August 25, 2014

When the Pain Never Ends

I'm just so tired, he thought. And the pain won't stop. What is it people say? Everything ends eventually. But the pain doesn't. He stood looking through the window, his eyes seeing nothing. His face was expressionless; to convey even the smallest emotion now required too much effort. He felt that merely breathing was too difficult a task to be managed any longer.

The voice behind him wouldn't stop either. His lover continued his litany of complaints. "You just won't do anything to help yourself get out of this mood. At my job, you get three days off for a death in the family. That's it. Then you carry on. But you lie around and won't do a damned thing. When I get home at night, you haven't even moved the newspaper on the table, or your morning coffee cup. It's time for you to snap out of it. You could do it if you wanted to. But you don't. I never would have thought you could be so weak."

He could recite the complaints from memory now. He heard them every two or three days. Does he think I'm enjoying this? he wondered. Does he honestly believe that I'd choose this grim, bleak existence? Doesn't he realize I''m desperate to find pleasure again in something, anything? But I've lost the trick of it, and I can't get it back. And I'm so, so tired.

He tried to calculate how long the agony had been going on. It stretched back almost eight months. His closest friend, the woman who was the nearest to a true soul mate he'd ever found, had grown progressively sicker and was finally diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer. She was dead two months later, faster than anyone had expected. She was gone so quickly that he never had the chance to see her a final time, for she lived across the country. But he would have long phone conversations with her, even during the final couple of weeks when she was heavily drugged and increasingly incomprehensible. He would talk with her for an hour at a time, letting her take the conversation wherever she wished. responding as if she were expressing thoughts that were intriguing and worthy of close examination. But in those last weeks, what she said was gobbledegook. She was a brilliant woman: it was as if she retained the form of her intelligence, including the ability to construct a long, complex argument, offering many specific examples to demonstrate what she meant, but the content had been obliterated to be replaced with nonsensical gibberish. Other friends of hers marveled that he and his friend had these conversations at all, but it was all he could offer her, just to be with her in any way he could. She wanted to talk, so they talked. That was when the profound exhaustion first struck him; after these conversations, he would collapse for hours, more tired than he had ever felt in his life, unable to grasp how the world, how life could be so ungraspably cruel. She had just turned 61 when she died.

Exactly one week later, his lover announced that he had fallen in love with someone else, and he felt they needed to discuss ending their relationship. He pointed out to his lover that his comments about this miraculous new love mirrored completely the way he had talked about him when they first met. He explained why he thought his lover was simply repeating an old pattern of avoidance, of pursuing a fantasy and fearing the genuine intimacy that comes with a relationship that lasts more than a couple of years. They agreed they would go to a couples counselor, to examine their problems and what they might do. He paid for it, for he had much more money than his lover at that time. He still paid for the counseling as he listened to the repeated complaints, for he thought his lover was committed to working through their problems if they could. It subsequently turned out that his lover had lied about that (undoubtedly to himself, as well), for he lied about many things. His lover spent the weekend his soul mate died -- when they knew she would die at any moment -- with his new boyfriend. He had lied about that, too.

A few weeks after his lover had announced his new infatuation, one of his beloved cats got terribly sick. It appeared he would die. He was finally diagnosed with a heart murmur and cardiomyopathy; the medication the cat was given led to stabilization and substantial recovery. But for a few months, the cat was at death's door. During this same time, his mother was dying; her breast cancer had returned, and there simply wasn't much they could do for her any longer. As his mother was dying, he and his lover continued their faux-work with the couples counselor. He thought it entirely possible that his lover might disappear at any moment. As tension-filled and nervewracking as their relationship had become, he felt that he would die himself if he experienced another major, final loss. All this happened just as he was trying to start a business of his own. It proved to be much more difficult than he had anticipated. Luckily, he had enough money at that point to support them (with a small contribution from his lover).

His mother died five months later. The accumulation of losses finally paralyzed him almost completely. During all this time, he was seeing no less than two psychologists and one psychiatrist: the couples counselor, a psychologist for himself alone, and a psychiatrist whom he saw once a month, who oversaw the medication he was taking, including an antidepressant. None of it helped in any substantial respect. He simultaneously felt entirely numb, as if he would never experience a vivid emotion ever again, while he also felt assailed by a pain that was unendurable. He felt there was nothing left to hold onto, nothing left to support him in any part of his life. And he had no strength to take even the smallest step in any direction. He wanted only one thing: he wanted the agony to stop.

But it wouldn't stop. And now his lover's complaints wouldn't stop. "You could change if you wanted to! You can snap out of it, but you won't. It's your fault! You're weak. And selfish." Finally, his lover stopped talking. He still looked out the window, unable to move, terrified that the next moment might bring still worse pain, seeing nothing, expressionless, feeling nothing but the desire for all of it to stop. After a few moments, he quietly murmured, strangely aware that he was choosing his words with great care, even though they seemed to come from someone else, "Sometimes I feel that the only thing I can do is kill you, kill the cats, and then kill myself. What else is there to do? What else can I do to make this stop?"

The words hung in the air for a minute or two. His lover said nothing. I've finally shocked him into silence, he thought. Good. He felt an odd moment of clarity, as if saying the words defined the issue in some way. After another few moments, he murmured, still more quietly, "But I can't do that, of course. So ..."

He couldn't complete the thought. So ... so what? What was he going to do? What could he do? He had no idea. He knew he was incapable of becoming a murderer, at least he hoped he was. So he prayed, a man who had never prayed in his life -- and it was the only thought that remained to him, and he clung to it with all the fierceness left in him -- that the pain itself would finally kill him, relieving him of all choice and responsibility, forever and ever.

Maybe tomorrow, he thought. Maybe I'll die tomorrow.

********************

I have been painfully aware for a very long time that most people understand next to nothing about suicide. I view this particular ignorance as a derivative issue: it is a narrower expression of most people's ignorance about psychology in general, including their own. Nonetheless, the avalanche of heedlessly aggressive and cruel ignorance following the suicide of a celebrity, as in the recent case of Robin Williams, always takes me aback. It isn't simply that most people understand almost nothing about the subject. It's that they know nothing -- and their unblemished ignorance doesn't cause them to hesitate even for a moment before offering diagnoses cribbed from lousy books and crappy movies, or picked up from their favorite phony guru of the moment. All that would be sufficiently deplorable, especially when, as is usually the case, these pretenses at scientific understanding are announced in the loud, brash tones of an overbearing sideshow barker offering his latest secret patent medicine that will cure you of all ailments, present and future. "Drink Dr. Schmoo's Magic Elixir, and not only will you never think of suicide again. You'll be dizzily, deliriously happy!" These days, the barker can add that, if you still harbor violent thoughts, you can go to work for the U.S. government and kill countless people around the world. Not only can you do so with utter impunity; you will be celebrated for it. At present, if you work for almost any government entity at any level, you can murder innocent people at home, too. Truly we are blessed to have such a beneficent government, so devoted to our well-being that it provides numerous outlets for the repressed rage that is so widespread in our culture.

But no, all that is not enough for the amateur geniuses in our midst. It's the goddamned moralizing that so many engage in, and with such feverish glee, that horrifies me. What is this irresistible compulsion that so many people feel to pass judgment on someone who has just killed himself? In the case of Williams, as in every similar case, including those involving non-celebrities, we're offered a choice between sympathy for someone who suffered from "mental illness," or condemnation for someone who was weak and selfish. Some try to combine the alternatives; the result is only a monstrous hybrid destined for an early death, a hybrid that is singularly unconvincing during its brief life.

I find it difficult to convey how bizarre I find this need to pass judgment on the person who kills himself, whether the judgment is positive or negative. When I say "positive" in this context, I do so simply to stress the distinction between the "understanding" and "condemnation" approaches. And for most people who utilize the understanding-"mental illness" approach, the understanding is frequently heavily tinged with tones of forgiveness. "He committed a horrible act, but we understand why he did it and that his action was not truly voluntary. Therefore, we cannot blame him for it." The clear implication is that we should "forgive" him for an act that was not within his control. But to preach sermons of forgiveness or condemnation at a dead person is a singularly odd way to pass one's time. I often wonder if such people actually grasp what death itself is. Some polls suggest that many people do not. A few years ago, a poll found that just over half of people around the world believe in God and an afterlife. A Huffington Post poll focused only on the afterlife question had a similar result. The Huffington Post poll employed a dubious methodology, in that readers voluntarily selected themselves to participate. Regardless of the methodology, the result tracks many other polls on this and similar issues. Many, many people choose to believe in fantasies that comfort them in some manner. People can believe whatever they want, but they should not expect to be taken seriously when there is not a shred of evidence to support their delusions.

Robin Williams (or any other suicide victim) is dead. He doesn't give a damn whether anyone forgives or condemns him. There isn't a small collection of "Robin Williams" particles floating somewhere in the universe, and who is now comforted by the voices of forgiveness or tormented by the condemnations hurled at his (somehow conscious) atoms. Here, most people's tangled attempts to grasp the nature of suicide run straight into our culture's inability to face death squarely and maturely, as well as colliding with most people's failure to grasp the idea of nothing. Death isn't followed by another form of being. You may hope it is, but hope does not constitute evidence. I frequently have the sense that many people believe their own deaths will be followed by a few of their atoms (or "spirit" or whatever they wish to call it) sitting around (or whatever such atoms or "spirit" do when they relax) thinking about how terrible it is that they died. Your death is followed by nothing, by the void. Not a single piece of evidence exists to suggest otherwise, in however inchoate a manner.

Judgment of whatever kind cannot be offered for the benefit of the person who is now dead. So, for whose benefit is the judgment being announced? Some will say -- usually those people who strongly condemn suicide -- that they do it for the sake of those who might be considering suicide themselves. But this cannot be the genuine reason, not if one thinks about it seriously and honestly for a few minutes. I'll come back to this issue.

When I hear about a suicide, anyone's suicide, my first thoughts always concern what a horrible and horrifying tragedy it is. Life -- and the fact that we are aware that we are alive, with everything that entails -- is a miraculous gift. I am an atheist, but I consider the gift of life, and conscious life in particular, on the order of a miracle. Yet the person who kills himself has chosen to wipe himself out of existence for all time, to obliterate himself absolutely. Do you have any idea how unbearable the pain must be for a human being -- who is aware of the incredible fact that he is alive, and how precious that is -- to commit such an act?

I wrote the story that opens this essay in the hope that readers might understand the nature of that pain more completely. Attentive, regular readers will have realized that it is an autobiographical story; it's about me. It describes my life from roughly August 1993 through March 1994. And, yes, I was the person who thought that the only way to end the torment was to murder my lover, my cats, and then myself. Does that shock you? Do you condemn me for it? I'm sure some people will. I'm well aware that revealing this much about myself carries certain dangers, but I concluded that the dangers were outweighed by the importance of shedding more light on certain matters, and by a large margin. I left out many details, some of which were hardly insignificant in terms of adding to my torments. As just one example, in the midst of all these calamities, the Northridge earthquake occurred on January 17, 1994. It was terrifying, and it caused a lot of damage to the apartment my lover and I then shared. So when I write: "He felt there was nothing left to hold onto, nothing left to support him in any part of his life.," I am referring not only to the psychological agonies I was experiencing, but literally to the earth under my feet. And the aftershocks from that earthquake went on for weeks, even months. Experiencing that on top of everything else, I sometimes felt I would truly go insane.

Regular readers know how devoted I am to my cats. Perhaps you're horrified that I could even think of killing the cats that I had at that time. I would suggest that you should first try to understand the psychological process involved. My life was nothing but unendurable pain. I couldn't imagine any kind of life that would be free of that pain. If I were to die, what would happen to my cats? At that point, I realized I couldn't depend on my lover to see that they found good homes; this was especially true of my wonderful Elyot, who was still recovering from his brush with death and would require special care for the rest of his life. And I doubted that any of my friends would exert the effort required to see that they were safe and happy. So I thought it most likely that they would be taken away by the animal control people, to live in cages, to be miserably unhappy and terrified, until they were finally put down. More than anything, I wanted to spare my cats that pain and unhappiness. So I would kill them to protect them. There is a terrible, inexorable logic dictated by depression that is this severe. I raised this issue with the psychiatrist I was seeing during that period. He told me that he had testified on several occasions in the cases of mothers who had killed their children, and then tried to kill themselves. When the mothers survived their attempts at suicide, they were prosecuted for the murders of their children. The psychiatrist explained that the mother was attempting, in a cruelly, horrifically distorted way, to protect them from future pain and suffering, which she viewed as an absolute certainty. (Please note that this issue is entirely separate from what might need to be done to prevent these people from inflicting harm on others. Once a person has actually committed such acts, clearly certain steps are required to prevent them from committing similar acts again.)

As I say, I've known for a long time that most people have very little understanding of these issues, which admittedly are especially difficult and painful. But in the aftermath of Williams' suicide, we were all treated to a variant on the general cultural ignorance that was new to me. I first heard it from an outstandingly awful Los Angeles radio talk show host, Tim Conway, Jr. I have sometimes found his father very funny, on the old Carol Burnett show, for example. But my appreciation for the senior Conway's work has been entirely negated by the fact that he raised such an ignorant and bombastically offensive son. (Conway, Jr. employs only two modes of speech on his show: a normal conversational tone and screaming. I don't refer to talking loudly: I mean screaming. And with regard to the proportions of each, screaming wins in a knockout.) Conway, Jr. often talks of his reverence for his father, and about how his father was "tough" in the way he raised him, teaching him the value of hard discpline. All of this is directly relevant to what follows, as we shall see.

Conway, Jr. announced a moral principle that had escaped my notice until he enlightened me: it appears that, once you have children, once you have even one child, you forever forfeit the right to kill yourself. When a parent kills himself, he visits irreparable damage on his children, subjecting them to a lifetime of unending psychological torment. A parent must never, ever injure his children in this way. When I first heard this, I was struck by how strange it was to select this one issue to focus on in as single-minded a manner as Conway, Jr. did. As the week following Williams' death wore on, Conway, Jr. returned to this theme repeatedly. I must have heard him deliver this sermon at least three or four times. One question about this message presents itself immediately. What is the justification for carving out an exception for parents, and only for parents? We certainly would not wish to condemn young children for killing themselves, but such suicides are very rare. If we confine the argument to children aged 18 and older, isn't it true that a child who commits suicide subjects his parents to immense suffering and torment in precisely the same way? We know that it is. What about people who are married or share their lives with a partner, especially if the relationship is one of many years' duration? Isn't the person who commits suicide visiting terrible suffering on his spouse or partner? We know that's true, as well. For that matter, what about any of us? We all have friends and acquaintances, people who care about us, sometimes very deeply and for many years. Aren't many of those people going to be devastated by our suicide? But spouses, partners, and all the rest of us apparently retain the right to kill ourselves. To this way of thinking, parents constitute a unique class, set completely apart from everyone else.

If Conway, Jr. had been the only person I heard offering this view, I probably would have let it go. But then I heard several other public voices proclaiming the same notion: parents are a breed apart. When you become a parent, suicide is permanently off-limits. And then this column by Henry Rollins intruded into the cultural conversation. It is one of the most profoundly ghastly pieces I have ever had the misfortune to read. The concluding section is a monument to the obliteration of understanding, compassion and empathy; it is also an astonishing and shocking psychological confession. But the final section and those particular issues require a separate discussion, which I will get to in the next article.

Earlier in his column, Rollins offers his version of the position put forth by Conway, Jr. and others I heard. Here is Rollins' version of this theory:
I am sure some will strongly disagree with what I’m about to say. And I also understand that his personal struggles were quite real. I can’t argue with that.

But I simply cannot understand how any parent could kill themselves.

How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children? I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be — choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life. No matter what mistakes you make in life, it should be your utmost goal not to traumatize your kids. So, you don’t kill yourself.
It was when I read the Rollins article that I finally grasped what was happening here, and the source of this bizarre argument. It was then that I knew that I would have to write about Williams' suicide and some of the many issues it raises.

The source of this argument is what I will refer to as the Fable of the Good Parent. To put it another way, it rests on an inaccurate, false idealization of parents in general, of the parent as parent. The argument only makes sense if one assumes that the parent, any parent, is, at least for the most part, supportive and nurturing: that he or she deeply values the child as a unique human being in his own right, and that the parent is dedicated to encouraging the child to find and develop his own, genuine sense of self. But all of this is precisely what the majority of parents do not do. In fact, the goal of most parents' methods of raising their children is entirely and profoundly opposed to these aims. The simple, awful fact is that most parents inflict terrible damage on their children, damage that is often irreparable and that always leaves, at a minimum, wounds that last for the child's lifetime. And most parents do this in the name of "good parenting" and "responsible child-rearing."

The truth -- the truth that most people vehemently deny, the truth that most people will not seriously consider, and the truth that Williams himself could never face (as we shall see next time) -- is that most parents behave in ways that are "awful, traumatic and confusing" every day, and usually multiple times a day. Most parents "traumatize [their] kids" with a frequency that would shock us to the core, if only we had the courage to acknowledge the truth of the parents' actions. Much of what happens in the world, including in our politics and foreign policy, is explained by the fact that many parents regularly and consistently teach their children that cruelty, and even violence, are love. New horrors erupt in our country, and around the world, every day in very significant part because this is one of the primary lessons parents teach their children.

To single out suicide as a uniquely traumatic event that a parent visits on his children strongly testifies to the enduring power of our cultural denial about this subject, and to the unending delusions with which we seek to falsely comfort ourselves.

All of this requires a lengthier explanation, to which I will turn next time. Until then, you might want to read this article, particularly Part I (and look at some of the linked articles, if you wish), which will provide some of the background for my argument.

August 04, 2014

Still (Barely) Here

Profuse apologies for my long silence. I truly am terribly sorry. But I haven't known what to say. I'm in scarily horrible shape physically, incapable of little more than moving a bit around the apartment a few times a day. It's taking me enormous energy and willpower to write just this. And I know most people want to be reassured, to know that I'm "okay." I'm not okay, and I have no reassurance to offer.

But the cats and I still do have a home for now -- and for that a multitude of thanks to those of you who have been very kind. So in addition to being unable to reassure you, I feel like the world's most ungrateful bastard. People are very generous, and I can't even write a couple of posts.

I've tried to do some writing, and I can't shape anything to my satisfaction. As much as I dread the subject, I would like to offer some commentary on the horrors in Gaza; I have the beginning of a draft, titled "Drowning in the Blood-Dimmed Tide." While I'm unable to summon forth that new post, I will refer you to two past ones, both of which remain sickeningly timely.

The first is from November 2012, and it begins with this:
Gaza is a concentration camp. It is not like a concentration camp. It is not a metaphorical or figurative concentration camp. It is a concentration camp. Our culture, our political leaders, and the cacophony of voices in the media have all agreed that this truth must never be spoken. If one wanted to be momentarily charitable about people's absolute refusal to recognize the obvious, one might argue that a land area of approximately 140 square miles, containing a population of roughly 1.7 million people, could not possibly be a concentration camp. But size and the number of prisoners are not the distinguishing characteristics of a concentration camp. The most essential characteristic of a concentration camp is what is permitted, and what is not. Only one question matters: Under what conditions are the people within its borders permitted to live?
The second article goes back further in time, to January 2009. In "The Slaughter of the Diseased Animals," I described the pattern repeatedly engaged in by both the United States and Israel, and perhaps it bears repeating:
For a very long time, the United States government has specialized in the pattern pursued by Israel. The vastly more powerful nation wishes to act on a certain policy -- almost always territorial expansion, for purposes of access to resources, or to force itself into new markets, or to pursue the evil notion that economic and ideological success depend on brutality and conquest -- but a specifically moral justification for its planned actions does not lie easily to hand.

So the powerful nation embarks on a course designed to make life intolerable for the country and/or those people that stand in its way. The more powerful nation is confident that, given sufficient time and sufficient provocation, the weaker country and people will finally do something that the actual aggressor can seize on as a pretext for the policy upon which it had already decided. In this way, what then unfolds becomes the victim's fault.
This is one of the most common, and one of the most damaging, patterns in human behavior, and we see its operations in many forms. A more recent example from the more personal realm will be found in this discussion about "tone."

Israel's attacks on Gaza always make me think of a horrifying sequence from the film Hud; I've thought of that scene often in the last two weeks, and it was that scene that provided the title for my earlier essay. I described it this way -- and I defy you to formulate a meaningful distinction between what happens to the cattle in the film and the nightmare that Israel inflicts on the Palestinians:
The story concerns a cattle rancher and his family. It is discovered that some of the cattle have contracted hoof and mouth disease. To prevent the spread of the disease, and because he can think of no other means to control it, the head of the family decides that all the cattle must be destroyed.

A large pit is dug, deep enough to prevent the cattle from getting out. The cattle are driven into the pit, with all means of escape closed off. The men stand around the edges of the pit, and they lift their rifles. They begin to shoot -- and they shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot.

Finally, after endless, terrifying minutes, all the cattle are dead.
That is what Israel is doing in Gaza: it is engaged in a program of extermination. Minimal decency and intellectual honesty should compel us to speak the truth about this matter.

At least the cattle were actually diseased, or at least some of them were. What is the disease carried by the Palestinians? It's very simple: their conviction that they, too, have a right to exist.

For that, they must be destroyed.

May 30, 2014

As I Consider the Possibility of Eviction...

Many thanks to the nine people who have donated in response to the preceding post. As things stand now, I won't be able to pay the June rent. I guess there's a real possibility I'll be dealing with a three-day notice and eviction proceedings before long.

I understand that most blog readers are solely interested in posts published nownownow, and that anything published even a week or two ago is considered old news. I might be slightly sympathetic to that view if what most bloggers (and twitterers) write was actually new, but of course 99.99% of what's "new" is recycled, erroneous, frequently stupid crap that was recycled, erroneous, usually stupid crap before any of us appeared on this planet. Ah, well. I lost that battle long ago.

Nonetheless, and since I'm still getting my writing legs back after this health-induced hiatus, I was thinking about the hundreds and hundreds of posts lurking in my archives. I also understand that most current readers never venture into the archives. But I thought I'd take this opportunity to direct you to some articles you might find of interest, despite the lamentable fact that they predate Gutenberg. I think these particular entries have stood the "test of time" quite well, if I were to be grandiose about it.

The first post I'll mention is "Applauding Maestro Fleisher -- With Both Hands." It's a particular favorite of mine, and I've been meaning to point it out for a while. The essay concerns an interesting intersection of art and politics; it also provided me a chance to write about an unusually fascinating chapter from an Oliver Sacks book. Because classical music and the piano are great passions of mine (I briefly studied full-time to be a concert pianist when I was a teenager), it was a joy to write that piece. I'm sure almost no one even remembers it.

The next article is "When Awareness Is a Crime, and Other Lessons from Morton West." I discuss a group of courageous and deeply admirable high school students who peacefully protested the (then) ongoing Iraq occupation. The reward for their awareness -- and their willingness to do something about it -- was to be threatened with expulsion. The episode was outrageous and sickening, but it provided an illuminating example of the multiple lessons being delivered to the students, and to all the rest of us, every day.

"'Regrettable Misjudgments': The Shocking Immorality of Our Constricted Thought" is an overview of the sickening superficiality of our "national discourse," with an emphasis on foreign policy. The essay also reviews the history and development of the false and exceedingly dangerous notion of American Exceptionalism.

I had a lot of fun with the next one: "Unreasoning Hysteria as the Default Position: Joan Crawford Does Foreign Policy." The title accurately conveys the subject matter, and I remain inordinately fond of the little speech I devised for Ms. Crawford as she discourses on the complexities of human entanglement.

"Best. Government. Ever." is a sardonic take on the lunacy and idiocy of the FISA bill passed in the summer of 2007. I found it grimly amusing to read it now, after the past year of the "Great Debate" about government surveillance. For those who were paying attention, all of the issues about which every nincompoop has fervently brayed and bleated in recent months were entirely clear at least seven years ago (when I wrote this post), and actually long before that.

Finally, "Unwelcome History -- Religion, the Progressives, Empire, and the Drug War" offers a review of some history which is unknown to most people (including most people who write about contemporary politics). Among other issues, the article discusses the centrality of an "aggressive, evangelical form of pietism" to the Progressive moment of the early twentieth century, and to Woodrow Wilson's presidency and the drive to involve the United States in World War I. That pietism had other grievous results as well, including the Prohibition movement. I include a description of the astounding and startling results brought about by the combination of the ascendant authoritarian state, peitism and prohibition, and the appetite for vicious war propaganda, including one prohibitionist's impassioned declaration: "We have German enemies," he warned, "in this country too. And the worst of all our German enemies, the most treacherous, the most menacing are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller."

I note two further points about the articles described above. Not one of them appears in the list of Major Essays on the home page of my blog. In fact, with the exception of the Leon Fleisher essay (which, as I say, I'd intended to mention for a while), I found all of these articles essentially at random -- just following links around, until I came across a piece that made me think, "Yes, that might be a good one to mention." But I could have chosen many others; there are many hundreds more from which I could have made my selection.

Oh, well. Old news, right? Who gives a damn.

So I'll return to planning for eviction, and making sure my cats have homes.

May 28, 2014

With Apologies

Once again, I'm very sorry that I've been silent here for so long. The health woes have continued and accumulated. The last month in particular has been very scary on that front on several occasions. It was all made far worse by the blisteringly hot weather which visited us in Southern California for two weeks. (At least, they weren't consecutive weeks, which I suppose was a small mercy.) A couple of weeks ago, it was in the high nineties for four or five days and even reached 101 one afternoon. The cats and I were rendered utterly immobile.

I've been trying to cobble together a few posts, but I'm finding it very slow going at the moment. In addition to the delays resulting from my health problems, I will acknowledge that I find it difficult to write these pieces because, to the extent they deal with the latest circus surrounding the colossal fraud represented by Lord Greenwald, I am almost incapacitated by my feelings of nausea and immense rage. I don't want to steal too much of my own thunder (I will offer a fairly lengthy argument to make the following case), but c'mon, folks. Lord Greenwald's own PR machine presents him as a serious challenge to the brutal, intrusive War-Surveillance State. But any serious analysis focused on the essential structures of the State and its methods of operation makes indisputably clear that the truth is precisely the opposite.

With regard to the strategies Lord Greenwald has adopted for this spectacle, and given his notable alliance with Omidyar, Greenwald is not opposed to the State in any fundamental way. No. In connection with every issue of consequence, Greenwald is the State. Omidyar is the State. (In the same manner, and as I shall explain, Amazon is the State. PayPal is the State. Google is the State. And so on.) That this is not widely recognized, and that it is not viewed as uncontroversial in the same way two plus two are four is uncontroversial -- and still worse, that many people, including most liberals and self-styled radicals, credit the PR and believe Greenwald's astoundingly outrageous claims to be true -- is eloquent testimony to the shattering stupidity of the commentary class. I cannot think of a more powerful, all-encompassing example of shockingly self-cultivated ignorance and perversely dedicated dumbness in my 66 fucking years on this planet. (Hey, I had a birthday while I thought I might be dying! Yeah, happy fucking birthday to me.)

So I'm working on all that. In the meantime, I have to pay the June rent in several days, as well as a few other first of the month bills (including one for internet service). I only have about half of what I need. So I am truly sorry that I must ask for donations when the writing has been non-existent, but I have no choice; perhaps you can consider a donation to be offered for services rendered and services to come. I am enormously grateful for any support you might be able to offer. I would like to continue the work here for a while longer despite this forced hiatus, which I hope is now coming to an end.

Many thanks as always.

P.S. For those who may have missed earlier articles on these subjects, a listing of my articles has been put together by an altogether magnificent human being: here it is. And here is the listing for Tarzie's articles, and see Tarzie's blog for articles published in the last month or so. You might also consult two recent pieces by Chris Floyd, here and here.

April 29, 2014

Still Hanging In

Just a brief word, to apologize for my absence from this space. It's been a ghastly month or so, one health scare after another. Also, a health scare involving one of the beloved felines. Cyrano seems to be fine now -- but he is nearing 16, so... Anyway, he's pretty much his normal, magnificent self again, for which I am tremendously grateful.

I'm slowing beginning to reassemble myself, but it may not be until the weekend or the beginning of next week that I manage to get some writing done. We've just begun a freakishly early heat wave -- and it's going to be in the nineties for the rest of the week. Oh, joy. Regular readers will know that heat like that has a pretty terrible effect on my health.

But we shall muddle through. All my immense gratitude to those of you who have been so kind; your thoughtfulness and support mean a great deal to me.

And the cats and I shall return! (They don't like the heat either. I hear Cyrano muttering, "It's April, for God's sake. What the hell??" He is not pleased.)

April 04, 2014

Call Me "Irresponsible" -- Please

The lamentable circumstances surrounding the ongoing sterilization and neutering of the Snowden documents compel me to return to some fundamental principles of singular importance. One notion has attained what is now uncontroversial popularity even among those who severely criticize the manner in which Lord Greenwald & Friends have chosen to dole out what might have been significantly more disruptive disclosures had they been handled in a very different way.

In a thorough, detailed and richly-deserved trouncing of Lord Greenwald's incoherent, narcissistic, grandiose posturings (which never respond to actual criticisms in a manner understandable to a functioning human being, but are solely designed to browbeat and bully his critics into silence and submission), and a post which deserves your attention (as do many of the comments), Chris Floyd writes:
I feel that, on balance, the method of dissemination [utilized by Lord Greenwald & Friends] has not been as effective as other approaches might have been. (I have never advocated a "total dump" of the data, by the way; in fact, I don't know anyone who has.)
Other Greenwald critics have offered the same observation. They're wrong: I emphatically called for a TOTAL DUMP of ALL the Snowden documents. I went much farther: I imagined a dozen, or a hundred, Snowdens appearing, each laden with a huge trove of documents -- ALL of which are DUMPED on the internet. With this opportunity for additional explanation, I repeat that call. I reiterate and amplify my argument not primarily in connection with the Snowden documents -- that ship departed on its ill-fated voyage long ago, and will eventually find its resting place in the unreachable depths of the silent ocean -- but with a hopeful eye cast in the direction of future whistleblowers.

"Oh, Arthur! How dreadful you are! How criminally reckless! Don't you care at all about innocent lives that might be endangered? Has every spark of decency in your soul been extinguished? How can you be so irresponsible?"

But you see, I reject every standard and every assumption that leads to negative judgments of this kind. I am painfully aware that almost everyone disagrees with me. I don't give a damn. A brief response to those who condemn me would consist simply of an ostensive proof: "Look! The world we have is the world that conforms to your standards and follows your rules. It is a world of brutality, violence, exploitation, cruelty and death. So how's that working out for you?"

I made my call for a total dump in the first article I wrote about the Snowden affair, on June 11, 2013. In rereading that post today, and although I recognize it is unforgivably bad form to say so, I was startled at how accurately I captured a large part of the central problem, and how prescient my words turned out to be. Indulge me for a moment, and consider the opening of that first essay on this subject, keeping in mind what has happened in what is now almost a year since I wrote it:
An immense and unexpected sadness now suffuses the last part of my life. I did not anticipate, when we are ruled by a Death State which grows more brazenly callous in its murderous practices by the day, that those who challenge authority and seek to push back against the ascendance of brutality and oppression would willingly adopt critical aspects of the monsters' manner of destroying us. Whatever radicals and revolutionaries may be found among us, they are, with extraordinarily rare exceptions, always intent on minding their p's and q's, and never, ever soiling their cuffs with even a smidgen of dirt or dust. Even when we speak of peaceful revolution founded in civil disobedience, if you think that an unfailingly polite, neat, and manicured revolution is a contradiction in terms, you're correct. A well-mannered revolution is one doomed to fail. In the current circumstances, polite, rules-abiding challenges to authority have been rendered irrelevant and utterly without meaning.

If you wish to challenge authority in any serious manner, you must be prepared to provoke an unholy, chaotic, extremely messy scene, one punctuated with howls of outrage by those in power, where everyone is mortified, humiliated and riven with panic -- including you. Anything short of that is merely a very small speed bump on power's journey to ever-increasing destruction and death.
The manner of disclosure adopted by Lord Greenwald & Friends, a model of a polite, rules-abiding challenge to authority, has stopped exactly nothing. To the contrary, the primary effect of the disclosures has been to normalize increasingly pervasive, all-encompassing surveillance, and even to make it "legal." The title of my first article was, "In Praise of Mess, Chaos and Panic" -- qualities which Greenwald & Friends obviously detest. That's only to be expected: it's impossible to become celebrated, powerful and wealthy if your goal is the fundamental disruption -- and ultimately, the dissolution -- of the very system that bestows fame, power and money.

In the earlier article, I explained why I call the United States a "Death State": "More and more, oppression and brutalization have become the bywords of domestic policy as well [as foreign policy]. Today, the United States as a political entity is a corporatist-authoritarian-militarist monstrosity: its major products are suffering, torture, barbarism and death on a huge scale." It is a measure of how far we've gone through the looking glass that "dissenters" appear to believe sincerely that they can challenge a Death State by adopting its methods. But when you adopt its methods -- as, for example, by internalizing its standards for disclosure and non-disclosure -- you voluntarily render your dissent "irrelevant and utterly without meaning" insofar as fundamental change is concerned. But the dissenters' acquiescence in this charade offers an additional, invaluable asset to the State: they offer the appearance of serious dissent, while ensuring that the challenge is ultimately inconsequential. In this way, people continue to delude themselves that "reform" is all that is needed, and that the system itself can be saved. This is precisely the pattern followed by Lord Greenwald & Friends.

I do not think that the monstrous Death State can be "saved" in any respect at all. It is a system that is corrupt and evil at its foundation, and in every one of its branches. My dearest hope is that circumstances force its dissolution and/or fundamental reconfiguration over an extended period of time, which might serve to minimize the pain and suffering involved (which would still be enormous, but certainly not greater than the suffering and death which is sure to come if the Death State continues on its current path). It is true that there are isolated, specific issues where injustice and deprivation can and should be ameliorated, if possible. Marriage equality is one such example -- but opening up the military to gays, lesbians and transgendered persons is most certainly not. Marriage equality bestows economic and other advantages on all the population equally. It is beyond indecent to insist that everyone should be entitled to join the Death State's military arm, and thus to become first-hand murderers themselves. Never has a push for "equality" been so ill-conceived, when there is no longer any legitimate reason for anyone to join the military at all.

And the manner of disclosure chosen by Greenwald & Friends is most decidedly not lessening the crimes of the Surveillance State. As noted above (and detailed in several of my articles, such as this one), the final effect of the Snowden leak will only be the normalization and legalization of surveillance on a vast scale.

Let us briefly consider some of the major objections raised to the apparently horrifying prospect of a "total dump." We've heard that disclosure of certain documents would empower other governments to engage in surveillance in ways that the U.S. government does. This objection rests on assumptions, and one notable omission, that seriously undermine it. I assume an adult realizes that every government engages in spying and surveillance to some extent; the major and most powerful governments engage in very broad spying and surveillance. How believable is it that the U.S. government utilizes methods of surveillance that are totally unknown to other States? Did Lord Greenwald do a survey of other governments, asking them if they know about Project Nostradamus (described sufficiently so they know what he's talking about in general terms, but shorn of specifics that would allow them to duplicate it)? That seems unlikely. So how does Greenwald or anyone else know what other States are already aware of, and what would be genuine news to them? Even if we assume that certain surveillance methods will take many people by surprise, the disclosure of those methods will enable those who would resist to develop far more effective means of combatting them and rendering them ineffective. For some reason, that possibility never seems to make it into the equation. So Lord Greenwald & Co. declare this area a no-go. The State is delighted. (I completely discount the outraged statements from heads of state and similarly placed individuals in response to the "revelation" that they themselves have been spied on. When such spying is disclosed in a major news story, of course Merkel will fume and stamp her feet; the charades of politics demand no less. Does anyone -- anyone over the age of ten, that is -- seriously believe that this came as news to her? I'm a nobody, and I assume the government knows everything about me if it wants to. If Merkel and every other foreign political leader hasn't made the same assumption, they're idiots.)

We've also heard that a total dump would reveal the names of individuals who have been surveilled who are completely innocent of wrongdoing, and that such disclosure might reveal details of their lives that they legitimately wish to keep private. But such individuals, or at least some of them, might very much want to know that they've been spied upon, and they might be perfectly willing to accept any temporary inconvenience or even serious embarrassment. Equally important is the point that, if these all-knowing, all-seeing journalists can appreciate how outrageous and unjust it is that innocent people are spied on, then so can the general public. It seems much more likely to me that there would be an outpouring of public sympathy and understanding for those innocent people who have had their lives invaded by the State. Or is it the case that only the very special journalists are able to appreciate issues of this kind? The very special journalists certainly seem to believe that themselves. That's why they're so special.

Or we hear that a total dump would endanger "innocent" people of a different kind: those individuals who work for the Death State, including those engaged in covert operations, including spies themselves. In that first essay a year ago, I parsed some statements from Snowden and Greenwald, trying to figure out who specifically they believed would be harmed by certain disclosures. I pointed out that it certainly sounded as if they were talking about U.S. spies, among others. Later statements confirmed that this was indeed what they meant. And recall that Snowden recently said: "I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue." I termed this "highly objectionable." One reader (of severely impaired mental acuity) thought that I found Snowden's declaration, "I love my country," to be the problem. While I do find such statements offensive (and "objectionable"), I regard them as empty political bloviating; it's a revealing, and enormously depressing, indication of the trajectory of the Snowden Follies that Snowden and Greenwald sound more and more like politicians with each day that passes. But my objection was to the second part: "I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue." I thought of highlighting that part of the sentence in my original post, but decided against it. I thought readers could figure out which part was the more significant. I always underestimate the stupidity of certain readers.

We are talking about those individuals who have chosen to work for the Death State in some of its most deadly and illegitimate branches: in covert operations and in spying. If you believe that "spying serves a vital purpose," you will believe that spies are "innocent," and perhaps even noble. And Snowden "loves" the Death State, for he does not see it as a Death State. I would never expect such a person, or his carefully selected journalists, to mount a serious challenge to the Death State, for they cannot even take the accurate measure of the enemy with which they contend. They do not even see it as an enemy in the way I do, and in the way the facts compel one to see it. (I will address in a separate essay what a journalist should have done in my view, when offered the opportunity to receive the Snowden documents. It is a subject which requires a detailed discussion. For our purposes here, I need only note that to accept the documents -- and to accede to the conditions that Snowden apparently imposed -- requires that the journalist(s) in question be completely comfortable with the exercise of power and, in this particular case, a great degree of power.)

This brings us to the heart of the matter. Just as I view the State as monstrous and illegitimate, so too I view any and all spying and surveillance activities as entirely illegitimate and almost completely without merit of any kind. I've been over this ground many times. For the detailed argument as to why "intelligence" generally is an elaborate (and very profitable) fraud, you can start here and here. The links provide much more background. Always remember that "intelligence" is almost always wrong. I said that spying and surveillance are "almost completely without merit of any kind" only because there are very rare instances where the "intelligence" stumbles upon a small piece of information that is correct. And as rare as it is, even correct information will be disregarded when it runs counter to a policy that the government has already embraced.

You can go through every other objection to disclosure that has been offered and make counterarguments of the kind indicated above with regard to these particular claims. None of the objections is credible or convincing; in every case, a case for disclosure can be made that is at least as compelling, and usually it is far more compelling. Most importantly, since I reject the entire elaborate edifice of the State and surveillance in general, I reject at its root the notion that the State has secrets worthy of protection. The State has no secrets whatsoever that deserve protection from disclosure. None.

So I am brought back to what I wrote at the conclusion of that article from almost a year ago:
The entire edifice of "secrecy," especially with regard to national security, is a vicious lie from start to finish. Put it all out there. If full disclosure endangers those who work for the Death State, the problem -- and the responsibility -- is with those who choose to directly advance the Death State's goals. It is decidedly not with the leaker, or with the journalists.

...

I want mess. I want chaos. I want to see the ruling class in unrelenting, hysterical panic. My fantasy is that a dozen, or a hundred, Edward Snowdens appear, each laden with huge piles of documents. And all those documents are dumped on the internet -- but in a fully mindful and discriminating manner, and with a specific purpose in mind. The Death State's ruling class is intent on destruction, brutality, oppression and murder and, as they tell us repeatedly, their work is far from done. The purpose of unmasking all the secrets that the ruling class is so desperate to keep, of shoveling all of it directly into the blazing, unforgiving sunlight in a fully unfiltered way, is to stop them. ...

Stop them. Your life -- and the lives of many others -- depend on it.
This is emphatically not the view of Lord Greenwald & Friends. They are "serious," "respectable," and "responsible." I am none of those things, and I thank God for it every day.

*****

ADDENDUM: One of the best passages answering the charge of "irresponsibility" in a political context remains the following from Hannah Arendt. I have offered it several times before; I discuss this passage (and another one, as well) at length in "Against Voting." Arendt's essay is titled, "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship," and it appears in Responsibility and Judgment.

In writing about Nazi Germany, Arendt addresses the question: "in what way were those few different who in all walks of life did not collaborate and refused to participate in public life, though they could not and did not rise in rebellion?" This is part of her answer:
The answer to the ... question is relatively simple: the nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority, were the only ones who dared judge by themselves, and they were capable of doing so not because they disposed of a better system of values or because the old standards of right and wrong were still firmly planted in their mind and conscience. On the contrary, all our experiences tell us that it was precisely the members of respectable society, who had not been touched by the intellectual and moral upheaval in the early stages of the Nazi period, who were the first to yield. They simply exchanged one system of values against another. I therefore would suggest that the nonparticipants were those whose consciences did not function in this, as it were, automatic way—as though we dispose of a set of learned or innate rules which we then apply to the particular case as it arises, so that every new experience or situation is already prejudged and we need only act out whatever we learned or possessed beforehand. Their criterion, I think, was a different one: they asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command “Thou shalt not kill,” but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer—themselves. The precondition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but rather the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking. This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.

March 21, 2014

Medical Emergency Begging

I'm in very dire straits. The problem that is screaming for relief (almost literally, haha, gotta keep laughin', right?) is my eyes, the right eye in particular. I had thought it was just some kind of minor irritation, but it's been going on for several weeks and it's steadily getting worse. At this point, I can't even use eye wash, which only makes it much more painful. It feels as if something is lodged in the eyelid, but who knows what's going on.

I dread going to a free clinic about an eye problem. I've read the writeups of my local free clinics that appear online, and they're uniformly dreadful. And given my past experiences, I'd strongly prefer to avoid the ER. So I'd like to go to an opthamologist if at all possible. I've located what appears to be a good one nearby, and he seems to be reasonable financially. I figure it will be around $300 for the initial consultation and exam, and then another several hundred dollars if I need a comparatively simple procedure. (If it's something much more complicated, well...who knows, again.)

At the moment, I almost have enough for next month's rent (a couple of hundred dollars short), and that's it. So if I spend what I have on the eye doc, I have nothing left for rent or for anything else.

All of this has been made much worse this week because the awful back pain that I had during the holidays came back on Monday. Seems to be the same exact thing, in the same location. Last time, it was completely agonizing; this time, it's only semi-agonizing. Until today, I wouldn't have been able to get to a doctor anyway; I was lying in bed almost all the time, only able to move a little bit now and then. Now I can manage a few steps, very, very slowly. So I'd like to get to this opthamologist guy ASAP.

PayPal is okay, and I can manage to move enough, albeit slowly and with great care, to withdraw any donated funds promptly. Mail is fine, too. (As before, please write me at arthur4801 at yahoo dot com if you need the address.)

Meanwhile, I have a couple of posts hanging fire. I've tried to work on them, but all I've been able to manage is a few minutes once in a while. After that, words become very blurry and start swimming around, and/or the back pain is too much, so I have to stop. I'd like to be able to finish them, and to write a bunch of other stuff I've been thinking about.

I told a friend that I can't imagine what past sins I'm paying for, but whatever I did, I should have had a lot more fun! My friend, wag that he is, suggested that perhaps I enthusiastically went to work for one of the leading fucking oligarchs on the whole damned planet. Ha. Ha.

Actually not funny at the moment. My good pal Petey O. could sneeze enough money to change my life forever, along with the lives of a number of other people. Fuck him. I mostly feel like smashing a whole lot of stuff. But to do that effectively, I need to be able to, ya know, see it first. God damn it all to hell. (Writing even this is an unbelievably momentous chore. I'm squinting all the time, while my right eye never stops watering.)

Many thanks for listening. I'll let you know how I'm doing in a few days.