Nothing Will Change

author’s original oil painting (from 40 years ago)

Trying to write a commentary this weekend while ignoring next week’s events is like staying mum about the proverbial pachyderm on the divan.  Nevertheless, I don’t think the dawn of November 4 will satisfy our human craving for change.  No, not for any of us.  I don’t intend those words entirely in the sublime sense of Ecclesiastes (viz., “What has been is what will be; there’s nothing new under the sun”).  I mean, as well, that our specific ordeal as hapless citizens of the US in 2020 will drag on.  The forces that have plotted political ambushes and assassinations behind the scenes from within the CIA, the Department of Justice (smirk), and Wall Street will not let anything so banal as a national election decide who assumes the reins of power.  We’ll have enough misery in local, state, and federal courts to last us well into the new year.

So don’t look for shelter, at last, from the directionless, spontaneous, insane whirlwinds of 2020 to appear by Thanksgiving, or even by Christmas.  Don’t suppose that the finish line is just around the next turn.  It isn’t.  La paz empieza nunca, as Emilio Romero wrote shortly after World War II of the fight against creeping totalitarianism: “Peace begins… never.”

When I was concluding Why I’m Not Dead, an account of my recovery from Stage 4 cancer by turning away from mainstream American medicine, I confessed that my experience had shaken me loose from a lot of illusion and fond fantasy.  None of my daydreams has been harder to surrender than the belief that we might actually leave the world a better place for our children.  I chafe every night, as I bare my soul to God, against this sobering admission.  But so it is.  We completed the latter half of the twentieth century without inaugurating another world war or igniting another nuclear weapon over a human target… and what have we got to show for so much “progress”, really?  A general populace so subservient in mind and spirit that the Chinese Communist Party may rule our nation soon without having fired a shot.  We’re already scurrying around in search of “virtue points” even without the presence of eavesdropping cameras in every corner and closet.

My sister continues to believe that Putin pulls our president’s strings (as opposed to Ivanka and Jared), that COVID 19 leaves pericardial muscles permanently damaged, and anything else that her one rag of record tells her.  My former minister was practically executing rhetorical high-fives in this week’s circular because one of her parishioners (an octogenarian with previous conditions, as I recall) was admitted to the ICU with COVID—as if to say, “You see?  I told you all that this was deadly!”  The personnel at the “integrative medicine” clinic where I receive weekly transfusions of Vitamin C continue to mask up religiously, despite mounting evidence that obstructing respiratory passages for hours can be severely harmful.  (Ironically, a superstar in the integrative medicine world, Phoenix’s Colleen Huber, has been permanently banned from Twitter and roundly denounced on the Internet simply for highlighting some of these risks.)

Meanwhile, my son and his peers continue to battle with acute depression in their city’s lockdown, where many of them go the entire day without seeing another human being face to face.  The suicide rate in their demographic has skyrocketed; yet the generation that ought to include their parents (and I write “ought” because we are all parents of the forthcoming generation) utters paranoid whines and whimpers because masks and lockdowns do not straitjacket the whole planet roundabout, 24/7.  Think of it: people whose natural lifespan can scarcely now contain more than a mere decade or two of earthly time fume because the despair-inducing isolation of their children isn’t airtight.

Several governors have announced that large family gatherings over Thanksgiving will be banned in their state.  The presidential candidate who has spent the past half-year cringing in his basement from the “pandemic” incoherently promises to open the nation back up while also promulgating a universal mask mandate.  And the incumbent president, though at last lending an ear to Dr. Scott Atlas, also refuses to distance himself from Dr. Anthony Fauci (who now foresees extending mask- and lockdown-protocols until 2022).

Our news media are going full-throttle into bald-faced, gob-smacking propagandist mode.  “Oh, look: he used income-averaging one year to pay virtually no tax!  Hark ye, one and all!  List, ye people!”  And then, the next day… “No, debunked.  Debunked, do you hear?  ‘The Big Guy’ could be any guy… and why wouldn’t Xi’s minions, Putin’s henchmen, and the ruling-class dregs of Afghanistan and Iran want to pay this nice young man a few measly million for his advice?  What’s the matter with you all?  What has so polluted your souls?  Why are you so cynical and wicked?”

Why?  Because of an infectious disease called thinking, which somehow—incredibly—manages to spread even through the Internet and in other public forums.  “This cannot stand!  Stop the circulation of disruptive ideas!  Fact-checkers, to your posts!  Certified experts, hone ye your excising blades!  Black-splashing redactors, let the ink run like the Nile in spate!  We’ll do the rest.  Wolf is at full-cock.  Jim has girt his loins.  Christiane’s cup of words runneth over.  Brooke’s blinders are cinched tight in battle-mode.  Dana has memorized the interview questions passed along via secure email.  Let’s roll!  Dorsey, Zuckerman, Bezos… just keep further breaches from opening.  We’ll do the rest: we’ll make castles of clouds, tropical resorts of death camps, cordon-bleu cuisine of cow’s dung, sweet camomile of sulfur.  We’ve got this.  We’ve trained for this.  It’s what we do.”

Satire is all that’s left to the seeker of truth who’s determined to honor the principle of free speech.  It would be so easy to cry for the guillotine, to volunteer for journalist firing squads… but this, of course, is the very hell-on-earth vision that cultic ideologues hug to their hearts.  We must somehow not become them.  The energy consumed in mere resistance to such ugly impulses—in clinging to the negative virtue of not acting—leaves one exhausted.  We must find that energy, as our better angels pant and faint.

Yet where does it end, if the lithe-tongued lackeys of totalitarian utopia are not to be jailed or gagged?  “Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes”…. But will they?  Why?  How?  When all men are forced to go masked, and when all speech is passed through filters that catch far more truth than face-diapers catch virons, why should we be confident that the vipers among us will writhe helplessly and wither away once the sun rises? The sun that never sets, yes—the immeasurable truth of eternity, yes… but between now and then? What justice will there be between now and then?

Karl Popper’s Note 27 to the seventeenth chapter of The Open Society and Its Enemies expresses confidence—from the perspective of over half a century ago—that the Press might be made to fulfill its civic duty if elections affected by misinformation were repeated, with the newsrooms and studios responsible for the fraud being made to foot the bill.  How naive that great mind seems now… now that we know just how creative human mendacity can be.  The truth exists.  But does the unnamed “mother of three” interviewed in a high-crime neighborhood represent prevailing opinion?  If it should turn out that she’s the mother of none and has been coached in her views, are those views necessarily wrong?  Or if she’s all that she seems and also accurately projects the neighborhood’s mood, is a mood evidence that the real problem has been grasped?

I don’t see when or how this kind of thing gets better.  The tribes among us will have to wear their masks and feathers until they kill each other off—and perhaps the rest of us with them.  Those entrusted with words so that disputes may be reasonably resolved will continue to overdraw on Reason’s account until its last penny is assumed to be counterfeit.  The wildfire must run its course.  If a few of us find a low, barren place where the flames pass over lightly, then we will indeed have occasion to give thanks.

What a reckoning for the incendiarists, when the stars bend to earth and show them real fire!

Are We Still Willing to Pay the Cost of Free Speech?

It wasn’t my intention to begin any kind of “series”… but I seem to have written a lot lately about the rising challenges of free expression.  People are on edge.  They don’t want to hear what might be taken (or mistaken) for a middle position.  This is probably because giving any ground at all may be seen as bringing one another few feet closer to the abyss, a tactic used by the opposite polarity repeatedly to suck one in and down.  I know the feeling.  I often share it.  I’m seldom in a compromising mood lately.

With that said, I remain nonetheless shocked at just how edgy my fellow citizens sometimes seem to be.  Earlier this week, a reader on Twitter had “liked” one of my comments; and, as I usually do when I have the time, I studied her profile and some of her posts.  She appeared the sort of person with whom I might make common cause.  (Note: I use Twitter to gather news and to seek after an intellectual community; and, yes, I know how naive that sounds: but what other options do we have in our anti-social nation of e-introverts?)  I returned later that evening to “follow” her and a few others who impressed me (as is also my pattern)… only to find that I had been blocked from her account.

Now that was sudden!  I have to conclude that this person imitated me in reviewing a few of my earlier posts—and saw something of which she disapproved.  So she slammed the door permanently to all further communication.  She didn’t respond to whatever objectionable comment I may have made in explanatory disagreement; and she also didn’t choose simply to read my opinions more selectively—none of which would ever be directed to her personally.  She certainly wasn’t censuring me for slinging about foul language or inciting mayhem, because I never do any such thing.  Just an idea… she saw an idea expressed that rubbed her the wrong way, so my voice has been forever silenced in her universe.

This is a small thing—but not, I contend, an insignificant one.  It’s a sign of the times.  Even as NGOs are busily trying to control our thoughts on every subject from the proper moment to mutilate a human fetus to the permitted circumstances for using words like “owner”, private citizens are beginning to behave the same way.  As individuals, we aren’t putting up a principled resistance.  We aren’t protesting, “I will neither be bullied into condoning baby-slaughter nor shamed into trimming my speech of harmless words.  I have inalienable human rights.  You needn’t listen to me, but you can’t cut my throat.”  No; we’re adapting formal airbrushing and permanent ostracism to our personal habits.

Young singles won’t date a person sympathetic with the opposition political party.  Families won’t hear of a child marrying someone once seen in a MAGA hat.  Social-media users won’t allow a person’s post to crawl across their screen ever again once he disapproves of executing Julian Assange or suggests that Putin might be less our cultural enemy than Angela Merkel.  An editorialist’s home may be surrounded by a mob if he argues in print that CO2 is not turning Earth into a death trap.

Disney, Starbuck’s, and Yahoo are not driving us to do these things.  We do them unbidden: we do them because they are our new etiquette.  We are turning into tribalists incapable of understanding the finer points of the First Amendment, or even the crude parameters.
Also on Twitter (what an eye-opening education in twenty-first century manners is that otherwise great sinkhole of wasted time!), I enjoyed this past week my first experience of being “reported”—or my first conscious experience of it.  (Who knows how many times I’ve made the “bad boy” roll without being informed of my achievement?)  I had repeated, with the brevity inescapable on Twitter, a charge about Hillary’s having accepted a fat Russian donation to the Clinton Foundation in return for using her office of Secretary of State to lubricate access to uranium deposits: the so-called Uranium One Scandal.  Turns out that my information was somewhat old and somewhat exaggerated.  The Russian entity actually failed to secure the kind of access which it had assumed would be the quid pro quo.  A message awaited me the next morning.  It simply read, “Reported.”  Reported.  As if to say, “Your action has not passed unnoticed, K.  A date will be set for your trial.”

Now, in the first place, Clinton remains ill-positioned to be mudslinging at Donald Trump because of a hotel in Moscow; that she cheated the devil by using her office to wring money out of crooks who ended up with nothing doesn’t exactly make her the gold standard of probity.  (For the record, I did not vote for either of these two in 2016: those few words alone will earn me a dozen “blocks”.)  I immediately corrected the excesses in my original statement—which did not include, “POS”, “burn in hell”, or anything in that genre.  Doesn’t matter.  Merely for typing the two words “Uranium One” on Twitter, you’re likely to get yourself “reported”.  No response voicing disagreement with referenced link, nothing even so personal as a complete sentence.  Just “reported”.  That passes in our time as a communication between two human beings.

As I say, Twitter has been an education.  I use the past-present tense because I think daily now about severing all ties with it.  I suppose I’ll continue until my first actual suspension; I’m kind of curious to see when that comes—if one idiot’s “report” of one slightly inaccurate (but not fundamentally wrong) news summary will suffice.  A single suspension will terminate my connection.  I’m too old to be nagged by a nanny, and too punctilious about my own conduct (John Cleese would consider me an anal-repressive) to tolerate an arrogant corporation’s moral halter in my mouth.

It’s a shame, though.  You can’t talk to people in the streets.  You can’t talk to your own relatives.  On the job, you risk termination for voicing an honest opinion.  For mainstream publishers, you have to propagandize suitably for your niche of the market.  You might risk talking to the trees… but an old Irish proverb warns, “The walls have ears, and the field has eyes.”