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MOMENT OF TRUTH

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!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Dateline Pas Ris

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

If I remember correctly (but to be honest it really doesn't matter if I do), according to the great author François Rabelais, Paris was founded when a mischievous giant urinated on a village of people who had irked him. They became known as the village that had been peed on, and would greet visitors from outside with the plea, "pas ris" – don't laugh. Never mind that the normal grammatical construction is "ris pas" – I come by this information via Rabelais, who was nothing if not a faithful historian.

"Don't laugh at us" implore the Parisians. I'm still trying to figure out if it's possible to comply. As a guest in this burg, I have no wish to offend my hosts. But they are quite risible at times. Donc, je pense que pour éviter de rire n'sera pas possible.

But if I weren't laughing, I'd be crying. See, no one here seems to believe that Marine le Pen has a chance of becoming the next leader of France, which, should it happen, I feel would lead to the kind of emboldening of violent rightwing behavior we've been seeing in the US. We talk about the Trump surprise, and the Brexit surprise, and they're aware of the "sensible" population's failure to predict those two recent political disasters, but at all the bars and cafes in the Montreuil and St Blaise, when I talk to working-class drunks or younger, hipper drunks, no one seems to harbor the slightest trepidation.

Which of course terrifies me. But at least I'm not laughing.

Everyone seems ready to admit that the conditions for such a rightwing populist spasm are similar here to those in the US and UK just before the unpleasantness. I don't even have to bring it up. Bien sur, they say. The socialist party is no longer socialist here, and hasn't been for the longest time, just as the Democratic party in the USA hasn't been much of a champion of the demos, nor has the UK's Labor party been much of a force for labor.

And if there's no polite, progressive way to express that Muslim immigrants might be a problem, the left do not hesitate to attempt it. In this neighborhood, where the workers are still cursing the bosses as vehemently as in the old days, and have no trouble pointing out the financial class's culpability in their economic troubles, and Muslims, especially those from North Africa, are well-integrated as fellow drinkers and fellow workers, there's still talk of a "problem." And of course, having suffered attacks from fanatical Islamic groups, there's definitely some type of problem. There's what they call "the suburbs" with their antagonisms. And there's concern that maybe there are too many Muslims in France who don't embrace the French values of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood, and the peculiar yin and yang of iconoclasm and tradition that permeates the post-revolutionary society.

Nevertheless, the Parisians aren't fearful. You can't spend your time worrying about terrorism when there's wine to be drunk and conversations to be had. If there's anything like really nasty rightwing xenophobia, it's coming from outside the working, drinking, and hipstering communities of bonhommes et bonne femmes.

This is the knotty puzzle, at least for the French of the Republican philosophical persuasion. Is a society based on "liberty" able to maintain its commitment to liberty when it believes that a large amount of its citizens are so different that they don't understand liberty in an understandable sense? Is only French liberty "liberty?" And where some Islamic sects might proscribe certain freedoms the French consider self-evidently inviolable, is it not a violation of liberty for the government to try to prohibit religious expressions of, say, modesty? Or is a government ban of the burka a defense of liberty French-style? And suppose there were a way to communicate the French essence of liberty and a prescription to transform Islamic liberty, if that's what it is, into the French type, would that be a good thing to do?

Or should French liberty expand or complexify to incorporate other types of liberty? Are there other types? How narrow can liberty be defined before it's too proscriptive to be considered liberty anymore? How broad can it become before it devolves into everyone for herself? And what would that look like? Genital mutilation in public? Why would that be my example? Am I intoxicated? Maybe.

Who needs to change, the French? Or the immigrants? And why should the French change when the immigrants can't vote? And if the immigrants can't vote, what do the French have to lose by voting in the Front National?

That's what scares me about the polling. The most rosy poll results are paved with answers from people with good intentions but secret shames.

You can buy a lot of good will as an American here in Paris, when someone asks, "How's Trump?" by dropping your head in misery. Gets laughs. And when it does, I don't say, "don't laugh." Because that would lead to me saying, "Oh, you think it can't happen here? I guess you better laugh while you can."

Of course, no one has talked about building a wall of the Donald Dump variety here. Not since my old friend Rabelais, who insisted that the strongest wall to protect Paris would be made of alternating male and female sex parts, because they possess a great deal of strength in and of themselves, and when joined are the most difficult building blocks to wrest asunder.

Life. Love of life, enjoying life, is another traditional French value. Don't laugh. It might sound facile, but it is a peculiarly French type of appreciation, and it's very contagious. I think it's also a kind of Lebanese and maybe North African type of appreciation, that the different appreciations have melded pretty well. If we can build a wall of that against the hate seemingly rising from every corner of the world, we might have the last laugh.

I'll be able to comment more cogently, I assume, when I'm no longer drinking every day and fighting jetlag.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

The Meat Of The Matter

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

Let's talk about something nice for a change. After all, here we are, broadcasting out of Chicagoland, the land of the City that Works, where the big shoulders are, and all that nice meat. Chicago is the home of Meat Club, a few friends of mine who, with me, back in the day, made a few successful forays into the wide world of meat consumption that is one of the tender pastimes of that jungle of cities. Nothing dystopian about that, eh? Or maybe I'm being ironic. After all, you can't spell meat without "meta."

We in Meat Club had some of the best carnitas available from the Michoacan transplants in Pilsen, and a variety of game meats from Casa Samuel in Little Village. The delicious carne en su jugo could not hide from us in its deep beef broth on the southwest side, long before it became trendy and was then forgotten again. On my own I'd been to all the known Jalisco-style birrierias for their sole product, goat, but we never quite made it to such an establishment as the Club. I'd call that "unfinished business."

Meat. Where there is meat, there is hope. Why do I say that? Why do I risk offending so many vegans, vegetarians, and simply sensible people who know meat is killing our planet, particularly industrial meat-raising? Well, I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to claim to purchase only sustainable, kosher, organic, or heritage meats. In fact I actively despise organic meats, and only eat kosher when it's appropriate to the cuisine. I look for bargains. I'm a man of the people, because I have to work for a living, and I can't be paying quadruple the price for a chicken thigh that doesn't taste any better than one from Frank Purdue.

That is, I'm not in favor of fashionable sustainability. It oppresses poor people. And by "poor people" I mean anyone who's one extra expense away from not being able to pay for their housing, and everyone even worse off from there.

I love that there are organic farmers, and I support them when I can, and even if you're growing boutique mushrooms, I say more power to you. But I don't have the means to support much of that monetarily. There are farmers' markets, and organic farms themselves, intended to supply poor people, the demographic who have the hardest time eating healthily let alone sustainably. There are some right here in Los Angeles selling organic produce grown by poor people in urban gardens. But I will not pay for anything at Whole Foods I can find somewhere else, and most of the time I avoid it like the plague that it is.

I get good cheap chicken at the Bangladeshi butcher. Chickens that were alive earlier that very day! And they're scrawny little things, but they taste better than whatever's in the meat cooler at Ralph's. And if it doesn't taste better, why should I buy it? For the intangible health benefits? Blow me.

I get goat meat there, too. Goats aren't factory farmed. Not enough people eat them, so they just run around like happy goats in a YouTube. Goat is a red meat that has as little fat as chicken. And you can spice them heavy and cook them long and slow.

I'll pay more for imported salamis and such because I don't eat much of it. And I shouldn't. I've seen too many people hurt by over-indulging in preserved meats. That's tangible. Don't do it.

The thing I feel worst about is pigs. They're intelligent, and they live miserable lives in factory farms. I can't afford to buy heritage pork, though I've been served some that's noticeably good. If pork is on sale it means there's a glut of it. I buy stuff on sale. Not just because I'm cheap, but because I need my money so I can do other time-consuming but non-remunerative activities. Get it?

It's easy to find sustainable fish. A little research each month tells me what's on the no-eat list, and what farmed fish is ruining the environment, and which nations are using slave labor to get their catch. Sardines are reliably cheap and sustainable, as are anchovies.

Somehow farmed salmon is okay these days. Not sure how that happened. I'm not buying it till I do more research. Last I checked, salmon farms were harming wild salmon. But a knowledgeable friend told me recently the farmed salmon have been let out of no-eat jail.

Rodents, as far as I'm concerned, are always on the menu. A rabbit? A guinea pig? A Belizian gibnut? You will not convince me to forgo the eating of these critters. Geese. Pigeons. Lizards. Ostriches. Bees. Don't try to take them out of my mouth unless you want to lose a finger.

I have nothing against hunting. I've never hunted as it wasn't part of my upbringing. I'm against sport-hunting as opposed to food hunting, and endangered animals are off the card, but I've killed a few things, and witnessed the killing of many. I hold up my ethnic heritage, with its roots in the Slavic regions, as a major justification for my eating of meat – it's in my blood! But killing is also part of it. I love death. I want death in my life. Things and people are being killed all over the world this very minute. I want to be a part of that, in my small way. I like that the animal died. I even like that plants are killed for my table. I'm a bloodthirsty omnivorous ape. I've eaten fresh blood from a duck killed by Laotians in my friend's garage. You would've too, if you'd given it a chance.

We've all loved creatures who've died. What a mystery, right? Eating that mystery is part of partaking in it. Death is the god of life's way of telling you she doesn't love you anymore. We have learned to deal with the loss of love and the loss of life. This is just another way into that confrontation with death, loss, and ourselves.

Oh, very profound, you might say sarcastically. Well, first of all, screw your sarcasm. It irks me. But you have a point. I admitted I use my ethic background to justify eating animals. And this is another justification. But neither justification is without merit. And right now it's up to me to decide how much merit it possesses.

Maybe one day we as a species will give up killing animals for food. Or maybe we'll give up killing anything at all and just eat what's made available by accidents of fortune. I won't stand in the way of this movement, should it gain critical momentum in my lifetime. But right now, it's anarchy. It's every mouth for herself. I feel lucky when I have food to eat. And I accept with gratitude the things both life and death put on my plate.

We have a long way to go before there's food justice in the world. That is, justice for the hungry, and justice for the food itself. Food justice, just like other justice, is very personal, even while it's currently embroiled in struggle. I respect everyone struggling for food justice, even if you mostly do it by eating tofurkey and Gardenburgers. Well, maybe I don't respect you if that's all you do. And you will have to impress me mightily before I have respect for you as a barbecuer. I don't ask for your agreement. I don't ask for your acquiescence. I don't ask for your forgiveness or forbearance.

I only ask that you don't bother me while I'm eating. This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

 Constant Dystopia

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

When Alfonso Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men came out back in 2006, I hailed the return of the dystopian sci-fi movie. I loved those things back in the late 60s and 70s. Soylent Green, Rollerball, Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, A Clockwork Orange, A Boy and His Dog, from Kubrick to schlock, they were a seductive outlet for adolescent fears of pollution, governmental and corporate control, and nuclear war. So in Christmas of 2006, in the midst of the Bush/Cheney fiasco, I thought to myself, "Man, this is just what we need!"

Little did I know how hot the apocalyptic fantasy rush was going to be. I love lists, but even Rabelais would be daunted by the myriad. The Young Adult dystopian novels, movies and TV series alone multiply each season. Action, horror, comedies, psychological thrillers – every commercial genre has been colonized by camps of bleak futurologies.

I saw Logan, the final installment of the Hugh Jackman as Wolverine series, the other night. Didn't see any of the first however-many. The story is set in 2029. And this is not an anti-utopia per se. This is a Marvel Comics movie. Not that Marvel would be or has been incapable of weaving anti-utopian tales, and the X-men do exist in a world of allegorical ethnic cleansing, but even given that, there were a few almost unnoticeable but nonetheless remarkable passing notes on the way to telling the story. One, I don't even remember what it was – something about pollution, and the audience collectively, unconsciously, went, of course, it's the future, pollution got so bad it did that awful thing, whatever it was.

Okay, but this is twelve years in the future. The story takes place twelve years from now. My point is simply that it's all by-the-way now. You could set a story in next year, have most of the population dead of flesh-eating virus, and an audience would go, Yeah, that's plausible. Nuclear war has wiped out all humans except a handful of cannibal children by June? Could happen. John Cusack and Chiwetel Ejiofor had to save a handful of humans from the Mayan-prophesied end of days? Five years ago? Well, we all had to go sometime.

This trend is not recent enough to blame on the ascension to office of the Creamsicle Raccoon, although a rewatch of any dystopia is most certainly enhanced by it. Reality itself has been thus enhanced. A walk down a city street seems a prelude to Blade Runner. The scenery on a drive through the southwestern United States is a pregnant landscape ready to burst open and disgorge Mad Max: Fury Road's tribal skinheads screaming for blood and glory.

Everything is more. All things are over-fraught. The military is a false promise of economic security for those desperate enough to bargain their lives. The police crush dissent with military body armor and siege equipment, which suits the white supremacists who've made it a point to infiltrate their ranks during the past couple of decades just fine. A bank account is a necessity for a job and shelter, but they can tax you with random fees or simply collapse, burying your money, then re-emerge in another incarnation and demand it again. At any given moment there are a dozen competing versions of the official truth, tailored to entertain and aggravate the fears and prejudices of every demographic.

Layers of invisible owners extract rents from us, draining our communities of political and economic power, gambling with both our savings and our debts and extracting wealth from us every time they roll their dice. Pseudo-scientists dictate the limits of discussions about everything that matters to us, especially our money and the way we spend our time. The global economy is run according to mystical falsehoods meant to re-establish each morning the rights of those with power and wealth to more of it, and to control our bodies, what we put into them, what we do with them, and our minds, and to what uses we put them.

There's also an endlessly various spectacle, a massive arena in which some lucky ones compete to sell their identities for a chance at release from the global labor camp of meaningless toil. Air, water and farmland are being destroyed to an extent causing wars and mass migrations of refugees. And if the world were threatened with destruction should one more puff of carbon monoxide enter the atmosphere, there wouldn't be a damn thing we could do to save it.

We are telling ourselves a dire story these days. Not to say we're imagining everything. All the ills I've listed are true for some group of victims or another, and some of them are true for all of us. And there is no time that's too soon to fight against these immoral, inhuman oppressions. But all narratives are built around stakes. Vital narratives are built around threats to existence. It may be that, like our desire for extreme sour gummy worms, our constant dystopia is a symptom of our ever-increasing appetite for stimulation. Dystopia might be to advanced civilization what emotional drama is to bored high school romantics. It might be the bourgeois comfort of a segment of us shaping narration that lends already miserable circumstances a hue of hubris having pushed beyond the brink of inevitable disaster.

It's partly perversity on our part. It feels good to surrender to the worst possible outcome. Why worry over small details, such as whether we can help the homeless here or there, when, let's face it, we're all screwed?

The story of an irredeemable human project is something I adore. I recently felt completely justified in tweeting, "If water were brown instead of clear, capitalists would sneak in a pound of poop a day for each of us." What kind of way is that to talk about your fellow species members? No one really doubts the speculative truth of my hypothetical, but water isn't brown. Not yet, anyway. So why even bring it up?

Nevertheless, I came out to vote in the off-year election here in Los Angeles. But less than twelve percent of Angelinos joined me. What gives, if not thoughtless fatalism? What gives here, if not the moral license to do nothing? Who gives out these licenses? Is it me? Do I man a window at the DMV of constant dystopia? Me and my so-called Moment of Truth?

Well, excuse me. I have a god-awful work ethic and an all-around lousy attitude. Yet I made a point of learning a few things, finding out which of them weighed more to the good on a binary scale of yes or no, and got up and voted. I mean, Jesus Krauts, WTF? This is what we said we'd do, get involved locally and take back our politics from the ground up, and we can't even get our shit together to vote?

If this is all my fault, I'm sorry. But I have to believe this hopelessness stuff enough to actually create it, all you have to do is suspend your disbelief long enough to consume it. As many times as I've made caustic sardonic offhand comments since the election, I've been reminded by hopeful, constructive people, mainly women, or men I met through hopeful, motivated women, that it's all very esthetically entertaining but the real mission is still to do something, for goodness sakes.

Seems like most of Los Angeles needs to find better people to hang around with. And how has local political engagement been going in the rest of the country, and the rest of the Western World, for that matter? Pretty pathetically.

Let's go! Yeah, we're living in Brave New Clockwork Soylent Hungerball Metropolis 1984, no doubt about it. But damn, people, there's a resistance! Take it seriously! If we can't save the world from the fascists, at least we can get our licks in before the whole shithouse goes up in flames. At least we can win a few good years of public schooling for someone's kids. And, no matter what I or anyone else might tell you, nothing is inevitable. It just feels that way sometimes.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!