Category: Culture (page 1 of 2)

Yes, I Am a Snob

I was born for this
I was born to hustle roses down the avenues of the dead.
Charles Bukowski, "Consummation of Grief"

A friend of mine sent an article to me today [months ago now], requesting my feedback. He will be getting a link to this blogpost in reciprocation, and I should mention—for his benefit, primarily—that I take his solicitation of my opinion as a sort of backward compliment. It's not my input he wanted, you see. Not in the least. Rather, I suspect I stand accused of cultural snobbishness. I am supposed to see something of myself in Jonathan Jones, the maligned Guardian writer this piece from the Paris Review takes to task for delighting in the ebullient flexing of his own literary sphincter, employed in an attempt to filter out the noise of "middlebrow" culture misconstrued as genius.

I have not read the offending Jones piece, nor do I care to (this should strike you as "ironic" in a short while and, hopefully, in the spirit of the current fracas). My comments will focus only on the meta-commentary that my friend lobbed like a grenade into my inbox today. In it, Dan Piepenbring mourns Jones's hit piece on Terry Pratchett, in which the latter op-ed scribe bemoans the exaltation of Pratchett as a "literary genius". I've never read Discworld myself, Pratchett's famous and popular science fiction series; neither has Jones, which, Piepenbring says, makes Jones's a purely rhetorical, rather than reasoned, screed. Piepenbring illustrates the phenomenon with this incisive diagnosis of the exhibited cultural malady:

Granted, there’s nothing quiet about Jones’s not-reading. Not all of us, thankfully, have the gall to write a piece blasting our favorite not-reads, but all of us harbor, somewhere, a list of those toward which we feel an inexplicable animus. At the top of my list, ironically enough, is Charles Bukowski, who Jones singles out as “a voice from hell with the talent of an angel.” I have for many years now actively enjoyed not reading Charles Bukowski. I want to say with conviction that Bukowski is not so much a voice from hell as a voice from Hell-Lite™, a kind of flimsy, adolescent imitation of true misanthropy—but I have no evidence to furnish in my case against him. How could I? I’ve never read him. All I know is that I’ve listened to a tepid Modest Mouse song about him; I have spoken to a stranger at a bar who told me she’d “snort his words off the page,” if she could; and I’ve sneered at the cover of Ham on Rye in a Park Slope Barnes and Noble. If you asked me to mount a cogent defense of my antipathy, I’d have to say something pretentious like “I find his role in the culture banal.”

Leaving aside the fact that Piepenbring is undoubtedly right, and wrong, about Charles Bukowski, his comments are spot on, and hardly limited to literature. In the spirit of openness, therefore, here is a short list of selected popular media I will (probably) not consume, for my own irrational and elitist reasons.

  • Neil Gaiman
  • David Foster Wallace
    • Disclosure: I think I may have read "Consider the Lobster", and liked it.
  • The Harry Potter series of books
  • Ernest Hemingway (DGAF)
    • Disclosure: I read "Hills Like White Elephants" and enjoyed it also.
  • Mad Men
  • Jacques Lacan (I'm pretty sure about this one)
  • Jonathan Franzen
  • Marvel Universe
  • Selected Joss Whedon (minus Firefly)
  • Jack Kerouac
    • Disclosure: I've read 60 pages of On the Road and 60 pages of Dharma Bums. Not impressed.
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Bruno Latour

This is not an exhaustive list, and I reserve the right to go back on my word at any time. Notably, I've also kept off those atrocities I have imbibed yet which, despite their being atrocities — or simply not nearly as good as everyone says, e.g., Inception—people seem to regard as watershed achievements of human culture. I'm a little surprised I can't do better than this, to be honest, considering all the shit I get for being a dismissive naysayer.

Life, alas, is too short not to filter mercilessly and pre-emptively. At least, that's one way to rationalize one's own insularity.

End Times Jabberwocky Blues

Making fun of religion somewhat bores me these days. The beliefs are silly on their faces, yes, but so too are some of the histrionics of over-caffeinated atheists, in which I see plenty of past reflections of myself.

Every now and then, though, I hear something that fills me with terror. Of course I realize people are saying crazy shit constantly, but when you hear it, sometimes, the delusion required to spout this nonsense without a hint of irony comes into stark relief.

Take the other day, for example. While driving, I accidentally flipped to the second tier of FM stations on my radio, which I have neglected to program. By some fortuitous fluke, Moody Bible Radio makes its home there, and I left it on because someone was reading from the Book of Revelation, which, whether you're religious or not, is a fantastic piece of mythology.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (1805–1810), William Blake

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (1805–1810), William Blake
Licensing information: Wikipedia

When the reading finished, the host came on, the rapture in her voice unmistakable, feigned or not. (You never can tell with radio or TV Christians.) Proceeding, she spoke these words: "That's going to be amazing. And it's all really going to happen. Every promise He made, He's going to keep."

Thankfully, I was stopped at a light, so I did what I try never to do anymore: I got out my phone and recorded a voice note so that I'd remember. In fact, I'd forgotten, and just came across it again in Google Keep, so despite that quote being slightly paraphrased, I am sure it's very close to her exact words.

All the jabberwocky that followed — an interview with a pastor, whom the host was very careful to refer to as "Doctor," constantly, about whether the end times will truly result in mass slaughter at the hands of God — was just as batshit, sure, but my heart had already sunk. Religious people shouldn't be defined by the extreme contingents of their cultural groups, yet both Christianity and Islam seem to produce a non-negligible number of agitators (and worse) who sincerely attempt to promote and proliferate radical agendas fueled by religious conviction. Saying so should be uncontroversial by now. We see it here. We see it around the world.

If anything, this is just a little sidenote to the recent dust-up involving Bill Maher, Ben Affleck, and Sam Harris, all of whom are rather boorish in their own right when it comes to hawking politics. While I didn't watch their argument — because who needs that? — I waded into the churning waters that developed and, luckily, found a modicum of sanity somewhere within the bitter and predictable divide.

Treat an anecdote as an anecdote. Every once in awhile, though, I think it's okay to let your jaw go slack with astonishment, even if you didn't learn anything you didn't know already.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Money, Water, and the Social Game

Full disclosure: I did donate to the ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Association. It wasn't much, but it was a good cause, even if my reasons for doing so were partially irrational. On one hand, I thought, I'll enhance a small donation a bit because an offer to match was available [rational], but I am not doing so with due diligence, based on information about the disease or the charity [irrational], though I did head to Charity Navigator afterward to check them out, and I did already know about ALS. Furthermore, I fully anticipated being nominated for the Ice Bucket Challenge eventually, so somewhere deep down in my icky stuff I probably thought, hey, this insulates me from the inevitable inner conflict when I am finally implicated. Someone would get around to it, surely, and lo and behold, someone did—a close friend of mine, who also happened to make a pretty hilarious video out of his own Challenge. (He actually anticipated my discomfort, and cited it in his video as the reason for my nomination. I have some respect for this sort of trolling.)

But there is something that doesn't smell right. If it were simply the contrarian impulses that sit in my bowels, I'd be inclined to let the matter go without much more thought. On one hand, I do resent that a person can so easily be made to look like a heartless bastard, simply by not participating in a popular trend or meme, for charity or otherwise. In addition, I don't think we can ignore the oddity of wasting so much water—a back-of-the-envelope calculation by a Washington Post blogger estimates that 5 million gallons have been dumped—or the fact that by pouring ice water over your head you purportedly signal that you'd actually rather give less than the $100 "penalty" assessed in the event of refusal. Granted, many or most people just do both.

Besides the social pressure, though, one might also suggest those partaking in the Challenge are doing so out of sound self-interested decision-making: a person can mitigate both their financial and social losses.

More on that later.

You can, of course, donate whatever the hell you want, whether you decide to freeze your ass off or not. Explicitly calling on others by name to do so, however, puts undue pressure on that person for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you have no clue what their financial situation might be.

Addressing practical considerations, Vox has an excellent piece about why donating to charity based on viral memes isn't a great idea—namely, because that sort of donation leads to inefficient allocation of resources—and I highly recommend you read this one to get an idea of the health burdens created by various diseases in comparison to ALS. The ALS Association is now going to have to figure out now how to use the unprecedented influx of cash, more than $20 million as of this writing, and I sincerely hope it is allocated well in order to support new and exciting research efforts. I really do. The fact that ALS affects such a small number of people, it should be stressed, does not make studying it worthless, nor should we fail to recognize those who have it. They deserve the hope and awareness that this Challenge, in its best iterations, provides. Neither is it heartless, though, to take utilitarian concerns into consideration, as I've seen suggested among acquaintances. Millions of people die every year from malaria, heart disease, lack of access to sanitary water, and a host of other causes. Something tells me Ice Bucketers won't be infusing charities that address those problems with loads of cash, despite the fact that the life-per-dollar ratio is undoubtedly much higher. This, from the Vox article's quoting of William MacAskill, illustrates the reasoning [emphasis mine]:

If you're concerned about the latter [maximizing impact], he suggested giving to diseases that impact the developing world. As a rule, he explained, "donating money to the best developing world health charities will reach at least 100 times as many people than if you donate to developed world health causes." For example, consider the potential public-health impact of your dollars spent, using a measure of disease burden like the quality-adjusted life year. With ALS, he said that $56,000 would provide one quality-adjusted life to a sufferer. On the other hand, he said, "the same amount of money could provide 500 quality-adjusted life years if you give money to bed nets for malaria."

"People can get upset when you say some causes are more effective than others. That's not true, because it's as tragic for someone to die of ALS as it is for someone to die of malaria. But wanting to respect and honor a particular tragedy is different from trying to help as many people as you can."

Also, while most Challenge videos do cite the reason for the stunt, some do not. In case your feeds have been replete with less-than-explicit explanations for why this challenge is going on (ignoring its real roots), please at least read the following passage entitled "What is ALS?" from the ALS Association's website:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. "A" means no or negative. "Myo" refers to muscle, and "Trophic" means nourishment–"No muscle nourishment." When a muscle has no nourishment, it "atrophies" or wastes away. "Lateral" identifies the areas in a person's spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening ("sclerosis") in the region.

As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement. Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy (become smaller). Limbs begin to look "thinner" as muscle tissue atrophies.

If you want a really thoughtful post about the social game involved, look no further than the Google+ post below. Before you read it, though, let me stress once again that donating to support ALS research or work on other rare diseases is important. I am certainly not trying to discourage people from giving generously to causes they feel strongly about. More people should give to charity more often, myself included.


ALS is a horrible illness that I cannot myself fathom going through. I feel for those who have it, and I do sincerely hope that these dollars, however wrought, will succeed in pushing ALS research forward. In the meantime, I will also suggest that you donate to a charity I support because of the fantastic work they do across the world in bringing basic medical services to dangerous and poverty-stricken parts of the world: Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders.


Support Doctors Without Borders

All of the inevitable points and counterpoints have been bandied about, I know. Such are the social media cycles that revolve around hot topics, so if you made it to the end of this one, I thank you.

It's... Monty Python's Final Circus

Sex. Sex, sex, sex... er, Python. That's it. That's what's been gnawing at me since Sunday, since I watched the living members of Monty Python bid us all adieu once and for all. Bleedin' demised, they've gone to meet the Choir Invisible, and in the end, fittingly, they sang. As Eric Idle strummed his guitar, leading the Pythons and the rest of the audience in one final rendition of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," I sang with them. I don't usually join in, but there was something beautiful about it this time—the last time the group would perform together, beamed out across the world, everyone singing. Why not?

The final performance of their 10-show run at the O2 Arena in London was uneven in terms of the comedy, even lazy at times. It felt part of the charm, though. John Cleese impugned Terry Jones onstage, the latter having forgotten his lines in the Crunchy Frog sketch despite reading them right off the back of a card made up to look like a Whizzo Chocolate Company product guide. Lines, remember, that tens of thousands of adoring fans have known by heart now for decades. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he lost his place.

Michael Palin, long my favorite of the bunch, lacked the naive buzz he emanated as the accountant cum lion tamer during the original Flying Circus broadcast of the Lion Tamer sketch, but made up for it with decent reenactments of Argument Clinic and the Dead Parrot. Terry Gilliam filled in around the edges with his insanely wide smile, making cartoon faces all the while and playing the only Gumby of the evening. Carol Cleveland danced and played the supporting roles she was known for on the television show, but I would have loved to have seen her do a Zoot bit, which, in retrospect, I'm surprised was never referenced. Standouts like Architect Sketch and Dirty Fork, two of Cleese's finest meltdowns—seriously, there is nothing funnier than listening to him scream at someone—and the hilariously absurd Silly Job Interview were notably absent, but what are you going to do? Let the fans select from a menu?

Monty Python Live (Mostly)

In all, Python sent us a farewell card, packed with greatest hits and a few musical numbers arranged by Eric Idle. Cleese will get to pay off his alimony, and the fans were left with a retrospective and the somewhat surreal experience of watching the finest television comedy troupe of all time wink at them over forty years after their groundbreaking show first aired on the BBC. It was fun. It was comfortable. If you'd been expecting new material, if you'd been hoping they would pull off one more absurdist feat of brilliance by throwing us a bunch of new material and then saying "Fuck off!", proving they still had It, would die having It, you'd have been disappointed. Cleese, in fact, broke character in the Dead Parrot sketch to give it to a Daily Mail writer who'd panned the show. Palin gamely played along with the ad-lib, clearly not having expected it.

Monty Python didn't always hit their marks in the old days. They will admit as much. Palin himself has called much of what they did "crap," and I'm pretty sure that Gilliam, who, let's say, has rather self-righteous views about culture and art, probably agrees with him. I understand what they mean. There were plenty of flubs throughout the course of Flying Circus. You can't be great all the time. But when Python was brilliant—and they often were—they were the best, wrinkles and all. Sometimes they were the best because of the wrinkles.

mp-meaningIn their whole canon, though, I think The Meaning of Life is my favorite. Life of Brian is a better movie; Holy Grail is funnier; and Flying Circus is full of sketches that, for me, are personal cultural milestones, bits of writing that I've simply incorporated into my everyday speech. The Meaning of Life has something at its core, however, that appeals to me very personally, an undercurrent that is found in much of the rest of their work but not so acutely: existential despair. It's written right into the title, for God's sake.

The film is almost unfailingly grim, shot through with angst, and thoroughly eerie in a way only a movie filmed in the 1980s—just before the stratospheric rise of the personal computer, flash trading, and corporate fuckery became cultural staples in the way we think of them today—can be. Moving from the stark, gray streets of Yorkshire to a religious boarding school to a dance among planets and stars, the film prods at all the wonderful and horrible aspects of being human. The opening credits feature assembly line molds of families, naked, sad-looking, all adorned in Mickey Mouse ears. Doomed tourists in an indecipherable universe being stamped into existence and, one day, stamped out again, for whatever reason. And when the absurdity emerges, it's absolutely devastating. Humans exalted as heroes for tearing apart other humans. Aristocrat officers carrying on with the cool, calm leadership of the upper classes as battle rages just outside the tent, the ground a mess of severed limbs and unspeakable gore.

A mother gives birth standing up at a sink, her baby falling headfirst onto the floor. Sighing, she continues to scrub away. "Get that for me, would you, Dierdre?"

A boarding school chancellor tells a child nonchalantly, in front of all his choir mates, in the middle of a chapel service, that the boy's mother died that morning. Later, disinterested pubescent boys encounter sex education awkwardly, with mystified looks on their faces, though only after the instructor lists off an arcane hodgepodge of rules about clothes on pegs, letters home, haircuts, and little brothers. What sort of sadist comes up with this shit? Incidentally, one of the boys is condemned for a minor infraction to play the masters in rugby that afternoon, a sentence that results in his being smashed into the mud repeatedly, his classmates punched brutally in the head by massive grown men on a rampage. The chancellor himself even trips one of younger kids, who's escaped unnoticed from a scrum with the ball in his hands. The pettiness. The good-old-boy audacity of the man. Is every game rigged? Is there any way out?

Two people sit down at a table. A theme restaurant with the trappings of a dungeon but featuring hula dancers swaying to the soft strum of a ukulele. Given the opportunity to have a deep, philosophical conversation, the visiting Americans are patently unable to say a single word of significance, and instead prattle away vapidly about Burt Bacharach.

I mean, what the fuck is going here? Is it all really this irrepressibly drab and awful? I feel like one of those goddamned fish. We may as well just watch each other be devoured calmly at the hands of some handsomely dressed couple filled to gills with sedatives and forty-dollar martinis.

In the end, Death comes for everyone. The salmon mousse, he tells them, and takes them up into Heaven, where it's Christmas every day. Could you imagine anything worse?

And what do we get for confronting these absurdities of everyday life? What do we learn from the horror, the violence, and the feeling of being hopelessly lost? What is the meaning of this?!

The presenter sits down, addresses the audience, and, producing an envelope, opens it to read from the letter inside:

Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. [Looks up from note.] And, finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy, which, it seems, is the only way, these days, to get the jaded, video-sated public off their fucking arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family entertainment? Bollocks. What they want is filth: people doing things to each other with chainsaws during tupperware parties, babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens, armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats. Where's the fun in pictures? Oh, well, there we are. Here's the theme music. Goodnight.

It's never changed. Probably, it never will.

And if I mean to convey anything by this digression about a film that creeps up on me at unexpected times, it's that Monty Python meant something to me, in all the ways I typically scoff at when I see fanatic cultural affinity in others. Perhaps saying so is uncharitable, both to myself and to everyone else.  Finding a film or a book or, in this case, a comedy troupe that grabs your guts can be a special experience. Sure, excess remains a possibility always. Thumb through any Facebook newsfeed in the world, and you'll see the hideous product of a largely undiscerning populous obsessed with its culture carriers. It feels something like drowning.

mp-idleStill, how strange is it? I was born ten years after Flying Circus ended, and one year after The Meaning of Life was released, their last major work together. I wasn't even alive for any of it. But there I was on Sunday, watching them sing us all off for the last time. When you're chewin' on life's gristle, don't grumble, give a whistle...

Really and truly, I felt sad. It's a sadness that lingers still, a little bit, and not just because Python is done. Yes, there is the nostalgia, if you can call it that, but something darker and more desperate lurks at the bottom, that unsettling existential angst again, a feeling of floating, of aimlessness.

Everything ends. We all watch our youths skip swiftly off into the past and then witness the slow decay of our bodies over time. I will never get over it. And often the best I can do, when pondering the "meaning" of life, is come to the same conclusion Gaston does after he leads the camera, weaving and serpent-like through the thick London crowds, off into the countryside to a quaint, little cottage sitting by itself in a meadow, smoke wafting lazily up out of the chimney. This is where he was born, he explains, where his mother sat him on her knee and told him to try to bring peace and to make people happy everywhere he went.

Whatever else they did, Monty Python at least did that much.

It's not much of a philosophy, I know, but, well, fuck you! I can live my own life in my own way if I want to. Fuck off! Don't come following me...

 

Update 7/25: Seems my memory was a little fuzzy. I originally claimed the poor lad who was sentenced to a rugby match would be condemned to play against older boys, but it was, in fact, the masters at whose hands he would suffer. Adults, in other words. Tweaks have been made to reflect these details. Rewatching the sex education scene, it has lost none of its punch.

What Is Bullshit?

Spurred by a recent article in Aeon positing a "theory of jerks", I picked up an essay by Harry G. Frankfurt entitled "On Bullshit", which attempts to lay the groundwork for a theory of bullshit, or, in other words, a description of the ways in which bullshit is its own distinct entity and a phenomenon that differs from lying and other forms of misrepresentation.

Using an anecdote from Fania Pascal describing Ludwig Wittgenstein's purported reaction to her telling him she felt "like a dog that's been run over" after having had her tonsils removed, Frankfurt sketches out what Wittgenstein was implying when the famous philosopher replied, seemingly annoyed, "You don't know what a dog that has been run over feels like." What follows is a dissection of what Wittgenstein may have found objectionable about Pascal's statement, assuming he did not identify it as purely colloquial or idiomatic, nor as a lie:

What disgusts him is that Pascal is not even concerned whether her statement is correct. There is every likelihood, of course, that she says what she does only in a somewhat clumsy effort to speak colorfully, or to appear vivacious or good-humored; and no doubt Wittgenstein's reaction—as she construes it—is absurdly intolerant. Be this as it may, it seems clear what that reaction is. He reacts as though he perceives her to be speaking about her feeling thoughtlessly, without conscientious attention to the relevant facts. Her statement is not "wrought with greatest care." She makes it without bothering to take into account at all the question of its accuracy.

The point that troubles Wittgenstein is manifestly not that Pascal has made a mistake in her description of how she feels. Nor is it even that she has made a careless mistake. Her laxity, or her lack of care is not a matter of having permitted an error to slip into her speech on account of some inadvertent or momentarily negligent lapse in attention she was devoting to getting things right. The point is rather that, so far as Wittgenstein can see, Pascal offers a description of a certain state of affairs without genuinely submitting to the constraints which the endeavor to provide an accurate representation of reality imposes. Her fault is not that she fails to get things right, but that she is not even trying.

This is important to Wittgenstein because, whether justifiably or not, he takes what she says seriously, as a statement purporting to give an informative description of the way she feels. He construes her as engaged in an activity to which the distinction between what is true and what is false is crucial, and yet as taking no interest in whether what she says is true or false. It is in this sense that Pascal's statement is unconnected to a concern with truth: she is not concerned with the truth-value of what she says. That is why she cannot be regarded as lying; for she does not presume that she knows the truth, and therefore she cannot be deliberately promulgating a proposition that she presumes to be false: Her statement is grounding neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as the essence of bullshit.

Here we see that bullshit does not simply entail lying, which seems, in retrospect, obvious to me. In fact, in Googling for links to this essay, I ran across a Slate piece from 2005 summarizing this very same anecdote, and which quite aptly described the sensation I had upon finishing "On Bullshit": "Eureka! Frankfurt's definition is one of those not-at-all-obvious insights that become blindingly obvious the moment they are expressed."

Of course bullshit isn't simply lying. The concept of bullshit artistry, a term Frankfurt also mentions in passing, seems evidence in favor of making a distinction between the two. Furthermore, bullshit doesn't necessarily have to be false—something that is implied in Frankfurt's interpretation of Wittgenstein's reaction but which is better summarized in the former's comparison of bullshit to bluffing:

It does seem that bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely, than to telling a lie. But what is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former than the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a bluff and a lie?

Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing, too, is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. In order to appreciate this distinction, one must recognize that a fake or a phony need not be in any respect (apart from authenticity itself) inferior to the real thing. What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is like, but how it was made. This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong.

To me, this gets us a bit closer, especially his observation that the quality of the bullshit could conceivably live up to or even exceed the quality of the original product, or the truth. It was simply crafted without a mind toward being genuine. (In the case of a Folex, for example, how could it have been?)

Karl Pilkington reveals his most desired superpower: the ability to detect and publicly ridicule bullshit. From An Idiot Abroad.

Karl Pilkington reveals his most desired superpower: the ability to detect and publicly ridicule bullshit. From An Idiot Abroad.

This is a fun little essay, although, by his own admission, Frankfurt's case is not definitive. I'm not sure I'll pursue thinking about the word in this context too much more, but it's a fun little exercise nonetheless, considering the preponderance of bullshit.

Indeed, we're practically drowning in it these days, and perhaps the fact that Frankfurt was writing back in 1986 accounts for one limitation that struck me as rather glaring. There was no widely accessible internet in 1986, and flow of information was, obviously, much slower than it is today. Furthermore, kooky beliefs, surely not anathema to any period of human history, likely did not receive such constant and wide exposure as they do now. Here I am thinking of bullshit like vaccine "skepticism", UFO spotting, and much of the nonsense generated by fanatical adherence to our civic religions (e.g., partisan punditry), or even by the plain, often blameless fact of ignorance. In many cases, people who sincerely believe false information will repackage and redistribute it, sure of its truth. Though not by Frankfurt's metric, it seems this sort of information would be commonly referred to as bullshit by most people, and the designation here does not at all rely on the criteria stipulating the bullshitter's lack of concern with the truth value of their statements. It may be so that we suspect some lack of due diligence in purveyors of bad information, but the condition is not necessary to label their output bullshit.

Perhaps I missed a nuance that accounts for this instance of bullshit, or quite possibly, Frankfurt would seek to limit his theory of bullshit such that these utterances would be excluded from it. I do think, however, the usage as described above is extremely common and shouldn't be ignored. That would be bullshit.

The End: Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, NV (January 2007)*

This will be as useless and banal as any obituary or tribute, not only because memorializing a person's life is, in its own way, an act of barbarism, but because I am limited in what I've read of Hitchens's work to his last eight or so years' worth of essays.  I've not read God is Not Great, nor have I read Arguably.  I will, but that's not the point.  Reading one Christopher Hitchens essay should be enough for any reader to realize, without doubt, that they are drinking deep the work of a virtuoso, a true master of written English, and a wit unparalleled by any of his contemporaries.  When he died last night, the world lost perhaps its finest living prose writer.

I have always marveled at Hitchens's fearlessness.  A person can be born with intelligence, can then cultivate that intelligence with the requisite hours of reading, writing, and deep thinking; Hitchens certainly exhibited both this staggering raw intellect as well as the drive to put it to good use.  But it was his bellowing confidence in the soundness of his position that, I think, proved his most important trait.  Atheists like me will never forget his unapologetic challenges to the very concept of religion, the ferocity of his defense of reason and reality in the face of a world that mostly didn't want to hear it.  It is important to note that on the night Christopher Hitchens died, for good, without promise of Heaven or Hell, well over 6 billion people on the planet earth went to sleep that very same night believing in a god.  Such was, and is, the sheer force against the realities of our existence.

From a political standpoint, Hitchens was always challenging, and often frustrating.  As an unapologetic liberal during my college years, having bought wholesale many myths peddled by the Left that held any supporter of the Iraq War as a blithering dolt, reading Hitchens's cogent and informed (and yes, sometimes troubling)  affirmations of U.S.-led armed conflict in the Middle East spurred the first tremors of my own crisis of opinion, a radical uncertainty in all the moral shibboleths I had, up until that time, taken for granted.  I still don't agree with Hitchens on Iraq.  I never will.  But dissent is the whetstone upon which logic is honed... and hell, let's just up and throw progress in there as well.  For, to calcify ideologically to the point of surrendering to the nearest and most convenient pair of blinders is to render oneself irrelevant.  It is to die before dying.

There is little else for me to say about the man that won't be said in much more worthy fashion by those who knew him well.  His death has been picking at me since last night, though, and I've been walking around fending off small panicked waves of sadness.  The world seems a slightly emptier place without Christopher Hitchens.  To think that he will never write another word, a loathsome realization in a land that badly needs the sort of perspective Hitch dealt regularly, with seeming ease.

Yes, Hitchens is gone now, and with him goes an irreplaceable force.  It's almost surreal, really:  I always half-expected him to beat the odds, to emerge from the harrowing shroud of cancer a physical exception as well as an intellectual one, a corpus of raw and honest essays about his own flirtation with death nestled underneath his arm as a reminder of his trial instead of a self-composed requiem.  I thought he would make it.  But he didn't.  He was just a human being, after all, and our chaotic universe, unlike gods, does not bestow its favor upon any person.

Still, who can believe it when a titan falls?

UPDATE (12/17/2011): Having now reread this thing with the benefit of a little distance, I realize my third paragraph comes off as a bit fawning, and perhaps dismissive of the subject it deals with.  I thought some of Hitchens's writing on Iraq and Islam bordered on jingoism, even if I sympathized with those strains of his criticism that had more to do with atheism than with a hawkish war machine.  I feel just about as badly about Iraq now as I did six years ago, and, while I meant what I said about his opinions forcing me to reevaluate my own, I do regard his views on the war as a major chink in his armor.  He was a flawed human being—too sure of his own opinions, arrogant and dismissive, at times even unduly caustic.  Regardless, my other comments stand.  I will miss the hell out of him.

 

* Photo by ensceptico (CC-BY-2.0)

A Question of Consumption: Should We Really Buy Nothing?

Carry on...*

A friend of mine posted a link to Adbusters.org, a site promoting a holiday season in which people buy nothing.  This season, of course, begins with Buy Nothing Day, today, Black Friday.  If you scroll down the page to which I linked, you'll notice a number of, frankly, hilarious pictures of protesters criticizing the consumerist rampages of the day.  While I empathize with the anti-consumerist sentiment, while I think it utterly sick and disgusting that people are trampled and pepper sprayed in the mad rush for Deals, I have trouble with the idea of a Buy Nothing season.  (But I may drop "Everything is fine, keep shopping" a few times.  Some of these people do deserve it, after all.)

The ostensible aim would be to make our voices echo down the avaricious halls of corporate offices everywhere, to wrench the suits out of their greed comas just long enough to realize that what they're doing is Wrong.  I have my personal corporate boycotts:  Nike, McDonald's, Wal-Mart,  etc.  I don't pretend my actions make a difference, but for whatever it's worth, I try to avoid buying anything from these and other corporations if I can.  I may have snagged a Nike headband over the summer because that's all the store carried; I ate a chicken sandwich from a train-station McDonald's because the other restaurants were closed.  These things happen.

What would  happen, though, if we dogmatically heeded the Buy Nothing campaign?  By asking this question I'm not suggesting that Buy Nothing demands we stop purchasing groceries or other essentials; that's not what they're on about.  Rather,  I'm assuming they want a gift-free holiday.   They want people to stop gobbling up electronics and toys and all those other giftables stores mark down during the holidays in order to clear their inventory for the next year.  And more power to them.  After all, the holidays do seem to ignite some atavistic resource-competitive instinct in the shopper, an insatiable urge to drive an ice pick through the eye socket of whoever just snagged the last 42-inch HDTV at a 60% discount and walked out of the store clutching  their claim check like a mother gorilla holds her nursing baby, eyes darting around suspiciously, looking for any sign of trouble.

Materialism can be destructive.  It can lead someone to grow addicted to acquisition and to prioritize this acquisition over what most people would consider more important resources—namely, personal relationships and forms of self actualization (intellectual, political, etc.).  Materialism can blind us to poverty, slavery, and corruption; it can mute our willingness to upset the status quo.  We all know it, and we've all allowed ourselves, at one point or another, to be blinded in this way.  I sincerely commiserate with the Buy Nothing crowd on this count.

But to support crippling the holiday shopping season would mean implicitly supporting a form of collateral damage that should give Buy Nothingers and Occupiers pause.  Seasonal workers will suffer first; they will lose their jobs very quickly if stores have no reason to hire them—a somewhat troublesome issue, then, as those most likely to suffer at the hands of a widespread anti-corporatist holiday movement are likely to belong to the demographic the Occupy movement is purportedly attempting to defend.  Executives are tougher to root out; they weather boycotts and economic hardship much better than do the working class.

Perhaps this collateral damage is acceptable to some people.  Maybe the net gain in "consciousness" will be worth it, but I'm not sure there will be such a paradigmatic shift if the Buy Nothing camp succeeds (unlikely, but still).  It seems to me that the holidays will simply grow leaner for many people, perhaps even catastrophically for some of the less fortunate folks, and an economic system already destabilized by corporate malfeasance and political bickering will teeter more precariously on the edge of... well, we don't really know.

These are just my impressions, and I make them as someone who is conflicted over the issue, partly because I agree with the core anti-consumerist message, partly because I don't see material want as an entirely bad thing, as long as a person can keep it under control.  Because here is the other issue during the holidays:  I love my family and friends, and I enjoy surprising them with a gift they will truly enjoy (but I'm a notoriously unimaginative gift-giver, so take that as you will).  Are there other ways to make people happy?  Of course.  But giving a good gift means that you've taken the time to try to consider someone as a person, to weigh their quirks and personal obsessions and give them something they will cherish.  It need not be expensive at all.  Remember that gift-giving also calls into play a purely social element, a drive that doesn't necessarily draw its power from consumerist greed.  To paint all shoppers as driven by such impulses is disingenuous, I think,  and doesn't adequately address the issue.

So should we buy less?  Yeah.  I'm for that.  Should we expect less?  Absolutely.  We may even want to ask our family to give charitable donations instead of gifts; I love that idea, too.  But I'll be buying gifts for people, hopefully gifts they actually need, and if I'm a consumer whore in Buy Nothing's eyes, so be it.  The goal, for me, is not to unplug entirely but to be reasonable about consumption and to be as conscientious as possible.

For the record, I refused to have anything to do with this Black Friday nonsense today, but Cyber Monday may be a different story.  It's time to put my current machine (an overpriced Black Friday burn from two years ago) to sleep.  Seriously.

 

* Image Credit:  Adbusters.org

Perchance to Dream: Robin Hanson on Sleep-Rape

Robin Hanson thinks sexsomniacs (people who have sex in a sleepwalking state) should be punished just like regular rapists when they (unknowingly) begin to have sex with someone who does not consent.  To be clear:  rape is a heinous thing and, along with murder, stands in my mind as an essentially peerless crime.  There are few, if any, more fundamental or horrifying ways in which to violate another human being. Perhaps it was Hanson's use of the imperative in his title ("Punish Sleep-Rape") that rankled me.

To justify his point, he devises two possible arguments against punishment of sexsomniac rapists:

  1. We should punish premeditated or intentional transgressions more severely than we would unconscious transgressions.
  2. The mind is comprised of two distinct states: the conscious and the unconscious.  Thus, behaviors emanating from conscious processes should be punished more severely.

Hanson goes on to summarily dismiss both of these imagined arguments, presumably without being able to think of any others, and based on this dismissal concludes that the sexsomniac should not be spared the traditional punishment for rapists.

At its core, Hanson's argument takes on faith that "free will" and "consciousness" are complete illusions, or he at least conflates consciousness with the planning of unconscious behaviors.  While it's true that we almost certainly don't have free will in the way we've traditionally imagined it, and even if behavioral decisions ultimately stem solely from unconscious processes, we still have to take the potential for inhibition into account.  Most behaviors are automatic. We may become aware of them as they are occurring, but the signals that will result in the end action have already been sent from the brain by the time that happens. Otherwise, the nature of consciousness and its bearing on our decision-making is much more complex than Hanson seems to think, as this review by Baumeister et al. from the Annual Review of Psychology shows.

Why should the ability to stop a behavior as it's happening not be considered a crucial distinction when considering culpability?  Some behaviors can be inhibited or changed while they are happening once a person becomes aware of them, and the actions a person takes in a sleepwalking state are not likely beholden to this same inhibitory potential.

(Disclosure: I haven't finished  reading the full review article just yet, but it doesn't take long to figure out that consciousness' role in decision-making should not be thought of as relating simply to the origin of an impulse.  Hanson seems woefully unappreciative of the brain's immense complexity when that complexity doesn't have anything to do with self-delusion or hypocrisy.  Credit goes to a commenter  on Hanson's screed, Rob, who posted a link to the review, which is how I found it.)

To be fair to Hanson, he posted an addendum in which he says that sleep-rape should be punished as drunken acts are punished.  In my opinion he fails to differentiate between the choice—a word he would likely put in quotations in this case—a person makes when he/she gets drunk and the choice a person makes when they go to sleep.   One of those two activities is essential  to survival, and one is clearly not: They are simply not analogous states.  It's possible Hanson was simply siding with a few commenters who suggested that sexsomniacs who are aware of their unfortunate sleep-time proclivities yet fail to take precautionary measures should be held responsible for their waking negligence.  I am not entirely unsympathetic to that argument even if I suspect laws based on that premise could never be fairly or accurately applied.  Ideally, the brain induces paralysis during sleep in order to prevent a person from physically acting out a dream.  Some drugs can help inhibit physical activity during deep sleep, but what happens when a person takes a pill and it doesn't work? Should these people chain themselves to the bed?  Should their spouses sleep in another bedroom behind a locked door for the duration of the marriage?

Hanson can be an insightful blogger, and he often asks tough questions that require tough answers. But he's also wont to draw specious conclusions based on flimsy evidence that happens to conform to his own biases—ironic for someone who writes a blog called Overcoming Bias. He thinks medicine is useless; he thinks prediction markets will save the world; he thinks all human interaction is based on status and signalling yet appears to believe himself free of those evolutionary accouterments.  In all of those arguments there is a kernel of truth; and if Hanson wasn't so seemingly sure of the finality of his own opinions, I would probably be more charitable to him.  At the very least, I'll give him credit for peaking my interest more or less consistently.

Perhaps Hanson's viewpoints are a bit more nuanced than my general estimation suggests, though he does appear to me to deal in some unfortunate absolutes. Simply put, he smells like a contrarian, albeit one who's worth reading even if you often disagree with him.

(Another side note, because I am a connoisseur of the parenthetical:  one reader, daedalus2u, pretty much nails Hanson's thought  process with a satirical comment.  I assume the comment is satirical, anyway, because daedulus2u has espoused some very different thoughts on his own very interesting blog regarding the efficacy of punishment in society.  I, for one, am not sold on his notion that there is always a constructive alternative to punishment, but maybe I'll save that for another post.)

Sleep-rape is an issue which I was aware of before reading Hanson's post, but I hadn't considered the notion of proper punishment in too much depth.  An interesting discussion follows in the comments; again, I shy away from those who are overly punitive, not because they don't like rape (I don't like rape either) but because they often seem to see the world as a collection of moral absolutes.  They seem so sure they're right that I can't imagine their opinions aren't somewhat calcified.

I don't claim to be an expert (or even especially knowledgeable) on any of this, so I'm interested in hearing any comments or alternate viewpoints.

Beautiful Just the Way You Are

Greater blue-ringed octopus. Photo by Jens Petersen (Wikimedia Commons).

Horseshit... ok, not exactly horseshit.  You are, I suppose, beautiful just the way you are—in the same way that a Sequoia or a blue-ringed octopus is beautiful.  The sheer mathematical improbability of your existence is a marvel, to be sure; you're a unique snowflake who is greater than 99% similar to me and anyone else on this planet.  This is all clinically interesting, technically beautiful.  And I make these observations without trying to dull the sense of wonder that should rightfully exist about us humans.  We're incredible creatures, certainly the most intelligent and evolved species on the planet as long as intelligence is your primary metric.

But I was once told I was a bad person for refuting the Relative Beauty Hypothesis (RBH), for claiming this is the biggest lie we like to tell people, especially our children.  (Well, not our children.  Perhaps your children, or just the children.)  Based on the tone of voice I likely employed when making this comment, I can't blame my counterpart for reacting negatively, though I do think I was misunderstood.

So don't misinterpret my meaning:  I realize we frequently use this phrase to attempt to mitigate the side effects of cruel bullying, which is often pointed toward kids who are fat or gay or who suck at kickball, and rightfully so.  No child should have to suffer on account of their weight or sexual orientation or any other such trait.  Kids can be little bigots, but most of them will probably grow out of it when their logic develops enough to supersede the almost universal childhood predilection toward tribalism.  (We never grow out of it, really, but at least we do shift our loyalties somewhat.) So we grow up and those of us lucky enough to be more or less reasonable people accept our differences.  Some people are gay; some people are fat; some people are black or white or Asian; some people have six fingers. So what?  These things don't matter as far as human worth is concerned.  We are finally evolving enough to rid ourselves of some of these biases and to realize the trivial nature of such arbitrary distinctions.

All good so far, until we begin to pervert the original meaning and apply the Relative Beauty Hypothesis to characteristics that weren't originally on the docket, particularly when we self-apply these concepts and the phrase serves only to dilute the value of introspection.

Bad temper?  That's just who I am.

Somehow find my way to the bottom of every bottle I see?  I just love to have fun.

The Rolling Stones are better than the Beatles: It's my opinion, right?  It's not an objective question, is it?  ... Guys?

This whole mindset itself is little more than a springboard for rationalization, a catalyst for the kink in our internal logic that provides immediate forgiveness for failure to improve the self.  Why?  Anyone who pretends to know the answer to this question is a liar, so I profess no level of special insight in this regard.  My suspicion, however, is that we're simply too lazy and afraid to admit not only that we have a deficiency but that this deficiency is not acceptable, that it should be fixed if at all possible.

If you're beautiful just the way you are, why fix anything?  You're free to continue on in your willful ignorance, racism, homophobia, depression, addiction, bias, and foolish illusion about the Rolling Stones' superiority over the Beatles.

Then, there is beauty in our flaws.  I admit that, fully.  I would hate to see what a perfect world looks like:  I can only imagine the drawling, lobotomized expressions we would carry around on our drooping faces like electroshock patients.  That's not the world for me or for anyone who cherishes the little bits of necessary chaos we all possess.

But it's important not to fall so far into individualism that every regrettable human foible is somehow elevated to the status of defining character trait.  Otherwise, we will hang willfully onto our opinions and succumb to those instincts that separate us from logic and rationality.  We will continue to drown our ambition in excuses and suffocate our innate creativity with them as well.  We will fail to change, as individuals and as a society.

Those are the broad strokes as I see them.  We should encourage everyone to embrace their differences, for they are what make us such an incredible species; but we should not extend our pretenses of virtue to our character flaws, at least not so ubiquitously as we seem to.

Perhaps I'm way off on this one.  If I am, flog me for it.  You won't get me to admit that this post is anything more than trite philosophical garbage, anyway.  And if I'm right, I don't intend to suggest we all resort to self-loathing and despair, even if they've always worked for me.  (You'll find plenty of people willing to refute various elements in this last sentence.)

We're never going to be perfect, but that doesn't mean we can't do just a little bit better, does it?  For my part, I'm going to be competing again tonight, and instead of shattering a pint glass against someone's head when I lose, I'll try to hold back and simply stab them lightly with a shard from my broken pool cue.

The road to self-improvement is, after all, slow and tortuous.

 

What Is a Vampire?

Many people seem to have forgotten what a vampire is, so I'm going to provide a very brief primer that you can reference when in doubt.

Before I get an angry tsunami of vampire aficionados (unlikely, due to readership) admonishing me for my choices, let me stress that this is a short list of accessible examples and by no means definitive.  These aren't necessarily my favorite vampires or vampire movies either, but I'll go to the mat for the underrated Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Here it goes...

This is a vampire:

Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula

This is a vampire:

Max Schreck in Nosferatu

This is a vampire:

Lina Leandersson in Let the Right One In

This is a vampire:

Dick Cheney in real life

Even these two are vampires:

Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire

This is an understudy for an Acqua Di Gio commercial:

Robert Pattinson in Twilight

That is all.

Halloween 2010: One Rotten Pumpkin

Last year's pumpkin carving, because I'm a schmuck contributing to the death of Halloween.

Halloween is dead.  Officially.

I'm not generally a fan of sweeping declarative statements like the one I just made, but I've been collecting evidence on the long, slow decline of the holiday, and as far as I'm concerned, there is sufficient reason to believe Halloween will never be what it once was.

I grew up in a decade that wasn't favorable to the holiday, the 1990s.  October 31 almost ubiquitously presented a young Chicago suburbanite with a miserable night marked either by the beginning of an early cold snap or a late-autumn rainstorm that would have turned us all pneumatic if our parents hadn't insisted upon wrapping us in large, puffy coats and hiding our costumes in the process amid fervent protestations and candy-fueled tantrums.  But we went out there, goddammit, and ran around all night, and while I've never been a particularly mischievous person — comprised as I am of a regrettable innate fear of consequences that has contributed in no small part to my being a sexual cripple and a sanctimonious bore — I managed to get a few licks in on Halloween night.  That's what the holiday is about for the American child, after all, isn't it?  Getting pumped to the gills with sugar and riding a reckless delusion of invincibility to a slue of life decisions bearing unconscionable repercussions that will only become evident years down the road, long after anything within reason can be done about it.  The problem is, most of the necessary hellianism requires the cover of dark.

I don't remember when They began scaling back the Halloween curfew, whoever they are.  I imagine it all started during middle school for me, and in the subsequent years, curfew has been modified a number of times and still varies depending on your location.  A quick Google search indicates that this year's curfew in Wheaton was an utterly ridiculous 7 p.m., and even more depressing, the streets were quiet by 6:30.  Night didn't fall until around 7:30, which means ostensibly none of the trick-or-treating that took place in Wheaton did so after the sun had fallen below the horizon.

I understand the streets aren't quite as safe for kids these days as they used to be, and I understand the numerous warnings about razor blades, poison candy, and reptilians living among us have taken a psychological toll on the modern parent with which I can't fully empathize since I (thankfully) don't have any kids of my own, but is it too much to ask that these little disease pots get a chance to cavort around when the infantile prospect of ghosts and goblins can be enhanced by a relative lack of sunlight?  What mystery there was has been sucked out of the whole affair, and I shudder to think how ancient we will all seem when kids two generations from now see home videos of their parents and grandparents running around at night, mouths crusted with Jolly Rancher and convulsing in moonlight, too hopped up on adrenaline to care and too infused with fructose to remember their own names.

Of course, by then, kids may be paddling from houseboat to houseboat begging sardines from the neighbors, but that's not a reason to sacrifice quality control of the holiday just yet.  Otherwise, we're simply perpetuating the existence of  a costume pageant without the requisite perks it once carried.

That being said, if any of you bastards ever eggs my car again, I'm calling the cops.

BACK ISSUE: Remember the Sabbath

As best I can remember, I originally posted this blog post some time during 2005 or 2006 on the now-defunct WritingUp.com, and because I've been too busy (or something) to maintain a semblance of a working blog these past few months, I hereby provide this tasty archival morsel.  It is my sincerest hope that posting these foul words precludes some increased production on my part in the near future.

In case my words are misunderstood in these strange and uncertain times, let it be known in no uncertain terms that I do not promote or condone violence against anyone for their race, religion, creed, or sexual orientation.

Image Courtesy of Ian Britton and FreeFoto.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommerical-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license.

Indeed. Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. This is perhaps the most important Commandment ever carved into a stone tablet, and it is one you would all do well to heed if you wish to avoid finding yourself in the Sea of Souls at the mercy of your best friend. He will gnaw upon your head like it is beef jerky for all eternity. Dante seemed to think absolute zero epitomizes ultimate suffering, but I would much rather spend my Afterlife in excruciating frigidity than splashing about with billions of other lost souls. This is your future, though, if you fail to worship every Sunday.

But this thing isn't about Dante or Inferno. Certainly not. For the first time in a few years, I picked up a New World Translation (NWT) Holy Bible and got farther than I ever have before. I got all the way to Chapter Five of the Book of Matthew, in fact, with a .38 Special from about sixty paces away. It took me three shots to do it, but that third hollow-point bullet made the thing dance a jig for one split second. I was lucky to have hit it at all from such a distance seeing as how twilight was falling upon the land, and aiming the pistol proved more difficult in the dark than it had earlier in the afternoon. After savoring the feat for a few brief moments, though, I reloaded the pistol and fired five more shots point blank through the Bible. I could hear them screaming - Noah, Bathsheba, Abram, Jonah, and all the rest. I got every one of those miserable fuckers. They've been asking for it for a long time. They should consider themselves lucky, though. If I hadn't have been immersed in a game of Pistol Baseball, I would have fired twelve more rounds into the thing.

Before I get any further, I must stress that I would never terrorize a King James Bible in this manner if only because the King James Version exhibits more grace and style in Genesis 1:1 than the NWT manages to all the way through Revelation. A King James Bible is truly a thing of beauty not be sullied by bullets, fire, or half-assed updates meant to sedate modern day human beings by appealing to them on their level. Whoever thought putting the NWT into widespread circulation was a good idea should be castrated for crimes against quality and literary eloquence. The NWT is nothing more than a dogmatic abortion that foretells of darker days to come. It is a harbinger that we mustn't ignore, for if we do, one day we will be seeing biblical translations in text-speak and backwoods West Virginian slang. The Bible will swell with inaccuracy. It shall be overrun by anachronism, and we shall all be worse people for it because, as it stands, the King James Bible could very well be one of the greatest works of literature every composed. However, my money for the top spot is on Gilgamesh.

Nonetheless, this outburst against the Good News and its preliminary component was not just an attack against literary inadequacy but an exorcism of sorts of lingering demons from fifth grade when I was made to memorize the Lord's Prayer, the Nicene Creed, and the Lutheran Pledge of Allegiance (I shit you not) and recite them all in front of my class. Word travels fast in parochial schools, and it was a well-known fact that I was an unbaptized heathen running amok among good, upstanding young Christians. The bastards made an example of me, and they might as well have marched me down the hallway while letting the entire student body take bites out of my legs. I am not normally a patient man, and I have been looking for revenge for a long time without ever saying a word.

But this is all the distant past, as everything is becoming the distant past more quickly than we recognize. Sometimes the only thing to do is shoot a bullet straight through those old memories, wake the fuck up, and realize when you've been hoodwinked.


"God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked. I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark. His archers compass me round about, he cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare; he poureth out my gall upon the ground. He breaketh me with breach upon breach, he runneth upon me like a giant." Job 16:11-14, King James Translation

"God hands me over to young boys
And into the hands of wicked ones he throws me headlong. I had come to be at ease, but he proceeded to shake me up; And he grabbed me by the back of the neck and proceeded to smash me, And he sets me up as a target for himself. His archers encircle me; He splits open my kidneys and feels no compassion; He pours out my gallbladder to the very earth. He keeps breaking through me with breach after breach; He runs at me like a mighty one."
Job 16:11-14, New World Translation

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