Are Social Media Elevating Insanity to Ideology?

Twitter.  The name has always been an immediate turn-off to me.  After all, its initial syllable is “twit”—and I can’t say that the accident creates an inappropriate expectation.  Yet I have persisted in my “tweeting” (a verbal form scarcely more reassuring: what kind of bird-brain wastes time pecking a very constricted number of characters on a keyboard?).  My objective is, and has always been, an indirect publicity campaign: a projection of my views into the great wide world, that is, in the hope of attracting a few curious eyes to my Amazon author’s page.  I’m a perfectly lousy marketer—always have been.  Garbling or botching publicity is one of my special talents.  But on the surface, the objective seems both logical and respectable.  If you like what I say, try some of the productions where I speak at much greater length.

At the same time, I have grown aware of certain seductions in Twitter that could lead someone off the path whose aim was a little less monomaniacal than mine—and I myself don’t always resist, either.  The dozen-word bon mot is sometimes too ready-at-hand and the target too fat and stationary.  Yet sitting about an e-salon while languidly launching barbs at hippopotamus-sized news events doesn’t lead to a very productive morning.  It’s a pastime fit for twits.  Of course, people need a certain amount of amusement, perhaps these days more than ever; so the argument might be made that one lifts the spirits of one’s neighbors in making light of the fools who would rule us… and then, it’s such a great way to attract followers!

On principle, I have desisted from keeping tabs on how many e-disciples are tagging along at my winged heels.  It’s not healthy: it distracts you from speaking truth—it inclines you to probe after the popular.  I need hardly moralize about what hyper-sensitivity to polls and focus groups has done to our political system.   Don’t want the same thing happening to me personally.

There’s a much darker side to Twitter, as well.  Yesterday I noticed one of the public figures I admire most in the world dropping an f-bomb… on Twitter’s head, actually—and Facebook’s, and Instagram’s.  The occasion was a fury over how social media filter opinions not to their progressive-utopian taste and brand them “hate speech” (a phrase, speaking of words, that’s always struck me as implying a kind of caveman syntax: “Ug… me no like… make me mad… hate… hate speech!”).  How do you respond to insufferable idiots who gag and pillory you because you fail to parrot their drivel?  I can well understand the impulse to squeeze an “f” out through the gag… yet, in a way, it concedes the battle to the idiots.  Rather than clubbing the caveman back with a bigger limb, maybe you should just stay out of caves.

Probably half of all posts on Twitter are photos (invariably called “pictures” in these cavernous days), “memes”, or short videos.  A picture’s worth a thousand words—especially for a person who doesn’t know a thousand words.  So we gape at each other’s pictures, someone starts an avalanche of “opinion” cascading (“caption this” or “what’s that in her hair?”), the barbs fly, the tweaked hearts dispense “likes”… and some kind of communication, apparently, has just taken place.  What kind?  Not entirely sure; but I do know that its species defines our brave new world… our e-cave.

I’m both amused and saddened when I hear people say, “Looking back on our time, historians will write….”  No, historians will write nothing—not if no one can read, and certainly not if no coherent sense of historical connection remains (i.e., of the indissoluble complexity of human choice as opposed to “memes” and “pics”).  What I see in Twitter—illustrated helpfully, if unwittingly—is the progress of cultural and intellectual collapse favored by all electronic media, more or less.  The compression of judgment into a few words, the subservience of those words to cliché and jibe, the equivalency of word to image, the instantaneity of word and image alike… it’s all making us dumber by the year.  Look at our dumbed-down college grads, who believe that currencies can be resuscitated by running Xerox machines, that human evil is produced by deficient melanin in the epidermis, that Nature bestows either one set of sex organs or the other upon individuals (including squash plants), that nations must never have borders yet that momentary residents must enjoy the full rights of citizenship…. Where did these analytical featherweights come from who nourish a cultic conviction that less than half of one one-hundredth of one percent of the atmosphere will suffocate life on earth in about a decade—while the same gaseous substance, before our eyes, is feeding a revival of green vegetation….

How is it that we can transform bright young minds into generators of imbecility and lunacy?  What force is driving this incredible degeneration?  It would have to be something that causes views to be embraced because they seem flashy in their extravagance… something that shoulders aside patient reflection… something that awards points for immediate effect rather than for enduring substance.  It would have to enlist its users in a veritable competition to one-up each his predecessor, as in exchanges like this: “The capitalist market is racist.  Oh, yeah?  Well, the entertainment media are [“is” in current parlance] also racist!  Oh, yeah?  Well, grocery stores are also racist!  Oh, yeah?  Well, door knobs are also racist!”

Now, what do you see on the current scene that would elicit such a degree of abject idiocy—unique in the history of the human race, and likely unknown even to the very practical caveman—from millions of young people fresh from college?  What in our society could possibly inspire such unnatural and self-destructive behavior?  An oldtimer like me can gather plenty of clues by visiting Twitter… but study your preferred medium.  Where do you see anything approaching cautionary care and recourse to principle rather than applause in our means of communication?

Of the wide array of drugs killing our society from within, the one that “brings people together” is ravaging us with inestimably more ferocity than all the others combined.

Spiritual Rebirth: The Contemporary Mind’s Arch-Enemy

The scribble I had in mind for today will keep for another week.  I’ve decided to offer something more appropriate to Easter Sunday, 2019.

It is difficult to sense an infusion of new life when one casts one’s eyes about the current scene.  Debate has long been terminated on the subject of abortion.  It is considered gauche, or sexist, or racist, or some such reason-throttling chunk of mud-sling, to observe that most women really needn’t get “notably pregnant” at all against their will.  They may abstain from sex; they may abstain a mere three days each month from sex; they may patronize any one of a dozen cheap, accessible varieties of contraception; or, all of the above having failed, they may at least discharge their loathsome burden in the first trimester.  What we have before us, instead, appears to be a species of woman that has sex at least once a day with no regard for the consequences and despite hating males categorically and on principle.  Briefly, the “debate” shifted this year to whether or not one might actually murder a baby already born… but now the air is once again as thick with slung excrement as Gulliver’s Forest of the Yahoos.  A significant portion of our neighbors refuses to have a civil discussion about the impropriety of infanticide.

Paris is burning… well, part of it has been burning, anyway.  I don’t believe even Adolf Hitler had designated Notre Dame Cathedral for demolition as his occupying troops withdrew—but let us cede the point, for argument’s sake, that the conflagration was accidental.  It remains nonetheless undeniable that the “religion of peace” continues to make huge, heavy strides through Western Christendom.  One must observe, in fairness, that Islam does not condone abortion: it certainly has the diseased relics of “Christendom” beat on that and a few other fronts.  Similarly, one should not attribute directly to Koranic teaching the hideous practice of Female Genital Mutilation, which is morally superior to the Aztec manner of female-body-part excision—but only just.  Yet neither are Islamic leaders outspoken in their condemnation of the ritual sadism to which young girls in their faith are often submitted. In that regard, their “tolerance” has a disturbingly Western/postmodern odor. I read yesterday that nineteen states—approximately two-fifths of our union—permit these degraded, barbaric operations to proceed unmolested by the law.  That’s pretty typical of the Christian caricature which we have become.  Christ didn’t “judge”; therefore, we mustn’t “judge”, either.  Slice away.  God bless you… and how long will racist members of Congress oppose funding FGM through Medicare?  How dare they?  If they were really Christian…

I think I prefer my Yahoo excrement straight in the face rather than kneaded into my bread. To be impassive to atrocity is to be “tolerant”; to be indifferent to the outrage of fundamental decency is to be “Christian”. Nowadays, every word of the English language is apt to have a value diametrically opposed to its original intent.  One can no longer utter the simplest sentence without its leaving the taste of the latrine in one’s mouth.  Our words have been stolen from us, or in some cases (the worst cases) returned after mutilations as nightmarish as the mad scientist’s who grafts wings onto a rabbit.  To write nada or loco is cultural appropriation if your skin isn’t the right color.  (I’ve never been able to determine just what that color is: even the original Spaniards were part Moorish in many cases—and it turns out that Portugal is home to a particularly high concentration of Neanderthal DNA!)  To employ a “gendered” pronoun is to risk professional termination, fines, and perhaps incarceration not just in our ally nations, but in our own topsy-turvy academic world.  To protest against the idiocy of it all is to manifest the deplorable “white privilege”, suspicion of which crime precludes any effort at defense and carries a minimum mandatory sentence of social ostracism for a day.  “The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart goes all decorum,” as a white-privileged patriarch once opined.  Did that bard, prophetically, diagnose our abortion culture, perhaps?  Too many babies… the twenty- and thirty-somethings are unwilling to surrender their diapers to new arrivals that might compete for attention.

In the midst of such lunacy, Hope appears to have retreated to the Moon, left vacant by the descent of our dominant ideologies.  What does the dawn of this day in 2019 promise, other than a deeper plunge into disgrace and inhumanity?

I will attempt just a very brief answer.  As I age, I grow more aware that virtually all of our spiritual confusion arises from an intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) confidence that we understand time.  Specifically, time in all of our constructs is linear: a “timeline”.  The times are suffocatingly depressing because, for those of us with sufficient memory, they so clearly describe a nosedive into arrogance, petulance, self-absorption, self-indulgence, absurdity, and outright stupidity.  The “Darwinian staircase” scaling upward on the shoulders of Homo Erectus, Cro-Magnon, and Homo Sapiens has now reversed its motion as precipitously as an amusement-park slide.

Yet why do we suppose that the image of time forced upon us by our human understanding is ultimately valid?  We should know, thanks to the operation of our same faculties, that we are incapable of fathoming the utter truth of things.  We are compelled by “logic” to believe both in a First Cause and in the dependency of every cause upon a previous cause as its effect.  We are compelled, likewise, to believe that every event contains causative events within it and also that no event could possibly happen if there were not an atomic, irreducible, “buck stops here” micro-event at the bottom of it all.  (Twentieth-century science latched on to the speed of light in order to keep the system from collapsing upon itself—but “C” is a mere conceptual convenience whose truth is under serious question in current physics.)

What, then, if all of our timelines are indeed illusions?  What if “then” is also “now”?  Frankly, I feel crucifixion happening all around me every day.  Why not resurrection, as well?  For the ascent from death is as inescapable as the terrestrial impact of a falling apple—or as the germination of the fallen apple’s seeds: they are all held together by an inviolable metaphysical force in a single expanding time.  Our linear timelines are constantly bombarded from right angles by the pressing reality of this superior, immutable time.  Our “progress” is constantly being knocked off course by inklings that our imagined destination is illusory—that we are “here and now” in an ultimate truth whose focal gravity our silly designs vainly struggle to resist.  What good is a promotion if we buy it with lies and betrayals?  What good is a glistening new palace erected with dollars extorted from the meager savings of our dupes?  We fight and fight against the winds blowing contrary to our “advance”, the wind that bloweth we know not whence.  We detest that interference.  We curse it.  Yet it draws us and draws us back to the simplicity of the child—the dwelling in the “here and now” which we abandoned when we decided to “make something of ourselves”.

Do not, please, misread my remarks in the light of a recent piece I dedicated to “the power of now”.  “Now” is not a renunciation of past and future: it is a reclaiming of the past and future as properly belonging to the Real, the Right, the Good.  As we fight to postpone the reign of goodness over our daily compromises and calculations, we fight ineffectually, futilely.  We may resist rebirth into the light of the true day; but to do so, we shall have to suffocate our soul, willfully and persistently, after it is already drawing breaths on its own.  Souls don’t die in the womb.  Only suicide kills them.

Tales From the Ivory Gutter

My last post (about panic attacks) was exhausting to me in ways that most of you wouldn’t believe, and that I myself hadn’t anticipated.  For that reason, and because I’m also uploading a new book to Amazon today–and, thirdly, because I want to write more about Eckhart Tolle but should wade deeper into his tendentious tome before doing so–I’m begging off a post today; or, rather… how about I just paste in a couple of excerpts from the new book’s preface?  It’s a collection of twenty-five short stories penned for the defunct journal Praesidium under the name of Ivor Davies.  All the stories address some aspect of academic life, most are humorous, and a few are admittedly a bit snide: don’t say you weren’t warned!  The title is Ivory Gutter Shining Bright: Two Decades of Stories About America’s Phoniest Institution.

If you’re interested, give the book a day to appear on Amazon.

A person who had spent three decades working in higher education, as I have done—teaching at seven different institutions, from junior college to private four-year school to state university with graduate program, over a range of four states—should have a thousand interesting stories to tell about life in the classroom.  I am not that person, and these are not those stories.  It isn’t within me, apparently, to recount with pathos the struggles of the dwarf girl who once took a writing class from me or the horrors of the day when a live shooter was thought to be on a rampage.  Mine are not narratives “from the files” of a seasoned academic (after the fashion of Forensic Files or Unsealed: Alien Files).  Maybe such a book would be more to the general public’s taste.  Alas, my abstention from writing that tome doesn’t signify a judgment call: I just can’t do it.  I am not a chronicler.

What drove me to write about academe, rather, was the same motive that has always driven my creative endeavors.  I am not stirred by the objective facts of situations: I am stirred by the subjective forces operative within them.  What influences battle for the soul of a typical academic?  What’s happening on the inside of those who have dedicated their public lives to service in such a very peculiar workplace?  I wished to locate and study the spiritual dwarves and giants (if there were any) on the scene.  I wished to pry into the daydreams of the dutiful hack who fantasized about blowing the boss’s office to smithereens.  What molds hearts and minds into odd shapes whose projection upon “objective reality” may be indetectible at any given moment?

I won’t make any bones about it: in my opinion, far and away the most animating force in academe is egotism.  The Ivory Tower is eaten up with it, like an old log by termites.  My personal experience (and hence almost every case highlighted in these stories) revolves narrowly around Humanities programs; and in such departments as English, History, and Foreign Language, especially, the professor usually earns much less than he or she might do in a more market-driven field.  The burden of relative poverty is somewhat compensated by the perk of occupying a lofty pedestal—or at least of supposing oneself, thanks to a fading but not defunct social convention, to be admired by all and sundry for one’s vast learning.

The very corridors of the more august campuses often glimmer with columns and architraves like the mythical halls of Mount Olympus.  The very forms of address—“Doctor” and “Professor”—carry an acknowledgment of superior status.  The very garb in which the assembled faculty processes to center stage on public occasions seems to combine Erasmus and Merlin (with a dash of Zoroaster).

Self-importance is always at least implicitly humorous.  The gap between the inflated fool’s estimate of himself and the humbling realities that sensible people know must qualify all human intellectual endeavor is as great as that separating a king from a toad.  Virtually all of these stories, therefore, offer a dark kind of humor to the spectator.  Even the characters who are most aware of their position’s fraud are powerless to fight it—for sustaining the fraud, the pose of high wisdom and moral enlightenment, is part of the job.  The public expects it, demands it; you don’t show up for the graduation of Mr. and Mrs. Albemarle’s beloved Wimberly wearing a sports coat and a striped tie.  If you don’t like posing for photos in your oppressive medieval regalia, find another line.

The profession certainly has had its share of lovable eccentrics until very recent times (though I fear that few sincere free spirits remain today among the host of exhibitionist iconoclasts). Besides Professor Sauter of “Third Degree”, specimens appear in “The Hemlock Society”, “Pomeroy’s Reign in the Days of Vast Decline”, and “The Steamrolled Kaleidoscope”. I confess a soft spot for those dusty profs who were retiring just as I was attempting to get started, and who, despite their stuffy views and bombastic speech, loved Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton with a passion. For crying out loud—they weren’t programming new generations of patriarchal racists! They were teaching young people that life is too complex for fist-shaking and “f” bombs.

My grief over the passing of such generous souls into extinction—and over the conditions that have produced this carnivorous purge of common decency—is such that I can’t help but grope after allegorical (if not metaphysical) dimensions when I portray the Ivory Gutter. My outrage is genuine, and the progressive betrayal of cultural and, indeed, broadly human values by our intelligentsia is real… so I would argue that I am in fact describing what’s right in front of us, though not right before our physical eye. Hell, I grant you, is a bit beyond the boundaries of the most flexible realism (not as much, however, as a time machine that transports twenty-first century talking heads from the tutelage of an Athenian sophist [“The Dogs Have Their Day”]).  I wonder: just how fanciful is my bicycling Don Quixote in “El Día de Hoy”, or the Sasquatch-chasing amoralist Spode of “Homo Superior Rises From the Muck”?  I’ve seen some pretty strange primates in the biz. Such creations are grotesque, yes… but a world as dominated by egotism as is academe, I’m telling you, is a veritable nursery of the grotesque!

I believe I may accurately summarize thus: this is a humorous book because it is an angry book. Humble nobodies like me have proved unable to oppose a system deeply embedded in generations of “members only” practice (despite the Sixties canard about breaking down barriers) and in sleazy political institutions that fund dubious research to launder ideology. What, then, can we do? We can steam ourselves into apoplexy… or we can deride the moral squalor of the whole arrangement….

P.S.  The book is dedicated to my friends Helen Andretta, Thomas Bertonneau, and Micheal Lythgoe, who worked with me closely on the journal for years.  I ventured to write in the dedication, “Where none dares whisper the truth, its sound peals like a bell.”

Men Are From Mars… Politicians Are From the Landfill

If you were to tell me breathlessly that you had acquired knowledge of a dark conspiracy based upon the latest segment of Ancient Aliens, I would probably nod and attempt to patch another topic seamlessly into the conversation.  I would almost certainly not say, “Tell me more.”  Let’s face it: the prime objective of a long-running television serial is to run yet longer.  Some very suspicious activity once occurred over Roswell, at Rendlesham Forest, over the Phoenix area… such incidents might suffice to fuel one good season of an objective documentary.  By the time we’re talking about lizard-men appearing from cracks in the earth, however, or the Ananachi instructing Gilgamesh to subdue Humbaba… well, by the way, did you happen to know that honey is very high in antioxidant?  I just found that out….

If I were Mike Bara, I would feel somewhat conflicted about being featured regularly on this quasi-scientific, conspiracy-rich series, especially when my spots are wedges between images of guys with cryptic talismans dangling from their wide-open shirts and strange gardens growing on their crowns where hair should be.  Yet the gig certainly sells books and promotes celebrity.  The cover of Bara’s Ancient Aliens on Mars (2013) does little to reassure us that its contents will abstain from sensationalism; and the title, for that matter, seems hapless to me, in that it directly taps into the TV serial while ineptly designating its subject.  For a Martian would not be an alien unless he left Mars—and Mars remains the exclusive focus of Bara’s little work, not Martian immigration to ancient Peru or Anatolia.  The book, let’s admit, has “popular” objectives.  It’s written to make money.

At the same time, when the academic community shuts you out, you don’t necessarily have a lot of options left—and the popular one effectively broadcasts the word that the academic game is rigged while also earning you (hopefully) the wherewithal to carry the struggle forward.  Did Bara, then, simply make up the incident involving JPL’s bizarre and high-handed reddening of the Viking I photos so as to make the planet appear utterly desolate and… well, alien?  I know that he didn’t invent NASA’s curious dismissal of Gil Levin’s positive test for life in Martian soil during that mission—a test that ran like clockwork and then, by official decree, was essentially ruled a waste of millions of dollars.

Is Bara writing fiction when he chronicles our government’s paying for Michael Malin’s camera to be included on the Observer mission—and then declaring that Malin, as a private entity, had exclusive rights to any resultant photos for six months?  Does Bara merely imagine NASA’s resistance to photographing certain Martian regions previously suspected of retaining relics of clearly artificial (i.e., not natural) structures throughout this and the Pathfinder mission?  It isn’t just Bara, is it, who recalls that the open-bidding protocol was cavalierly subverted in awarding Malin’s now-outdated instrument the contract for riding aboard the Mars Global Surveyor?

I do but graze the surface—and Bara’s “popular” account of these outrageously manipulated engineering decisions and suppressed or doctored “revelations” is itself condensed to a particle of the complete explanation.  A skeptic might respond that I have so far ignored the book’s most “embarrassing” part: the discussion of the infamous “face” said to occupy several square kilometers on the Martian surface.  He-he, ha-ha!  Who could possibly… why, the very idea!  A rock formation acquires a certain look at a certain time of day as shadows fall in a certain pattern—and voila!  We have a human-like face!  So very droll!

Okay.  But why would NASA not take better shots of the region to resolve the issue?  The claim was made that such a flyover indeed occurred and that such a shot was indeed taken… except that, years later, NASA was forced to admit that it had no such debunking photo.  And the “face” region was one of many where images were demonstrably tempered with during subsequent missions.  It must also be emphasized by those whose math skills far exceed my own that the “face compound” (for the immediate region is prolific with artificial-seeming structures) repeatedly encodes certain geometric relationships independent of cultural conditioning, just as a radio transmission from a dark quadrant of the sky that reprised a theme from Peter and the Wolf could not merely be a neutron star’s chatter.

I know that these notions are a tough sell.  Years ago, I published an uncensored Martian photo in my online journal that showed what was indisputably a tooled, artificial object, full of intricate and rigidly aligned holes, rings, and corners.  Several of my academic readers sniffed that my parody was indeed rare, but needed more seasoning: I almost sounded as though I were serious!

Cases like these have two forces working strongly against them.  One is (as just intimated) the ever-active anxiety in “educated” people that perhaps they are being duped.  “No, no… you can’t fool me!  Not today—not with that one!”  The very lapse of the word “conspiracy” into ignominy, as if no intricate, chess-like suckering ever happened in the real world, is evidence of how easily we can be hoodwinked in our fear of being hoodwinked.

Hence the second force: the “science” of disinformation, as pioneered by the Soviets and now mastered in our own society.  Nothing more discredits a reality that you wish to keep secret than going fully public with it in a ridiculously hyperbolic manner.  “Sure, I had an affair with that woman!  Why, I must have had fifty affairs in that one week!  Half the electorate of Nevada consists of my sons and daughters!”  Ha-ha, he-he.

I don’t sincerely belief that Ancient Aliens, the TV serial, has been intended by its producers to grind out such background interference; yet its constant quest for yet one more season has that effect, and the effect is no doubt viewed with satisfaction by certain artists of disguise on the public payroll.

Because of Bara’s book and a mass of other evidence (a little of it gathered in private conversation with reliable sources), I preserve no doubt of any kind that our government has lied to us for years about issues related to the so-called Space Program.  My question, as a citizen rather than a professional technician or academic researcher, is why.  One lies for a reason: one lies for personal advantage.  Who is deriving an advantage from concealing details—no, more than details: essential information—about the course and nature of intelligent life in our solar system?  What sort of advantage might this be?  When would the trump card be played?  Will the rest of us be left sprawling in the dust on that day as mere dupes… or are we an intended sacrifice of proportions exceeding the Stalinesque?

I hate living in a society whose leadership I no longer trust a penny’s worth about anything.  It’s exhausting; it’s infuriating.  I want to deliver this message to my “representatives” and to their “academic expert” lackeys everywhere, without geometric coding: “You sorry bastards.  If wind turbines are safe, then you go live under one.  If the Rare Earth Elements on solar panels are clean, then put your family downstream from one.  If the rich need to pay 90 percent of their income to create a world where energy carries ten times the price tag, then you start by liquidating 90 percent of your gross assets and divesting yourself of all energy-related investments.  If universal public health care is such a great idea, than sign yourself and your family up for it.  If the war against Islamic extremism must be fought in perpetuity halfway around the world, then be sure that your son enlists to fight it.”

Could it be, on the contrary, that our “leaders” enjoy an entirely off-the-grid, off-the-books, off-budget parallel reality of bunkered paradise, engineered with unimaginable sophistication, that awaits them whenever the red button is pushed?  “Could it be….?”  Yeah, now I sound like the narrator of Ancient Aliens; but when you know you’re being lied to, persistently and with design, the mind runs wild.

Could it be that we will learn more truth about our solar system from Putin or the Chinese than from NASA?

Climates Change, But Not the Wicked Tilt of the Human Heart

I’ve written about “climate change” before… but my objections seem to require reiteration every time the subject comes up.  So…

Climates change.  It’s what they do.  The severity of this winter compared to last winter or even this decade’s summers compared to last decade’s is not climate study.  Data must cover centuries for conclusions to have value.  We have no such data: we have computer software that creates various models.

“Climate change” is an academic industry.  In the current political climate, you don’t get grants by discovering that our climate’s vagaries are staying within the range of normal deviation (any more than you get grants for concluding that maleness is not toxic or that gender is biological).  The academy is grinding out propaganda because professors are busily crafting careers for themselves.  Look, if Shell Oil or BP can fund a study showing that gasoline tastes great on cornflakes and builds strong bones, then the Nanny State/Ivory Tower/Turbine & Solar Conglomerate can operate a boondoggle from their side of the street.

Carbon dioxide is less than half of one tenth of one percent of our atmosphere.  Its abundance appears to have ticked up infinitesimally in recent years—actually fueling a growth in global vegetation, by the way.  With more vegetation comes more rain—and let’s add more heat just for the exercise, which brings yet more rain.  Good.  Now we have taken a small step toward replenishing our catastrophically dwindling groundwater supply.  Twenty years ago, that concern was among the top five that preoccupied earth scientists alarmed over our lifestyle’s sustainability.  I haven’t heard a peep about the levels of continental water tables for years, even though human beings die a lot faster from water deprivation than from having their Myrtle Beach time-share washed under.  Odd, that silence.

And as for scientists… no cardiologist, or phoneticist, or archaeologist, knows any more about climate than a truck-driver—and meteorologists are themselves not necessarily qualified to air out an opinion on climate.  I grow so very weary of the remark, “We should trust the experts”!  We must first identify the “experts”, which most of us have not done; and then we must ask ourselves what kind of game the less conscientious of them (for being an “expert” does not inoculate one against moral depravity) might be playing with our future.  Neils Bohr, Werner von Braun, and Philipp Bouhler were all expert in their field in the Thirties and Forties.  How did common humanity make out under their watchful eye?

Wind and solar power are neither clean, cheap, nor sustainable.  The rare-earth elements required in their assembly are ghastly contaminants for those who must mine them, their promotion is perhaps the great unreported scandal in the new century’s already long history of corporate rip-offs, and their hardware functions—not forever—but for two or three decades before needing replacement.  They would also claim almost every inch of free space around us to have even the remotest chance of replacing fossil fuels.  Read Paul Driessen on the subject: he’s an expert (though the Oracle of Apollo at Wikipedia is pleased to call him a “lobbyist” because he opposes the academic/statist complex).

Nullifying our conventional energy resources as we pay out billions to Third World nations and also allow China and India to continue belching pollutants into the atmosphere will save nobody—but it will surely tighten the noose around the necks of Americans preferentially.  Is that the objective: mass suicide?  Are the Paris Accords the third and final great act of Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate—is that how we achieve escape velocity into the next life?  Do most of you understand that such is the choice to which you are being urged by your “leaders” and “experts”?

Now, a new idea: why not spend our time and wealth on a solution which would actually alleviate the problem?  What about creating a series of floating cities?  The level of the world’s oceans would be a matter of virtual indifference to their residents.  Such island-states could control intrusions much more easily that landbound metropolises, and would hence be much safer from crime.  They could evade major storms and so escape the cost incurred when devastating hurricanes make landfall.  They could supply many of their essential needs directly from the sea (probably even tapping into wave and current somehow to generate electricity).  Most significantly for those who truly care about world peace and prosperity, they could reduce the risk of global conflict almost to zero; for nuclear assault on targets so widely dispersed would mean death to the assailant as well as the target.  The highly effective dissuading factors behind Mutually Assured Destruction would be revived.  Most of the world does not share the Green Movement’s craving for a propitiatory mass suicide.

The blueprints for such cities are already on the drawing board.  Why has the political Left no interest in solutions that actually hold promise of working?  Why is the response of its adherents always some version of, “No, no, no!  I’m not listening!  I’ve stopped my ears!  Nah-nah-nah!  Not listening, not listening!”

Does it not strike you that people who so resist open discussion and consideration of alternatives may be a) mentally unstable or b) working an angle too sinister to make known publicly?  Will you please weigh these matters seriously?  Please?

Who Wins History’s Game When Half the Deck’s Cards Are Wild?

Every time I read the phrase, “Historians will look back at this time and say…” I have to sigh.  Some of the trends currently complicating our lives may not leave anyone to read or write history if they continue; and in any case, historians must be published to be read, and to be published they must write what flatters the prejudices of their day.  I’ve given up on looking for a history published by an academician that considers on-the-ground facts in the South prior to the Civil War.  Even Marc Engels’ Clash of Extremes, recommended by a professor whose judgment I thoroughly trust, edges tentatively into the proposition that the war wasn’t primarily about slavery by reviewing speeches made in Congress and writings left by congressmen.

What about the fact that guerrilla leader John Mosby, perhaps the Confederate most wanted by the Union at a certain stage of the war, was smuggled to safety by two unsupervised slaves after being badly wounded—this with federal lines mere miles away, a reward on his head, and freedom a very likely bonus for his delivery?

In the same way, we never discuss why the western Ukrainians—you know, the ones in whose behalf we’re supposed to inaugurate World War III—sided with Hitler so as to oppose Stalin.  Uncle Joe is always presented as the lesser of two evils, though comparative body counts leave that a very dubious proposition.  Naturally, Winston Churchill couldn’t possibly have made such a miscalculation!  Naturally, when Churchill, coming away from the Yalta Conference, wrote that we had to “appease” Stalin, no tasteful historian would juxtapose his diction with Neville Chamberlain’s.

Okay… so the past belongs to Hollywood’s film library.  Sad, but perhaps inevitable.  I look into the future—that terrain about whose character future “historians” are to declare the truth retrospectively.  More and more, I’m dazzled by the number of wild cards in the deck.  The future.  Who could possibly come anywhere close to predicting it, especially in these days of technology-fueled trends that continually shift the goalposts of possibility?  In so many ways, I sense that we’re headed straight into an abyss—an interconnected, almost labyrinthine series of abysses, such that we steer into the one on the left if we miss the one on the right.

But not all the wild cards bear the image of the Grim Reaper.  Take China.  The PRC has been a force for pure evil since before my lifetime.  The Communist elite was behind Korea, behind Vietnam… now it’s saber-rattling around Japan and India, having already swallowed up Tibet and Hong-Kong, and simultaneously suckering African nations into surrendering the reins of power with “generous” loans.  (Of course, one of the chapters in our inerrant college history book tells us that Truman was absolutely right to dismiss that arrogant, insufferable bastard MacArthur, who would have deposed Mao and delivered China to Chiang kai-Shek.)

The Chinese elite is aging, however.  They’re human.  They must die, and fairly soon.  The Chinese people are fed up with them, even though a system has been engineered to ensure a continued habit of servility and sycophancy among the masses.  (The system’s effectiveness at deep programming explains, I suppose, why so many Chinese who escape to the US persist in voting for intrusive government.)  How many more generations of despotism can be sustained?  Leftists view human beings as blank slates, capable of infinite “education” and devoid of any fundamental moral beacon.  The rest of us know better.  How far into the future can the PRC spread its evil across this planet before Chinese of the rank and file demand an end to it?

What goes through Xi Jinping’s head?  We know (or suppose we know) that he doesn’t believe in any reality beyond this world’s.  What, then, does he hope to get from this world which will balance the evil he has introduced and is introducing into it?  He’s already an old man.  How many years does he expect to enjoy power—and how can he enjoy it when so many rivals must surely surround him?  How does it all end?

Or take our illegal immigration crisis.  California is our window into the future.  Imagine large cities across the country overrun with people who don’t speak the mainstream language, demand that our extravagant public subsidies be paid out, have no high-tech employment skills, are promised yet more handouts by the candidates of the statist party, sometimes serve as conduits (willing or otherwise) for gang activity, have no political tradition of self-determination (like the Chinese), and have lost their ancestors’ knowledge of working the land productively.  How does this end?

At some point, and sooner rather than later, we run out of money.  Won’t our “guests” beat a retreat as they see that day looming?  How many of them will sicken of the gangs in their midst and resort to the vigilantism for which a corrupt Mexican system always punished their fathers brutally?  As parts of urbanized Europe have become “no go” zones ruled by Sharia law, will we see large tracts of our nation breaking into self-policed islands of relative stability?  What will be the central government’s response to this balkanization?  Will it be favored and exploited as the stepping stone to some quasi-imperial central power structure (a.k.a. “divide and rule”)—or will we see, with the emergence of a permanent oligarchy, the creation of a national police force (lovingly imagined by Barack Obama during his original candidacy for president) that cruises our streets with 50-caliber machine guns mounted on Humvees?

And, at that point, will the state grow ever more autocratic… or, in light of its depleted and over-stretched resources, will the central authority lend a tolerant ear to talk of a looser national confederacy?

There’s an old Highland saying: Feigh ar a dheiradh—“Wait for its end.”  Who knows how a game of draw-poker played with twenty-six wild cards finishes?  Both worse and better than we can imagine, most likely.

Political Correctness, A+: Artistic Quality, F-

Nothing on “the scene” is currently interesting me–or perhaps I should say, more honestly, that everything in public life and contemporary culture so disgusts me at the moment that I’m trying very hard to direct my attention away from it.  So the idea came to me that I would again share a little of what I’ve been writing for a book.  This opus, to be titled Literary Decline and the Death of the Spirit, gathers together a lot of what I’ve wanted to say about the literary art for almost forty years.  In fact, some of it was composed several years ago… but the bit I’ve decided to post today was put together last week.  It’s intended as an example following a rather more abstract discussion.  So…

b) how a story profits artistically from depth of character

Examples are always welcome in abstract discussions.  I learned much from the previous chapter’s examples simply in composing them.  I offer the following extended illustration, then, by way of clarifying the importance in a story of deep characterization—of a palpable presence of free will—to generating an artistic sense of mystery.

Say that we have a feminist yarn about a society which eradicates males.  Readers will have inferred long before now that I attribute to academic feminism, perhaps more than to any other single source, a rash of careless readings that has beaten the finesse out of literary studies.  Every one of Chapter Four’s examples features an insistently feminist interpretation that has created a challenge to literary appreciation.  As the imperative to observe an orthodoxy—a party line—grows more and more strident, interest in or tolerance of individual characters who do more than project the Woman’s Perspective (i.e., are three-dimensional human beings) begins to wane… and we end up with narratives that harangue rather than provoke thought.

So in designing my hypothetical, I will not only not deny, but will stress that I am handling subject matter in whose typical message or “moral” I place no confidence.  Yet I still fancy that I can visualize this narrative growing in artistic strength to the degree that it pays more attention to character.

Let us dub our protagonist Nadya Ventura—again.  (If anyone in the wide world bears this name, I wish a) to apologize for appropriating your handle, and b) to congratulate you upon having the perfect moniker for an adventure/romance novel.)  Nadya leads the charge against the male sex.  She appears in all major battle scenes.  We can locate our story in the future so that blood spatter doesn’t render our pages obscene: perhaps all annihilation is accomplished with ray-guns.  However the cause is carried forward, Nadya is always in the vanguard.  Lots of action fills our book, and lots of courage, skill, resourcefulness, and intelligence flows from Nadya.  She is a genuine super-hero.

So far, our narrative is a mere cartoon.  One would like to think that even in today’s academy, it would find little support for being placed on the syllabus of a Contemporary Novels course.

Now let’s tweak the text.  Let us say that Nadya enters into conflict (verbal conflict) with her entourage of triumphant Amazons concerning the fate of the vanquished males.  Some wish the prisoners to be carted off to a kind of gender-Auschwitz for instant vaporization.  Others (emulating what Herodotus tells us of the Scythians) advocate blinding the captives and enslaving them.  Perhaps others pronounce themselves content merely to have all surviving males transformed through hormone therapy and a little elementary surgery.  Nadya considers all of these options inhumane and somewhat disgusting.  As debate proceeds, it is evident that she occupies a small minority of opinion.  Eventually she stands alone, refusing to concede… and a powerful bureaucracy has her posted to the highly undesirable Planet Ogygia, sidetracking her career and jeopardizing her life.

The narrative is growing more interesting, is it not?  The word “inhumane” crept into my condensation of events above: it was no mere slip of the pen.  Nadya has become something more than a two-dimensional poster for militant, sophomoric feminism.  She appears to recognize (or to begin to recognize) that the essential problem in human relations is abuse of power, and that relations between men and women have traditionally modeled just a few possible forms of such abuse.  An inner universe is opening up as we follow her reflections, its boundaries at least as veiled in shadow as those ringing Planet Ogygia.

We could do yet more—much more.  What’s a romance without some romance?  So how do women address this side of existence in an all-female society?  We could have them put the enslaved males to bedroom service prior to being executed, rather in the fashion of Ariosto’s expatriate Amazons from Crete; we could picture them as opting for a “lesbian only” habit of life; or, if the story indeed has a futuristic turn, we could give them robotic lovers, engineered and programmed to precise specifications.  Nadya could enter into conflict with her peers or superiors in any one of these scenarios.  She might become too attached to her lover-slave to surrender him for “nullification” at the mandated moment.  She might find that her female companion, upon receiving a promotion, begins to demand favors rather than to pursue an equal relationship.  She might tire of her cyber-amant for some reason that she can’t quite define, stalked by the uneasy, creeping conviction that the arrangement is reducing her, as well, to a machine.  In the novel’s long version, she might work through all three options and register major dissatisfaction with each.

I find that Nadya is beginning to grow very interesting—and ever more “literary”.  Again, I have deliberately (and somewhat archly, with more smug irony along the way than I could hope to deny) chosen a subject whose moral assumptions are repugnant to me.  I am not remotely receptive to the prospect of feminist world domination.  Yet I would still find something to enjoy artistically in this hypothetical narrative as Nadya progressed from a crude stereotype to a vibrant human being who wrestles with issues involving freedom, fairness, generosity, and self-respect.

An adversary might protest loudly, “Well, of course you take increasing delight in the narrative arrangements just described! With each one, you are undermining the theme that a women-only utopia would be a better place.” In response, I would offer to make Nadya’s supervisor, Sister Carrie, the main character; and Carrie, as indicated in all of my previous suggestions, would resist Nadya’s reactionary tendencies at every step. It is Carrie who would want the prisoners enslaved and emasculated prior to eventual execution, and who would become Nadya’s lover prior to innovating a culture-wide shift to gigolo-robots. All of the story’s action could filter through Carrie’s mind: she could indeed be its narrator. “The pleading of the prisoners before they were administered the ‘exit pill’,” she might say, “was disturbing to me. But I recognized my duty, and I imagined the chorus of silent pleading from generations of women who had feared to lift up their voices. Their volume drowned out the prisoners’ cries completely.” And later, this: “I had grown very fond of Nadya, and banishing her to Ogygia pained me deeply. But I knew that I might lack the strength needed to accomplish our mission if my darling Nadya continued to undermine it from the pillow. No sacrifice I made for the cause ever cost me more dearly.”

My adversary will fire back that I have now delivered the story into the hands of an “unreliable narrator” whom readers will perceive as a fanatic—and that I am hence, once again, undermining the work’s theme to suit my own taste. This manner of response would signify to me that I could do nothing to placate my critic; every move I might make in the direction of radical feminist liberation would be viewed as secret sabotage… and so it would be, in a way. Because every move I have in mind would simply pry open the monomaniacal plot and slip in touches of characterization—of weighing options, of venting frustrations, of regretting missed opportunities, of grieving the loss of present joys in the future (each element of which list, by the way, may be observed in the words assigned to Medea by Euripides). The insurmountable wall separating me from my adversary isn’t really politics or ideology at all, or not in this artistic context: it is the issue of allowing evidence of individual inner life—of free will—into the text versus banning it rigorously. If I have my way and one or more characters, no matter who they are, reflect in detectible fashion upon events, then my opponent’s desired effect is already compromised; for in his our her fictional vision of utopia, nobody has an independent thought. The world is so “perfect” that all of its surviving inhabitants merely live their waking hours in undifferentiated unity, never being driven into that moment of intimate personal questioning which indicts at least a tiny bit of dissonance between inside and outside.

No room for mystery here; and without the mysterious space created by affirmations of character, there is also no reality other than the purely objective world of sensory impressions. There is no soul here, and no beauty. It is a landscape, for that matter, where robots would feel entirely comfortable, and where one could no longer distinguish between the despiritualized human and the clever machine.

My New Novel (Part Two)

One more selection from the preface of my new novel… and by the way, Seven Demons Worse was its title under a very different and much earlier guise.  The new release is titled Worse by Seven.

In Seven Demons, Evans moves along in Part Three to seek out a desert space where he… does what? Almost kills himself with idle wandering until he decides to have another go at life? The nature of his “redemption” while straying through a sandy wilderness far west of his university never becomes clear. In the version of the novel before you, Evans’s reanimation through his acquaintance with Carmen makes his journey west far more comprehensible, I believe (I hope), though he himself constantly questions its purpose. I would argue that his purpose is illuminated by his explicit frustration in trying to find it. He’s looking for his soul. Ostensibly, he has to go back and mop up after resigning his professorship by mail. An apartment must be emptied, a car sold… these are details that I had ignored earlier, but that a story of life in the real world cannot afford to pass by. Yet he understands from the start that such details are the trip’s pretext. He is not in a position, psychologically or spiritually, simply to have another go at being happy with yet another woman whom he has met quite casually and treated rather better than her recent predecessors. He no longer trusts his judgment: he has fooled himself too often in relying on his compromised conscience. He needs to see a rigorous, objective test run on his moral stamina, and perhaps even more on his sheer physical self-control (which is pretty much the same thing, if you stop and think). He continues westward, therefore, with an irresistible inclination to put himself in harm’s way.

I remember being forced to read one of Norman Mailer’s novels as a college freshman, and I recall the protagonist as a virulent womanizer whose addiction to sex has diminished his manly fortitude practically to nothing in his own eyes. (I observe this, by the way, to be a fully—if ironically—genuine consequence of skirt-chasing: men actually lose their self-respect as virile men.) Mailer’s character ends up walking along the parapet of a skyscraper to restore a bit of his soul’s energy. In the original version of my narrative, I can’t see Evans as having done anything much different in traipsing through a space resembling New Mexico’s White Sands and being reprieved from death only by a blind chance. That’s not the end I wanted. It doesn’t bring together all the story’s tortuous (and torturous) strands: the academic world full of haughty hypocrisy, the beloved wife snatched away rudely, the affairs with campus carnivores intended to be a kind of fist-shaking at heaven… the domineering mother, the elusive father, the small-town whited-sepulcher church… the budding love of a worthy but vulnerable human being who must not be mishandled any further… all of these sources of tension must be addressed. What is essentially a Maileresque dance atop a skyscraper doesn’t address any of them—and most certainly does not propose a Christian resolution.

If my “Christian” critics had wanted to lance Seven Demons Worse at its most exposed point, their target should have been the ending. Indeed, if I had staged some supernatural conversion in the sand dunes where Evans falls on his knees, cries, “I hear you, Jesus—you died on the cross for my sins!” and blubbers himself into ecstasy, most of my critics would probably have considered a stay of execution for me. But here I will share a confession of my own. I have never been able to fathom the spiritual content of the boo-hooing displayed at the thought of the Savior’s being cruelly butchered because the justly enraged Father demands a blood sacrifice. The ritual analogies attempted here simply muddy up the terms of redemption impossibly for me; I cannot find in this jumble of scapegoating and human sacrifice a compelling expression of how the wayward heart might be realigned toward humility, hope, and the worship of goodness. Maybe it’s my fault. Like Evans, I’m sure I have some missing pieces. As his literary creator, though, I cannot put into Evans’s experience sentiments that have no basis in my own. The God he seeks must be the God I have sought—and whatever peace and renewal he finds must be such as I have found.

Suffering, again, is an indispensable element of the formula: Evans must realize that suffering belongs to the righteous life in this vale of tears called Earth. The Beatitudes promise us no less. It is therefore unjust and immature to rebuke God because we suffer. If our suffering is “good suffering”, it indeed demonstrates that we are followers of God (who ended up on the Cross in trying to reach us through a fully human form). Yet there is also such a thing as bad suffering. Evans has managed to consume his fill of this during his wild run at the campus life’s “there is no God—I’m in control” caliber of pleasure. Indeed, he has discovered that Hell can scarcely be anything other than separation from God in a world entirely of one’s own making—right down to its luxurious indulgences.

The reality of bad suffering, then, must be balanced against the reality of good suffering. I cannot have Evans exiting the desert triumphantly with the mere dictum in his mouth, “Get back to doing your duty, and don’t ask questions” (or, as the great American philosopher Bill Belichick expresses it more succinctly, “Do your job”). This would be just a slight repackaging of his mother’s cultic devotion to building a superior bloodline while suppressing all personal affections that interfere. The duty at issue might be of a much higher sort—but the dedication to it would still be abject and without joy. Somewhere in his desperate desert meander, Evans has to discover joy.

In my first draft of the utter rewrite (and, by Part Three, I had thrown Seven Demons aside completely and was composing fresh), Evans’s “revelation” emerges from his mouth in the words, “Try again—try harder!” The mere determination to take one more stab at doing the right thing in life manifests an awareness that one has been forgiven past sins. Hence “try again” correctly states part of a truly Christian formula, I would argue, because it implies that all the figures on the ledger’s “debit” side have been canceled. You don’t start a new business if your old business hasn’t paid off its debts.

Now, being liberated to go forth and try again can certainly stir the heart to joy. Yet, as a formula, it still loiters dangerously close to the faithful legionnaire’s commitment to his marching orders. We mustn’t send Evans away to re-live the Charge of the Light Brigade. I therefore—after much anguish and many deleted phrases—amended the “try harder” part of the formula to this: “Try to find joy in how hard it is” (with “it” understood as the first part: “try harder”). To take joy in a formidable challenge is, it seems to me, a quite natural human response. The less arbitrary and more meaningful the challenge, the greater the joy, even in the event of ultimate failure. Knowing that you almost succeeded in leaping from your second-story window onto the oak tree’s limb when you broke your leg may give satisfaction to a fool: knowing that you saved two of three children rushing down-river in a flood brings a profound peace that mitigates the one failure, and that endures a lifetime. Is that peace a joy? We should strive to make it so, if only a sad joy. Though still embedded in suffering and regret, it also rests firmly on a sense of personal worth won through worthy endeavor. Try… and try to find joy in how hard it is.

Aware that we are weak and fallible human beings who must always come up a bit short—and aware, too, that God forgives us such inadequacy—we must try to recognize in our second and third (and seven times seventy) attempts an amplitude, a generosity, that defines the life of faith. The closest analogy I can think of would be one drawn from the sporting life—a kind of illumination dear not only to Coach Belichick, but to Saint Paul. I’ve heard many interviews of Hall-of-Fame baseball players where an admiring sportscaster, wide-eyed and breathless, asks the star about the game where he hit three home runs or struck out fifteen hitters. The immortal answers perfunctorily, perhaps with a touch of coolness. Then the interviewer asks about his subject’s fondest memory. The star’s face brightens, and he proceeds to share details of a fourteen-inning playoff game which featured, perhaps, no significant contribution of his own. What he recalls is the thrill of being utterly absorbed in an effort with everyone else on both teams—an effort whose boundaries were respected by all and whose worthiness of their dedication none of them questioned. The recollected joy here is the joy of trying, of striving in a complex and difficult contest. One side would win at last and one side lose. Yet all parties would look back, once the pain of failure had subsided, with pride and… and joy.

I believe Evans discovers this hidden and critical secret about suffering in God’s cause as he babbles into an empty desert sky. He finally understands that he was happier having spent one brief year with his wife than he could ever be over a long career of sharing beds with willing luminaries of the liberated, God-free intelligentsia—infinitely happier, even had he known in advance that they two would have only one year together. He realizes, likewise, that he will find happiness with Carmen not because he will necessarily make her happy or be made happy by her, but because he and she are both prepared to dedicate themselves fully to the attempt. For in the attempt lies the success… in the unlimited surmounting of small failures.

I don’t imagine that my formula will strike everyone as quite what a Christian should be proposing. I know that many, for instance, will insist upon some “free gift” packaging of salvation that absolves the ecstatic believer even from the obligation to try (let alone try harder) at doing good. This preference for what was called “enthusiasm” a couple of centuries ago—for the undiluted, irrational gush of rapturous adoration—has virtually destroyed the “maleness” of Christianity in our time, I fear. Leon Podles published a book longer ago than the appearance of Seven Demons Worse about the unhappy feminization of Catholicism; and not only has the Roman faith not recovered the ground lost with males over the intervening years, but it has lost much more—in the company, of course, of Protestant denominations spanning the entire spectrum of liturgical practice. Doctrine regarding sexual conduct is perhaps more illustrative of this fatal anemia than most of the church’s many other “evolving” positions. We are not to judge. Nobody, it seems, is to judge anything. Everything’s “okay” (or, as a prophetic book title from 1967 put it, “You’re okay, I’m okay”). Struggle is gone, because struggle produces suffering, and suffering cannot be good. Why (we’re told), the whole point of the Christian faith is to eradicate suffering! How will we ever do this if we make severe demands of ourselves or frown upon our fellows for mounting only a token defense of principle? Find joy in the challenge of accomplishing our high mission? But our mission (we’re told) is precisely to relieve ourselves and others of challenges!

Thus the new Christian—the new false Christianity. When my tale began life as Seven Demons Worse, it was rejected by many of the organized faith for daring to pry open a forbidden closet’s door. Now, as Worse by Seven, I’m sure it will be rejected by just as many who ostensibly profess the same faith because it “insensitively” proclaims the necessity of laboring up a steep, high staircase. Pardon me a smile at the irony of my having kept Baudelaire’s lines to open Part One in both versions. For daring to hint at the existence of Lesbian love, “Delphine et Hippolyte” won the poet a few days of legal detention in the midst of France’s smug, stodgy nineteenth century. Today the European Union’s arbiters of taste and manners would likely fine him a few thousand Euros—and also return him to jail—for hinting that anything whatever about Lesbian love was at all wrong in the least. Huston Evans is no Charles Baudelaire: he fights his way through deep melancholy to a triumphant sense of life’s worth in the context of a life that never ends. That doesn’t mean, however, that he should expect any better fate in the hands of the censors who define the “acceptable” in this world. Indeed, his sins are more damning for being more robust. Though he is only a fictional character, he may yet land me in Siberia.

My New Novel (Part One)

Yikes–it’s Wednesday!  How many of you suffer from the subconscious conviction that Christmas always falls on Sunday?  No matter.  I had predetermined that I would publish a couple of excerpts this week from the preface to my new novel, Worse by Seven.  My commentary therein isn’t at all different from the sort of thing i usually post in this space, it may induce one or two readers to download the Kindle version or purchase the hard copy, and… and it has become fairly evident to me that most people aren’t reading blogs over the holidays, anyway.  So I’ll indulge in a bit of self-promotion today and Saturday, and otherwise join our fearless leaders in a shutdown of activity.

From the author’s “Polemical Preface”

[The preceding paragraphs describe the immense difficulties I encountered when trying to interest self-styled Christian publications in a much earlier version of this book twenty years ago.]

Still, there was certainly a component of the Christian community (understood in a more general—and also more genuine—sense) that did read novels. A few such people sampled my book before our press collapsed… and of these, more than a few lodged an objection not easily shrugged off as insubstantial. I should note that all members of this “test group” were affiliated with a Southern Baptist institution to which I had a professional connection at the time. The somewhat squeamish character of their reservations, then, was perhaps to be expected—for they were distressed that the novel had chosen to tackle the sexual revolution, especially as it had evolved in the Ivory Tower during the Eighties.

I had witnessed this lurid cultural debacle from a spectator’s seat rather than participating on the field of play—but my seat belonged to the first row of bleachers. Between 1972 and 1984, I studied at three different institutions of higher learning, eventually earning three degrees. Shortly thereafter, I began a career of teaching at various colleges that ended only a few months ago. My exposure to the lifestyle of the cultural elite, therefore, was lengthy.

In my time, I had seen one psyche after another, among both males and females, corroded dangerously by the prevailing ethic. When I began my academic apprenticeship back in the Seventies, the message was overtly hedonistic. (It has lately grown more self-righteously ideological: promiscuity not for pleasure’s sake, but to liberate oppressed minorities.) Back then, one was supposed to approach sex as among life’s most desirable joys, probably surpassing good food and a good sleep in many minds. To more than a few, I have a feeling that it even outranked food and sleep as a necessity. It was an “it”: an acquisition, a thing to be possessed and savored like a German-sweet-chocolate cake straight out of the oven. Educated adults were to understand this “itness” and to abstain from the childish or uncouth attachment of emotional significance to “good sex”. If both parties consented to dedicate their bodies (for a month, a weekend, or ten minutes) to plucking the forbidden fruit off the tree and sucking out its juices, then what ground remained for the moralist to grow livid and call down damnation? Would that bourgeois, probably Christian moralist have the same hang-up about other perfectly natural behaviors like going to the bathroom? More than once, I heard his kind dubbed “anal-repressive”.

The irony about the “anal-repressive” jibe was that it logically eliminated the possibility of love among the Enlightened without their ever having noticed. If sex is a kind of bowel movement involving the other side of the abdomen, what can it have to do with emotion? A physiological need cannot be considered a fine sentiment by any sensible person. The ability to sleep eight hours a night is no proof of delicate feeling. Yet the rock-and-roll mentality that saturated the society in which I grew up (and in which I observed very little growing up) persistently applauded itself as more “sensitive” and “caring” than its glowering, Puritanical parent generation. “All you need is love”—with the supplementation, apparently, of birth-control pills. At the same time, the refrain that “sex is just sex” was beginning to be sung by the same hipsters. I never could get an answer from any of them to the question, “So which one is it?”

Alas, the Christians I have tried to describe in my preamble held aloof from the fray of ideas rather than tearing into the other side’s contradictions, as I myself thought proper (and even compulsory for those of us whose business was ideas). My remote, unsoiled colleagues didn’t resemble the caricature of Christian self-discipline that the “educated” crowd drew of them except, perhaps one respect. They were not a bunch of trap-jawed males keeping their womenfolk barefoot, pregnant, and chained to the stove… but they did feel very uncomfortable about lifting the veils insistently draped by polite society. Let me return now to these ever-vigilant caretakers of propriety.

My book’s sin, for this more literate class of Christian, did not—of course—lie in promoting the “educated” view of sex as a natural joy for the laid-back (and sketchily toilet-trained); nobody ever accused my novel of that, and nobody who had read it ever could. Yet I seemed to have been doing something close to illicit promotion precisely by exploding the sexual revolution’s premises at close range. I was looking microscopically into a matter that good people agree to keep half a mile away, or to approach more nearly only if squinting through lowered eyelashes. It appeared that an author was doomed to make sex enticing (especially to impressionable young girls) even if he systematically, almost categorically revealed its host of spiritual risks in scrutinizing it. The scrutiny was impermissible. It was like giving a child a sip of beer to show him how vile the stuff tastes: what if the kid enjoys it?

Here I must set the scene more thoroughly. My tortured hero, Professor Huston Evans, had reached a vaguely suicidal decision to compete in elite campus dating games after he had followed a celibate adulthood’s path to marriage—only to see his young wife die within months. Evans’s state, at this point, is so deeply depressed that it becomes virtually nihilistic. The happiness achieved by his strictures having turned to ash in his hands, he can recognize no further virtue in fighting the good fight—for tomorrow, indeed, we die.

Through this tormented character, I tested the claims of the sexual revolution one by one. (Readers may believe or not, as they will, that Evans was truly a test vehicle for me and not myself under an alias: the novel isn’t an autobiography—but I’m too old now to bother about those who want it to be.) What I observed in peering imaginatively through this man’s eyes was that sex never has an emotional (I would prefer to say spiritual) value of 0. In other words, I am convinced that sex is never just sex (except, perhaps, in cases of pathological degeneration). Crude men will claim otherwise almost as a boast, or perhaps to challenge younger men to come down and join them in their psychological dunghill. When feminism, with the aid of the Pill, began to morph into a cult of promiscuity during the Seventies, “educated” women took up the same loud, hoarse boast. Female Ph.D.’s were now sounding rather like lifelong playboys whose only fear on earth was pregnancy, with its host of attendant shackles. Some of them, indeed, were sounding more like sailors on shore leave. These were the women with whom Evans felt he had some kind of score to settle. The vision of happiness they most derided was that for which he had most longed, and whose sudden loss after so much waiting seemed (in some associational manner created by his buried grief) all their fault.

And the poor man’s “vendetta”, if irrational, was not utterly incomprehensible. After all, the sexual revolution had indeed reduced his chances of finding what he sought to statistical zero, at least in an academic setting (with not much better odds to be found outside that setting). No man and woman could find enduring, mutually respecting happiness in such a climate; for, to repeat my thesis, a purely sensory savoring of sexual pleasure, as of a fine wine or a crêpe Suzette, is impossible for people of stable emotional health—yet such is the academic formula for sexual relations. The quixotic quest for “emotionally unengaged” sex—for that utterly detached joy in the “object”—must find itself diverted to one of only a few practical destinations. Evans had embarked upon an unwholesome journey to explore many of these, ripping up the scenery as he went.

Most natural for any tender, callow person is the tendency to fall in love with the partner, to be sure; but, among the experienced players of the game in an artificial world like Evans’s, this is also the least likely outcome. Much more often in these highly exploitative surroundings, one develops a contempt of partners as mere deliverers of “the thing” (a perverted sentiment felt especially often by men for their female partners) or a contempt of oneself as having developed an addiction-like dependency upon the thing (probably more common in females, since it requires introspection—but Evans explores these waters, too). Women sometimes want to get “the thing” out of the way as quickly as possible so that they may proceed to learn if they and their partners actually have a basis for friendship. Men seem to me more likely to push the envelope, seeking after ever more violent and unnatural ways to achieve “the thing” once they have grown bored with the old-fashioned way. Evans, I will note here, registers a new taste for physical violence—for a kind of vengeance on the world—before he retreats to the bedroom with his first conquest.

My design, in a way, was to write a little Inferno about de-spiritualized sexual experiences, with different levels of degradation implied here and there. Yet it seemed that most of the few self-identified Christian readers who nosed through that version of the book (and you’ve probably deduced by now that Seven Demons Worse was the first incarnation of Worse by Seven) couldn’t make out my Dantesque intentions. They saw the narrative as profoundly “off-color”. Neither of its versions ever had any explicit descriptions of sex acts or human anatomy (though the definition of “explicit” depends, I suppose, upon the beholder’s eye, and specifically upon how much imagination enhances that eye’s vision)—and, likewise, no references whatever appeared to any form of sex that might be called sodomy. Nevertheless, my harshest critics didn’t like my getting into Evans’s head. Sex is… hush… sex. Jack and Jill withdraw to the bedroom, the door closes, and… oh, Jack! Oh, Jill! Naughty, naughty! No analysis of either character’s reflections and feelings, please. If they’re not married, then something bad has just happened. And if they are… why, apparently nothing bad could possibly happen. The right and the wrong of it is all about being legal, not in the least about state of mind or disposition of the heart.

How “Progress” Makes Us Dumber and More Bigoted

What are due bahar di garofoli?  Where is Moluca?  In trying to navigate Antonio Pigafetta’s Relazione del Primo Viaggio Intorno al Mondo, an uneven account of how Magellan’s small fleet circled the globe, I keep running into such phrases.  The Internet, other than by making an ePub file of the book available for $0.99, proves to be of no help whatever.  I can’t even type the word bahar without Keypad Nanny trying to nip in and “correct” it to Baha’i.  My search of the word garofolo (singular form of the above) insistently proffers the bio, film credits, reviews, etc., etc., of some Hollywood comedian by that name.  The keyword phrase “garofolo in Italian” fared only slightly better.  The comedian again… but also the surfacing of “carnation” as a possibility.  The trouble is that natives of the islands around today’s Indonesia could not have been trading with the Spanish for carnations—bahars and bahars of them—unless the coin of the realm featured that flower as the French piece would a fleur-de-lis.

And please don’t ask what a bahar is.  A former friend’s pleasant Iranian wife bore that name.  The Internet informs us that it means “spring” in Persian and is widely favored when naming daughters.  The area around Indonesia and Java was already largely Islamic by Magellan’s time, as well… but none of this explains bahar as a unit of volume.  Go fish.

I eventually found the Molucca Sea on a map; but Pigafetta refers to an island which he appears variously to call Moluca, Maluca, and Malucca.  Today the main island seems to be spelled Moluka (a perverse bit of virtue-signaling toward nativism, I’m guessing, of the sort that also gives us Beijing instead of Peking and Mumbai instead of Bombay).  Once again, my original search turned up a performer who goes by the tag of Molucca.  In fact, one spelling of the word (and Pigafetta offers vexingly many) brought up two pages devoted to this young black female vocalist.  Well… how young can she be if Magellan’s ships discovered her?

For years, professors would trade stories about students who, in confrontation with a medieval text, would ask, “How did they know about Madonna back then?  I knew she was old, but… wow!”  At some point, the laughter turns to tears… and then the tears turn to a haggard, battle-weary stare… and then your university stops teaching medieval literature in light of its utter irrelevance to modern living.

For long years, too—before 1990, I should say—luminaries of the teaching profession have been heralding the Internet as the greatest educational tool since the pencil.  Youngsters, it was said, would leap from bed to research the orbit of Mars or the historical origin of Halloween.  Most of us realized at the time that the youngster described in this scenario was in fact from Mars, if not a more distant solar system; but a further truth is revealed in my struggles with the Pigafetta text that few foresaw, I think.

The Internet turns out to be a great purveyor of misinformation—not disinformation, as in “fake news”, though it may of course be that, as well; but faking the truth requires conscious effort, whereas the nourishing of numbskulls that I have in mind is an accidental effect.  The most frequent “hits” move to the top.  People type “lesbian” more often than Lesbos these days; so, if you’re trying to translate a passage of Herodotus and don’t pay close attention to Keyboard Nanny, you end up attributing to the entire populace of Ionia a certain deviant sexual practice.  Molucca the vocalist is apparently attracting a following; so, if you attempt to chart the Magellan fleet’s progress, you end up learning a lot about a girl who posts selfies all over the Net.

The design of most search engines does not favor the dissemination of accurate knowledge: it forces upon us a stultifying planification of tastes, where all share a single response when given a cue.

Yes, there are more “scholarly” databases… but my fear is that mis- and disinformation are increasingly making one another’s acquaintance at such locations.  As a scholar, for instance, I have researched Marie de France’s hero Eliduc in databases devoted to literary studies—and I find, over and over, that Sir Eliduc is a philandering swine who would be publicly shamed by the #MeToo movement’s flash mobs if he appeared at the county fair today.  The academy, that is, has itself become so immersed in popular trend that complex factors like the tale’s Celtic provenance, Marie’s interest in Christianizing its pagan elements, and the era’s pronounced taste for allegory in characterization are all brushed aside impatiently.  We’d rather stick with the vocalist and the comedian, even in “higher education”.

There’s a significant sense in which what most people want to be the truth or perceive to be the truth in our e-world becomes The Truth.  Naturally, this has always been so… but it has not always been so to such a degree, it certainly hasn’t been a tendency that dominated the academy in the past as it does now, and it acquires a very strong toxicity when stirred into a democratic republic.  It produces riots and lynch mobs.  My best guess is that the recent spike in young female suicides must be somewhat attributed to the Internet—to its clever, persistent substitution of instantaneous trend (viz., Instagram) for reality.  Young people have no deeper, richer layers of reality to soften the blow when the fragile glass screen where they live develops cracks.  “My God, Madonna is five hundred years old!  Now that the secret’s out, she might as well off herself!”

Just a final word on how the accidental and the conspiratorial can collaborate in the Numbskull Nursery.  I kept referring above to Magellan’s fleet.  That’s because the intrepid explorer himself was slain in the islands that we now know as the Philippines.  What was the “captain general” doing that got him pincushioned by the islanders?  Essentially, trying to convert them to Christianity.  He had succeeded mightily with one group, and then allowed himself to be drawn into that tribe’s rivalry with another.  Pigafetta notes early on that it was a bad idea… but Magellan appears to have been a deeply devout person who sensed a moral obligation in extending God’s grace to poor, naked savages.  That’s not a popular attitude today—but in Magellan, it was most certainly not a cynical bid to dupe a less advanced culture, nor was it prosecuted with open contempt for local traditions.  The man regarded himself as saving the souls of his fellow human beings; and if he was presumptuous in the undertaking, he paid the ultimate price for it.

Our Google world, with its thumbs-up/thumbs-down, toggle-on/toggle-off method of processing facts, readily airbrushes such fine points of motive from the record.  All European explorers were pirates, rapists, and murderers: end of discussion.  All native peoples were children living idyllically in the Garden before Westerners arrived (a trope which the compassionate Columbus’s diaries actually encourage).  Everything European is a force for evil; everything non-Western is as sweet and natural as a cardinal singing in a rose bush.  Not only do the details of individual lives not matter in this reckoning; the oft-repeated pattern of native groups competing with each other to appropriate Western firepower in their own to-the-death internecine struggles disappears from the picture.  We are left simply with the caricatures of a cartoon.

And while such stereotyping occurs as an incidental misfortune attendant upon search engines and keyword phrases, we see daily now how unscrupulously it is manipulated in academe and the political world (if there’s any difference between the two).  Mass guilt without any context is uncritically dished out in classrooms so as to encourage tribalism.  The young are as susceptible to being co-opted into a “voter bloc”—black, Latino, white-hating Caucasian—as they are to burning their spare cash in pursuit of the coolest sneakers.  We hear about “dog whistles” now—and the people who sling the phrase about most vituperatively seem to be the very people most invested in teaching their constituency how to bark.  A black woman, a gay Latino: you gotta vote for that person unless you’re a racist piece of crap.  Hashtag ImVirtuous.

Are any of those Spice Islands taking Western refugees, I wonder?