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Hollywood: Feeding On What It Most Hates

I doubt that the creators of War Dogs are remotely aware of the title’s Shakespearean allusion, which is as accidental as every other connection with the past in our post-culture.  You probably saw the commercial fifty times in October.  A couple of punks are getting rich selling arms to the U.S. government that they’ve bought from shady sources all around the world (e.g., Albania, awash in Chinese weapons and ammo after the Cold War).  The central plot is supposedly factual.  The Bush Administration deregulated arms sales in a manner that would allow small dealers to pursue government contracts… and this blow on behalf of efficient spending of public funds and against crony contracting with mega-corporations is–of course–represented by the film as corrupt and incompetent.  The two f-bombing idiots might have stepped straight out of the scenes of at least half a dozen recent Wall Street/Jordan Belfort movies: thinking of nothing but money, doped up for half their waking hours, and aware of what they’re doing only to the extent that they understand themselves to be doing nothing–to be playing a shell game with no pea under any of the husks.

My son wanted to watch the flick over Christmas break, and I have to disclose that I myself didn’t make it through to the end.  I’m really more curious to know what impact this kind of fare has on his generation than to find out how the cartoon ends.  (As a student of cliche, I pretty much know that after twenty minutes.)  When popular culture surrounds you with images of businessmen either boring each other to death in gray flannel suits or snorting coke and plotting how to get at the pensions of widows, how can your impression of reality not be affected?

To say that the entertainment media are undermining the morale of Western capitalism is itself a cliche, I know.  It would be far more interesting to spend some time reflecting on how capitalist greed and amorality have created the entertainment industry.  All I feel inclined to jot down for the moment, though, is that I can’t really see any coherent, premeditated conspiracy behind the demoralization.  People tell me that academe is also trying to subvert our way of life, and I respond the same way: I believe the “establishment-bashing” is more accident–more being part of the club (the anti-establishment establishment) than deliberate sabotage.  It’s the sort of ganging together that you observe on any playground.

Hollywood’s case is uniquely interesting to me, however, in that it makes enormous profits off of what its operatives see as humanity’s worst tendencies.  Violence is evil–but a film without violence is a bore and a bomb; so Hollywood creates visions of violence that exceed almost anything perceptible in real life, and then either blames the causes of violence on the “evil class” or celebrates the violent rebel for blowing up that class.  Exploiting the vulnerable is evil… so Hollywood exploits females in sexual displays approaching or surpassing the pornographic and the sadistic in order to paint the exploiters as arch-villains.  You live only by representing the thing that you most hate, so that you may both legitimize it as a real and formidable presence in the world and cast yourself as the constant, faithful crusader against its dark power.  Like the Puritan censor whose job is to smell out smut and send its producers to jail, you keep your nose in the dirt 24/7.  If the dirt should suddenly go away, your perverted vital energies would gnaw themselves into oblivion.

Will we ever take a good, hard look at how we amuse ourselves, how our amusements are leaking into our souls, and how we allow clowns and impersonators to have such influence over our cultural life?

What’s to Celebrate, About THAT President or THIS One?

I think I do a pretty good job of staying away from politics in discussions among mixed company.  If I can do it, why can’t others?  Why do I have to open the mandatory e-mail in my workplace and find a missive congratulating Barack Obama on a job well done?  There was no analagous message wishing luck to Donald Trump.  When I reflect that a few responsible people have been trying over the past decade to get Congress to remedy our exposure to Electro-Magnetic Pulse events with no success whatever at the federal level, and that a single such event could kill 300 million Americans within a year, my blood boils.  Granted, George Bush II was on watch when the alert was first raised: his administration led the charge to do nothing (being preoccupied, apparently, with monitoring all of our private communications).  Under Obama, however, not only has understanding of the impending threat deepened and been more broadly disseminated (no thanks to the mainstream media); the man has actually equipped Iran–one of the two most likely perps of an EMP attack in the near future, based on our observation of missile-development programs–to become an active threat.  Meanwhile, he’s wasted months and months of precious time and treasure-loads of precious resources ginning up concern about climate change.  Manhattan may be under water in 2075!  That’s obviously a far greater issue than the death by thirst, starvation, hypothermia, and rioting of nine out of every ten citizens, possibly by 2020.

A job well done… really?  Define “job”, please.

Contrarily, newscasters on all the FOX sister-stations produce queues of talking heads communicating the hope of “ordinary Americans” that President Trump will “make their lives better”.  The problem, it seems to me (as an American and a Constitutionalist), is that one man should have so much power as to be able to make our lives better or worse.  I don’t want anyone making my life better.  I want bureaucracies everywhere to get their fingers the hell out of my life, so that I may make it better if I have the energy or worse if I commit errors rich in good life lessons.  I want to be treated as an adult instead of a child; I don’t want a new daddy-figure who artificially supplies work for me instead of intrusively choosing my diet for me.

A student told me yesterday that you can’t collect water off your roof in these parts for filtering and drinking.  He said that it’s illegal.  A little research suggests that he was wrong in terms of state law.  Nevertheless, he may be right in terms of certain municipalities and subdivisions, which have all kinds of patently unconstitutional restrictions on what one may do.  Government entities on both the micro- and the macro-level are busily gnawing into our basic freedoms.  If you look hard for them (i.e., outside the mainstream media), stories are superabundant about the Bureau of Land Management telling a rancher that he can’t water his cows because of a rat or an owl.  My brother-in-law claims that the county in which I hope to build a retirement home will require me to have an outlet capable of servicing an electric car, even though I have no intent of ever owning such a car.  (I may drive ten miles, perhaps, in a month.)  All of these “do-gooders” are stifling the very resourcefulness and independence that will be needed to confront… oh, say, a major EMP event.  And if such an occurrence were to happen naturally (as it certainly will within a few decades–lead-pipe cinch), then it might ultimately wipe out the human race.  In the meantime, though, our keepers will have nudged us benignly toward vehicles that don’t directly use fossil fuels… and those marginalized voices who protest, like Dinesh D’Souza (a man of color, by the way), will find themselves not-so-benignly doing significant prison time on some trumped-up charge relating to improper completion of complex paper work.

I don’t see the Trump Administration flashing any signs that it will reverse the “job well done” by Barack Obama in these areas.  Trump isn’t abolishing any of the more oppressive and dictatorial departments: he’s just replacing their directors with his partisans.  So… my assessment is that you’re pretty much on your own.  Chacun pour soi.  Filter your own water without telling anyone, grow your own garden and hope that ATF’s drones don’t misidentify it as a marijuana plantation… and, in general, put your hope in your own two hands.  Get over the celebrations: there’s nothing to celebrate here.

Nazis, Judgment, and Picky Details

The Netflix documentary, What Our Fathers Did: The Nazi Legacy, follows EU administrator Philippe Sands on a strange odyssey as he persuades Niklas Frank and Horst von Wachter–both sons of high-ranking Nazi officers–to join him in revisiting the past.   Frank eagerly embraces a wholesale condemnation of his father as a vicious animal.  The son indeed seems to have much axe-grinding to do against his father for deserting the family and chasing sycophantically after Hitler’s will and whimsy.  It’s not a great leap to suppose that at least some of Niklas’s righteous indignation at his father’s active participation in the Holocaust is a Freudian resentment.  He admits to a tinge of sympathy when sitting in the cell from which his father was led to be hanged after the Nuremberg Trials; yet even here, he inclines more to believe that Hans (a.k.a. “The Butcher of Poland”) was staging a religious conversion in his final reported words rather than preparing to meet his maker.  That’s a pretty hard verdict to pass on any man, but especially for a son to dish out upon his father.

Sands is the agent provocateur of guilt and resentment throughout the doc, rather like a tormenting angel of vengeance who demands that facts be recognized in their bare truth.  Perhaps he has a right to that role, up to a point: his family was virtually exterminated in the Warsaw ghetto.  He and Franks grow progressively peeved with Horst for seeking to whitewash the memory of his father Otto.  I find these sequences of the film particularly difficult to watch at times.  I want to shout at the screen, “Okay, so Horst wants to believe the best about his father!  Otto von Wachter really did regret much of what he was doing, in all probability, yet really did tell himself that he should continue doing it rather than be replaced by a more ruthless executioner.  And you two are right that such equivocation really is a pretty weak moral defense for the man.  In a way, it’s an additional indictment; for having recognized the evil of rounding up Jews for slaughter, von Wachter is even more guilty than some of his psychopathic comrades.  But why do you insist that the man’s son join you now in spitting on a long-gone father’s grave?  What exactly is the son to gain from that–and what do you gain from it?”

Otto von Wachter, as a historical figure, raises some fascinating moral issues.  He reminds me of Amphinomos, the one suitor of Penelope’s many in the Odyssey who seems to be a genuinely decent human being.  Yet as his name (“split-minded”) suggests, Amphinomos can never quite motivate himself to leave the bad company he’s in, even though Odysseus himself–disguised as a beggar–pleads with him to do so shortly before taking a deadly vengeance.  There’s a point in most of our lives when we have to stop trying to make lemonade out of lemons, and concede that the fruit is not only bitter but–in the case at hand–rotten.  Even if von Wachter had supposed himself to be facing execution should he refuse to obey orders (and very few Nazi officers ever suffered consequences for such resistance, as Hannah Arendt has observed), he should nevertheless have accepted execution.  He should have, that is, if he were a moral hero, or anything other than a moral coward.  Passive surrender to unjust punishment can give very eloquent and influential testimony.

Sands and Frank didn’t appear to be much interested in introducing the younger von Wachter to this perspective, however.  He needed to say the magic words, “My father is burning in Hell…” and he never did.  I’m not sure on what authority the other two are trying to force him into the judgment seat.

And Horst does have a ghost of a point when he says that the circumstances were complex–that you had to be there.  It remains a quibble in this case; but what about the surprising celebration he receives from Western Ukrainians near the film’s end when they find that he is von Wachter’s son?  Decked out in Nazi uniforms themselves for a commemorative event, these men see the swastika as a symbol of their struggle against Stalinist domination.  Today, right now, we’re supposed to be embracing their struggle against Putin’s efforts to revive the evil Soviet empire… and yet, the same voices in the pro-Ukrainian EU denounce anyone who criticizes their open-door immigration policy as a Nazi!

It doesn’t hurt to know some of the picky little details… or rather, it hurts a lot–but it’s good for the soul.  Horst von Wachter needs to face facts about his father; but those who would deplore his “father fantasy” might consider plucking the beam from their own eye on occasion.

Some Grim But Necessary Observations

One reason I’m very much in favor of simplifying our lifestyle, even though I perceive “climate change” as a boondoggle veiling a power grab, is the ever-lurking, apocalyptic EMP.  We depend far too much on electricity.  It’s probably not good for our bodies.  (I might detail my own physical discomforts after extended exposure to computers at some later date.)  At this point, electric utilities pump our water and operate our refrigeration.  In most homes, they supply heating and cooling to structures designed without a second thought having been given to efficiency.  Automobiles have depended in computerized systems since about the mid-eighties: if everything electrical were suddenly fried… no more transportation.  Even if you could walk to the grocery store, the trucks that deliver its merchandise would cease to run.  And if you were retrograde enough to own a vintage car with minimal electrical dependency, it would still need to be gassed up after a few days… and the pumps at the filling station wouldn’t work.

Defense experts have estimated that 90% of the U.S. population would die within a year if our power grid were destroyed.  In other words, the loss of that grid would equate to a surprise trans-continental nuclear attack, minus the lingering contamination–and with the addition of lethality at peak levels even in rural areas.

Books like Peter Pry’s Blackout Wars: State Initiatives to Achieve Preparedness Against an Electromagnetic Pules (EMP) Catastrophe consequently make for grim reading.  (I’m currently working through this one on my Kindle–using electricity, of course!)  The title of this volume actually hints at a source of optimism not visible in Pry’s earlier books: preemptive action by state governments to secure their section of the power grid.  This can apparently be done legally; and the federal government, while confronting the crisis with all the energy of a deer staring at headlights, has at least not intervened (in the manner of its contribution to border security) to ensure that our pants stay down and our hands remain tied.  Nevertheless, only four or five states have taken effective action at this point.

The kind of pulse at issue need not be administered by a nuclear weapon exploding thirty kilometers above ground, by the way, or by the domino effect begun when certain key power stations are overloaded.  The pulse may be entirely natural.  Solar flares occasionally create major surges.  We haven’t seen a big one since the so-called Carrington Event in 1859, which turned all the telegraphs of New England into smoking ruins.  We’re overdue another such burst–and we have far more than the telegraph at stake now.

Besides equipping all power stations with surge-arrestors (WHY was that not done in the construction phase, as a matter of course???), our leadership should send a very clear message to Kim Jong Un, whose nuclear trials and dry-run nautical missions have left little doubt that he has an EMP attack in mind.  This little lunatic must be reminded that our nuclear submarines will survive even after the continent is plunged into darkness; and he must be warned, publicly and with grim clarity, that a devastating nuclear response directed at all of his hideaways will follow, instantly and irrevocably.  I know what a gruesome remark I have just written.  The prospect of 300 million American casualties, however, requires a strong deterrent.  Mutually Assured Destruction worked in the Cold War, but we were dealing with comparatively sane despots.  Maybe, in this case, the little lunatic’s entourage would pull his cord if it became apparent that he was about to pull theirs.

Odds ‘n Ends

First of all, I only yesterday discovered that the origin of the phrase, “the whole nine yards,” dates back to World War II.  Seems that the P-51 Mustang had nine yards of fifty-caliber bullets servicing each of its machine-guns… so when you let loose on a target until nothing more was coming out of the cannon, you’d shot “the whole nine yards”.  Wow.  I had no idea that the phrase was older than I am.  Odd that I never heard it until about the eighties or the nineties.  Could it possibly have been resurrected and popularized by some movie about fighter-pilots during the war?

I’ve also wanted to respond to an incredibly long and thoughtful commentary on one of my posts concerning Islam and Christianity… but I can do little more for now than just acknowledge the “want”.  The subject of the Trinity would require a book-length treatise from me, as it has indeed elicited many a book from theologians infinitely better educated in the matter than I.  And then, once I’d finished, the best-educated of the well-educated would be calling me an apostate, I’m pretty sure.  The thing is, I don’t have much confidence in education on such subjects.  It tends to immerse one in “bibliolatry”–abject attention to what appears in revered or honored texts–rather than to put one in touch with an inner voice that speaks a logic of humane goodness.  I have no firmer conviction on the subject of religion than that God judges us by our susceptibility to this voice, and not by our conformity to the circumstantially conditioned and institutionally processed arguments of “scholars”.  Is it not in that sense that one must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven?

At any rate, the Trinity to me says that, though God is inscrutable and unimaginable to such as I in His full glory,  I can nevertheless be certain of His will in specific terrestrial cases through the action of a “spirit”–of inspiration–that reaches me, often in spite of my selfish or short-sighted objectives, often also in spite of the values projected by my social circle or culture.  I know that it’s wrong to kill children: I KNOW it’s wrong.  That’s why I don’t have to sift through arguments that equivocate the murder of children as fully predictable collateral damage during drone strikes.  I also have the example of God as He choose to squeeze Himself into a mortal body and a mortal lifetime–a position which, paradoxically, rendered Him incapable of completely grasping Himself at times (cf. Christ in the garden of Gethsemane).  I have no doubt that I’ve just typed a load of heresy in the eyes of some!  But Christ himself says that they alone are not forgiven who fail to recognize, not him, but the Holy Spirit.

Some people are okay with God’s ordering a vast slaughter of the Israelites after the Golden Calf incident.  That’s not a god I recognize–I’m not “hearing it”.  “Oh, so you get to pick and choose any attribute of God that pleases you, do you?”  No… but I am obligated to reject those attributes, at least as projected by certain literally interpreted scriptures, which I know conform to the cultural conditioning prevalent during a document’s composition rather than to the immutable law of goodness.  You don’t kill children.  Period.  Not in the service of God.  Never in the service of God.

Finally, if my high school friend is reading… I wish we had been much better friends in high school.  That was my fault.  But I really do find it horrible and suffocating to be reduced to what I look like, how I measure, the income of my parents.  An average kid, average height and weight, brown coloring, a voice no one could hear, a family that registered “nothing” in the community…. that’s what my classmates saw in high school.  I graduated a year early just to escape the phone-booth claustrophobia of it all.  I would no sooner revisit the scene of that misery, even half a century later, than I would return to a concentration camp and ask bystanders to pick up where the SS or the KGB left off.  I’ve spent most of my life blotting those years from my memory.  Why would I revive them now?

To think that there are people who actually want to be known first and foremost by the color of their skin, or their sexual preference, or their obesity, or… why wouldn’t you spend you life trying to break free of the “prison of circumstance” rather than adding bars and bricks to it?

Dirty Air Doesn’t Mean the Climate’s Changing

Dr. Wolfgang Thune is a highly reputed German meteorologist with a background (so I gather) in academia as well as in broadcasting.  He has published several articles and books exploding the absurd claims of the “climate change” cult.  I have read a few of these through links posted at Peter Helmes’ site, Die Deutsche Konservativen.  Now, neither my German nor my scientific training is sufficient to qualify me as more than a very clumsy reader of the Doctor’s work… but the modicum of it seemingly within my reach is quite thought-provoking.  I’ve just finished wading through an interview whose subject is, naturally, climate-change hysteria.  It’s posted at the Helmes site, if you think your German is up to the task.

A few tidbits that came in low enough to hit me between the eyes: carbon dioxide is a mere .038% of Earth’s atmosphere; and of that minuscule amount, 96% is naturally produced.

Plants need carbon dioxide to perform photosynthesis (yeah… I knew that!); so if we’re concerned about our CO2 levels, why don’t we plant more trees?  Why should we instead engage in CO2-suppressing crusades that will suffocate the planet’s vegetal inhabitants?

Earth is NOT analogous to a greenhouse.  She doesn’t have a glass ceiling.  Gasses escape from her atmosphere all the time (which, in the long run, poses its own life-threatening scenario… but that’s another story).

Carbon dioxide absorbs solar radiation only at a very few wavelengths (I seem to recollect Thune’s mentioning three).  That’s like putting three “stickies” on you living-room window and claiming that they keep the morning light from shining through.  (Actually, the stickies would have to be almost microscopic.)

There are people dropping like flies of heart and lung disease in Beijing, and I hear that Tokyo isn’t much better.  When I briefly lived in Dublin, Ireland, about thirty years ago, the coal smoke was so bad that I cut my stay short due to chronic respiratory problems.  Our air isn’t clean.  In many more urbanized locales, it positively stinks.

To address such problems by screaming, “Climate change!” in Chicken Little fashion, however–and even by clamoring for “deniers” to be imprisoned or executed, in Josef Stalin fashion–bespeaks a sickness of the mind at least as lethal as anything currently stalking our lungs.  We can’t solve problems if we don’t correctly name them.  The problem with our fume-rich lower atmosphere isn’t that polar bears might take up residence in Nome dumpsters or that New York might be turned into Venice: it’s that we’re breathing toxic crap.  Magnifying the issue to resemble the approach of a killer asteroid is merely a bid by centralized authority to acquire yet more control over our private lives.

More bureaucracy doesn’t produce cleaner air (just ask the Chinese).  Our entire energy-dependent way of life possesses a wide array of liabilities… ever hear of an EMP?.  We need to step back and study the mess we’ve created with calm reason rather than swarming deliriously after charismatic, power-hungry leaders like the mad devotees of Dionysus.

Smoke Without Fire

Imagine that you want to ruin my reputation.  You decide to post a video of me torturing dogs on YouTube.  Now, I don’t torture dogs in the real world… but perception is everything, and new technology is ever more able to create convincing perception.  You have some surreptitiously recorded video of me wielding a knife and fork at a restaurant.  From the same venue (or another), you have audio of me as I laugh and casually converse.  You splice this in seamlessly to sequences where dogs are squirming and yelping in a piteous manner.  Oh, those poor dogs!  Oh, that savage bastard!

I doubt that technology has quite reached the point of seamlessness: experts at this moment could probably unravel your evil scheme.  But in a few short years, I’d wager that the product could likely defy the scrutiny of elite investigators, and for about the cost of a software program like PhotoShop a decade ago.  More importantly, the images will already be playing before the world’s eye before their fraud is decisively proved!  A cynical public will greet news of the fraud as itself a fraud.  Sure, Harris is innocent!  He’s paid off someone to say that.

People who like me or support my faction will insist upon my having been framed no matter what evidence they see.  “Everyone knows you can fake that stuff!”  People who dislike me or my coterie will insist that truth most certainly underlies some of the evidence: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  Very soon, no evidence of any sort will have any effect.  Your guys do no wrong: their guys do no right.

Are we not already there?  Technology has so successfully blurred the line between reality and fantasy that deciding guilt is no longer even a matter of verifying the deeds represented on a video.  We’re prepared to concede, rather, that everybody is guilty of everything… and so nobody is guilty of anything.  We don’t care about the merits of the particular case.  Instead, we take a “so what?” attitude.  Innocence, as now defined, is conferred upon our guy by his supporting of our cause.  If he wears our colors, then he does no wrong.

I don’t write these comments with any insinuation that Donald Trump actually did the things alleged of him in the scurrilous Buzz Feed story.  The whole incident gives us just a little taste, however, of what awaits us in the future.  Everybody will be guilty of everything… so nobody will be guilty of anything, as long as he spouts your slogans.  Death by cynicism.  Eradication of truth by truth-mimicking technology.  The virtual world of tomorrow–of this evening–could quickly become a literal hell.

Trying to Understand Chinese Culture

I don’t… but I’m trying.

One thing I’ve been doing a lot over the past year is watching Chinese movies available on Netflix.  Since I like legend, myth, epic, and all that, I often go for the flicks that are set a thousand years ago; and, of course, since no film about the past is ever really about the past, I’m fascinated by Kurosawa’s “seven samurai” paradigm which gave our Westerns The Magnificent Seven and has given Chinese producers, apparently, abundant ways to fantasize about a few dedicated souls fighting off armies of bullies.  I mean, if you live under constant censorship and the imminent threat of being “invited for tea” at the police station, you obviously have to address the subject of tyranny with caution.  Staging a clash between Martial-Arts Loner and All the Emperor’s Men is one way to keep your hands clean.

Yet these movies tend to degenerate into special-effects extravaganzas where combatants spring fifty feet into the air while twirling the Sword of Destiny that beats away all of eighty thousand arrows.  Even in the worst Hollywood B-Westerns, the most overloaded six-shooter only carries eleven or twelve shots.

There’s plenty of matter to revisit later in this topic.  The pilot of a TV serial I watched last night is what’s on my mind at the moment.  I discovered belatedly that CSIC is actually produced in Taiwan–which isn’t quite the same thing as mainland China, whatever the PRC insists on the subject.  Immediately of note is how the CSI serials in the US have been ripped off without any pretense of concealment.  (Well, it’s only fair turn-around after the way everyone ripped off Kurosawa: even Fistful of Dollars patently plagiarized Yojimbo).  The techie setting, the mock-digital overlays, the rhythm of the editing… pure rip-off.

The characters, interestingly, are indeed nerdy but rather more “teen” and frivolous than their American counterparts, like a fashion show in a college computer lab.  The only occasions when their winsome flippancy yields to passion involve such social naughtiness as consuming alcohol, especially before driving.  All of the Puritanical fury infused into our nation’s anti-gun crusades seems to be expended (in this episode, at least) upon cases of DWI (“drunk while intoxicated”, as we say down South).  The message is very powerfully projected that cops are your friends if you’re a law-abiding citizen.  They don’t take bribes, they bristle at the hint of bending rules to favor the privileged, they release a slavering rage upon nightclub owners who allow patrons to exit in a pasted condition, and they offer the liberation of a clean conscience to culprits in need of confession.  They’re a cross between Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Father Brown… with a dash of Miley Cyrus.

Maybe Taiwan and the PRC do have something in common, after all.  I’ve noticed this same effort to sanitize “your local policeman” in Jackie Chan’s films for his admiring audience of Communist Party hacks.  State official: selfless, devoted servant of virtue; money-making entrepreneur: unsavory, unprincipled pimp.  All black and white–no gray on either side.

And yet, I hear that want-ads for plum positions in China often stipulate that the applicant must be able to hold his liquor, and that girls post cards on matchmakers’ bulletin boards expressing their desire for a Mercedes and an upscale apartment.  On either side of the Formosa Strait, contemporary life doesn’t really sound like what you see on Netflix.  Seems that the Chinese, even when they try to portray survival on the streets, are still leaping fifty feet in the air and twirling the Sword of Destiny.

The War on Thinking (Continued)

I may have left the wrong impression yesterday in writing that readers detest big words and closely reasoned arguments nowadays–that there’s a kind of war on thinking, and that some of us who like to think things through (even if we don’t always do so effectively) are starting to feel lonely.  “Targeted” may be too strong a word; and as soon as a word like that flickers across my mind, I shift to recollections of self-perceived victims saying that newly empowered Trump supporters are threatening them on the streets.

So let me be clear.  I didn’t vote for The Donald–honestly, the final vote I cast last year was in the primaries.  (Verbum sagacibus sufficiat.)  But I am not a Trump-a-phobe, either.  My latest encounter with big-league suppression of speech was in a class of English majors last fall.  Annoyed that so many of the group consistently skipped our meetings and/or didn’t produce homework, I tried to pave over my irritation on one mid-semester occasion.  I remarked, “Well, I guess we have ten students missing today because Question Four drove them to suicide.”  You would have thought that I had uttered the “n” word or announced that the Holocaust was a Jewish-devised myth, judging by the reactions of three or four girls.  I was so stunned and appalled by the willfully uncharitable interpretation of my little bid for levity (one girl charged that I was “satirizing suicide”) that I devoted most of the following class to a defense of the First Amendment… to no avail.  I didn’t move any of those who had pounced on me with both feet.  Instead, they trotted out some rather Maoist arguments about how people need to think before they speak and society (read “government” as the Will of Society) should enforce the consequences of “not thinking” (read “not kowtowing to the hyper-active sensibilities of protected groups”).

Late in the semester, much water having flowed under the bridge, the same class was working in groups on a challenging task.  One girl declared very audibly in frustration, “I think I’ll just shoot myself.”  I peeked around for any hint of a response.  All heads remained lowered with utter fixity.  I couldn’t make out whether nobody had registered even a blip on the indignation screen or whether–just as likely–they all realized that one of their one had done exactly what I’d done, and nobody wanted to acknowledge it.

So… please accept my clarification.  The political ideology that imagines itself the home-sweet-home of deep thought is, in my experience, the most repressive of openly shared ideas.  I do understand the complaints of those who’ve been hooted at by rednecks in pick-up trucks.  Every time I try to use my old-fashioned push-mower in the front yard, someone drives by and shouts, “Faggot!” at me out the window of that invariable, stereotypical pick-up.  I don’t know why.  So it’s more manly to park your gluteus maximus on a riding mower and burn gallons of gas than to force a manicure upon your grass with brute strength?  As a walker of long miles in my youth (I once covered 600 miles around Ireland in a month), I’ve also had projectiles hurled at me from passing vehicles that might have killed me outright if they’d landed a headshot.  Apparently, pedestrians are also “faggots”.  Non-faggotry clearly has something to do with gas consumption.

Yes, homo inerectus is among us: I get it.  And he always will be–you need to get that.  My beef is that people who used to think and converse in a calm, civil manner are cutting each other off now.  That’s a crying shame.

Sending Books to Strangers: No Longer a Good Idea?

I wrote a few days ago about my disappointing experience in booking a hotel room through an organization that was supposed to award me certain privileges.  Wasted money, that.  A sympathetic manager bailed me out of a predicament that might have cost an additional $130.  Last night I thought about sending her a copy of my book, Climbing Backward Out of Caves: A Case for Religious Faith Based on Common Sense.  I wanted to give her some tangible token of appreciation.  A nice idea, right?  Yet once I got to reading the first few pages…

I wouldn’t have reacted this way a year ago, or maybe even six months ago.  What struck me last night, though, was the electric thought, “This isn’t the easiest read in the world.  It demands concentration, and commitment to the subject.  You can’t just send this off to a virtual stranger and have it perceived as a gesture of gratitude.  She’s more likely to think that you’re saying something like, ‘You see?  I’m a professor, and a damned profound one!  I’ve written this book… its ideas are important, and its style shows that I’m a formidable intellectual.  Good thing you gave me a break on my bill.  You weren’t just dealing with some stupid hayseed, you know.  In case you thought otherwise… well, just look at this book!'”

Yuk!  What a horrible impression that would leave!  And as I say, I wouldn’t have thought twice about sending the thing a year ago.  What has changed in me?

I guess I’m starting to become very aware (perhaps neurotically aware, imagining ghosts in thin air) of a “war on thinking”.  People don’t read much any more.  There’s almost a stigma attached to writing seriously about serious ideas, as opposed to tweeting out one-liners… isn’t there?  If you use big words, you’re a fraud.  If you try to reason out complex issues, you’re a poser.  Especially before someone who scarcely knows you, you would come off looking really weird.

I didn’t sleep much after re-depositing the padded envelope that I’d taken a half-hour to locate back on a closet’s top shelf.  I decided not to send anything.  I don’t want to run the risk of seeming to be something I detest.  When I write, it’s like a conversation: I’m looking for people to talk to–to listen and answer and be answered.  But I have the feeling, fair or not, that the options for conversation are not very generous any more.  Unless they put on some kind of fireworks display, books must be written for your narrow, narrow circle… and that’s about it.