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MOMENT OF TRUTH

Posted by Alexander Jerri

 If You Don't Have Anything Nice To Say, Don't Expect Me To Say It For You

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

A lot people I know have been looking at me the last couple days as if to say, "You lucky so-and-so. We've got all these hot takes and jokes in our heads about shooting Republicans, but you actually have a public forum where you can speak yours out loud. We have to keep ours bottled up like an explosive turd pounding insistently at our sphincter. Oh what sweet relief you must feel to let it all out. You must be the only healthy person in the USA right now."

But, look, I do have a sense of the boundaries of good taste. I don't respect them, but I know where they are. I don't respect them because, deep down, I don't understand their purpose. But I know where they are.

And I would never advocate violence. When I say, "Looks like it might be time to roll out the tumbrels and guillotine," I always make sure to put in that conditional "might." Because I'm never sure about the use of violence, unless you're protecting yourself or your family. And yes, one could say violence against the GOP-majority congress is justifiable as a defense of one's family, particularly if one's family likes to drink water or breathe air or eat food or receive medical care, or if perhaps one's family member is a refugee, maybe a Christian refugee at risk of getting sent back to, say, Iraq. One could say violence in that case was defense of one's family, but not me. I could only say that it might be.

I could say, thank goodness the only one killed in the attack on the GOP baseball practice was the shooter. Everyone else escaped with injuries. I understand that, right now, Scalise is in critical condition with internal bleeding and injuries to several organs, but otherwise, no harm, no foul. The shooter made his point and suffered the fatal consequences. And, come on, they're just bullets. Fifty-cent's taken nine of them, and he went on to become a very successful businessman, so lift yourselves up by your bootstraps, whiners!

I could say that, but I won't, because it's insensitive. Like I won't say, "It's too bad Scalise wasn't swinging an automatic rifle in the on-deck circle instead of a bat, because then maybe this wouldn't have happened." You know, the way NRA-supporting Republicans always suggest teachers carry firearms after a psychopath massacres a roomful of schoolchildren. I mean, when you're on deck, you're not going to hit a ball or anything, so you really could swing a powerful firearm just to limber up. If we as Americans were really serious about protecting our national pastime and the cruel rightwing legislators who pass their time playing it, we might think about it.

But regardless of its logistical pragmatism, I wouldn't suggest such a thing. Because I know where the foul lines are. I certainly hope Scalise can recover, the way Gabby Giffords has from the gunshot to the head she received after, but not because, Sarah Palin published a map putting rifle-sight crosshairs over photos of certain politicians, including Giffords, while often saying in public it was time to "lock and load." Nevertheless she did not inspire the shooter of Gabby Giffords, a crazy man who had no clear political viewpoint, according to a fact-checker at the Washington Post. And indeed, what clear political viewpoint would inspire a person to shoot and kill six people who were merely lined up to meet the Congresswoman, including a 9-year-old girl? Who needs to defend their family from a nine-year-old girl, even if one knew for sure she's grow up to be the next Adolf Hitler? There's no evidence the shooter knew any such thing, nor that he came here from the future to prevent World War Three, although the Washington Post fact- checker is suspiciously silent in this regard.

But I would never say any of that. In fact, to get a good idea of the kind of person I am, you should just pretend you haven't heard anything up to this point.

All the worst people in the USA are pointing to this shooting as evidence of the violent nature of the left. People like Alex Jones and his colleague at Infowars, Paul Joseph Watson, who tweets: "Trump-hating leftist Bernie voter attempts to massacre Republicans." This is the same outlet that calls the Sandy Hook massacre a false-flag hoax. So they can clearly tell a true-flag non-hoax when it suits their political purposes. And since their rhetoric could be seen as inciting violence against the left by rightwing Trump voters, who are clearly more of a threat to civic peace than any Bernie supporter, perhaps we on the left should look to our own pre-emptive self-defense, which I would never, ever advocate without a conditional "perhaps."

By tweeting "Trump-hating leftist Bernie voter attempts to massacre Republicans," Mr. Watson is implying that we on the left couldn't massacre Republican fish in a barrel if we felt like it. Oh yeah? Just a month and a half ago last year, Dionisio Garza III went on a shooting spree during which he fired 212 rounds, injuring two cops and igniting a gas station before a SWAT team killed him. Garza was a far-rightwing Trump supporter who hated Jews, gays, and Muslims. But do you see me comparing his shooting ability unfavorably to our leftwing maniac, saying, "I mean, come, on, 212 rounds and all he does is wing a couple of cops? What kind of second-rate losers are these rightwing maniacs? I'll tell you what, if I'm going to defend my family from legislation I disagree with, I'm going to get myself a crazy white guy obsessed with Gabby Giffords but with no clear political viewpoint, cuz at least they have a proven track record of being able to kill people."

You wouldn't see me tweet that because I wouldn't. First of all, it's more than 140 characters. And it makes no sense. If I were going to defend my family against legislation by hiring a hit man, it would be a real sniper like the Jackal in Day of the Jackal, not some flailing immature lunatic with a Gabby Giffords obsession, of all things. Also, I just don't tweet stuff like that. I keep that kind of thing to myself. Because I know where the boundaries of good taste are. And though I don't respect them, I sure don't like being scolded for crossing them, so I make sure never to get caught.

So, no, I won't defend this mentally ill Bernie supporter's attempted massacre of Republicans, and not just because he failed so miserably. I'm sure we've all had a good laugh at the GOP Congressmen who have canceled their town halls or held secret ones or snuck around and hid in fear from their constituents. Well, they don't look so foolish now, do they? Granted, they weren't hiding because they were afraid of getting shot at. They were just afraid of being asked difficult questions about taking away people's health insurance, afraid of being lectured by angry husbands and wives and mothers and fathers, and then looking like the speechless yet unrepentant villains they are when someone at the town hall would post a video of the incident on YouTube.

But now they can be afraid of something besides public humiliation at being called out for greed and mendacity. This is very good for GOP Representatives. Their cowardice is not comical anymore. If the horribly violent left is responsible, then the GOP should be thanking us for turning them from objects of mockery to figures of possible martyrdom. And what is as noble as to be a martyr for the cause of keeping big insurance companies rich by denying health services to sick people?

And, you know, it might be a good thing for the members of the Worst Congress in US history to fear the people, even if they only fear the craziest of people. They are in fact supposed to be answerable to the people. And so far the only people they've been answerable to are Grover Norquist and the Koch Brothers. Obviously, some legislators are willing to sell their shame and honor for money. But are they willing to sell their safety? So, yes, it might be a good thing for our elected representatives to fear us. Might. It might. If I didn't say "might," that would be wrong. "Might" makes right. Makes it all right.

I don't advocate violence. Period. Please don't go out and shoot people. Wait for them to come to you – just kidding! I'm with Bernie. He said he denounces this despicable act in the strongest possible terms. I wish he'd actually used the strongest possible terms to denounce it, instead of just saying he denounces it in the strongest possible terms. But maybe he couldn't come up with the strongest possible terms, and figured we could fill in the blank with our own. He's letting us think for ourselves. I like that.

Obviously we all knew it was only a matter of time before a crazy person from the left did something like the crazy people from the right have been doing. Mental illness doesn't respect ideological boundaries. It might know where they are, but it doesn't respect them. It might favor one side slightly over the other. But mental illness cannot be harnessed for progressive purposes, nor can violence caused by mental illness. So even if we all kind of sympathize with the idea of massacring those whose corruption and immorality lead them to disdain the wellbeing of the people, sell out the republic, and seek only to enrich the already wealthy, we know that fantasizing about something doesn't mean you would ever actually do it. It might, but it probably doesn't.

The desirability and efficacy of violent resistance is an issue we on the left consider very seriously, as we always have and will continue to do. And each act of violent resistance will have to be judged on its merits. The baseball practice shooting doesn't rise to the level of violent resistance. It's a tragedy. This is why we will be discussing it as a mental health failure and a gun-availability failure and a white entitlement and toxic masculinity issue. Because we know where the boundaries of serious discussion are, and we also know who's positioned themselves outside those boundaries.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

 Our Story, So Far

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

The reason I can't have nice things is that I will waste all my time watching TV on one of those nice things. This was proven to me once again while I was house/cat-sitting for some friends. Through exertion of will-power, expected neither by me nor anyone else, I actually did accomplish a great many things besides consuming motion picture entertainment. I did it by mostly watching particular movies one at a time, movies that I had a reason to watch, more specific than merely to have colors and sounds dancing for me in the room. I was selective, for the most part. And I avoided binging any series. I almost binged one, but an accident of fate spared me.

Trying to find something worth watching, I remembered someone mentioning they enjoyed an aspect of "Big Little Lies," the HBO limited series about a half-dozen women living in luxury but having all kinds of problems. And there was a murder, but the police couldn't seem to get to the bottom of it. It was a seven-episode series. I watched what I thought were the first three episodes and found it well-acted and somewhat intriguing. These women, though they were living in Malibu or Santa Monica or Santa Barbara or the Palisades, had problems just like the rest of us, serious and sad problems, problems that drove wedges between them or created bonds of confidence. Friendships, even.

The third episode was a relief because we found out which little boy had been assaulting Laura Dern's little girl, and it thankfully it wasn't the little boy we liked, whose mother was really too poor to live in the school district but wanted her kid to have the same chance as these over-privileged but really beautiful and winning Stepford children. Also, the sick wife-beating thread came to a head. The wife left her spouse, a separation it seemed was going to be a difficult thing to accomplish, and I was looking forward to all the tactics she would have to employ to keep her needy, violent husband at bay.

At least, until very near the ending. Then I realized I had watched the seventh episode instead of the third. But to be honest, it hardly mattered, except that it saved me four hours. Of what? Character and plot development? Those actresses were so good, I didn't really need anymore character work, and whatever fleshing-out the plot could've received was clearly unnecessary. The writers could have put the seventh episode third and gone on from there, and had a very interesting show.

I want to say that, if you can put the final episode of a seven-episode series right after the second episode without the viewer being at all confused, maybe you've done something wrong. But I can't say that. Perhaps the actions of Nicole Kidman and Zoe Kravitz would have carried more emotional power with all that rich, creamy filling piled up behind them. Or maybe the misdirects would have been amusing. Or the emotional ups and downs and the unlikelihood of alliances made and broken. I honestly don't think I could have handled four additional hours of Reese Witherspoon's husband being insecure, though.

If only we could skip episodes of the Donald Dump drama the way I skipped the Big Little Lies filler. Now that we're used to the constant barrage of buffoonery and outrages, now that it's become the accepted narrative style of the day, we all know where this is heading. His wife is going to murder him and their youngest child, then put her own head in the oven. After that comes a King Lear-style battle over what remains. Ivanka and Jared are the strongest contenders, an Edmund and Goneril or Edmund and Regan power couple, but more like two Ladies Macbeth joined in a bloodthirsty union.

The children and other apparatchiks are minor players, though, and they will eventually winnow their numbers away. They'll exhaust their money and energy and political capital fighting each other, and that's when Bannon will step in.

Bannon's a wild card. He clearly doesn't belong among the others, he's an outsider.

Bannon was living in his mother, Sycorax's, basement, or what he called his "control center," a dozen TVs linked together, old Dell CPUS, everything stacked up and duct- taped on those tin shelves people give away at the end of garage sales. His dead mother still sits taxidermied in an easy chair in front of the TV upstairs.

Bannon was so excited when he got the call, he didn't even take time to do laundry or bathe or shave and he still hasn't. The helicopter landed in the middle of the street and he shoved whatever wrinkled clothing was nearest to him into a gunnysack and ran out to it. He was a collector of gunnysacks and barrel staves and dog skeletons. He still gets off by watching his boa constrictor eat live Guinea pigs. Other than that he lurks in his office adjoining the Oval one.

He used to get his news from Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh, then put his own rightwing spin on it and peddle it as his own. Now he lies on an army cot looking at the ceiling, drinking bourbon and branch water, eating Dominos Pizza and small amounts of arsenic to build up a tolerance, listening to recordings of G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary from their debate tour.

Bannon, like the rest of us, wishes to skip to the last episode, when Dump has been dead for over a year and the children have openly turned on each other, each with a private army and bumbling assassins always getting thwarted by their own clumsiness. Bannon pictures himself picking through the rubble of the executive branch, finding the orb and scepter, sitting himself on Dump's solid gold toilet, draped in a terry cloth bathrobe blotched with orange pepperoni-grease stains, issuing edicts. He sometimes sees himself standing over Melania's corpse, laughing at it. He's always resented her conditions that he never speak to her or exhale anywhere near her. He's bitter about all of it. He's bitter over having been treated like the trash he is. He's as bitter as Richard Nixon but without even the reasons to feel good about himself.

Of course, after the Dump offspring have exhausted themselves, after all the minor Dump loyalists have been taken out by Russian hit men, after Pence's grandiose and convoluted plan to have himself crowned King of the Jews in Jerusalem has backfired hideously, after Jeff Sessions has been brutally stomped to death by a cabal of black Secret Service agents, Bannon's final foe will be Reince Priebus.

It is Priebus's dream to one day look in the mirror and see someone else there. Anyone. But failing that, he'd like to be the power behind the throne, he's that kind of snake in the grass. Who will be his pawn, his puppet president? Bannon is his own man, for better or worse, and like the lawyer who represents himself having a fool for a client, the Igor who attempts to be his own Doctor Frankenstein will end up a medical atrocity at his own hand. But, also like Frankenstein's creature, even with a leaky liver and other internal putrescence, some malformations of stitched-together death and corruption can persist out of sheer spite.

Priebus has enough spite to meet that challenge, though. He's not spiteful about anything in particular, he's just got a resentful personality. Most of all, he resents other people not having to walk around with the name Reinhold Richard "Reince" Preibus. He resents bearing a sickly resemblance to Howard Cosell. His lip curls in a snotty vindictive sneer, simply out of habit. The great unknown for us is, whom will he chose as his champion? Who will be the Shabbetia Zvi to Priebus's Nathan of Gaza, the face and fist of power, while Priebus himself lurks behind the scenes, slandering and shanking and poisoning all who oppose him?

Perhaps it will be a character we haven't met yet. That would be the smart play. That way you couldn't just skip to the end, you'd at least have to find the episode where that character was introduced. This is why reality is more interesting, if slower moving, than entertainment. And remember, there's always a chance that a charismatic socialist will show up and flip the majority in Congress, appearing out of nowhere like Zoe Kravitz. We simply don't know.

It's exhausting, waiting for things to happen. We must remain vigilant, however, and force ourselves at least to bear witness to the nation's self-destruction. The story arc is long, I know. The advantage to that is, there's plenty of time to make yourself dinner and a strong drink or many and not worry that you'll miss something meaningful. It'll all transpire in the fullness of time.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Krauthammer and Sickle

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Fox News Channel chattering skull Charles Krauthammer is off the chain and skating on the slippery slope toward socialism.

Back when we were hunting and gathering in small tribes, we didn't have much, but what we had we shared. We never let anyone go hungry or homeless who was in the tribe. And you had to do something pretty severe to get kicked out. It wasn't until we had a large surplus that we began starving people. Now, it could be said that these people we've been starving since we developed the ability not to starve anyone aren't members of our tribe. However, ethically, we've come to the conclusion that all people are human beings and worthy of every chance to live. Of course there's a sizeable minority of racist, nationalist, and religious fanatics who think anyone not like them should die. But for the most part, humanity is leaning toward including all of humanity and even some other beings in the "in" group.

And yet somehow, we're starving people. We're allowing people to go without medical treatment for permanently damaging or even fatal ailments. We're shortchanging them on education. We're shortchanging them on opportunity.

Just to review: when we barely had enough, we shared. Now that we have way more than enough, we allow a few a-holes to hoard a ridiculous surplus that could save lives.

We are slaves. If that offends anyone because it trivializes actual slavery, I'm sorry, but I don't mean this metaphorically. In the future, should we be fortunate enough to have one, people will wonder how we could stand it, having the basic necessities of survival denied us, held hostage, only provided to us on condition of our servitude. Obviously there are other ways to look at our condition, but when a small handful of idiotically privileged people skate merrily about in solid gold ice rinks or sip heroin tea in which they've poached the last embryonic platypus while toxically polluting more land than all the farmers in the world could farm, land that could be filtering pollution and hosting herds of cool megafauna, while the vast majority of people are either forced to work at unfulfilling, monotonous, spirit-killing, or even dangerous jobs, or to beg, or to pick weeds out of the desert gravel in order not to starve – what do you call that? You call that freedom?

There's this idea that if you create the basis for a money-making organization, you deserve all the millions you can legally milk from it if you should be so lucky that it makes millions. That's a sucker's idea. It only works for a few people, and those few people are just lucky, not better than the rest of us. And there's not so little to go around that we have to let the lucky few have so much and not force them to share it, if they won't do so on their own.

There's an obnoxious belief that in order to keep humanity progressing, creating, inventing, and devising ways to get more value out of the environment for less human input of energy, we have to incentivize activities by offering astronomical rewards. A corollary to that is that in order to keep people contributing to the upkeep of the public sphere we have to incentivize healing, teaching, cleaning, food preparation, and various infrastructure maintenance by threatening people with hunger, homelessness, and pain and death through medical neglect. This is barbaric.

But the majority of people believe these lies. We are slaves to these false propositions.

Here's an example of mental slavery: in the California legislature, they're trying to ban drug companies giving gifts to doctors. Studies have shown that doctors prescribe name- brand drugs over generics more often when bribed, or excuse me, given gifts, by drug company reps. Now, there's actually a faction in the legislature arguing that bribery is a necessary part of the pharmaceutical/medical relationship. How else are drug companies going to coax doctors to over-prescribe their expensive drugs? By sending them information about how good the drugs are? Don't be ridiculous.

What if the overriding socio-economic proposition were that, yes, there are things that need doing, and the vast majority of people would gladly take a few hours out of each day to do what needs doing if the rest of their time were their own to enjoy the richness of the world and the ways humanity can enhance it?

Not eight hours. That's too many. That's too many to be cleaning someone else's home. That's too many to be flipping someone's burgers, if burger-flipping is even something that needs to be done.

I'm not saying all rewards for all work need to be equal. I'm saying all rewards need to be rewarding and reasonable. What Bill Gates has is way out of line with what he's provided, and judiciously copying and buying up other people's software should not entitle him to push his and Eli Broad's charter school agenda. I don't even know what Eli Broad does. I like his museum. But I could live without it if it meant that we put a higher priority on public education. I can't really afford to take advantage of his wing of the Disney music center, so I wouldn't miss that. I don't even know what goes on there.

What a nurse does is superhuman. She should have some say in how education is funded and organized, but she's too busy sleeping off her 16-hour shift and the constant stress of repressing her desire for a few hours to play mediocre violin for her own damn enjoyment. Yet we find nothing easier than to justify this tragic arrangement and all its ramifications.

Resentment over things that can't be helped is the problem of the person with the resentment. But to resent a man stealing food from poor kids because he wants another house in the Swiss Alps is reasonable. Yet we contrive to see all resentment as the same, because we're slaves.

Charles Krauthammer says we're going to have single-payer health care within the next seven years. Charles Krauthammer is not a socialist. He's actually a bit of a fascist. He's a Fox News Channel talking head. Krauthammer is also his stripper name. He looks just like you'd imagine a Charles Krauthammer would look, except he dyes his hair and eyebrows black. I'm not convinced his hair is real, either. Imagine a vampire whose decomposition due to exposure to sunlight has been arrested just at the point where his jowls and eyelids are melting.

Why does such a capitalist tool predict we're going to have single-payer? He says it's because, although Obamacare has failed on every level (his words), the discussion has become about denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and other unfair insurance practices, and now the public will never go back to a free-market system. So, I'll answer for him, because I don't think he really knows why he made his prediction. It's because the illogic of trying to keep rewarding capitalists for holding health care hostage is becoming unwieldy even for his mind, a mind otherwise synched up precisely to the slave-masters' minds. Even Charles Krauthammer understands on some level that to discriminate against poor people by denying them medical treatment is unreasonable. It doesn't look good. It's become too difficult to justify. It's not a good look for a nation calling itself a democracy. And maintaining a system where capitalists make tons of money from medical skill and problems has become too expensive and inefficient, not to mention its toll on the image of the USA. It's an embarrassment and it's unsustainable.

We're slaves because we work. I know a lot of people who love their jobs. But we work whether we love our jobs or not. So we're slaves. We are physically enslaved.

We're also slaves because we are mentally incapable of breaking out of the mindset that we need the jobs the über-capitalist provides. We're slaves to the mindset that we can incentivize altruistic behavior with selfish rewards. We're slaves to the mindset that there's a capitalist answer to non-capitalist questions, like how do we provide healthcare for everyone in the nation? We're slaves to the idea that nobody will do anything unless there's a ghastly threat or an obscene reward at the end of it. And we're slaves to the idea that, once someone has secured the legal right to control a resource, to wrest that control away from that person is somehow immoral.

We at one time freed ourselves from the delusion that kings were given their position by God's decree. We've replaced the divine right of kings with the divine right of the motivated, clever, industrious individual. I don't care how smart, beautiful, clever, focused, brilliant, athletically adept or energetic you are. If people are starving and you have billions, you are nothing but a pharaoh. And if we can provide a decent standard of living for all people, and opportunity for all people to contribute with their true gifts, you're being a dick.

If Charles Krauthammer can break the bonds that imprisoned his soul, so can we. This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

 The Moral Bankruptcy of Nations

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Adam Smith didn't invent capitalism. I know this, not because I've read The Wealth of Nations, but because I had PJ O'Rourke read it to me. And I fell asleep. A lot. Because PJ's voice, while very like the punctuated drone of a band saw suffering sporadic power outages in a thunderstorm, cloaked me in its jaggedness, like thunder in a thunderstorm, and soothed me just because I knew it was there, like a stern God, whether I was paying attention or not.

Scottish philosophers fall into two camps: those who shag sheep, and those who don't. Adam Smith was by all accounts a non-sheep-shagging Scotsman. It doesn't seem like he shagged anything or anybody. No judgment there. If I were a homosexual Scottish philosopher in the 18th Century I would probably keep it to myself, or even keep it from myself. I'm not saying Smith was gay, I'm saying if I were a gay 18th-century Scottish philosopher, I mean, if I were in his shoes – those shiny black slippers with the silver buckles and those saucy white knee-socks – I wouldn't confront my sexuality at all. I'd just hang out with my mother a lot.

Mr. Smith had a utopian project: to examine a world in which a great deal was cruel and wrong and describe it as a world in which everything was on course to be as it should. Smith did not invent capitalism, but rather described an ideal version of it. That's my take-away, and remember, I'm notorious for maliciously misunderstanding the work of those of superior mentality, which includes everyone of any consequence. This essay will be no exception. It's already too late for this essay to be an exception.

In the century before Smith wrote his magnum opus, Rene Descartes, a fancy-pants Frenchman who wore big shirt-collars that extended down to his tits, took on the project of doubting everything. I judge Descartes harshly on one point, and that is when he abdicated his doubt for an invented God. He didn't invent God, he just used an old one someone else had invented to bridge the gap between godless mystery and the fact that existence itself exists. He was so close to discovering the meaninglessness of existence, but just as he was about to dig it up, he put the shovel down and said, "Well, somebody made all this dirt I'm digging around in. Let's just leave it at that."

A similar abdication is where I judge Smith (as if I have any business judging so superior a mind, but these are the licentious times we live in). Smith was friends with David Hume, who abdicated nothing. I don't say this because Hume was an atheist, but because when he found he couldn't connect the dots from his thought process to some kind of final certainty, he didn't say, "Well, there's probably a line that goes from here to here, let's draw it in non-photo blue pencil for now." Hume was a plump man who liked to dress up and pose for portraits. Smith was skinny and didn't like to pose for portraits. Again, no judgment there.

Where Smith needs to be judged, especially in the light of all that has happened since 1776, when An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was published, is where his thinking becomes magical. His thinking is anything but magical as he describes the ideal conditions under which small clumps of self-interested actors create wealth out of less valuable raw materials and vie to provide goods to a fragmented but interconnected public market, and how such a system would supplant the mercantilism of his time. He seems real good at that. Prophetic, even.

The magical thinking part comes in his idea that somehow, through each actor in the drama seeking only selfish gain (under a just government, which is in turn supported in its justness by the population's steadily growing wealth), a kind of equilibrium of wealth distribution would be achieved, as the economy steadily expanded. 242 years later, which is ample time to test any theory, we've yet to see a just government appear, let alone steadily growing wealth enjoyed by all self-interested agents. If you don't think poor people have enough self-interest, you haven't been around poor people.

It's appealing to imagine that, solely by trying to better your own lot, or that of your immediate family, or that of your company, you are somehow making everything better for everyone. It turns out, it's good to intend to help people. Altruism, generosity, empathetic behavior – these are necessary parts of the equation, if equation is even the word. They are necessary ingredients for a society in which ripping people off isn't the dominant activity. Theoretically, at any rate.

Very often – I would suggest, the majority of the time – in order to do good, to help others, you have to set out to do good, and keep it in mind as your goal. Selfishness is the easy part. We are organisms and seek to persist in this world, and the easier we can make it for ourselves, the better. That's kind of our default setting. Codifying selfishness as our primary way of managing material resources was probably overkill.

It's like an alcoholic telling himself, "Drinking is good. It helps me get the important stuff done. As long as I keep my alcohol level up, I'll be kind to children, I'll create beauty, I'll ennoble humanity." No you won't, drunk guy. Eventually everything that stands between you and the bottle is going to go by the wayside. The rest of us non-drunk people will have to take care of the mess you leave in your wake.

Capitalism is an alcoholic civilization dominated by smaller alcoholic systems, each of them trying to stay drunk enough to operate, sometimes raiding each other's liquor cabinets, sometimes hoarding booze out of fear of running out someday. And any goal outside the pursuit and consumption of alcohol is considered an irrelevant distraction at best, at worst an obstacle to be violently dealt with.

Smith posited a capitalism cooperating with a just state. If your utopian system can only exist within a just state, it's fair to accuse you of making a circular argument. Anyone can invent a utopia with a pre-existing utopia watching over it. Smith had other conditions under which this delicate ideal capitalism would work, such as transparent availability of information and limits on one party's ability to dominate a market, but the main one was that self-interest would stop at the invisible boundary between minding one's private business and the desire to coerce the state. Once self-interest is unleashed, it turns out 242 years later, those boundaries that don't serve the self-interest of capitalists have all but dissolved.

How would Smith have gone about weaving altruism and social welfare more assertively into his formula? As we know, when we try to do good, especially on a larger, collective scale, we often initiate unintended consequences that aren't so good. But it's become rather clear that the accumulation of control over resources dominates our collective will now, and is standing in the way of efforts to save the species from catastrophe. Allowing those who've accumulated control of the most resources to seize control of our collective agenda has put our individual and collective survival in jeopardy in ways too numerous to list.

Adam Smith really wanted things to work out much better than they have. Sadly, in many ways, he ended up giving philosophical permission for us to excuse our worst instincts and behavior.

True, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but the road to Heaven is definitely not paved with bad ones.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Deranged Behavior

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Our definition of mental illness is broadening every day even as its subdivisions divide into ever finer specificities. That's great, because we're all crazy now, and we can each identify our particular mental deformity. But we also have more accurate ways to describe the mental deformities of others. We don't like insanity. And we don't tolerate evidence of it. We don't tolerate people who evince insanity – it's fine to be crazy, just don't act crazy. I understand why. We're trying to create a rational civil society. But I think all this emphasis on sane behavior is making us crazy.

A couple of friends of mine were telling me about the book they're writing for a musical. I was pleasantly surprised by its operatic, melodramatic, Shakespearean or Jacobean themes: murder, rape, incest, betrayal, mutilation, seduction, revenge – reminiscent of palace intrigue – the kind of plot elements many people who hate Game of Thrones complain about. Yet Game of Thrones is an extremely popular fantasy. Dostoyevsky's novels were often occupied with such elements of high melodramatic tragedy as well. The more compelling work of Dickens divulged weird family secrets, and relied on cruelty of a type modern audiences consider the stuff of either fantastic tales or stories set in the developing world.

Take, for instance, the movie Lion, about an impoverished family whose child disappears and is raised by a family in New Zealand. The emotional second half, dominated by Dev Patel's performance of self-discovery, search for his original family, torment on their behalf as he ponders their torment, and shrieking in his hapless girlfriend's face, dramatizes the abject emotional upheaval within privileged civil society when it feels invaded by the kind of suffering it considers unthinkable. The only thing believable about Patel's performance of distress is the feeling it evokes in the audience of being subjected to the polemic of a socially-conscious activist about the injustices inflicted by the imperial West upon the rest of the world. We see his foaming at the mouth and misdirected anger as juvenile, the way we think of many of those we might deride as "social justice warriors."

We stigmatize sexual relationship infidelity, certain types of passion, anger, vengeful scheming, secret addictions, as "drama." "I don't need any drama in my life," we sane people say. And if we're keeping our shit together, we feel we have a legitimate complaint if our lives are infiltrated by someone with "issues." I think on some level we associate such "issues" with poverty. Those of us struggling to maintain a home, a job, a family, or even simply a middle-class-seeming existence, don't like detecting cracks in our vessel into which the stink of failure might leak. And drama is the first sign of our material becoming compromised.

There is certain drama that is not openly stigmatized: medical misfortunes, primarily. A major illness or accident in a family is tragic. We empathize with the struggle. If we're not Republicans in our hearts, we don't think less of a family who suffers such a tragedy. We do, however, expect them to conduct themselves with dignity, and to avoid becoming impoverished by the tragedy. Should they lose their home, we might wonder what they'd done to bring such misfortune upon themselves. Why weren't they better prepared? There are thousands of anecdotes about people losing all their friends when their economic status declines.

And that's just when we detect drama we excuse as psychologically unavoidable. Any tragedy one might attribute to psychological weakness – sexual indiscretions, relationship failures, violence, sneakily undermining someone professionally and being found out, addictions – these are almost by default considered to have been brought upon those involved in the drama through their own psychological or even intellectual weakness.

And when I say "we" I mean "we." Because many of us know we ought to sympathize and many of us try hard to sympathize and many of us commit to sympathetic actions. But the culture tells us something else, and we are fighting that, I believe, whether we're aware of it or not.

Think how "normal" or naturalist a story like "Terms of Endearment" seems, as opposed to "Blue Velvet." The stylistic differences, I would argue, are dictated by the presumed attitude of the audience, the civilized audience, the normal audience. Who are we? Are we normal? Are we neutral? Do we have an excess of tragedy in our lives, enough to bring down social judgment upon us? Have we suffered so much that we're damaged? Do we inhabit a world parts of which are squalid enough to be in a David Lynch movie? Or are we living up to the expectations of a sober patriarch, or a surrogate patriarch like Judd Hirsch?

In the palace intrigues when we were poisoning each other and having sex with our widowed sisters-in-law, we had an outlet for our creepiest desires. Did those desires go away? Or are we putting them somewhere else?

Have we offshored them to the developing world? Is that the arena where our suppressed unhealthy desires emerge?

Artists have ways of channeling the demons which build up in them when they're oppressed by expectations of normalcy. So do social rebels. There are social niches in which "drama" is considered part of the normal. There's a price to be paid, though, and that is any expectation of security. Poverty is the expected outcome, unless you're the fortunate black sheep of a rich family.

Those few with surplus wealth can make drama seem attractive, sometimes, but today we see the short life of Lisa Left-Eye Lopez as tainted by a "ghetto" lack of self-control, and the death of Heath Ledger as potentially creepy, though probably just an accident – but possibly due to a lack of self-control.

The separation between contemporary civilization and tragedy is odd, considering the level of moral development at which our species seems stuck. We certainly haven't come anywhere close to achieving a level of civilization in which suffering has been eradicated, or can usually be avoided. We treat people terribly. We enslave them. We indenture them. We imprison them. We torture and kill them. Most of that we do in other countries.

And life ends, for all of us. That's tragic. That's universal. What the hell is wrong with us? Why do we put people in such untenable situations, and why are we such hard-asses toward people with problems?

 Remember in Ordinary People, how one really wealthy family's personal tragedy tore it apart, mostly because Mary Tyler Moore was frigid, I think? Somebody had to be the fall guy for that tragedy. Of course it was the emotionally weak, unstable woman, who was also somehow emotionally stifled. The surviving son's distress was completely understandable, as Judd Hirsch told him during their therapy sessions. The unrealistically skinny father was just bewildered – what am I supposed to do with all the unshackled emotions of my wife and my son flying back and forth around me?

Now imagine if Dennis Hopper inhaling some mind-altering gas had entered the picture. Imagine the movie it would have become. Imagine the filth beneath the otherwise civilized surface. Imagine spotting a severed ear on a nicely manicured lawn.

We like gossip. But we don't like to think of ourselves as worthy of really juicy gossip, do we? Our lives are qualitatively different from those of a family so poor their underage children have to migrate to do menial labor in order that they might eat. Any suggestion we might be connected to such a circumstance is grounds for a crazy scenery-chewing tantrum in which we act out our perturbations on our significant other. How can I be that? How can that touch me? How can my life, which I've gone to such pains to make impervious to the vicissitudes of poverty, have sprung such an unpardonable, embarrassing leak? And who can I blame besides myself?

What our current political situation reminds us is that the entire world is vulnerable. And we hate vulnerability. We hate it and mock it and delight in it as entertainment when we see it in others. And we hate ourselves when it's exposed in us. It's why we hate the sick and the old and the poor and the suffering. They remind us of what we have to fear.

Hating oneself for what will inevitably befall us all is sick. We are a society of sick people, lashing out like Dev Patel at revelations we hardly realize are about ourselves. We barely have the tools for such recognition. I'm sure if the tools were introduced to us we would hate them as well.

An instinctive understanding that tragedy is a typical part of everyone's life seems outside the capabilities of even many people prepared to sympathize with the suffering of others. Those who are not so prepared are even worse off. And it seems like unsympathetic people are ascendant at the moment. So a sick society is growing sicker, led by the sick. This is the fruit of our self-deception, and if even the best of us seem barely capable of awakening to the universality of despair, what hope is there for those of us less- exceptional people to guide our collective efforts toward a better course than the one we currently travel? Are we destined to fail? Haven't we failed over and over, throughout history? We know the future can be different. The future is an opportunity for difference. It hasn't happened yet, so anything is possible. But we can only get to the future through the present. Can we really get somewhere better from here?

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

 Lungs

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Don't cook if you can't cook without filling the apartment with choking smoke. What are you doing, burning oil with hot chili flakes in it? I'm gagging over here. I can't inhale without coughing.

It's your sausages. I don't think you know what you're doing with those. They're raw, you should steam them first. Then you wouldn't have to char them beyond recognition like a dog found after a house fire.

I think you punched a whole in our house's lung. Do you hear that whistling? No, that's not me. I don't know what it is. It started as you were cremating your dinner.

Lungs are so over. Lungs are finished, lungs are done. I sent mine on the road to perdition when I swept up some kind of cinderblock dust that had accumulated since the 1950s on a concrete floor in a toxic back room of the type connected to so many "garden" apartments in Wicker Park. "Garden Apartment" is the ghastly sardonic moniker, or "sardoniker," for a basement with little windows above head-height providing insufficient light or ventilation for terrestrial life forms to thrive. People who live in them go blind, all pigment drains from their skin, and they walk on the ceiling, having no reference for what is up and what is down.

The chamber filled with a fog of chalk particulate, and I inhaled it for an hour, hacking up cakey phlegm for another four hours afterward. I was also a pack-a-day smoker, back in the days when even a part-time ESL teacher could afford a pack a day.

Every time you cook, my lungs fill with fluid, and it takes days of hacking for me to breathe without a coughing fit. I'm underwater, here. I can't breathe underwater. I can't breathe water. My pipes are not adapted to it. I'm not a bearded fountain seamonster. But you are turning me into one with your mustard gas cuisine.

We're burning everything. Plastic, coal, mercury, all kinds of viscous syrups, French- toast-scented sickly-sweet wet garbage. One day soon the entire planet will be smoke. We'll be indistinguishable from the atmosphere. All will be languid formlessness. We'll hover without boundaries, black ghosts on black vapor strata.

We're burning glass, or just blowing glass dust into the air. We're burning water. We're burning chlorine. We have men strapped into harnesses, marching armies of men, roaring motors on their backs spewing clouds of carbon monoxide and half-combusted kerosene, blowing rubber powder and foot dirt and granulated animal excrement into our mouths and noses. Asbestos fibers and lint settle in the bottom of our lungs, cottony and damp and sopping up blood from our bleeding bronchia.

I'm a fish flopping on the dock. I'm trash as the compactor closes in, compressing me into a cube, and then I'm conveyed to the incinerator, incinerated, more smoke and powder. My destiny is not to live, but to die. But does it have to be so uncomfortable? Do I have to breathe in the smoke of crackling human flesh even as I die slowly over the next thirty years?

We're all burning. Whomever the market cannot bear: the farmers, the craftspeople, the non-mechanical unemployed sentient apes, the students hungry for useless knowledge advertized as social advantage, the old, the poor, the useless armies of overstock, stalking in the stockyards, the way-stations, packed into cattle cars, or just burn them where they stand, why bother shipping them, with all that paperwork?

Too many people useless to the owning class, those arbiters of resource usage. Where will the resources be disbursed? Not into the open, demanding mouths of our 6 billion prisoners, but to fleets of nanobots, flying in murmurations passing through one another on their way to dig a saltwater swimming pool for the Chief Operations Officer.

Clouds of microscopic robots will descend on starving populations, munching them up with mandibles of buckminster carbon, grinding them into pulp and slurry, and the river of their morbid tar will burn, smelling like roast meat. Smoking like your death sausages, choking the air, while the best and brightest move from biosphere two-twenty-three to biosphere two-twenty-four in their flying mini-biospheres.

Cushions of magnetism blanket the world in layers, for the blissfully meditating planners and schemers to float upon in the sweet silent solitude of their biospheres. Nothing ever bumps or jostles, the fields are softly, invisibly repellent. Contact is prevented to parabolic limits of the infinitesimal. They will never touch. Why should they? They bathe in psychological nutrition. They hang in amniotic sacs, nurturing their self-actualizing capability, contemplating their navels piped umbilically to and from the phallic mother and the breastfeeding father.

While outside their incubators of comfort, we burn. We burn our food, our homes, our waste, our decorations, our identification cards, our defecation cartons, our hair, our skin, our bones, and all reminders that there was once a wilderness from which we could scrape a dusty existence.

And in the black void of space, we, formless, will float as clouds upon clouds, dark matter, unseen by any being or any device or any poem or any god or any thought. And we'll drift, without the integrity of limits, without the coherence of things or ideas, without anyone knowing we were ever there, least of all ourselves.

There's not enough rain in this world to clean the smoke out of the air. In Delhi they had to shut the city down because of firecrackers. And now the entire subcontinent is drying to a crisp.

Sausages aren't good for you. You need to take better care of yourself. You're building up fat and carbon in your body, and you're making me choke. Thanks a lot for killing us both with your sausages.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

 

White is Black, Up is Down

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

What could be better than a white guy discussing black female identity? Well, if the white guy is THIS white guy, there's nothing better. It's gonna be the most entertaining act of hubris you've ever been treated to. Tell all your black female friends!

Look, I don't know anything about what it's like to be a black woman, except what my black woman friends tell me, and unless they're lying, they're always having a wonderful time! Who would you rather be, Serena Williams, who won a tennis championship while pregnant, or Paul Prudhomme, who is dead from being really fat? Who would you rather be: Beyonce, or that Nazi who got sucker-punched on camera while explaining the significance of Pepe the Frog? I think we can all understand why Rachel Dolezal, the crazy white woman who fooled the Spokane NAACP into thinking she was black for years, chose to identify as a black woman rather than as Dom DeLouise or Gilbert Godfried or Bill O'Reilly.

I bring up the strange case of Rachel Dolezal in response to a recent article in the Seattle alternative weekly, The Stranger, by Ijeoma Oluo. Oluo is a feminist journalist who lives in Seattle and has published widely. She's also a black woman. You'd think she'd be the perfect candidate to interrogate Dolezal's pretensions. And she was!

I'm going to try to sum up Oluo's article briefly. Rachel Dolezal is the worst possible white person to claim she gets to decide whether or not she's black. She first became enamored of blackness by looking at pictures in National Geographic, while her brother was taking a break from using them to masturbate.

Dolezal, embarrassingly outed as white on television, has no shame whatsoever. She's in fact very prickly toward those who question her about anything. I guess you never get used to people treating you like a psychotic liar, even after you've been exposed as one in the most public way possible. Dolezal, instead of resigning herself to the fact that her public performance as a black woman is over, has doubled-down, renaming herself Nkechi Amare Diallo. Nkechi happens to be Oluo's sister's first name. Now it's personal. I mean, even more personal.

Oluo approaches Dolezal as if the latter were a childish poseur, very much as I thought of a couple I once read about who claim to be living a life of Victorian simplicity in their contemporary suburban home. Throughout the article, Oluo dissects Dolezal's self- satisfied elisions of difficult questions. Doesn't Dolezal get that most of the world she casually encounters on the street treat her as white, because there is nothing black about her? Isn't she advantaged by her white privilege in a thousand ways every minute of every day she's relatively anonymous in public? Dolezal either doesn't like to entertain questions like these, or else she's sick of them. Regardless, Dolezal's behavior is easy to mock. She comes off as an idiot without an iota of self-awareness. Not only that, she has a chip on her shoulder about being called on the carpet for her idiocy.

When I first heard about Dolezal, and learned she was in a high position in the Spokane, WA NAACP, I thought, Well, so what? If she's prepared to endure the social and economic discrimination most black women do, what's the harm? Isn't this similar to men who identify as women? Isn't it her choice to identify culturally as whatever she pleases?

It turns out such questions are beside the point. Or rather, they're not specific enough. Through the process of picking apart specifics of Dolezal's experience, Oluo reveals a supremely clownish figure who can't even answer the most basic questions her potentially challenging stance raises.

But what if Dolezal weren't such a twit? What if she looked more like a black woman, and also was prepared to discuss difficult issues of racism in a self-implicating manner? Would that make any difference? Probably! It wouldn't necessarily make her any less annoying to black people, least of all to black women, but at least it would be interesting.

That Dolezal's situation is more annoyance than controversy might be the most damning aspect of her performance. A man I know who identifies as a woman has a million thought-provoking things to say about it. Rachel Dolezal has none. It doesn't even seem like she wants anyone to sympathize with her as someone out of the ordinary. She just wants people to accept her as black even though she clearly isn't, and can't even give a persuasive explanation about why she wants to be black. She loves black people, but not enough to care what their opinions are about her strangely colorless performance of blackness.

There doesn't seem to be anything about Dolezal's performance or her justifications for it that isn't racist. It's almost as if the shallowest, most centrist liberal decided to put on blackface and dance around, and then explained to all the people she'd pissed off, "Hey, I'm a good person just expressing myself and sharing in the oppression of a group I admire cuz they're so inspiring. Give me some fried chicken."

Again, what if there were a white woman posing as a black woman, prepared to answer Oluo's tough questions in a thoughtful, satisfying manner? What could Dolezal say that wouldn't add insult to annoyance? "All the people who've ever inspired me are black. A black woman saved my life when I was six. I lived in Nigeria for 20 years, and the Yoruba adopted me as one of their own. I speak six languages indigenous to the African continent. People mistake me for Ethiopian all the time, so I just decided to go with it."

The thing is, such a person would have developed too much respect for black people to ever presume to pretend she was one.

Race is a social construct, yes, but it's a social construct built on physical differentiation. A culture in which white people hold the reins of power decided a long time ago that people with particular attributes, genetic and/or phenotypic, were to be stigmatized in such a way as to justify exploiting them, as though they didn't merit the rights of full human beings, and that stigma persists. Membership in a racially oppressed minority isn't something a member of the oppressing group, whether they identify as an oppressor or not, can simply choose. Blackness isn't a metaphor for femininity or for another nationality. Blackness is its own thing. Those stigmatized by it against their will aren't playing a game.

A man might become a woman, not because he admires women, but because he really feels like a woman. Gender identification is closely linked with sexuality, which is utterly personal. Even were there a man who identified as a woman, whom no one on Earth accepted as a woman, which would be tragic, that person's personal experience would come first. I've seen how men who present unconvincingly as women are treated, and they're not taking an easy route. But when Dolezal presents unconvincingly as black, she just gets mistaken for a white person, with all the privileges accrued to such status. And further, she refuses to acknowledge or address that blithe privilege.

In the end, we need to take such questions of identification, stigma and oppression on a case by case basis. The case of Dolezal has been something black people have given way more consideration than necessary. If you annoy the entire membership of the community you claim to be a part of, but you don't annoy yourself, or even understand the community's annoyance, or even try to understand it, maybe you're not actually a member. The final analysis: Dolezal's not a black woman, she' a jerk. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but it does seem as though, in this case, they are.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

F For Fake

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

I'm Brad Pitt – if he'd've kept it real. This is what he would've looked like, like a little round furry bald-headed Jewish guy. Is this what you want?

You want it real? You think "real" is so great?

You want the unvarnished truth? You don't want that. You can't handle the unvarnished truth. You know why they varnish the truth? Cuz without varnish it looks like shit.

"Keep it real" means, "keep doing the same dumb stuff you and your friends have been doing forever that keeps you from improving your lives." When a junkie gets clean, the rest of the junkies who are still shooting up go, " He didn't keep it real."

What is reality? The Existentialists, Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus and those guys, they said, "Let's take a good look at reality. Strip away all the fantasy, the gods, the invented things like money and laws and some jury-rigged 'purpose' to life. Strip it all down, down to the bones, like a gut rehab. What do you have? Bare timbers. Just two-by- fours and a plywood sub-floor and some pipes and junction boxes and wires. It's crap. It's gonna take work."

You're not born into a fully built residence. You construct that. Before you do, you're just hunk of mortadella in a crib. Just a loaf of meat and bones, wiggling around, taking in light and sound and smells, a barrage of chaotic sensations. It's utter unvarnished nonsense. You pick out what to pay attention to. You create a coherent world and a coherent self.

And a lot of people are incompetent at that. Some people's identities are so poorly slapped together that they fall apart at the first contradiction. They go crazy. So if you have a coherent world and self, thank your lucky stars you're such a good fabulist. Be grateful you're a good storyteller. Because it's all a made-up story. It's all fake, and god bless it.

 All we are is dust in the wind. You might be, say, a pediatrician, and help sick children, but in less than two or three generations, everything you've done will have turned to dust. And in the long run, we'll all be swallowed by the sun. That's reality, no matter what story you tell yourselves. Sorry to break it to you like this. All your suffering and joy, it's like grasping the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.

Life's a game. All the world's a stage. It's a tale told by an idiot! A fuckin idiot!

Many belief systems actually take this into account. Some believe there's a oneness at the beginning that decides, just for fun, to fragment itself into planets and stars and oceans and rocks and plants and creatures and people. But we're it. We're all one, pretending not to know we're all one, putting ourselves in these situations, these relationships, when really, we're not separate at all. Life's a story we're playing out. It's drama. We agreed to play out our separate roles in a game we made up called "existence." We're quite good at this game, at this art, at this pantomime, this fabulism.

So don't talk to me about keeping it real. Because real is the ultimate lie. It's the lie at the core of everything. This is why we have a sense of humor. So we don't get all bent out of shape all the time. Fundamentalists, they don't have a sense of humor. They're dicks.

You know who keeps it real? Suicide bombers. Oh, there's a lot of bad stuff you can say about suicide bombers. They're assholes. They're fanatics. But you can't doubt their commitment. "Oh, that martyr? Who went into that crowded marketplace, screamed 'Allahu Akbar' and exploded? What a phony." "He blew himself and all those people on that bus to smithereens, but he was just phoning it in."

We have this fetish about authenticity, but let's face it: we're simulating. And that's the good news. The good news is, all these battling factions, Da-esh, Republicans, brutal cops, CIA torturers, they're masks. They're shadow puppets. A moving paper fantasy.

Oh, yeah, when you're getting tortured or killed, it's very real. Because you're stuck in this body. Torturers know how to keep it real. I know whereof I speak. My grandfather drilled our teeth without Novocain. He knew kids were afraid of injections, and he thought the needle would make us afraid of him. So instead he drilled our teeth with no anesthetic. He had two drills: the hot drill and the cold drill. He wasn't a dentist, by the way, he was just a sadistic old man.

No, he was a dentist. Faked ya out.

Oh, this world is full of misery. Children dying horrible deaths before they have a chance to live, animals being tortured, girls trafficked in a global rape industry, because that's what it is. It's not sex trafficking, it's rape trafficking.

Yeah. Ya happy now? That feel good? A dose of reality? Have you ever read Primo Levi? He was a prisoner in Auschwitz. I've read quite a bit of his work, and let me tell you something: even people in those horrible situations, they don't think about how miserable they are all the time. The human mind dissociates itself from horror in order not to shatter. Or, it shatters. Either way, it's escaping reality.

Even if you say, therapeutically speaking, "I must confront the traumas of my past in order to stop being tormented by them," you're actually saying, "I need to free myself from what happened then, so I can open myself to a new narrative, a better story. Those events happened, but they're making me tell a story about myself and the world I don't like, a story I can't live with."

If there were a solid, immutable reality, we could never be free. We could never see beyond our despair. We have to be able to do that. Because into each life some despair must fall, and fall hard and feel damn real.

But we can gut the place and put a new floor in and drywall it up and paint it happy colors. It's hard work. You can't just paint the old rotten wood. And you might have to redo the wiring or the pipes. And you can't just paint bare studs and varnish bare joists, you gotta do a good job. Some people think they can just throw on a new coat of paint and that's all there is to it.

You gotta put sweat equity in. You can't just accept the reality in front of you. How are you gonna create yourself a better future? Cuz that's what the future's for. That's what imagination is for. The future has to start somewhere. It starts with invention. Making shit up. Some of it you gotta leave up to chance, make it up as you go along. Fake it till you make it. Keep it unreal.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Objectionable Objectivism

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

I'm reading the biography of one of the most famous surfers of all time. I'm going to be cryptic about his identity, for no reason in particular. He was nicknamed "Da Cat," among other things, including "a-hole." He's dead now of pancreatic cancer. The cause of his death probably had little to do with how he lived his life. He used a lot of lotion, even on his pancreas.

The biography opens with three quotations, only one of which did Da Cat employ habitually: "I do not recognize anyone's right to pilfer one minute of my life, nor to any achievement of mine, no matter who makes the claim, how large their number, or how great their need." That's from Ayn Rand's classic hunk of airport toilet paper, The Fountainhead.

Allow me to share with you my feelings about Ayn Rand. She was a pig, and I'm not referring to her appearance. It could be said, however, that she resembled what one could imagine Howard Cosell might look like after a six-month juice fast and a hanging. Among her sycophantic followers there were several who had sexual intercourse with her, and many others who wished to. If there were a sex act that could justifiably be abolished by law, it would be any type of intimate congress with Rand. I wouldn't schtup her with Ann Coulter's wang, but that's beside the point. She was a repulsive thinker and a lousy writer. And I say this as someone who forgives a great deal of lousy writing and lousy thinking, some of it even by authors other than myself.

Rand was such a lousy, doggedly crappy writer, that the fact the quotation in question is not from an essay but rather from the mouth of one of her characters makes no difference. Howard Roarke, the incendiary architect played in the slightly less crappy movie by Gary Cooper, is the mouthpiece for Rand, uncleverly designed to represent as well as spout her idiotic, self-serving philosophy of Objectivism.

I will now maliciously misrepresent Rand's philosophy. After all, whether she recognized my right to pilfer it for these purposes or not, the fact is, in a very real sense, cosmic and fundamental, I have that right, whether she choses to recognize it or not. That she didn't recognize it is simple proof, cosmic and fundamental, of the weakness of her ideas. What a dumbbell.

Objectivism is the notion that the world is made up of objects which belong to whoever finds them first, and its first and most important postulate, from which the entire cascade of bullshit tumbles, is, "Finders keepers, losers weepers." "Find" is a term of art, or part of the rarified jargon of Objectivism, and can mean to discover, to purchase, to invent, to secure the legal means to profit from, or to pilfer.

"But wait a second," you might rightly object. "If Objectivism doesn't recognize the right to pilfer, how can it begin with a statement supporting the ownership rights of the pilferer?" And well you might object to this Objectivist contradiction. It's one of the things that makes Objectivism so objectionable. The answer is even more so: although the world is full of nothing but objects, there is one subject: Rand herself. Everyone else is just a thing.

You see how jerky this so-called philosophy is? I believe the clinical term for someone who views the world this way is "narcissist." The political term in the United States is "Republican."

"I do not recognize anyone's right to pilfer one minute of my life, nor to any achievement of mine, no matter who makes the claim, how large their number, or how great their need." Oh, okay, well, nobody has the right to pilfer things. Pilfering is against the law. It's also contrary to one of the Judeo-Christian commandments. So, y'know, what you're suggesting is hardly revolutionary, in any case. Especially in a capitalist wonderland.

Getting back to our surfer, Da Cat, he was known for using people, and for knocking them out of his way when they got between him and a wave. All he cared about was surfing. He was always looking for the perfect wave. He traveled the world looking for it. He had a grandiose idea of the connectedness of all life on Earth via the ocean, and felt one with this ecology when riding the waves. He resented any time he wasn't surfing, and thought nothing of stealing from his friends or anyone else in order to fund his pursuit.

He hated what people called "work." And he resented the encroachment of other surfers and surf-enthusiasts who began to proliferate on the beach at Malibu with the advent of the movie "Gidget." He hated the commercialization of surfing. He hated surf music. He stole jewelry from Dick Dale, whose recording of Miserlou started the surf guitar craze. He positioned himself philosophically as a lone rebel against the civilization that made all these sacrilegious offenses possible, to justify his doing whatever he deemed necessary to maintain his freedom from the bondage of labor.

Of course it has occurred to me that he's a lot like me, at least in his aggressive laziness. And quoting as he did from The Fountainhead, I have begun to wonder if there isn't something Randian about my own way of being.

I have come to the conclusion that, no, there isn't. Let me explain:

I don't believe that people are objects among which I am the only legitimate sentient creature, or that my needs come first regardless of anyone else's condition. To be fair to Da Cat, he was a lot more of a humanist that Rand. And a lot more of a transcendentalist. And I believe I'm more like him in that way. Were I better looking and great at something I might have turned out like Da Cat, but thankfully I have been spared those socially marketable virtues.

I don't hold my principled laziness up as something to which only I am entitled. Slowly, lethargically, I commence my founding of the Socialist Leisure Party, with the intention of spreading abundant opportunities for blissful laziness equally among all those in the world who would care to indulge in them. From each according to her inertia to each according to her torpor.

The sickening thing about Rand's pathology dressed up as a philosophy is that it doesn't acknowledge the contributions of all of humanity, and in fact all of existence, toward her so-called "minutes of life" and "achievements." They are not, in fact, hers, and it was only by diligent denial of her surroundings, spatial and temporal, that she could arrogate to herself ownership of anything at all. It is an illusion that we "own" things, that our time belongs to us, that we are the sole agents in determining our destiny or even narrating our memories. We are connected by history and destiny to everything in the world, to some things more than others, but with particular affinity to other people, who resemble us in their desires, needs, triumphs and tragedies.

The Randian delusion has infected our economic and political discourse, and in fact our entire national epistemology, to our detriment. From behind whatever label it advertises itself, be it capitalism, neo-liberalism, austerity, property, individualism, nationalism, ethnic supremacy, tribalism, Washington consensus, vanguardism, or the American way, its limits are limiting our ability to solve our direst problems, and its fallacies are dividing us for its own survival. Yes, an opportunistic idea has evolved opportunistic survival strategies, its main one being to paint all competing ideas as delusional.

This is why every truly progressive policy sounds impossible right now. And yet the contradictions in the Randian-infected status quo are forcing the impossible into the discussion. I would urge everyone to continue their delusional behavior. Keep demanding free universal health care. Keep demanding a universal basic income. Keep demanding an Economic Bill of Rights. Keep demanding we set aside half the Earth for nature, E. O. Wilson. Keep demanding equality. Keep demanding peace.

The dominance of Randian-infected individualism has become such a lesion on society that, rather than such ideas falling further out of fashion than they were in, say, the 1980s, they have swollen with a vengeance. The tighter the grasp the proponents of inequality have on our society, the less likely these ideas would be to emerge, one would think. But because of the constriction caused by the tightening grasp, and the demonstrable inefficacy of what currently falls within the frame of the possible, the only persuasive remedies come from nowhere else but the realm of the impossible.

I embrace the impossible. I foresee a future without the threat of starvation and homelessness keeping the workforce in line. I foresee a future without a workforce. I foresee an economy that acknowledges the inherent generosity and playfulness of the human mind and spirit, able to rely on those things to keep it going, rather than enforcing first and foremost the Randian right of the elite individual to guard his property.

My flag is the hammock.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!