I promised to do something about our L.A. trip in September.
Over the last decade or so I realized that, unexpectedly, Harlan Ellison had become a friend. One of those with whom, despite only occasional contact, you connect with on some level which eludes description. I’ve puzzled over this from time to time, but was told by people I trust finally to just go with it.
Harlan trusted me enough to come to St. Louis for a local convention and put in an appearance despite considerable obstacles. He had suffered a stroke which left him physically diminished, he had undergone a number of blows healthwise, and, frankly, he had run himself at the edge of endurance for all his life.
I’ve written elsewhere about Harlan’s influences, on me and others, and what I thought of him as a writer. To encapsulate, I think he was remarkable and unclassifiable. He loved tilting at windmills. He tried to use his stories to expand the reader’s awareness, mostly of our own limitations, and give us an experience that might alter our perspective, emotionally, ethically, politically, and personally. To grapple with an Ellison story in its best example was to, whether we knew it or not, grapple with our own inner landscapes. In my opinion, Harlan Ellison was Up There, along with the Borges and the Vidals and the Capotes, the Lessings and the MacLeans and the Le Guins and the Munros. He managed to impact science fiction so significantly that it is difficult to talk about it without a nod to the seminal Dangerous Visions anthologies.
He did not live curtained behind his literary output. He was as voluble and controversial in his public self as he was dynamic and influential in his work and this, naturally, has led to, at best, a mixed legacy. I defy anyone to be so personally consistent and engaged at that level and make no enemies, leave behind undisturbed waters, and stir no antipathy even among those sympathetic.
Be that as it may, my acquaintance with him was surprising, enlightening, and altogether positive. He credited me with being a good writer and that is something, because he did not bullshit about that.
After his visit to St. Louis, I spoke to him a couple of times. He suggested we needed to come out there, to see him, to see the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars, to talk privately. Once more. He made me wish I’d met him ten years before I had.
For a variety of reasons, we delayed. Then I saw that the 2019 Nebula Awards were to be held in Los Angeles, so I asked Donna, what would you say to that and while we’re there we can go see Harlan and Sue? Of course, yes, call him.
I didn’t. I wanted to get a couple of things settled, line up a few more ducks, so to speak. I was going to call. I was going to call that weekend.
And at work I saw the notice of his passing.
To say that 2018 was a cruel year is too imprecise. A lot of people, friends and casual acquaintances, people we knew, were fond of, had good memories of, died last year. Harlan’s passing stung in a different way than Ursula’s, which was distinct from Vic’s. But it did sting, not least because of that intended phone call and the possible visit.
When we were called to be invited to the private memorial, there was no question of not going. We arrived on Friday, checked into our hotel, and then reached out to see what was happening. “Some of us are getting together with Sue at Mel’s Diner.” We called a cab and, because it was Friday and that time of day, we inched our way over the hill to Ventura Boulevard to join Sue and close friends.
Yes, that Mel’s Diner.
Here we are:
We were just sent this picture, which Donna shot with Marty’s phone. Marty is the one sitting opposite me. We’re the only ones with hats.
It’s a moment. I don’t know everyone in the picture. Next to Marty is Jon Manzo and next to him is Sue. The huddle to the right in the corner are more friends, in particular Tim and Andrea. Greg Ketter from Dreamhaven Books is further down on the right side of the table.
We met a lot more people the next evening at the memorial. George Takei and Walter Koenig were there, Melinda Snodgrass, George R.R. Martin, Tim and Serena Powers, L. Q. Jones, David Gerrold. A lot of stories were passed around, a lot of memories. They, however, are private.
There is a whole massive piece of my personal history entangled with Harlan Ellison from before I had any possibility of calling him on the phone. It is, for some of us, awkward to make that transition from One Who Is Influenced By to a friend. I doubtless made a bit of a fool of myself tripping over my tongue. It took a while to get over the hero worship. He made it easier than it might have been, because he had no patience with it.
You can sometimes gauge the size of someone’s soul by seeing those who will remember him fondly. Harlan’s soul was pretty damn big. And by “soul” I do not mean some ethereal afterlife wisp of religiously defined phlogiston. No, I mean the very real imprint left behind on the people who knew him, either through the work or personally.
He was here and for a while he mattered. For many of us, he still matters. And for the rest, pick up one of his books and read—he’s still here.
I suppose I should do this. What a year. What a miserable year.
Not entirely. But it’s amazing how a couple of truly unpleasant events can color an entire period, mixed bag though it is. There were good things, there were pleasant things, there was ample to lift the spirits.
It’s just that they had to be lifted so far.
As year-in-review posts go, I should probably keep this one short.
At some point back in the spring I finished my last novel. (Or was that the year before? I’d have to check, I don’t remember. No, that was April of 2017, so among other things my sense of time is fraying.) So a year and a half (or more) ago I turned in a novel to my agent and I am still waiting. I should be good at this.
I say “my last novel” because I have a drawer-full unsold. (I know what it was. I set aside the third volume of the alternate history trilogy I’d been working on to do Voyage of the Only Child and went back to it that fall and finished a draft this year. Okay, not as frayed as I thought.) I decided to go back to short fiction. The trouble is, I haven’t been writing short stories on a regular basis for so long that somewhere along the way I sort of forgot how.
Not completely. I’ve got a half dozen in rough draft now. I just have to find the time and patience to do them up and get them out, but that’s on track, and I actually submitted two stories last month.
All of that to say, basically, that this year has caused me to reassess my so-called career.
I don’t really have one. There are many factors at work—lack of time, too many things vying for my attention, being 64 and tired—many I’m probably not even aware of. My output, which used to be respectable, has slowed to a crawl.
I’m working on it. That fact alone is a positive. I am working on it. I’ve got new stories in process, ideas, and I find I cannot just say I’m done. I have officially given up on quitting. It never works and I start to sound like a broken record.
It helps to be working with several of the brightest people it has ever been my privilege to know.
It seems surreal that I’ve been working for Left Bank Books now six, almost seven years (is that right?) and I’m looking at the fourth year just ending running the Great Novels of the 22nd Century reading group there. The SF component of the store has grown and as of this past year we have a regular author track for events, the SF: STL series. Working with Archon has been a plus and it seems on track to become a Real Thing.
It seems often that all the peripheral things to The Career work out fine while the central thing—publishing books and stories—lags. I had something of a revelation this past year in a conversation with a coworker who claimed she wanted to be as successful as I. When I demurred, stating that I am not particularly successful, she cut me off and talked about how many books I’ve published.
Well, it did cause me to reassess, and it helped. Metrics vary, standards are different.
In the end, though, it comes down to how you see yourself. For now, I’ll keep that to myself.
2018 has been a mixed bag, to say the least. I’m not sure where it will end up, but right now it’s hard to get past the fact that too many friends have left the scene. It just wouldn’t stop, leaving the stage with one more loss that seemed almost insulting. But to who?
What I am looking forward to is a year of getting our feet back under us and accomplishing what we managed not to accomplish yet.
I read 76 books cover to cover (up from 51 the previous year) many of them read aloud to Donna in a newfound pastime we both enjoy. I’ll go over them on the Proximal Eye later.
As I said, I started submitting stories to magazines again. There aren’t that many of the old magazines left, but there are bunch of new ones.
I get up every day with curiosity, even though I feel wearier than ever before. I have no doubt the state of the world around me is a big contributing factor. It’s hard to be hopeful in the face of so much crap.
Philosophy has its benefits in this case, but I find the fact that we don’t have much choice but to do better pretty serviceable right now.
I plan to play a little chess, read several of the really Big Books on my to-be-read pile, and travel.
And write. Again, not a lot of choice there.
But I can endeavor to be less boring.
On that note, welcome to 2019, and I hope all who read this will find health, reason, joy, and hope in the coming months. Be safe, be alive, be well.
Trying to understand our present circumstances can easily take one into a kind of archaeology. How did we get here from…where?
I see a lot of people putting up old videos of Ronald Reagan making statements which the present Republican Party would not support on a bet. The argument over Social Security being one of them.
Listening to Reagan today feels odd, like he was some kind of kindly old uncle who patted the air and told us all to calm down and eat our vegetables and play nice. He is, however, held in such high esteem by people who wouldn’t tolerate his old school moderation for a minute, and you have to wonder why.
That he’s dead and no longer around to criticize helps. But it doesn’t explain the heart-felt gratitude of those who are so far to the right of him that it’s surprising they’re still on the map.
To a younger generation, it must seem strange. What was it about Reagan that has turned him into an icon for people who seem bent on dismantling everything he seemed to have stood for?
Knowing what he stood for, though, is a problem.
He was elected as a reaction to the public perception of his predecessor as a weak president. Reagan was the modern era’s first MAGA president.
To be fair, he was elected at the end of a decade of lows in American history. A president left office in disgrace, we ended a war in ignominious defeat (though many believed otherwise), the economy was reeling from the combination of major cuts in spending for war materiel, the demobilization of millions of servicemen, expanding job opportunities for women and minorities, and a general malaise. The Seventies were split between those who wanted to party and those who wanted the kind of presumed clarity of the WWII era. Jimmy Carter was a genuinely good man in an impossible position, although in hindsight he was dealing with things, and given another term might very well have solved many of these problems without the consequence of fueling a rising cronyism and the beginnings of the deep divisiveness we’re living with now. The debacle in Iran did him in and we elected The Great Communicator.
He had another nickname—the Teflon President. His administration resulted in 138 indictments and/or convictions for scandals, the largest of any president. Scandals from grant rigging to the savings & loan crisis (a test run for 2008) to the Iran-Contra Affair. Somehow, none of this managed to tar his image and no hint of any wrongdoing was ever successfully laid at his feet.
In my opinion, we are living through the consequences of Reagan and what I feel to be the greatest disservice he did to this country. Done, I have no doubt, from the best intentions. He saw himself as a savior, willing to do just about anything to rescue America from its own self.
A few years ago I was in attendance at an event with James Rosebush. He served as Nancy Reagan’s chief of staff. He had published a book, called True Reagan, and he was touring. The book is about Reagan’s religiosity. Apparently, Rosebush had had many conversations with Reagan and as the two of them shared deep religious convictions, many of these conversations revolved around that. Rosebush contended that Reagan was a Biblical scholar. During the presentation, there was even a hymn sung, Reagan’s favorite (no, I do not recall which it was).
Rosebush said something that night that sent a chill down my backside but which almost immediately put the last 30 years in a clear context. He claimed that one of Reagan’s core beliefs was that government, especially large government, was an obstacle to people knowing Jesus. That it was one of his missions to do something about that.
Hence the whole shrinking the size of the federal government thing he kicked off.
But it also makes one of Reagan’s most famous statements make a completely different kind of sense. “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Mileage varies, of course, and individually people will have different experiences, but when you consider the size and complexity of this country and all the services our governments, state, local, and federal, have performed, the United States has had possibly the most successful government in history. Never mind the mean-spirited detractors who spin it with hearsay and lie and chafe under regulations. Now that we have someone who actually is tearing things apart, as these institutions begin to fail we may come to see how well they worked before because we never noticed them till they no longer functioned.
But to the point that Reagan saw government as a barrier to god, that statement takes on a wholly different meaning.
The problem, of course, is that we did not know he believed that. Rosebush said Reagan knew he could never say so in public, because he knew he could never get elected.
I’m sorry, but that’s fraud. I believe we had a right to know that’s how he felt. Because most people who voted for him did so no doubt under the mistaken belief that he intended to make government work better. I can say that because throughout our history, that has been a basic assumption in ever election—vote for this guy because he’ll make things run better.
Not tear them apart.
Reagan’s antipathy toward the Soviet Union clarifies with this as well. Granted, most Americans thought of the Soviet Union as an enemy, but there was certain fervor Reagan brought to it that went a bit beyond. He raised the deficit and the national debt to field a war machine the sole purpose of which was to spend the Soviet Union into penury. But the fact remains that he was Republican, running in a party that traditionally viewed itself as the more fiscally responsible of the two major parties, and he began a decades-long cycle of mounting debt incurred under Republican administrations. Along with this was the rise of the Grover Norquist arm of conservatism which sought actively to suffocate the federal government.
This is the legacy of this unstated and unrevealed philosophy. The reversal of the parties in terms of spending and fiscal responsibility can be put on Reagan.
Two other things he did which, combined with the above, put him the running for one of our most destructive presidents. He opened the door to a politicized religious movement that has vexed us ever since and he initiated the Second Gilded Age with the absurdity of trickle-down economics.
Neither of those two had the kind of apparent impact they later manifested, but he started it, and, I believe, in support of his unstated belief that government must be reduced to a size where it can do almost nothing for people.
Because, after all, government gets in the way of people knowing god.
At this point, it would be useful to point out what may be, for some, a distinction without a difference. We are often challenged by charges of anti-religiosity when a programmatic measure is resisted or struck down as unConstitutional. School prayer, for instance. What seems obvious to those with less ideological intentions is that the idea of banning school prayer is absurd. No one can do that. Prayer is personal. How can it even be monitored? No one can stop a child from praying in school—silently, at any time. What is demanded, however, is not prayer but recitation in support of attempted conformism. Those who insist on such demonstrations, whether they realize or admit it, are not seeking a freedom to pray—which is private and personal and unrestricted—but the permission to force adherence by public observance. The difficulty should be obvious in any example of divergent religious beliefs.
This, among other things, becomes a rallying point for the belief that government interferes with religion. The day the government sends agents into a church and orders the congregation to cease worship is the day you will have that.
I point this out to make it clear that what has resulted from Reagan’s unstated beliefs is not in support of religion as a personal expression but an ongoing debate over the texture, tone, and tenor of our public identity. And before it is taken that I mean something akin to a fashion statement, it is important to remember that when you insert these changes into public discourse, you are making a statement about what is acceptable, which eventually can become matters of law. This is not benign. The simple answer to school prayer has always been: let each child pray silently according to his or her own creed, which has never been acceptable to the vocal advocates of formalized school prayer.
Because Reagan also allowed the intense politicization of the Religious Right in the form of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. As an example, he could not have been more obvious in his preferred form. Falwell was strident, divisive, arrogant, and something of a charlatan. His was a programmatic christianity that sought, in contrast to all past fundamentalist movements, political influence if not direct political control. Apologists will say Reagan only used them to stir up a base of voters with no real intention of ceding anything to them. If so, then that, too, would have been a species of fraud, but one we have become accustomed to, at least in a naively cynical way. By the end of his presidency, however, the lines had been clearly drawn and we see the battlefield in stark terms today.
At the same time, this movement, such as it was at the time, was gifted with an issue that allowed it to shift debate from the tractable to the unanswerable: abortion. What this did for those who have fueled the divisiveness is allow for transfer of concern from systems to identity in a way that had not been done since christianity overwhelmed pagan traditions.
Most problems in human relations can be addressed if not solved through practical methodologies—systems. Most of the 20th Century in the United States and, arguably, throughout the world has been a period of aggressively creating institutions and systems for dealing with what at one time or another have been profound problems, from food distribution to health care to legal equity for citizens. We were actually getting pretty good at it, so much so that it seemed possible that we might solve all the major problems and establish the kind of continental if not global future once considered the pipe dreams of science fiction. (We’re still on track in many areas, present calamity-politics notwithstanding.)
Granted, no system is perfect, and granted something always go awry. People get overlooked, ignored, sometimes trampled. (But if you want to look at an example of how successful our system-building has been, as a rough measure, look at how much free time and access so many people have today to complain about how bad they have it. Not that many people don’t have it bad, but compared to 60 or 70 years ago, more of us are enjoying the benefits of effective problem-solving to the point that too many people have no idea what it is they’re trying to dismantle or how bad things would become if the dismantling is successful.) But we can look back and see a clear progress. We’ve been getting there.
But systems are complex and understanding them, especially in terms of why something hasn’t been fixed yet, requires the kind of time and attention most of us do not have. When election time rolls around, many of the issues are abstract, heavy on detail, and necessitate a grasp of nuance in causal relationships that, frankly, we pay our representatives to understand so we can get on with our lives.
Along comes Reagan and, more importantly, the iconoclasts riding in on his coattails. In order to sell their program—and in order for the Religious Right to gain and maintain traction in the political sphere—the attention of the voter has to be moved from the mind-numbing tangle of systems to the clear-cut, heroic lines of indentitarianism. Namely, the struggle of Good versus Evil.
Abortion was tailor-made for that.
Reagan was less concerned about that, though, than about the Soviet Union, and given his apparent belief that government interfered with people knowing god, the Soviet Union for him could be nothing but an exemplar of Government As Satan. For him, this was not a struggle over competing economic systems and their concomitant expressions of colonialism—this was about Right versus Wrong, Virtue versus Sin, God versus godlessness.
So he began the tradition of sapping our national wealth to fund a crusade against evil in the world in the form of the Soviet Union.
There was, frankly, never much enthusiasm for trying to find common ground with them or, given victory in the struggle, providing aid to see them through into a workable polity. Because that would have meant building exactly what Reagan thought was wrong in the world—a viable and rather extensive government.
This also undid him in the Iran-Contra Affair. His convictions about communism being irreconcilable with godliness led him to fund brutish men who used those arms to destroy schools and clinics. He could not see past his preconceptions to understand that, while he might disagree philosophically with the Sandanistas, they had been duly elected by their people, and the targest of the right-wing Contras were sick people and children along with federal troops. It was a shameful abuse of his office.
Reagan exhibited a deep and largely innocent faith in people being basically able to do anything they needed to do, without state assistance of any kind. He must have felt that without the tremendous burden of soviet state apparatus, the Russian people would just naturally have developed into a benign community of self-sufficient American clones. If he felt that way, he did not understand the nature of his own people, either.
Consider another action he took that has resulted in a massive problem today: according the Rosebush in the same lecture, Reagan “did not believe in psychiatry or mental health problems.” He gutted HHS, if you recall, and shut down the mental health institutions that had been caring for the disabled. They ended up on the street and many remain there because there is nowhere for them to go. PTSD does not exist, bipolar disorder is a myth, and I suppose schizophrenia is possession by devils and the sufferers only need to find god. However far down the line he actually thought this through, the result has been a chronic homeless problem that had the added “virtue” of demonstrating the insufficiency of government of solve problems.
As for his economic policies, that was clarified as well. He based his program—supply-side or, popularly, Reaganomics—on something know as the Laffer Curve. I wrote about it at the link. It has been obvious for a long time that he did not understand economics well enough, if at all, to see this for the nonsense it was. (His vice president understood, hence his smoke and mirrors comment, but by the time George H.W. Bush was in office we were wedded to it.) I don’t believe it would have mattered. It looked like a way to get the government out of economic regulation, which by extension would have ultimately crippled the government, which would be consistent with his unstated beliefs. For what it’s worth, I also do not believe he expected it to really hurt anyone. I think he naively accepted reassurances from business that if he “took the chains off” of course they would do right by the country.
(A side note here: Reagan oversaw the pillage of our high-tech industrial base. Not many people are aware that during his two terms over 280 companies fell prey to the corporate raiding of the day and were purchased by foreign owners, primarily British and Japanese. These were not companies that just made lightbulbs and tv remotes, but many companies doing classified work for our government and had developed very sophisticated methods for building very complex things that gave us a considerable edge globally. Upon purchase, though, those methods if not necessarily the products became foreign property and we lost vital edges. Many of these companies petitioned Washington for protection because of the highly-sensitive nature of what they did, but Reagan grandly declared that we “have no industrial policy” and allowed them to be sold out of the country. To my mind, this shows no Machiavellian long-game, but a fundamental disconnect and a lack of understanding about the nature of what was happening and what we were losing. But it is consistent with his opinion, apparently, that government should stay out of everything. See: Anthony Campagna, The Economy In The Reagan Years)
They did right by themselves, which has resulted in the morass of stagnant wages and endless arguments over cost-of-living, and the obscene imbalance in wealth.
Once begun, the diminution of our public faith in our institutions proceeded apace, to the point where we collectively mistrust everything and grope for tangible meaning that might once have simply been there had we known at the time what it was this man, who remains for many one of the greatest presidents we ever had, truly believed. Now we are faced with these pocket movements of denying everything from the Holocaust (a perennial favorite) to the Anti-vaxxers and climate change denial. These are all aspects of systemic knowledge and in the case of vaccination of systemic problem-solving (successfully, I might add) but which have been tied to big government and somehow in opposition to a moralistic self-image that rejects codification.
So, based on these things—supply-side economics, the decoupling of institutions from public faith, and the shift in public discourse from problem-solving to indentitarian posturing—I put in my bid for Reagan being placed near the bottom. And the irony is, he probably had no idea it could get so bad. He was basing his iconoclasm on a firm faith in the very institutions he had launched his supporters to destroy. He had a deep, quaint faith in American Goodness that was unsupportable then and seems badly mauled now. The average American probably is, by most measures, a good person, certainly not malevolent, but once you rise through the layers to where power politics and money mix poisonously, Goodness is only something talked about at the bottom of a ledger or the tally of a poll.
Government interferes with people knowing god.
There are two major things wrong with that idea. The first comes out of a twisted notion that people only go to church when things are bad. So if we solve problems and fix our institutions and secure the common wealthfare as we can, this belief says we will lose faith in god. Why worship god when we can do this all for ourselves?
Well, that’s a rather punitive and stunted view of religious faith. Not uncommon. But even if it were true, for the adherents to justify wrecking the well-being of people they don’t know in the cause of pushing them out of necessity into a set of beliefs that may not be free and genuine is vile. (Of course, there is a corollary belief that successful states are automatically decadent and this is ungodly. Well.)
The other thing wrong with this, is a simple misapprehension of that old saying about deities working in mysterious ways. What if those successful institutions are the natural expression of a faithful community?
Either way, to hold such a conviction and then run for high office and allow people to believe you will do the right thing by them—well, you may, regardless, but to withhold that information means you don’t trust your own message or the people you’re delivering it to. We had a right to know the man we were electing as well as possible.
Now we have another of these Make America Great Again people in office, only there is no good-natured, naive uncle in that suit but a venal, corrupt narcissist who likely would never have gotten close to this had the stage not been set by a man still worshiped and longed-for who could not now, as he was then, get elected to a state legislature for the party he once led.
Government interferes with people knowing god.
And we wonder why there is a separation of church and state built into our constitution.
We had a Saturday night get-together with good friends. There was good, good wine, laughter, music, stories. They have a cool place. It was fun.
I’m working on some things. For now, for this week, Thanksgiving is coming up. Be safe, be well, treasure each other, value time, show kindness, and keep a warm place for those times when you need refuge. Inside.
Because I love my dog, she got a walk this morning. I really didn’t want to, but she deserved a walk. I don’t know why. She’s cute and all, but it was damn cold this morning. Still is.
So I thought I can’t be the only one who thinks fall didn’t lasty very long this year. With that in mind, something from a couple weeks ago. Might warm some folks up.
On the other hand, so would staying home with a warm puppy.
I prefer shooting photographs with something approximating an actual camera. I realize phones have become marvelous recording devices, but they just don’t feel like cameras, so I shy away from them, using them only when I have no other option.
Occasionally, I get some half-way decent results. For instance, an early morning walk with my dog:
Yes, it’s been tweaked. Hard to pass up a good sky, though I do like to have something else in the frame to contrast it to.
Sitting at a stoplight on my way home from work during one of our first snow showers of the year. Yes, I dislike snow, but it does make for drama in an image.
I am still sorting through my feelings about election day. A couple of things, not new. Election Day should be made a national holiday. There is no excuse, unless the parties are determined to prevent people of opposing or “unreliable” groups voting.
Another thing, I think we should stop talking about impeachment. It would blow up in all our faces if the House moved to impeach. Not that I wouldn’t like to see him removed, but right now the downside might be worse than just letting him lose the next election. Impeach him and lose, which would happen with a loaded Senate, and he’d be a martyr of sorts. There is more than enough work to be done and right now enough momentum to see through a change in occupant in 2020. Let’s let the process work.
We have made colossal fools of ourselves this time around, through our divisions, our indifference, our fear. Watching the exchange with Jim Acosta the other day I half expected him to get down and try to punch a reporter, which would have been delicious.
But enough. We know that if elections are free and open we can repair this. We know because we’re still witnessing attempts at gimmicking local elections and in many cases it still did not work.
We have to trust that we can do this. The machinery is not broken but it must be used in order to function properly. To all those out there who still sat on the sidelines, you are helping no one.
Anyway, the chief problem right now is that certain people are playing the oldest political game in the book—they are making us afraid and then pointing out targets. So I ask, in all honesty—
Just what are we afraid of?
And make no mistake, some folks will claim they aren’t afraid, just angry, but when they take action and lay blame, we know otherwise. They’re afraid.
It would be easy to mess this up by allowing distractions and pettiness.
But enough. Let me leave you with an image. There’s a lot in it, and can be interpreted in many ways, but the truth is mainly that I think it’s a cool photograph.
Have a good day.
I’ve never really had the nerve to do this. Not since I was about eleven and I trick-or-treated as Superman with one of those old, too-big, sparkle-spattered costumes that tied up the back like a hospital gown.
But what the hell. This year, some friends suggested I try the superhero motif for Halloween. I thought I had the bits and pieces to do Captain America. But I never got around to ordering the helmet and almost at the last minute I considered not bothering.
So I compromised. I cobbled this together and decided, screw it, I might just pull this off. So I showed up at work like this.
When asked “Who are you supposed to be?”
Some folks got it.
Anyway, I may never look like this again. But, folks, this is what 64 looks like. For me, anyway.
Let me for a few minutes be clear. We bandy politics and philosophy daily, there is a give and take which makes us who we are, and the vast majority of it—at work, at school, on weekends, among friends—is good. The free exchange of ideas is the very basis of who we wish to see ourselves as a country.
Comes a point, though, when the belief that all ideas are somehow equal and equally valuable must be challenged and disposed of. This is a toxic notion, a slow poison, and in its later stages results in an inability to discern reason from fear, truth from propaganda, morality from tribalism.
If someone tells you that you should be afraid of some superficially-defined Other, that person is not your friend.
If someone tells you that if not for Them, all our problems would be solved, that person is a liar.
If someone tells you that you are more valuable than someone else because you look one way and They look another, that person is using you.
There are those—politicians, all, whether they serve in political capacities or not—who benefit from the rest of us being afraid. They categorize, sort, and judge and tell you to do the same on the basis of traits that are at their simplest none of your business and at the most complex entire fabrications that resemble fact but are nothing but fantasy. All they want is the power you will give them by accepting their version of reality.
It could not be clearer that none of this is theoretical. The cage doors have been flung open and the jackals are loose. We have always had the hatefilled, the small-minded, the stunted souls, the corrupted among us, but they stay usually in their rooms because—usually—the rest of us refuse to allow them valence. That changed. They received day passes.
Shooting up a synagogue, a church, a school, a nightclub, a concert because the shooter is so blindly afraid does not happen in a void. Someone stoked that fire, then stood back, counted the votes from the newly-frightened, and judged it a win.
This is not who we once thought we were. There are those implying that this is somehow insurmountable and to deal with it we have to go farther down the road of disowning our dreams and our decency and, by the way, keep Certain People “in line.”
They aren’t hiding anymore and the argument that both sides are equally at fault has worn into threads. Stop listening to the fear mongers. More, take away their pulpit.
We should not allow ourselves to be defined by body count.