Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

It's a sleety paradise in the nation's capitol today, a fitting end to a really dismal decade. As I tiptoed down the slippery slope to the Metro today I thoght back on New Years Eves past, trying to recall any that were really noteworthy or even fun. There were some of course, starting I think in college, southern Virginia, my first one with my first serious girlfriend; the cops pulled us over and made her drive to the next party. (That doesn't happen anymore.) After about three or four drunken bashes we just went back to my cold flat and got under my unzipped sleeping bag. I went to work as a bartender soon after that and spent many New Years on duty, rarely a real fun time. Once I worked a joint on 19ht Street in DC that stayed open until 4 AM on that night. I still remember that dawn, tossing a beer bottle at the dumpster so the rats would scatter before we dumped the trash can -- and not as we dumped, scrambling across our backs.

Then there were a few in New York: one, in grad school, where I attended the MLA convention and then kept my room at the Sixth Avenue Hilton for a few extra days so as to do up the town with a big, blonde, slow-talkin' Southern belle who flew in for Newyork Newyeerz . We caught up with an old school friend of mine who was a writer about the New York "Bright Lights" scene and so blessed with a million swanky invites. We started at the legendary club Area, where there was a huge dystopian tableau vivant in the front hallway, model/actors in silver hazmat suits feeding thousands of little fetus dolls into a conveyor belt and machinery then catching them when they spit out the other end; also there were transvestites in both unisex bathrooms to sell you combs, perfume, condoms, and probably coke and Ecstasy (of which we already probably had plenty). Later we were at the Swiss consul's vast place where nearly nude lads in Roman slave sandals dispensed French bubbly by the tank car; this party broke up when some woman (rumored to be the consul's wife) crawled into the bathtub and slit her wrists. We were unceremoniously shoved onto the snowblasted streets about 4 AM and then we went to the egg-white duplex flat of one Mikiko. My gal asked Mikiko what she did, and she answered deadpan, "I shop." Being a bit wired still when we got back to the Hilton at dawn I watched, far below me, a fellow run up the untracked snows of Sixth Avenue toward the park and decided to do likewise. He and I had Central Park basically to ourselves.

About a decade later that same writer friend and I, both sadly on the outs with our girls at that time, trouped fecklessly around the City looking for fun while a vicious ice-storm pissed sleet on us by the bucket. We found ourselves at John Lurie's threadbare place, whereat there was a going-away/New Years party (Lurie was moving to Africa -- briefly) underway with various downtown scenesters, including, oddly, Abel Ferrara and Jaye Davidson (not together), and nothing to drink but white wine and vodka. It was a fabulous party, as I recall -- sort of. One of the last things I remember was being in a booth in Buddha Bar wherein Ferrara and company were passing joints.

And then there was one just a few years ago that started with a nice dinner in the tiny Hamlet of Norge, Virginia before moving to various venues of Williamsburg whereat almost immeasurable mirth and camaraderie was had. I woke up in a living room, halfway in a pup tent, next to a Christmas tree. My hostess had sustained, at some point, a vicious burn on one leg when a pyrotechnic device had rocketed up her leg. We gathered up the undead scattered around the house and went out for Bloody Marys.

I file all these thing now under Instances of the Unthinkable in Everyday Life, the book I will write as soon as all possible litigants have passed on.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Obama Is Cheney's Prison Bitch

It's now obvious that Dick Cheney just can't help himself -- whenever there's some kind of uptick, no matter how incompetent or trivial on the "terrorism" front, Dick Asleep-at-the-Wheel Cheney will forget about the thousands who died on his watch and accuse the current President of being soft on terror. Obama has mostly himself to blame for this. When he announced very early in his term that he was going to "look forward" instead of prosecuting any of the Bushies for their inummerable documented and even proudly admitted crimes and war crimes, he basically said, " I have no stomach for a fight," no matter how grave the principle or reprehensible the offense. It followed, like reaction on action that the GOP crime syndicate would take that as their cue to punk the Honolulu fancypants, and that's pretty much what BO can expect for the next three years.

Obama is very quickly proving to be just as incompetent and unprincipled as Bush, even if not as personally incurious and stupid. Perhaps he can change, and turn it all around but I doubt it. And there doesn't seem to be any sense of failure in this adminsitration; they seem rather to have a genius for declaring Mission Accomplished in the smoldering ruins of their own promises. Is there no hope of a Democratic primary?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On Evil and Religion

I've been travelling a bit in the service of the arts and the art of living and so not writing or posting much but I did manange a long comment, a while back, at First Draft, where one of the smart bloggers did a little ruminating on evangelists and their place on the moral ladder. The fact that Oral Roberts will soon have a grave to piss on reminded me of my ruminations, then, and maye serve to explain why I may make a beery pilgrimage to OR's resting place.

It seems I caught the blogger in question being a little too charitable to the Crusaders, the people who, in a sort of wilful or lazy throwback to the Bronze Age, still believe in magic, monsters, miracles and messiahs, and who, moreover, want to make the rest of us conform to their putative beliefs. Now, in the spirit of Xmas, let me just say I think all of us except psychopaths have a religious impulse (even if the best of us express it in a skeptic's Shakerish work-is-prayer mode), and I have no problem with any dogma insofar as it makes people more humane, ethical and tolerant -- as the faithful are fond of claiming it does. But insofar as religion doesn't do these things or subverts them, I'm all for strangling the last king with the entrails of the last priest. So, anyway I sez to the blogger:

I don’t understand why you (and so many Americans) are so quick to exonerate evangelicals, unless it’s the product of our general sentimental fondness for ‘old time religion’ – for others.

You write:

“You can argue about how fucked up that vision is, but you can't say that the people who believe in it are cynical exploiters; they really do think that they have the ultimate answer, and that the world would be better off if their vision prevailed…. Wrong, sure. Evil, no.”

But I think this is flat wrong, and its error is based in a common misunderstanding of evil. Evil is not some conscious Hannibal Lecteresque delectation of malice, not cynical or demoniac machinations. Evil is much more universal and banal than that, more a matter of criminal negligence, of failure in due moral diligence, and eschewal of the examined life, and especially the cumulative, collective, synergistic effect of these among masses of people.

Sure, many fundamentalists of all stripe are sincere. But Hitler was sincere. Many of his followers sincerely thought the world would be better without Jews. And many today think the world would be best rid of blacks, Tutsis, Moslems, queers, abortionists what have you. But their sincerity does not exonerate the evil of their views or their actions, just as it doesn’t exonerate the Nazis or slaver owners or Inquisitionists, none of whom, in point of hard fact, were monsters. They were just plain old, tacky, home-made evil. They couldn’t be bothered to reflect on the moral dimensions of their acts.

Most evangelicals and/or fundamentalists are similarly (if not so dramatically) evil it seems, too bone-ignorant to realize that their program has been tried often in the past and invariably has led to atrocity, or so flawed as to be almost incapable of questioning their own premises or motives, and, in either case, in denial about how the absolute power they crave – the power to make others “do right” in their most private lives – fundamentally corrupts those who even seek it.

All of us make leaps of faith (even if it is faith in empiricism and logic) and mine is this: I think that real moral progress can be made, and in fact was made, when the world’s first explicitly secular nation was declared in America. To the degree that we regress into religiosity we undo that progress and turn away from the project of freedom.

People who worship a king in Heaven will be invariably eager to see his authoritarian proxy here on Earth. Do not underestimate the evil that this does, and do not shrug off hatred just because it’s sincere. Recall Sinclair Lewis: “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Read Harper’s Jeff Sharlet on the topic of evangelicals in the government, military, and Blackwater. And then think about whether evil is afoot here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Some Testable Hypotheses

Some empirical questions I'd like the answers to:

Assuming that the Dittoheads and Tea-Partiers are to conservatives, in the traditional sense, roughly as National Socialists are to socialists, are Americans who today describe themselves as "conservative":

1. morally stunted as compared to others who describe themselves differently? This is a question that might actually be answered with reference to various existing scales of moral development (Kohlberg's for instance, or perhaps Voight-Kampff), or it might be useful to devise one's own, and/or it might be useful to compare their political valuations to their recorded or admitted behaviors, their police records, divorces, bankrupcies, swindles et cetera.

2. logically impaired as compared to others who describe themselves differently? I suppose logical aptitude can be tested in various ways (I certainly remember these from my SAT, GRE, LSAT, Miller Analaogy etc. days) and I be interested to see if today's conservative is more dogmatic, more comfortable with logically inconsistent belief systems (wherein espoused values and actions conflict directly), and more inclined to compartmentalize, to insulate his assertions, beliefs from empirical evidence and argument.

3. intellectually blinkered as compared to others who describe themselves differently? This is to say, incurious about data, exprssions or artifacts which do not confirm their biases or dovetail with their established interests, and prone to dismiss, in the abstract, the value of such things.

4. are they less self-aware than others who describe themselves differently? Certainly many seem to have contempt for the examine life and seem especially prone to grand-mal projections.

Finally, is Voltaire correct? Are those who can believe absurdities more capable of committing atrocities than others? Are they more available to fascist/cultist recruitment?