like how a photograph — even a duckface selfie — which captures and holds the image of a self-aware organism in a digitally encoded image file, one that can be retrieved later and looked upon as a yardstick of progress, or proof of success, or growth (in either the “physical changes that occur between the ages of 16 and 27” or “I was not as good of a person then that I am now” or vice-versa or in any other sense) is really just a representation of one temporally frozen (“static”) moment, but somehow it acquires a psychocontextual life of its own, in the form of memories associated with it.

“I was never happier than I was in this picture.”

“This picture was taken during a very dark period in my life.”

“I can’t believe I paid money for that shirt.”

Et cetera ad infinitum.

We want to hold on to things we love.

Such as the character this woman portrayed.

Why is “The Internet Going Crazy” over what this woman looks like now?

Because to the internet, this woman is not a biological organism subject to the everyday changes biological organisms undergo, to the internet, this woman is a series of images, quotes, and interviews and whatnot.

Seeing her appearance change, such as it did — even though this change is not in any way unusual for any biological organism to undergo over the course of eleven years — creates cognitive dissonance in the minds of the people who recognize (or apparently don’t recognize) this woman from her appearances in the series of movies mentioned earlier.

What do you think? Is psychocontextual stasis something to be desired, or something to be avoided?

 

A: that is something to be desired

B: that is something to be avoided

C: it may be necessary to strike a balance between “psychocontextual stasis” and its opposite, whatever you want to call it

D: I don’t understand the question

E: get out of here with that, who the hell cares?

 

“CUCKOO, CUCKOO”

(The following is another “note” I originally posted on my Facebook page in June of 2015. I do not own the copyright to the Buddhist text transcribed here, I just like it a whole lot and want other people to read it. If the copyright holder would like for me to remove this post, I will do so post-haste.  — MNW)

I posted a while back that there were only two philosophers that I had any interest in. Those two philosophers, I said, are Socrates and Nietzsche. The reason these are the only two philosophers that I am interested in, I said, was that their philosophies were not based in proclaiming what is moral and what isn’t, and that sort of thing, their philosophies are based in questioning things.

The Socratic Method is essentially asking every question you can think of, and then questioning the answers you are given, and then questioning the answers of those questions, and so on, until the person you are questioning sees that their argument isn’t as rock solid as they thought it was.

Similarly, Nietzsche’s “Philosophy of the Hammer” expounded upon in “Twilight of the Idols” set out to figuratively smash to bits every philosophy Nietzsche had ever encountered. And I don’t remember exactly how this was put in that book, but Nietzsche invited readers to figuratively smash his philosophy to bits as well.

This sort of approach is basically the approach I take toward everything. I apologize to anyone out there in Facebook land who may have been offended by that. I mean well, I promise, no matter how annoying I get.

Anyways, I am not really here to talk about that, I am here to say that my earlier claim that Socrates and Nietzsche were the only philosophers I had any interest in was not entirely true. Those two are merely the only two philosophers one is likely to encounter in a philosophy class, or at least one that focuses on western philosophers.

I like Jesus’ philosophy a whole lot, for example. If everybody – heck, if every Christian – took “Love thy neighbor as thyself” seriously and applied it in their day to day lives, the world would be a much better place. The same goes for the Sermon on the Mount…except for that bit at the end about giving a divorced woman a “certificate of divorce” while the man doesn’t have to have one. That’s sexist as hell, and reflective of either Jewish or Roman law at the time, most likely. At any rate, if you ignore that part, there’s some excellent stuff there.

I also like some Hindu philosophy. The idea “brahman is all, and all is brahman” is pretty cool, I think. I read this in the Upanishads a few years ago, and it’s basically saying that all things are connected, from the sun in the sky to the ground under your feet. It may be a stretch, but I think it’s kinda cool that here and now, a few thousand years after the Upanishads were written, we now know that everything in the known universe is in fact constructed out of the same set of elements. The Bhagavad-gita is also pretty cool, if you don’t take it too literally.

I am also a big fan of Taoist philosophy. Prior to my finding out that actual Taoists in China have a whole system of saints and sages they pray to – which is much more similar to the Catholic system of saints than you may realize – I actually considered myself a “Taoist.” (Pausing for you to get that chuckle out. Feel better? Great.) I am a huge fan of Lao Tzu, especially the Tao Te Ching. It’s like every philosophy I have ever read, distilled down to short little passages. Chuang Tzu is another Taoist philosopher I like a lot, though I haven’t read much of his writings.

I also like Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) a lot. I do my best to adhere to it…but nobody’s perfect. I don’t physically abuse anyone, but harsh words can also be a form of violence, and for a person such as myself who spends a decent amount of time discussing things and arguing online, it is sometimes hard not to just say “OH MY GOD YOU ARE STUPID YOU STUPID STUPID IDIOT” or something.

(By the way, sometimes that’s all you can say. I am not trying to act holier than thou toward anybody here, I am just blathering about my own personal philosophy and philosophers I like. Feel free to apply Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Hammer to any and all of this. Pick my philosophy to pieces, smash the idols I am presenting to you. I want you to, believe it or not.)

I also like Buddhist philosophy a lot. Anyone who peruses my “notes” should see this easily. I can’t really explain it to you, but whenever I am feeling low, reading Dogen’s “Mountains and Waters Sutra” makes me feel better. It may read as absurd nonsense to you, with its talk of how dragons see water and how there are mountains in mountains, but it usually brings me out of a funk when I am in one.

Anyhoo, the reason I am writing this is to share another bit of Buddhist philosophy with you all. I first read this in a Penguin Classics book called “Buddhist Scriptures” that was given to me by my very good friend Derek Jackson. It’s all or part of something called “The Buddha’s Law Among The Birds,” or Bya Chos, but I am not sure of the language it was originally written in.

Before I post it, I would like to point out why I think “demons” are mentioned in the intro. It isn’t because reading this will turn you into a demon or anything, it is simply reflective of Buddhism’s all-inclusive nature. In other words, the dharma is for demons, too. If demons learned the dharma, Buddhists might think, demons would cease doing demon-y things. There are figures in Buddhist mythology called Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are beings that could have already achieved Buddha-hood, which is supreme enlightenment and freedom from the cycle of rebirth, but who chose to return to Samsara, the world of desire and suffering that we all live in now. The Bodhisattvas, so the myth goes, returned to Samsara in order to bring more people toward enlightenment. One Bodhisattva legend I read was about a fellow who willingly went through all the hells in Buddhist mythology, just to try and save the souls suffering there. “I will not accept Buddha-hood until all the hells are empty,” this person said, in the myth or legend or whatever you call it.

You don’t have to literally believe any of that, by the way. I don’t, and I am not asking anyone else to. But I would be lying if I said Buddhist philosophy hasn’t had a positive influence on my life. And what I am about to share had a pretty big impact on me when I first read it, make fun of me if you want to. It won’t hurt my feelings.

And one more thing: don’t read this and think it’s just being pessimistic. “Pitiful” does not necessarily imply anything negative. The point of this – at least my reading of it – is to instill compassion in the reader.

I betcha never thought a bird might pity you…it’s possible, eh?

* * *

The Lord Buddha has said:

IN THE LANGUAGE OF ANGELS, OF SERPENTS, OF FAIRIES, IN THE SPEECH OF DEMONS, THE TALK OF THE HUMANS, IN THEM ALL I’VE EXPOUNDED THE DHARMA’S DEEP TEACHINGS

AND IN ANY TONGUE

THAT A BEING MIGHT GRASP THEM.

In order to teach the Dharma unto the feathered folk, the holy Lord Avalokita, who had transformed himself into a Cuckoo, the great king of the birds, sat for many years day and night under a large sandalwood tree, immobile and in perfect trance.

One day Master Parrot came before the Great Bird, and addressed him, saying:

Greetings, O great and noble bird! For one whole year, until to-day, You’ve sat there crouching, motionless, In the cool shade of a Santal tree. So silent, dumb and speechless; Does something anger or disturb your heart? When, O Great Bird, your trance has ended, Will you accept these seeds, the fine quintessence of all food?

And thus replied the Great Bird:

Listen then, O parrot skilled in speech! I have surveyed this ocean of Samsara, And I have found nothing substantial in it. Down to the very last, I saw the generations die, They killed for food and drink – how pitiful! I saw the strongholds fall, even the newest, The work of earth and stones consumed – how pitiful! Foes will take away the hoarded spoils to the very last, Oh, to have gathered this wealth, and hidden it – how pitiful! Closest friends will be parted, down to the very last,

Oh to have formed those living thoughts of affection – how pitiful! Sons will side with the enemy – even to the youngest,

Oh to have given that care to those who were born of one’s body – how pitiful! Relatives united and intimate friends, Children reared, and riches stored, All are impermanent, like an illusion, And nothing substantial is found in them. My mind has now forsaken all activity. So that I may keep constant to my vows. Here, in the cool shade of a santal tree I dwell in solitude and silence,

In trance I meditate, from all distractions far removed. Go thou – repeat this speech of mine

To all large birds, and to all feathered creatures!

The Parrot, skilled in speech, then rose from the middle of the ranks, and, swaying like a bamboo hurdle, saluted three times and spoke as follows:

Greetings, you great and noble bird!

Though you are weary and disgusted with Samsara, We beg you, give a little thought to us! Ignorant and deluded creatures that we are; The effects of many misdeeds in our past Have tied us to this suffering, bound us, chained us. We beg of you the good Dharma freeing us from suffering, We beg the light dispelling all our ignorance,

We beg from you the Dharma – the cure of all defilements, Birds of every kind assembled here,

We beg of you the good Dharma that we may ponder on it.

The Great Bird then spoke again as follows:

Smoke a sign of fire is,

The Southern cloud a sign of rain. The little child will be a man, The foal a stallion one day.

Deep thinking about death will lead to the unique and worthy Dharma. The rejection of attachment to the wheel of Samsara, the belief in the retribution of all deeds; mindfulness of the impermanence and mortality of this life – these are signs that we approach the unique, worthy Dharma. O Birds assembled here, is there anything of this nature in your minds? Tell me then your thoughts!

Thereupon the Golden Goose rose, shook his wings three times, and said: “nan stud nan stud,” which means “that prolongs the bondage, that prolongs the bondage.”

To remain from birth to death without the Good Law – that prolongs the bondage. To desire emancipation, and still deserve a state of woe – that prolongs the bondage. To hope for miraculous blessings, and still have wrong opinions – that prolongs the bondage. To neglect those things that turn the mind towards salvation – that prolongs the bondage. To give and yet be checked by meanness – that prolongs the bondage.

To aim at lasting achievements while still exposed to this world’s distractions – that prolongs the bondage.

To try to understand one’s inner mind while still chained to hopes and fears – that prolongs the bondage.

All you who thus prolong your bondage within this ocean of suffering, Try to grasp the meaning of my words, for they will shorten your bondage.

Thereupon the Raven with his great wings rose, made a few sideways steps, and said “grogs yon grogs yon,” which means “help will come, help will come.”

When you have been true to your vows, help will come in the form of a happy life among men. When you have given gifts, help will come in the form of future wealth.

When you have performed the acts of worship, help will come from the guardian angels.

When your solemn promises are made in all good faith, help will come from the love of the fairies. When you are alert at the sacrificial festivals, help will come from the Guardians of the Dharma. When in this life you learn to enter into higher meditation, help will come from the future Buddha. Learn therefore to gain these virtues, for help comes through them.

Thereupon the Cock, the domestic bird, rose, flapped his wings three times, and said “e go e go,” which means, “do you understand that? Do you understand that?”

Whilst you live in this samsaric world, no lasting happiness can be yours – do you understand that? To the performance of worldy actions there is no end – do you understand that? In flesh and blood there is no permanence – do you understand that?

The presence, at all times, of Mara, the Lord of Death – do you understand that? Even the rich man, when he is laid low, departs alone – do you understand that? He has no strength to take the wealth he gathered – do you understand that? Our bodies, so dear to us, will feed the birds and dogs – do you understand that? Wherever the mind may go, it cannot control its fate – do you understand that? We are bound to lose those we love and trust – do you understand that? Punishment follows the evil we do – do you understand that? Wherever one looks, nothing is there substantial – do you understand that?

Then from the centre of the ranks rose the Parrot, skilled in speech, and said:

Listen, you beings of this samsaric world:

What you desire is happiness, what you find is grief.

While you inhabit a state of woe, salvation is not yet at hand. Thinking on this must make me sad.

I now recall the good, the unique Law;

Hear it, you denizens of this samsaric world, Perennial for time without beginning. Because its benefits are so immense, Let us here recall that unique Dharma: ‘These ills in our state of woe are but the fruits of evil deeds, The karmic outcome of your own accumulated acts; For you and only you could make them.’

So now strip off the veil that clouds your thoughts: This life, like dew on grass, is but impermanent, And your remaining here for ever out of question. So here and now, think on these things, and make your effort! ‘The pain from heat and cold in hell

the hunger and the thirst which Pretas feel,

All are the fruits of evil deeds.’ So has the Muni spoken. Here, from within my heart, I make the vow To shun all evil – to achieve the good. From deep within my heart I seek my refuge In the Three Treasures ever changeless, Never failing, never fading,

Our precious ally through the whole of time.

In my mind, now free from doubt, is faith established. Resolved to know the holy Dharma,

I now reject all things in this samsaric world. And so, you great and noble bird, We, this assembly, beg you grant us Your esteemed instruction, teach us to understand the nature of all life!

So he spoke, and made three salutations.

Thereupon the Cuckoo, the Great Bird, spoke as follows:

Birds, large and small assembled here, well have you understood. In all the speeches you have made not one has denied the truth. Well have you spoken, well indeed! With undistracted mind keep well these words within your hearts. And so, O birds assembled here, the large birds and also the youngsters lucky to be here, hear me with reverence and attention!

The things of this samsaric world are all illusion, like a dream. Where’er one looks, where is their substance? Palaces built of earth and stone and wood, Wealthy men endowed with food and dress and finery, Legions of retainers who throng round the mighty – These are like castles in the air, like rainbows in the sky. And how deluded those who think of this as truth! When uncles – nephews – brothers – sisters gather as kindred do, When couples and children gather as families do,

When friends and neighbours gather in good fellowship –

These are like meetings of dream friends, like travellers sharing food with strangers. And how deluded those who think of this as truth!

This phantom body grown in uterine water from a union of seed and blood – Our habitual passions springing from the bad deeds of our past, Our thoughts provoked by divers apparitions –

All are like flowers in autumn, clouds across the sky.

How deluded, O assembled birds, if you have thought of them as permanent. The splendid plumage of the peacock with its many hues,

Our melodious words in which notes high and low are mingled,

The link of causes and effects which now have brought us here together – They are like the sound of echoes, the sport of a game of illusion. Meditate on this illusion, do not seize on them as truth! Mists on a lake, clouds across a southern sky, Spray blown by wind above the sea, Lush fruits ripened by the summer sun – In permanence they cannot last; in a trice they separate and fall away. Meditate on their illusion, do not think of them as permanent!

When he finished speaking, the birds all rose with joy, danced a while through the air, and sang their songs.

“Happiness be yours and gladness too – may you prosper!” said the Great Bird, happy that he had come there. “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” he sang, “the light shed by the Dharma of the Birds brings me happiness. In joy and gladness leap and sway together in this graceful dance! Sing your songs and may you thrive!”

“May you prosper, may you prosper,” he said, happy to be in that plentiful land. “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” he sang, “I am happy because the essence of the Dharma of the Birds has enriched you. In joy and gladness leap and sway together in this graceful dance! Sing your songs, and may you thrive!”

“Cu ci, ci ci,” he said, glad that all these hosts of birds had come together. “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” he sang, “I am happy because I could give you the Dharma of the Birds. In joy and gladness leap and sway together in this graceful dance! Sing your songs, and may you thrive! Sing your happy songs which carry far! Dance your greatly joyful dance! Now you have won your hearts’ desire.”

All the birds sang happy songs, leapt up and danced with gladness, and wished each other good fortune and abounding joy. They then accompanied the Great Bird for one whole day, and the great bird without mishap returned to India. On their way back, the birds of Tibet slept all together under a tree. The next day, when the sun of Jambudvipa arose, thrice they circled the tree where they had met, exchanged their hopes for another such joyful meeting, and each one, satisfied, returned on wings to his dwelling place.

 

“IDENTITY POLITICS” — A TRAGICOMEDY COMING SOON TO AN ECHO CHAMBER NEAR YOU

IDENTITY POLITICS

________________________

                            A play in one act

                            by

                            Michael Nathan Walker

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016, by Michael Nathan Walker

 

 

 

DRAMATIS PERSONAE
 

Kris Anyoneson:                             A Person
Pat Quicumque:                              A Person

 

 

 

Scene
Literally anywhere in the world.

Time
The present.

 

 

ACT I
 

Scene 1
 

SETTING: The setting of this brief tragicomedy is not static; this aspect of the production is left entirely up to the director and/or production designer. Mise-en-scène and costume design are intended to reflect the local customs of wherever the play is being performed in a noncommittal, generic sort of way. Literally any place where two persons might speak to each other is acceptable, and creativity in this regard is encouraged.

AT RISE: KRIS ANYONESON and PAT QUICUMQUE are both at center stage, perhaps waiting for a bus, perhaps sitting on a bench, perhaps standing, perhaps sitting at a table in a restaurant facing each other, perhaps sitting at a table in one of their homes facing each other, perhaps standing and facing each other, perhaps sitting on a couch next to each other; this aspect of the production is also left entirely up to the director and/or production designer, and creativity in this regard is encouraged.

KRIS
So, have you given much thought to the upcoming election?

PAT
Yes, I have.

KRIS
Me, too. I think I am going to vote for H. Sapienza. Sapienza’s policies are agreeable to me personally, and they reflect the worldview I have developed for myself. I think my worldview is a pretty reasonable one, and therefore I want to vote for someone who reflects my own worldview and promotes the ideas I believe in.

PAT
You poor deluded fool! Your political opinion is incredibly self-centered. I don’t mean to be condescending, but your choice of candidate reflects very poorly on you as a human being.

KRIS
Luckily for you, I am not the type of person who takes offense easily, Pat. You may not have intended to sound condescending with your previous statement, nonetheless it could easily be interpreted by a reasonable person as not only condescending but downright insulting. But being that we are friends, I will refrain from responding in kind and ask you to clarify your position.

PAT
I apologize, Kris! I did not mean to come across the way I apparently came across! It’s just that matters such as these are important, and I feel compelled to speak of them in terms which reflect this importance! Please accept my apology!

KRIS
Apology accepted. Now please, explain your position.

PAT
But of course. When people base their voting decisions upon their personal worldview, they are harming society as a whole. They are putting their own personal interests above and beyond the greater good.

KRIS
The greater good, you say?

PAT
Yes, my friend, the greater good. That which benefits everyone, that which rises above the petty concerns of individuals and benefits society as a whole.

KRIS
Interesting.

PAT
Oh, it’s much more than interesting, my friend, it’s essential! We must stop thinking of ourselves as individuals, and start thinking collectively! We must make sacrifices in order to benefit everyone equally!

KRIS
That certainly sounds reasonable.

PAT
Reasonable, indeed! Now do you see the folly of your worldview, you poor, deluded soul?

KRIS
Well, no. No, I don’t. And honestly, I am having a hard time believing that you are not trying to sound condescending.

PAT
Again, I apologize! But as I mentioned before, these matters are too important to act blasé about them! We shouldn’t sink to the level of the animal and base our decisions on creature comforts alone…

KRIS
Alright, that’s enough of that. I have listened to your point of view, the least you can do is listen to mine.

PAT
No need to be rude about it, my friend. Please, state your case.

KRIS
Well, Pat, I didn’t just wake up one morning with my own personal worldview. It’s something I have developed over many years, through many long hours of study and personal reflection. And frankly, I resent your implication that this worldview is somehow shallow and deluded.

PAT
I didn’t mean to be insulting, Kris.

KRIS
Right. You keep saying that, so you obviously believe it to be true.

PAT
Obviously. I just think you should be less self-centered when it comes to your political views.

KRIS
OK.

PAT
You should think of the greater good, what is best for the most people, when you choose a candidate.

KRIS
I suppose it’s hard to argue with that.

PAT
Indeed it is, my friend, indeed it is.

KRIS
Indeed. I just have one question for you, Pat. Who gets to decide what constitutes the greater good? Where should I go to find out what the greater good actually consists of? Who should advise me on how to act on behalf of the greater good?

PAT
Well, Kris, I’ll tell you what I think:

 

(CURTAIN)

11/13/99

(The following was originally posted to my personal Facebook page as a “note” on April 29, 2015, a few months before this blog was started. It was written in response to inflammatory language being used to describe people protesting several controversial legal decisions involving US citizens who were killed by police. I am reposting it here because it’s still relevant, and for ease of access. Because while I hope there will be no more incidents like the ones that inspired this post, well…let’s just say I hope I never have occasion to share this again. — MNW)

The year was 1999. The date was Saturday, November 13. I was a sophomore at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The Razorback football team was playing the much more highly ranked Tennessee Volunteers at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. I had student tickets for every home game (they were sold in a little booklet before the season started, and it seems like each ticket was a dollar apiece), and even though I was fairly certain the Hogs were going to get creamed by Tennessee, I wanted to walk the couple hundred yards down to the stadium from my dorm and watch the game.

But I had a part time job, and I had to work that day. I considered blowing work off, and a couple friends encouraged me to blow it off, but I decided to go to my job and work. As I said, I figured the Hogs were going to get beaten, anyway.

So I went to work. I was a cashier at a fairly large retail store across town from the U of A campus.

But this particular Saturday, for whatever reason, there were a whole lot of cashiers scheduled to work, and nobody collecting shopping carts from the parking lot.

Maybe the cart pushers skipped work to watch the game. I dunno.

At any rate, I wasn’t on a register that afternoon and evening, I was pushing carts.

And as an aside, next time you’re at a big retail store with a huge parking lot, for the love of all that’s decent, park your flipping shopping cart in a flipping cart corral. Pushing carts is a hard enough job without having to walk all over the place collecting carts people were too flipping lazy to flipping push fifty flipping feet to a flipping cart corral. But I flipping digress.

And after a few hours of pushing carts past impatient drivers and people standing in the way for no reason and that sort of thing, I got to thinking “I took a job as a cashier. I didn’t sign up for this crap” and whatnot. And after I got off work a few hours later, sweaty and worn out from performing a job I did not sign up for, I was roundly pissed off and ready to go to bed. My only solace was that somehow the Hogs had upset Tennessee 28-24.

And so I went back to campus, parking like a half mile or so from my dorm, slogged back up the hill to Yocum Strokem, and went up to my room.

The exact details of this evening aren’t clear, but some time after I got back to the dorm, maybe even the next morning, my roommate and other friends from my wing of the dorm started telling me about the celebration I had missed out on.

After the clock ran out, after the Hogs won a game nobody expected them to win, fans rushed the field and tore down both goalposts. The goalposts were then carried to Dickson Street (an area just off campus with bars and restaurants and places like that), where they were propped up and climbed on and photographed and people just got drunk as hell and had a big ole time until the wee hours of the morning.

Me, I was sleeping in my dorm room, aching from pushing flipping shopping carts all day.

Before I get to the quasi-political point I am going to make with all this, I would like to say, unequivocally, that going to work that one Saturday is one of my biggest regrets in life. It’s one of those “if I had a time machine” moments, no doubt. I don’t hold anything against anybody who took part in those celebrations, I would have been right there with you, had I not been pushing flipping shopping carts all flipping day.

But having pushed said shopping carts in lieu of watching a football game and tearing down goalposts and carrying them off gives me a nitpicky little advantage regarding recent events that I am positive will make at least a few people mad at me:

I can say, with a totally clear conscience, that I have never participated in a riot of any sort.

Before anybody starts cussing at me, let me remind you that this was a riot I would have taken part in, had I not been pushing shopping carts on the other side of town. I don’t hold anything against anybody for having taken part in this riot; actually I am sorta jealous of the people who did.

Take away all your misty watercolor memories of those golden college years, take away how much fun you had that day, take away all that sort of stuff. What happened that Saturday in November of 1999, there in Fayetteville?

A mob of people (many of whom were intoxicated) destroyed public (or at least university) property and created a public nuisance until the wee hours of the morning.

And why? Because a football team won a football game nobody thought they would win.

Sure, nobody got killed, and I am confident at least a few people got arrested for public intox and/or being a minor in possession of alcohol; sure, there have been riots after other sporting events that caused way more damage…

But a riot is a riot. And if you find it morally acceptable for sports fans to destroy property after a sporting event (this happens when home teams win and when they lose), but somehow find rioting after controversial legal decisions and/or killing of citizens by police morally abhorrent…

Do you see my point?

I am not talking to any one person or group of people. I am talking to everyone.

And just to remind you, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, if I had a time machine, and I could go back to November 13, 1999, I would totally blow off work and probably spend the night in the drunk tank after climbing up a stolen goal post down on Dickson Street. I’m not saying anybody was wrong or immoral for taking part in that, I would have, too, if I hadn’t had to work that day.

Anyways…

ECHO CHAMBERS (AND HOW TO BREAK OUT OF THEM)

SOMEWHERE ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

A: “Hi everyone. I am a member of (minority group). I would like to talk about my experiences as a member of (minority group). I would like to hear about the experiences of other members of (minority group).”

B: “Hi, A. I am B. I am also a member of (minority group). My experience has been [etc].”

C: “Hey guys, I am also a member of (minority group). My experience has been [etc].”

D: “I am not a member of (minority group), but I can tell you: you guys have got it all wrong!”

A: “Excuse me, D, um, you’re not really adding anything to this conversation. You don’t really know what it’s like to be a member of (minority group), so don’t pretend like you do. If you’d like to listen to us, that’s fine. We encourage that, actually, but please refrain from making comments that don’t further the discussion.”

D: “OMG you are racist! You hate (majority group)! I can’t believe you are treating me this way! I was just trying to say that people in (minority group) and people in (majority group) are exactly the same, and so are their experiences! There is no difference! My experience of life is exactly like everyone else’s, even people who are different than me!”

A: “Maybe if you’d just shut up and listen to us, you’d see that there are in fact differences in the experiences of people from (minority group) and people from (majority group). I agree, people are all basically the same, but our experiences aren’t.”

D: “I can’t believe how terribly you’re treating me! How dare you have a conversation where I am not the center of attention! You are a racist! I am appalled!”

B: “A, please block this person, so we can continue our conversation.”

C: “Yeah, as long as D is here, we’re not getting anywhere.”

D: “I am being discriminated against because I am a member of (majority group)! OMG I can’t believe you guys! You are such hypocrites!”

A: “…and blocked.”

B: “Good.”

C: “Great.”

 

D, enraged and genuinely offended, takes his imagined mistreatment to his own forum:

D: “OMG you guys! Seriously! (Minority group) is racist! They wouldn’t let me in their discussion about what it’s like to be a member of (minority group), and I was totally trying to contribute to the conversation you guys!”

E: “Typical. They talk about ‘discrimination’ and then discriminate against us. Hypocrites!”

F: “Hurr durr shoulda gave a trigger warning!”

G: “You invaded their ‘safe space’, huh huh.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

G: “Hahahahaha that is so sweet!”

H: “Um, guys, I read that conversation, and D was kinda, well, being a dick. D just kinda butted in with something that didn’t have anything to do with what they were talking about, then wouldn’t shut up when they asked him to. I eavesdropped on the conversation, and I learned some new insights about what it’s like to be a member of (minority group.)”

E: “But they wouldn’t let you in the conversation?”

H: “I didn’t really have anything to add. I just wanted to listen.”

D: “OMG you are such a pussbag you stupid pussbag! I was totally making a good point about how racist they are, and you come in here all ‘look at me, I am sooo tolerant of others and politically correct, ooh, I’m so nice to everybody’. Pussbag!”

G: “Huh, huh, regressive leftist, huh, huh.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

E: “This is a common occurrence among those individuals whose misguided notions about ‘equality’ lead them to self-loathing practices such as the one so pitifully illustrated here. It is obvious to anyone with any sort of moral sense that all conversations should be open to everyone, and that reason demands that all discussions remain open to all people, no matter how offensive their point of view may be. Forsooth, ’tis a sad day indeed when the so-called ‘liberals’ and ‘intellectuals’ in our grand society forsake their own will in a futile attempt to crawl across the desert of ‘political correctness’ to reach the elusive and illusory oasis of ‘multiculturalism,’ which everyone knows is a false idol only fools seek.”

F: “That is soooo deep, dude.”

E: “Thanks.”

G: “[Meme]”

H: “I kinda think you guys are blowing this out of proportion.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

G: “TRIGGER WARNING! Hahahahaha!”

E: “You are so misguided, H. Those people in (minority group) are all pathetic. They create an echo chamber where only their own views are allowed. They exclude all other viewpoints. And you are pathetic for your idiotic pandering to their blatant assault on freedom of speech.”

H: “Well, they were talking about something we as members of (majority group) don’t have any experience with. I mean, come on. None of us are professional baseball players. If a group of professional baseball players were talking about their experiences as professional baseball players, would any of us have anything to contribute to the conversation?”

G: “But there are professional baseball players from (minority group) and (majority group).”

H. “…yeah, but that isn’t really the point.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

E: “But you have to work very hard to become a professional baseball player. You don’t have to do anything but be born to be a member of (minority group).”

H: “That isn’t the point, either.”

F: “[Meme]”

H: “Look. All I am trying to say is that different people have different life experiences. And personally, I find it enriches my own life to learn about what life is like for people who are different than me.”

E: “You have done nothing but allowed yet another anti-intellectual echo chamber to flourish. This is why ISIS exists.”

H: “What?”

F: “Regressive leftists are the real terrorists.”

D: “[South Park clip]”

G: “Echo chambers are bad, mmmkay?”

D: “Hahahahaha”

E: “Echo chambers do not produce anything of value to a rational society. They are the antithesis of rational discourse, and they contribute to a society where everyone must be pampered and treated as if they were special little snowflakes whose opinions are priceless gems that adorn the tiara of that syphilitic whore called ‘liberalism.’”

F: “Dude, that is sooooo deep.”

E: “Thanks.”

H: “Guys, speaking of ‘echo chambers,’ has anyone else noticed that I am the only dissenting opinion here?”

E: “Yes, but D, in his infinite wisdom and patience and respect for rational discourse, in the hopes that true freedom of speech will not perish from our illustrious  society, allows wildly deluded people like you to comment here as well. I salute D in his continuing use of intentionally offensive words, despite the fact that he knows better ones, and furthermore if I want to tell a member of (minority group) or (minority group) or even (minority group) that we are all human and that my experiences are exactly like theirs and if they don’t think so they are stupid then I’m gonna, and if I want to make fun of trigger warnings traumatized people ask for I’m gonna, because while I am not a licensed psychiatrist I know that what is best for me is best for everyone.”

D: “I agree with E. We are right. I was totally not doing what you said I was doing to those racists who excluded me from their conversation you guys.”

G: “I am sorry you had to go through that, D.”

F: “You’re all wet, H.”

E: “Guys, don’t be too hard on H. One day, he will see that we are correct in our arguments, for we, my friends, are guided by Reason. Reason is the only thing that guides us, not these piddling self-interested petty little discussions conducted in echo chambers by pathetic fools who cling to antiquated notions of identity politics and rape rational discourse with the foolhardy and bittersweet poison they call ‘political correctness.’”

F: “You are the smartest person alive.”

E: “Thanks.”

 

H, tired of being berated, returns to the previous discussion, reading silently.

A: “…well, that was a nice discussion, guys.”

C: “Yeah, after we got D out of here.”

B: “I don’t understand why people like that have to butt in all the time.”

A: “People like what? You mean members of (majority group)?”

B: “No, not all members of (majority group) are like that. But some of them are, and man are they annoying.”

H: “Hey guys, I am a member of (majority group), and I have been following this conversation. I hope you guys don’t mind. I learned some things today that I would not have learned otherwise, and my worldview is now a little wider. Thank you for that.”

A: “That’s cool, H. You’re welcome!”

C: “Glad to have you.”

B: “Nice to meet you!”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“LUMINOUS BEAMS ARE WE, NOT THIS CRUDE MATTER!”

So it’s the new year, and I have already broken a few resolutions. For one, I resolved to limit my time on Facebook and other social media with sort of an “office hours” approach, and I have yet to do so. These “office hours,” when the plan is implemented, will likely be early in the morning – an hour or so some time between 5 and 7 am, ideally – maybe half an hour during lunch – noon-ish – and then another hour or two later in the evening.

This sort of approach is undoubtedly already followed by many of my Facebook friends. The hours I have listed here are based around a normal 8 to 5 workday schedule. As I am not currently employed full-time in such a fashion, I have a tendency to spend far more time than that on social media.

And as I am (ostensibly) a “blogger” and “author” (first novel yet to be finished), I need to think of those activities in more of a workday sense than I currently do. Or at least for the duration of time I am able to get away with not having a full-time job, ha ha. I am hoping to make at least a little money off of the novel I am working on, but in all honesty I am not optimistic. It isn’t that I don’t have “faith” in the quality of the novel itself – personally I think it’s pretty decent – it’s just that my taste in fiction doesn’t exactly line up with mainstream tastes. And anyways I don’t want to spend hours and hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours) working on something that I myself would not personally enjoy reading. I would rather do something else to make money, I mean.

But anyways, I suppose we will see what happens. As I have stated before, if it sells ten copies, I will consider it a success.

Moving on, I have so far kept up with a couple other resolutions. I have been eating better – I have had a salad for lunch every day this week – and I have been drinking less alcohol. The only alcohol I have consumed since January 2 – so I celebrated the holiday with a glass of wine or three, sue me – has been in the form of NyQuil, and also DayQuil, if it’s got alcohol in it.

I also exercised a little, before the cold started dragging me down. Not a lot, just a few squats, a few chin-ups, a little dumbbell stuff, not much.

I have tried to be nicer. I have tried.

Anyways, what I want to express with all this blathering is that these are things I have decided to do to improve myself. I am not preaching at anyone. It is none of my business if you – whoever you are – do or do not choose to adhere to any sort of “self-improvement” plans like the ones I am attempting to adhere to.

If these things prove to be beneficial to me, I may or may not recommend that you do them yourself. If I see that you are struggling or suffering or whatever you want to call it with the same things I am struggling/suffering/whatever with, I may recommend them. As a matter of fact, friends of mine have recommended things like this to me, and my “resolutions” were influenced by these recommendations. And I am grateful to these friends, more so than I can really express here.

But – and this is a big “but” – I can’t force you to do the things I do. I can’t force you to change anything about yourself or your behavior.

Why not?

Put simply: I am not the boss of you.

And conversely, you can’t force me to do the things you do. You can’t force me to change anything about myself or my behavior.

Why not?

Put simply: you are not the boss of me.

And if you are thinking that this all sounds like hippy dippy drivel, and that I am probably woozy-headed from the DayQuil I took just a while ago, well, no comment.

What I am getting at, in a roundabout way, is the concept of “Freedom of Religion.” That is to say, the freedom to follow any religion you choose, or to not follow any religion at all.

I am not “anti-religion.” Many religious people may think that I am; I am not. I am all for religion, if it is something that enriches your life and the lives of those around you.

Because if you are happy and content, the people around you are more likely to be happy and content. If you are happy and content, you are less likely to bring negativity and turmoil into the lives of those around you.

This goes for me, too.

This is why I have made certain resolutions for the new year. To better myself, and thereby to be less of a drain on the people around me.

But the problem with religion – every religion – is that more often than not, adherents to whichever religion do not use their religion to improve themselves. More often than not, adherents to whichever religion use their religion as an excuse to try and change other people.

They don’t use religion as a means of self-improvement, they use it as a means to condemn other people.

I personally don’t care what religion you adhere to. As long as you use your religion to look inward, to improve yourself, I support you.

However, the moment you begin using your religion to project – the moment you begin attempting to force other people to adhere to your religion – then we have a problem.

I have written about this many times. I have said this exact same thing more times than I can count. But to repeat it once more:

Your religion is for you. It is something you follow to guide you in your life. If that is how you approach your religion, I support you, and I won’t ridicule you for it, and I will discourage others from ridiculing you for it.

And if you tell people about your religion and the positive impact it has had in your life, I will support you. But if you start trying to force people to follow your religion, you lose my support. If you start condemning people because they don’t follow your religion, you lose my support.

And if you start abusing people because of your religion, all bets are off.

Another resolution I made was to write every day. So far, most of my writing has been done on Facebook, which kinda sorta negated my resolution to spend less time on social media. And I had hoped to make more, well, focused blog posts than this one, but as I mentioned I am a bit woozy-headed.

But anyways, to repeat it once more: your religion is for you. Use it to improve you.

Otherwise we have a problem.

Thanks for reading.

May the Force be with you.

THOUGHTS ON STEPHEN JAY GOULD’S CONCEPT OF “NOMA”

Stephen Jay Gould said that science and religion are “non overlapping magisteria (NOMA),” two things that are completely separate from each other. Here is his definition of the term, from the Wikipedia article about it:

“Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

Richard Dawkins disagreed, saying that religion constantly inserts itself into the scientific world, and that if there were scientific proof of claims made by religion, religious authorities would quickly adopt more scientific principles, rather than opposing science, which they tend to do when it brings into question the validity of religious claims.

I agree with Dawkins, sort of. I agree that religion often attempts to hinder science — stem cell research, for example — but I am not sure I agree completely. Claims made by religions are by definition unprovable. It is scientifically impossible to prove that God or any other deity exists.

It is, don’t get mad at me for saying so. But at the same time, belief in God (or any deity or set of deities) is an actual thing many people around the world possess. The effect this belief has on them and their environment is quite tangible. Some effects of religious belief are positive, and some are negative. Some effects are constructive, many others are quite destructive.

Dawkins tends to focus entirely on the destructive effects. And to be sure, there are plenty of those to focus on. But I disagree with Dawkins on his assertion that all religion must be eliminated. I think Gould would probably agree with me there. Here’s another Gould quote:

“Religion is too important to too many people for any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents a sop to our fears, a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain. Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we most value about human potentiality: our decency, care, and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.”

Dawkins might say that Gould’s statement

“…the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain.”

isn’t strictly correct, for religious authorities, whose very authority is given by things like a “concept of souls” have used that authority to hinder scientific progress time and time again.

So anyways, on that end of the concept, I suppose I have mixed feelings. Both sides make valid points.

But what about the other side of NOMA?

“Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

I have to say I fully agree with Gould here. With regard to “values,” each religion has a set of values its followers adhere to. “Values” and “value judgments” are what produce the real-world effects of religion. The good stuff as well as the bad stuff.

That is not — is *not* — to say that one has to follow a religion to have “values” or to be “moral.” It’s a pretty common misconception among religious people that atheists are amoral. This simply is not — is *not* — true.

But at the same time, can “science” prescribe morality? Or is one’s own sense of morality, if one is an atheist, derived from a sense of compassion (or lack thereof) with her or his fellow humans?

Prominent atheist writer Sam Harris, for example, has written extensively about the real world atrocities committed in the name of Islam. And to be sure, he has a point: killing for an ideology is horrible.

But with the same keyboard (presumably) Harris uses to denounce Jihadis for killing because of an ideology, Harris also writes about the inevitability of “collateral damage” with regard to drone strikes and other such Western anti-terrorism strategies. It’s unfortunate, Harris argues, that innocent bystanders get killed when drones blow up this or that terrorist, but it’s necessary to get the terrorists.

The difference between a Jihadi and a drone pilot, Harris says, is intent. A Jihadi wants to kill innocent people and does so on purpose, a drone pilot wants to kill terrorists but accidentally kills innocent bystanders.

And there’s something to be said for that argument, but in both cases, innocent people get killed. And given that “collateral damage” is considered more or less inevitable — it’s avoided whenever possible, to be sure — doesn’t that sort of muddy up the whole “intent” argument?

Harris’ “intent” argument is based in his own moral sense. But what is that “moral sense,” and where did it come from?

From science?

Harris and Dawkins and others argue that the morality of religion springs from fear of divine punishment, and since it’s impossible to scientifically prove God or any other deity exists — again, don’t get mad at me for saying that, it’s true — then morality that arises from fear of divine punishment is an inferior sort of morality than the morality of atheists like themselves.

I disagree. I think Harris’ attitude toward “collateral damage” and whatnot springs from the same place that religious morality springs from: self-interest.

Religious people believe it’s in their best interest to please the deity they worship. They are therefore following their own self-interest by doing things they believe will please that deity.

Harris believes it’s in his own best interest that all the Jihadis get killed, even if that means some non-Jihadis get killed in the process. He was following what he believed to be his own self-interest when he wrote about “collateral damage.”

Friedrich Nietzsche once said,

“Fear is the mother of all morality.”

Do you agree with him? I fear — no pun intended — that I do.

But back to NOMA: can science prescribe morality?

A better question: *Should* science attempt to prescribe morality?

Personally I don’t see any way science could prescribe morality without degenerating into something less than “science.” Science infused with moral value judgments ceases to be objective, I mean. And the naturalistic fallacy — the way things are is the best way they could be, and anyone who tries to change things is wrong — has also been used by religious authorities over the years to justify horrible things, like slavery, subjugation of women, etc. etc. etc.

What do you think?

 

SELECTIVE OUTRAGE FROM THE RIGHT (AS IF THIS WERE A NEW THING)

Something I find hilarious about support for those militia guys in Oregon…actually a couple things:

1. The people who they are allegedly “protesting” on behalf of — the Hammonds, who were convicted of arson — have said they don’t want to be associated with the protest,

and

2. Many if not most of the people who support the Oregon “protesters” also supported the Keystone XL pipeline. Why is that hilarious? Because the main complaint towards the government with regard to the Oregon “protesters” is that the government allegedly took land from farmers. These “protesters” are standing up to an evil regime that takes hard-earned land away from upstanding Americans, and so on and so forth.

Many supporters of Keystone XL were apparently blissfully unaware that many people lost their homes because of Keystone XL. And many more would have lost their homes if it had been completed.

Where was the uproar on the right about that? Where were the armed militia men, bravely storming into public buildings, looking for a game of shoot-em-up? Where were the endless idiotic memes? Where was the outrage over hardworking Americans being relocated to make room for an oil pipeline to Canada?

It didn’t exist. It never happened.

Nobody on the right gave a shit.

I dunno. I find that sort of thing hilarious.

“HI THERE” – A LITTLE ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG HERE

Allow me to introduce myself:

My name is Michael Nathan Walker. I am the only son of my mother and my biological father, whose identities you don’t need to know.

I have a half-brother who I consider to be my full brother. I always have and I always will. He is genuinely one of the very best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. We grew up together, and he is my brother.

I have another half-brother and half-sister. I met them a few times when they were little kids. I haven’t seen either of them in a long time; as far as I know they are both doing well.

I was named “Michael” because that is my biological father’s middle name.

I was named “Nathan” because that is my maternal grandfather’s middle name.

Between you, me, and the wall, I think the fact that “MNW” has a certain amount of visual appeal (flip “MNW” over and it says “MNW”) may have played a part in how I was named. My mother is an artist, though she has a day job and would not consider herself to be an “artist.”

(Between you, me, and the wall, considering oneself to be an “artist” almost always ensures that one will never produce anything that could rightly be considered “art.” But that’s only my opinion.)

My last name is “Walker” because that was my biological father’s last name. Such is custom where I live.

I never really knew the man; from all accounts he was a decent fellow.

Which, given the fact that I consider myself to be a fairly decent fellow, I suppose I consider those accounts justified.

He is dead.

To quote one of my favorite authors, who is also dead:

“So it goes.”

I had an older half-sister – I forget her birthdate – who was killed when I was a teenager. She was a real estate agent, and very involved in her church.

A man she knew from church came to her office, wanting to be shown a property in a secluded area. My older half-sister took this man to see the property.

At some point, this man attempted to rape my older half-sister. She resisted.

I barely knew her – I only met her a few times – but I attribute her resistance to…well…something genetic, I guess.

I mean, for all intents and purposes, I, Michael Nathan Walker, am a pacifist, and while I have a certain amount of, how shall I say, appreciation for the whole “turn the other cheek” thing…if and when you slap me, and if and when I turn the other cheek in anticipation of another slap, well…no intimidation intended, but you had better protect yourself.

All I know about the case – “the case,” lol – is what I have been told, and what I have read online.

She resisted, she fought this cretin off. So I was told.

Somehow or other he put her in the trunk of a car.

I do not know if this was his car or her car. I think it was the car they both rode in, when they were going to look at the property in the remote area that this fellow from my older half-sister’s church told her he wanted to look at.

She was a real estate agent, you should remember.

She also wrote various things for her church’s weekly bulletin. Poems, inspirational stuff, et cetera.

She did this anonymously.

Her husband was either a pastor or the son of a pastor. I don’t remember for sure.

I shook her husband’s hand at her funeral. That was the first and only time I met him.

She looked like Elaine from Seinfeld.

If you can believe it.

I remember being at a cafeteria (I forget the name of the place) in Pecanland Mall when I was probably fourteen or so. I had been going there fairly regularly since I was much younger, being that Pecanland Mall is only about an hour and a half away from where I grew up, and being that my maternal grandmother (whose husband’s middle name is “Nathan”) liked to buy her grandchildren things…well, I had been there a few times.

One time I made my mom cry at this mall. I called her a “cheapskate” because she wouldn’t give me any more quarters to play Mortal Kombat II.

I was quoting somebody from some movie I had seen.

And this is the sort of thing that makes me realize that I am probably much more like the fellow whose middle name was “Michael” – remember, he is dead – than I will ever fully understand.

But this one time, I was maybe fourteen, I, my mom, my maternal grandma, my brother, and I were sitting in the buffet-style cafeteria in Pecanland Mall. We had already gone down the line, picked up whatever plates of food we wanted to eat, my grandmother had already paid the cashier at the end of the buffet line, and we all (all four of us) had finished our meals.

We were sitting there in a booth – my brother and I on one side, our mom and grandmother on the other – when almost out of nowhere my older half-sister appeared. She was there with some fellow, who may or may not have been the fellow whose hand I shook at her funeral less than a decade later – and she said hello to my mom and grandma, and I sat there like a dunce unsure of what I was supposed to say, and I and my younger brother agreed that she looked a lot like Elaine from Seinfeld.

We joked about that, off and on, for a good long while.

I remember when I was really little, like less than five, I spent Christmas with the fellow whose middle name is “Michael.”

My mom was wearing a brown robe when she answered the door, and I had gotten a plastic bowling set that morning from Santa – or my mom and stepdad, whichever you prefer.

I got in this fellow’s car, and I remember it wasn’t running very well. I remember us backing up in the driveway at my mom and stepdad’s house, then turning left

I don’t remember the ride to Monroe, LA, or thereabouts.

I do remember sitting in this sorry excuse for a car, out in front of my older half-sister’s mother’s house, while the fellow whose middle name was “Michael” went to the door.

I remember looking at a fish tank, or an “aquarium” or whatever you want to call it, that was sitting in the kitchen window of my older half-sister’s house.

I remember that she got into the front passenger seat of our father’s sorry excuse for a car, and I remember that she talked to him quite a lot.

All I remember from that trip, other than what I have related, is that I got a toy version of a B-Wing spacecraft from Star Wars – the one that roughly resembles a Christian cross – and that the fellow whose middle name is now my first name was deep into some sort of fairly heated conversation with another fellow when I tried to show it to him.

I and my brother played with that toy for years afterward. Even after the fold-out wings quit folding out.

Even after they broke off entirely.

My older half-sister resisted her would-be assailant.

Or so the police report went.

And he stuffed her into the trunk of whichever car they had been riding in previously, on their trip to the property in the remote location.

And my older half-sister – the one who looked like Elaine from Seinfeld, who wrote inspirational things for her church bulletin anonymously, who – she kicked or otherwise forced the trunk open, and the car was doing about 35 mph down the road, and

and she jumped out, and when she did her head hit the pavement, and when her head hit the pavement

Long story short she died.

And I never really knew her, like on a personal level. And I shook her husband’s hand at her funeral.

Do you want to know more about me?

 

Super!

 

Politically, I am what most pundits and assorted talking heads would call a “leftist.” I don’t resent this at all, but rather than limit myself to whatever idiotic conception you may or may not have of “leftist” is, I will continue to tell you about myself:

I don’t think anyone should be prevented from doing anything that doesn’t harm others. In this sense, I am somewhat of a “libertarian.”

But I find it incredibly hypocritical when people invoke “libertarianism” as an excuse for human rights violations.

Specifically, like when corporations resist regulations that protect workers in the name of “libertarianism.”

As long as your actions are not harming anyone else, I personally do not give a crap what you do.

I believe you – whoever you are – have the right to do whatever the hell you want to do. I believe that sort of freedom should extend to every other human being (and every other sentient animal) on our planet.

I sincerely do. I support your right to be weird. I hope you fly your freak flag every day you remain alive…as long as doing so doesn’t harm anyone else.

In that sense, I am a “libertarian.” But that’s as far as my “libertarianism” goes.

I do not support people who pay scant wages to their employees.

I do not support people who run multimillion-dollar businesses who refuse to pay taxes.

I do not support the hijacking of “libertarianism” by persons who wish to restrict the freedoms of others.

So, yeah.

 

Is anybody still reading?

 

If so, thanks.

 

I will (maybe) continue this later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Don’t hold your breath, tho, plz)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(SRSLY, you needs O2. Breeth it)

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.)