Mayberry’s Meltdown: Whiny Males and Shrill Harridans

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The year 2020 doesn’t seem particularly apocalyptic on its surface, but I doubt that many of us who survive it will remember it as one of our best.  I was already having first-in-my-lifetime health problems when “the lockdown” slammed certain medical doors in my face… so that hasn’t gone well; and none of us who has children can be very happy about trillions of bucks more being added to the debt which they will all inherit from us.  Yet somehow we must blunder on.

One of my preferred escapes is baseball—which isn’t being played this year, thanks to the Wuhan Black Death; but then, I’m less a spectator than an excavator.  I research long-lost ways of hitting and throwing a ball, and I try to distill something that may help boys of smaller stature find a means of winning a place on the team.  I’m convinced that boys, especially, need a sense of physical achievement to develop a healthy outlook.  Call it “toxic masculinity”, if you wish; but far more toxic, to my mind, is self-defeating surrender to unopposed obstacles.  Which of us wants our son to grow into a living exemplar of that feminist construct: the unmotivated, irresponsible, adolescent, forever excuse-tendering couch-vegetable?

I’m in the process of trying to upload a second edition of a hitting manual based upon “Deadball days “ (c. 1900-1920), although the designers of Amazon’s software apparently do not conceive of anyone’s ever producing a second edition and are scarcely easing my task’s fulfillment.  I won’t even name the book here: publicity is not my aim.  I will, however, reproduce the final paragraph, unique to this latest edition:

The best of luck to you! Play hard, play smart… and play fair. No one who cheats will ever pile up enough lucre to buy self-respect, nor will he ever be able to counterfeit it from all the cheers he’s suckered from his adoring fan club. Playing this game, ultimately, is about winning respect for yourself as someone who did all he could with what he was given. Believe me, not many people ever get that trophy!

I’ll return to the sentiments contained in those few words.  Bear with me now as I shift to a different scene.  Most of us have wiled away a few minutes in lockdown by sitting through some fare on the idiot box that we ordinarily wouldn’t tolerate.  My wife and I tentatively explored Roku (never a very inviting experience before, since HughesNet can’t vanquish the tendency of shows to “buffer” for minutes at a time)… and we eventually settled on a British comedy (as it was teased) titled Doc Martin.  The serial seems to have run a full decade across the pond.  How bad could it be?

The narrative pretext is that a brilliant London surgeon, having discovered that he can no longer stare into people’s bleeding viscera without panic attacks, retreats to a vacation spot called Portwen off the Cornish coast.  Absurdly overqualified to treat runny noses and soothe upset tummies, he nonetheless longs to settle his nerves in peace and poverty.  Surprises await him, though… and this story, you know, has been told a thousand times, so my wife and I presumed that we knew what was in store for us as viewers.  The old Andy Griffith Show that our parents watched must have devoted dozens of episodes to “flatland touristers” who go half-crazy when they discover the hidden complexities of small-town life in Mayberry.  Portwen would surely be something in the same genre, with Doc Martin (who hates both ends of his popular rechristening) forced to abandon his big-city assumptions and navigate the quirks of colorful local characters.

Well… yes and no.  We laughed through three and a half episodes—kind of—until we agreed that our laughs were uncomfortable and wrongly timed.  The trouble, as we saw it, was that Doc Martin wasn’t the bookish, introverted, urbanized boy-wonder having to make adjustments to the human race, such as was clearly intended of his character.  No: the problem was that, for all his abrupt and stodgy ways, the doc was actually more sensible, civil, and mature than the nasty little islanders into whose midst he had plunged himself.  Locals ran him off the narrow, winding roads with a shrug, as if he didn’t know how to drive, and never reduced speed, moved over, or peered back to see what wreckage they had caused.  Lazy, incompetent workmen destroyed his property yet received his frowns with indignation.  Gossips and malingerers flooded his waiting room to gorge on tea and “biscuits” (cookies, we call them), then bristled when he shooed them out.  A need-burdened, impertinent teenaged receptionist (she certainly acted teenaged, anyway) virtually hired herself and wouldn’t do any part of her job efficiently; yet when her runaway sloppiness almost cost a life and stirred the Doc to dismiss her (for a day or two), the incensed townspeople immediately boycotted their one medical professional as if he’d been caught setting cats on fire.

These pastoral Arcadians, in a few words, were arrogant, self-important, indolent, “entitled” (in their minds), undependable, unaccomplished, unconscientious, intrusive, cliquish, clannish, and often downright boorish.  None of the Old School mannerliness that one expects to find out in the boondocks was detectable in them; no Old School reluctance to embrace city life in the moral fast lane restrained them.  In fact, the snapping point for me (when buffering just wouldn’t come often enough) was midway through Episode Four, when it became apparent that everybody on the island would potentially copulate with anybody else and that the good doctor, thanks to all his hang-ups, was some kind of “nun” (pronounced to rhyme with “noon”).  His wizened—but less than wise—auntie, intended to be a kind of Sibyl on his Other World Journey, iced a sleazy country cake by offering a few details of her extra-marital affair and sneering at her nephew’s prissy Puritanism.  I was reminded of many a grad-school confrontation in Austin during my own youthful transit through the corridors of Hell.

And that’s the point, really, I guess: Austin or Berkeley of the Eighties is now picturesque rural Europe of the twenty-first century.  The God-is-dead, guaranteed-minimum-income dystopia of simmering socialism has now softened the spines and brains of every yokel in the pot.  Everyone has rights, rights upon rights.  Everyone is constantly offended if he or she isn’t accorded special favors while doing nothing that might appear energetic or exceptional.  “Everyone belongs to everyone,” in the phrase piped through the cradles of Huxley’s Brave New World.  With what dismay would that extraordinarily clairvoyant prophet have viewed an “entertainment” in which his countrymen can’t perceive the grim irony of “everyone being everyone’s”, but instead milk idiot laughter from the isolation of a single resisting individualist!

I need hardly observe to anyone who labors through my paragraphs that this reformed ethos now belongs to our shores, as well.  What was His Excellency Judge Eric Moye telling Shelley Luther in a Dallas courtroom other than that “everyone belongs to everyone” and that her individual concern for feeding her children was obscene?

The irony here—one fully worthy of Huxley’s pen—is that Ms. Luther showed us a rare display of “manly fortitude” as a tinpot dictator nanny-wagged his finger at her and sent her into time-out.  It’s no accident, I think, that the fictional Portwen abounds in outspoken, aggressive, sarcastic female characters and invertebrate, whiny, directionless males.  The Brave New World we have fashioned for ourselves is an effeminate one—a place where competency is insensitive, where honesty is rude, where independence is anti-social, and where objective logic is “mansplaining”.  Doc Martin embodies all of these despicable male attributes… and, of course, he must be brought to his knees to beg forgiveness of the communal idol, the mute stone Moloch of conformity.  Just like Shelley Luther, who apparently possesses more courage than the typical American man within the age of discretion, he must confess publicly that he has been “selfish”.

Meanwhile, the rest of us shoot and post selfies of our now de-individualized faces wearing their communally supportive masks (the best of which are seldom more than half effective against microbes, by the way—and then only if they are discarded and replaced after each outing).  We are somehow saving lives… my life, your life, our own lives and other lives… if we do so, while we are no better than perpetrators of manslaughter if we refuse.  And we know this because… because it is repeated endlessly around us, in Huxleyan fashion.  We know that when medical opinion argues otherwise, it isn’t real science, because it’s rude: it doesn’t put the collective front and center.  All science must begin in the promotion of the collective, because… because people like Judge Moye (and Xi Jinping, and Mao Tse-tung, and Joseph Stalin) tell us so.

God help our boys!  Was there ever a time when a fella needed more courage of conviction, more dedication to objectives outside himself but not defined by the herd?  In a small but not insignificant way, a boy might learn such courage by turning his natural liabilities into assets—his short stature into productivity, for instance.  That’s why, in my leisure, I love to imagine some passed-over kid at batting practice elbowing the big guys aside and saying, “Watch me shoot line drives through infield!  You’ll strike out twice a game and homer once, maybe.  I’ll be on base for you all afternoon!”

Was there ever a moment when the block cast aside by the builder was more essential as a cornerstone?  God created every little thing and every person to reach up to Him in some special way—to flower in that manner darkly caricatured by Darwinian evolution, but much more accurately portrayed as resistance against the Domination of the Bully.  There is no greater bully than the herd, nor any more loathsome crystallization of herd will than those individual bullies who appoint themselves herd-interpreters.  Our mission in this world is to prevail over the great Downward Pull, a vector that perversely becomes “progress” in the grubby, squalid scramble to survive.  The florition of the unique, the surpassment of mere physical parameters through a burst of inspired intelligence—of spirit: this is why we are alive.

And this is what the dark force among us has always sought to throttle.  This is why he or she who will not bend a knee to the collectivist’s design has always become a scapegoat.  It’s why Mayberry and Portwen become Deadworld without new generations of boys who play hard, and play fair.  May God have mercy on the throngs of us who allow ourselves to be led like sheep!  We may be assured of this: He will have no mercy at all on those who lead the children to destruction.

Preserving the Principle of Color-Blindness May Destroy Our Republic As a Practical Consequence

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A few days back, columnist Scott Morefield posted a piece arguing that all issues of concern to conservatives must be subordinated to imposing some semblance of order upon our wide-open immigration door.  I fully understand Mr. Morefield’s position.  It’s incorrect, in that the insecure power grid is an even more preemptive issue: abortion, gender-engineering, “canceling”, and all the rest go away if ninety percent of us die within a year of an EMP attack or powerful solar flare.  But… put that to one side.  The deliberate and overnight tribalization of electoral decisions is undoubtedly a clever way around the civil marketplace of ideas.  In fact, the detour’s diabolical path has been mapped out clearly by others for years.  Ann Coulter leaps to mind—but I believe Pat Buchanan has been sounding the alert even longer.

The view has a certain “squirm factor” in that it might be said to reflect genuine racism: i.e., it implies that immigrants of non-European origin are incapable of valuing freedom and, instead, bring with them a genetic craving for servitude.  This may be an unfair interpretation of the Coulter/Buchanan hypothesis (I’m more confident that it is in the former than the latter instance). Unfortunately, rank-and-file proponents of restricted immigration rarely take the time to draw fine distinctions.  It’s worth stressing—and is not stressed enough—that comfort with subjugation is a cultural acquisition; it’s not encoded in anyone’s DNA.  I am not a racist if I discover and announce that a certain culture’s preferred food is unhealthy, even though I’m sure to encounter resistance if I try to steer that culture’s members toward a different diet.  In the same way, the proper objection to the ongoing deluge of non-European immigrants (both legal and illegal) is that they import with their other baggage a learned and customary tolerance of paternalistic, top-down governance.  It’s what they’ve always known.

Now, though I have a degree of sympathy with this argument when its emphasis falls in the right place, it always fails to convince me fully.  Many of our immigrants who fled from totalitarian regimes became, quite logically, our strongest promoters of basic freedoms.  They or their immediate families had experienced the abject misery at the spectrum’s other end.  Elia Kazan (pilloried in his lifetime and despised in memory for exposing the thorough communist infiltration of Hollywood) was born to Greek Orthodox parents who fled the oppression of Muslim Turkey.  Sebastian Gorka’s parents similarly fled Soviet-dominated Hungary to find asylum in England.  Gordon Chang’s father had escaped Communist China, into which Chang won further insights after working as a legal counsel for almost two decades in Hong Kong and on the mainland.  Humberto Fontova was brought to America from Castro’s Cuba at the age of seven, his father following after three months of detention and his cousin murdered while in the hands of interrogators.

The reason, therefore, that our present horde of immigrants votes almost to a person for Big Brotherly government (including those hundreds of thousands who vote illegally) isn’t that its masses just can’t say goodbye to the joys of having a patrón peering down upon them from his proud, snorting alazán.  No: the problem is that we pay them to vote for new masters.  They get “free stuff” (a phrase which AOC has declared she will hunt to extinction—but I hope to be dead to this world long before she has the power to act upon her whimsy).  When you get paid by a corrupt system just to breathe air, you probably don’t hold your breath in principled protest.  I’m about to start drawing Social Security.  I would willingly forego every dime of it if I thought the savings to the government would be fully deducted from our national debt (for I’ve known throughout my adult life that Uncle Sam couldn’t be trusted to provide for my retirement, and I invested accordingly).  But why strike that noble pose when the corrupt demagogues who lord it over us would only use my gift to fund further vote-buying schemes?  Oh, they’ll do that, anyway, I know.  Part of the Grand Plan is to spend the nation into ruin—which will then precipitate the coalescence of a one-world government (with an elite oligarchy at the top, after the Chinese fashion).  All the more reason, though, just to grab my own few pennies while I can.

I’m confident that nothing I’ve written so far will have left anyone behind in the dust.  This isn’t climate science (which appears to be infinitely harder to grasp than rocket science).  Yet we make a mistake, I think, to disdain others who will never visit a site like this, and who instead are influenced by “optics”.  It does look bad to be advocating constantly an approach to political and economic life that puts one on the far side from people of color; and when one’s program for political survival amounts to keeping more people of color from entering the country… well, it looks even worse.  We know that the situation is more complicated than that.  From numerous angles, however, we should also be able to see that couching the struggle in Morefield/Coulter/Buchanan terms isn’t the road to victory.  (For instance, even if we stemmed the flow of non-European immigration, we’d have our own self-hating tribe to contend with in colleges and the media—a tribe that also doesn’t reproduce at replacement-rate.)  In the meantime… we’re surrounded by those terrible optics.

May I ask why we cannot strengthen our position by actively recruiting people of color for positions of power?  Yes, that flies in the face of our principled commitment to choosing “the best man for the job”… but isn’t it a little suspicious, after all, that so many men are on the job for us, and all of them (with the retirement of William Hurd from the House) white?  And are they so plainly the best?  I was in the fight to push Brian Kemp across the finish line ahead of rabid socialist Soros-and-Oprah tool Stacey Abrams a year ago.  This past week I was treated to the prospect of our “best man” appointing a career Romneyite to serve out Johnny Isakson’s term—and providing no other explanation to us, his frustrated constituents, other than the Peerless Leader’s, “I know what’s good for you.”  With friends like that….

So I submit that, other things being equal, there’s nothing at all wrong with having a candidate who happens to be black, and female, and—dare I say it?—physically attractive.  I know virtually nothing about the three women running for the House in Georgia-7 beyond what I’ve read on their websites; but one of them, Dr. Lerah Lee, is of African descent.  In addition to that “credential” (if it be such), her site specifies the following objectives: “Secure our borders, defend our Second Amendment rights, support our veterans, hold the line on spending and taxes, help the next generation have better opportunities.” Not a bad list! If Dr. Lee’s competition is similarly inclined, though, should her racial heritage tip the balance in her favor—would I be condoning quotas and identity-politics if I pressed my thumb on her scale?  Perhaps.  But I don’t think standing in inflexible defense of color-blindness is fully worth the sacrifice of the republic. Such a consequence may just be the price of principle.

And again… exactly why are there no black females in Congress with “R” behind their name (President Trump having peevishly declined to support Mia Love in ’16 after her lukewarm reaction to his lifestyle)?  Is that absence just a statistical anomaly?  An ongoing statistical anomaly?  Or is there some Al Campanis variety of explanation?  Yeah… that’s what I’m afraid of.

We’ve seen how courageously Kim Klacik stood up against both the corrupt Baltimore machine and the national news media.  Isn’t that recommendation enough?  She’s running for the House seat in Maryland-7.  I can’t afford to give her much—but she can have some of my first Social Security check when it arrives.

Has this discussion turned offensive to my typical readership?  I can well imagine why it might have.  We wish to judge people only by the content of their character.  But it’s painfully evident that we haven’t done so with great success—or that, more likely, some once-good characters were altered soon after entering the corridors of power.  Maybe, some day, term limits will minimize the almost Satanic transformation of virtuous characters into caricatures of goodness which we observe in Washington, over and over.

In the meantime, why not give optics a chance?  Why concede, in Coulter/Buchanan fashion, that the “hive-advocates” have people of color permanently on their side of the chessboard, and that only some move of inspired brilliance can save our democratic republic from checkmate?

The Seventies: Our First Full Decade of Cultural Decline

(I’ve been utterly preoccupied this week with preparing a re-edition of a novel invisibly published almost twenty years ago: Footprints in the Snow of the Moon. I hope to have it accessible on Amazon by mid-week. In writing the preface, at any rate, I decided that I could post an excerpt here that might not be uninteresting to IC’s audience.)

I heard a television documentary declare recently that Sharon Tate’s murder at the insane hands of the Manson gang was the end of the Sixties.  The remark wasn’t intended chronologically: its implication was plainly that the depraved brutality of the deed corrupted the “Sixties dream” and exiled American culture from the Eden of free love and rejection of social hierarchy.  If only, if only a few crazed loons hadn’t flown off the preserve!

In a far more significant sense, the Manson murders (there were several, by the way) were the climax of the Sixties—the necessary, inevitable dark fruit of a poisoned tree.  When human beings are freed of their inhibitions, the animal impulses that come to the surface vying for control may be lamb-like one instant… and then lupine the next.  Not that any wolf deserves to be defamed by comparison with Charles Manson: no, the human being wholly liberated of shame or guilt is an infinitely more atrocious creature than anything we can find in raw nature.  Thanks to his imagination, he can indulge a lust that has no analogue in any merely brutish chemistry: not a lust for sex or food, but for dominating the will of others—libido dominandi.

In unmooring the individual will from the cables with which two and a half millennia (punctuated by a few notable lacunae) of Judeo-Christian and classical Stoic morality had secured it, the Sixties set a generation of directionless young people loose upon each other—looking high and low for what they “wanted” and what they considered “relevant”, brushing aside entire systems and institutions that they considered “old” or “patriarchal”.  Frankly, this thumbnail sketch of the Sixties ethos is already in error: only the final years of the decade grew “radical”.  Most of the cultural clearing-and-leveling labor was accomplished in the Seventies.

Now, I will not maintain that the decade of flaring cuffs and collars, bushy unisex hair styles, and anorexic pop-singers saw a proliferation of drug-addicted mass-murderers.  Manson, let us say, was the face reflected in the pool at the chasm’s bottom.  For if human beings are distinct from the purely animal in bearing their blessed curse of free will and imagination, their distinction remains grafted upon an animal substrate.  They like to move in herds.  The herd lifts from the individual’s shoulders the complex burdens of freedom.  The hand of Satan that scrawled “helter skelter” in Sharon Tate’s blood no doubt hazed many a young “free spirit” away from the edge.  Indulging impulse was tamed (superficially and for the time being) into a social endeavor, and even a sociable one.  In those passive, pacifist Seventies, it turned out that you could “find yourself” while looking and acting exactly like the legions of “seekers” all around you; and this was indeed unsurprising, because it also turned out that our “self” was essentially a construct of DNA—our instinct to mate, our natural aversion to forced labor, our inbred terror of physical threat, our primate comfort in belonging to a group.

Statistical outliers—rogue elephants—would register a dangerous resurgence in the Eighties, when the cult of pleasure irresistibly fed into a cult of acquisitive hunger.  For most of the intermediate decade, however, I observed my peers to be lingering in an insipid sameness, neither searching for a guru in India like the Beatles nor snorting cocaine to amass royal fortunes on Wall Street.  The Seventies were a trough between crests.  They were a lull in whose wash uninspired hordes supposed themselves to be riding the wild surf.

The word “infantilism” would leap to mind if the present time had not laid yet a better claim to it.  Today, as I sit writing, college students are (as an abandoned cliché once had it) “much as nature might have left them”.  Several years ago already, my undergraduates hadn’t a clue what I intended when, as we read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight together, I associated the evocation of fertility in Arthur’s all-green visitor with the recovery of longer days after the winter solstice.  Most of them didn’t know what a solstice was.  Now their younger brothers and sisters are lecturing all of us on the planet’s climate and ordering us to “shut up” if we raise an objection.

In comparison, the overgrown children of the Seventies were at least not rude brats.  And they had developed a decisive gender—very decisive!  In that they could be said to have blazed a trail into puberty that leaves their contemporaries far behind.  Yet their hair still grew long in the pristine ringlets whose first formal shearing brings mothers to tears.  Their bodies were of the supple quality that allows toddlers to absorb infinite falls without taking much harm.  In fact, it was wrong of me to celebrate puberty in them with such confidence; some of the girls, at least, had found a way to resist menstruation.  I know I mentioned anorexia in passing.

Wasn’t abortion part of the same bid for “prolonged innocence”?  Children don’t become mothers and fathers, so… so pregnancies just shouldn’t be happening.  Something was amiss there.  Reset the clock and go back to playing in the nursery: those two months of alarming discomfort never happened.

Well, our overgrown children today appear to have discovered the full Mansonian potential of sacrificing small, fleshy masses with little fingers and tiny noses.  It’s a rite performed to a known god whose name I shall not repeat.  In that respect as in so many others, I prefer the “terminal adolescence” of the Seventies.  Observers of the scene back then could still see that something was wrong; and the gullible young fools sucked into doing the wrong still had, as often as not, an inkling that they had been led astray.  It was a time suitable to be the backdrop of a morality play, whereas today… today we find only the appalling chaos fit for writing what the ancients would have called a catabasis: a journey through Hell.

Why the difference?  I think it consists entirely in this: fifty years ago, vestiges of those twenty-five hundred years of Western culture lingered among the herd’s hoofprints.  Today, they’re all gone.  Fifty years ago, the young who had jettisoned the cargo of Western civilization in favor of “relevance” (which, in terms of college work, involved a much lightened reading list: a very happy accident in the Decade of Pleasure) had still seen Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet and Robert Bolt’s Man for All Seasons at the movies.  Today’s graduate students have cut their narrative teeth on comic-book superheroes—about whom some of them will probably write a dissertation.  I devoutly hope that a few of our twenty-first century crop will find their way out of Hell, having heeded a spiritual voice within that can easily outshout the Call of the Sociopath if attended to… yet Hell is where they are, where they have to search for exits.  Fifty years ago, exits higher up the road were still open.  They just weren’t being well maintained.

Nothing distresses me more in retrospect about that lost decade than the invertebracy of the Christian church in the face of so many formidable challenges.  As a young man navigating the day’s troubled waters, I had a keen sense that most Christian denominations were responding to the times, “Wait!  Don’t leave us behind!  We’re one of you!  Love, peace, togetherness, a better world… that’s what we’re all about!”  Yes… and that was apparently all they were about: no sin, no guilt, no repentance, no abstinence, no difficult ascent through stones and briars, no resistance to worldly seductions.  No comfort.  In my experience of the Seventies, the Church desperately fought against irrelevancy by rendering itself irrelevant.  Those whom it courted abjectly had already found what they craved in the here-and-now; or if their souls were not wholly drained of breath and secretly craved a lifeline to the Beyond, the Church had cast aside that line in its zeal to fashion a better here-and-now.

Again, one might make precisely the same claim of organized Christianity in the twenty-first century, and make it with a vengeance; but the trend began when trousers rode low, their buckles spread broad, and their bottoms belled wide.

I could write lengthily about the “charismatic” movements that sometimes spiraled into cultism during this decade—but I should be wandering too far afield from the subjects addressed in Footprints, which do not include these.  If I lend any emphasis at all to the matter of religion here, it’s because the novel struck me so powerfully—as I edited it after almost two decades—as groping for the spiritual.  This, too, seems to me characteristic of the Seventies: I mean, groping clumsily after something fulfilling and immaterial… and not being able to find it.  Finding substitutes for it in all the wrong places.  Yet again, yes, one might say as much of any generation of human beings.  The difference is that most such generations were graced with some form of organized faith that offered a clear alternative to sex, drugs, wealth, and power.  The Seventies, having inherited from the previous years a contempt for all reverend institutions, were left with a Church that embraced the secular world’s facile opposition of sex and drugs to wealth and power, as if those pairs defined adversarial ends of a spectrum.

The charismatic represented less a third way—a midpoint on the spectrum—than a retreat into that infantilism (too young for sex, too young for power) typical of the era’s approach to other moral crises.  There was no genuine escape from this world’s traps (and Sartre’s Huis Clos, whose title literally translates such despair, was taught in every sophomore French class).  Those who survived the day’s Charybdis of rival forces circling the same focal void and were at last spewed out upon Odysseus’s stunted fig tree faced a bleak, lonely prospect.

One of my faithful collaborators in the charitable venture, The Center for Literate Values, gave the original novel a kind review (what else would you expect of any officer in a public charity?)—but voiced a mild regret that the book did not investigate faith as a solution.  I won’t say that I took the criticism under advisement in my rewriting.  Rather, in my rewriting, I discovered that the forces I had unleashed in these fairly ordinary Middle Americans (ordinary on the surface—the only level at which anyone is ordinary), most of them well under thirty, needed to “blow up the world” a little more.  There needed to be more frustration with the options offered by a relatively smooth-purring, profitably hedonistic society now free and clear of the Vietnam nightmare.  I don’t say that there needed to be more options: faith often grows exactly because more is needed but no further options are possible.  I felt a considerable pressure to let something intrude into my “dystopic pastoral” which would lighten life’s burdens, paradoxically, by acknowledging that burdens don’t disappear in this life.

I had to make the narrator turn somewhat more consciously mature at the end.  And I did so: that’s the book’s major change.  Some may persist, “But I still don’t see his faith taking shape.  Where’s his faith?”  My answer: not in the things and people of this world—but running straight through them; not in the institutions of this world, but thriving in spite of them.

How many people in fact weathered the Seventies with a spiritual insight of such elevation?  Well… as a novelist, I don’t do statistical analysis.  I try to present the most instructive case, and sometimes I thereby present the least probable.  I will bring to general attention, however, that the narrator’s retrospective places his final thoughts in the late Nineties: he’s had plenty of time to mull it all over.  If you were “on the ground” during that somnolent spiritual war which was the late Seventies, you didn’t yet know that promiscuous sex might harm your body as well as your soul: AIDS was yet unheard-of.  You didn’t know that foreign nationals might plot to murder thousands of your neighbors in the midst of their routine: plane hijackings always ended with a rerouting to Beirut or Tripoli, usually after the passengers were swapped out for a million bucks.  You didn’t know that school children might so much as fantasize about gunning their classmates down: video games and our sociopathologizing “social media” were a glimmer in some developer’s eye.

I doubt that we learned much of anything from the Seventies, in short, while they were being played out.  Any lesson would have come years later (and it doesn’t appear that most of us have learned the full lesson, even fifty years later).  What I like about the Seventies as an artist, though, is precisely that they are “pure” of mixed motive when one scans them for moral cautionary tales.  At the time, no one would have known just how risky to bodily health and mere survival were many trendy new habits.  The only reason for resisting them would have been abstract: a stand in principle uncomplicated by a gun pointed at the head.

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.

Babies in a Postmodern Whirlpool: Watch Out for Sharks

Last week I finished watching the Netflix series Traffickers.  The pickings are pretty lean on NF if you’ve had enough of cartels, kidnappings, poisoned food, piratical capitalism, criminal psychopaths, Wall Street rip-offs, and “tragic” Hollywood drug overdoses… and if you’re just not into dog shows or Spring Break “comedies”.  At least Nelufar Hedayat’s seven-part serial is factual, and features, indeed, a surprising amount of open-minded investigation.  I’m afraid that the winsome Nelufar, though always painfully in earnest (and often ready to burst into tears, as in exploring the insatiable Chinese appetite for pangolins), reminds me of all too many twenty-somethings around us who are going on twelve.  Her naïveté can border on obtuseness.  I’m glad she didn’t get herself killed in Cambodia or El Salvador.

The segment on adoption is the one that I’m using today as a springboard.  Having children has become critically problematic in many Western nations.  Feminists have convinced three generations of women now that they’re trash if they surrender themselves to marriage and childbearing at twenty-two.  Sexual experimentation and frequent abortions have often reduced fertility, even within that age bracket.  Then we have our toxic high-tech environment, awash in drugs, hormones, electricity, and stress: another few ticks up the infertility scale.  With the dating scene having grown so carnivorous, many young people who might otherwise nurture a keen interest in raising a family give up after a few years of emotional assault and battery.  I must wonder if the burgeoning business in dating sites really makes the game any safer.  All you know about a person in such impersonal circumstances comes from responses to a questionnaire, or perhaps from a few highly staged moments on a video.

These are my observations, not Hedayat’s.  I offer them as my own explanation of what’s fueling the tawdry market in international adoptions.  Most of Nelufar’s segment is devoted to the “legal kidnapping” of young children from living parents and then offering them to Western parents as orphans.  A lot of money is swirling around in this sewer, and most of it ends up in the hands of criminal middlemen, in the form of bribes and bounties. I applaud Hedayat for not making out the adoptive parents in these cases to be just another beachhead of “Western imperialism”; she understands, rather, that they are victims of another kind.  Were she to have dedicated an entire serial to the subject, she would have remarked, as well, that domestic adoptions for Westerners are a virtual impossibility.  That’s not just because of the many instances where the mother changes her mind at the last moment, having been bathed for nine months in an abject attention and queenly power of which her life had always been void before; nor is it because of further cases, also common, where the true father was incorrectly identified when papers were signed, and he decides to show up (after sowing wild oats in other places) and claim his right-by-DNA three years after the little one has settled into a loving adoptive home.

No, the main reason that Western parents can’t adopt from Western sources is abortion.  Well over half a million babies are terminated every year in the US before they can draw their first breath… and a few, apparently, just after they draw their first breath.

So here’s my solution.  Kidnapping is impermissible: Hedayat makes that poignantly clear, if it needed clarification.  But just as impermissible to our squeamish, highly evolved taste in the West is “buying a human being”: i.e., paying the mother of an unwanted child to surrender the infant at birth.  Is destroying the baby, however, less heinous than “buying” it?  I would think that any reasonable person would quickly come forth with a “no”: it is not better to suck the fetus’s brain out with a syringe than to let a loving couple carry it off to a waiting crib.  However, to volunteer this prima facie value judgment is to go wandering dangerously along the margin of various PC highways—and talk about “traffic”!  On these densely traveled ideological thoroughfares, the woman’s right to snuff out that creepy crawly bit of DNA within her must not be cast in doubt; so the “buying” option immediately runs into the Mack truck of a categorical moral assertion (the more categorical in that it tramples over moral common sense).

Now the “buyer” is put on the defensive and must plead his case as the more unsavory suitor.  “So you think you can buy my… my fetus, you stinking money-bags capitalist, just like you have bought off the rest of the world around you?  You think I’m for sale?  You think my body is a commodity at your meat market?  So… how much are you offering?”  For the truth is that a great many women would sell their “fetus” if the price were right: not for ten grand, maybe… but for forty or fifty, hell yeah!

To be sure, the option is sordid.  But the moral gymnastic that must be executed to exercise it is less a bending of consciousness in the buyer-seller dynamic than a warping of consciousness around the blunt fact that murder awaits the “unsold fetus”.  No, no, no: mustn’t say that, mustn’t go there.  We must have the buyer eat humble pie—and we must design the pay-off so that it more resembles an indemnity for hardship endured.  “Poor dear, you’re suffering so much!  Having this delivery will be painful, and it will also reduce your productivity on the job.  The pain and suffering alone are worth… shall we say, forty thou?”

No, the solution I propose is not morally immaculate.  It’s not even particularly clean.  But as the lifestyle we fashion for ourselves sinks deeper and deeper into the mire (and I sincerely look for avant-gardists to clamor—say, by 2024–for a mother’s right to euthanize her baby a year after birth), we have fewer and fewer clean choices left.  Moral survival nowadays is all about prioritizing dirty choices.

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.”

Body, Soul, Self… and Things That Grow Between Them

It took me four months of off-and-on labor, stolen daily from other needful tasks… but at last have I cleared and leveled a tract of land measuring about half an acre.  I don’t entirely know why I did it.  Part of the reason was simply to create a buffer zone between our living space and the area’s more aggressive wild critters.  Part of it, too, was a rather wishful notion that we might some day have grandchildren playing in the space, which I have come to call my “field”.

An old cedar remains intruding slightly upon the field’s otherwise well-squared boundaries.  If it had been merely a pine sapling, I wouldn’t have left it standing—for the young pines are so greedy for sunlight that they tend to choke each other off, anyway.  But cedars are rare, and they also appear to be more abundant in their rarity as dead trunks strewn throughout the forest than as upright, vibrant pillars of bark.  Some disease must be decimating them locally.  This one, too, may not be around for long.  I decided that I should allow it to enjoy whatever time it has left in peace.

Now, what if I were a young woman bearing a child?  What if I faced a choice between clearing out that “underbrush” which impeded certain routine functions or, instead, letting it grow to term?  I could say, “It’s my body, and I don’t want this thing here just now.”  I could say, “I have other plans for that space.  This is inconvenient.”

In the same way, the field I have created is on my property… yet I decided to leave the cedar standing, because I felt that asserting my right over the land by taking the axe to everything in my way would be wanton.  If a tree can elicit such consideration, then why cannot a human sprout receive the same consideration?

The analogy is absurd, the young pregnant woman would respond.  One does not own a piece of land as one owns one’s body.  But is this as valid an objection as it appears? I am not rock and soil—but neither am I mere flesh and blood.  As I approach the threshold of old age, I grow ever more aware that the body is a rented space that I occupy but cannot bend precisely to my will.  Weather wears away the most ambitious acts of human cultivation… and time wears away the body’s responsiveness to will and whimsy.  Maybe if the young woman understood this, she would not be so hasty to take the axe to the small plant trying to spread leaves within her.

She insists, however, not only that the body is hers, but that it is her.  The unwanted “weed” will create physical pain for her that my cedar would never create for me.  This would be a curious argument, though, for “clearing the cavity”; for the woman chooses to uproot something so much a part of her body—herself—that it drums upon her nervous system, whereas I have allowed an organism to remain alive which isn’t integrated into my perceptual receptors in the least.  One would think that the “growth” legitimately belonging to its host would have a greater claim upon preservation.

Yes, we amputate cancers (or attempt to do so)—but in this, we recognize that our body is a mere vehicle or rented property: a temporary cubicle for the spirit.  We do not amputate a thumb because it’s sore, since we understand that it is among the furnishings entrusted to us by the lease.  Is the embryo a cancer or a (sometimes) sore thumb?  Is it a remarkable amenity occasionally and naturally available to the female physique… or is it an invading parasite that threatens to shut down the whole system?

To return to my previous terms, is the embryo the beginning of a new shell that will convey a new soul… or is it an intrusion upon the woman’s “me”, the bodily presence which completely defines her identity?

Much discussion on this subject has grown contradictory, in that the woman who insists upon a one-to-one correspondence with her body is also often waging war with that body.  A fetus is not a cancer.  Its appearance brings to fruition something that a healthy female body is designed to accomplish.  Yet many women appear so belligerently opposed to their natural endowments nowadays that they not only demand the right to amputate the fetus: they even want their reproductive organs changed.  An academic of some sort, I hear, claimed on television last week that breast-feeding is unnatural.  Some women, though not opting to carve up their bodies, decide that the “they” inhabiting said bodies is of the opposite gender; and some insist that this gender can vary with each day on the calendar.

I wonder… in these preposterous contradictions, might we be witnessing the pitiful struggle of the spirit to declare itself in a decadent age when spiritual reality is everywhere formally denied?  Is “gender dissatisfaction” the suffocating soul’s incoherent protest, “I am here—and I’m not the body I occupy?”  Is the passion for abortion (and it is a genuine passion, especially when one considers with what ease pregnancy might be avoided these days) not a similarly garbled protest?  “I am not a baby machine!  That’s my body—I am not my body!  See?  I take this baby and… and I shred it!  I flush it!”  The act is some kind of vendetta.  I find it comprehensible (as the insane can become comprehensible if you allow for self-annihilating energies) in no other way.

Of course, when a fundamental contradiction is admitted into a system, its ripples spread everywhere.  Hence the same women who declare independence of their body by amputating or mutilating its rebellious members also insist that they must obey all biological drives and urges instantly (as self-expression!); and yet more absurdly, they would revile someone like me for clearing his land and “raping” nature.  The suppressed awareness of their own wanton disrespect of nature is transferred to me when I seek to husband nature so that artificial growth patterns may more healthily sustain both plants and animals.

When any human being denies the reality of the spirit, every other reality in his or her life suffers distortion.  Up at last becomes down… and the inverted cross, by the way, is the premier Satanic symbol.

Artificial Intelligence Bows Past Human Brutality As the Two Move in Opposite Directions

I am composing the first draft of this post through dictation. For two years, I’ve been looking at the keyboard of my iPad without noticing that it contained a microphone icon. Finally, I studied the button (we’re supposed to learn from pictures nowadays—that I have noticed!), got a little curious, and began experimenting. When I discovered that the dictation technology which I had wanted to explore for years was right here at my fingertips (yes, literally), I was elated, yet clung to a certain reserve. I had indeed heard that problems lingered.  Sure enough, my maiden voyage took water heavily, if it didn’t exactly end on the rocks. Yesterday, in reading back some of my dictation from the previous evening, I found several embarrassing errors (a phrase which I see my digital amanuensis has recorded, “in Barris saying hours”).   “Digression” was a challenge for the software: it came out “big Russian”. “Repudiate” emerged “rape you a date”. The single most irritating misfire was the relatively simple word “enhanced”. I observed that a German-looking proper kept showing up in the phrase, “in Hanst”, no matter how often I repeated the word. So where the hell is Hanst? At last I couldn’t contain myself. I muttered to screen, “You dumb s**t”; and, of course, when I came to copy and paste my dictation from the previous evening, there was my obscenity staring me placidly in the face. “You dumb s**t.”

In this one regard, if no other, artificial intelligence is already vastly more mature than the human variety. It doesn’t reciprocate in name-calling. Granted, it may be too stupid to do so; but just possibly, it may also be so extremely clever that it understands the infuriating effectiveness of mirroring an obscenity right back at the sender. Now, if I had said those foul words to a human being, fur would have been flying instantly.

The truth is that you don’t have to say anything insulting to a human being these days in order to register as a beast, a cad (you dumb… you poor digital blockhead: not Computer-Assisted Design), or a cruel, heartless boor (no, you stupid… no, sweetheart: not boar; actually, the word “boor” is an intentional slur aimed at white South Africans—but we’re assured that slurring them is almost a moral obligation). A few of my readers may remember the incident about twenty years ago now when a hapless DC bureaucrat used the word of Scandinavian derivation, “niggardly”. He lost his job, and for a while he must have wondered if he would lose his life. Today we can’t say things like “spic and span” or “chink in the armor”. No, they’re not racist: any idiot could tell that they are expressions with no racial content whatever. Yet our society doesn’t breed just any sort of idiot.

We have a special variety of sensitive plant that sends its roots deep into our academic institutions and proliferates in our broadcast media. These delicate flowers process everything we say as it comes from the mouth, scanning for any resemblance to any word on a list of forbidden terms. Once a similarity is identified (no, not “a Denna five”), the long knives come out. The perpetrator is defamed, shamed publicly, humiliated for life, driven from his job, rendered unemployable—all because he used the phrase, “those people”, or blew some kind of racial dog whistle wherein the words “monkeying around” figured.

Given my newfound familiarity with dictation technology, I’m struck by how much our degenerating human mind resembles the rudimentary kind of artificial intelligence on display in this fallible wizardry. We have in our memory bank some thousands of words and phrases that we’ve encountered before: everything that we hear is judged on the basis of its relationship to the words in that depository. We no longer apply any power of analysis to the lexicon, so if you say, “She should stay home and look after her kids,” you instantly and irredeemably become guilty of at least a dozen vile sexist transgressions. The receptor’s circuits perceive no context for your remark and seek out none. The raw text of what you said is what you meant. What else could you mean? You used words X, Y, and Z; those words are stored in the warehouse; and this is what they mean when unpacked.

Words like “target” and “trigger” are incitements to gun violence. An expression like “tough it out” points to toxic masculinity. Employing the word “mailman” or “chairman” designates you as what used to be called a “male chauvinist pig back” in the Seventies; nowadays the noun “male” suffices to capture the same sense. The word “Christmas” is hate speech: it implies disparagement of Islam. Saying “Peking” instead of “Beijing” or “Bombay” instead of “Mumbai” is rank colonialism. Sometimes you don’t have to utter a syllable; simply wearing a sombrero, whether or not you try to pronounce the word’s trilling r’s, is cultural appropriation.

Digital Dictaphone is a good sport about this sort of thing. It ties your thoughts to its available vocabulary without any sort of invidious inference. But the contemporary human version of this artificial operation is painfully artificial in all the wrong ways. We refuse to supply context, to research words used in an unfamiliar manner, to give somebody the benefit of the doubt based upon the person’s previous clean record. We develop the kind of closed mind that only primitive computers will preserve in the future. The machine will pass us up as we descend to its level of weakest performance.

When I have written in the past about human fusion with robots becoming increasingly easy as people grow blunter and robots grow subtler, this is the sort of thing I had in mind. Imagine my iPad’s stupid little dictation device, and then imagine its marriage to the prickly, politically-correct consciousness of a graduate student in English. We are dumbing down, and we’re not doing it gracefully. The day is already at hand when a minimally functional computer like my iPad could be programmed with polite responses, and the result would be superior to the new wave of “woke” people (what an idiot word for an idiot generation!) emerging from our colleges.

God only knows what my digital mirror is writing down. I’ll find out tomorrow (today: you’ll have noticed a few of my many changes as I edit the final draft), because I’m not actually reading the words that pop up on the screen. I don’t want to: they would distract me—would probably make me angry. Yet I know all the while, even though I’ll probably grumble a few curses tomorrow, that the machine is just a machine. It did as well as it could.

I almost wanted to say, “She did as well as she could.” Why is that? Is it because of my need to belittle females… or is it because I attribute to the female, in a traditionalist’s presumption, the desire to please, to compromise, to mediate, to make peace? I wonder if males who come after me, perhaps those of my son’s generation, will deck their computers out in a feminine face and program it with feminine politeness. I wonder if they will find the result more feminine, more lovable, more companionable than the “manly women” who grow up beside them. I wonder how soon we’re going to be reduced to embracing our screens for human companionship

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.