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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).

Finding Peace as Willy Wonka Socialism Closes In

A few weeks ago, I joined a new social-media outlet dubbing itself CaucusRoom.  I will recommend it at this point only insofar as I‘m seeking “followers” for my newly created “cause”: to wit, the securing of our lamentably exposed power grid.  In our present state, we could easily be plunged into a genocidal paralysis devoid of refrigeration, central heating, air-conditioning, communication (beyond earshot or line-of-sight), home defense (of any electronic variety), transportation (unless we own a pre-1980 vehicle—and even then, understand that gas stations won’t pump fuel), cash resources (if related to credit cards or online banking), medical resources (if they run on electricity or require transport to hospitals, which in any case will have shut down)… we’ll become prime candidates for being starved, frozen, or murdered, in short.  Most of us—predictions have reached the figure of 90 percent—will die within a year.  And there’s nothing tendentious about the science, though mainstream “journalists” skimpily cite 40-year-old papers to poo-poo the threat. Unlike “climate change”, which relies on a lame “greenhouse” model (the earth’s many active volcanoes do not simulate greenhouse conditions) and ignores the saw-tooth history of Earth’s climate over the past ten millennia, a massive solar flare is as much a cinch to happen as an 8.0 quake along the San Andreas Fault.

Okay, are you concerned yet?  I have been so, for a long time—about this and several other “causes”.  But my brief exposure to most of CaucusRoom has confirmed in me a lesson I was taught by cancer this past summer.  It’s this: life on earth for all of us, as individuals and as vast human (or even biological) aggregates, is finite.  At some point, we have a spiritual duty to prosper from our time here rather than to fret about how to make that time last indefinitely.  Quantity is not quality.  Inner peace—union with one’s Creator—is not achieved by digging a moat and throwing up stone walls of defense.  Most of the participants in this new SM platform, as with those who populate its cousins, appear to me to be “dug in” as they pay exclusive attention to some enemy at the gates, ignoring the state of the palace at their backs.  As long as there’s a “they” to fight, the value of the cause for which one is fighting doesn’t come under much scrutiny.

I began nursing this bitter (though strangely soothing) thought after I commented on someone’s post of a P.J. O’Rourke article… or I believe it was a review of the humorist’s new book, rather.  Now, taking humorists seriously is always an exercise in self-mutilation.  I should have known better.  But then, I don’t know that comparing our young “snowflake” generation to spoiled kids who want everyone to have a free doughnut (or something… I can’t recall the terms of the analogy, which was pretty lackluster) struck other CaucusRoom readers as tongue-in-cheek.  I don’t even know that O’Rourke himself had traces of wryness on his mug when he penned the words.  To a great many of us, exhausted with “wokeness”, our children appear to be over-educated brats who haven’t learned that (for instance) electricity doesn’t flow from Sheetrock if you just screw in a plastic outlet panel.

But some of us, too, have watched our children struggle with depression—and the ordeal is no joking matter, no comedy sketch about poor-little-rich-kids in a pastry shop.  Imagine that you’ve graduated from college and are starting your eight-to-five existence, which is supposed to carry you through most of your time on earth and to compensate or fulfill you over those decades with a rising salary.  There’s nothing remotely spiritual in the equation.  No deep satisfaction in the work you do has been factored in.  You know better—for that work is often service to an inscrutable machine whose ultimate objective is… well, the handsome profits responsible for your salary.  Higher motives be damned!

So, on that arid spiritual savanna into which you’ve wandered, you purchase gadgets and gizmos to amuse you over weekends. Eventually, as bank account and credit rating prosper, you spring for a 3,500-square-foot house just outside the taxable zones of Dallas or Denver. You take vacations to Vegas and Tampa one week out of the year, you smoke a little weed and acquire a fairly non-toxic alcohol dependency, you join a big church where you flutter dangerously close to flames lit by an abundance of highly discreet divorcees… and then the sand runs out of the glass.  That was your life.  You were a success, a good American: supported your church, never got caught cheating on your wife, sired and raised a couple of kids whom you reintroduced to the same assembly line (prep school, State U, desk at Merrill Lynch)….

Yeah, that’s your life.  That’s it.  What do you want, a free jelly roll?  I suppose you want everyone to have free jelly rolls… is that what you want?  What are you, a snowflake?

I don’t recall my precise comments upon the CaucusRoom post, which I haven’t managed to relocate, or the responses to my comments; but as telegraphic as all the “communication” was, I think it implied the tragic disconnect that I’ve tried to describe more amply in the last few paragraphs.  We “conservatives” don’t seem to have any detectable regard for quiet streets with shaded sidewalks and front porches where our aging neighbors rock.  Where those venues continue to exist, they characterize once-desirable settings (desirable in the Fifties, perhaps) which have now become “run down” and seem nearly devoured by adjoining overpasses and interstates.  Our “way of life” is the make-money paradigm that requires a constant purging of such neighborhoods, along with all other relicts and habits of the past.  What do you want… you want us to hold out for quaint corner drugstores and steeples nestled among tall trees in the Age of the Internet?  You want free doughnuts for everyone?  That scheme’s not economically viable any more.

Pardon me… but I think the miserable, anguishing poverty of this “conservative” rationale is why our children are Willy Wonka socialists.  Yes, their mother’s-day-out conceptions of how an economy might work if only we built chocolate factories everywhere are constructed of colorful, round-edged blocks that should have been left in the playpen; but… but is the sole alternative really spiritual annihilation?  Is that really all we’ve got to offer—is that how we intend to win them over?

I don’t begin to accept that the majority of these young, clueless wonders with worthless college degrees are lining up to enlist in Antifa.  My experience is that they really don’t like anything vaguely scented with politics.  They supported Bernie four years ago because he was their Willy, their clownish guide to an alternative world not slick with blood from cut throats and poignarded backs: the corporate world, the advance-at-all-costs world.  And they’re not all unemployable, you know.  Many of them have already doubled my best-ever annual salary, though they go to work dressed very casually in rags that do nothing to hide their rings and tattoos.  They fool around with computer code and in sound studios helping capitalist enterprises to exploit the dreamy gullibility of the masses—unaware of any potential hypocrisy in their labors since they themselves move in the vapors of a dream.  Thanks to their inspired work in the make-over room, DuPont or Halliburton or General Motors now comes off seeming infinitely more concerned about ushering you through the deadly pandemic than selling you… whatever it is such conglomerates sell today.  (Sometimes it’s hard to tell amid all the passionate dedication to “keeping you safe”.)  Insurance is peddled by a gecko or a flaky cop with an emu partner.  Red Bull gives you cartoon wings.  Suddenlink connects you in Instagram-length vignettes.  And of all the happy people dramatically or graphically represented on your screens as made safe, thoroughly insured, energized, and connected, a good half seem to have drawn their significant other from a different race.

I mention that final detail only to stress that, when Generation Z’s graduates do find jobs in some tech-related enterprise, they eagerly lend their gifts to imagining a world socially and culturally different from the one we actually see.  Yes, it’s a happy world: it always has been, in these industrial make-overs.  (When I was a kid, Paul Parrot would assure us that P.F. Flyers “make your feet run faster, as fast as I can fly”.)  But it’s also a more racially integrated world.  It’s a world where women don’t need fathers to raise their children, where svelte vegan retirees enjoy their golden years on endless Caribbean cruises, where energy really does appear to course from the Sheetrock.  I think the young designers of these Never Never Lands half-believe, in some spontaneous fashion, the utopian claptrap they grind out.  (Even the most alcoholic cartoonist, in contrast, didn’t believe Paul Parrot existed.) In the old days, you tried to convince the public that eating spinach would make them look like Popeye because you had an unsavory vegetable to unload.  Nowadays, fantasies are being packaged for the public by producers who themselves yearn to locate reality in fantasy.

Eventually and inevitably, some of these raptured cherubs accede to the control of their own enterprises… and they support leftist, statist causes.  Conservatives are shocked.  They protest, “It was free enterprise that made you a mogul… and now you want to throw it all over for socialism?”  But… but the Young Turks became rich by marketing their naïveté to others of their generation who were equally naive.  To some extent, you see, living in illusion can be profitable in a capitalist system.  I mean… if you thoroughly believe in your own illusions, aren’t you especially well suited to convince others of their truth who yearn to believe?

The yearning to believe… this is why, sooner or later, our society is doomed to become a socialist anthill.  Our children appear to us spoiled brats in a candy shop because they can’t “get real”, because they don’t understand “what it’s really like”.  Yet that bitter panacea—the well-paying job—which was flung back at me on CaucusRoom as the answer to their problems is part of the poison driving them to candy.  They don’t need money; or, at least, if they turn into the kind of human being who only needs money, then they will become as sick as if they’d gorged on socialist sugar.  What they need is higher purpose, which they misidentify with an egalitarian utopia. They don’t understand that Uncle Bernie’s Candy Factory must end up being Treblinka or Auschwitz because trying to better humanity within merely human boundaries always results in vast slaughter.  The visionary do-gooder must forever be melting down and remolding the millions of little morsels trundling along his assembly line; for the batter of which we’re concocted is flawed, and it doesn’t rise properly under heat.

They can’t see this, the children.  Our children.  They won’t see it until they live through their own nightmares on the assembly line.  The evils of socialism, I’m afraid, aren’t something you learn to assess by reading a conservative book or listening to a conservative professor (assuming that you could find either one).  They strike you between the eyes only after you come to understand human nature.  My brother and sister remain left-of-center, I believe, because they were relatively popular in their adolescent high-school-and-college cocoons, and the habits acquired in that insulated existence have clung to them.  I, on the other hand, while the least worldly of human beings, learned the deeper meaning of the Crucifixion after years of being an ugly duckling.  My misery was a blessing.  I came to grasp that people are fatally warped by their egotism—their unconscious, self-indulgent dedication to a script that casts them in an enviable role.  And the contradictory evidence from the “real world” that might have made their well-rehearsed lines taste foul in their mouths becomes, instead, the raw material for weaving ingenious new narratives….  So passes an entire lifetime, in many tragic cases.

This analogy portrays much more accurately what I see in young people than any facile comparison of them with spoiled brats surrounded by Krispy Kremes.  Of course, all of us parents want our kids to be well-integrated and “happy”—to be shielded in some measure from bitter truths about human nature.  Hence we send them forth into the adult world, all too often, as if it might be a place where they could simply share out confections to the hungry masses from miraculously self-replenishing shelves.  The fault for that, however, clearly lies in ourselves as much as in them.  We have fashioned this seductive Siren-shore of socialism by loving our little ones not wisely, but too well.

Now our society is poised to enter a period of rotting bones—of victims who have heard the sweet song and thrown themselves into the brine, thinking they could live forever on its melody.  We’ll have to get through that… or not.  We’ll have to get through a period of not getting through it.  We’ll have to rediscover true faith: the confidence, I mean, that peace and joy are already assured us in a higher reality, a “real reality”.  We’ll have to stop trying to substitute our own provisional, earth-bound realities for the genuine article—the very sin of which we so justly accuse our socialist offspring.

Take whatever November and the new year bring, and live in peace.

Free Download of the Week: Starting today (September 26) and extending through Wednesday (September 30), my collection of short stories, A Sleepless Man Might Earn Two Wages, is available as a free Kindle download.  Written over a period of two decades, all of the stories are intended to evoke the quality of a dream in some manner. Events, that is, are bizarre or even physically impossible in certain respects, yet their portrayal is simple, straightforward, and tantalizingly humming with truth.

The Invasion of the Puppets: BLM and the Last Days of Civil Society

Somebody should perhaps write an addendum to The Screwtape Letters.  My suspicion is that somebody already has, either in the “People’s Republic” of China or in the upper echelons of American academe.

The way that mass consciousness—if one can use those two words together—has been manipulated by the BLM movement (shakedown? insurrection?) is pure Satanic genius.  When I read about the conduct of both Kansas City and Houston players as the anthem opened the NFL’s initial game, I realized what a tight little box had been sealed upon our national psyche.  One team’s fifty stalwarts linked arms and bent knees; the other’s simply refused to take the field.  Now, I couldn’t possibly care less about football at any level.  I despise the game.  As a boy, I knew several kids who were crippled for life while playing high school football, and one who actually died after a year on a respirator.  Suits me fine if we just hand the whole sport off to the feminists. It’s about blindsiding or mobbing your adversary, not going mano a mano face-to-face.

But there are much more important issues involved here that we ignore at our peril.  And, of course, the buffoonery is spreading.  We all know about basketball‘s “woke” transformation, even those of us who couldn’t readily name six NBA teams.  (Yeah, I’ve raised my hand.) Now baseball is crowding in for a piece of the idiot action—idiot on the surface, that is; for the genius is in the Puppeteer’s mind and not in the wooden heads of his Pinocchios.  Several Major League clubs refused to perform in their empty stadiums (all stadiums in COVID America being empty nowadays—that’s part of the behind-the-scenes brilliance) after the shooting of Jacob Blake.  None of these blockheads knew the details of the shooting: “cop shoots black dude…” okay, let’s roll.  The ratiocinative chain went no further than that.

But consider the “meta” of these moron-level associative responses.  Their very fuzziness is part of the mire wherein we have all waded and been trapped.  Exactly what are you protesting, Mighty Casey?  How about you, Slag Bronkowsky—and you, D’Shondrick Hayes?  “Well, it’s the cops.  They’re killing young black kids.”  So… your best way of addressing the social disease underlying these fatalities is to squat on the flag or simply refuse to fulfill your player’s contract?  “Gotta draw attention to the abuse, man.”  Attention you have certainly drawn… but to what?  To the police?  To which police?  “All of ’em, man!”  So let’s suppose that all police are racist executioners disguised in blue.  Doesn’t disrespecting the flag send the signal, rather, that you find the whole nation guilty?  Doesn’t walking out on your job send the signal that you think everything’s a contemptible scam?  “It is!  Everything, just like you said.  And yeah, everyone’s guilty.”  Okay, we’re getting real clarity now.  Gimlet precision.  So it’s not about the cops: it’s about mainstream America and her political system.  “Yeah, that’s right.”  Because all of it—because everyone—is racist.  “Yeah, that’s right.”  So why didn’t you take a knee a long time ago to protest the quarter-of-a-million-plus black babies who are aborted every year?  “Come on, man!  You’re just trying to make this political!”

Wow.  There’s a coherent, resonant message for you.  Every passive spectator out there who doesn’t applaud me because I’m calling his eight-to-five world a load of crap is part of said load.  It’s a world, by the way, that supplied him and other spectators with the means to blow a couple of Franklins on a ticket and watch me play.  Yeah, I’ll play—but first you’ll open up for a scoop of this, cracker, and you’ll swallow!

Result: average Americans—hard-working, practical, common-sensical—are repulsed by all the self-righteous arrogance and logic-hostile bullying.  The ordinary adult, being sane and responsible, grows angry.  He turns his back on sports, which actually darkens his mood (because we do genuinely need some sort of frivolous escape-valve in our routine); and before very long, he may even begin to mutter thoughts only to himself, or at most to a very tight circle of familiars, that people of color are a tremendous annoyance.

Brilliant, I say.  This is a huge accomplishment in the Puppeteer’s bid to subvert society.  For we now have significant rifts opening up in our social fabric; and even better, the strain producing the splits isn’t merely economic or cultural—it’s the beginning stage of true racism.  Not the phony kind, but the real thing.  Well done, Master Screwtape!

Furthermore, the rifts are numerous and running in several directions, as opposed to reflecting a simple black/white antagonism.  Whites who cannot bed down at night without mentally checking some box that confirms their moral superiority rush to endorse anything with “BLM” scrawled along its edge.  It seems to me, honestly, as though their voice is much louder than any football team’s—their need of this bizarre bedtime prayer-of-the-Pharisee more urgent than any black athlete’s of publicizing abuses in racial profiling.  The neo-fascist Antifa draws its most committed footsoldiers from the ranks of the “woke white”.  If BLM didn’t exist, Antifa’s white buccaneers would have to invent it (which, you know, some of them—or their bloody-handed captains—actually did: few of the puppeteers are genetically African).

The presence of anti-white racist whites in the melee ensures that no sane discussion of specific cases or of appropriate generalities can occur.  Any sentence that begins, “But did you realize that Jacob Blake… did you know that George Floyd…” draws immediate artillery fire.  Yours not to question.  Do not dare initiate the observation, “But if so many black kids were not raised without fathers…”.  Oh, don’t you dare!  Shut up!  SHUT UP!  SHUT THE F— UP!”

So now we have at least three phalanxes launching missiles at each other, with the Woke White appearing to be one with the black protest but, increasingly, distanced from it by their own zealous excesses.  I really can’t say how numerous a fourth battle line (or, more properly, defensive line) may be, consisting of people with African DNA who claim the right to open, peaceful discussion; for few human beings have the courage of Candace Owens, Kimberly Klacik, or Allen West.  Most of this happy few (or secret many, let us hope) do their claiming in a whisper, since they see how gaudily the outspoken are crucified.  And the grumbling white mainstream, of course, hasn’t much interest in coming to their rescue, and probably would do so very ineptly if it tried. (I took a lot of flak from the White Right when I tried to publicize Kim Klacik’s campaign with my little trumpet last spring.)

Because of unique (and accidental?) circumstances, our ongoing social fragmentation is turbocharged in 2020.  Most of us are already on the verge of suicide or homicide thanks to COVID lockdown.  When you cook up a potful of people who have long since been denied their constitutional right to associate freely with fellow citizens, season it with paranoia about a “pandemic” whose fatalities approximate the curve of a bad flu year, and finally stir in racial hatred and armed bullying (with faces all duly masked)… well, old Screwtape outdid himself this time.  Hell is boiling over into Middle Earth.

For the record, I fully grasp that young black males are profiled by police with excessive readiness.  While it’s true that this demographic is disproportionately involved in certain crimes (such as possession of prohibited substances or of unlicensed firearms), the law requires probable cause to pry into a person’s private space… and “driving while black” is not probable cause.  How many white parents would get the call that their college student has been incarcerated on drug charges if a single stop-and-search protocol were applied with equal rigor across the board?  Yes, I understand.

But—as the words run in some Rap song that I recall from my son’s high school days—“dat ain’t dis, and dis ain’t dat.”  The BLM frenzy is in fact drawing effective attention away from issues which might be ameliorated.  A simple “stop profiling” would have done the trick; and I don’t know if kneeling for the anthem would remain the best delivery system, but at least it would not involve the open disrespect of—say—turning the back.  So kneel, if you like.  People of all creeds, classes, and colors could chime in, as well, without all the virtue-miming.  Attorneys like Kathleen Zellner have made us aware that repeat petty offenders or “poor white trash” can get railroaded all the way to Death Row by detectives who cut corners.  Buddy Woodall is serving life here in Georgia for a double murder because cops exploited his insomnia and despair to wring a confession from him in the absence of solid material evidence.  Buddy is white… but he’s also a “nobody”.  He grew up on a country lane lined with trailer homes.  (And the locals, by the way, still will not discuss the case two decades later: too many figures that once wore badges are implicated in it.)

Patsy Ramsay, in contrast, was definitely somebody.  She was beautiful (Miss Virginia at age 20), married to a wealthy Atlanta businessman, and—yes—Caucasian all the way.  She passed the final twenty years of her life fighting, in court and before the public eye, the perception—shamelessly encouraged by Boulder, Colorado, detectives—that she had a hand in murdering her young daughter, JonBenét.  One can scarcely imagine a more miserable existence: to know that your child died a violent death, to know that the crime occurred in your house as you slept, and to know that the killer is living free as the police push and squeeze to make the evidence point to you… all because your profile fits their boilerplate culprit for a domestic homicide.  Who’s taking a knee for Patsy?

What misery!  In a humane society, we would recognize that injustice is a thread binding us all together; but as subversive puppeteers try to rip our society apart, we are asked—no, required—to believe that only one race suffers.  It’s insulting to the intelligence—and, by the way, demeaning to the race at issue, as if its members were condemned deterministically to slings and arrows and needed special protection.  A black friend of mine once protested, during our discussion of my book Key to a Cold City, “But Dr. Harris… black ballplayers in Jackie Robinson’s day never ceased being black.  Out of uniform, walking into a restaurant or hotel, they were still black.  A white player might get dumped on by the fans or the press—but put him in street clothes, and he can go anywhere he wants.”  That’s true… and so is this.  It’s a remark that Larry Doby made about Yogi Berra, and I wish I’d found it in time for inclusion in the book.  “… I repeated a few of those jokes myself [about Yogi’s being a dope, a caveman, etc.].  And it never once occurred to me in those early years that I was hurting Yogi’s feelings.  The black guys around the league, there weren’t many of us, but when we would get together and talk, we knew we were all going through something together.  That made the abuse a little easier to take.  Now that I’m older, I wonder who helped Yogi take all that abuse” (Allen Barra, Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee, pp. 62-63 [2009]).

We all have our struggles.  Everyone’s travail is unique in some way, yet all of us are alike in having to bear heavy burdens.  If we forget that, then we will become incapable of true compassion or true justice.  We will be animals that belch words, lots of words, without any regard for or suspicion of their meaning. I believe we’re already there.

P.S. In keeping with my bid to offer certain of my ebooks free at regular intervals, I’ve created a promotion for two of my fictional works about academe in the late twentieth century. Worse By Seven is a psychological novel about a professor who surrenders to despair amid the nihilism and debauchery that swamp him on an elite campus… but who at last finds a truth greater than this world’s. Ivory Gutter Shining Bright is a large collection of short stories, most of them wry or burlesque, some a little fantastical, about the pompous insanity that prevails in our towers of learning. Both ebooks may be downloaded free through this Tuesday (September 22).

To Doctors: The Soul Isn’t Gagged and Bound in Its Bodily Prison

On Wednesday, September 9, my personal account of battling with prostate cancer through spring and summer of 2020 was released on Amazon.  As of Thursday, September 10, a promotion went active that offers the Kindle download free for five days (i.e., through Monday, September 14).  The book’s title is Why I’m Not Dead.  That’s how I feel about the contrast between mainstream medicine in the US and the alternative treatments I received in Mexico—death sentence vs. new chance at life—and the rest of the book strives to be similarly straightforward.

Inasmuch as the ebook is free for the moment, I see no reason to paste in excerpts here.  I’d rather discuss, very generally, what the book is and is not.  (My plan, by the way—if Amazon’s software throws up no roadblock—is to offer the ebook for free in a promotion at the beginning of every month for some while in the future.)

My text is NOT a “hit piece” on mainstream American medicine, if by that colorful phrase is meant an emotionally surcharged and manipulative indictment of the entire system.  It’s the testimony of one man.  It bears upon a single series of incidents relating to how that man was lost in the bureaucratic shuffle—then asked to content himself with a death sentence because some inflexible paradigm directed him to the Dying square after he landed on the Metastasis square.

Now, my “board game” analogy certainly implies that the system is flawed.  A thoughtful person cannot be handed a stone instead of a loaf of bread and fail to ask, “What’s up with this bakery?”  It could be that my falling through the cracks (as in not receiving the basic diagnostic test for two months, then being forced to await the results for another month) was just bad luck.  On the other hand, there’s no doubting that “the system” offers cancer patients a very limited menu of options: usually surgery, chemo, and radiation (which you can order a la carte or as a Blue Plate Special).  At the same time, it vindictively suppresses any attempt on the part of patients or doctors to draw innovative treatments—using diet, vitamin supplements, heat therapy, Rife technology, etc.—into the mainstream’s flow.

So the book, naturally, contains some reflections upon the medical establishment’s motives.  That establishment placed me under sentence of death.  Then, two months (and about $40,000) later, I returned from Mexico virtually cancer-free.  That’s not supposed to happen… yet it happens over and over again, for those who can afford to eat deep into their life savings (for Medicare supports no such alternatives, and the flight to Tijuana isn’t even tax-deductible).  I attempted to keep my rampages to a minimum, and also to confine them to sections marked “Commentary”—as distinct from those marked “Chronology” that continued the linear narrative of my journey.  But I couldn’t very well pass over the polar separation between how I was treated in Tijuana and how in my own country, how I was given a new lease on life in Tijuana and how consigned to death in Georgia.

The hipshot conclusion reached by several (usually much younger) fellow patients at Carlos Bautista’s Immunity Therapy Clinic) was that we Yanks need more socialism.  No, that’s not a thesis whose merits impress me.  In fact, I contend that my experience in the US was very much that of a pawn caught in a vast, impersonal socialist system.  We already have the worst aspects of public health care: long delays, one-size-fits-all diagnoses, pigeon-holing treatments, a highly manipulative payment structure, haughtily indifferent doctors or “experts”, and an unstated assumption that your individual inconvenience is not a concern to the well-functioning state.  Also typical of socialism is that particularly abusive aspect of late capitalism which draws misdirected denunciation from our young citizens: corporatism.  The state, that is, farms out certain development or production needs to private operations.  I suppose in a socialist state, the emphasis is on what the central authority deems necessary (as in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, or in Communist China today); whereas in the late-capitalist model, private industry dictates (very subtly, through lobbying and bribery) where the emphasis goes so as to maximize profit.  In neither case is competition allowed to flourish and energize innovation.

So I’m not ranging far and wide to attack Big Pharma, and I’m not launching into half-baked political diatribes against capitalism.  Everything I say is said from the perspective of somebody “on the ground”.  I do not, for instance, float any proposal about how to straighten out the health insurance racket.  It’s a nightmare for most of us to negotiate… but I realize that the “inside baseball” awareness needed to advance workable improvement isn’t in my possession.  I’m not going to fire a broadside when I don’t even know if my cannon are loaded with grapeshot or chick peas.

My “commentary” sections are very occasionally dedicated to religious issues.  The book neither cries foul on religious concerns as being out of bounds in the “cancer game” (how could it?) nor insists on transporting divine will into the middle of every moment.  Cancer remains a mysterious subject, even to those who have studied it for a lifetime.  Sometimes lifestyle choices—smoking, drinking, consumption of sugar or red meat—seem a likely motive force… but then there are people like me who’ve made the right choices but find themselves under attack, anyway.  Genetics, maybe.  After much research (and, of course, prostate cancer is only traceable through the male line, which is evasive in my family’s history), I did find a genetic marker.  My uncle’s fatal cancer began in the prostate.  But my older brother has been unaffected, as has my first cousin.  Could it be stress?  Again, this is a plausible factor in my case—very plausible.  Yet many people have been more stressed than I throughout their careers and family lives, and… and I see them cruising along into their seventies with drinking problems, but no cancer.

So… is it “God’s will”?  Certainly you can discover something of God’s will for your life during any tragedy or calamity.  A devastating flood, a car accident, six months on the front line of a bloody war… these are experiences that can make your earlier priorities disappear into a vapor of silly illusions.  It was so for me as I skirted death this past summer.  But I’m always appalled to hear the theory advanced that God is punishing Jack or Jill by visiting that person with a dread disease.  What odious arrogance—what spiritual nullity!  St. Paul writes that the ill do not sin, meaning (I suppose) that their energies are entirely consumed in fighting off the threat to their body rather than divided between routine living and ambitious, toxic daydreaming.  The suffering are dear to God.  It is the most prosperous of us who should worry about where we stand in His eyes.

The one thing I want more than all else is for readers of the book afflicted by cancer not to feel bound and gagged by a supercilious medical community’s verdict that they just need to settle down and die comfortably.  I hate that Siren song—that whisper of the Serpent—with all my heart, mind, and soul.  May nobody succumb to it through professional bullying!  In our struggle with death, may we wrestlers in the mortal match shout in the face of Establishment “experts” that we are spirits trapped in bodies, and that the spirit will have its say!

As I explore the option of free promotions, I’ve decided to give several other publications the same trial run.  Here’s the list.  Again, all ebook download are free until Tuesday morning, September 15.

Faith/religion/spirituality:

Social and political commentary:

Nightmare Made of Dreams (essays tending toward a paleo-conservative, somewhat pessimistic conclusion, in that progressive thinking has undermined even our culture’s self-styled Right)

Fiction (novels):

Visit my Amazon Author’s Page for both Kindle e-books and on-demand bound copies.

Why Does Mask-Wearing Give Us a Fraudulent Sense of Fulfillment? or, How to Find Comfort in Slavery

My posts are basically of two sorts.  One endeavors to share with others my own interpretation of issues when it seems to me to consist of overlooked or underestimated insights.  The other doesn’t begin with a clear position and perhaps doesn’t find one by the end—it’s essentially an exercise in thinking out loud.

What I’m about to write concerning our cultural addiction to masks is very definitely of the latter sort.  I don’t understand the masks—the servile acceptance of them, and especially the passionate devotion to them.  I don’t understand on many levels.  Right at the surface, I am nonplussed at the resistance of some people—many, many people—to allowing the obvious empirical fact that most masks don’t work as prophylactics against tiny microbes the size of a virus.  The standard commercially available mask’s chances of blocking such a particle fall below one percent.  Not only that… but most masks are affixed with unclean fingers, a thumb often slipping on the inside (i.e., on the surface from which your nostrils will directly draw air) after the same hand has gripped doorknobs or pawed furniture.  Not only that… but few people dispose of their mask after a single use, meaning that they place before their mouth and nose an object increasingly steeped in bacteria.  Not only that… but very few masks actually achieve a snug fit around nose and jawline: to a virus-sized particle, the opening has the same ratio as a meteor crater to a mouse.  Not only that… but breathing your own carbon dioxide exhalation for extended periods of time isn’t particularly healthy.  (Cancer, for instance, prospers in oxygen-deprived cells.)

Now, I would nevertheless cheerfully wear a mask in certain settings.  If I had to stroll through Walmart on a crowded afternoon, I would welcome the opportunity to indulge my hypochondriac tendencies without appearing odd.  Some people don’t know enough to cover their face when they sneeze or cough.  A mask is appreciated in such mixed company.  Same for crowded airports.  And I fully grasp why medical personal would typically wear masks.  By definition, their job confronts them with people suffering from infections throughout the day.  A mask won’t block all airborne contagions… but it’s a good first line of defense against droplet infection, whether from a sneeze or a spurt of blood.

These are not the situations, however, which present themselves with greatest regularity in the Year of the Lunatic.  Instead, we see drivers enclosed all alone in their vehicles tightly masked up.  We see people meandering in the open air, as in a public park, masked to the hilt.  We see Major League ballplayers poised disconsolately in left field, a hundred feet from the shortstop and with no spectator anywhere in the stadium, masked like Zorro.  My brother told me (uncritically—quite approvingly, in fact) that the Fort Worth symphony orchestra will negotiate its “pandemic” season by masking even the brass and woodwind sections: the musicians in question are to remove their masks when their time comes to play a few notes, then cover up again like spacemen fleeing an alien planet’s toxic atmosphere.

You have to laugh… but you can’t.  You want to cry, or to howl… but your stupefaction freezes the sounds in your throat.  What the hell?  Why?  Why?

My wife, like a lot of people, will shrug, “They’re just crazy!” and move on.  It’s a proletarian version of Michael Savage’s decades-old thesis that “leftism is a mental disorder.”  I don’t necessarily disagree.  In fact, I’d scarcely disagree at all (though I would label the disorder more spiritual than mental).  But, you know, we’re all crazy in some way or other.  For instance, we justly criticize the Left for supposing itself capable of creating a terrestrial utopia, where all are happy and no one will ever sicken or die; yet in the next breath, we warn anyone who will listen that we need to return to constitutional government and free-market capitalism so that everyone willing to work will be fulfilled and prosperous per saecula saeculorum.  Are we crazy?  Don’t we know—haven’t we learned yet—that life on this earth always decays around the edges (if not rots from the head down)?  The superiority of freedom is not that it makes people happier, but that it renders them more capable of accomplishing the ends for which they were created.  Many people are happier being slaves.

So I guess I’m looking for something more—some specific pedigree for our collective dementia. Why do we worship the mask as a mask?  Ignoring its miserable lack of efficiency, why do we (some of us—more than a few) applaud a face wearing a mask as if it were centered under a halo?  Is there not some of that love of slavery in such perverse affection?  But what makes us love servitude?

Our masters order us to wear masks, and we comply because we’ve grown so sheep-like: yes, I’m distressed and disgusted by the prospect of my fellow citizens knuckling under to tinpot autocrats.  But is it just because we’re sheep-like by nature?  I don’t believe that.  I believe that servitude is attractive to one side of our nature… but we have a more spiritual side that usually wins the confrontation.  Why isn’t it winning now?

Something in us denizens of the twenty-first century (going back to us children of the Sixties) wants the mask—needs the mask.  What is that something?

Could it be the very failure of that capitalist system which we’re accustomed to posing as an alternative to servitude?  I mean this: perhaps, as our advancing technology has rendered us more dispensable as individuals—as our jobs have become more mechanized, more distant from our hands and our hearts—we have settled into a certain comfort with being tiny cogs in the vast machine.  Perhaps we welcome the suppression of that most immediate sign of our individuality: our face.  We construct identities (a.k.a. “avatars”) all the time on our bizarrely christened “social media” which we like infinitely more than the real thing.  Perhaps we welcome the erasure—finally—of the real thing from public view.  No more having to smile at real people greeted in real settings, no more having to bluff our way through real conversations where we feel overmatched or uninterested.  At last, at long last, we can circulate in public like a home-alone teenager who stumbles from his video games to the refrigerator for a soft drink.

And how we hate those who refuse to mask!  Stop calling us back to that loathsome alternate-reality!  Stop making us feel that we’re hiding, that we’re not good enough—that we’re cowards!  Stop standing in the way of progress!

On of the phenomena that would lead me to doubt this explanation is the degree of self-interest—indeed, of pathological selfishness—observable in many mask-idolaters.  Far from accepting absorption into the Hive, the Machine—the Borg—they appear to demand that all the rest of society run off the rails in deference to their own fear of infection.  “Why are you exposing yourself?  You might catch COVID, and then spread it to my nephew… and then I’ll contract it from him and die.  You’re threatening my life!”  I hear some version of this mad rant over and over.  (If it were logically applied to other conditions of modern life, then we would resume the ban of alcohol; for why suppose that laws against drunk driving will suffice to keep your life safe—why not, rather, prosecute everyone found in possession of an alcoholic beverage as an attempted murderer?)

Yet perhaps this objection is more paradox than contradiction.  It seems to me that those who want to secure their lives to the point of denying anyone else the right to breathe freely are afraid of life.  Their insane terror of death is really a horror at the emptiness of life.  Living has brought them no reward… so they cling to it since the possibility, the illusion, of future reward is all they have.  Their defense from the fetal position is no assertion of forceful ego: it’s the protest of an ego that has never fully formed, and likely never will.

If you had built a house with your two hands and raised your children in it, you would defend it to the death.  If you had amassed an attic-full of paintings from your own toiling hand over a period of twenty years, you would rush up the burning staircase to rescue them.  You would cheerfully die for that which has made your life worthwhile.  But the slave has found nothing to bestow such worth upon his life.  A mere salary doesn’t do it, a hefty hike in salary doesn’t do it, and a mansion bought with that hefty hike doesn’t do it.  The slave remains a stranger to himself—and he would rather not see his face, or expose it to anyone else.

To that extent, perhaps the slave isn’t happy at all.  Maybe he’s just lazy.  Maybe he was only happy in choosing not to be free because he spared himself the anxiety of having to explore how far he might scale—or fall.  There is higher happiness and lower happiness.  Maybe the mask is visible proof that we have opted for lower happiness.

Is there a way that we could stop grinding out slaves in this progressive economy that has less and less need of human beings?

Health Care: System vs. the Individual

I’m finishing up the story of my victory over prostate cancer with the help of the Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana, having been left to die by our American health-care system.  Below is a passage from the final chapter.

I’m one man—and a man, at that, who’s never liked doctors’ offices or hospitals and doesn’t particularly trust authority.  I’m getting old; and in the twilight of my day, I developed a life-threatening health problem.  I sought help… and none was given.  My Medicare was charged over and over for costly articles concealing a ridiculous amount of redundancy and for needless office visits.  At the same time, those articles (and I mean catheters, primarily) were never anything approaching a cure for my condition, and those office visits were spaced so far apart that my initial cancer had three months’ grace to metastasize.  Meanwhile, simply diagnosing the disease, which should have been Job One, was overlooked by the staffs of two clinics for two of those months; and after the diagnosis was finally addressed by one clinic, I didn’t learn of it personally for yet another month.

I was dropped and kicked around like a football where twelve-year-olds scramble across the muddy field of some Middle School playground on a rainy October afternoon.  There was truly an incompetence reminiscent of a childish game about it all. While most of the nurses I met face to face were caring people, the medical establishment in general showed me little respect.  My health and my life were obviously not of any consequence to “them”, the gears and pistons of a faceless bureaucratic machine.  When, at long last, I understood that my life might well be cut short by cancer, the responses I encountered were of two sorts: 1) palliatives were offered to render death as painless as possible, and 2) calls were never answered and my appeals for help were utterly ignored. I suppose Number Two, properly speaking, would be a persistent non-response.

This is one man’s experience, in the grip of one dreadful disease, when transiting through the labyrinth of the “greatest health care system in the world”.  I place that phrase in ironic quotation marks because, of course, I consider my experience a miserable one.  I would sooner consult an old curandera with her basket full of herbs than return to the *** Clinic or to ___ Urology.  Now, I am but one man, and I’ve had no significant experiences of our system other than the one described in this book.  Maybe I’m a statistical outlier.  I don’t know how to rebut that proposition conclusively.  Maybe I’m just Mr. Hard Luck.

That theory doesn’t really handle the embarrassing evidence, though, that anyone can find in our medical establishment’s rates of cancer recidivism. I saw an appalling number of people at the Immunity Therapy Center who had cycled through years of conventional, mainstream therapy in the US—and who were in terrible shape, not in spite of their surgery + chemo + radiation, but because of it. Liz once told me (probably with a smile behind her mask) that they called patients like me “cancer virgins”, in allusion to our having lived through none of the mainstream treatments at all. We were the ones who responded best to therapy. Although the American “toxic trifecta” will often kill cancer cells, the problem is that most living cells in the tumor’s vicinity also die. For a year, two years—maybe three or four—the patient’s blood comes back free of the disease; but if a loose-floating cancer cell proceeds to multiply anywhere in the body now, the natural resistance mounted against it is far less than a healthy body’s would be. Indeed, two of our system’s three favorite treatments are themselves carcinogenic—and recall that we all have had cancer cells somewhere in our body from birth. The temporary eradication of detectable cancer, therefore, usually comes at the cost of creating a cancer-tolerant environment whenever the disease decides to flare up again.

Am I just complaining to grandstand? Am I just “one of those”—an enemy of the establishment who strokes his ego by assuming avant-garde or “woke” postures? You can pigeon-hole me wherever you please, wherever the result gives you the best night’s sleep… but one thing I’m most definitely not is a far-left radical.  A classical liberal I may well be, in the strict sense of believing in the value of individuality—in the essential right of individuals to live free, to enjoy liberty: the right to try, to fail, and to learn. Yet that’s a sense of the word which nobody understands any more (though it animates our Declaration of Independence and Constitution as “liberal” documents).

No, I’m not “out to get” the American way.  It’s not my fault that our way has been lost, not by me, but by both of our political parties. Republicans are supposed to say that this health-care system, for all its flaws, remains the best the world has ever seen.  Democrats are supposed to counter that the system refuses to offer equal health care for all and seems preoccupied, instead, with enriching pharmaceutical companies.  Republicans answer that companies have a right to a profit, and that, indeed, without profits to reinvest in research, American enterprises would not lead the world in the development of miraculous new drugs.  Democrats volley with the sneer that a lot of the profit never finds its way to the lab, and that what comes out of the lab is designed more for mass-marketing than for effective, lasting treatment.

I could strike a pose and grandly cry, “Calm down, ladies and gentlemen.  There’s some truth on both your sides.  We must work together…” and so on, and so on.  In the meantime, both sides will have written me off as belonging to the other if I show myself weak-kneed on a single article of their manifesto.  The truth, however, is that I don’t know where the truth lies: I’m just pretty sure there’s not much of it on either of these sides.  Our American labs do indeed develop miraculous treatments and technologies… and then those marvels are left for physicians in other nations to offer their patients, because a) existing treatments here can yet be milked for so much money (as per the Democrats’ accusation); and b) any treatment must have a 100 percent guarantee of success, or else the “victimized” patient can sue the doctor for millions (a state of affairs ushered in by Democrat mega-bureaucracy and “lawyer-ocracy”).

But Republicans, for their part, don’t seem very interested in sustaining a sensible, anti-statist, “Tea Party” side of the argument.  They know that no state-run system can supply uniform health care to every member of a vast nation—that a cutting-edge treatment will always be costly, and that providing it to all who need it could bankrupt the system in many specific instances.  They know that lawsuits further drive up the cost of care for consumers, and that watchdog agencies like the FDA too often simply screen the gold-mining of pharmaceutical mega-corporations that have slipped donations into the right hands.  These are hymns from their base’s hymnal, but the Honorable Representative So-and-So echoes the lyrics of a different creed when Congress takes a vote.

Look at the current brouhaha over drugs like hydroxichloroquine and, just lately, an extract from the oleander plant.  I myself certainly don’t know whether there is merit to pursuing these prospective treatments for CV-19 or not… but people who have no more knowledge than I have staked out a position passionately, based (it appears) on nothing but their “R” or “D” affiliation.  The R’s contend that we should encourage further research into any treatment until it can be conclusively proved ineffective or dangerous; and, further, that willing individuals should be allowed access to such treatment if they find the element of risk acceptable.  The D’s, in contrast, insist that not a dime should be spent on theoretical cures that don’t have the weight of big-league names behind them; and, further, that no individual should ever be allowed to select a treatment, no matter how resigned to risk he may be, that the paternalistic SuperNanny of centralized government hasn’t approved officially.

These positions are the precise opposite of those which the R’s and D’s occupy on cancer drugs and treatment.  There, the R’s defend what I call the Medi-Pharm Complex’s supreme authority to dictate where we can go for therapy and what therapies we may receive.  The D’s cry foul, claiming as individuals of free will the inalienable right to risk their lives in submitting to a new therapy that might save their lives.  Now, suddenly, the latter sound like the true liberal of the nineteenth century, while the former sound like totalitarian statists who are about one move away from making us all have chips implanted into our skulls.

Do I have a “political view” on all this?  In the terms used to define politics these days, I would say “no”.  I would argue that my view is mere common sense.  I’m not interested in promoting any broad agenda: I just want the freedom to live out my own little life like a responsible adult with a functional brain.  Let me try something that may work… and if it doesn’t work, deprive me of the right to sue my suppliers for not shouting in my ear with a bullhorn, “There’s a risk!”  Let me possibly mess up, as long as I have a chance of succeeding.  Don’t measure me for a coffin and then offer me a few months’ worth of joints until I stop moving and can be settled into my new, permanent home.  Treat me with some respect.

Why is that political?  I am one man.  Let me breathe.  Stop rationing my air.

Isn’t it ironic (in this unending chain of human ironies) that Mexico, our dysfunctional neighbor to the south whose government rests on the spectrum somewhere between socialism and brigandism, allows individuals the freedoms that they once enjoyed up here?  No, the Mexican state doesn’t secure those freedoms well, and few can reliably access them.  Most of the “allowance” is off the books, off the radar.  But when so much is regulated and policed, the system becomes overloaded.  It also loses its vibrancy, if carried to the extreme. People stop working, because there’s no point: you can’t keep what you earn, you can’t profit from your own ideas, and you can readily disappear for protesting.  So…

So certain little enterprises are permitted to prosper in the underbrush, like the mavericks—the cimarrones—that broke away from the original Spanish herds and became the longhorn breed.  They aren’t enough of a threat to round up, and the government doesn’t really want to waste energy and resources in rounding them up—especially when they also generate tax revenue and attract foreign visitors with full wallets.  My Mexican benefactors sent me home with instructions to inject myself four times a week.  Oh, the lawsuits, if I were to draw the wrong amount from the vial!  Oh, the lawsuits, if I were to harm myself!  I was sent away with the implicit assumption that I was a responsible adult.  When is the last time my own nation, the self-styled Land of the Free, made such flattering assumptions about me?

My politics?  If by that word you mean “broad agenda”, I have none.  Capitalism worked well for our medical establishment until a few entities prospered too handsomely: then we had, not a free-market economy, but rule by Mogul emperors.  That each emperor was nominally a private-sector actor when tax forms were filled out was an irrelevancy; for the emperors have come to own the public sector, and our watchdogs—our SuperNannies—are mere puppets on private, behind-the-scenes strings.

Socializing our system wouldn’t have made my journey any easier.  In fact, look at my path and tell me that it doesn’t resemble a nightmarish trek across the terrain of socialized medicine.  Long waits, one-size-fits-all prescriptions and treatments, shameless profiteering by peripheral private concerns that supply the public machine, cut-your-losses negligence of cases that have grown complex or fallen between the bureaucratic cracks… I already know what socialized medicine looks like.  We have it right here, right now, in the US of A.

And, yes, to the extent that we don’t, it’s because the unholy alliance between the stethoscope team and the lab-coat team makes higher profits when government doesn’t mandate fixed costs for drugs.  But it’s government that prevents the free market from forcing costs down by allowing patients the option of alternative treatments.  It’s the government that conspires with the Medi-Pharm Complex to punish those who dare to go off the grid for help. I can’t even claim my flights to and from San Diego as medical expenses on my income tax—but I will have to pay tax on the investments I had to liquidate in order to finance the saving of my life.

With freedom like that, who needs oppression?  With capitalist cronyism like that, who needs socialism?

“The same people keep getting themselves killed”: I’m constantly remembering that old French saying.  What hope is there for us?  The hope of life under the radar, between the cracks—the hope I place in individual human beings who persist in finding a way to be humane.  Maybe we don’t need a new system; maybe we need as little system, in fact, as we can possibly get away with.  Maybe the more we try to fix things so that we answer everyone’s problem, the more we force everyone to be that abstract Citizen whose problems are all answered on the “Frequently Asked Questions” page.  Maybe, to the extent that we have a system, it needs to be characterized by flexibility—by adaptation to local and individual circumstances: by a liberality of chances both for those seeking help and those offering it.  Maybe we just need to get out of our own way.