Nothing Will Change

author’s original oil painting (from 40 years ago)

Trying to write a commentary this weekend while ignoring next week’s events is like staying mum about the proverbial pachyderm on the divan.  Nevertheless, I don’t think the dawn of November 4 will satisfy our human craving for change.  No, not for any of us.  I don’t intend those words entirely in the sublime sense of Ecclesiastes (viz., “What has been is what will be; there’s nothing new under the sun”).  I mean, as well, that our specific ordeal as hapless citizens of the US in 2020 will drag on.  The forces that have plotted political ambushes and assassinations behind the scenes from within the CIA, the Department of Justice (smirk), and Wall Street will not let anything so banal as a national election decide who assumes the reins of power.  We’ll have enough misery in local, state, and federal courts to last us well into the new year.

So don’t look for shelter, at last, from the directionless, spontaneous, insane whirlwinds of 2020 to appear by Thanksgiving, or even by Christmas.  Don’t suppose that the finish line is just around the next turn.  It isn’t.  La paz empieza nunca, as Emilio Romero wrote shortly after World War II of the fight against creeping totalitarianism: “Peace begins… never.”

When I was concluding Why I’m Not Dead, an account of my recovery from Stage 4 cancer by turning away from mainstream American medicine, I confessed that my experience had shaken me loose from a lot of illusion and fond fantasy.  None of my daydreams has been harder to surrender than the belief that we might actually leave the world a better place for our children.  I chafe every night, as I bare my soul to God, against this sobering admission.  But so it is.  We completed the latter half of the twentieth century without inaugurating another world war or igniting another nuclear weapon over a human target… and what have we got to show for so much “progress”, really?  A general populace so subservient in mind and spirit that the Chinese Communist Party may rule our nation soon without having fired a shot.  We’re already scurrying around in search of “virtue points” even without the presence of eavesdropping cameras in every corner and closet.

My sister continues to believe that Putin pulls our president’s strings (as opposed to Ivanka and Jared), that COVID 19 leaves pericardial muscles permanently damaged, and anything else that her one rag of record tells her.  My former minister was practically executing rhetorical high-fives in this week’s circular because one of her parishioners (an octogenarian with previous conditions, as I recall) was admitted to the ICU with COVID—as if to say, “You see?  I told you all that this was deadly!”  The personnel at the “integrative medicine” clinic where I receive weekly transfusions of Vitamin C continue to mask up religiously, despite mounting evidence that obstructing respiratory passages for hours can be severely harmful.  (Ironically, a superstar in the integrative medicine world, Phoenix’s Colleen Huber, has been permanently banned from Twitter and roundly denounced on the Internet simply for highlighting some of these risks.)

Meanwhile, my son and his peers continue to battle with acute depression in their city’s lockdown, where many of them go the entire day without seeing another human being face to face.  The suicide rate in their demographic has skyrocketed; yet the generation that ought to include their parents (and I write “ought” because we are all parents of the forthcoming generation) utters paranoid whines and whimpers because masks and lockdowns do not straitjacket the whole planet roundabout, 24/7.  Think of it: people whose natural lifespan can scarcely now contain more than a mere decade or two of earthly time fume because the despair-inducing isolation of their children isn’t airtight.

Several governors have announced that large family gatherings over Thanksgiving will be banned in their state.  The presidential candidate who has spent the past half-year cringing in his basement from the “pandemic” incoherently promises to open the nation back up while also promulgating a universal mask mandate.  And the incumbent president, though at last lending an ear to Dr. Scott Atlas, also refuses to distance himself from Dr. Anthony Fauci (who now foresees extending mask- and lockdown-protocols until 2022).

Our news media are going full-throttle into bald-faced, gob-smacking propagandist mode.  “Oh, look: he used income-averaging one year to pay virtually no tax!  Hark ye, one and all!  List, ye people!”  And then, the next day… “No, debunked.  Debunked, do you hear?  ‘The Big Guy’ could be any guy… and why wouldn’t Xi’s minions, Putin’s henchmen, and the ruling-class dregs of Afghanistan and Iran want to pay this nice young man a few measly million for his advice?  What’s the matter with you all?  What has so polluted your souls?  Why are you so cynical and wicked?”

Why?  Because of an infectious disease called thinking, which somehow—incredibly—manages to spread even through the Internet and in other public forums.  “This cannot stand!  Stop the circulation of disruptive ideas!  Fact-checkers, to your posts!  Certified experts, hone ye your excising blades!  Black-splashing redactors, let the ink run like the Nile in spate!  We’ll do the rest.  Wolf is at full-cock.  Jim has girt his loins.  Christiane’s cup of words runneth over.  Brooke’s blinders are cinched tight in battle-mode.  Dana has memorized the interview questions passed along via secure email.  Let’s roll!  Dorsey, Zuckerman, Bezos… just keep further breaches from opening.  We’ll do the rest: we’ll make castles of clouds, tropical resorts of death camps, cordon-bleu cuisine of cow’s dung, sweet camomile of sulfur.  We’ve got this.  We’ve trained for this.  It’s what we do.”

Satire is all that’s left to the seeker of truth who’s determined to honor the principle of free speech.  It would be so easy to cry for the guillotine, to volunteer for journalist firing squads… but this, of course, is the very hell-on-earth vision that cultic ideologues hug to their hearts.  We must somehow not become them.  The energy consumed in mere resistance to such ugly impulses—in clinging to the negative virtue of not acting—leaves one exhausted.  We must find that energy, as our better angels pant and faint.

Yet where does it end, if the lithe-tongued lackeys of totalitarian utopia are not to be jailed or gagged?  “Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes”…. But will they?  Why?  How?  When all men are forced to go masked, and when all speech is passed through filters that catch far more truth than face-diapers catch virons, why should we be confident that the vipers among us will writhe helplessly and wither away once the sun rises? The sun that never sets, yes—the immeasurable truth of eternity, yes… but between now and then? What justice will there be between now and then?

Karl Popper’s Note 27 to the seventeenth chapter of The Open Society and Its Enemies expresses confidence—from the perspective of over half a century ago—that the Press might be made to fulfill its civic duty if elections affected by misinformation were repeated, with the newsrooms and studios responsible for the fraud being made to foot the bill.  How naive that great mind seems now… now that we know just how creative human mendacity can be.  The truth exists.  But does the unnamed “mother of three” interviewed in a high-crime neighborhood represent prevailing opinion?  If it should turn out that she’s the mother of none and has been coached in her views, are those views necessarily wrong?  Or if she’s all that she seems and also accurately projects the neighborhood’s mood, is a mood evidence that the real problem has been grasped?

I don’t see when or how this kind of thing gets better.  The tribes among us will have to wear their masks and feathers until they kill each other off—and perhaps the rest of us with them.  Those entrusted with words so that disputes may be reasonably resolved will continue to overdraw on Reason’s account until its last penny is assumed to be counterfeit.  The wildfire must run its course.  If a few of us find a low, barren place where the flames pass over lightly, then we will indeed have occasion to give thanks.

What a reckoning for the incendiarists, when the stars bend to earth and show them real fire!

Scientific Reasoning: Remedy to Pain or Recipe for Panic?

I haven’t use the Dictaphone on my iPad for two years.  I wouldn’t be using it now except that I can’t type with two hands.  My right arm is about to fall off, and I don’t want to overdose on Tylenol, which has seen me through much of this week. I decided that the ordeal that I’m going through might be instructive in a more general way.  I hope so… at any rate, it’s all I can think about for the moment.

I could adopt the attitude of a certain neurologist that I visited one time (and only one): that is, assume that any pain in my body is my prostate cancer metastasizing again.  The arm seems to have somewhat migratory pain from the top of the shoulder down into the wrist.  Migratory pain: that’s sort of heads up.  And then… well, 2+2 = 4, doesn’t it?  Patient had prostate cancer earlier this summer; now patient has migratory arm pain; ergo, must be the cancer coming back again in a new spot.

That’s the kind of analysis that a cancer patient would embrace naturally enough.  I suppose all of us (or those of us with certain unwholesome personality traits, anyway) immediately lunge to the worst possible scenario.  Something well worth remembering about science, however, is that it yields no absolute truth.  If one is trying to diagnose a pain in the body or any other empirical problem, one looks for evidence to support this or that particular theory over its rivals.  In my case, the “cancer” theory doesn’t have a whole lot of evidence behind it.  It’s about as nuanced as the 2+2 = 4 formula: you had cancer before, you have a pain now, the pain must be cancer.

But I can also, with reflection, link the pain to specific “trigger” events having to do with excessive exercise.  As a kind of would-be hitting instructor in baseball—an excavator of techniques long forgotten by the game—who operates a site at SmallBallSuccess.com, I construct hypothetical versions of century-old swings all the time.  One in particular had me jamming my right elbow quite a bit in the follow-through.  Not that I’ve ever played golf… but I believe golfers rather famously have the same problem.  The severe compression of elbow and shoulder joints seems to have pinched a nerve, or perhaps strained ligament.  When I was too foolish to leave the arm alone completely for several days, the pain quite predictably kept returning.  It would get better for a while… but then I would assume that “a little bit better” meant “recovered”.  Incredibly (I myself am amazed at my stupidity), I repeated the same miscalculation several times.  At last a nagging discomfort became persistent aching of a magnitude greater than anything I’ve experienced for years.

So what should I conclude about over-exercise?  I used to work out quite vigorously and, as one might say, religiously.  Am I just getting old?  Am I looking at incipient arthritis?  Is there any relationship to my cancer adventure at all?  I think the answer to the last of these posers is probably “yes”… but not the facile kind of “yes” that my neurologist wanted to promote.  Rather, I suspect that, because I’m taking so many hormone-suppressants to deny prostate cancer its natural fuel, I am also denying my muscles and joints the fuel they need to recover from routine stress.  If this is so, then perhaps I can find supplements that provide muscle support without hormones and move a long way toward solving my problem.

This is in fact the step that I am currently taking.  (Sincerest thanks to Mr. Sanchez for suggesting Garden of Life FYI Restore Muscle—a 100 percent vegan option).  But, of course, I’m proceeding without having proved my hypothesis: I’ve only rendered it the more likely of two proposals (which is, I would add, precisely the nature of scientific “proof” in practical application).  Could I have overlooked other possibilities in my desire to embrace a less malign one?

I know from my first round with cancer that metastatic cells do tend to move in upon bones when incidental tears and stresses occur to muscle.  What about my present condition would cancel that scenario?

Actually, I have a second pain of note—and it’s in my hip, because my right arm had grown so sore that I decided to throw left-handed in another baseball video.  In doing so (another very predictable result, in hindsight), I strained the inside of my right thigh.  Again, that source of pain is fully explicable as the product of repeated (and bloody foolish) aggravation.  One special point of interest here, though, is that the hip has at last almost entirely recovered.  I’ve gone back-and-forth with both injuries, but the hip is the one I’ve treated better.  Recovery is almost complete.

That’s a positive sign.  The arm has likewise shown improvement over periods when I nurse it along.  That doesn’t sound like cancer.

I might further note that my heel spurs have been acting up even though I have done no jogging or extreme walking lately.  The only explanation for that pain, inasmuch as there are no distressed muscle or bone complexes nearby, would once again be that even minimal exercise is not being handled very well—by any part of my body.  Tissue is simply not rebuilding itself overnight the way it used to do.

Finally I should point out that my shoulder has been hurting me more right after I have a typing session, usually in the morning.  (Hence my dictating to this annoying little iPad.)  That seems pretty conclusive to me.  Lots and lots of tiny muscle groups are used in typing: we all know about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  The recurring pain after an episode of typing very probably points to muscle damage.  What I need to do is a) take my new pills to allow my muscles and joints to recover in the absence of hormones, b) stop exercising with the ferocity that I used to bring to the endeavor, and c) find new exercises that keep me fit but do not put severe strain on my muscles.

This, I submit, is how scientific reasoning works.  You form an hypothesis, you create tests for it, you look for evidence that supports or refutes it, and—in the happy case of discovering supportive evidence—you continue looking for more support… or contradiction.  You consider evidence that is conspicuous by its absence.  What does the theory fail to explain that you want to account for?  Any theory can have a certain amount of support and yet be incorrect if the examiner proceeds no farther.

Too often today, unfortunately, our self-styled scientists exchange professional high-fives after they account for a rather restricted body of evidence, and they go no farther.  Heaven forbid that anybody should turn over another stone!  In fact, people who try to do so in certain celebrated cases lately have been publicly denounced, reviled, blackballed, and refused a place in the public exchange of ideas.  I don’t recognize this as science, yet it’s the body of thought that my ex-minister refers to as the “best science” in a recent circular emailed to the congregation.  The “best science”, according to her, insists that mask-wearing is our surest means of protection against CV-19.  The implication, I guess, is that inferior science reaches a different conclusion; for how else can you rate this science if not by its conclusions?  Do our “best scientists”, then, have any concern about the overwhelming evidence correlating mask mandates and lockdowns with the spread of the virus?  

Apparently not. It is the “best scientists”, rather, who have refused to allow such information into the public forum.  They offer no refutation of the graphs at RationalGround.com rational or similar websites; theirs is the tyranny, indeed, that has prevented the formal publication of a major Danish study on mask efficacy for over two months.  Expected to reach the public eye in August, this research has so far been rejected by The Lancet and JAMA due to the political incorrectness of its outcomes. One contributor answered a query about the paper’s status in these words, more or less: “It will appear as soon as we find a journal brave enough to publish it” (source: Daniel Horowitz, Conservative Review, Episode 743).

One earns an instant ban from Twitter if one seeks to publicize any such inconvenient truth. The “best science” appears to be associated with the position of shutting people off when they question conclusions on the basis of an abundance of contradictory evidence.  I’m glad the evidence in my own case doesn’t indicate that my cancer is spreading.  I have recent lab results, as well, that wave no red flags, and I have the responsiveness of my body to gentle treatment when I decide to use a little common sense in my exercise routine.  I’m not coddling myself.  I’m not allowing myself to believe something that has little support.  I’m choosing the conclusion for now that appears to have more evidence behind it.  I am not panicking, though I easily could; I am looking at what facts are available to me.  I’m also looking for further facts that seem unavailable but may be hiding from me in the shadows.  Meanwhile, I’m taking action on the basis of the most probable explanation.

This is what science is supposed to do.  It’s not good, bad, worse, or better.  It is certainly not “the best”.  It’s simply a struggle for us to make sense of physical reality, the roots of which extend well beyond our possible understanding.

As a person of (I hope) moderate education and intelligence, I deeply resent the attempt of the “best scientists”—as they clearly suppose themselves to be—to shut me up, to keep me from asking questions, to keep me from sharing theories with others, to make me fall in the line and march in one direction.  This trend in our troubled society is the very antithesis of science.  It will prove to be the death of science is if we allow it to thrive.  It is an intellectual—yes, and a moral—cancer that has likely already metastasized and may yet precipitate our us.

Cancer and I: The Couple That Makes the Neighbors Cringe

If you were told less than half a year ago to buy a plot in the cemetery and get measured for a coffin—this by honored and decorated practitioners of mainstream American medicine—your perspective on a lot of things would change.  Having groped your way back among the living (thanks to a Mexican clinic unsanctioned by Their Holinesses at the FDA), you’d find that you didn’t care much about matters once deeply important to you.  “COVID-19: oh my God, there’s a .3 percent chance that I might die if infected!”  Nope… sorry.  Those odds don’t accelerate my heartbeat at all, except to make me angry with cowards who are terrified by them.  “Well, how about this: the nation is poised to elect a bunch of socialists who will so mangle the system that the republic can never recover!”  Okay, that’s disturbing… but it’s also a doom we have been collectively courting throughout my lifetime.  We don’t want to make our own mistakes any more: we want the avuncular hand of Government shielding us and guiding us through every corridor of our mortal existence.  We want to be treated as children… or as slaves whose only task is to vote for our Masters (for the brief time that we’re still allowed to vote).

I could get angry about that, yes… but why?  Why should I believe that human folly, so graphically illustrated on every page of history, has been banished from our own epoch?  Our species only learns, apparently, when water-boarded over and over in disaster.  We Americans will get the government we richly deserve next January.  The mainstream media made it all happen?  The universities made it all happen?  But who forced us to listen to the “news” or to submit our children to “higher education”?

Sometimes I think the only genuine Christians on earth live in China, where Xi Jinping’s ruthless tyranny suppresses, arrests, and tortures the faithful at accelerating rates.  Meanwhile, our priests and ministers urge us from the pulpit to support CCP-like social engineering projects and to scorn individualism as selfishness.  And we return every Sunday to hear more.

Maybe I was granted more time—how much more, nobody on earth knows—to peck out my contrarian telegrams as our society’s ship settles to the bottom.  Maybe that’s my part of the exchange that renewed my life in the flesh.  When massive food shortages make my eccentric diet impossible to sustain, or when rolling blackouts make my therapies impossible to continue, I suppose I’ll lapse into a steep decline.  Or maybe not.  Who knows?  Nobody here on earth.

My wife and I think a lot about where the “cancer road” may take us.  Most people, upon discovering that you’ve had cancer, assume that the scenario of your remaining life is something like the protagonist’s in that old Ben Gazzara series, Run for Your Life.  You have a year left, maybe two.  Oh, they’re all so sorry.  Poor baby… maybe you’ll get three.  I understand the reaction.  I was actually fortunate that the American “health care” system declined to give me any treatment at all.  My fellow patients at the Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana had almost all suffered through a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemo.  The struggle of their weakened bodies to profit from more salutary, holistic therapies as mine did was uphill, and often heart-breaking.  In our medical system, cancer is “cured” in the same way as a death-row inmate is “freed” because a lawyer agrees to take on his appeal.  What a hope!

But for the rest of us cancer-revenants, with our hale-and-hearty physiques and our arsenal of vitamin supplements, how is the future any different?  Do we live until a car wreck claims us, or a heart attack?  Or do we still consider ourselves as having cancer, which will likely come roaring back within days if our bottles of pills stop coming?  Exactly what is cancer—what’s its modus operandi?  Is the mass of humanity free of it, while the unhappy minority must feel its shadow descending over their shoulders during every birthday and Christmas they enjoy from now on?  Is the burden of that shadow never to be removed in this life?

I could say (and I have said: I have a section of this tenor in Why I’m Not Dead) that we cancer survivors at least know which gate of the city is under attack.  The “healthy” around us could be harvested tomorrow by a stroke, by an overdose, by an undetected cancer.  (By COVID?  Very, very unlikely.  Could it be that we want to make a bubonic plague of SARS-2 because insulating ourselves from it gives us a sense of being shielded from all other assaults on our mortality?)  That ubiquity of exposure is true, insofar as it goes: the Reaper is stalking everyone.  But there remains something distinctly different about living in his shadow, day in and day out.  The blissful ignorance that renders the shadow undetectable to others does, after all, generate a kind of bliss.  We don’t enjoy that luxury.

And as far as I can tell, we’re not going to, we recovering cancer-holics.  The sobered-up wino dare not ever take a sip again; and most of our group, I think, are just as leery of ever eating sugar or red meat.  Half the contents of the grocery store now wear an invisible skull-and-crossbones as we run our eyes over the shelves.  We don’t even have intact memories in which to seek comfort… or, at least, I don’t.  When I recall the summers of pitching a baseball to my son in the back yard and try to sell myself on how happy times were then, my effort is immediately sabotaged by the thought, “But you had that hideous dark snake sliding around your entrails and didn’t even know it.”  I cannot make ignorance blissful even in retrospect: my ignorant yesteryears are now horrid to me.

Which, I might argue, makes me stronger than ever: mortality will never again be able to creep up on me.  That’s a great boon… but it can also be a great burden.  The childishly pious around me tell me to trust that God will keep me sound and whole, as if I might make a virtue of delirium—might shut my eyes, stop my ears, and sing hymns of praise at full volume.  “The night’s not there, there is no night: all is sweetness, joy, and light!”  Fa-la-la, fa-la-la!  And when I decline to chime in, they consign me to outer darkness.  Maybe cancer is God’s judgment on me for refusing to accept His gift of long life.  That God Incarnate promised us immense suffering as the likely recompense of virtue in this world is… is no longer the concluding instruction of the Beatitudes, I guess.

So you don’t seem to garner much comfort from the very quarter where you would have expected to receive it.  Comfort.  There are days, you know—many days—when I’ve thought that just seeing children playing in a park would chase the Shadow away.  They say that misery loves company… but it’s not true.  Or it’s only true of man in his most fallen moments.  The Shadow lifts one out of self-preoccupation, lifts one to prospects only accessible from the mountain’s peak… but our sick society has seen fit to drape those happy little valleys in mist.  If only I could have watched our local Single A baseball team play a few games this summer… but no.  But no.  But we had to exile every joyful social pastime from our midst because of THE PANDEMIC!  Because of the abject hysteria with which we greeted even mortality’s most wavering, transient vulture-shadow on the far horizon, we pounded all the joy out of life.  We pounded it sadistically, with the seventy-two knife wounds or cudgel blows that one reads of homicidal maniacs delivering to their victims.  Some of us did it.  I didn’t.  Maybe you didn’t… but a lot of us did.

Appallingly many cancer patients did.  I always want to say to them, “Don’t you think you already have death before you in a sufficiently palpable form without running panicked from doors that bang in the night?”  I don’t understand them.  I would have thought a round or two with cancer would give you the courage to measure your limitations as a secular being.

No children at play, and no ballgames: that’s been the hardest thing to bear.  Not knowledge of my own mortality, but knowledge of how little my fellow beings recognize the precious gifts within theirs.  I should have liked to see you all—you who don’t have cancer, or who don’t yet have it, or who don’t know that you have it—finding a spot in the sun, enjoying its golden touch, and blessing God for the day.  That would have done my heart great good.  Instead, I see you complaining—constantly complaining: the sun isn’t golden enough, its beam is too hot or too cold, the spot where it falls requires you to move too far.  You understand nothing, and you learn nothing.  The valleys I see are minute pockets of fools seeking refuge in caves. I’ll look for my little patch of sunlight today, as I do every day now.  It’s a lonely spot, but it’s directly from God, and I’ll take it.  I’m sorry that most of the rest of you won’t be there.

People of the Twilight: The Masked World Between Being and Non-Being

They fear life.  In many ways, they hate it.  It hasn’t been kind to them.  Mother Nature may have burdened them with unattractive faces, or the luck of the draw may have given them a single parent who bothered about their childhood needs a quarter of the time—and never on weekends.  Perhaps their temperament (who knows if such things are bestowed more by nature or nurture?) has prevented a comfortable degree of socialization.  They are oddball, alone, and without a cast of supporting characters or even a stock of pleasant memories to offer them refuge.

They’re likely to thrust a tremendous investment of affection upon a dog or a cat—the childhood- or bosom-friend they never had whose big eyes can always be interpreted as limitlessly loving and whose muteness as perfect agreement.  They tend to eat too much.  Whatever care they give to personal appearance often borders on self-mutilation, either to channel the loathing they feel for an unprepossessing body or, perhaps, to ground the argument that they could make a swan of the ugly duckling if they gave a damn.

Males, more often than females, seek escape in the virtual reality of video games.  The feminine taste leans more toward romantic fantasies available ad infinitum in ebook form.  Both sexes exploit social media in search of escape or relief—the male more likely to slash and burn with a lexicon learned from public toilets, pretending to be the buccaneer iconoclast he hasn’t the intellectual depth or moral courage to play in real life; the female more often curling up warmly behind an avatar and a trove of cliches that render her easily “friendable”.

The female is much more likely to have an above-average exposure to formal education.  One may even say that she is magnetically drawn to certain of the “social studies” in college because of the patented rationalizations they offer for her misery—the absolution of any personal guilt and the accusations lavished upon others.  Graduate-degree mills in several fields are indeed nothing short of a “crutch industry”, thanks to an abundance of her kind in the post-grad population.

The male of this species that dwells in twilight, while not so successful academically (and, for that matter, distinguished by his unsuccess in all endeavors), isn’t stupid.  He has a measure of intellect that might have been tapped for more-ambitious-than-average projects if only a means of motivating him existed.  He has dedicated whatever talent he possesses, sadly, to sneering and snarling at the system that walls him in with evidence of his failure and inadequacy.  He might possibly construct a bomb some day, and it might possibly be of the small nuclear variety: he has the acumen necessary for something of the sort.  The question is… does he have the courage, the hellish courage (think of Milton’s Satan), needed actually to make other humans who’ve never done him wrong suffer far more than he ever has?  Probably not.  Mercifully, in most cases, no.

As a footnote, I should add that another kind of male exists: more sociable, much more “female”.  Oddball yet eloquent, alienated yet readily found in company, he plays at the edge of twilight and represents an unstable ally.  His companionable qualities make him risky: he may withdraw in a given crisis from endorsing outright anarchy.  While he may follow whatever crowd forms to overthrow everything, he’s also apt to follow that hard day’s work with an evening at the theater or the cabaret.  He’s not a bomb-thrower; and if you yourself are one, you shouldn’t assume that he has your back.

Whether courtesy of the Ivory Tower or simply through natural attraction, both “pure” sexes of Twilight People are idolaters of the future.  The future is not now.  In Baudelaire’s grand phrase, it’s anywhere out of this world.  The details of that better—that oh-so-very-best—future are yet to be hatched out.  Why bother?  At the moment, the present needs annihilating, for Future Perfection cannot come to dwell among us until a place for it to dwell is swept clean.  A mind even of average intelligence, to be sure, would grasp early in “the struggle” that the Golden Age isn’t going to show up during the lifetime of its footsoldiers.  The Twilight People “get” this.  They embrace it, indeed.  The indefinite delay—the perpetual postponement—is more attraction than obstacle to the true believer.  After all, the future’s real gift is its looming, its approach.  One may devote one’s life to preparing the glorious way with far more zeal than one might bring to actual day-to-day life in any well-defined utopia.

The zeal’s the thing.  Life is hateful, miserable, loathsome… but zeal for tomorrow makes today tolerable—and may tomorrow, always almost here, never complete its disillusioning arrival!

Two further characteristics will likely have struck you about the People of Twilight as I wrote the previous couple of paragraphs: 1) they have no faith in any metaphysical reality, and 2) their zeal for “unreal reality” has been nudged into the gap of that missing faith.  It couldn’t be otherwise; for, as much as they shun daylight, they also fear the night.  They hate life, but they hate death, too.  They flee life, but can’t flee it too far—not beyond its edge; for in that chasm lurks the unthinkable, infinite and permanent oblivion.  Precisely because they’ve made nothing of life, they must cling to it.  It’s all they’ve got.  Maybe it will yet yield something pleasant, something worthwhile.  Probably not.  But at least there’s that chance in a million.  Beyond the pale, in the outer darkness… no chance of anything.  Ever.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of faith is its taking the terror out of death… and perhaps an advantage very nearly as great is its bestowing purpose on life.  Imagine the misery of having neither purpose nor a means of escape from purposelessness.  A difficult spot to find oneself in.  Twilight is the only alternative: a world that isn’t here-and-now but also isn’t the hereafter: a kind of ongoing suspension, a transport in cryogenic immobility from the hated world to the same world no longer hateful.  And you get there by dreaming of a world no longer hateful… on whose behalf you ignore, or actively incinerate, all in the world around you.

I’ve come now to masks.  I might have come to firebombing and Antifa, or to broadcasting made-up dramas in full awareness of their fantasy, or to translating every single human event into the plots and assaults of racists as ingeniously as John Donne transformed a flea into sexual intercourse.  But masks will do.  In fact, they are surely the supreme trope, the most expressive creation, of the People of Twilight.  The masked face breathes, but does not partake of your filthy public air.  That face may speak to you, but “socially distanced” and muffled by a sheet.  Its features are not those of a “death mask”, for the eyes remain open; but without contributing gestures from mouth or nostrils, the intent behind the eyes remains always equivocal.  Are they warm and simpatico… or are they hot and fuming?

The new face is half in the dying daylight and half in the clammy fingers of night.  It’s neither fish nor fowl.  Hands off!  You don’t know it—you have no hermeneutic key to its thoughts.  Wherever you may suppose it to be… it’s elsewhere.  Welcome to the brotherhood of the stay-away-from-me’s.

The rationale undergirding (or hiding behind) the mask is similarly evasive.  We are told that the mask keeps deadly microbes from exiting the wearer, and also that it protects the wearer from deadly microbes.  (Yet mask-cultists never appear to register anxiety about infecting others: their concern is always for their own vulnerability.)  The mask’s weave blocks minute viral particles… but it does not compromise the wearer’s lungs by trapping larger contaminants and bacteria before the mouth for hundreds of inhalation cycles.  The mask is security against a virus traveling everywhere—everywhere—in aerosol form… yet it’s unnecessary outdoors, and its challenge is largely met by social distancing.  Your mask will protect you from me… yet I must wear one, too, because yours may not protect you.  COVID virons are so tiny that two mask-walls scarcely suffice to impede their attack… yet the visible gaps around the chin and the nose bridge are too small to open a passage.  Bare hands are constantly in contact with noxious “naked air”… yet those same hands are forever readjusting the mask, with a thumb or fingertip slipping past the gate every time.  Or if the wearer always “purels” and/or removes gloves before every adjustment… well, didn’t a bare hand grasp the second glove to come off, or didn’t a bare hand hit the pump of the Purel bottle?  And there’s always that potentially lethal three or four feet between the bottle and the face, filled by ever-untrustworthy free air.

Neither dead nor alive.  The People of Twilight are among us, and they are legion: just how many, we’ll soon find out.  But a house divided against itself cannot stand, and a people half of whom flee the daylight cannot grow and prosper.  What the deranged cultists of the fleeing half refuse to understand is that twilight, by definition, is unstable, ephemeral: a flight into night.  To reject life is to run into death’s arms.  To deny God is to affirm fearful oblivion.  There’s no third option.

FREE EBOOK: From Sunday (October 11) to Thursday (October 15), this text that I created for a college class is will be available as a Kindle download at no cost whatever. Mainstream academic publishers, of course, didn’t want to take a chance on my thesis: that medieval scribes had faintly Christianized the ancient Irish legend of Cu Chulainn’s journey to the Other World and the Welsh Owein’s transits through the same interface. They bristled even more when I added Marie de France’s Eliduc to the list, these days treated only as an indictment of toxic masculinity. Yet the redemptive allegory, at least in the last two, is unmistakable… except to the unredeemed.

No Home on the Range: Corporatism Hunts Free Enterprise to Extinction

Last week I accomplished exactly what I expected, if not what I wanted: I left several readers supposing that I was a “snowflake-coddler”—that I found a period of internship in our economy’s miserable entry-level positions to be an excessively brutal demand to place upon tender young college graduates.  Which misinterpretation of my message indeed goes to show one thing (and maybe not much of anything else): that a man with a hammer sees nothing but nails, and a man who never removes his sunglasses finds the moon unimpressive.

No, those aren’t two things.  I’m trying to be apothegmatic.  Here’s an analogy that’s a bit less cliché.  Some people are going to stuff and mount you to fill a vacant spot in their display of felines even if you have feathers.  They class you at a glance, without study. They see in you what they’ve already decided must be there.  They hear in your utterances a script that they’ve already written in their heads.  If your audience consists only of them, you might as well save your breath.

I should know.  I’ve been trying to make the case for a “conservative conservatism” throughout the past three decades.  I always run into the “jobs/growth/innovation” types who don’t—who apparently can’t—realize that their vision is a progressive one: ever-changing consumer tastes, ever-responding markets, ever-shifting landscapes, ever-evolving standards of relevance.  No stability of foundational experiences, no permanence of places, little enough fixity in basic values.  I’m perceived by such people always to lose the argument—and, in the process, to disgrace myself with flabby, namby-pamby sentimentalism—because I don’t appreciate that Americans are tough, resourceful, energetic, dynamic, go-getting, risk-taking: the lumberjack, the cowboy, the wildcatter.  Yee-hah!

You know how that movie always ends, don’t you?  The lumberjack has no more timber to cut.  The aging cowboy finds that all the range is fenced in and that trains have supplanted cattle drives.  The wildcatter sits disconsolately in the tower of his mansion, abandoned by his third wife and reading the telegram about his estranged son’s death in a car crash.  “Yee-hah” is not a philosophy of life.  It might get Slim Pickens from the bomb bay door to the Kremlin atop his nuke, but it won’t get a child successfully to middle age.  You can’t discover human purpose in a life of consuming, moving to new pastures, and consuming again.

I decided (in vain, no doubt, with regard to those who never remove their sunglasses) to take one more crack at the subject by reflecting upon the walks my wife and I take through the all-but-empty Mount Berry Mall in Rome, Georgia.  With the onset of the fall allergy season, I can’t seem to spend much time outdoors… and one circuit of Mount Berry Mall probably gives us almost a mile of air-conditioned pacing if we wind around every nave.  I believe Berry College (now “University”, like all one-time colleges) sold the land for this ambitious project in the late Eighties.  The Mall isn’t at all old, as such things go, and parts of it are quite majestic.  It’s a pleasant venue.  Yet it has never prospered.  The Toys-R-Us sitting at the turn-in from Highway 27, where we bought a couple of my son’s favorite stuffed animals during our visits to his grandparents, has been boarded up now for well over a decade.

Meanwhile, the Mall’s interior has shrunk steadily—not in physical size, of course, but in its “enterprise footprint”.  The food court, teaming with exotic, high-calory options that are all strictly forbidden on my cancer-throttling diet, seems to be the only quarter that does any business.  J.C. Penney’s is selling off everything—everything, manikins included—at whatever price it can get, opening two afternoons a week.  The massive sporting goods outlet, Dunham’s, appears to have red blood in its cheeks, despite the utter invisibility of its customers; and Belk’s hasn’t yet gone as foul as whale on a beach (though the “50% off” signs in all its windows have an ominous smell).  Other than that, we see on our meanders only a half-dozen outlets for designer clothes (frilly tops for chic female teens, high-priced high fashion for their moms), fronts for the luxury-bath-and-soap market (represented now by just one Bed, Bath, and Beyond), a Kay Jewelers, and a salon where Vietnamese women discreetly perfect toe- and fingernails.

What else?  I think the space that sells smartphone accessories (not the phones themselves, apparently) may still be open, though its gate is never up nor its lights above a dull glow when we happen to pass.  Hibbett’s Sporting Goods has a presence, selling off metal bats and mouth-guards at the all-but-ubiquitous half-price.  At least three or four specialty shoe stores are stocked, not to be confused either with clothing vendors or sports-equipment distributors—wow, does our society ever pay attention to its footwear!  Otherwise… well, a lot of utterly empty space yawning beyond the glass of vacated showrooms: thousands of square feet of comfy indoor refuge the nature of whose previous commercial purpose cannot even be guessed today.

Why has the Mount Berry Mall failed?  Possibly, it hasn’t.  Its acres and acres of interior have all been freshly carpeted: convenient for our ambulatory exercise, but also a very curious investment on somebody’s part if there’s no plan for overhaul.  Let’s hope for the best.  But why was the Mall already failing twenty years ago?  It was on the respirator long before Dr. Fauci told our whole nation to stay home.

Some would say that the Internet has rendered storefronts permanently obsolete.  I have to question this, however.  People still crave places to go.  We’re social beings.  And once we find ourselves in a marketplace venue, we like to browse.  If various wares are spread around us, we often return home carrying a bag or two even though we had no intent of buying anything when we left.

There are also many items—admit it—which cannot be reliably purchased over the Net.  Remember all those shoe stores?  How many pairs of shoes have you put in your digital shopping cart that pained your feet when the box arrived, despite your having clicked on the proper size?  And with my revised diet, how many food products have I lately sent back to Amazon because the Web page didn’t reveal that they contained soy or added sugar?  There’s sometimes a real need to examine the product face to face.

Okay, okay… but still (says my snowflake-hostile cowboy), why do you suppose that a young person who wants to make dolls and teddy bears or to write and record songs or to collect and trade baseball cards should be able to make a living in such fanciful activities?  We should all have hobbies.  Especially because our day job can be so boring or soul-killing, we should most definitely have that special something done in our free time to lift us up again.  In the real world, though, the special something rarely translates into paid bills.  It’s foolish—pure pipe-dreaming—to suppose that an economy could run on lollipop fantasies of the sort.

If I wanted to be arch, I could play back for this urban cowboy (any urban cowboy: I know the species well) his own words mere days or weeks earlier when he praised capitalism to the skies for freeing people to chase their dreams.  Oh, yes: I’ve got that pep talk on my mental tape-recorder in thousands of renditions!  But I’d rather defend his compromising statement than deride it: I genuinely believe that free enterprise (which is sometimes distinguished from capitalism—more on that shortly) can indeed build a realistic bridge between people and their visions of sugarplums.

So you like to stitch together dollies and teddies (and who does nowadays… but say that you do): you wouldn’t need more than a closet-sized shop with a broad casement window to peddle your button-eyed wares.  Say that you write and record songs.  An even smaller closet would do.  Visitors could request that you compose a lyric for their wedding or anniversary.  Why not?  “Come back in a week—I’ll have it ready.”  And the card-dealer?  Some of his merchandise could be quite costly, so a tiny space in a secure, well-policed environment would be ideal.  All three of these improbable enterprises—and any number of others like them—would share one critical factor: each would profit symbiotically from the others’ presence, as well as from the colossal magnetism of Penney’s and Belk’s and Dunham’s.  Customers who might be vaguely enticed by such offbeat offerings but wouldn’t drive across town to browse through them would willingly stop by while on a more general shopping expedition.  Mere pedestrians like my wife and me, too, with no thought originally of buying anything might step in to admire Jurassic Teddy or to price a George Kell rookie card in good condition.

In short, the mall—the latter twentieth-century American version of the marketplace, the piazza, the agora—is ideally suited to promote the tiny enterprises of creative people with somewhat cockeyed visions.  But no, cries the Cowboy.  “No, it’s not!  Are you crazy?  Think of the overhead!  Such minuscule operations couldn’t begin to rent even the smallest space in a mall.”  Well, thank you, Cowboy, for bringing us straight to the heart of the matter.  Why can’t small entrepreneurs afford mall space, which ought to be infinitely more congenial to their bottom line than an independent storefront on Main Street (or a ramshackle lean-to bordering suburbia)?  Let’s consider the reasons.  They tell us much about how healthy, dream-friendly free enterprise degenerates into crony capitalism and competition-hostile corporatism.

Local taxes are a good starting point.  City and county governments seem to consider malls as rich terrain for plundering to fund their pet projects.  Precisely because so many shoppers go to malls and because so many huge national chains claim space in them, the haul is lucrative… supposedly.  Of course, these assumptions strangle the small enterprise from the start.  In and of themselves, high taxes make mall space prohibitively expensive for the doll-maker or card-dealer; and if he or she tries to pass the cost along to the consumer… well, suddenly the crap-shoot of buying footwear online seems a much better alternative than visiting Shoe Carnival.

The mega-chains seldom complain, though they probably should.  Large corporations have developed the philosophy that the more small businesses are driven under, the larger the pot left on the table for Penney’s and Belk’s.  In many specific markets, corporations even lobby government to raise taxes or impose new regulations, knowing that smaller competition will have to fold as a result.  I don’t see how Penney’s suffers at the mall from the presence of a shop that peddles leather jackets and teeny-bling, however.  On the contrary, the big fish can feed upon the customers drawn to the little fish as much as the little ones can snap up a few Penney’s patrons.  Nevertheless, the signs that Mount Berry Mall has become the exclusive province of vast chains are unmistakable.  The chains should have done more, not less, to lobby for lower taxes and lower rents.  Their survival-of-the-fattest DNA has targeted them for extinction in this instance.

Sometimes politics at the national level—macro-politics, as we might say—sabotages thriving small businesses.  The minimum wage is the most graphic example, with certain strictures associated with OSHA being a close second.  Tammy’s Teddies could make a nice go of it if Tammy could employ a couple of sixteen-year-olds at seven bucks an hour to work the cash register and arrange displays over the summer… but no.  Kids have to be paid like adults with hungry families at home, and to enjoy a full slate of benefits.  This is represented as “humane” by demagoguing populist politicians who don’t really give a damn about the average family’s income.  So Tammy can’t employ high-schoolers… Tammy can’t keep her door open… and Tammy goes on unemployment while she waits for Walmart to offer her a gig stocking shelves.

I’m not an economist.  I feel confident that I could double or triple this list’s length if I knew the all of game’s “inside baseball” realities.  And yet, economists with advanced degrees often promote the environment so toxic for small business that I’ve just described.  It seems to me that they bring to their studies a taste for centralization that dictates how they assemble specific facts.  I freely—even proudly—admit that, for my part, I have brought to my analysis a presumption in favor of the creative, energetic individual.  I hate “big”, because “big” suffocates.  Free enterprise is supposed to give “little” a chance to breathe and to thrive: that’s the proposition, dear Cowboy, which you’re supposed to be singing on your guitar.  Instead, you’ve been duped into warbling, “Leave the range unfenced and open—let those corporations move their herds!”  What you’re not noticing is that government is buying your saddle and stocking your chuck wagon; because government, for the sake of securing power over as vast a block of citizenry as possible, wants all the small sodbusters to sell up and move to the city, where they face lives of maximal dependency.  (It occurred to me, as I worked through this faintly humorous analogy, that I was describing precisely what happened during the British Enclosure, and especially during the Irish Potato Famines.)

We could make our young people eager to participate in the marketplace if it were truly free.  We could so energize them, indeed, that few would be interested in wasting four or five years expensively taking a degree in Sociology.  Instead, our “conservatives” have allowed Big Business to fuse seamlessly, almost invisibly, with Big Government—as the two all the while cultivate the public-relatio9ns myth that they are mortal enemies.  And the conservative plays useful idiot in the sell, more often than not.

So where did your open range go, Cowboy?  You still don’t realize, do you, that an unfenced plain prowled by the Wild Bill Gates Cattle Company is just a wind-tossed slaughterhouse for freedom.

FREE BOOK OF THE WEEKEventually It All Gets Used: Complete Poems of a Fragmentary Life contains every poem I’ve been able to find from my adult years—and I’m being rather liberal with the word “adult”. Actually, the early poems shock me now with the degree of severe depression and misanthropy hiding just beneath their surface. I also look back and see the struggles I had as a believer (during my thirties) in a very personal God while various forms of organized religion crowded my professional life (forms that sometimes had the aura of big business). Fatherhood transformed me—utterly transformed my life, like landfall on an enchanted island. Then, in my last productive years, I got a bit wry and testy about several political subjects which I’ve since learned to back away from. I’m much more of a contemplative now… but contemplatives don’t write poetry charged with angst!

You might or might not like some or most of these. They’re all free from today (Saturday, October 3) through Wednesday (October 7).