Cleaning House

I prefer to clean house by myself. So when my wife decided she had had enough of the desert and left with my seven year old daughter a few weeks ago, I headed home from the airport and started cleaning. First on the list was the living room, still cluttered with toys, crayons and piles of unread mail, magazines, coupons and visible dust. With the afternoon light streaming through the window, the visible sign of dirtiness hung in the air and gleamed from the glass table tops. I shut the curtains to block it out and started picking up. It didn’t long to clear the clutter.

I went room by room, collecting papers, cosmetics, jewelry, pens & pencils and other debris into piles and moved them to my room for sorting. My wife aspires to organization, by which I mean she compulsively collects boxes, baskets, expandable file folders and paper trays within which are deposited unopened mail, piles of unfinished homework, bills, photographs and occasionally, something worth preserving. These piles were reduced, like reducing a sauce on the stove, to a tiny fraction of their original size. Once sorted, what remained was carefully preserved in a small filing box leaving half a dozen empty sorting trays and various plastic containers and boxes empty.

Outside in the yard, with each smoke break, I picked up bits of broken toys and removed them to the garbage. There was the plastic bow and arrow that my daughter had bought with her own money. Little broken arrows were strewn around, their pink plastic plungers drying out in the sun. I collected them, the plastic quiver and plastic bow and tossed them in the trash. For a moment I worried that this would be the first thing she asked me to send her. But it would be easy to dodge. The arrows were broken. I thought of her running from the security line sobbing to the window that separated us; my older daughter and I also in tears, making a spectacle of ourselves in the terminal. We turned around and walked into the sunshine hurrying back to the car. The long ride home was mostly quiet, and the tears dissipated quickly.

Our sadness was mixed with relief. Life had become unbearable. The wounds of years of mutual demoralization between my wife and me were re-opened on a near daily basis. Our strategies for tamping them down had long ceased to be effective. A mutual affection for alcohol sometimes brought relief, but just as often we would take turns raging at each other, each blaming the other for the sorry state of our lives.

There is no lack of love among us. Just a lot of messes to clean up, and 1,500 miles of separation.

 

Epic Fail

Nothing about my failure is epic. It is ordinary and small and repeated millions of times over by millions of other nameless, disconnected human beings every day. So there’s nothing epic about it in its ordinariness. But I suspect failure always feels epic to each individual–each human being whose hopes, dreams and desires have been crushed and have had to come to terms with the brutal facts of the matter: that time is running out and the opportunity to reverse the trend is slipping hopelessly away like ice on a hot skillet. We are each falling apart before our very eyes. And the generic epic of surviving childhood, striving for love and success or whatever other passion moves you, and failing to achieve these goals is the archetypal human epic. It’s the background behind all our fairy tales and sagas. Of course these sagas immortalize the few elect who strive and succeed in some epic way. And because they do, we expect that we, too will ultimately overcome the challenges we face and live to see our true worth recognized.

So my personal failures: intellectual, relational, financial, romantic, parental, artistic, religious, moral, health-wise and so on are of no great consequence to the world with the exception of my children who unfortunately must adapt to life with the disadvantage of having a less than ideal father. It is the parental failure that galls me the most, since of course I remain disappointed in the failures of my own parents and I have been full grown for a good long time.

The preceding is what passes for a New Year’s reflection from me.

Our culture has pathologized unhappiness. We are expected to treat it as we would an illness. Which would be fine if there actually were a treatment for it, which there is not. (Don’t tell that to the pharmaceutical companies, of course.)  The problem is the Self. The Self is a parasite. It has no purpose except torture. It does not feel pleasure or pain. It has no nervous system of its own or body to move and touch and feel. The body does these things perfectly well. It is an unfortunate side effect of evolution, if you will. It creates the illusion of freedom where there is none and is the source of all anxiety. Surely you have heard the theory that anxiety disorders are the result of a misguided fear response that arises as a relic from our evolutionary past. The fight or flight response is out of whack, they say, and anxiety is the body’s confused response. This is obviously wrong and could only be believed by people who do not experience perpetual anxiety. Anxiety has nothing in common with “fear”. Everyone has experienced adrenaline pumping fear and it is actually a heightened state, unlike the state of anxiety which is more like a muddled confusion. The fear response is natural and clear. Anxiety is unnatural and muddy. The body takes over in the fear response. The Self is the sole author of anxiety. They have nothing in common.

For me the Self is like an evil demon that just happens to be in control of my identity. It is the Self that tortures itself and the body is a sometime victim. So what the hell is the Self? It’s not equivalent to consciousness. One can be conscious and active and completely unaware of this thing. Absorption in certain activities–particularly creative ones–marginalizes the Self. It disappears for a while. Meditation can eliminate the Self. Romantic love can do the same thing. Alcohol and other drugs seem to disrupt it in some way.

So my resolution for 2014 is to not be my Self. Whatever it is that I am, I am not that.

Sunday Evening

First song I heard by Lou Reed was Heroin. It was the early 80′s and I had never heard of the Velvet Underground. My girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend stuck a cassette in the tape deck in his car and out came Heroin. “It’s my wife, and it’s my life” sang Lou. It took me a few months to find a copy. I went to my local used record store and ended up buying a vinyl copy of Lou Reed’s “Heroine” thinking I was going to hear that song again. That was one of Lou’s weakest efforts, but it didn’t deter me. After buying a used copy of “Transformer” I was hooked. I think I bought a half dozen Lou Reed albums before I finally bought a Velvet Underground LP and got a copy of that incredible song.

I shed a few tears today a while after I heard the news of Lou Reed’s death. It seems lame to be tearing up over the death of an old junkie, and I would not have predicted having that kind of reaction, but with a few hours of reflection it makes sense.

Lou Reed was a big deal to me. Some of my emotion is just plain old sentiment. But that’s not to diminish Lou’s talent. It’s easy to pick on him. He had no singing voice. He wasn’t nearly as smart or as talented as his poetic mentor Delmore Schwartz. His politics were banal. He wasn’t even all that bright, at least from what I’ve heard in interviews. But he had moments of brilliance.

I might have moved on from Lou, appreciating that one song from his early years, had it not been for Berlin. Berlin is a piece of exquisite torture. Listening to that record over and over, while my own white trash life was unraveling, I felt that I deserved to live. I was just another loser like the ones Lou was singing about, and who seemed very real to me. Goes to show how wrong you can be.

I never got to see him live. I had my chances. I wanted to buy tickets to a show he did in west Phoenix sometime in the 80′s supporting New Sensations (a very underrated album). But I couldn’t afford the tickets. I’m sure there were other times when he played nearby, but can’t remember consciously missing out on tickets.

New York was a good album, but most of the good press he got was political. Lou seemed to be a pretty lame, knee jerk liberal from what I’ve heard. I don’t hold it against him. It just means he didn’t ultimately give a shit about politics or didn’t care because he’d had money for a long time. I give him credit for marrying Laurie Anderson. She was quite an influence on me back in the day as well.

The best thing Lou ever did though was get back with John Cale and do the Andy Warhol album Songs for Drella. It’s a mixed bag like so many of his efforts, but there are a couple of gems on that record that are unforgettable. Hello it’s Me. Slip Away. But especially, Nobody but You.

Magic and Loss was about death, and was better than it got credit for. Check out songs like Sword of Damocles, Goodbye Mass and Harry’s Circumcision.

Lou was a part of my life for the past thirty years and he’s the first of my admittedly small pantheon of musicians to be lost. There’s older one’s that will be sooner gone. And not too many younger ones. For my life, the tiny pantheon’s probably already closed. It may not include the best, but includes the best that I knew at the time. Too late to go back and insert better talent now. But I don’t regret having Lou Reed as one of my heroes. Gone… up to the sky. Things like that drive me out of my mind.

What I think is ephemera

This morning I woke up from a horrible nightmare that I’ve had too many fucking times. Getting fired–again–from my old job. Only this time I had to go online to complete the exit interview in which I had but two words: Fuck Off!

Come to think of it, that should have made me feel better. But in fact I woke up very distressed and anxious and ended up getting out of bed around 4:00 am.

But it reminds me that the goings on in my head are not fully real. They have a certain kind of reality, but they are ephemeral. They can’t be measured or even observed by anyone. To say that I observe them is like saying I can see my own eyes. Subject and object are the same. And if that’s the case, then everything that seems important to me–that internal reality–is a kind of dream that is not fully real. The reality is this body moving through time and space eating and shitting and typing and so on.

Now I will say that emotions have a higher level of reality than my thoughts. That’s right. The reason is that there is a physiological component to emotions that engages every part of the body–so emotions are closer to behavior than thoughts are, even if thoughts sometimes seem to be the proximate cause of emotions.

Written words, which originate with thoughts, are more real than the thoughts that produced them.

Where have I been?

Mr. Abonilox, as I am calling myself on Twitter, is still around. The state of the nation is rather dismal and I have not much to add to the superficial discussions that abound. I will tell you though, that I have tried in vain these past three weeks to set up an account at Healthcare.gov and have been amazed at how bad it really is. I didn’t listen to Obama yesterday but got the gist of his Rose Garden comments which were, as usual, utterly underwhelming. Is he human? They really need to have a perp walk over this. Maybe Sibelius getting fired on TV. Whoever is in charge. The criticisms from the right about government inefficiency are not off base. How many millions of dollars were sunk into this disaster?

It’s bad enough that this monstrosity of a bill ever managed to survive in its present form. And of course you have to consider the intransigence of the other side; it’s unwillingness to settle for anything less than the total repeal of the bill. A little patience would have been in order. Let it collapse under its own weight. The single payer diehards want this thing to fail just as badly as the tea party folks–and I guess I’m in that group. But at this moment in history, my personal situation compels me, for the sake of my family, to try and take advantage of this program if it ever gets off the ground. So I was one of the earnest, highly motivated folks that actually was looking forward to having insurance in January. Now, it’s possible that my wife will find another job between now and then. (My praying friends can send up a little prayer on her behalf!) But there is also the distinct possibility that we will still be uninsured at the end of the year.

These quotidian issues are separated by a vast intellectual gulf in my mind with my commitment to anarchism. I agree with many of my interlocutors over the past few years on this blog that anarchism begins at home, you might say. It’s a form of humanism, or it’s grounded in a radical humanistic ethic. It’s based on a view of human value that is not utilitarian but ontological. The value of a human being is infinite. And that value is not increased, diminished or altered in any way by the products of individual human behavior be they good or ill. That’s my take on it anyway. And this basic intuition is in direct conflict at almost every level with the way our society is organized. Economies may be made up of individuals making individual decisions, but we treat the economy as something more valuable than the sum of its parts (as we do other hierarchical systems) when in fact they are infinitely less valuable than the sum of their parts. So too with nations. They are mythological constructions that hide and obscure the exploitation, abuse, torture, crime and evil that are done in their name. They are worthless fictions.

Which brings me to my libertarian friends and why, even though we agree on many issues, I believe they are dead wrong at the base of their philosophy. They are utilitarian absolutists, first of all. Because of the relic of religion in their midst, they sprinkle their rhetoric with moral realism, but their philosophy is dead in its heart and would be a worthy successor to Malthus if allowed to run its course. The American Libertarian is a purely economic creature. The value of an individual human being is determined solely by its production. This can be quantified in different ways: not all production leads to monetary reward, but all human activity can be scored by its value to the group. The person doing the work is not important. It’s only the output that matters. Charity has value to the extent that it ameliorates the unpleasant emotional responses that we have to human suffering. There is nothing more to it. And the bigger the gift, the bigger your name in lights! And since you (the giver) earned that excess, you get to decide how to dole it out. And who better than you. You are a higher quality human specimen (proven by your net worth) therefore you have not only the presumed ability to discern the best use of your excess, but the absolute right to do or not do as you please with it.

I don’t understand how a philosophy like that could ever produce an anarchist society. Actually, it seems perfectly suited to a military dictatorship.

Last Chance

I plunked down a few hundred dollars today to take some classes at the local community college. Though I’m twenty years past graduating (in my LATE 20′s) from the University of Maryland @ College Park (summa & with highest honors, by the way) I have been forced to go back and try to get that “practical” education that I so loathed back in the day.

It’s my own fault. I was a shitty executive, and I have no sales skills. That’s the gist of it. Way back at the turn of the century, things were humming along and guys like me got moved up the ladder pretty easily. I had some good technical skills, good communication skills and I was pretty creative, so there were opportunities to move up. Which I did. For a while.

Now I realize every situation is unique. Had I been with another outfit, maybe I would have fared better. But looking in the mirror each day, knowing you have now gone three years with no increase in pay, and only earning 25% of what you used to fetch, well it’s hard on a guy. (And when I say “guy” I mean to imply “American Male”).

And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced it’s all my fault. If I had just kept my mouth shut and done my little job, I never would have gotten promoted.

On the other hand, I rationalize it and think I did everything they wanted me to do. But there are some things I just can’t do. After the operation I was asked to run started to go south in 2008 I had to take over a sales territory. I had done sales before, but this was a situation where I don’t think even a scumbag sales superstar could have made any difference.

I’ve made mistakes. I didn’t realize how toxic my resume was. It’s in the shape of a parabola. And my eleven years of experience was tied to a relatively small industry.

So no whining. There’s rent to be paid. I’m thinking of seeing if I can earn a second bachelors degree rather than spend $40K on a graduate program. But I have to do something. I can’t continue to be this miserable every day doing work that I am not fit for and for which I receive neither adequate compensation nor satisfaction.

DrunkenPosten

The number of posts would increase if I took a few moments every day after taking my comfort to comment on the goings on of the day. Granted, these posts would be even less illuminating than my more serious attempts, but it would fill the empty space on the calendar of my blogogrophy.

Today saw me ranting about the inanity of liberal equivocation between Russian homophobia and American whistle-blowers. This was a response to a tweet from Lady Gaga advocating “revolution” in Russia against the oppression of the LGBT community. It’s been amusing how Obama devotees fall in line over the surveillance state whilst snarking about the plight of the Russian people. No irony meant, understood or intended.

I also stumbled upon a blog post, I know not where and did not bookmark, that was an interesting meditation on the relation between addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous and anarchism. The author also used a term with which I was unfamiliar: Ableism which I still don’t exactly understand. The upside of it was that I had a bit of an epiphany after reading. With twenty plus years of AA off and on under my belt, I realized that the genius of Bill Wilson was not in the 12 steps, but in the 12 traditions. In fact the 12 steps are what’s wrong with AA. Sorry to those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about.

First day of school for the kids. Older one, first day of High School. Younger, just 2nd grade. My first day of high school was a day of mortal humiliation that is legend around here now. It has to do with a poor decision I made to wear a hat that day. A hat that a small group of rather nerdy kids thought was cool the previous spring. The older daughter, after much anguish this morning, survived her first day and was in good spirits this evening. My willingness to share my humiliation perhaps protected my eldest from repeating history–or more likely she’s just a lot cooler than I was.

The story about the DEA reported by Reuters was notable. Cops were instructed by their superiors to create a fake investigative trail to cover up their use of data collected by NSA and other government entities. This is predictable, but chilling. My reaction was that this is what cops always do when they cheat; i.e. obtain evidence illegally. But fuck the constitution, which I have no need for anyway.

I also intemperately ranted about liberals collectively exonerating themselves for a multitude of sins by supporting gay rights. First, I could give a rat’s ass about what the government thinks about what two (or more) consenting people do in a relationship. The idea that that is even within the purview of legislative control shows how fucked up we are to begin with. Having said that, it is clear to me that liberals are milking this issue as if they had liberated a population of serfs. Which they haven’t. The reason gay rights got the fast track is that it cost Liberals nothing to offer full citizenship to their homosexual friends, family and neighbors. Now how about finishing up a real civil rights movement by dealing with the incarceration of millions of black males in American prisons.

Another stellar day.

Some thoughts on various forms of radicalism

I have this hunch that political radicalization is on the rise in the USA. It’s only a hunch because to my knowledge there aren’t any surveys out there that track such things. Although if anyone knows of one, please let me know. Whether my hunch is true or not, it certainly is true that the types of political radicals vary widely.

Just to keep things simple, I’ll define a political radical as someone who is politically engaged (as opposed to merely apathetic) and believes that the political system as it exists today is irredeemable.

Now that ought to cast a pretty wide net. One could argue that the Tea Party movement fits that definition. But if you still believe you can fix the system by influencing either party, I’d say you don’t fit the criteria. Hating Obama or “Big Government” does not make you a political radical.

What would a right wing radical believe? Is it enough to believe that the economy is going to collapse? Or that the government is infiltrated by Communists in some vast conspiracy to enslave honest, hard working (read White) Americans? These aren’t features of radical politics. If you are afraid of the coming Obamapocalypse and are stockpiling food and buying extra guns, does that make you a political radical?

No it doesn’t. What these folks want is restoration of an idyllic past era, not the radical re-creation of society. That’s not radical, even if it is often extreme. They fetishize the Constitution and see the Founding Fathers as demi-Gods or at least prophets. For this group politics exists only to serve the economic system, not to achieve anything of its own.

Then there are the libertarians. As I have said before, I have common cause with them on many issues. The libertarian influence on the Republican party is very positive, in my view. I wish them success in overcoming their arch-enemies the Neo-Cons and the Evangelical Right. They may restrain American Imperialism. But I’m skeptical about their prospects for success. Too many capitalists and elites benefit from the status quo and will block any attempt to reform their influence as long as the state persists.

Anarcho-capitalists and other free market anarchists are the real deal in that they are thoroughly anti-statist. Debates about how human beings would organize an economy in the absence of state power are pretty speculative, but generally healthy. As soon as you take the State out of the equation, the left/right distinctions start to break down.

Which brings us to radicals originating from the left.

It gets really murky in this territory and as far as the Marxists and communists go, I’m still trying to get my mind around what this faction is doing right now. There are plenty of radicals in this group. Revolution is still the expected method of change. I like these guys even though when they start having their weird squabbles about various versions of their theories I get lost. But their radicalism is real and total, so I take that as a positive.

Liberals and so-called progressives (which I can’t really distinguish between) claim the left for themselves. They come in different flavors, but mostly they want to keep tinkering with state power until it does what it is supposed to do. No radicals in this group.

Leftist anarchists have common cause with the goals of other leftist groups. They would like to live in a classless society that respects the autonomy of the individual, that has shed itself of various forms of genetic privilege (gender, color, inheritance), that values each person’s labor above the accumulation of capital etc… But they have concluded that the state is itself the greatest enemy of such ends.

These are all generalizations about these groups based on my own observations. A thoughtful, rational person from whatever camp ought to be able to defend their affiliation based on some kind of theory about how human beings ought to conduct themselves in society. (And if that’s not possible, then you really ought to examine your affiliation). That task, it seems to me, is easier for the anarchist since they alone among this group favor diagnosis over prescription. The problem is the state. Full stop. You don’t have to go any farther than that if you don’t want to. There are reasonable arguments why this is the case.

The first task is to resist state power and to advocate for the end of the state. If people are finding their way to this conclusion from the left or the right it doesn’t matter. Once your through the door, I think we’re all on an equal footing.

Resting State

From high school chemistry I recall that atoms are said to have a stable resting state. The electrons are in their natural “orbits” (as it was described in those days) and the structure is more or less stable. The details aren’t important; I’m just trying to set up a metaphor here.

So too with humans, I suppose. Each has his or her own “resting state”. It’s one’s baseline and would include basic temperament, mood, motivation and other dispositional characteristics. It would not include attributes such as intelligence any more than it would include one’s height or hair color.

A resting state can be “bumped up” into another state by various mechanisms: chemicals, human interaction, food, emotional events, pathological changes to the brain (such as injuries or disease) etc.

It is this “resting state” that most closely approximates what one perceives as one’s personality.

What differentiates these dispositional traits from other characteristics such as intelligence? They are deemed to be mutable.

Take an emotional state such as “contentment” as an example. Each individual has a baseline level of contentment against which all other states that one can experience is judged. For some, the resting state level of contentment is very low. In fact it may be negative. For others, the baseline is positive. The former group might even be considered depressed in their natural, resting state, while the latter group would be deemed more or less “normal”. The question is: Can one’s resting state, if it exists, be changed?

I suspect it cannot be changed. It can be altered by chemicals (creating dependency) but it cannot be permanently changed. The reason we think these things are mutable is that they do change. A melancholy person falls in love and for a time gets bumped up into a more “excited” state. Or for totally unexplained reasons the state gets bumped up occasionally. Perhaps it’s a change in the weather, or some undetected change in the diet. Inevitably, however, the person will drop back to whatever the resting state is.

Unfortunately people often evaluate themselves by comparing their current state with some remembered heightened state rather than with their resting state.

Tremendous harm is done to people in the name of changing this resting state. But it is an endless source of revenue for entire sectors of our economy.

This view completely invalidates the prevailing myth of the self-made man which causes immeasurable harm to so many. But it fits well with a view that places the highest value on individual autonomy.

On the necessity of celebrating anniversaries. A Sestina.*

Six months on my hope of restoration became a question of the ethics
Of want versus need. A man’s humiliation is distorted by culture;
Crushed under the weight of my politics
And in the basement of my mother-in-law’s house my belief
Transmogrifies into my needed fantasy of religion
Where the Abonilox revisits planet earth in the age of anarchy.

“Beloved, your ethics are flimsy; the undigested bits of your religion
Remain. The enzymes of belief have been replaced by supplements of politics
And soon your faith in anarchy will dissolve your hate of culture.”

So start a blog, did I. And knowing nothing of the form I wrote about belief
And my solipsistic fantasy. In that basement, I longed for a new culture
That included the other: the elusive friend, whose ethics
Informed my dream of a universal religion
That was reasonable, materialistic and just. Anarchy
Never entered my mind. A black president was the end of politics.

“Help me Abonilox! You are my light in this culture of darkness; what belief
I have now is fading! No job to feed my children! Anarchy is my hope; I revile the religion
of consumption–politics eats the weak and with violence exposes its ethics.”

Now three years on the fetishistic solipsism is a faded fabric of feckless faith in anarchy
Of the soul. Preemptive assassination is policy–let’s take that belief
To its logical conclusion: A politics
Of total destruction where it is better to kill than practice ones professed religion
Of peace. Mass murder mercilessly makes motherless the culture
Of a nation that crucifies itself on a corporate cross. That’s ethics.

*In “honor” of the third anniversary of my little blog, I give you another bad poem. This one a sestina using the six most used tags from this blog over the past three years. Cheers!

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The Abonilox

Making Truth Palatable