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.

Two Austrians Fled a Third… And Found Refuge in the Truth

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I’m not going to apologize for being thoroughly pessimistic in the past month of posts; or if I do ask pardon, then I should start by craving it of myself.  I have to live with me—and it ain’t easy these days!  When a few national commentators dare to go off the script and mention the number of suicides that our lockdown will inspire, I know exactly what they mean.  I’ve never been less afraid of death.  I keep thinking of the first words uttered by Sophocles’ Teiresias when the blind prophet is led onto the stage of Oedipus Tyrannos: “What a fearful thing is thinking when it brings no profit to the thinker!”

Stay busy: yes, that’s always good advice.  I’ve been in “lifeboat” mode now for several months, really.  By that I mean that I have given the ship up as lost and am occupying myself with considering alternatives for possible survival on the dark, cold sea.  Only since President Trump has begun signing off on multi-trillion dollar “stimulus packages”, though, have I actually been consuming distinctly less political commentary from sources I used to trust.  There’s too much stuff that begins, “This is our last chance,” or, “We need to act immediately if we are to avoid disaster.”  Wrong.  The last chance has come and gone.  Those spending bills were one helluva big iceberg that just carried away half of our hull.  I can’t tolerate any more evasion of such hard facts.  Lower the damn lifeboats.

But survival does indeed call for profitable thinking… so disillusion and even pessimism mustn’t turn to abject despair.  We’ve lost the big one: now let’s win some little ones.  I scarcely know where to start.  I continue my routine of trying to acquire greater understanding, however, as a retired academic who mucks about in his infant orchards much of the day.  I’ve begun reading two works that I probably should have read long ago: Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies and F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.  As part of my regimen, I try to read new books in one of the non-English languages that I’ve studied for years—not in the illusion that I’ll ever “use” them in the future (whatever that means), but just because I hate to let a skill lapse into decay.  You fire up your old Triumph and give her a little spin around the block once a week, not because you’ll ever seriously use the thing for transportation, but because… well, she deserves not to die if keeping her alive costs so little.

So, anyway, here I am reading Popper in Italian and Hayek in Spanish.  (Somebody might murmur wryly, “You’re going to need that Spanish”… but, no, the Spanish I read isn’t anything remotely like the jabber we hear at Wal-Mart.)  The irony is that both of these men came to English as a second language; so I’m accessing their thoughts through a tongue into which the original text has been rendered—but that text itself represented a tongue with which they struggled.  Could there be a better illustration of the Spirit taking serene shape above a great cacophony of words? We are one, even in our misery.

I haven’t actually read quite a third of either book at this point, but I’ve seen enough to be intrigued.  Hayek’s much-reprinted classic is littered with forewards and prefaces in the early going.  I infer from all the explanations and further explanations that he was greatly surprised by the work’s success, especially in the U.S.; that he was nevertheless dismayed at how it had become caught up in a political tug-of-war as Joe McCarthy brought to public attention the degree of communist infiltration in our society; that he had never intended to condemn all kinds of government “planification” out of hand or to declare that their presence made totalitarian rule inevitable; and that his primary concern was simply that exposure to the notion of paternalistic government begins a long, long process of corrupted and surrendered freedoms.  There is a mildness to this man, I find, that indeed makes him an unlikely dynamo at the center of a whirlwind.  I see in him an apt illustration of a phenomenon we’ve come to know only too well: the slanderous caricature by the Left of anyone who dare question centralist, statist orthodoxy.  McCarthy himself was thus tarred and feathered, and with scarcely more reason.

For my own purposes, considering where I am (i.e., deep in the hole of despair), I find a kind of comfort in Hayek’s big picture—a comfort, of course, which he would have been chagrined to provide.  He obviously believed that we yet had time to reverse course in the Fifties, and even the Seventies (when the final edition of Road to Serfdom appeared).  I suppose we probably did have time, even in the Nineties… but instead of regretting our bite of the apple, we came back and stripped the tree (with no less zeal during the two terms of George W. Bush than in any other era).  The air of fatality which Hayek so heroically rejected settles, in retrospect, quite heavily over the past thirty years or so.

My son’s generation, in short, was not sold down the river into slavery only by Pelosi/McCormick “stimuli” and President Trump’s compliant pen.  The dark stranger has been riding down the road since that distant day when we might first have spotted him exiting the mountain’s pass.  And here I’ll toss a bone to the enemies of capitalism and slanderers of innocents like F.A. Hayek: our ravenous appetite for ease and convenience is deeply implicated in our rush to greet this sooty rider.  We’ve been reared, at least since the end of World War II, to desire more stuff, cheaper stuff, and stuff of ever greater frivolity.  The market made us such uncritical, undisciplined consumers.  The cry that spurred us on from the new screens before which we were reared was, “Get it now, cheaper than ever!  You deserve it!”  Has not such thinking fed—yes, inevitably—into the yet more seductive cry, “Get it now, paid for by the rich!  You’d already have it if they hadn’t stolen it from you!”  The devilish rhetoric of the sell was indeed inevitable.  It was our response that might have offered up resistance… but, you know, getting something free at the expense of “the rich” is an even better deal than getting it cheap at the expense of Chinese slave labor.

Karl Popper seems an odd companion in this discussion.  I was surprised, upon consideration, at how perfectly The Open Society slides right in.  I had no initial inkling that the book was a study of Plato’s utopian project in The Republic… and I was a little let down, honestly, upon making that discovery.  Why would the previous century’s premier philosopher of science (as I like to think of him) be scribbling away like the antiquarians with whom I attended graduate school?  Popper’s footnotes, indeed, were so voluminous that they posed a major obstacle to finding a publisher for the book.  Among additional obstacles were the author’s self-imposed and shifting exile as Hitler tightened his grip on Central Europe, his struggles with the English language (as I’ve noted), and his need of American friends and contacts to mediate as he met with one rejection after another from publishing houses.  Hayek was running up against exactly the same barriers at the same historical moment.

But at least one Austrian was tackling the central ideological issues of our time, while the other was retreating to… Plato?  Not a retreat, however: no, but rather a recognition that these very issues were not at all distinct to our time, but were embedded in the human condition.  As I muddled through the first pages of Popper’s tome (its title grotesquely caricatured by George Soros, that living master of satanically torturing words to mean their opposites), I made the further error of supposing that he was just thrusting his personal preoccupations where they didn’t belong.  What had Plato to do with Hitler and Stalin?  (And both Popper and Hayek, by the way, realized that those two miscreants had issued from the same sulfurous ideological womb.)

I won’t exhaust both myself and the reader by trying to encapsulate Professor Popper’s reading of Plato. A brutal compression would be to say that Plato, everybody’s most admired philosophical transcriptionist, is unmasked as having commandeered the reputation of Socrates—everybody’s most admired philosopher—to sell a totalitarian vision.  (Just one example: Socrates’ “a man with power should always beware of his ignorance” becomes Plato’s “a man with power should be purged of ignorance”.) It’s all finely reasoned and meticulously documented, I promise you: hence the merciless footnotes. Yet I had never heard a peep about such interpretive possibilities during all my years in the academy.  By the way, that interpretation turns out to fit.  It isn’t the whimsy of an expatriate who subconsciously imposes the shadow of the dictator he so detests upon every bird, cloud, and blade of grass.  It’s all perfectly convincing.

By way of illustration, I’ll confine myself to the Platonic theory of Forms or Ideas.  I recall being exposed to this first as a college freshman, and thinking, “Those ancient Greeks… what a strange lot!  Did they really think that we’re born with a Table Archetype in our heads that allows us to recognize a table?”  Plato was offered up in just such incoherent, irrelevant terms; and, as I say, nothing I later heard in any ivory corridor added any profundity to my initial impressions.

Popper’s view, however, makes of the Forms something very like what I’ve written of recently as “future worship”: the adoration of hazy objectives, that is, merely because they exist in “tomorrow”, where we’re assured of having transformative superpowers.  It is an irony, to be sure, that Plato’s gilded castles exist in the remotest of yesterdays—in the atavistic Heroic Age when men feasted with gods.  Yet behind the irony is the link which binds Hitler and Stalin, Nazism and communism.  Both visions take as their destination a point whose access—whose mere reality—cannot be validated by current perceptions, common sense, and humane moral imperatives.  Both require that we become something we’re simply not; or, inasmuch as they acknowledge our being unequal to the task, both urge upon us the acceptance of a superman or a super-race.  Both concede that the Peerless Leader’s superior authority cannot be logically deduced or rationally defended.  Both demand of us, therefore, that we embrace a cultic fanaticism—that we suppress our individuality and merge ourselves into an obedient herd.

Precisely.  This is true, it’s brilliant… and it’s disparaged or ignored by our academic institutions and broadcast media as they condition forthcoming generations to chew the cud of totalitarianism.  Add Hayek to Popper, and you have an all-too-prophetic warning that the adoration of the Charismatic Leader who solves all of our problems for us is forever leaking into human societies, drop by drop, decade after decade. Didn’t the Old Testament teach us about our self-destructive craving for kings?

How is the combination implied in “permanent collapse” possible, I wonder?  How can things forever be deteriorating in Hesiodic fashion if there were no genuine Heroic Age at the head of all the fallen dominoes?  If we have always been as we are now—flawed, corrupt creatures in need of a redeemer outside our earthly time frame—then how can we also always be getting worse? Since we’ve always been bad, how do we manage to keep doubling down on it?

I don’t know, my friends… but such is the truth, or what little we can see of it.  Perhaps it is our societies that are forever coming unraveled—and perhaps it is only redeemed individuals who forever keep bits and pieces of them from careening over the precipice: just enough for yet another try where the run-off of Eden’s gentle rain puddles.

To the “Healers” Among Us: I Know Ye Not

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My second full year of attempting to farm has begun.  One infant walnut tree has been permanently laid to rest, and the fate of a cherry tree hangs in doubt: both were savaged by deer last year whose watery eyes and flickering tails I soon ceased to find “cute”.  Plant assassins: guts on hooves with razoring teeth and very small brains at one end.  They gnawed right through the netting I had oh-so-confidently draped around my nurslings.  This year, wire fences reinforced with stakes will greet their nipping incisors.  A particularly small garden shark managed somehow to duck under one fence last week.  My wife spotted her just in time, and I scared her off (the deer, not my wife).  Then I ran a strand of barbed wire around the exposed lower region.  Shees… you raise the barrier to keep them from jumping over, and then one sneaks under through a space that you would have thought too skimpy for a slithering hound dog.  It never ends.  As Emilio Romero wrote of creeping communism half a century ago, la paz empieza nunca.

The peanut patch was another casualty from last summer.  I managed to reap perhaps a pound of nuts when all was said and done.  Grasshoppers were the prime suspect, but to this day I’m not sure of that diagnosis.  Just when the plants appeared to be taking off, their leaves would be gnawed away to the stalk the next morning.  This happened several times—and deer, much as I love to pin every crime on them, just didn’t check out as the culprits.  Now, at least, we’ve coaxed in families of bluebirds which—I hope—will feed hungrily on insects during the summer.  As long as the cardinals don’t chase them off… for, with mating season at full throttle, we’ve observed an emerging problem.  The bull redbirds are attacking everything else wearing feathers in their bid to attract females.  Toxic masculinity at its very worst.

Potatoes didn’t grow in the clay that the builders compacted around our house: trying to loosen that mass into productivity was wasted time.  On the other hand, the extensive raised garden I constructed offered the plushest possible bed for vegetables… but I foolishly magnified its walls with white Styrofoam; and this, once the summer sun started beating down in earnest, fried everything within its borders.

If you live, you learn.  Not everything was a disaster.  My pecan trees are doing well; and the two oldest almonds, despite having been ravaged themselves by the dear deer, came back so strong that I’ve planted several more.  Apple trees, pear trees, peaches, apricots, persimmons, pomegranates… the new cherry trees have already flowered… I have almost fifty plants in the ground.  We’ll see if they’re bearing in five years—always assuming that I’m here to see.

For you get no guarantees in life; and once you reach three score years, you’re guaranteed an exit of one sort or another in the not-too-distant future.  I’ll probably survive my little crisis with an enlarged prostate.  The medical/pharmaceutical industry has lavished enough catheters upon me that I could lay a tiny plastic tunnel to Saskatchewan; and anyway, I have at last found some homeopathic remedies that have put my trouble somewhat into remission.  Speaking of industries… homeopathy and ruthless exploitation of the vulnerable are of two houses, you should know. To be sure, the snake-oil salesmen quickly nose out your complaint thanks to shared information in our wired society. My mailbox—my literal, in-the-ground mailbox—has been steadily bombarded with news of “the breakthrough formula that really works”.  Entire booklets appear featuring a leering charlatan in white coat and stethoscope on one page and a couple making steamy love on the next.  I want to reach in, grab White Coat by the lapels, smack him a few times, and explain, “I’m not contemplating a career as a porn star, moron—I can’t pee!”

It’s all the exploitation around the edges that gets me down. I love my 25 acres.  Even, in a way, I love the damn deer.  They at least don’t represent themselves as anything other than what they are.  And maybe society’s varied collection of scalawags and profiteers… maybe there’s a kind of Darwinian defense to be made for them, too.  I spend a lot of time hacking away wild blackberry and polk sallet, nuisances unfit for the table that run off all the other vegetation; but such is nature, with ravenous parasites always ready to gnaw a pound of flesh from prosperity.  Our human analogues are no less busy.  My indignation concentrates upon those whose calling is supposed to be of a higher sort.  The Teacher says, “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”  Precisely.  Where is the “high” in “higher” these days?

Yes, I’ve avoided doctors most of my life.  I did so partly because I don’t believe we should run to someone for relief from every little pain—and partly, too, because my father’s and grandfather’s lives were needlessly shortened in the hands of the medical establishment (and my father-in-law’s made much worse during its short remnant). My own problem would have been diagnosed and treated sooner if I had been less pig-headed, true enough. But then, what treatment have I actually received?  Of the three medications I’ve been prescribed, two made me instantly, severely ill.  The third (a muscle relaxant) I never had filled.  I chose meditative techniques in its place; and meditation, like homeopathy is rarely a permanent solution—but at least, like hydroxychloroquine, it does no harm.  (Wasn’t there someone named Hippocrates, once upon a time?)

Even my miraculous catheters, for which I’m most genuinely grateful, came with conflicting instructions when I received any instruction at all.  “Wash carefully after every use, and don’t reuse for more than a week… no, not that: Who told you that? Always throw away after one use!  Oh, and the type of catheter that’s eviscerating you?  Keep the blue line pointed upward.  No, there are no directions included… but someone was supposed to tell you.”

They send you off to try out poisons manufactured in China the way a Vegas hooker tells her drunken high-roller to put his stack on Seven. They load you with expensive but ill-explained gear and gizmos that your insurance (not to worry) will pay for. And then….

And then they push the appointment you’ve awaited for two months another two months down the road for your own good, because CV-19 targets senior citizens.  I’ve cleared and planted three acres of orchard with nothing I couldn’t hold in my two hands… and they’re telling me that the one physical complaint ever to slow me down has to stay with me like a ball and chain due to the possibility of a week’s sniffles and fever—a virus that they, the White Coat Fraternity, have decided to elevate to bubonic-plague gravity with virtually no objective data.

My brother, recently a stroke victim, now has to put his rehab in low gear; a friend’s pre-adolescent son suffering from strange fainting spells now has to wear some kind of monitor at home because “professionals” dare not give him a precious hospital bed.  Meanwhile, half of the medical profession—the really “expert” half—refuses to endorse hydroxychloroquine because other white coats haven’t spent enough years observing its possible side-effects (the kind of effects that don’t seem to concern them greatly, however, in the case of Flomax).  And meanwhile—or during the same while—their Peerless Leader stalls for time as his puppeteer Bill Gates rushes after an “antidote” we’ll all be required to take.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned a single politician.  Anyone who places trust in that tribe deserves to be scalped in his sleep.  But the medical community… et tu, Brute?

The evening news treats us regularly (I’ve seen two renditions of this script in the past week) to scenes of “COVID survivors” being wheelchaired to the hospital exit through a gauntlet of applauding doctors and nurses, all dutifully masked; and I ask myself, “Why are they clapping as they stand elbow to elbow?  Why are they sending micro-deposits from their hands into the eyes and hair, quite possibly, of their neighbors?  How can people with any medical training whatever engage in such needlessly, stupidly risky behavior?  Or do they know that the whole thing’s a hoax?  Is it all being staged, and the masks are just costumes?  Then again, are they genuine but massively incompetent?  What third alternative could there be?”

Those questions… I have a lot of them.  Far too many—and I can’t answer a single one.  I don’t claim the right to medical attention.  Our ancestors didn’t enjoy such a right.  On the contrary, death in the body is our common inheritance, our common destiny; and though, as I say, I shall probably not die of an enlarged prostate’s complications, the experience strikes me as a dress rehearsal for the big show (one where there will be no TV cameras).  A stroke, maybe, as I’m grubbing out another post hole and cussing at deer… maybe it will knock me clean dead, and not simply nudge me as it did my brother.  I hope so.  I’d like a quick exit.  Me with my boots on, and confused cardinals cocking their heads.

I’m okay with that.  Just please don’t tell me that you’re helping me—that when you prescribe noxious garbage, when you issue contradictory directions, when you bill the insurance company at every turn, when you schedule extra tests and then move them all back a few months… don’t tell me you’re doing all this for my own good!  You’re not.  I don’t believe you.  I don’t trust you.  I’ll show up for my appointments, whenever they finally fall and if I happen to remain among the living… but it won’t be because I’ve trusted you.  It’ll be because I have no other card to draw—because I have only one roll of the dice left.

That’s exactly the feeling I get nowadays at election time. Could it be, Dr. Fauci—Mr. Gates—because the line even between politics and medicine has dissolved?

I love my 25 acres.  I wish I could be buried here, but they don’t allow that… and I don’t suppose I’ll really care, at any rate.  I’m ready to step through the door.  I only wish I could do so in peace, without the toxic miasma of half-truths and undisclosed interests and noisome mock-altruism that hangs heavily over every aspect of our public life these days.  All you “professionals” and “experts” out there… why don’t you just peddle your porn, and stop with the line about how good it is for us?

The Comforts of Midnight: Peace in a Dying Republic

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In New Jersey, police go door to door searching for New Yorkers who may have fled their state’s quarantine.  In Vermont, grocery chains are forbidden to sell gardening items.  In Walmart’s across the nation, customers are being held to a trickle at points of entry.

In Fort Worth, a judge suspends private property rights.  In Laredo, citizens are fined up to $1,000 for not wearing masks.  His Excellency Dr. Fauci proclaims on national media that everybody everywhere should be required to wear a surgical mask.

In Florida, a minister is arrested for holding worship service; in the Greensboro area, four ministers are cuffed for violating a stay-at-home order as they peacefully protest outside an open-for-business abortion clinic.  In New York City, the mayor exhorts citizens to report any active worship service to law enforcement (though New Yorkers continue to patronize their less-than-sanitary—but fully operative—subway system).

Stories of employees being stopped and questioned by cops as they drive to their “essential” jobs are everywhere.  Meanwhile, criminals are quickly processed back into “healthy” communities from the “unwholesome” quarantine of their jail cells without a second look from authorities—while gun stores are shut down because their service, though now more imperative than ever, is deemed “non-essential” by many a local tinpot dictator.

I really need some sort of meditative excursion if I am to hold myself together.  Perhaps this column’s exercise Is my version of the saccharine “My Favorite Things” ditty from The Sound of Music.  Ugh, how I hated those musicals whose records my sister would play daily back in the days of… of the Vietnam War on TV, and of us young teenagers wondering if we would live to see twenty.  But there you go: CoronaVirus isn’t the first television-borne panic in our history.  Furthermore, the Vietnam terror (unlike this one) was all too real for thirteen-year-olds around the nation.  Body bags were traveling at much more than flu-season rate, and they were filled with the remains of many who were scarcely old enough to shave.

Hence one “favorite thing” that a father might remember in these days of a collapsing republic is that his boys, at least, are relatively safe.  My son hasn’t grown up with the draft and slaughter in a faraway rice paddy looming over his horizon.  Thank God for that.

There’s no doubt that the United States of America is rotting, rotting even as it clings to life.  The President is readying the way for yet a fourth “relief” bill (as opposed to letting us get back to our lives, and to the inevitable deaths associated with normal living).  As a republic, we’re now moribund for sure—worse than if CV-19 were in fact bubonic plague.  Our economy is DOA.  Even without the legal alien work force that Mr. Trump wants to multiply (as citizen unemployment skyrockets)—a diaspora that sends billions of American dollars “home” every year—we have no chance of ever paying off our debt.

Our constitutional freedoms are all lying in the morgue.  This very column may be banned from the Internet as “uncooperative”: news about the round-the-clock labors of Wuhan’s crematoria has certainly been nixed.  We dare not even mention that COVID-19 began in China, let alone that the bats in which it incubated were not, in fact, sold in Wuhan’s “wet markets”.  Our media simply parrot the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda like feather-brained pets, while also churning out hysteria-on-steroids “exclusives” and streaming contextless figures across the screen.  This past week, for instance, a local broadcast offered a nurse’s self-interview before her iPhone, the gist of which was that she preferred staying home with her kids to risking the most lethal infection she’d ever seen in her young career.  Terrifying, indeed… and also fully within the bounds of subjectified, disoriented panic-baiting.  A free republic without objective sources of information cannot stand.

Yes, but… but moonlight sometimes filters through the clouds even at midnight.  At least on our present course, the Chinese won’t be releasing a truly deadly virus on us—maybe another of the 1,500 species of CoronaVirus reported (or not reported) to exist within their treaty-violating biochemical labs: one whose mortality rate is 90 percent rather than something like .067 (assuming with the ever-speculative Dr. Fauci that more than 200 thousand of us die by September).  Given our present panic, the Chinese have seen all they needed to see.  Xi Jinping won’t be allowing Little Rocket Man to microwave our power grid with an EMP.  Our future is assured as a Chinese colony—a consumer of Chinese goods and supplier of sensitive technology to China’s colonization of the solar system and beyond.  (As of this moment, our spendthrift Congress as done nothing to wrest the manufacture of penicillin and other vital drugs from the PRC.)  Just as we’ve surrendered all our constitutional rights to be safe from a death that almost certainly won’t come from CV-19 (and certainly will come from some direction, one day or another), so the same spirit of surrender ensures that the Xi’s China won’t waste any nukes on us.  Thanks for that, Lady Moon.

Or why should we have to fear a showdown with Russia now, whose state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal could strategically vaporize our nerve centers while we’re still trying to launch missiles that haven’t been tested in forty years?  The Russians, like the Chinese, have to be entirely cool with what they’re witnessing on our panicked shores.  Solzhenitsyn’s generation was stacked into boxcars like sardines, shipped to Siberia with only compressed bodies for heat, debarked in snow drifts, and marched barefoot to tent cities where they were served a piece of frozen fish once a day.  These Americans… you tell them they could die of a cold, and they dismantle their free society before your eyes.  Why launch a war against them?  What’s to fight?

We have no real enemies any longer.  We have bundled ourselves into a gift package and stuck a bow on it: our enemies may simply wait for delivery.  Peace, brother.

I am actually thankful for Putin, in a way, because I know that he sees Russia’s future as it appears in Xi’s tea leaves.  I know he must understand that the Chinese dragon is slavering to devour Manchuria… and then on from there.  Putin will need all the allies he can get.  Obviously, the West Coast of our mighty nation is poised to become Xi’s whore, the latest addition to his harem.  The drug cartels that have already taken over Mexico are conduits for Chinese poisons throughout the Southwest.  I can well imagine them doing double duty as a sort of freelancing beachhead against emasculated border-security forces.  Haven’t they already won D-Day?  Didn’t Mr. Obama, in unguarded moments, speak longingly and lovingly of an armed national police force—and did his “Justice Department” not arm MS-13 and the Zetas?  All that remains is for the Chinese paymasters of today’s anarchic “resistance” to rumble in and mop up, at least among the Pacific states.

But the South?  But Middle America?  As we fragment into virtually impotent pieces, perhaps some of us will be wooed by Vlad.  I feel sure of it: he’s already making nice to Israel—and we Southerners trust Israel more than we do Washington.   I’m confident that we would choose Russian bestialization over Chinese insectification.  I devoutly hope we would.  I’d rather deal with Denisovan Man than with the Fire Ants.  Putin at least makes favorable noises in the direction of Christianity (unlike, say, the mayors of New York and academic ant colonies like Athens, Georgia).  Aleksandr Dugin has advised him that human beings are incapable of ruling themselves… and, well, what did the history of the late, great United States do to disprove that theory?

Yet if Christianity is true—and I would sooner die in the illusion that it is so than live in the “reality” that it is not—then all of them, Xi and Putin and the Kim clan… the Trumps and the Obamas, the Pelosis and the Clintons and the McConnells and even His Excellency Dr. Fauci… all of them must come to naught in their worldly empire-building, their progressive vision of a wholly safe, wholly organized, wholly gilded future.  I made a video a few months back wherein I said that if a home invader hauled me out onto the lawn at midnight, had his lieutenant keep a gun to my head as he ransacked my house, and then gave the order to hit my off-switch as he packed up, my last sight of this world as I bled out might be the stars of Orion and his Dog.  Betelgeuse, Altair, Deneb… Sirius… they would be beautiful, as beautiful as ever they were on those evenings of my teenage years when I’d crouch behind a telescope and dream of the life before me (a life without Vietnam).  And now true life would yawn majestically before me, and the constellations would frame its gate.  Not only that… but from my new life, my real and eternal life, I would cast a quick glance back at the punk who’d just executed me and his master—and I would see the pitiable agony of their souls shriveling away to nothing, to trash blowing in the wind, as time opened out into its eternal present.

Thanks for that, Lord of All.

Somewhere between here and there, Xi Jinping may get a tiny taste of his just comeuppance while his paltry flesh yet draws this world’s foul, disease-laden air.  His own people, tired of being reduced to ants, may rise up and smother him in their machine-gunned bodies.  For the corpses of Solzhenitsyn’s comrades in torment, Putin has expressed compassion once or twice; but he and his confessor Dugin may find that such expressions are inadequate—that the corpses won’t stay buried.  The puppet-masters pulling the strings of Middle Earth’s Faucis and Comeys and Brennans and Barrs… the Soroses, the Gateses, the Davos crowd, the Club of Rome (and yes, they’re all plural, all legion and ever-renewing in Earth time)… will find no real peace: certainly not in the next world, but not really even in this one.  Indeed, all of them will turn forever on the racks where they have cleverly bound themselves: turn in torture for a time here and now, and then forever more on that “throne of God” which they fashioned for themselves.

In the meantime… in “mean time”, middle time… there’s no point in deploring my fellow citizens’ cowardice, incuriosity, subjection, and infantilism.  We are merely what we are, if we refuse to become what we might have been in our Creator.  One fights awhile among comrades who don’t care against a foe who won’t come into the open… and then one lies down, bleeds out, and takes the gate through Orion.

Thanks for that.  Midnight is beautiful.

I’ll Trade You Ten COVID-19’s for One New Pipe

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One of the reasons I’m writing this—the main reason—is that setting and achieving small objectives keeps me going.  I’m looking at waits for over a month to have further testing, the results of which will determine what surgery I will have weeks or months after that.  Meanwhile, I self-catheter three or four times a day and try not to make too many wild guesses about precisely what this or that member of the medical establishment meant by this or that casual remark or rapid-fire, jargonal answer.  And if I dare to seek further enlightenment by calling a number, I push one of several buttons, leave a message, wait two or three days for a response, and… and find myself left with more questions than ever.

Don’t talk to me about the evils of socialized medicine.  For nobodies like me, the nightmare is already here.  Thanks to ambulance-chasing lawsuits, Obama-era paperwork, and open admission for the Third World diaspora, many of us already no longer have timely access to treatment: the docs who haven’t retired are absurdly over-extended.  I’m trying not to hate, loathe, and despise doctors personally, though it’s hard when “specialists” work four-day weeks and so clearly love to dash off prescriptions that turn into a horror show if you research their side-effects. (Or if you actually use them. So far I’ve tried two of these made-in-Chinas for a total of four days: sever headache, dizziness, and nausea in both cases… no thanks.)

I know I’m aging.  I do get that. Death isn’t too far away, and it comes to everyone.  Maybe I still have a couple of decades, maybe not. His will be done. Just spare me, will you, the talk about the miraculous progress of our technology. “Jesus is coming to your neighborhood… in six months. Reserve a space along the road to touch his hem at nine-fifty on the last Thursday of August by pressing One now. Admission subject to revised CoronaVirus protocol.”

Ah, yes. COVID-19.  I’d take the virus hands-down over my current situation.  I’ve had flu before.  I almost died of a particularly virulent strain when, in my mid-twenties, I was stuck in Ireland and unable to receive my monthly check from home due to a nation-wide postal strike (speaking of socialist utopias).  Living on one meal a day, I made an easy target for opportunistic infections; and Western European populations of older people and other compromised groups did indeed die in the winter of 1981 by the hundreds (or probably the thousands).  So I know the flu, from its worst angle.  I’d take it over this: no-brainer.  But, of course, I’m not being given that choice.

Now I’m reading that hospitals may throttle back on “non-essential surgeries” until the Awful Horror swaggers through our streets and wanders elsewhere.  With my stock of trusty self-catheterizing rods (and they do elicit a certain affection, seriously: they’re the only friends I have, besides my sainted wife), I suppose I could go on for… I dunno; whatever time a sixty-six-year-old is supposed to have left.  And it’s somewhat comforting, in an odd way, to know that as I tend my garden or make my baseball videos, my radiator is actually better drained than it has been in over a decade.  Thank you, thank you, o Twenty-First Century, for self-catheterization kits!

But for doctors, medicine, the “health care system”… no, you can keep all that.  Keep it for the people who matter—and throw in a barbed-wire enema for them all, from me.

Again, as for the CoronaVirus—the latest best alternative to another impeachment trial, a new strategy that the Donald played right into for months by blasting and blaring away about unprecedented economic prosperity—yeah, stick that up your pipe and smoke it, too.  For about two decades, we as a society have smugly, stupidly, utterly ignored warnings about our power grid’s vulnerability. Part of the reason was that many of our subversive representatives (including a two-term president) actually liked the idea of priming the nation to be instantly brought to its knees by an enemy. Immediate checkmate. But even these traitor-ideologues were too foolish to comprehend that major solar flares occur quite naturally on a timetable that we don’t fully understand, but that seems to leave us long overdue for another visit. And the consequences of that visit would purge nine out of ten inhabitants of North America within a year.

But let’s not mention the unsecured power grid—or let’s just rule its risks “debunked”. Let’s rave hysterically, instead, about COVID-19. Round-the-clock coverage of the non-story, the apocalyptic pandemic that will kill one in five of us (figures courtesy of talking heads who calculated that Bloomberg’s campaign expenses, divvied up, would have meant a cool million for each of us)… babble and blather every bloody time you walk through a room with a plugged-in TV. “Stay home!  Wash your hands!  Drink more sanitizer!  Build a protective suit of toilet paper!”

I’d so like to have the flu instead of be walking my present path.  Any flu would do.  But I haven’t been given the option of wimping out.

So I’ll send the ramrod up the rifle’s bore one more time, order some more catheters just in case Amazon decides to hunker down under the shadow of Thanatos next month, and go fence the deer out of my new almond trees.

When I pass through the gate at last, I’ll find my grandmother, and we’ll share a good laugh about all of this… or maybe not.  My suspicion—my hope, my conviction—is that we’ll have far more beautiful, noble, glorious things to occupy our attention than American society of the twenty-first century.

How We Elect: A Decaying Republic’s Broken System (Part One)

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On Friday, February 14, I received the following email message from Dr. Lerah Lee’s campaign to seek a House seat in D.C:

When I started this campaign for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, I was determined to follow through, win or lose—but sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan.
Unfortunately, I have had to suspend my campaign to focus on my health, but I want to assure everyone that has supported me with volunteer work, prayers, and financial generosity that I am still committed to the conservative values we share and Republican victory in 2020.

There was more, but none of it relevant to the reasons for Dr. Lee’s withdrawal.  Having promoted her candidacy in this space and others, I felt that more was needed.  I had been persuaded—and I remain persuaded—that the Republican Party should pay more attention to wooing black voters away from the Democrat puppeteers ruining their lives.  I was reproached by some for playing “identity politics”… but I’m of Anglo-Welsh origin myself, and even I often look at Republican candidates with the thought, “One of those again—one of the doctor/lawyer class whose kids never went to jail for drunk driving, always found their way to a college degree after four or five years of partying, always graduated to find jobs falling into their laps.”  Yeah, I knew a lot of them.  And I’m white.  So you needn’t tell me that the “privileged class” perception is imaginary, especially when white “conservatives” like Doug Collins, Tom Tillis, and Lindsey Graham 2.0 continue to promote the presence of unvetted aliens among us while emptying out our prisons.  There’s something to the “country club/gated community” stereotype, my dears.  It happens not to be a racial “something”, primarily—though it is perhaps so secondarily; and the untrained eye often sees the second layer as the surface one.

Unfortunately, there’s also something to the Raisin in the Sun stereotype.  When I coached baseball for a predominantly black Little League in Tyler, Texas, many years ago, our pleasant experiences came to a skidding halt during a season when three or four of the league’s “organizers” decided to start pocketing cash from the concession stand.  One of them very nearly took a swing at me after I protested how he had scheduled road trips all over East Texas on school nights.  He said (or yelled) a little too much: it became clear to me just then that the whole arrangement was a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” concoction to isolate the boys and their families from any food right at supper time… except, of course, for the concession stand.  None of these men was driving a humble Chevy S-10 and living in a fifty-year-old house, as I was.  All of them also seemed to be far deeper in debt than I’ve ever been.

So… did I just get played in a similar way by Dr. Lerah?  The whole thing has that old savor.  I certainly wouldn’t want to pry… but something a little beyond “focus on my health” (bolded dramatically) would help.  Why not just mention nervous exhaustion, or a newly diagnosed heart condition?  We don’t need to see the file and the X-rays, but… but some of us stuck our neck out for you, Dr. L!  One would also have liked to read something on the order of this: “I have now spent all of the funds raised and am consuming my personal savings on the campaign, which will destroy my family if I do not change course.”  But no.  Nothing in that genre.

The next time a bright young constitutionalist seeking office makes an appeal to me on the basis of African DNA, I’m afraid I won’t be very receptive.  Already, I’ve begun reflexively deleting emails from some new Candace Owens PAC requesting funds for just that objective.  You might think about that part of your legacy, Dr. Lee, if you’re at all inclined to ponder the wake left by your public actions.

And tossing about in the wreckage of that very wake, I started looking at Senator Kelly Loeffler from a new angle.  Appointed to replace the ailing Johnny Isakson by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Loeffler is required by state law to run for formal election next November rather than serve out the entire Isakson term uncontested.  The battle between her and the forementioned Doug Collins has drawn national attention.  As a girl, Kelly would probably not have fit the “one of those again” profile that I memorized so thoroughly in high school.  Her ads, now saturating local TV, represent a Midwestern farm lass who waited tables to put herself through college: someone much more like me than like my quondam classmates in an elite Fort Worth private school.  But that endearing snapshot edits out the critical years of her more recent life when she met and married an Atlanta billionaire.  Wikipedia estimates Kelly’s current net worth at 500 million.  The figure is likely not far off target, and the claim it fuels that Loeffler is among the wealthiest people in Washington seems justified.  Besides raw wealth, other peculiarities make this case a standout.  Here’s how one source represents the rather complicated picture taking shape around the freshman senator:

Kelly Loeffler, former CEO of bitcoin derivatives exchange Bakkt and a newly-appointed U.S. Senator, has joined the committee that oversees the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

Loeffler has joined the Senate Agricultural Committee, which has jurisdiction over the CFTC. Loeffler’s appointment to the committee raises concerns about a possible conflict of interest. Her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), which is regulated by the CFTC.

“I have worked hard to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the Senate’s ethics rules and will continue to do so every day,” Loeffler told the Wall Street Journal, adding: “I will recuse myself if needed on a case by case basis.”

Loeffler’s appointment reportedly comes at a time when the agriculture committee is working on legislation to reauthorize the CFTC. The committee also oversees approving nominations for CFTC commissioners and chairmen.

Oh, boy.  You know, one of the reasons I took my son to the north side of Tyler to play baseball was that the south side was overrun by the “one of those again” types: the pushy white males with their lucrative insurance gigs and car dealerships.  They would cut shady deals, those “coaches”, before draft night to have the two or three most grotesquely overgrown lads on their team, blow away the competition for the next two months, advance to regional play-offs, and (I’ve no doubt) assume that college or professional scouts would spot their son on the SuperTeam and immediately get on the phone about a scholarship or signing bonus.  They weren’t snitching Jacksons out of the cash drawer: they were fishing for Moby Dick.

And now Kelly Loeffler… is going to self-police on a committee that will determine the future of her husband’s vastly lucrative enterprise.  Well, maybe.  I guess it all depends on whether she has so much already that she doesn’t feel tempted to mark the deck during future shuffles.

Here is my collective response to our train wreck of a political system.  There are perhaps four types of politician.  One is a pitiful, negligible scavenger: the camp-following opportunist poised to snatch up whatever morsels slip off the table.  This person, being poor and void of powerful backing, raises a ruckus among the poor about the Class of the Powerfully Backed.  He or she may gain a bit of local traction but really never intends to go very far.  Going far, after all, isn’t necessary.  There are so many crumbs and morsels—enough to make even the also-rans fat and happy!  Why not just fill your pockets during the election season’s general chaos?  Dr. Lee, I’m not really looking at you… am I?  I wish I knew.  Or maybe I’m glad I don’t.

It is difficult to believe that the Clintons—our nation’s political Bonnie and Clyde—began as anything much other than petty scavengers.  Having watched their ascent over my own lifetime, I can discern no persistent motive in their behavior other than self-enrichment—no clear indication that they sought to subordinate this motive to ideology at any point.  To the extent that Hillary, in particular, grew to be a leftist ideologue, it is likely because she recognized in the sweeping vistas of power suddenly open before her a breathtaking opportunity to amass fortunes upon fortunes.  Sometimes the pet fed on table scraps becomes the Dog Who Has His Day.

Next we have the relatively impoverished but better connected, genuinely ideological populist who manages to get himself (or herself) catapulted into the Big Show.  This person truly intends to fight for the little guy in the beginning… and then sees what limitless fields of abundance have opened before him.  One imagines that European sailors who discovered flightless, succulent Dodo birds waiting to be slaughtered on South Sea islands must have known the temptation.  If one can ascribe any degree of sincerity to AOC in her first hours of fame, she may fit the profile; but then, she let suspiciously few of those hours pass before starting to live high and wide on her electoral success.  Perhaps she simply doesn’t understand money.  The once lovable Joe Lieberman, on the other hand, has come to understand money all too well.  He’s currently an effective lobbyist for a Communist China openly in pursuit of world domination: a nice guy no more, alas.

Now we do a kind of class/racial/economic pivot.  The third and fourth types enter politics already rich by ordinary standards.  Number Three is conservative in that he (or she) just wants to keep the gravy train rolling: form special ties with legislators, pass special laws to secure his venture’s favored position, perhaps open new markets or create new bureaucratic obstacles that will allow the venture to slip even farther ahead.  The “conservation” apparently enters the equation through the idea of providing jobs, jobs, jobs.  The crushing of potentially competitive start-ups through intrusive legislation and imperial bureaucracy… nah, who needs those jobs?  Nothing much is said by these “conservators”, either, about freedom of speech and assembly, or the right to bear arms, or due process, or abortion… nothing except on such public occasions as require checking the proper box.  Hello, Doug Collins, Lindsey Graham, Tom Tillis, John Cornyn, Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander… and will you join this rogue’s gallery, Kelly Loeffler?

Finally, and most ominously, we have the once-capitalist Croesus who has made so much loot in his day that he can never possibly spend a tenth of it, and who has hence lost interest in growing or even preserving it.  He is jaded with pedestrian luxuries like palatial mansions and armies of servants: he craves some new land to conquer.  The free market now bores him: freedoms of all varieties bore him, inasmuch as they encourage others to hamper his whimsical daydreams.  Perhaps if he could assume utter control over a nation and refashion it in a way that strikes his fancy… perhaps that would be amusing.  Perhaps he could become the God that children and fools used to believe in.  Becoming God… that should be amusing, shouldn’t it?

The paradox that someone so fabulously wealthy should seek political power by populist avenues appears to shock most people—yet such is the well-established pattern.  Donald Trump would probably leap to the popular imagination, with a little nudge from CNN (whose nudges are never little); yet Trump is a weak example, in that his program—to the extent that he has one—emphasizes removing centralized authority from the lives of ordinary citizens.  It’s true that his views have not always shown this inclination, do not always show it now, and indeed show a particularly annoying pliancy toward his daughter and her husband’s games of social engineering.  Still, the superior instances of this type may be found in Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, both of whom have far more wealth than Trump and also far more intrusive designs for reassembling the republic as a well-oiled machine of tiny, obedient cogs.

Is there a fifth species of politico—a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” type who doesn’t sell out his principles within mere weeks or months?  We all dream of that legendary savior… but he truly appears to be no more than a dream.  Even at his best (i.e., as his staunchest supporters imagine him), Donald Trump cannot audition for the role, simply because he lacks the “barefoot and backwoods” origins.  Admit it: the Donald was never really an outsider in the sense of our fathers when they screamed about a hike in property tax.  Democrats no doubt thought that they had found the genuiiiiine proletarian redeemer in Jimmy Carter, and then in Bill Clinton; but the former was a local patrician with a drawl, and the latter closer to what his minions would call “trailer trash” than to anyone who ever paid property tax.

Frankly, Ross Perot would probably have played the desired part better than any of the characters named above—but Perot’s only lasting contribution to the political scene was to clear the way for Clinton’s election.  Still more frankly—brace for devastating frankness!—Richard Nixon rose from humbler roots than any president of the past century, and enriched himself in the office, as well, less than perhaps any of his peers.

Nixon’s example only serves to show how straitjacketed our collective thought has become in such matters by the manipulative media/entertainment/education complex.  Tinkering endlessly with our perception and our memory, it prevents us from staring a stark reality in the face: the fact that we have no good options, now that fear of the Hereafter and a sense of common decency have gone the way of the watch fob.  I think Perot was probably torpedoed by whispered threats that the Public will never be allowed to learn.  (A few of you may recall that he issued cloudy statements about the sabotage of his daughter’s wedding.)  These threats would likely have emanated as much from the Republican establishment (the sanctuary of Number Three politicians) as from Democrats (a rag-tag collection of Numbers One and Two, before our decay birthed Number Four in abundance).  Nixon, too, had a good man in him somewhere… but constant hounding by the media and academe for his role in ferreting out communists during the Fifties grossly warped the man’s moral skeleton.  Good people, in short, don’t survive protracted exposure to our system: they either abandon the ship before she clears the harbor or turn pirate with the rest of the crew.

I don’t know what we do.  There’s almost a kind of tragic inevitability to the downward spiral.  People cannot be happy in this life unless they realize that this life doesn’t—cannot—contain what they need to be fully happy.  As our nation has prospered, its citizens have grown more secular; and as they discover ever more sullenly the absence of real happiness in their abundance, politicians advance ever farther by offering them yet more playthings of this world.  I don’t know what the corrective is for that, other than a plunge off the cliff which doesn’t quite crush everyone at the bottom.  The survivors limp away wiser, and start a new settlement in the chasm… what a hope, as Sir Kenneth Clark would say!

Is it a bad thing for a politician to be wealthy?  Why?  Might not wealth, rather, insulate an office-holder from being corrupted?  Yet how do we ensure that the grandee who can’t even recall the number of zeroes rounding out his net worth will not be corrupted by the far more lethal toxicity of megalomania?

The imposition of term limits wouldn’t hurt.  The one credible path to that end is a Convention of States (and there I find an organization that continues to be worthy of generous donations).  Might we not also be able to require, as part of their licensure, that outlets of news media, both national and local, contribute free time to political candidates?  That, too, is something of a pipe dream, I realize.  In an age when nonstop political advocacy is already masquerading as “straight news”, equality of time would be impossible to determine or enforce.  We’ve already had a glimpse of how that game might be rigged with the Obama era’s “Net neutrality” canard.  And, in any case, how would a candidate reach the stage of qualifying for free time, if not by having previous high visibility in the community?  That means money, unless you’re a high-profile entertainer or athlete.

Which, believe it or not, raises a serious point—and it must be my point of departure for next week, since I’ve run rather long today.

How to Take a Wrong Turn on the Climb to Heaven

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Ever since I passed along to him a short anthology of Near Death Experiences compiled by a practicing physician, my son has sustained a lively exchange with me on the subject.  Being young, he is impressed by such “hard evidence” of life beyond the reality we know.  (Our nation’s school system, from bottom to top, certainly hasn’t given his generation any aesthetic or philosophical inkling of an empirical approach’s inadequacies—so empirical testimony against mere empiricism becomes very powerful.)  Personally, I’m always just a bit leery of the NDE.  It’s not that I’m an incorrigible skeptic.  On the contrary, I’m one of the few people you’re ever likely to know with years of grad-school conditioning in his past who believes that extra-terrestrial life (or its projection through an ingenious fleet of robotic minions) has probably visited our solar system.  I don’t think I’m particularly narrow-minded.

No, the problem I have with the typical NDE is the implications that over-excited chroniclers tend to draw from it.  The surrounding discussion often has the tone of boundless, almost delirious optimism.  “You see?  All is really sweetness and light!  It’s all love—love for everyone!  All is forgiven!  It’s just one great warm embrace!  All is swept up into the… the cosmic All!”  Okay, let’s stop and ponder that.  No justice for mass-murderers like Stalin and Mao (add Hitler if you like… but don’t forget Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and King Herod).  No motive to try harder in this terrestrial existence—to “seek the kingdom”.  No reason why sincere sorrow and repentance are anything but wasted time.  Lighten up!  All you need is love!

In their defense, I will say of most NDE witnesses that their encounter is brief, dazzling, and (by definition) limned by the incomprehensible.  They’re not the ones who seek to graft sweeping metaphysical conclusions onto their out-of-clock-time ecstasy (a word which literally means “standing outside of”).  They were abruptly jolted from their body… and then they found themselves bathed in light and soothed by predeceased friends and family.  As far as I know, most of them haven’t borne back a message about how the universe is put together.  They merely reiterate with John the Gospelist, “True love hath no fear.”

Dr. Eben Alexander’s kerygma from the Beyond is not so modest.  My son forwarded this YouTube link to one of the good doctor’s many public presentations.  Alexander’s case has received special attention, apparently, because 1) he himself was a neurosurgeon who had practiced for two decades when a seizure caused his brain activity to flatline, 2) he was thoroughly agnostic at the time of the incident, and 3) his brain was so very moribund for days that no sort of short-circuiting or “flame-out” could have accounted for his visions.  Clearly, something very extraordinary happened in this man’s return to corporeal life, if not in his hours of unverifiable transit through another life.  He should have been dead—quite dead.  The feeding tubes had actually been removed from his body for days before his recovery.  His revival was miraculous.

And, yes, Eben Alexander experienced virtually all of the classic NDE moments: the dark tunnel (in more static form), the indescribably bright light at its end, an angelic chorus, the warmth and limitless love of innumerable figures… but he claims to have been entrusted with uncharacteristically specific information, besides.  He was told (in a degree of detail that Dante would have envied) that the universe is unfolding according to a great plan—and that this plan involves reincarnation.  We are to return to life in better-informed stages that, collectively, will set our planet—and other planets in other galaxies, eventually—on a hyperbolic path of intersection with heaven.

An unimaginably beautiful woman (who was plainly not some morph of the divorced Mrs. Alexander) was the doctor’s Beatrice during this revelation.  I note in passing that I’ve never read of any other NDE where Miss Universe puts in an appearance and spiritually fondles her visitor.

I’m being a bit facetious now.  It’s a way to send some of my irritation through an escape valve.  In my opinion, Dr. Alexander had a fully legitimate encounter with the unspeakable bliss that awaits us beyond this Vale of Tears… and he proceeded, consciously or otherwise, to finesse some of its contours into a form more marketable than the raw material would have been.  His book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for years.  His speaking honoraria have likely dwarfed his surgeon’s income (which, in itself, constitutes a small miracle).  He has chatted intimately with Oprah before a global audience, and he routinely gives presentations even for medical personnel thanks to his lab-coat cred.  I gather that he is involved in some sort of cutting-edge tech company that aspires to point the medical-scientific community’s nose more directly into metaphysics (or its ears: the technology has to do with harmonious sounds and healing).  Life has become pretty good for Eben Alexander—and, of course, I mean life on “this side”.

How many of these dark terrestrial tunnels would be beaming with warm gold-and-silver light at the end if Alexander’s testimony had remained (as NDE’s usually do) within confines of direct personal experience, without the peek at a cosmic playbook?  Wouldn’t that more typical result have smacked of… well, Christian orthodoxy?  Didn’t the “reincarnation” message sweeten it sufficiently that Oprah would line up to drink the Kool-aid?

On the one hand, I fear that my response may be too caustic.  After all, Alexander’s narrative is not so very far off the track of other NDE’s.  Maybe he just misspoke at key points, or maybe I have misinterpreted something he said.  I myself believe that the afterlife must surely be an occasion for “linking up” with innumerable other souls—for begging and granting pardons, for getting the whole story of what happened, for healing and growing strong as something yet more magnificent emerges.  Perhaps the abuse of the word “reincarnation” was this man’s clumsy metaphor for a reality whose approach to God is so near, and so ever-more-near, that only the notion of an utterly regenerated body in an entirely different life can convey the thrill.

And yet, that higher, deeper life cannot be entirely different.  This life matters.  Morally—spiritually—it must matter.  What we do is what we are: it is the “here” from which we must depart to reach “there”.  It’s not a prison, or need not be.  God’s will is not that we suffocate forever within the folly of the narrow walls we build around ourselves.  In the recognition of our folly, however, lies the key to the gate.  We cannot become better than our fleshly form—that temporary cast in which we have so distorted God’s image—if we turn out never to have existed physically, in the first place.  Our human individuality must not become an irrelevancy.

Such cancellation of our individual worth as creatures is where I see Eben Alexander wandering dangerously off the track.  He sings off-key.  His hymn sounds to my ear like secular progressivism with a mystical tingle in the background.  The confessional note—the admission of past error that signals true growth, and also the joy of dissolving another’s guilt over injuries done—isn’t audible.  Instead, we are ushered into a no-fault vision of things getting better and better and better… things on this earth, since reincarnation is the engine driving the ascent.  Alexander even offers the Gnostic heresy’s hint that souls are reincarnated as justification of his thesis, and he tosses in the rumors of Christ’s day equating John the Baptist with the resuscitated prophet Elijah.  A proper Christian faith, apparently, ought to become more Hindu.

The first time I encountered this infatuation of the theoretical scientist with the most ancient religions on earth was, I suppose, in Carl Sagan.  It probably goes back much farther.  Its pedigree, at any rate, must surely transmit a load of progressivist DNA through every branch of the family tree.  The better here-and-now’s the thing—not heaven, not metaphysical bliss: no, bring it down here, and put us now on a path to reach it!  That’s a slightly more spiritual version of launching the Starship Enterprise (but not really—just more spiritually adorned).

You see, Dr. Alexander, our world is not getting better and better in any way that I can discern.  It may be getting worse and worse… but I’m willing to attribute such pessimism to the filter of my own rather depressive predisposition.  It’s certainly not sprouting wings as more enlightened individuals return in new bodies—and, by the way, utterly purged of their former individuality.  You say, Dr. Alexander, that many very curious cases of ESP involve children who recollect images or events from previous times and far-flung places.  Yes, those interest me, as well.  But wherein do you find evidence that these children a) preserve the character of Captain MacKay who died on the field of Culloden or, more importantly, b) display any moral awareness beyond their years?  What are you thinking, man?  What world are you living in right now, as you bow to your applause and shake Oprah’s hand?

Do you consider that you yourself have become a better man than before, though you have failed to learn—Other World Journey notwithstanding—the moral necessity of individual coherence?  Say you’re indeed better; but you are still Eben Alexander, are you not? So may we expect the better Eben within minutes of your eventual death, as your soul flutters into a newborn? Right now, then—message and all—you’re just the old, inferior Eben… have I got that correct? Or have you been permitted to transport certain revelations despite your lack of corporeal upgrade? I like much of what you propose.  I, too, love the idea of using sound to access a clearer, cleaner state of consciousness; I’ve long suspected in my own life that our urban environment damages our minds with its sheer cacophony.  But… but Doctor, why must you insist that Beatrice bestowed upon you the secrets of this healing power so that we might go forth and Conquer the World for Goodness?

Oh, how I dread that formula, in all of its versions!  World conquest—and always, always for “goodness”!  Millions of hearts have coddled it, if their tongues have not exactly expressed it… and not all of those hearts, by any means, were bad ones from the outset.  Yet none was ever made better after nursing such a spiritual virus.  This world is imperfectable: at best, we hold our own against sin.  True hope lies elsewhere.

Perhaps I’m especially distressed by Dr. Alexander’s video because I have just published The Eternal Moment: Seeking Divine Presence in the Present on Amazon.  You can read there at much greater length of my concern over “future-worship”, our time’s dominant form of idolatry, if you’re interested.  I urgently suggest that you get interested.  Beware of “ascending” staircases whose bottom step rests upon today’s earth and whose top step merely reaches tomorrow’s earth, or the next day’s.  Such climbs tend to go steeply downward, from heaven’s perspective.