See You On Sugarcandy Mountain

I wasn’t quite of voting age when Al Gore lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush. Actually, I was barely even a teenager, but that also made it my first “real” election. In 1996, I would have been too young to have any concern or interest in paying attention to what the adults were talking about, but around 2000 I was at least watching the news. What an introduction to American politics–an election that seemed to just drag on and on, with everything down to a single state and a relatively thin vote margin.

That’s nothing like what we have today.

I don’t recall any attempts to force recounts in 2004, 2008, or 2012, though I do remember the secession petitions that came online almost as soon as they were made possible by the Obama Administration. I also recall the Obama Administration’s sickening response to the petitions–that the founders intended the union to be perpetual, as though what dead people wanted when they decided things two hundred years ago must dictate our lives today. This was actually the moment when I realized how stalled our “liberty education” was.

Of course, prior to that, all I’d heard was that we lived in a democracy, and my high school civics class didn’t even come close to approaching anything important. We went over all of U.S. history–laboriously and methodically, as we had a teacher who calculated five pages of reading per day, no excuses, so that the entire book was covered through the year–and we glazed over the system of governance: it was something about federalism, something about checks and balances, something about a republic, and something about democracy.

What did it all mean?

Nothing.

They were just empty words, far removed from anything relating to our daily lives and personal experiences. We were, of course, not brought up in anything that resembled a democracy or a republic; in our actual lives there was no Constitution, and certainly no checks and balances. We were carted from one tyrant who was judge, jury, and executioner, to another, and told all the while that all of this was taking place in some glorious system where our rights were respected. Well, not yet, but one day–once we turned 18! Then our rights would be respected!

Except it wasn’t really that simple. It wasn’t just “turning 18.” You had to both turn 18 and leave high school, one way or another, and move out. For me, “turning 18” was the last of those three gates through which I stepped, thanks almost entirely to the tyrannical behavior of both my parent/legal guardian and the school. We don’t like to think about it, but we have terribly warped ideas about children and rights here in the United States, almost to the extent that children are considered the property of their parents.

In fact, it’s not really that unusual that a parent tries to do some wicked, evil thing to their child as they shriek, “It’s my daughter, I can do what I want!” This link is certainly an extreme example, but it’s still just taken as a given that a parent hitting their child is “totally different.” How about this man who boxed his son to teach him a lesson? How about this woman who caused her child probably a fair bit of actual trauma by threatening to kick him out for voting for Trump in a mock election at school? Now she claims it was a joke, of course, but if you’ve seen the video you know that’s bullshit.

One of the central themes of Dancing in Hellfire is that most people aren’t very well equipped to be parents. I’ve seen this far too often, and not just from my own parents. I’ve never met a parent who didn’t say “I put my child’s needs first–that’s all I care about.” Yet in my personal experiences, I’ve never found that to be true. Invariably, what the parent puts first is the emotional itch that the child is scratching for them. I think more consideration should go into people’s thoughts before they choose whether or not to have children, and I think that conscious acceptance that this is the end of your life would do people a lot of good. Because that’s true–once you have a child, your life is over; your dedication must be wholly to your child’s life.

Anyway, that’s not the way we treat children here in the west. We treat children like property. Parents can take away their child’s possessions, invade their privacy, restrict their communication and rights. Parents can assign whatever arbitrary rules they like and inflict virtually any punishments they want. The parent is judge, jury, and executioner, a tyrant who dictates what can and can’t be done, and this is the child’s first lesson in “rights” and “freedom.”

See? I can’t even make a statement like that without people thinking I must be joking. I most certainly am not.

We know that those first ten years are critical in forming a person’s ultimate worldview. Without getting into the Nature versus Nurture argument, American parenting is basically the finest example of a victim going on to become a bully that we would ever need. It should come as no surprise that most people who support spanking were themselves spanked. It’s rather similar to how my grandmother had no choice but to force fundamentalist insanity onto me–she was herself a victim, and she was victimized to the extent that she didn’t know what else to do but pay it forward. ‘Round and ’round we go; the cycle never ends.

Then we’re plucked out of our homes and told that we have to go to this thing called school. This is something I remember very well, and I also wrote about it in Dancing in Hellfire, because I hated school. It made absolutely no sense that I was brought into this world and then–“Oh, hey, by the way, I hope you liked those first five years of fun. Now you have to go to this horrible, boring place seven hours a day almost every single day for the next thirteen years.”

I was given no choice in the matter, but damn did I try to force one, especially after the separation. No one was able to give me a single good reason why I had to go to school, but my mother insisted that I had to. Of course, it didn’t take too long to learn that she had no choice in the matter, either. She wasn’t the one who was forcing me to go to school. Something called “the government” was.

Soon as you’re born, they make you feel small
Giving you no time, instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
Working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you’re clever, and they despise the fool
They’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules
Working class hero is something to be

When they tortured and scared you for twenty odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
But you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
Working class hero is something to be

They keep you doped with religion, your sex, and TV
You think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see
Working class hero is something to be

There’s room at the top, they are telling you still
First you must learn how to smile while you kill
If you wanna be like the folks on top of the hill
Working class hero is something to be

Of course, Lennon was a communist, but… he’s not wrong. That is the way we do things.

And what do we find at school? More arbitrary rules that must be obeyed. And if you are accused of breaking a rule, there is no trial–there is only the teacher, for a small enough infraction, and the principal. Regardless of which you face, they are judge, jury, and executioner. Break the rules during Civics Class for Maximum Irony.

There were plenty of rules that I broke, especially during high school. I had a really bad habit of smoking on campus and speaking out loudly against the new uniform policy. Generally, I was a troublemaker, but there were a handful of teachers who would have defended me as far as they were able, because I was a straight A student. I didn’t do half the crap they accused me of, but it never mattered–a lesson I learned as I sat in In-School Suspension, accused of smoking because some teacher “saw smoke” where we were standing, though the reality was just that it was freaking cold outside. They didn’t find as much as a lighter on me, but it didn’t matter.

“Guilty By Accusation,” proclaimed the kangaroo.

Such a minor and trivial thing, but it doesn’t stop there, does it? No, because a woman was just arrested while waiting on a ride because the cop thought that “she looked like she was soliciting prostitution” and the woman had prior arrests for prostitution. Just as they accused and found me guilty–Double Jeopardy if ever there was such a thing–so did they accuse her and find her guilty. She knew just as I did that it didn’t matter what we said–what I said about smoking or what she said about waiting on a ride.

“Guilty By Accusation,” proclaimed the kangaroo.

So from the time we’re born, we have cognitive dissonance imposed on us. The adults tell us about some magical world far removed from our everyday experience. It is a wondrous place, where the state can’t just do whatever it wants, where trials are fair and seek only justice, and where our rights are respected. It is Sugarcandy Mountain, for all intents and purposes, and our parents and teachers have taken over the role of Moses the Raven. Of course, they offer another Sugarcandy Mountain on top of that, in most cases–no matter how bad this life is and no matter how badly we humans screw up everything by lying to one another about what reality actually is like, it’s okay, because when we die there is another Sugarcandy Mountain waiting on us.

And that’s what it is–we’re constantly waiting for Sugarcandy Mountain. When we’re kids and teenagers, it’s that magical age when we’re out of school and out of our parents’ home, out on Sugarcandy Mountain at last where our rights are finally respected and we’re finally given fair trials by a jury of peers, where “guilty” means more than “stands accused.” And this delusion works–for a while.

It works until you’re arrested in your neighborhood while waiting on a ride.

It works until you’re standing thirty feet away from your car at two in the morning while five police cars swirl around you, searching your vehicle, shining lights in your face, and demanding to know whether you’ve been drinking–even when you haven’t had a drink since like 2014. It works until you’re a homeless schizophrenic man being beaten to death by cops while you beg and cry out for your father to help you. It works until police unload bullets into your back while you flee their psychotic violence and then plant their taser on you. It works until police from 19 states bear down on you and strike you with water cannons in freezing temperatures.

Because we’re not on Sugarcandy Mountain. And as long as we delude ourselves into thinking we are, we will never remove the boots from our necks.

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