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A Psychopath’s Responsibility

I’ve been asked repeatedly my thoughts on the girl who cajoled her boyfriend into killing himself, and I’ve been hesitant to really say much on the subject, but I’ve given the matter enough thought now. So strap in–we’re going to cover many different angles very quickly.

Prison?

Whether the girl is guilty of murder or not, prison is not the answer, because two wrongs don’t make a right. Whatever the girl may or may not be guilty of, prison is not the answer. So it goes without saying that, whatever my thoughts on what the girl did, I am not saying that she should be kidnapped and imprisoned against her will by the state.

With That Said…

I’m frankly stunned by the number of libertarians I’m seeing who express the sentiment that the girl bears absolutely no responsibility for the guy’s death, and, without being overly generalizing, I suspect that most of these people have never witnessed nor experienced psychological abuse. It should go without saying, though, that psychological abuse… is abuse. Not only is psychological abuse abuse, but it’s a critical tool in the psychopath’s toolbox, if not the most important tool at their disposal. It is, after all, psychological abuse that prevents men and women in violent relationships from leaving. It is what causes one to continually go back to the abuser, no matter how flagrant the abuses are. I’ve written about this before, having gone through it with a psychopath, and won’t spend a lot of time on it here.

I’ll say, however, that only someone who is ignorant of the damage that a psychopath can do to a person’s mind could allow someone to absolve psychopaths of the consequences of their psychological abuse. It is psychological abuse that causes teens to kill themselves. It is psychological abuse that causes transgender and gay teens to kill themselves. Psychological abuse, while not as obviously a violation of the NAP as punching someone yourself, clearly is a form of violence. I would argue that it’s a more horrific form of violence than physical abuse, because it is the psychological abuse that causes victims of violence to return to their abuser, and that causes kids in abusive homes to believe they are wicked and filled with demons, even if they have done nothing wrong, which may manifest in the person’s mind for decades to come, longer after the scars of any physical violence have healed.

It was long-term psychological abuse that caused me to be in the third grade and begging a devout Christian friend to stand before me and say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” to exorcise the demons from me–demons that I firmly believed possessed me because of the desires and needs that I had to repress. It was that same psychological abuse that caused me to be in my late 20s before I was able to come to terms with something that had been true at least since I was three years old and hiding my underwear so that I had an excuse to wear my sister’s. More than two decades of self-loathing, doubt, confusion, strife, and suicide attempts followed before I was able to come to terms with everything, and the psychological, religiously-motivated abuse is the reason why–a fact to which the scars on my wrists will testify.

I was in the fifth grade, I think, the first time I attempted to hang myself. Young and inexperienced, I used a braided leather belt. It snapped. For the next several years, I cut myself regularly. They were not suicide attempts by any means, but neither were they cries for attention; I did everything that I could to hide them. I wouldn’t be able to explain why I did it, but I did. My body is marked with scars from razor blades. My wrists, my upper arms, my chest, my legs… And, of course, there were the sincere attempts, the hospitalization in a behavioral ward, and all that fun stuff.

Testaments to the tremendous damage that extended psychological abuse can cause.

If you don’t think that the girl who texted her boyfriend and stayed on the phone with him as he cried out and choked to death bears any responsibility for that, then you don’t have any ground to stand on to lament what my father and grandmother did to me, because they are two manifestations of the same thing: psychological abuse.

The Psychopath’s Toolkit

The psychopath is an expert at manipulation. David Karesh, the Church of Scientology, and countless other cults around the world are experts at manipulation, but there are also those whose ambitions are smaller, and bloodlust more controlled. They seek out damaged people and then destroy them. They know exactly how to worm their way into your mind, and how to bend you to their will.

If you think you’re immune to it, you’re not.

The only thing a person can do to arm themselves against it is to gain knowledge in the psychopath’s tactics, to learn the manipulation techniques, to stay alert of them. However, in learning those techniques, a person will find out exactly how much damage a psychopath can do to a person’s mind, and I find it hard to believe, to be completely honest, that anyone aware of the manner in which a psychopath can manipulate a person’s mind and destroy their agency would go on to deny that the psychopath has responsibility for what this destroyed person does.

Where shall we draw the line?

Is it morally wrong to type out “kys” in World of Warcraft’s Trade Chat? Should a person be considered guilty of murder if, having typed that out to someone, that person then kills themselves?

Why do we have to draw a line?

“One size fits all” justice is fundamentally flawed, because the circumstances of actions matter, infinitely more than the actions themselves.

If I push someone down, and they break their arm, then I am guilty of assault.

However, if I push someone down and out of the way of an oncoming train, and they break their arm, then I am a hero.

What’s the difference? There isn’t one. In both scenarios, I pushed the person, they fell, and they broke their arm. The only thing that’s different are the circumstances. Since the circumstances are different, the hypothetical result if I had done nothing have changed. If I had done nothing in the first example, the person would have continued on through their day without a broken arm–a superior consequence than what came about when I pushed them. If I did nothing in the second example, though, the person would have died–an inferior consequence than what came about when I pushed them. We are comparing hypotheticals here, and we’re making our assessment of morality based around that. That is always how we assign our moral values.

The alternative, had this girl not taken her actions, are that the guy would still be alive. Because of her actions, he is dead.

I see no way of escaping the conclusion that she is responsible for that. We’re not talking about someone who opted not to run into a burning house to try to rescue someone else. We’re not talking about hateful children who laughed as they watched someone drowned, and who couldn’t have saved the drowning victim anyway*. We’re talking about a girl who explicitly told her psychologically vulnerable and long-term victim of psychological abuse boyfriend to get back in the vehicle and finish dying. I am stunned that so many people are arguing that she did nothing wrong simply because she didn’t physically hold the door shut.

Group Responsibility?

While discussing this with someone on Facebook, someone said that only the individual is responsible for their actions. I pointed out that, by this reasoning, Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust, and Stalin was not responsible for the murder of twenty-five million Christian farmers. To my shock, she said that was correct–the individuals who carried out those orders were responsible.

I don’t deny that the individuals who committed the actions are responsible. I’ve pointed this out in the past. However, the person who gave the command is absolutely as responsible. That’s what it literally means to have authority, to have power over someone, to have the responsibility of making decisions for someone. The psychopath takes this power slowly and with systemic psychological abuse, but they take the power all the same. Even so, the brainwashing tactics of the military are shockingly similar to those used by psychopaths: destroy their individuality and make them dependent on the command structure. That’s at least as much the point of boot camp as is physical training. The stated purpose is to break people down as individuals and build them back up as a part of a machine. This is done through psychological abuse.

No one is saying “Group responsibility.”

I am saying that all individuals who play a role in making sure that an action is undertaken bear responsibility for that action being undertaken. Quite the opposite, I’m the one arguing for individual responsibility. I’m not absolved of responsibility if I order a friend to kill someone and that friend does it. “Woah! I didn’t kill that person!” I could argue, and these NAP-advocates, evidently (the ones with whom I’ve spoken directly) would agree. I didn’t kill that person.

Even though I’m literally the one who caused it to happen…

Yes, the soldier who drops the bomb bears responsibility for that. So does the commander who ordered the bomb to be dropped, though.

“They could just disobey orders” is an inadequate answer. And it’s true that, if everyone refused to obey orders, war would cease to exist. But who is advocating group responsibility now? For the individual, refusing to obey orders results in arrest, kidnapping, and imprisonment. Through coercive means, that individual has most, if not all, responsibility for the action waived, in the same way that we American citizens bear no responsibility for what the state does with our tax money because, through coercive means, we are forced to obey and pay taxes. You can’t have it both ways, where Americans aren’t to blame for how tax dollars are used because we could just choose to not pay taxes, but other individuals are to blame for the results of actions they take under duress.

To say that only the person who personally executes a given action is responsible for that action is short-sighted and extremely narrow. It is tunnel vision on the minutae of the action. There is a lot of cause and effect that goes into every single action that a person takes, and not all of that is the person’s fault–much of it is beyond that person’s control. To suggest that only the person who personally executes the action is responsible is to say that a man who wakes one day to find a gun to his head and someone telling him, “If you don’t find and kill one person right now, I will kill you,” is the only person responsible for the action he commits, and that the person who put the gun to his head and gave him that ultimatum bears no responsibility.

“He still made the choice, though… He could have chosen to just die. He didn’t. He chose to murder someone, so that’s on him!”

It’s such a narrow way of viewing… reality. Cause and effect. Actions and consequences. Responsibility.

Suicide Isn’t a Violation of the NAP

No, it isn’t, and a person of sound mind has every right to take their own life. I’ve argued before, and will again, that suicide is not indicative of mental illness. However, this guy in question was clearly mentally ill. He was clearly unstable and incapable of making the decision to kill himself. If he was capable of making that decision alone, he wouldn’t have gotten out of the vehicle, for fuck’s sake. That he did get out of the vehicle is ipso facto proof that he did not have the agency required to soundly make the decision to kill himself.

I think a lot of the people arguing that the girl didn’t do anything “that wrong” don’t know what the girl did. They seem to think she just sent a few text messages. If only that was the extent of what she did… But it isn’t. He got out of the vehicle and called her, and she told him to get back in and finish killing himself. Then she stayed on the phone with him while he cried out in agony and died, because she wanted to ensure that he did see it through. That’s a FAR cry from typing out “kys” in a chatroom.

Through the verbal persuasion that is the gift of the psychopath, she held him in that vehicle until he died.

You can’t possibly think that a guy who got out of a vehicle, having decided that he didn’t want to go through with killing himself, called his girlfriend, and then climbed back in and stayed on the phone with her while he died was “of sound mind” to be making decisions about whether he wanted to live or die. The girl was clearly a poison to him.

If someone called you and confessed that they had been about to kill themselves, but gotten out of the vehicle, would you, under any circumstances, tell them to get back in, and then stay with them on the phone while they died? Absolutely not. Every single one of us would say, “Where are you? I’m coming to get you. Stay on the phone with me while I drive to you. Don’t get back in the vehicle.”

Because we’re not psychopaths.

No, we shouldn’t let the state set precedents in its One Size Fits All legal system that would allow it to prosecute anyone who ever said “kill yourself” in a text message, phone call, or chat room. Yet there’s an enormous gap between these things and what this girl did. And just as we should not allow the state to set precedents like that, neither should we set the precedent that psychopaths are not responsible for the consequences of their psychological abuse because it technically doesn’t include physical assault.

But abuse is abuse.

The NAP does not specify that violence has to be physical.

* Those who are not trained divers or trained lifeguards should never attempt to rescue a drowning person. Cold though it is to say, attempting it will ensure only that two people die. Drowning people thrash wildly, panicking, and are extremely likely to knock you unconscious. If you do not have a lifejacket and a rope or boat, you should never attempt to rescue a drowning person yourself, unless you’ve explicitly been trained to be a fantastic swimmer. Not only that, but if you do manage to get behind the person without being knocked unconscious, do you know how heavy another human being is when you’re pulling them through water? The average person doesn’t have the stamina to swim a hundred yards alone, much less when dragging someone else through the water.

That Summer in Arkansas

This is an excerpt from my book Dancing in Hellfire , which is a true story of my life, basically. I am posting it here because I was about to say something derivative on Facebook, but I stopped because I realized that no one would know what the hell I was talking about.

Undoubtedly, the worst four to five months of my life, bar none. There is so much ground to cover here, and it’s highly unlikely that I will get the events in the correct order, but the chronology isn’t terribly important, for the most part. In my mind, it’s all blurred together, encapsulated by the words “That Summer in Arkansas.” There’s only one such summer that I could be referring to—that one between the second and third grade. A nightmare that didn’t seem like it was ever going to end.

It began as an ordinary visit. Mom came and got Britt and me, and this was probably the first time since Easter that we had seen or talked to her, since two visits within a few months was very high frequency for her. At some point over the weekend, she announced that she was not going to take us back, and that she was just going to keep us. Legally, she was more or less within her rights to do that: the agreement that my grandmother would keep us was a largely informal one, because the courts hadn’t settled the custody issue and didn’t seem about to settle it. Even though it had been nearly three years since the separation, the court was no nearer to settling things. In fact, the courts never did rule one way or another. What happened? How come none of the people who are paid to handle such matters was handling it? The divorce finalized, but the question of custody was never settled.

Mom was in full-blown denial about her situation, as would become evident very soon, but I didn’t realize it then—of course, I didn’t know it then. I was eight years old. It was true, though: we never had any money or food, our electricity was cut off due to non-payment several times, and even our water was cut off at one point. And she seriously thought that she could raise two kids in that environment. Plus, she was being beaten pretty much every weekend by that drunk man-child.

Second grade had passed without much of significance happening. We didn’t see mom every other weekend, of course, because she never had gas or a reliable vehicle since she always bought $600 cars. She was always having flats, or some other car trouble. We would receive a letter from her telling us to be by the phone on a certain day at a certain time, and we would sit eagerly by the phone all night. She never called. A week or two later, we would receive another letter that offered up some kind of excuse why she hadn’t been able to call, and she would throw out another day that she would call, or she would announce a day that she was going to get us. Then Britt and I would sit at the front door, hanging out on the garbage can, all damned Friday night, waiting eagerly to see headlights pull into the driveway.

They almost never did.

But she finally managed to get together the whopping ten dollars needed to cover the gas to make the hour-long trip, and decided early that summer that she wasn’t going to take us back.

It was then that we met David, another one of Everett’s four kids, much older than I was but also much younger than my brother. He was a decent enough guy, I suppose, except that he never did anything about Everett’s violence, either. In some ways, I can understand—I know firsthand how hard it can be to confront your father, and Everett was prone to violence. But no one ever confronted Everett about his violence, not even my own brother, which is one of the reasons I’ve never fully been able to forgive Eric.

Mom still lived at that house in Trumann next to the elderly couple, and Everett lived there too. It was an older house, but respectable enough, and had a dilapidated shed in the back that I liked to play in. Everett had a fascination with pocketknives, he gave me a few, and then he taught me how to throw them. I spent hours playing in the battered shed, flipping my knives and throwing them into the distant wall. At the age of eight, between the second and third grades. There were many occasions when I nearly stabbed myself.

As though there was something worse than nearly stabbing myself in the eye with a rebounding throwing knife (because mom or Everett had given me a set of throwing knives they found at a pawnshop), the shed was in poor condition anyway and not stable. The rafters were low enough that I could jump and grab hold of them. So I would—I’d jump and grab the rafters, climb onto them, swing around on them, flip upside down and hang precariously while I practiced throwing knives. It was wild, dangerous stuff that no one should have been doing, but certainly not a second grader, and my mom was well aware that I was doing it. But, in a strange way, she also trusted that I knew my abilities and limits, and that I wasn’t going to hurt myself.

And you know what? I never did hurt myself.

If all that wasn’t dangerous enough, Eric built a tree house for us in an enormous walnut tree in the backyard. Being a cool brother, of course, he built the tree house very high above the ground. No matter how high he’d built the house, though, I climbed up well past it and higher, swinging freely from one branch to the next, and I was higher even than the house’s ceiling when I did this stuff—a fall that would almost certainly have killed me. A fall that did happen that summer, but not to me.

I still loved playing Nintendo, and I did so regularly, but it would be unfair to say that I never did anything else. We lived only a few minutes from two parks, I frequently walked to both, and Britt often accompanied me. One of them was pretty boring, but the other had swings and other cool things—it was further away, though. Mom let us go to these places without supervision, of course, but I only bothered going to the distant one a few times.

I’ve often wondered, when looking back, whether my mom was trying to get my sister or me killed, because she did some reckless things when it came to parenting. I say that mom trusted in me and trusted that I knew my limitations, but that’s purely speculation on my part. Because the fact is that I was in the backyard, throwing knives and swinging from the rafters of a crumbling shed, and shifting wildly among the branches of a tree well above the tree house. Mom did, at one point, tell me to stop swinging from the limbs, but she made it clear that she was only telling me so because Everett’s younger son (who I haven’t mentioned yet) looked up to me and would copy me, and he was likely to get hurt. She didn’t say, “You might slip up, and we can’t afford a hospital visit.” She said, “Charlie will imitate you, and he will slip up.”

Mom’s car stopped working, as her vehicles often did, so we walked everywhere that we needed to go. Eventually, Everett’s parents let us borrow their two-seater bikes, but we didn’t have those for a while, and so we walked.

We went to the store one day, and Britt and I opted to stay and play outside while mom went in and did her shopping. After ten or fifteen minutes, she came back out and said that she had one more store to go to, told us which one it was, and Britt and I again decided we would just stay where we were. Mom left to walk to the other store, and I got bored a few minutes later, and then I went down the street to find mom. It wasn’t hard, and I quickly found her. After she finished her shopping, we came back outside and started heading back toward the initial store, the place where Britt and I had been playing.

And Britt was nowhere in sight.

“Where is your sister?” mom demanded as we rushed toward the store.

“I don’t know!” I cried, feeding off the panic and hostility in mom’s voice. “She was right there!”

As we jogged back, I shook my head, crying, and I mumbled, “I shouldn’t have left her alone…”

“No, you shouldn’t have!” mom snapped at me.

As we neared the store, though, we had a better view of its front, and it turned out that Britt was standing back in a corner, and we simply hadn’t been able to see her from the angle we were at. Years later, I realized what a horrendously foul response that was from my mother. “No, you shouldn’t have!” she said to me.

I was eight years old.

Assuming the worst, what in the hell would it have accomplished if I had stayed with Britt and someone kidnapped her? It would have meant only that Britt and I both were kidnapped. I was freaking eight years old, and Britt was the older one, at nine. I could have no more fought off someone than Britt could have. Still, “No, you shouldn’t have!” she hissed at her eight-year-old son who was already blaming himself.

“No, I shouldn’t have!” is what she should have said. She was the adult who left her eight and nine year old kids playing outside a store.

Britt’s birthday was horrible that year, and was probably still the worst birthday of her life. I’m not sure what caused things to go so badly, but they did. Britt and mom got into a fight—they were actually fighting quite often—and the most vicious one came near the end of That Summer, when mom threw a burning cigarette butt and hit Britt in the leg. I don’t think Britt ever forgave mom for that.

That was the year that Britt got the Polly Pocket toy that she had wanted for Easter, so I’m not sure what spurred the fight. I just remember that Britt cried a lot, and that I wanted her to be happy. But she wasn’t. And though I don’t recall ever seeing anything odd, there’s no telling how deep Everett’s abuses ran, and I certainly wouldn’t put any particular abuse beyond a monster like him. I don’t believe that’s the reason that Britt and mom fought so much, but I honestly have no idea why they did, and it’s clearly too painful of a subject for my sister for me to bring it up now.

I believe it was just that Britt was as miserable there as I was. The electricity was cut off a few times, but we weren’t allowed to run the air conditioners anyway. Arkansas summers are hot, but all we could do was open the windows and use box fans. That doesn’t help very much when the temperature is in the high nineties and the humidity isn’t far behind.

Then, of course, was the fact that mom got the hell beaten out of her regularly by a drunk piece of shit. And this is why I say that Eric would not have stood idly by if he had been forced to witness the abuse as Britt and I were—there’s only so many times that you can watch and hear your mother getting the shit beaten out of her before you’re ready to take matters into your own hands, regardless of your size and regardless of your age.

It was horrible.

You’ll forgive me for not going into elaborate descriptions of what it’s like to see and hear your mother being viciously beaten by an abusive alcoholic, but it’s every bit as awful as your imagination suggests, and so much worse when you’re witnessing it at eight and nine years old.

And one night I could no longer take it.

“[My name], don’t!” Britt whispered as I got up from the couch.

I don’t blame her. We were terrified when this abuse happened. We were too scared to move, too scared to speak, and even too scared to breathe loudly. If we had to go to the bathroom, then we held it. Mom was a lot bigger than us, and she couldn’t protect herself—how could she have protected us? Everett had already thrown a pair of scissors at one of us, so we had no idea if he would hit us. All we could do, at two in the morning, as their shadows danced on the floor, spilling in from the bedroom where they fought, listening to such sickening words as—

“Everett, I can’t breathe…”

–being choked out by our mother, was cower in fear and silence.

But I could cower no more. I had been pushed to the brink. I had seen this too many times; I had heard this too many times. This had been going on for too long, had been happening too often, and my mind snapped. For too long, I’d listened to my mother choking and rasping that she couldn’t breathe. For too long, I’d heard her being slammed into a wall, pushed through a window, punched in the stomach and face, jerked around and slapped. I knew only that I had to act, that something had to be done, and that I was going to do it because no one else was going to.

Someone had to put a stop to this, and there was no one stepping up to do it. And that meant it fell to me. It didn’t register to me that I was eight years old and about to step up to a grown man with a long history of violence. I didn’t care, because I was going to do what no one else was stepping up to do. It didn’t occur to me that I was eight years old, or that it wasn’t fair that I was way too young to be faced with the situation that I was faced with. Besides, no one ever said that life was fair.

No police were coming. My dad wasn’t coming. My brother wasn’t coming. My mom couldn’t handle it. And that meant it was on me, and only me.

I pulled two sharp knives from the kitchen drawer.

“Mom, I’ve got a knife!” I screamed.

Silence fell for a moment, and I was ignored as the horrific abuse continued. I immediately fell into tears, sobbing uncontrollably and whispering, “I’m sorry, mom. I’m sorry.”

I was sorry because I didn’t have it in me. I was sorry because I didn’t have the courage, the strength, or the age to do anything about it. I was sorry because I could do nothing to help her. I went back to the couch that was adjacent to the loveseat that my sister was sleeping on, and I continued crying until long after the violence stopped, because there was nothing else that I could do.

No one was coming, and I couldn’t stop it.

 

Hell Continues

Everett’s other two kids came that July to stay with us, and they were about mine and Britt’s ages, though Anne was slightly older than Britt was, and Charlie was slightly younger than I was. The first Power Rangers movie also hit the theaters, and I badly wanted to go. Mom suggested that I go around picking up cans so that I could earn the money, and I didn’t object at all to that. So that’s what I spent a lot of that summer doing: walking around with Charlie, picking up empty cans so that I could pay my way into the movie, because mom didn’t have the $5 to spare for the admission.

Charlie had some weird issues, though. Mom forced me to put up my Nintendo while he was there, and I was told that it was because he had a history of destroying them. He also burned down a house when he was much younger, by putting a sheet of paper onto a gas stove, or something like that. I never knew the details, but none of the adults ever disputed his claim about it, so it seems that it was true. And Charlie was, of course, proud that he’d burned a house down.

It simply made the summer worse than it already was. I didn’t spend all my time playing video games, obviously, but I did play them a lot, and then I suddenly wasn’t allowed to at all, for an entire month. One morning before Charlie woke up, mom let me connect and play it. I played Mega Man 4, one of my favorite games, but I was only allowed a few minutes before Charlie woke up. He walked through, rubbed his eyes, and mumbled, “There’s a Nintendo?” He kept walking to the kitchen, though. I furiously unhooked it and put it away, and we never discussed it again.

One day I was left home alone, and a man from the water department came by and did something outside. Keeping in mind that I was eight years old, I merely ensured that the door was locked and then watched him from the window. When mom returned, she learned that we didn’t have any water, and I told her about the man who came by.

“Why didn’t you stop him?” she yelled at me, as though her eight-year-old child was really supposed to have been able to handle a responsibility of that magnitude—or even understand something of that magnitude. I’m sure the city would also have been quite interested to learn that she had left an eight year old at home alone, and I sincerely doubt that I’d have been able to accomplish anything if I had talked to the man.

But, as usual, something had gone wrong, and I was just the convenient target to blame it on. Did she really expect her eight-year-old child to go and meet a stranger who had come into the yard? “Are one of your parents home?” the man would have immediately asked, a question that I would obviously have answered honestly. And this was a stranger to me. I had no understanding that this was a city or government employee—it was just some stranger, some strange, grown man in the yard. When I saw him, I verified that the door was locked; I definitely wasn’t about to open it.

Thank goodness, I had more sense than my mom did.

So there in the middle of June—because this actually happened before Charlie and Ashely arrived—we had no water at all. Each morning, Britt and I walked up the street to a nearby gas station, and filled up a five-gallon bucket with water from their faucet behind the building. We were only able to do this a few times, though, because the clerks found out and came out yelling at us, chasing us off, and telling us that we weren’t allowed to do that.

It goes without saying that it was awful, to not have water or air conditioning in the Arkansas summer, but it was even worse than that, because we never had anything to eat, either. Anne remarked once that I ate the equivalent of two biscuits a week, and she wasn’t wrong—I rarely ate anything. Because on top of having nothing to eat, my nerves were absolutely fried. I was always nauseated and on the edge of vomiting, and mom’s “solution” to this was to take me to the doctor for my “anxiety”—something that never happened anyway. Of course, the real solution would have been to get us out of that nightmare where we had no food, no water, and no cooling, and where my early morning wasn’t interrupted by the sounds of horrific violence.

Biscuits are also an apt comparison because I ate a lot of biscuits—there was never much else to eat, and biscuits were the primary staple. We would cook biscuits, then everyone would get two, and we’d dip them in this horrible concoction of peanut butter and maple syrup.

Then there was Treet Meat. It’s essentially a generic version of Spam, and it was the only meat that I ate through that summer. And, sadly, that name was also appropriate—it was a treat to have, because it was actual food. We didn’t even get it that often, because we couldn’t; we were poor as dirt. We didn’t even have water. Our food situation was no better. Throw on top of that the alcoholism and abuse, and it was an absolute nightmare, a true living hell. That, it seems, was what mom considered best for her kids, since she undoubtedly “only wanted what was best” for her kids.

And, unbelievably, it actually got worse.

Because as though all that wasn’t bad enough, the property owners tasked us with tearing down the shed, which we did. We then lit a bonfire with the wood from it in the backyard, and all that was fine. A few days later, however, we also lit a bonfire in the front yard. And from then on, we were under attack by fleas—fully under attack. Mom said that the fire in the backyard chased them into the front, and then the fire in the front yard chased them into the house. That seems likely, because we had a total infestation. Fleas were everywhere. No matter where we went or what we did, fleas where all over us, biting away.

Mom’s solution to this was some flea powder and anti-itch lotion, but that was woefully inadequate to deal with an infestation of that scale. Bug bombs wouldn’t have been enough. Only an exterminator would really have been sufficient, and it would likely have taken multiple visits from an exterminator.

The situation was beyond terrible, and it’s hard to imagine it being any worse and still leaving the victims alive and sane. How much more could my sanity have taken? How much more could my sister have taken? Hunger, thirst, miserable heat, domestic violence, and constantly being bitten by fleas. These are the reasons why it will always be “That Summer in Arkansas” to me, and why it will (hopefully) always be regarded as the worst summer of my life.

During the day, Charlie, David, and I went through the neighborhoods and picked up cans from the side of the road. That was probably the only bit of good parenting that my mother ever did—if I wanted to go to the movie, then I needed to earn the money. I would say that she might have been pushing it a bit, since I was only eight years old, but it’s also true that it was the only way I could have gone anyway.

Then the glorious day came that we called the person to come and buy the cans from me. It was a little over three dollars, and to my horror, he handed half of it to me, and the other half to Charlie. I threw a fit. And, looking back, I was right to throw a fit, because I was the one collecting the cans and had been from the beginning. I wasn’t being a brat when I said that Charlie didn’t help, because he really hadn’t—he simply came along because there was nothing else to do, and because that’s what I was going to do whether he came or not. I carried the garbage bags, I asked people for their cans, and I picked them up from the side of the road. Undoubtedly, Charlie picked up a few, but he wasn’t asked to, and he certainly hadn’t picked up half of them. I can understand, I guess, why the man presumed it was best to split the money between Charlie and me, but it still seems it would have been better for him to give it to my mother for her to handle. I worked all through that summer doing it, and three dollars was already not enough to go to the movie, but a dollar and fifty cents was nowhere near enough.

I was eventually given all the money—which, as I say, is good since I was the one doing it—but obviously still was not enough to pay for the movie. In another display of surprisingly good parenting, however, mom gave me the other two dollars that I needed, and I was able to buy the ticket and watch the movie. I didn’t get popcorn, a drink, or anything else; I just watched the movie, and it was great, because I’d spent the entire summer working to pay my way into it. I wasn’t entirely successful, but no one could say that I didn’t try.

One afternoon as we played in the tree… I don’t recall exactly what we were doing, but Charlie was swinging around in the branches as I did before my mom asked me to stop. And Charlie made a mistake. He fell almost in slow motion, and the three of us could only watch in shock as he fell, slamming into branches as he plummeted. We screamed as he screamed, and then there was a loud and sickening thud as he slammed against the ground.

Mom and Everett got him inside and called an ambulance. Charlie was able to move and able to stand, and the paramedics asked about taking him to the hospital to check if he had a concussion. To me, it seemed obvious. Dude fell out of a tree. His back was lacerated from the branches that had whipped against his flesh as he fell, and he had pounded against the ground. Why were people discussing whether to take him to the hospital? The ambulance was already there, after all—get the boy some medical attention.

But they didn’t. Because it would have been too expensive.

Charlie swooned at the door and nearly fainted, but caught himself on the jamb. Mom and Everett agreed to keep an eye on him for signs of a concussion, but he still didn’t go to the hospital, and none of us climbed the tree again.

Charlie proved more or less okay, though, and he and I stood in the front yard one day as I prepared to show the whole world once more what a jackass I was. A small, purple truck came through as I hoisted up a very tiny pebble—very tiny. Smaller than a piece of cat food, and very light—far too light to cause any damage. As the truck drove past, in full view of everyone and everything, I pulled back my arm and released, hitting the truck with that pebble.

Brakes screeched. Charlie and I bolted inside.

The man driving the truck, understandably pissed off, said that it was the short one who threw it, and that meant Charlie. Mom and Everett yelled for Charlie as the man left, evidently content to let them handle it, and I stayed hidden in the back, fully prepared to let Charlie take the fall for it. Because I was terrified, too. Charlie wouldn’t have that, though, which is good, and he told them that it was I. When asked directly, I did not deny it. There was a reason, after all, that I was hiding in the back.

That I was going to let Charlie take the blame just pissed Everett off more, but it’s not like there was ever much chance for that to happen. The dude mistakenly told them “the short one,” they called for Charlie, and Charlie told them it was me. But Everett was furious, and I suspect he had been waiting for such an opportunity all summer. He wanted to beat me.

Mom wouldn’t allow that, though, which is good. Because, honestly, if Everett had laid a hand on me, my dad would have killed him. As I said earlier, I never held the delusion that my dad was a superhero, as so many young kids do, but my dad wouldn’t have needed to be a superhero to take on Everett, or to kill him—and there is no doubt: my dad would have done both. Everett was the kind of man who hit women; the last thing he needed was to fight someone who was, at the very least, a real man. And my dad would have been so enraged that there probably wouldn’t have been a fight; he probably would have just shot the asshole.

Or stabbed him, as I had once been ready to do.

Mom took me into the bathroom, and I was crying hysterically, because I knew I’d done something wrong, and I didn’t typically do things like that. I really didn’t. I was just showing off in front of Charlie, and mom knew it, too. She also knew that there was no chance that I was going to do it again—it was all over my teary face. She had already promised Everett that she would whip me, though, and I’m sure that she intended to, until she got me in the bathroom with the doors shut.

Mom knew me better than that, though. She surely understood exactly why I had done it, and she and Everett were both aware that the thing I’d thrown was tiny—far too tiny to do any damage at all. And the guy checked his truck extensively, but there was no damage to it whatsoever. The tiny little pebble almost certainly hit one of his hubcaps, in fact, given the distance involved and the very low mass of the pebble. What I did was wrong, I knew that, and my mother knew that I knew that— and she knew that I had known it at the time that I threw it.

But there was also the fact that no damage was done, and that I undoubtedly would never have thrown something that would have broken a window or caused a dent. What I did simply caused a noise. There was no damage, and she knew that was not by accident. She made it clear to me that I wasn’t to do something like that again, but there was no chance that I was going to anyway, and she told me that Everett wanted to get at me.

In hindsight, I somewhat wish that he would have. Oh, sure, it would have hurt then, but when my dad found out, he would have beat the ever-loving hell out of Everett, and if there’s anyone who deserves to be beaten fifteen-sixteenths to death, it’s Everett Barber. And if Everett had ever laid a finger on me, my dad would have torn him to pieces. Everett did later say, “You’re lucky you ain’t my son, or that hide would be tanned and you would be able to talk for a week!”

Instead, mom spanked the toilet, and we both pretended that she’d spanked me. In fact, she lightly tapped me with the belt, but she grinned when she did it—that way we weren’t lying. That was the way that my mom and I handled things—she respected me, and I respected her. She didn’t have to roar and command me to stop swinging high in the tree; she asked me, explained her reasoning, and I respected her enough to obey. And she had been correct. Charlie had gotten hurt doing it, but it wasn’t because he wanted to do what I was doing.

Of course, Charlie didn’t believe that she’d spanked me, being a little snitch who was double-checking for Everett, and he asked me repeatedly. I consistently answered that she had, and she said the same. But she didn’t, because she was my mother, and she knew me better than that. I was no longer a rebellious kindergartener forced to adjust to a separation and trying to cling to the only normalcy that I had by eschewing school and staying with my mother. I was the kid who had just spent an entire summer collecting cans to pay his own way into a movie.

But no, Everett Barber. Violence is not the way that my mother communicated with me. Weak, ignorant people like you communicate with violence.

There is never a reason to spank a child. Talking to a child and reasoning with the child will earn the child’s respect, and will give the child a reason to respect and trust the adult as an authority figure. Resorting to violence will not earn the child’s respect; it will only earn the child’s fear. But I never again came close to throwing a rock or pebble at a vehicle, and violence wasn’t necessary to make that happen—simply talking to me was. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that an asshole like Everett immediately jumped to violence as the solution to misbehavior.

Everett was a violent asshole, and it’s proof that the universe doesn’t care, that he lives on while my mother has been dead for nearly two decades. This man directly responsible for untold amounts of pain and suffering, and who inflicted violence upon numerous people. Obviously, he doesn’t deserve to die by any means, and my mother was no saint, but, between the two, one of them deserves to be alive a lot more than the other.

Eric forgave Everett. I imagine that was easy, since Eric never witnessed the horrors that Britt and I did.

I nearly saw Everett again, that first weekend we spent with Eric after reconnecting with him, and I told Eric that it would be a very, very bad idea for Everett to come anywhere near me. Eric offered a weak excuse about how Everett is the grandfather of his son, and that they have to be civil, but I did not and do not care about that. This man relentlessly beat my mother in fits of alcohol-induced rage because he couldn’t face his own failures and inadequacies, and he never apologized to my sister or me. Eric said that Everett is clean now, and that he went through Alcoholics Anonymous. That may be, but he missed a step. He missed a few people that he was supposed to apologize to for some of his wrongdoings. My sister and I should have been pretty close to the top of the list.

With dysfunction of that scale, it certainly wasn’t only during the day that they fought. They fought almost constantly, and one of the many lessons I learned from mom is always have my car keys attached to a belt loop on my jeans. She did so, and it was extremely handy one day when they got into a fight. We planned to leave—probably to go to Aunt Diane’s—but she forgot something inside. By the time she turned around to go back in, Everett had already locked the door.

I will never forget that asshole’s stupid, childish grin as he parted the blinds and gave my mom the finger.

Britt and I stayed in the car for the next few hours as they fought inside, because there was no chance that we were going in there while that was happening. One walks on eggshells when there’s a lot of domestic violence, regardless of whom it is targeted at, because one is constantly afraid that something is going to set that violent son of a bitch off, and no one wants to be the person who causes it.

Charlie and Anne soon left with their mom to go back to Oklahoma, and that sucked, because I did enjoy hanging out with Charlie. I was happy to have my video games back, of course, but it wasn’t fun that a friend was leaving. I would never see him again, either—or Anne, for that matter.

It was soon time to register for school, and that was totally weird. I’d already changed schools several times. I started in South Pontotoc Elementary, but spent a few days in the city school—that was an awkward and unpleasant experience. I wasn’t there long enough to make friends, and the vibe in that school was strangely different from the county school. There was a lot of snobbery, and the playground sucked. Then I went to East Tate, and suddenly I was transferring to a school in Arkansas.

Dad and grandma came, to try to get us, before school started, and they weren’t trying to work within the legal system, mostly because we all knew by that point that the case was a total joke to the state. But mom was served with some kind of papers—it wasn’t a summon, and it seemed to be something that grandma paid a lawyer to write up and make it look official and scary. It was also filled with lies. For one, it asserted that we lived in a mobile home, that mom and Everett were doing crack and other things like that, none of which was true, but I understand in hindsight where they were coming from. But I refused to lose my mom again.

Dad promised us that he had gifts for us in the backseat of the car, and all that we had to do was climb in and get them. He held the door open, and it was all too easy for us to see that there was nothing in the backseat. The elderly couple next door knew enough of what was happening that they wanted to ensure things didn’t get out of control, so they came out and sat on their porch whenever dad was there and pulling his stunts. Britt and I weren’t stupid, though, and we told them that they could hand us the gifts, because we weren’t climbing in to get them.

They were trying to kidnap us, in effect, and I have to wonder what legal grounds they had to do so. What would have happened, if they had shoved us into the backseat and drove off? Someone would have called the police, and there would likely have been a roadblock—then what? Clearly, mom wasn’t in violation of any legal order, or they wouldn’t have had such a difficult time trying to go the legal route.

On one of these several “visits,” I stood near mom and Britt on the porch, as dad and grandma stood by their car at the road, shouting back and forth with mom because they had been firmly told to get off her property. “Does this look like a mobile home to you?” I shouted, because I was furious that they were again trying to take us away from our mom, and Britt evidently preferred to stay, too.

Life was borderline unbearable there in Arkansas, but it’s curious to think about what implications that would have had for me being transgender. I wouldn’t have had to struggle with it nearly as much, because my mom would have gladly accepted me. Everett would have gotten out of the picture at some point (he was removed from the picture later), and he would have certainly made it impossible for me to be transgender—more so than grandma and dad did, really. But Everett’s days with our mom were numbered, even if I didn’t know it then.

Mom is the only family member who I know wouldn’t have taken issue with it, because she was bisexual herself, and out of all the things I can question about my mother, I have never doubted that she loved me. Being transgender would have meant nothing to her, and she would have accepted and supported me. That she is not a part of my life is all the more tragic because of that: she is the only family member who would have accepted and supported me. Maybe back then, my sister would have as well, but with the way it went down, even my sister, with whom I went through all this bullshit, refused to accept my transgenderism.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it was certainly for the best that I did end up back with my grandmother, because I would have ended up dropping out as a teenager. I would never have been exposed to fantasy and would never have started writing; I probably would never have picked up a guitar and become an accomplished musician. My life has certainly not been great, but it would have been worse if mom had won that war.

“Dad, I hate you!” I shouted.

For just a brief moment, silence fell. Then my dad narrowed his eyes and pointed at my mother, and then he said in a low voice filled with icy anger, “Pat, if you ever tell him to say that again, I will kill you.”

So there, at the age of eight, I watched my dad threaten to kill my mother.

Obviously, they left quickly after that, because the elderly couple next door had certainly heard that little line, and it’s illegal to stand just on the edge of someone’s property, point at them, and threaten to kill them. For a while, I was in shock over that; it’s unusual to hear your dad threaten to kill your mom, and to mean it, and mom hadn’t told me to say anything. I spoke of my own accord, because I did hate him at that moment. He was once more a force of disruption, but also the only person who could save us—I just didn’t realize then how badly we needed to be saved.

And I was willing, I think, to endure all of those nightmarish things because they were the price of being there with my mother.

I didn’t understand mom’s laughter later that evening, when she bragged to Everett about what I had said. I was unable to understand that she liked how it hurt my dad to hear, and that she was happy that I stood against him—that I stood firmly with her. She didn’t tell me not to hate him, or even not to say it, as any good mother would have. She encouraged it, because she thought it was great.

For the first time, Britt and I suddenly went to different schools. We were two grades apart anyway, so it’s not like it made much of a difference, but… it did make a difference, and I didn’t like it. I don’t remember much about that school, except that people concluded that I was a talented artist, because I was able to draw something that was on the cover of a book. I did get into Gifted Art during the fourth grade, qualifying by drawing a boot. I have no idea why I made it in, because I saw the boots I drew years later, and they were awful.

They had GT at that school, which stood for Gifted and Talented, but only one person in our class was in it. Again, at East Tate I was allowed into TAGS halfway through the third grade (Talented and Gifted Students), but I was too depressed to have qualified for it there in Arkansas. I didn’t make any friends there. I didn’t want to make any friends there. The teachers would also frequently ask me what was wrong, too…

How was I supposed to answer that? Fucking everything was wrong. Between being hungry through the entire summer, sweating and burning up through the entire summer, not even having water through a substantial chunk of it, being blamed for my mom’s mistakes, watching and listening to my mom being beaten once every other week (on average), what in the hell wasn’t wrong? Oh, and I was having to lie to cover up for my mom, because she was shooting up—of course she was shooting up. Since everyone trusted me for some reason, she had me insist that it was for her headaches, when obviously it wasn’t.

“You know the shots I take for my headaches, right?” she asked me one morning.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. She didn’t make it a habit of shooting up in front of me, and I didn’t recall then her ever doing so—not since Pontotoc, at least.

“Sure you do,” she cajoled. “The shots that I take for my headaches.”

“Oh,” I convinced myself. “Yeah.”

“You know they’re for my headaches, right?” she pressed, and I nodded. “Good. Everett might ask you, and just be sure to tell him that you know they’re for my headaches…”

“You’re going to have to participate,” the teachers told me. “You can’t just sit there and mope all the time,” they said.

Then there was walking to and from school every day, at a time when I constantly felt nauseated and was always on the verge of throwing up, because we didn’t have a car and because Everett’s parents were weird about their bikes. We were there for about four months, possibly five, and they were by leaps and bounds the worst four months of my life, and I’ve actually been homeless before. But nothing else I’ve experienced comes close to That Summer in Arkansas.

It was worse than ever one night—so bad that the elderly couple told mom that they would call the police if they heard it again. And, as usual, mom told them that it wouldn’t happen again, the same thing that she told Britt and me. Of course, this left my nerves more frazzled than ever, to the point that I wouldn’t even eat, and mom knew that she had to do something, and her solution was to take me to the doctor. Britt also needed to go to a dentist, so mom scheduled both things for the upcoming Thursday.

On that day, since we would be in the city, mom also planned to stop by and see an attorney who wanted a two thousand dollar retainer “to even look at the case.” Mom seemed to think that implied he was a terrific lawyer, and that may have been true, but she was never going to come up with that kind of money, and she must have known that, deep down inside. Just a few weeks prior, she’d received and unexpected check from the government, which she used to buy a $600 car that broke down almost immediately.

Britt and I were playing at the closest park when I looked across the street and saw, to my horror and dismay, dad standing and talking on the payphone while grandma stood beside him. Dad happened to see me, as well, and I told Britt that we had to go home, and that dad was there. We immediately ran home, since we weren’t far in the first place. We told mom what we’d seen, but she wasn’t overly worried about it.

A few minutes later, dad and grandma pulled in front of the house, but they were not alone. They had the police with them, and they had some legal document signed by a judge that gave grandma legal guardianship of us. They accomplished this through some creative distribution of money (bribes, one might say). Dad never denied this, and it’s certainly strange that they managed to get a judge to sign something so major without a hearing actually taking place. So someone’s pockets surely got a little heavier.

It was heartbreaking, and we were conflicted about it. This was our mother, and we loved her and didn’t want to leave her. But, at the same time, the situation was terrible, and no child should have been anywhere near that mess. Britt and mom fought nearly as often as did mom and Everett—I loved my sister and didn’t want her to be unhappy, and she wasn’t any happier than I was. And while I know now that it was for the best, that didn’t make it any easier then.

It all ended as suddenly and inexplicably as it began. Just as we didn’t expect mom to randomly declare that she was going to keep us, neither were we expecting dad and grandma to show up that day with the law on their side. The police oversaw everything as we packed our stuff, coldly standing by and grilling mom, as Britt, mom, and I cried and said our goodbyes, because there was no telling when we were going to see each other again. Mom’s visitation rights had been revoked, which meant that… legally, we weren’t allowed to see her anymore.

There was no turning around that time, though, even as we answered their questions honestly about what had been going on. Dad repeatedly said that we were going to simply forget what I said to him—as though we could do anything else, or as though punishing me for it had been a consideration. I’d just gone through hell for months with my sister. What could he possibly have done to punish me?

Identity & Conflict

Through most of my life, I considered myself a boy. I was such a dude that it still bothers me to see men wearing pink, and I’ve said countless times that the shirt that says “Real men wear pink” is stupid–real men avoid wearing pink at all costs. I wore boxers, shaved my head, and had a bad ass goatee. No one in their right mind would have looked at me and suspected that I was anything but ordinary heterosexual male.

I drank beer, ate steaks, had a wife, knew how to work on automobiles, knew how to repair washing machines, and all the usual stuff. Yet the person there in that pic–that’s me. That person in that pic who five minutes before or after would have laughed at a guy for wearing a pink shirt–that’s me. That person who would have sneered if someone offered him a wine cooler over a Bud Light–that’s me.

Recently, Caryn Harlos has called me a revisionist making the party look silly because I say that Nolan was, and always was, an anarchist, even if he identified in the past as a minarchist. Speaking as a transgender person, I know exactly how this goes, and that’s why I bring all of this up. There is a lot of truth to the idea that a M2F trans person will embrace the most masculine aspects of being a male. It’s not an accident that I shaved my head, had a goatee, lifted weights, wore muscle shirts, and all the other shit. One might say I was overcompensating.

Yet the truth always bled through, often unbidden and without conscious intent, and I wondered about it for years. I remember remarking to a friend several years ago that I am, and always have been, an enthusiastic supporter of LGBT rights, but that I wasn’t sure why. I’m not gay or bisexual, so why should I be such an Ally that it consumed probably 10% of my political discussion? It didn’t make much sense. This was the transgenderism bleeding through subconsciously, without my knowing it or realizing it.

Of course, you could ask my ex-wife (from whom I divorced for reasons entirely unrelated to any of this) about other ways my transgenderism bled through. I mentioned in Dancing in Hellfire that my cousin enjoyed wearing makeup when we played various games, but as early as kindergarten I loathed makeup. Our kindergarten teacher forced us all to put on lipstick to kiss a paperplate (making a thing for our parents), and I resented her from that day forward. Makeup was for girls, and I wasn’t a goddamned girl. Only because I was a freak (what people today would call “goth”) did eyeliner get a pass, and only then because it looked so freaking awesome, and that was much later.

There were always periods, though, no matter how masculine I presented myself, and no matter how generally conformist I was to sexual stereotypes of heterosexuality, it always bled through. I’ve described being transgender and having to repress it as desperately needing to breathe, but being able to breathe only in short, very sporadic gasps. But no matter what I did, no matter how I attempted to hide it–often from myself–it always bled through. My grandmother would find women’s clothing hidden between my mattresses. I wore them when I could, while at the same time hating myself for wearing them, knowing that I was betraying some other part of me.

It was conflict, pure and simple.

Conflict between who I was and the identity that I proclaimed–the identity that I believed in.

And now look at me.

Who would ever have guessed that the person in the above pic was not truly the person he identified as? Who would have guessed that the goatee, the shaved head, the muscles, the Bud Light, the steaks, and all the other things… were just ways of masking the true behavior that underwrote so much of what I said and did?

Because it’s true. I wore my girlfriend’s prom dress before she did–and she thought it was hot. I had long hair through most of high school, too. At one point, my hair fell below my breasts. This same girlfriend gave me tons of panties, yet at every given moment I’d have insisted that I was not even a cross-dresser, that I was adamantly against the notion of transgenderism. I’m sure that I’ve in the past said “Boys are boys and girls are girls, and that’s that.”

When the True Self conflicts with the Expressed Self, there are contradictions–often glaring contradictions.

It would be the height of transphobic ignorance to look back at that first pic, of me with a goatee, and say that I was clearly just a male, that I was only a male, and that I was not, even then, transgender. I most certainly was. I was even female then. I simply repressed it because, for various reasons that are often unique to the individual, I could not accept it, and I was not ready to accept it.

Several, several years ago, I mentioned to a friend that if my ex-wife and I ever divorced, I would move to California and get a sex change operation. I told this to another friend, too–one that you could almost call a boyfriend, except that it wasn’t like that for me. When he brought this up again a year later, I adamantly denied it. Even though I had told him to his face that I felt like a girl and wanted to pursue that, when he mentioned it later, I abjectly refused to admit that I’d said that. I told him he was taking it out of context and making it to be a much bigger deal than it was. Readiness often comes in phases, rarely does it come all at once.

Nolan’s early writings, particularly his written declaration of the case for a Libertarian Party, have anarchism bleeding through it in exactly the same way that transgenderism bled through so much of my life, even as I identified as a male and sought desperately to hide any indication that I wasn’t quite normal. We see in Nolan’s other writings exactly the same conflict that we saw in me when I said “real men don’t wear pink.” Coming to term with oneself and making that final leap is often extremely difficult, but it shines through, and nothing can dim the inner light of the true self.

When such a conflict arises, how shall we form an understanding of the person? Through their often-confused and often-contradictory expressions and positions, or through the inner light that bleeds through no matter how adamantly it is denied, and is only embraced much later in life? Should we embrace the identity of the person as they express themselves while clearly embroiled in internal conflict, or should we be more understanding and accept their internal conflict as just that–internal conflict that was only resolved much later in life? Nolan denied being an anarchist and expressly stated that he was a minarchist with exactly the same fervor and tenacity with which I stated that I was a normal heterosexual male.

But I was never a normal heterosexual male, and Nolan was never a minarchist.

So, no. Caryn Harlos is wrong. Nolan was an anarchist, even back then, and it clearly bleeds through in his early writings in exactly the same way that female clothing bled through my otherwise-normal male adolescence. That I claimed to be a normal male didn’t make me one; that Nolan claimed not to be an anarchist didn’t prevent him from being one. It merely prevented him from coming to terms with what was already then shining through.

But apparently I’m a revisionist for saying that, clearly, Nolan was always an anarchist. If so, then I’m a revisionist for saying that I was always transgender.

Moreover, I can claim right now to be a minarchist. That won’t make me one. I could just as easily call this site “The Minarchist Shemale” and write pretty much the same things, though occasionally throwing out contradictory articles about how we need a state to protect us from a state. None of that would make me a minarchist, though–it would only make me confused about who I am and what I believe.

I’d rather take the word of the person who has worked through that confusion and expressed an identity that is in accord with their inner identity than to arbitrarily cling to the confused contradictions of someone struggling to come to terms with their identity.

But that’s just me…

The Blood I Cried

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Introduction

Whether being four years old and watching one of my parents’ friends shoot up peanut butter on our couch and dying before my eyes; whether being effectively kidnapped at the age of eight by my meth-addicted mother and forced to endure a summer of being too poor to buy food, with our water turned off due to non-payment, and with mom being beaten mercilessly by a violent alcoholic; whether coming to terms with her disappearance like something out of a murder mystery show; or whether being transgender in the midst of all of this and trying desperately to come to terms with it while surrounded by a fundamentalist Christian family that forced me to not merely repress who I was but also to forget who I was, I have seen a great deal of tragedy.

It’s strangely easy to forget how devastating all of this must truly have been, even as I was the one who experienced it, because it’s easy to forget how it truly felt to lie awake, crying and listening to the sounds of shattering glass as my mother was thrown brutally through windows. It’s easy to forget how angry I have the right to be at my father and grandmother, for forcing me to oppress myself and attempting to turn me into something that I am not.

Today I am a transgender woman and resident of the state of Mississippi. This is as frustrating, difficult, and dangerous as one would expect, but I survive, and I roll with the punches. I have no choice, just as I had no choice those early mornings as I bore witness to horrific domestic violence.

So this is my story–a story of how low human depravity can sink, but also how the human spirit can stand resilient and refuse to surrender. However, I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of people who endure such childhood trauma, and who are forced by religiously oppressive authorities to repress their own natures, are not so fortunate. Most of the former lose themselves in a sea of drugs that allow them to forget, while the latter often lose themselves to the blade of a razor. Yet I know, because I have lived it, that we can survive the struggles–and not merely survive, but become stronger through them.

Where to begin, in this sordid tale of devils and demons?

My family is exactly what one would expect of a north Mississippi lower middle class / upper lower class white Christian family; it was only a few years ago that I first heard the acronym WASP, but I have to admit: aside from its redundancy, there is no more apt description of my family. They are almost stereotypical in how typical they are of an ordinary white fundamentalist Christian family from the southern United States.

Everyone in Mississippi isn’t like that, however, which is a point I’ve tried to stress in the past: Mississippi does contain many people like myself. As a friend recently put it, “We grew up in an area that is run-down, poor, and stupid, over all, where most of the populace is indoctrinated by religious nonsense to the point where they can’t even recognize rational thought. We pushed through what it takes to fit in here, and we defined ourselves. That’s something to embrace and be proud of.”

My friends and I have reached the end of a long and grueling journey that was filled with adversity and people who would use any means at their disposal—terrorism, fear, violence, and coercion—to bend us to their wills, and we’ve looked back at the paths we traveled and rejoiced that we survived and stayed true to ourselves. Friends are priceless when one is transgender in a family full of fundamentalist Christians.

Both of my paternal grandparents would reject me entirely—they do not yet know, and they will be among the last to know, since I see them only a few times a year. “You don’t know how they’ll react,” I’ve had people tell me. “Give them a chance. Sometimes people surprise you.”

With all due respect, those allies and friends have no idea the type of people we’re really dealing with. My Mississippian friends know better, too; they know that there is no chance that my family will ever welcome me at Christmas dinner as a female. When my grandfather (who, for the record, is on his tenth or eleventh wife) learned that my sister was living with her boyfriend, he wrote her a lengthy letter, wherein he quoted Biblical passages and called her a whore. When my grandmother found girls’ clothes hidden between my mattresses, she wanted to send me to a foster home and asserted that she would not have that in her house. If they had thought I was gay, they would have sent me to one of those awful “pray the gay away” camps.

This isn’t to say that I’m perfect, and acknowledging my own faults and mistakes will be the most difficult part of writing this. I have made plenty of mistakes and stupid decisions that brought people around me severe difficulty and hardship, particularly regarding past relationships.

My memory is also not perfect, and I am likely to make mistakes, and, given that some of the information comes from extremely unreliable sources (like my father), some of that can’t really be helped. It doesn’t matter, though. The point of this is to show how awful parenting shaped me, and the countless lies that my dad told me are part of that. I strive for honesty, integrity, and sincerity in all things. Consider this my vow that everything within is, to the best of my knowledge, the unaltered truth, except that names have been changed.

South Pontotoc

I was born premature, thankfully, since the umbilical cord had wrapped around my throat and I was choking to death. This was surely a result of my mother’s cigarette smoking and eating painkillers while pregnant. My father insists that she didn’t do drugs while she carried us, but… Yeah, she did.

I certainly don’t remember my birth, but I do remember some things from shortly after my birth. Though my family says there is no way I could remember it, my introduction to the world came with overwhelming confusion: I was in some sort of cradle, and the back of my right hand hurt because a number of needles and tubes penetrated my flesh. The details are blurry and fuzzy, as one would expect from such early memories, but the needles burned and itched. They irritated me, and I wanted them out. I was afraid and confused, with no idea why these things penetrated my hand and no understanding of what was going on. I knew only that I was hurting and helpless to do anything about it.

Confusion—pure confusion. I didn’t even have a sense of self. I had no idea that I existed, that I was a baby in a hospital, and that I was a being. I could feel the needles in the back of my hand, and they hurt. The pain, however, was not unbearable, and wasn’t the main facet of that moment. It was confusion. I was not afraid—I didn’t have enough self-awareness for the confusion to make me scared. I simply knew nothing. I was a blank slate, onto which was being written reality in the ink of experience. I didn’t even know that I was a blank slate. I knew only that I hurt, and that I was confused. I was not in the arms of a loving mother whose warmth brought me comfort. I did not stare up and into the eyes of a nurse who was delighted to see a baby growing healthier by the hour. I was not being cooed by an older brother, or rocked in the cradle while a loving grandparent read a story. I was alone and hurting in a room bathed in fluorescent light.

That was my first experience with the world. That was how I was introduced to the universe—in the sterilizing, emotionless light of an empty hospital room, not the gentle and soothing light of a home. I heard the beeps and sounds of monitoring equipment, not the joyous laughter of a loving family. I lie alone in a hospital contraption with the shrill, uncomfortable hospital sheets, not wrapped in a blanket and the arms of a doting mother.

And the worst part—the indisputable worst part—is that I remember this.

The first few years of my life were probably normal, about what anyone would expect from a southern, lower middle class white family that subsisted more on the successes of previous generations than the merits of its own. There were some oddities, though, and signs even then of who I really was, but it was the mid-80s. It wouldn’t really be fair to blame my parents for not recognizing and embracing that I was transgender.

Of course, I was born male, “with a penis and everything.” But whenever all of my underwear was dirty, my mother would put me in my sister’s panties; it wasn’t a punishment, to clarify. Being the clever child that I was, I began hiding all of my underwear, just so that I could tell my mom that I didn’t have any, and so that I could wear panties instead. Somewhere around three years old, I took all of my underwear and threw them into the back of a closet that no one ever opened, and then I reported to my mother that, strangely, all of my underwear was suddenly gone.

So when I say that I’ve been transgender since birth, it’s as close to “since birth” as one can get. I couldn’t have been older than three years old at that point, because my sister hadn’t begun kindergarten herself. I knew then that I preferred women to men: I loved my mother and sister, and, even at that age, I had a deep appreciation for feminine beauty. I also thought that my Aunt Diane was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and my mother used to make fun of me for my enamorment with my aunt.

My experience with men at this point was limited to my father (who was fat and not overly pleasant to look at), my brother (who was thin, but who had nothing on my mother), my grandfather (who was also overweight, and a jerk), and my Uncle Danny (who has always been an asshole). Although it’s typical for young boys to love their mothers, I wanted to be just like mine, and I suspect that had a lot to do it with, but who can say? I was three when it began, and I simply wanted to be a girl.

I had a blanket (what most people would call a “blankie,” though I never called it that), and it was one of those cotton-threaded ones similar to fishnet. I refused to sleep without it and my pillow. The pillow actually wasn’t that important, but the pillowcase certainly was. I rubbed the pillowcase between my finger and thumbnail, sleeping on the central heating vents in the floor and driving my father crazy with all of it.

A Look at My Father

I would love to say that my father isn’t a bad man.

But he is.

That’s a difficult thing to say and accept, but I have to stress that it doesn’t really make me love him any less, and that the dominant emotion I have for my father is pity. Even so, I would be lying if I said that he was a good man who simply made some mistakes; that isn’t the case at all. He’s a bad man who has made some good decisions, not a good man who has made a few bad ones.

His own childhood was no walk in the park, damaged by my alcoholic and abusive grandfather beating the hell out of my grandmother. Though not much of that has been shared with me, I can certainly relate to what he has said, and it’s clear the recollections are as painful to him as it is for me to recall the abuse my mother endured at the hands of alcoholics.

At some point, my grandparents divorced—Go, grandma!—because my grandmother wouldn’t put up with the abuse. My grandmother is easily worthy of her own story, because she is an unsung hero of the feminist movement without even trying. In the sixties and seventies, she left her violent husband and blazed her own path in Mississippi, won the house in the divorce, and then worked at a college until she retired at the age of 67.

True to the family history, my grandmother endured her own screwed up childhood, and was even sent away by her mother to live with Uncle Bill and Aunt Edna on their farm. Evidently, Aunt Edna didn’t like my grandmother one bit, and was very unkind to her. What internal strength caused my grandmother, in what must have been the 40s, to graduate as the valedictorian of her class? What quiet resolve allowed my grandmother to learn the necessary skills to work in the administration section of a college during the 60s?

These are questions to which I would love answers, but I’ll never have them, because they are not things that my grandmother is willing to discuss. Questions about her past are met with short answers, and I can’t blame her for not wanting to talk about it.

On one particular drunken rampage, my father held a gun on my grandfather so that my grandmother could limp out of the house. While I truly hate that he had to do such a thing in the first place, I’m also jealous that he was old enough to do something about it. When my mother suffered under Everett’s hands, I was in the second grade, and too young and weak to do anything to intervene.

For years, my father insisted that he was drafted to Vietnam, and he even talked about how he was called a murderer and spit upon when he returned. Eventually my sister and I realized that there’s no way this is true. Either he was actually the oldest between him and his brother (and thus wouldn’t have been drafted), or the Vietnam War ended when he was 16. In this little alternate reality he had constructed, he had to be older than our mother was (which was blatantly false—she had always been recognized as the older one), his brother had to be lying about his own age, and almost everyone had to have falsified birth records.

He changed his story to say that he was in Vietnam during the 80s, through another offensive that we did, but I have been unable to find any military record for him. Whether he actually fought in Vietnam, he did mislead us into believing he’d fought in the Vietnam War, which is a lie of such magnitude and scope that one has to marvel at it.

He is a religious man, though it’s hard to tell by his behavior: heavy drug usage, constant lies, and steady manipulation. Although he is less religious than other family members are, his secularism is applied selectively, and he’s generally as fundamental as everyone else is. He continues to believe that President Obama is a Muslim, is more or less openly racist, and is a diehard Republican, despite that he’s effectively a ward of the state who benefits substantially from liberal policies.

I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with him, but we do have some similar interests. It was he who introduced me to Fantasy literature and tabletop gaming, both of which almost immediately became passions for me. In turn, I exposed him to the tenth installment of a popular roleplaying video game, and I’m still happy that I was able to show him to something that he enjoyed so immensely. He must have played through it a dozen times, and he certainly discovered more of its secrets than I ever would have.

There is some kinship between us, and I do love him, despite the numerous differences, and in spite of the fact that he has done me far more harm than good. More than anything, I pity him, because his childhood evidently destroyed him; he is one those who did not escape unscathed. He was swallowed by the mentality that the world owes him something, and oblivious to the reality that the world will never give it.

The rifts between us began because I was not the son that he wanted. He hated that I loved sleeping on the heating vents—I’ve always loved heat. I wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. I had to sleep on one of the floor vents, and the heat had to be on. There in the floor, I had the pillow and pillowcase that I refused to sleep without, and the blanket that I required as I slept.

My father hated all of these things. We went to visit some relatives at one point, and I left my blanket and pillow at home. With no other way to shut me up, my parents took me to a store to get a new pillow, and there I went from one to the next, tearing open the plastic just slightly, and “testing” it until I found one that was satisfactory. When we got back to our trailer a few nights later, dad went outside and told me to bring my pillow.

As I stepped out into the night air, I saw him kneeling just outside the small stone circle beside our front steps. It had once been a flower garden—conceived during one of mom’s highs, when she was bolstered with energy from painkillers. The high wore off, but the flowers remained in that little circle of rocks—at least for a while. Then they died, shriveled, neglected, and forgotten.

Almost like a demon out of a child’s horror story, there was my dad, grinning devilishly and eagerly, urging me to throw my old pillow onto a mess of crumbled newspapers soaked in lighter fluid as he held his flaming lighter above it. “We need to burn it!” he said, but I refused. There was no need to burn it. They were already making me throw it away—they were already making me discard this pillow that I loved and had slept with every night for years. Was that not enough?

“We need to burn it!” he said again, as I ran inside and cried to mom that dad wanted to burn the pillow that I loved. It may seem strange that I had such attachment to a pillow, but I did, and both of my parents knew it. My father certainly knew very well that I loved that pillow.

That’s why he wanted to burn it. Because I loved it.

We didn’t burn random things, and I doubt that we ever burned anything there at all. He wasn’t content to force me to throw away this pillow, the symbol that I was an emotional person and not the crass son that he apparently wanted. The pillow had to be destroyed in flames because I loved it, and because “real men don’t love.” This silly, feminine weakness, this emotional attachment to an object—it had to be gotten rid of, and in the most dramatic way possible.

It was not the pillow that my dad wanted to burn.

It was my heart.

My mother intervened, though my father came inside and continued insisting that we needed to burn the pillow, because he was afraid that I would be able to talk my mother into letting me keep it. One has to wonder why it was an issue that I wanted to keep it. In the end, I placed it gingerly on top of the garbage can in the kitchen and told it goodbye. I hated to do so, and I cried, because it didn’t make sense to me.

It’s understandable that I developed such strong emotional ties to objects, as neither parent spent much time with me, and there was not much hugging in the family. Mom and dad were always high on one drug or another, lying on the couch and borderline comatose. I don’t know how Brandi handled it then, or what she did in order to get through the long and miserable days, but it was surely as awful for her as it was for me. Unlike our older brother, we didn’t have friends with whom we could go hang out. Or, at least, I didn’t. Brandi was friends with a girl who didn’t live too far from us, and I hope that my sister was happy then.

Aunt May and Kay-Kay

For a while, mom did work, as did my father. While Brandi and Eric were gone to school and my parents were at work, I was babysat by our great aunt who lived next door, a relatively kind woman who I remember as mostly humorless. My father fleeced her out of most of her money, just as he did to my great-grandmother, and just as he is currently doing to my grandmother. However, I was too young to comprehend that, and there isn’t much that I remember about Aunt May.

It was horrendously boring at Aunt May’s. There were few places worse for my pre-school self. I wasn’t allowed to take my Nintendo, which left me there alone with an eighty-year-old woman and very little to actually do, because there was no one to play with and nowhere to play at. Aunt May wasn’t unkind, but she was also not particularly joyful. I don’t blame her for that—she was a very old woman, and probably not happy to babysit a four-year-old.

I should have been outside having fun, rather than sitting in a living room with an eighty-year-old woman and playing with paper dolls that she cut out of a magazine. Of course, such things seem droll only from a modern perspective, but I was accustomed to video games and cartoons, the heightened entertainment possibilities of the late 1980s. In the 1880s, a child would have been thrilled to sit on a couch in an air-conditioned house and idle away the hours with paper dolls.

However, imagine the horrified response one would get if a modern child was asked to spend day after day in that environment, with only a very old woman as company. There would probably be allegations of child abuse, though I’m not making that claim. However, many modern parents would likely consider that to be, at the least, borderline child abuse. To me, it was simply boring, and the time passed so slowly that I probably lived more moments there at Aunt May’s house than all the moments I have lived since.

I don’t intend any of this to be disparaging to Aunt May. I have no doubt that she did the best she could, and significantly better than many people in her position would have. Still, I dreaded those days when both parents had to work, and it was routine for me to ask mom each afternoon, “Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Aunt May had a moustache, as well, but I never noticed it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and I was shown a picture of her that I learned she had a moustache. I was pre-kindergarten when I spent time with Aunt May, so the idea that a woman didn’t have facial hair wasn’t in my head yet, so it seemed perfectly normal to me. My father had a moustache and Aunt May had a moustache. Cars had tires, and houses had walls.

One horrible day, as Aunt May sat in her recliner, concealed from view of the kitchen as I sat on the couch near the front door, there was suddenly a crash in the kitchen. The backdoor entered into the kitchen, and I will never forget the fear that fell over this old woman’s face. Someone had broken in through the back door.

She and I hid in the living room, cowering in the corner behind her chair. I don’t believe she ever called the police (she didn’t have a phone), or did anything about it, but my memory of that ordeal is vague. I recall only the noise, the unmistakable terror in her eyes that I was able to recognize even at four years old, and the hiding.

Because she was very old, it simply wasn’t possible for Aunt May to always babysit me, and I had another sitter called Kay-Kay—a hefty, middle-aged woman who seemed to be doing pretty well in life. She had a house, at least, which I recognized to mean that she was okay—we lived in a trailer, and most of the people we knew lived in a trailer. Living in a house… That was a grand thing to me. I didn’t mind that we lived in a trailer, and I was much too young to know that being the child of two fast-food workers (even if they were supervisors) who raised Confederate flags, shot up heroin, and ate Xanax made me the definitive example of “trailer trash,” but I knew that it was a great thing to have a house.

Kay-Kay was an ordinary woman, and there was much going on beneath the surface that most people never saw. As I sat in one of her bedrooms, playing a video game, there was suddenly a banging on the door and people shouting, demanding to be allowed inside and promising that, if Kay-Kay refused, they would tear the house down.

Although I was shocked and scared at first, Kay-Kay put my fears to rest by handling it expertly. She answered in an almost aloof way, as though she had no concern about it. Even as they banged and screamed, I was unafraid, because Kay-Kay didn’t appear to take it seriously. After a minute or so, the banging stopped, and then the rhythmic pounding echoed through her home, coming from somewhere in the back.

“They’re going to tear the house down!” I shouted to Kay-Kay, scared once more. In my head, I had the image of two enormous, burly, and angry men outside with huge hammers, smashing away the bricks and crashing through the walls.

“Oh, no, they’re not, sweetie,” came Kay-Kay’s reply as she dropped to a knee and hugged me. “They’re just mad. They’ll get over it and leave in a few minutes.”

Sure enough, Kay-Kay was right: they did leave shortly thereafter. In actuality, they probably just had given up on the front door and gone to try the back door. Finding it locked, they banged and shouted some more, and then left. I never learned what it was about, and Kay-Kay asked me not to mention it to my parents, which made sense: that isn’t the sort of thing a mother wants happening at the selected babysitter’s home. I didn’t stay quiet, though, and that was the last time Kay-Kay ever babysat me. It was also the last time that I saw her.

The Rise of Tumult

There was a “friend of the family” called Doc, and I liked him a lot. Everyone liked Doc—he was a friendly, charismatic person. Being my parents’ friend, he was heavily on drugs, but Doc was also in a motorcycle gang, which created a problem, because shooting up was explicitly against the gang’s laws. Just to be clear here: this is the world I grew up in. This was normal to my three-year-old self. On any given day, I was likely to see one or both of my parents shoot up heroin with a buddy who was in a motorcycle gang, smoke a joint or two, and collapse onto the couch in a stupor and droning out “Yeah…” to no one.

I watched my mother, laid out on the loveseat, look to my father on the other side of the living room. She held up, toward my father, a syringe full of some red liquid, and then she asked in a seductive voice, “John, do you want some of this?” And as she spoke, she pressed in the syringe and sent a jet stream of this stuff—whatever it was—flying across the living room. They were both out of their minds, just high as hell.

Disheveled, frantic, panicked, and terrified, Doc stopped by our trailer and wanted to sell my father a half-pound of weed for fifty bucks. My father had twenty dollars he could pay. Knowing my father, it’s amazing that he had any money, but he did, and he explained to Doc what he had.

Doc in turn explained that he had to get out of town. “Had to,” he said, and my father understood what that meant. The gang somehow learned that Doc was shooting up, so Doc had to get out of town before they found him and forced him to run “The Gauntlet.” Because, apparently, that actually happens. My father bought the weed, and Doc fled, but it was to no avail, and he was later found dead.

We frequently drove north to visit my Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny (the man who would later go to prison for murder and, in all likelihood, killed my mother, though there is no body or evidence), as well as our cousins. One of these trips proved to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood.

As Brandi and I rode with dad in his yellow truck, in a secluded area where the road was surrounded by steep ditches that spelled death for anyone who lost control and went over, a truck driver decided to pass us. The trucker blew his horn a few times, and then he went for it. As he passed, he veered to the right—or dad swerved to the left. The enormous side view mirror of the rig crashed through the window beside dad and sent a spray of glass shards through the cab of our truck. Luckily, neither my sister nor I sustained any injuries.

The fault was probably my father’s (driving under the influence of one drug or another), but the reason officially given was that the highway wasn’t wide enough to pass. This excuse came much later in the day, after the trip got significantly worse.

We passed through Memphis as we traveled, and came upon an intersection. Not paying attention, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened, but there was shaking and noise. We rear-ended another vehicle. It’s possible that my father didn’t stop quickly enough, and it’s possible that he pressed the gas too hard and too quickly after the light turned green. Regardless, we hit the vehicle hard and sent it careening into the intersection. Reportedly, it traveled fifty feet from the impact.

The woman driving that car died on the spot with a broken neck.

Someone obviously called the police, and they arrested my father. The police placed Brandi and me in the back of the police car with him, which made us feel as though we were also being arrested, and that is terrifying when you’re four or five years old and have no comprehension of what is going on. As though we were playing out a scene in a movie, the very same trucker who had hit us earlier happened upon the accident, and presumably told the police that dad was driving erratically. The next thing I knew, the trucker was banging on the glass beside me, shouting obscenities at us—not just at our dad, but honestly at the five-year-old children, too. I was terrified, confused, and frightened out of my mind, and it didn’t help that dad, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was frothing at the mouth, rocking the police car, and demanding to be let out so that he could fight the truck driver.

My sister and I were taken to the hospital, and police, doctors, and therapists repeatedly questioned us about the accidents. We were separated from our father, but also from each other, and that made the experience more traumatic than it had to be. We were finally told that we would be going into the care of Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny briefly, and they were the ones who picked us up from the hospital. My grandmother acquired a good lawyer for my father, and he was able to go to rehabilitation rather than prison, or something to that effect.

For a long time, my nerves were absolutely shot, and it was nearly impossible to get me into a vehicle, which is probably the normal response of a four year old child after being in two accidents in a single day, one of which resulted in a death, all because the parents didn’t mind driving after eating a bunch of pills. Naturally, their solution was to shove pills down my throat, giving me what they called “nerve pills” that were probably Xanax or Klonopin. This was the only way to get me into an automobile for several months after the accidents, because otherwise I would scream and throw fits. Eventually the anxiety faded, but knocking me out with drugs was the only way to get me into a car for a while.

Things returned to what we considered normal, though that isn’t to say that either of my parents stopped doing drugs. I doubt either parent was clean for any notable period, and they continued inviting friends over. These parties, while they were more or less tame and consisted of people drinking, doing drugs, and playing spades, would not constitute “normal” for most kids.

On one such occasion, one of the people with whom they were hanging out decided that it would be a brilliant idea to inject peanut butter. Presumably, he’d heard that “The high is incredible, man!” and wasn’t much interested in maybe asking a doctor before doing something so horrendously and creatively stupid. According to my father—who is a known pathological liar, it’s worth remembering—the man died on the spot, so they took him home and left him on his couch, dead. I have no memory of this, but it allegedly happened sometime around my fifth birthday.

I started kindergarten, and I loathed it. Up until that point, my life was fantastic. I could wake up whenever I wanted, spend the entire day watching cartoons and playing videogames, snacking whenever I desired, and just doing anything I pleased. Then suddenly I couldn’t do that any longer; I had to wake up at a specific time, go spend the entire day in a boring school, and then only had a few hours afterward to do the things that I enjoyed doing. As early as kindergarten, it struck me as absurd: if the point of life is to be happy, as everyone constantly insisted to me, then why did I have to go to school?

We were poor—dirt poor, as you might expect, given the heavy drug usage. Although both parents were managers at various fast food restaurants at times, my mother eventually quit working altogether and got onto disability for her migraines. It was with tremendous excitement that we were approved for food stamps, and we waited for weeks with palpable eagerness in the air, though I had no idea what it even meant. There are two times that I distinctly recall the entire family waiting anxiously for something to happen, and the anticipation was identical on both occasions; we waited for food stamps and we waited for our cable to be activated with the same sense of impending thrill, as did I, even though I had no understanding of what either meant.

Being approved for food stamps felt like having a birthday, and so did the cable company finally coming out, after weeks of waiting, to connect our cable television. While I understood that having cable meant that we would have Nickelodeon, there was no way that I understood the concept of food stamps, so my excitement was surely nothing more than a mirror of my parents’ own eager anticipations. It was just months after this that I began school, and that mom became convinced that dad was not really working, that he was only disappearing while he was supposed to be at work.

It was a school day when it happened, because we were supposed to be in class, but mom kept us at home. My much older brother, my slightly older sister, and I were told that we were leaving dad, and I’m sure I handled that as well as any six year old child would, which is to say with naked emotion untempered by the jaded self-control we are taught to exercise in later years. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was devastated nonetheless. First, the life I had come to know and love was wrecked by having to go to school, and then what little semblance of it remained was being irretrievably shattered by this upheaval. I spent the entire day in tears, as did my sister. Whatever was going on between our parents had nothing to do with us, and our lives were being cast into the hurricane because of it.

Too young to truly understand what was really going on, my primary concern was whether to leave my father “the good Nintendo” or the bad one. They both worked, but one of them was much more difficult to get working. Both my dad and I were big on video games, and so was my older brother, and even my mom and sister played occasionally. There were lots of family moments when we all took turns, and we even had a device that allowed four controllers to be used.

I agonized over that decision far more than a six year old should, and my mom didn’t give the situation nearly as much attention as it deserved. My entire world, prior to school, consisted almost entirely of playing video games. That I even debated which one to leave was a tremendous indicator of how much I loved my father, how much I didn’t want to leave, and, above all, how poorly equipped I was to cope with the chaos I suddenly was confronting. Mom was tearing our family apart, breaking it into two pieces, and she never sat down with my sister and me to explain what was happening, to assure us that we’d still see our dad, or to promise us that it would be okay. While to some extent that’s understandable, since she had to pack and load things up, the utter failure to remember that she was literally wrecking her youngest kids’ lives is very difficult to excuse.

To make matters worse, she was cowardly about it, too, because all of this happened while my father was at work. We lived in a trailer on my grandfather’s land, and it’s very likely that my grandfather was the one who alerted my father to the moving truck that was at his home. However, seeing as my grandfather later offered to shoot my mother for my dad, I doubt he would have showed the restraint simply to inform my dad of what was happening.

Regardless, dad pulled up while we were finishing and preparing to leave. The next little bit is a blur of anger, hostility, and shouting from which I am able to pull very few details. In a flash, dad went from anger to pleading, but mom refused to listen; her mind was made up, and she cranked the car, put it into gear, and hit the gas. Dad threw himself into the side of the car and then hit the ground, fell onto his back, and then lie there in the grass. My sister and I screamed and cried—our dad had just been run over!—and mom shouted at us to stop yelling. I gazed out of the back window at my father as we drove away, and there he was, lying unmoving in the grass, and all I could think was the horrible thought, “Dad is dead.”

There in the back of the car, crying quietly, having just watched my father die from being hit by a car, I sat at the age of six years old, being shouted at by my mom to shut up because I freaked out when I saw her kill my dad.

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Dancing in Hellfire

Last year, I wrote a book called Dancing in Hellfire. It is essentially my autobiography, except that I didn’t stop at simply relating events that had happened. Instead, I looked back on them and thought about what I learned from them, because the functional mind is always learning–any mind that refuses to learn is effectively dead. To be sure, I’ve had some really screwed up things happen in my past: both parents are/were drug addicts, my father killed a woman when I was 4, my mother was murdered when I was 12 (her body never found, so she’s still listed as a missing person), and other, generally awful things that you would rightly expect to happen in circumstances like that. Before we even factor in transgenderism, there is easily enough material to fill an 80,000 word autobiography (a bit on the heavy side for a memoir anyway), and I found myself chopping out entire recollections to make room for the transgender stuff.

Really, you’d think in today’s political environment that it would be an easy sell. That’s opportunistic of me, and I don’t deny that, but I also don’t see it as a problem. Identifying a niche in the market and targeting that niche isn’t a bad thing–in fact, it’s a smart thing to do. Only in the past six months, as my search for a literary agent has hit a dead end, has it dawned on me that I still made a mistake with the targeting. As I said, the book isn’t about “Oh, poor me, this happened and society didn’t do anything to prevent it!” Instead, it’s a book about “This happened, and this is what I learned from it.”

The critical difference is that the former marks me as a victim; the latter marks me as a beneficiary.

Without a doubt, I’d rather have my mother alive today, but there’s also no disputing that it has marked me in many ways that are very positive. Foremost among these is surely my awareness of justice as a function of forgiveness rather than vengeance. Those wounds are real, and they are painful–however, those very wounds have also made me ask the excruciating question, “How might I have closure on this?” The answer to that is not “…by seeing the murderer in prison!” The murderer has already been to prison for an unrelated murder, and it did nothing to make me feel any better. While it sucks beyond the capacity of weak words to convey how much it actually sucks to have my mother gone, absent without a trace, like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, I can detach myself from that enough to recognize that having a mind that is more focused on forgiveness than vengeance is a positive result.

It wouldn’t be worth asking whether I’d rather have my mother alive, and to still consider vengeance and justice to be the same thing, or if I’d prefer the current state of affairs. Just because these things happened in a way that are causal doesn’t mean they’re mutually exclusive. Maybe my mother could still be alive and something else could have happened to lead me to that realization. There’s no way to know, and so the hypothetical is useless–built, as it is, on the assumption that I can’t have both simply because I don’t have both.

I’ve neglected to talk about it publicly before now, but we do live in a society that glorifies victimization, and this is no more evident than in the bizarre way that Glamour magazine named the Stanford rape victim their Woman of the Year. This perplexes me in countless ways. I’m not demeaning her fight within the system to see Brock punished for what he did, but “having been raped” doesn’t strike me as a particularly good reason to be named “Woman of the Year” any more than being trans was reason to name Caitlyn Jenner woman of the year. Why don’t we celebrate accomplishments rather than victimization? It is an absolute slap in the face to the female biochemists who lead breakthrough research, the females at CERN, and the leading female experts in countless industries, to be passed up as Woman of the Year because someone was a victim of rape and the case was very public. Again, this isn’t to say that the rape should be ignored, but it certainly shouldn’t be celebrated.

Bad Stuff Happens

… all the time.

Earlier this month, I attempted to drive ~150 miles to see A Perfect Circle live, for probably the last live tour they’re going to do, and it was an ordeal just to get tickets, much less to find someone who would go. To give you an idea of how much this meant to me, a few weeks beforehand, in an article about scalpers, I wrote:

I bought tickets to the A Perfect Circle concert next month for well over what they cost initially, and the reason was precisely because my demand exceeds other people’s. I can’t even convey with words what A Perfect Circle’s music means to me. Being able to see them again–probably for the last tour they’re ever going to do, since no one expected this one and it’s been 14 years since their last one–is one of those experiences that literally makes life worth living (no exaggeration). Because of scalpers, I was able to acquire a ticket, and I would say it’s far more important that I was able to get a ticket than Random Joe who kinda likes their music and has nothing else to do that evening. The seats aren’t even that good, and I don’t even care. It’s A Perfect Circle. It means more to me than it will anyone else in that audience.

And you know what happened? Shortly after I got onto i240, headed for i40 and the long eastward trip to Nashville, I saw that my temperature gauge was way higher than it should have been–like “about to overheat” high. I whipped over and got off the interstate, stopping on Airways. Not being an idiot, I’d left with more than an hour to spare, in the event that something weird happened. However, it took my car nearly 45 minutes to cool off enough to hold water, and we discovered that the upper radiator hose had come completely off, which is the rarest and most unlikely thing that could possibly happen with a working clamp (not to mention, of course, that the months of driving before that had no issue, so it happened at the worst possible moment). In doing so, it had brushed against the alternator belt, and had been cut open, so even after it was cool enough to travel again, it had a steady leak that meant the hose had to be replaced. This meant we had to go to an Auto Zone, buy a replacement hose, put it on, and then refill the thing with water (if you’ve ever driven a Chrysler, you know this isn’t as straightforward as with most vehicles). When we were finally heading back toward the interstate, the GPS called out, “Estimated time of arrival is 9:23 pm…” which was two hours after the concert started. That’s right. We lost nearly three hours due to that overheating.

This actually took me completely down for about ten days, as some people may have noticed, because I didn’t post anything. I didn’t have the strength. I was depressed; it’s really hard to convey how much it hurt to miss the concert over something so extraordinarily unlikely that no one would have taken the bet that it was likely to happen. Yet life goes on, I recovered, and got back to it–though I was down longer than I would have anticipated. Because I’m moving to Vegas and the state of Mississippi said “lol, fuck you” earlier this year, setting me back on that plan far more than I’d have liked, I don’t make plans to go and do things very often–spare money is better put toward moving to Vegas than going to see a concert, but this was no ordinary band–this is the band that has influenced my music more than any other. I didn’t really learn anything from that experience, because there was nothing to really learn. It was a freak accident at the worst possible time, and I’d checked my car that very morning. It’s true that I didn’t inspect the hoses, but, c’mon, no one does. That’s absurd. One might as well pull out and check each and every fuse. While I did inspect everything (on a different vehicle) before driving to Vegas in 2015, that was 1800 miles, not 180 miles.

I tend to think that I’m so anti-authoritarian because of the horrifically bad parenting of my mother and father, a point that I call attention to in Dancing in Hellfire. Through most people’s childhoods, and well into their adolescences, they have this idea that their parents are indestructible and supreme. I remember well being in the third grade and having Danny, a friend of mine, stand beside me in line at the cafeteria and put his fist to one of the cinderblocks in the wall and ask, “Do you think your dad could punch through this? My dad could!” Even then, at nine years old, it struck me as ridiculous. No, his dad could not punch through the cinderblock, but I didn’t challenge the idea with him. It did not occur to me then how odd it was that he would have this unrealistic idea of his dad, but it happened again much later, in the seventh grade, when a kid described his dad’s hand as “alligator skin,” proud of his dad being a Working Class Hero, and remarked that a puppy could chew on his fingers for hours and never draw blood.

I didn’t have any of that. When I was six years old, the state showed up with its footsoldiers to kidnap my sister and me, and our mother was powerless to do anything about it. All she could do was cry. I learned that day that my mother–who I’d been with since I was born–was ultimately not the one responsible for me, and that these other people called “the police” had usurped her authority. A brutal lesson for a six year old to learn, but one that has served me well since. My dad wasn’t ultimately the one in charge of me–my mother had trumped him by taking me in the first place, so clearly he was ranked below her in the hierarchy. My mother was also not ultimately the one in charge of me, because her impudence in the face of the state and its footsoldiers left no room to believe that.

And what of my father? Well, you lose the image of your father as the Glorious Personification of Everything Great around the time you see him faceplant into the dirt at a baseball field after eating too many Xanax and drinking too many beers. And if that doesn’t do it, then watching those very same police officers arrest him after a vehicle wreck and place him, powerless, in their police car will shatter that image. There’s absolutely no doubt: some of my earliest and most jarring experiences involved the state exerting its authority. I have very little doubt that this is what left me inclined to view the state as what it is: the slavemaster.

Would I be an anarchist now, if none of this had happened? Another useless hypothetical.

Every experience is not just an opportunity to learn; it is also a choice. No matter what happens, we never lose the power to choose how we react. We are not* mindless machines who operate on extremely complex if-then programming that dictates our responses; we are not powerless. We are not at the mercy of our reactions; our reactions are at our mercy, and nothing changes this. Just because some people choose to let their responses unfold emotionally, with no tempering or self-control, doesn’t mean that they have no choice in the matter, and we shouldn’t allow them to so easily escape the fact that their reactions to things are their reactions. We are not wild beasts braying in the field. We are human beings, and it’s time we acted like it.

If someone says “Fuck you, you’re an idiot” to me, it’s true that I have very little control at this time over my initial emotional reaction of anger and desire to retaliate. Evidence suggests, however, that extensive meditation and self-reflection can, in fact, put us in control of even that lightning-fast emotional reaction. And that’s the key: “lightning-fast.” Emotions are instantaneous. That anger lasts only a flash of a second. If left to its own devices, it would immediately die out, but more often than not we embrace it and purposely keep it going, stoking the fires. Larry Sharpe Sunday night (and today at 2pm Central at www.lrn.fm) is a clear example. After saying that he’d accepted Arvin’s apology and forgiven him, and that they were “good,” the indignation and anger in Larry’s voice were still audible–he was clearly still clinging to those emotions. I actually initially attempted to call attention that, but couldn’t formulate my thoughts quickly enough in a way that weren’t antagonistic, so I instead let it go immediately. While saying that he had let the matter go, he kept bringing it up, even after we tried to move on to other matters, and his voice was absolutely dripping with emotion. Regardless of what he said, it is clear that Larry is keeping those emotions alive rather than releasing them.

Still, that I would immediately react with anger and a desire to retaliate is still on me. It’s still my emotional reaction, and my failure to control my emotions to that degree is my failure. It’s not this person’s fault. They didn’t “make” me angry. I made me angry. They were merely the catalyst–they merely presented me with the choice of how to react, and I chose to react in anger. However, I would typically choose within a second or two to let it go and to release the anger, rather than dwelling on it. Unlike Larry Sharpe, if I forgive what I perceive as a transgression, then I’m not going to bring it up again, because forgiving someone is an internal thing–it has nothing to do with the transgressor, which the Vegas Chick made me realize when I pondered whether she could do anything that would “cause” me to forgive her–the answer was that whether I forgave her had almost nothing to do with her. Demanding contrition or restitution isn’t forgiveness, even if that restitution comes in the form of a simple apology.

Through my own failure, I have no control over the initial emotional reaction. Through much work, I have largely (though certainly not perfectly) taken control of the following moments. My own failures lead me to make the wrong choice in the first place, by reacting with anger, but the choice that immediately follows is whether to release that anger or to embrace it. Both of these are choices.

* At least, we don’t appear to be.

Western Nihilism 4: A Dose of Reality For an Insane Society

Just a little while ago, I saw the comment from someone on Facebook that Wal-Mart needs to pay its employees a “living wage” [Note: there were obviously multiple comments like this. I’m simply addressing the one that mentioned this dollar figure and rent] (How about you show some responsibility by not shopping at places that don’t pay their employees what you think is fair?), because one wage of $13.73 (or thereabouts) isn’t enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment in most major cities.

*Record screech*

Two bedrooms?

Why does this person making such a low wage need two bedrooms?

Before we get into that, though, it’s worth pointing out that an additional $1.27 isn’t going to make a damned bit of difference for people making $13.73 an hour. Basic math tells us that this is $2,196.80 across four weeks. Assuming an average of 4 weeks in a year, it works out to $2,196.80 a month. The exorbitant rent that this person claimed the person making $13.73/hour couldn’t pay was a mere $875 per month.

I honestly don’t know what kind of math she’s using, but by my records this person making $13.73 has $1,321.80 left over after paying each month’s rents. Even if they run their air conditioning (perhaps they live in Vegas) 24/7, their electricity bill is highly unlikely to pass $400/month, which leaves them $921.80. A typical smartphone bill with Verizon or AT&T will cost $120/month, bringing this figure down to an even $800–$200 each week. If a person can’t survive, after their electricity, rent, and phone bill have been paid, on $200 each week while also managing to put back a considerable bit of that, then they are absolutely terrible with money and need to learn to budget.

There’s no nice way to say this. At present, I make $300 a week, on salary. Yet I pay my rent, my electricity, my phone bill, my Internet bill, and everything else just fine. And because I’m an anarchist, I refuse to use government assistance (though at a wage of $300/week, I certainly qualify), I pay for 100% of the food that I eat, and I don’t have health insurance. Meanwhile, I manage to put back money toward moving to Vegas, shelled out nearly $2400 to government extortion so far this year, and spend $67/month buying hormones from China. If I can do it on such a meager salary, so can anyone.

Of course, I don’t have kids, and that’s the main point: two bedrooms. Why does this person making such a relatively low (apparently) wage need two bedrooms? It can’t be a spouse, as that would require only one bedroom and the spouse would be able to get a job, thereby doubling their income from $2,196.80 to $4,393.60 a month. If you want to look me in the eye and say that two people can’t survive just fine on $4,393.60 a month and be putting back at least $500/month into savings, then you’re a moron who almost identically copies the character Jonathon of my fantasy novel.

See, Jonathon is from a noble family–the Guilder Estate. His parents died when he was young, but his sister took over the estate with the help of a family friend–a dwarf–named Therekas, who helped keep the filial parasites out of their family’s wealth. Once Jonathon was old enough, he joined the Knights of Raine (per family tradition), and Coreal (his sister) seized the opportunity to get the hell away from all of it by making Therekas steward of the property while she joined the Church of Biena and effectively became a nun. Stuff happened, and they had to flee the Kingdom of Raine, while their estate was seized by Lord Tyrenius. Not long after their journey, they obviously began talking about how they were going to make money, and Jonathon’s understanding of “how much money it took to survive” was so out of whack that the entire group spent a few minutes laughing at him for the idiocy. Whereas he expected it to take 50 or 60 gold coins per person to survive a single day, because he had no metric for understanding what things cost in the real world, the truth was that they could all live in relative wealth with only a thousandth of that.

I’ve lived on much less. It’s only been within the past few months that I was able to get back up to paying myself a salary of $300/week. Prior to that–at this time last year, in fact–I wasn’t on a salary at all, and averaged about $120 each week. And even then, I managed to keep everything paid, though I never had even a spare penny and was constantly digging deeper into the hole. Let’s face it–that wasn’t even enough to cover my rent, so the negative number got bigger every month.

While I was in college, I was married, and my wife didn’t work because we had only one vehicle, which I was using for school and work (my job provided us with medical insurance, whereas hers didn’t, so she quit hers when I started school). I made Minimum Wage. Yet I kept all of our bills paid, our rent paid, and our bellies full. Oh, there’s no doubt that it sucked. We didn’t have extra money often; when we did, we usually used it to buy season DVDs from Pawn Shops for $3 each, as that provided the most bang for the buck. We didn’t have a phone (and definitely not a smartphone) or an Internet connection, or satellite/cable TV. We had a TV, a DVD player, a PS2, a GameCube, and some classic consoles like an NES, all of which we’d purchased years before when we had two cars (before she totaled hers) and were both employed. And we had each other.

You seem to want me to believe that a person literally can’t survive on a wage of $7.50 an hour, when I happen to know for a fact that not only is that false, but a person can support two people on that wage. I’ve done it.

In reality, there are two possibilities when Expenses exceed Income. Sometimes, this is because Income is such a small number. I don’t deny that this is possible–I’ve experienced that, too, like when I made only about $120 a week. It simply wasn’t possible to afford rent, electricity, food, a phone (necessary for work, actually), and gasoline on that amount. Even if I lowered expenses to the bare minimum (which I did), I still didn’t have enough Income to cover them.

However, the alternative is what usually happens in the United States. Usually, the problem is that a person’s Expenses are so high that no Income can reach it, generally because they have “that mentality” that causes them to increase Expenses proportionally to their increases in Income. I’ve seen poor people go from making $7.50 an hour to making $15 an hour with no change in their overall situation (I’ve also been there). I’ve seen people scraping and clipping coupons to make ends meet receive checks of $10,000+ and be broke just a few weeks later. It’s not because Income is too low that this happens; it’s because Expenses are too high, and they lack the self-reflective capability to sit down, identify, and address the problem.

Maybe those two people making $4,390 a month are spending $15/day on cigarettes. And yes, I can tell you from experience that the cost of smoking adds up fast. Maybe they’re buying honey buns and crap from gas stations on their way to work each day. Who knows? But you can’t seriously expect me to believe that two people making $4,390 each month are broke because they’re just not earning enough. The reality is that they’re earning enough; they’re simply spending way too much.

And anyone who has two bedrooms and only one provider has made some mistakes somewhere along the way. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. I was married for like 6 years and I don’t have kids–that’s not an accident. I’ve been having sex since I was 14 years old, and I don’t have kids–again, that’s not an accident. I was 28 years old before I ever got a girl pregnant, and then I was more than capable of bearing that responsibility, as a college graduate in a place where employment was easy to find for someone with my training and skillset.

The most common criticism I receive for this is the reply, “So you’re saying that children are only for college graduates? That’s so messed up!”

No, that’s not what I’m saying.

I am, however, saying that children are only for people who can actually provide for them. This is the “We don’t understand reality” thing that the title of this post is about.

I fully expect stray cats and stray dogs to have offspring that they can’t provide for. This is why stray animals have such a high mortality rate, too. Not only can the parent not show the offspring to enough food (once nursing is over) to survive all 6-8 of the puppies or kittens, but a good many of them will be picked off by predators because the parent can’t provide protection to them all, either. This is why wild animals have offspring in those numbers: most of them die before adulthood.

Therein lies the rub. Such a high percentage of western children make it to adulthood that I can’t find statistics on it (I could if I cared to look further, but I don’t, so…). I’d hazard that 98% of western children reach the age of 18. For stray cats and dogs, that number is probably closer to 5%, with one out of every two or three litters reaching adulthood. Thanks to the incredible developments of our society (for reference, as recently as the 19th century, most men died at the age of 22 and women at the age of 24 in Korea), we have an insane longevity and a very low mortality rate among offspring. I don’t mean to be harsh, but we’ve prevented nature from doing its job. I think this is a good thing, but it also means that we had to pick up the responsibility, and we failed to do that.

In fact, the idea that parents bear no responsibility or fault for having children that they can’t support is making the argument that huge portions of the population are no better than stray cats and dogs. We expect that behavior out of such low animals, after all. We expect better of humans–or we should. Liberals, evidently… don’t. Their paternalistic, condescending bullshit extends to the point that they are okay with treating humans as though they’re no better than stray dogs. After all, we don’t blame the stray dogs for being overrun by hormones and recklessly having children when the dog knows–on some deep, perhaps instinctual level–that most of its children are gonna die in terrible ways. “It’s just a dog being a dog,” we say. In fact, we’re willing to address that problem: “Spay and neuter your pets so that this doesn’t happen!”

But when it comes to humans? No. We don’t even hold humans to that high of a standard. “It’s not their fault for having offspring that they knew they couldn’t take care of. What do you mean ‘Spay and neuter such people?’ You can’t ‘spay and neuter humans!*’ What the hell is the matter with you, you uncompassionate pig? It’s their right to have children! Children aren’t just for the elite!”

That’s a straw man fallacy, of course. There’s nothing “elite” about taking one’s ass to a community college, which literally anyone can afford to do. And the difference that even a 2 year degree makes to prospective employers is the difference between $13.73/hour and $18.73/hour. People with Associate’s Degrees average $5/hour more than people with only high school diplomas, and that amounts to $200 a week. Not to mention that such jobs usually come with a 401k, health and dental insurance, perhaps stock options, and other benefits.

It’s not elitism, however, to demand that humans act like they’re more intelligent than stray dogs, and fuck you for suggesting that humans act better than stray cats is elitism. Fuck you for suggesting that humans should be treated with the same eye-rolling condescension with which we treat stray animals. We know that stray cats and dogs don’t know any better, and we don’t expect them to consider questions like “How am I going to afford to send my puppy to college?” before getting knocked up. If you don’t demand more than that of humans, then you might be the most arrogant, condescending person on the planet.

I spend about a fifth of my time reminding people that we’re animals and that we’re part of nature, and so the same rules that govern animal behavior govern us. I fully agree that an 18 year old who gets pregnant has been overcome by biological instincts in the same way that the stray dog is. However, I think the 18 year old should bear the responsibility for that, especially in a society that has made it so ridiculously easy to avoid getting pregnant and that spends at least 4 years informing people of what not to do in order to avoid pregnancy.

And that’s the harsh truth. What happened here is that the human was consumed by their biological programming in exactly the same way as the stray dog and the stray cat, and you don’t expect more of them than that. You don’t expect them to say, “Wait a minute… I’m a human being, by God! I can think about this before I do it. I know that I can’t financially support my offspring. I know that satisfying these biological urges by having unprotected sex will cause pregnancy. Woah, woah, fella. Put on this condom, or you’re leaving.”

Instead, the bleeding heart liberal expects something more like, “Wait a minute… I’m a human being, by God! I can think about this before I do it. I know that I can’t financially support my offspring. I know that satisfying these biological urges by having unprotected sex will cause pregnancy. *Shrug*. Oh, well. Yes, dude, let’s have unprotected sex anyway. It’s so hot that you’re unemployed!”

To return to something I said earlier–we lowered the infant mortality rate. That’s a great, wonderful thing. Picking on Korea for no reason in particular, in 19th century Korea any parent who had a child they couldn’t support would have ended up with a dead child. This was true in the United States in earlier centuries, too**. After all, Nature is constantly trying to kill us. So a parent who can’t support their child is literally a parent who can’t prevent nature from killing that child. In that way, Nature took care of the “problem” in the same way that it takes care of the overpopulation of stray animals: they die.

And yes, it’s a good thing that we’ve eliminated that particular problem in the west. I’m not saying that we should let children die. Don’t straw man the points here; instead, absorb them and take them in. The child isn’t to blame that his or her parents can’t provide for him or her. That’s the parents’ responsibility and the parents’ mistake. They are the ones who bear responsibility for that. Since we can’t sit by and watch parents starve their child to death, the onus falls to bystanders and the community adopt the child away from the parents until such time that the parents can actually keep that child the hell alive.

This is not what governmental welfare programs do, but that’s another matter for another day–perhaps the next in this series on Nihilism.

You know what the universe does if you have a child that you can’t feed? It kills the child. That’s reality. That’s the world we live in. You can’t change that with good feelings, and pretending like that isn’t true is the very definition of delusional. The universe doesn’t give a shit about your feelings. If you can’t feed the child, then the child dies. It’s that simple.

Luckily, we humans are more… enlightened… than stray cats and dogs. We have this thing called “empathy” that leaves us unable to stand by and watch (in most circumstances, though our lack of concern about the children killed by American bombs in the Middle East calls this point into question) while a child dies. If you want to provide for that child, so be it, but don’t pretend like it’s okay or normal for the mother to just shrug and say “Fuck it–someone will feed Little Billy for me. Someone will take care of my problem. I’m a helpless child and can’t do things for myself, and need the government to take care of me.”

Pretending like it’s totally okay for humans to have offspring they can’t support while curtailing Nature’s solution that problem is a recipe for disaster, because it creates a net drain on society and productivity. Someone has to put in the effort to acquire that food; manna doesn’t fall from the sky. And what do we know is the long-term effect of net drains? They build up. It’s not a big deal to be $100 in the hole for a few months. But do that for 10 years, and you’ll wind up $12,000 in the hole. What may seem like a trivial, inconsequential thing ultimately adds up to society. And what do we call it when society collectively has fewer resources to go around?

Why, we call that “an increase in poverty.”

And because no one is doing anything to actually address or fix the problem, it means that the reckless people who have more children than they can afford are passing along those genes and tendencies, such that even more people will have children that they can’t afford. This is called “evolution,” and it didn’t stop because humans invented electricity. Whether there are alleles that make a person more or less likely to behave irresponsibly has not been determined (to my knowledge), but given that poverty is primarily hereditary, circumstantial evidence suggests that it does play a role. After all, resisting the inclination to spend more money–$10 here, $15 there–is a daily battle for me. Is it a battle because of genetics, or because that’s how I watched adults behave my entire life? Nature or nurture? Really, it’s not very important, because if we aren’t even admitting that it’s a problem, then we certainly aren’t addressing it, and the problem perpetuates and, because of the nature of procreation leading to population growth, constantly exacerbates itself.

Well done for eventually destroying western society.

Bravo, liberals.

Bravo.

* I agree entirely, and am just making the point.

** Actually, because of Puritan origins, I’d venture the guess that the mother would end up homeless and destitute, but someone would have taken in the child, but I’m not an expert on colonial America. My point isn’t that big of a deal anyway.

Justice, Punishment, and AnCap Principles

It’s come to my attention–via hearsay, as I’ve never read the person in question–that Walter Block argues that punishment in a stateless society isn’t strictly necessary, but what is important is that survivors are doubly repaid for losses. This seems to deal primarily with theft, but there was also a solution relayed to me regarding murder: simply, the murder would work for the surviving family for the rest of his life.

I… can’t get on board with any of this.

These are the moments when the principle of Non Aggression gets skewed. I have no idea if Walter Block advocates these things are not, but they are grotesque and immoral, and are no better than the state system of law and punishment we have now. So because a man did something wrong, he is to be condemned to being a slave for the rest of his life? What part of that is supposed to be in accord with AnCap principles? What part of that is supposed to be in accord with non aggression? Slavery is among the greatest violations of the NAP, to take someone and force them to work for you because they wronged you and your family member…

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

I know it’s hard. Believe me, I really do. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see some news article from the tri-state area about a body being found in the mountains, in a lake, or in a ditch, and every single time some part of me hopes… “Could this be it? Could this be my mother?” I know damned well what it’s like to lose a family member to murder, and I know what it’s like to live with that, to live with the murderer getting away with absolutely no punishment whatsoever because the body was thoroughly discarded. So you’re not going to find too many more people with the stable ground to say this:

There is nothing that could be done to bring justice to my murdered mother. It’s done. It’s over. She’s dead. While I would love nothing more than to have her rotting body buried somewhere respectable, with a tombstone so that I could finally put her to rest, even that would do nothing to alleviate any of the sorrow or pain, and it definitely wouldn’t bring her back. I know exactly who killed her, but without a body there’s nothing to be charged with. He lives a life of relative comfort, now a trained engineer or something like that, and has the love of his children and his other family members. There is nothing that can be done to him that would constitute justice.

This is the conceit that is breaking modern society: there’s no such thing as justice. It’s an imaginary idea. What we mean when we say “justice” is “This person did something wrong, so we’re going to get revenge, but we’re going to call it something else because we want to convince ourselves that our wrongful act against him is somehow different than the wrongful act he committed.” But it isn’t, because two wrongs don’t make a right.

It’s wrong to kidnap people at gunpoint, hold them against their will, and force them into slave labor, to force them into situations where they live in concrete jungles and have to fight for their lives or be raped. That’s morally wrong. There are no exceptions.

Truth be told, there is only one way for me to have justice over my mother’s murder by what most people would call my uncle, and that would be… forgiveness. Forgiving him is the only way to ease the pain in my heart and to release the sorrow. Isn’t that the point of justice? To ease the victim’s pain? Punishment doesn’t ease the victim’s pain; it converts it into zealous excitement and lust for vengeance. Just like if your wife cheats on you, it won’t ease your pain to then go out and cheat on your wife; it will only exacerbate it, enlarge it, and lengthen it. No, the only way forward, the only way to recovery, and the only way toward justice is through forgiveness.

“Through forgiveness.”

That phrasing isn’t accidental. Forgiveness is a difficult labyrinth that must be navigated, with pitfalls and temptations hiding around every corner. Through the darkness emanate the whispers, “Why should you be the one putting in the effort? You did nothing wrong! He should be the one who pays! He should be the one who suffers! Haven’t you suffered enough? It’s time for him to pay for what he did!” These voices rarely cease while one travels through the labyrinthine, internal mind, coming to terms with the past and accepting its role in shaping the present.

It’s not supposed to be easy to forgive people, but forgiveness is all about the forgiver; it has nothing to do with the aggressor. I realized this when I was asked what, if anything, Vegas Chick could do to cause me to forgive her. I realized that there was nothing she could do, because it didn’t have anything to do with her. It had everything to do with me and my own emotional responses. I had a choice: to cling to the negative emotions, or to let them go. A demand for some kind of contrition, some kind of punishment… is clinging to the negative emotions. It never releases them, and releasing them is the only way to travel from the land of the wounded to the land of peace.

It’s also not easy to forgive the man who murdered my mother for unknown reasons. It’s not easy to forgive him for being the sole reason that I will be buried long before her body is ever discovered, if, indeed, her body is ever found. It’s not supposed to be easy to take a deep breath, let the negativity wash away, and say, “I forgive you.”

As a society, we have a passionate lust for revenge, and we love our euphemisms precisely because they allow us to pretend like it’s not revenge that we’re after. Years ago, when working through these ideas, I decided that the difference had to be that justice was impartial and vengeance was personal. In other words, if you enacted punishment against the murder on my behalf, then it was justice; if I did it, then it was vengeance. I’ve since realized how wrong that is. You acting on my behalf doesn’t change anything. It’s just a convenient way for me to shirk the responsibility; it’s just a handy way for me to pretend like I’m not the one responsible for the aggression being committed against someone else. “I’m not doing it!” I could proclaim. “They’re doing it!”

Except they’re doing it with my blessing. And whether I have the power to stop them or not–in the modern American system, I probably don’t have the power to stop the court system from prosecuting him, if her body was ever discovered–it wouldn’t change the fact that they’re doing so on my behalf, on my mom’s behalf, and on my sister’s behalf. But what if my sister and I both expressed that we wanted it forgiven, not punished? Because I would absolutely go before court and argue such a thing, even for the person who murdered my mother. Our testimony would mean little. We wouldn’t be able to simply drop the charges, despite being the only survivors of the murdered woman and therefore having more claim to express her wishes than anyone else.

And why? Because the state would be acting instead on behalf of Straw Victims it has imagined, and those Straw Victims are more important than my sister and me.

Punishment doesn’t end an injustice. It extends it.

Alternatives

The goal can’t be to punish someone. Punishment must be incidental, if it happens at all.

I don’t dispute that, once someone murders another person, individuals–whether elected or hired–have the purview to take measures to prevent the murderer from murdering anyone else. How this is to be accomplished, however, is a question of extreme importance. The obvious answer, according to most people, is to “Throw them in prison and throw away the key!”

No, because that doesn’t really prevent murder. The murder rate in prison is pretty high, and you won’t get most rational people to agree to a life sentence for one murder. Hell, the person we’re talking about served only 7 of a ten year sentence for murder. So the person is ultimately going to get back out of prison–or will kill someone in prison, bypassing the “out of prison” part altogether and committing a murder, meaning our preventative efforts failed. Since prison inmates have a 75% likelihood of going back to prison, prison is clearly an ineffective way of preventing crime from happening again. It may or may not prevent some crime, but it’s too ineffective to be our Yes, That’s the Best Solution answer.

I don’t know that I really have an alternative. Extensive therapy by trained psychologists would obviously be in order. Is there any way to fix this person’s damaged brain? Because, without exception, something has broken down in the moral centers of the murderer’s brain. That’s a given, because normal, healthy people don’t murder other people. We find the idea repugnant in every conceivable way, and we would not murder another person even if we knew that we could get away with it without any consequences at all. It’s not punishment or fear of punishment that stays our hands; it’s our own internal morality. Once that internal morality breaks down, no amount of laws will protect someone.

The goal of prison was supposed to be to segregate, punish, and rehabilitate. It fails on all accounts. A scary number of innocent people have landed in prison, without even getting into the number of people in prison for committing “victimless crimes*”. So criminals are not segregated from the innocent. Nor are they punished, at least not in the way that society likes to pretend. Drug abuse and sex are rampant in prison. It’s often easier to find hardcore drugs in prison than it is to find them on the streets. As for rehabilitation–you’re kidding right? I would bet my shiny new tickets to the A Perfect Circle show in Nashville that most the 25% of former prisoners who don’t return to prison are simply too old upon release to be out there raping and killing people, or whatever they did to go to prison in the first place.

There has to be some way of preventing someone from committing another murder, and that’s what our focus should be on. Not punishment. Punishment only exacerbates the amount of wrongdoing in the world. Killing someone because they killed someone doesn’t reduce the amount of killing in the world; it obviously increases it by one. Kidnapping and holding someone against their will for kidnapping and holding someone against their will doesn’t reduce the amount of people being kidnapped and held against their will; it increases it by one. There is no justice as long as we are doing things that add more murder, more kidnapping, more imprisonment, more rape, and more violence to the world.

Justice, as an ideal, must be incapable of increasing the amount of aggression in the world. If it increases the amount of aggression, then it cannot be justice. That must be our metric for determining what is justice and what isn’t.

It starts with forgiveness.

This doesn’t mean that a person shouldn’t be held to account for acts of aggression, or that there should be no consequences. It does, however, change the goals of the consequences. Rather than seeking punishment, we should seek prevention. “What can we do to make sure this man never kills again?” should be our guiding question, not, “How can we make this man suffer for what he did?” The act is done. Making him suffer won’t fix anything and won’t help anything; it will only increase the amount of suffering in the world.

And two wrongs don’t make a right.

This is very different from catching someone in the act of aggression and having the opportunity to stop the act from escalating. If you walk in on some thief beating the hell out of your family member and you shoot and kill that thief, you’ve done nothing wrong. You prevented a beating from escalating into what probably would have been a murder. Since the thief initiated the aggression, you did what you had to do to protect another human being who had done nothing to initiate the attack. But what if you came home from work and you knew who had beaten your brother half to death and stolen your laptops and television? Would it be morally right to chase that person down and kill them? I don’t think many people would say “Yes” to that, and I certainly wouldn’t. Because at that point, you’re no longer preventing; you’re punishing.

We need a lot of spiritual growth–a phrase I use colloquially. It’s true, though. Before we can have a stateless society, we have to have a society where no one is asking “How can we punish criminals?” Because a stateless society can’t answer that question, because a stateless society forbids the use of force, violence, and coercion. “How can we punish criminals” is the wrong question, coming from a dark place in the human heart that prefers vengeance to forgiveness, and that’s something we have to let go of. We have to learn to forgive. Once we have a society of people asking the right question–“How can we prevent a murderer from killing again?”–then we will be ready to enjoy the luxuries of a stateless society.

This is part of the reason that the state is so tied to the criminal system, of course. It wants us to confuse punishment with justice, because as long as we’re erroneously calling punishment “justice,” we’ll despise any system that seeks to deny it to us. “You mean you’re not going to punish that child rapist? He should have his dick cut off! He should be publicly castrated! Fuck him! Throw him in prison with Big Jim!”

No… No.

That’s vengeance, not justice.

Yes, by all means, and absolutely: let’s prevent that rapist from raping again. That’s mandatory, once they have done such a horrific act. But punishment isn’t going to do it. And when taking steps to prevent the act from occurring again, we should be mindful whether our motivation is to sate our bloodlust for vengeance, or whether our motivation is to actually protect future victims from being similarly harmed. Only by using the correct path can we arrive at the correct destination.

Bloodlust leads to punishment and, 75% of the time, repeat offenses.

Forgiveness leads to justice and prevention.

So what do we do about criminals in a stateless society? I don’t know. But I’d love for us to put our brilliant minds and our empathic hearts together and come up with a solution that actually works without increasing the amount of suffering in the world and while releasing the primordial instinct within us that demands we take an eye for an eye.

* Otherwise called “choices”.

Conscription: The Bane of Self-Ownership

It’s been a while since the United States implemented conscription–what we now call “The Draft” since we’ve turned it into the lottery that no one wants to win–and there remains a lot of negativity attached to it. The last time there was any serious talk about conscription was during George W. Bush’s presidency, and my father was so convinced that the draft was imminent that he routinely suggested that I go ahead and sign up. The high school had just required us to take the ASFAB, and I scored very highly, which caused Army Reserve recruiters to pester me pretty extensively. When the recruiter insisted twice that there were no reserve units deployed to Iraq, my father thankfully made him leave.

I don’t know whether my father ever served in the military or not. Through most of my life he insisted that he fought in the Vietnam War, and my sister and I realized as adults that this couldn’t possibly be true. He said that he had been drafted out of high school into the Navy. I don’t know enough about the draft to know whether conscripts served in other branches, and I don’t really care, but he asserts that his recruiter told him he would be able to choose a submarine as his assignment, only to ultimately not be able to. Who knows? Nothing my father says is ever really true. At best, it’s a lie with a bit of lean toward the truth.

When I went through a difficult patch around 20 years old, I contacted the Navy about recruiting. Much to my dismay, I had to again take the stupid ASFAB, as well as a Navy-only code-breaking thing at the end, and it took all day even though I finished the test in about two hours. That’s the worst part of any standardized test. Just hand me the test and let me leave when I’m done. Don’t make me sit around for five hours waiting on other people to finish.

There were a few oddities, though. First, it was my intention to enter the nuclear research program. I hadn’t yet entered college, but one half-truth after the other led to the realization that, unless I had a BA, then I was going to enter the service at the lowest possible rank–which, not being arrogant, is a tremendous waste for someone of my talents. Handing me a gun and sending me to the frontline is probably the least effective way to put me to use–and yes, I realize that the Navy doesn’t really fight on the front. That’s not the point. However, I had a BA, then I would have no need or desire to enter the military.

The $5,000 signing bonus didn’t sound particularly appealing. That buys a ten year old car. I’m sorry, but if I’m signing my literal life over to you and essentially becoming your slave for a period of time, and if this gives you the right to basically tell me to go and die, then five grand isn’t going to cut it. Not by a long shot. Up that to fifty grand, and then we can talk.

It was hilarious, though, how the recruiter kept going on and on about how much money he makes by being in the service. In fact, he stopped by the bank while taking us to take the ASFAB, and made quite a show of transferring one thousand dollars from one account to another. I don’t know if the other kids bought it or not, but it was clearly a scripted piece of bullshit. After the test, he said he would treat us to lunch, at which point he began looking around the car for change, and then ordered us each two things from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. What a farce. I’ve taken clients to lunch before, and it has never crossed my mind to take them to McDonald’s, scrounge around for change, and then tell them to order from the dollar menu and drink a cup of free water. Coming after his display of how much money he has, it was really funny. No doubt, he had no more or less money than any average person–probably less, really–and the accounts he manipulated at the bank were official navy accounts for exactly that purpose: impressing impressionable teens.

The main killer, though, was when it turned out that I was qualified to join the nuclear program, but was told that I couldn’t apply to it until after I was in boot camp, at which point the decision would be made about whether I would be accepted.

Yeah, no. I’m not doing that.

They might fool people who aren’t qualified to join nuclear research programs with that sort of thing, but not me. I can tell you exactly how that would have played out. “You didn’t get accepted. Now march, maggot!”

At the moment, the American military is completely voluntary, and that’s a good thing–if there’s going to be a military, then at least it’s voluntary. I’m not particularly fond of the recruiting tactics, though. I hate that many young men and women just have no real options for making a better future for themselves than joining the military. I hate that recruiters know that and use it to their advantage by targeting poor and minority communities. One of the few Michael Moore documentaries worth a shit is the one where he confronts some recruiters on this sort of predatory behavior.

It’s voluntary at the moment, but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Conscription, however, isn’t a tool to protect the country. This is common sense, and it takes only a moment to think about it. It’s common knowledge that, immediately after Pearl Harbor, countless people joined the military. This is exactly what we’d expect if the United States–or any country, actually–was attacked by a foreign power. Just imagine what would happen if Russia stormed the beaches of California. Conscription wouldn’t be necessary to fill the ranks. We’d have people rushing out to California with guns loaded in their trucks without even bothering to enlist, they’d be so willing and so anxious to protect their country.

Conscription only serves the purpose of making people go and fight wars they don’t want to fight.

While there are pacifists, cowards, and sympathizers in all countries, if people want to fight, then they will volunteer to. That’s what it means to want something, after all. It’s readily apparent, and historically documented, that one of the things that make people want to fight is a foreign attack against their homeland. So while pacifists, cowards, and sympathizers wouldn’t want to fight, most people would, and I’m not seeing much benefit from making pacifists, cowards, and sympathizers fight. In fact, they’d probably do more harm than good.

Arguing this point with a friend a few years ago, he replied, “Yeah, but then they’d have to be sent through boot camp and trained, so there would be a delay…”

What a remarkable thing to say. That delay will exist whether the enemy attacks and people volunteer, or whether the enemy attacks and people are drafted. The only way to prevent that is to have a perpetual conscription requirement, which some people have campaigned for, where every adult must spend 2 years in the military or Peace Corps or something. I’m obviously not a fan of such an idea.

The very idea is stomach-churning. By what right does the government kidnap me, put a gun in my hand, and tell me to go and die? Shouldn’t I be the person who gets to make the determination that a cause is worth fighting for? Why does the government get to make that decision for me? So let’s call it what it is: enslavement. Literal enslavement, at that.

If the government needs soldiers, then the government has two options. It can either enslave people against their will, or it can offer people more stuff to enlist. If the government really wanted my service, they could have upped their bonus to fifty thousand dollars. However, force is what people use when they don’t want to compete. So instead of competing with non-dangerous employment by offering me a better wage and better signing bonus, the government chooses instead to circumvent that whole process and simply kidnap and enslave me.

If it ever so happened that the government needed more soldiers, they wouldn’t take the obvious route of offering people more money and more perks. They may make some token effort of doing this–raising the signing bonus to $5500, for example, as though an extra $500 will entice many more people to risk their lives for Uncle Sam–but they wouldn’t put any serious effort into it. Why should they? They hold the ultimate trump card: force. They don’t have to compete with free market jobs if they don’t want to, and they don’t have to expend much effort trying to compete, because they can just force people to join.

It’s bad enough that the state enslaves us through taxation and steals a sizable chunk of the fruits of our labors for itself. Conscription, however, allows the state to take 100% of our labor and to dictate exactly what that labor is. Maybe it’s digging trenches in Europe and fighting people who haven’t done anything to you. Maybe it’s taking and abandoning one hill after another in Vietnam, where success is measured in body count rather than territory. With conscription, you belong to the state. Your life belongs to the state, and it can effectively order you to end your life.

Now American society is asking whether women and transgender people should be required to sign up for selective service. Obviously, the answer is “No.” Instead of asking whether this archaic vestige of state supremacy should be expanded, we should be pointing out that it has no place in anything that calls itself a free country. If the cause of a war is just to a person, then that person will enlist to fight it. If the cause is not just, then they won’t. We cannot steal this agency from people. Their lives don’t belong to us or to the government. We don’t get to tell them to go die for a cause they don’t think is just. We don’t get to kidnap and enslave them.

Sure, we have an all volunteer military right now. But we’re only one major terrorist attack away from throwing that away, and tradition won’t stop people when the cards are down. Other people generally have few qualms about throwing away other people’s lives. The draft isn’t just some idea. It’s an omnipresent threat to every American, that we are never more than a moment away from becoming slaves to the government, and being sent to die in other parts of the world. It must be abolished. We do not belong to the government, and our lives are not its to throw away.

Educating = Parenting; Teaching = Child Rearing

As part of Dancing in Hellfire*, I get a bit into parenting and how, to be perfectly honest, the overwhelming majority of parents in the United States are doing it wrong. There’s a reason that I don’t have children. I was married for like six years and was with the girl for two or three years prior to that, and I have only once gotten a girl pregnant–and that was a legit accident, and only a year or so ago. Against my wishes, she aborted; c’est la vie.

It’s not that I don’t want children, or that my sexual identity or orientation get in the way of that; neither of these things are factors. For the longest, it was that I wanted to be able to give the child a stable home life, and there were so many things that I still wanted to do. When I was married, I was playing in a rock band and trying to make something happen with that, while going to college and building a career. This is where I diverged from a large chunk of my generation, as it seems that many, many people in my generation thought that it was their life’s purpose to start pumping out children as soon as they finished high school. Honestly, I’m one of about five people I know my age who don’t have children, and almost everyone else has one or two children, most of which are about ten years old, some even older.

Most parents would gladly say that their primary focus is what is best for their children, but the sky high divorce rate in the United States tells a different story. I’m no traditionalist–obviously–and don’t care if you’ve got two men, two women, or a goddamned lesbian witch coven raising a family; the important aspect is stability. That’s not the end-all-be-all, of course, since there must also be love and attention, and that’s my next point. The high divorce rate shows that stability is not a concern for most parents in the nation, and if stability isn’t a primary focus then the children aren’t a primary focus.

It was difficult enough to juggle my time with my spouse. I have a lot of hobbies. I make music–you can click the embedded music players to hear it. I’m a writer, and try to write daily articles. I’ve written three novels, two nonfiction manuscripts, and miscellaneous short stories. I’m a reviewer with Cubed3 and an editor with the same site, and occasionally I write guest articles for places like eBuyer. The only really pointless hobby that I have is playing video games, and those don’t really take up much of my time these days. It helped that my ex-wife played games, too, because we could spend time together playing games. Oh, god, the thousands of hours in Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Party, Mario Kart, and World of Warcraft that we put in together. Not to mention Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and just about any game that we could play together.

Which of those was I willing to give up in order to give my time instead to a child? None of them. I can’t help myself but write, and if I don’t regularly make music I act increasingly weird and become melancholic.

And that’s where parents get things wrong. They don’t have that mindset. They don’t think they have to sacrifice their time. I know one guy who goes to work every morning before his sons wake up, returns home and… watches television. His wife helps their son with their homework, but there was a years-long period where the husband would sit in one room of the house while the son sat in another, each watching a different television, while the kid was like 5 years old. This guy would say there’s nothing more important to him than his kids, but that can’t possibly be true. He preferred television so much that he and his son sat in different rooms every evening while the mother was at work.

Although that’s probably an extreme example, nearly every parent I’ve ever met is at least similar to that. Dealing with the child is a hassle. The child asking a question is met not with “Yes, love?” but instead an exasperated and frustrated, “What?!” that the child dared speak when it wasn’t a commercial–“I’m watching Game of Thrones, goddamnit! You know you’re supposed to wait to a commercial!”

It’s a sad reflection on the state of affairs that that’s even a thing–the notion that a child should wait for a commercial to get attention from his or her parents is disgusting, but it’s so common. My parents did it, too. And I’m sure your parents had at least one show that you weren’t supposed to make noise during, unless it was a commercial. We must fall to our knees in subservience to the bright glowing box.

So what am I getting at? Because television isn’t the problem; it’s a symptom of the problem.

The problem is that we no longer have any fucking idea what parenting is, so go ahead click play to this next one, and I’ll let you in on a little secret.

There is no difference between teaching and child-raising, between educating and parenting.

Parents delegate so much of their responsibility and facetime with the child to schools, totally failing to grasp the significance of what they’re doing. For the average kid, though, assuming a 6:00 AM wake time and a 9:00 PM bedtime, the child will spend equal time with the school as with the parents. But that time with the parents won’t actually be spent with the parents. Dad’s gonna watch television, mom’s gonna cook dinner, and somewhere along the way one of them might actually sit down for twenty minutes and complete the laborious, tedious task of helping the kid with his homework.

And let’s not forget that the average child watches, if I recall correctly, four hours of television a day, while the average American watches five fucking hours of television every single day. These are gargantuan amounts of time to be sitting down and doing nothing. But, again, this isn’t about television. Or is it? It may be, but I’ll discuss it another day. Regardless, the child will get home from work, eat a snack, and jump straight on something with a screen for the next several hours. There’s no parenting going on, no direct one-to-one time with the child, no going for a walk and spending time in nature.

People talk of homeschooling as though it’s some bizarre, unusual thing, and let me tell you–I don’t see parenting or education the way most people do.

See, I think the public school’s only useful function is to serve as a daycare while the adults are at work–an unfortunate reality of life in the United States, but a reality all the same. The knowledge that it teaches is so slowly conveyed that it takes 12 years to cover ground that other countries cover in only six. This is really hard to explain, so let me tell you why I advocate homeschooling, why I don’t yet have kids, by telling you what it will be like when I do have a kid.

I see the kid and me walking through the woods, stopping for me to explain why the leaves are normally green, and why they’ve turned brown–educating the kid and parenting. Because, again, they’re one and the same. The teachers at your kids’ school are parenting your kids. Whether they mean to be or not, whether you’re aware of it or not, and whatever euphemisms we use, that basic fact remains.

“No, Johnny, it’s wrong to hit people. You don’t get recess today.”

Kids are not just getting dry science facts and learning math. They’re learning the rules of our society, they’re learning our moral values, and they’re gaining role models, learning how to live and function. They’re being raised, and they’re simply being taught science, math, reading, and stuff through that process. There is no way to separate the two. Public education is turning your kids over to the state to be raised, and it can never be anything else. It never stops at just education, because it cannot stop at just education, unless you hire a private tutor who you give explicit instructions to avoid all subjects besides math, science, and language.

Parents in the United States turn their kids over to the state and then bear almost no responsibility for it. They pat themselves on the backs for being great parents, when the school has done at least as much parenting, and probably more, given that the television eats up so much of the time at home. It’s always a boarding school, but the roles are reversed–the school is the child’s true home, and the place with the parents is just where the kid watches television and sleeps. The place where the child is raised, brought up to be a fine, upstanding cog in the machine–that is the school. And the parents play almost no role in it.

There is a stigma against homeschooling for a few reasons. First, some parents use it as an excuse to utterly fail their children and shirk their responsibility to raise their children. I knew a few kids like this growing up, who were “homeschooled.” Except they weren’t. They didn’t have any school.

That’s rare, though. The real reason is that it makes the other parents feel like shit, because they know–they must know on some level, deep down inside–that they’ve effectively turned their parenting duties over to strangers. Because they didn’t put their kids first, they react in anger and hostility to people who did, because those people inadvertently hold up a mirror into which they have to look. “Oh, I’d love to homeschool my kids, but I just don’t have the time…”

I love that argument, though, that it turns kids into weird, isolated socially awkward rejects.

That’s so true, you know? Because everyone knows that before the Department of Education, we were a society full of weird, isolated socially awkward rejects. This happens with almost everything that the government does. The government took over mail delivery–“But how will we get our mail without the government? We need the government, or we can’t have mail!”

“But muh roads! OMG WHO WILL BUILD THE ROADS”

Libertarians hate roads.

So now we have “public education,” which basically means that I, a person without kids, get to pay for the education and parenting costs of other people’s kids. And when I challenge them on this, they reply that they just can’t imagine any other way that they could possibly have education for their children–partially because they lack the time to educate their children.

I’m sorry, what?

Isn’t that kind of like the mother of four who is pissed off and angry at the world because she can’t afford to feed her family with her minimum wage Wal-Mart paycheck? What happened to individual responsibility, foresight, and thinking shit through? “Should I have children? Well, hm… I don’t really have time to properly raise the child. So… No.”

People say this shit with a straight face, man. We can’t abolish the public school system, because they don’t have the time to homeschool–they don’t have the time to be parents. And I’ll give it to you that one won’t be able to devote 24 hours a day to being a parent, and no one is asking anyone to do that, but the idea that someone with a child doesn’t have the time to homeschool is both stupid and wickedly irresponsible. It’s the equivalent of saying, “But I need my foodstamps, because otherwise I can’t feed my kids.”

What is the matter with such people? Why would someone have children that they can’t fucking feed? This is where sympathy becomes nihilistic, because if we send our minds back to early homo sapien, what would have become of a woman who had four kids, no specific mate, and no way of acquiring food for her four kids? That irresponsible, reckless behavior would have caused her death–but probably not the kids’, honestly, because our species has never been able to turn away from crying children in a wide enough scale for it to matter, and it’s a red herring to demand 100% anything–and her kids would have seen that and said, “Shit. We better not be great big fuck ups like mom was, because that didn’t work out very well for her.”

Similarly, why would anyone have children that they don’t have time for? They do have time, though. We all have 24 hours in a day–16 minus sleep. So that bullshit that someone doesn’t have time? Yeah, that’s bullshit. We all have exactly the same amount of time in every given day as everyone else. No one has more or less time than anyone else. If anyone has ever had time to properly raise their children, then it means, ipso facto, that everyone has the time to properly raise their children.

What they really mean is that other things are a higher priority, and they aren’t willing to give up part of their time and spent it raising their children. They don’t say that, but they can’t possibly mean anything else, because, as I said, we all have exactly the same amount of time as everyone else. I don’t have five more hours in each day than other people, and homeschooling parents didn’t manage to magically conjure up 31 hour days.

So I don’t really advocate homeschooling.

I advocate people taking responsibility and owning up to their decisions and choices. I advocate people having the self-awareness to say, “You know what? I do have the time. I just can’t be bothered. Tell you what, why don’t you pay for my kids?”

The first step of fixing our supremely messed up society is to drop the euphemisms. There’s no such thing as “public education.” There’s only sending kids off for other people to raise so that the parents don’t have to. We can examine whether or not it’s actually necessary for some parents to do this, and we can discuss whether it’s beneficial to the parents and children for it to happen, but before we can discuss that, we have to call a spade a spade. Public schools aren’t “educating” children. They’re raising children.

What is really the difference between homeschooling and public schooling? In real terms, the difference is that in the former the child is raised outside of the state apparatus; in the latter, the child is raised communally. I’m not here making the argument that either one is really better than the other, although I would certainly say–based on mostly gut feelings, though–that homeschooling is vastly superior to public schooling, because the parent knows the child as an individual and can cater directly to the child’s needs, while the teachers cannot. If a child is to be taught to their potential, then that is a task that only the parents can accomplish.

* I heard back from the agent about two weeks ago, informing me that she had a very busy end of the year and hadn’t read it yet, but that she is going to and will get back to me. That’s twice now that my instinct about this agent were correct, which I take as a good indicator she’ll ultimately take it.

We Value Things That Inherently Have No Value

Okay, so first of all–nothing inherently has value. I know I’ve talked about this many times before. We all have our own little system of values, and even though we agree on them in many cases, they’re still our values, and we assign them subjectively based on our own criteria and because of our own reasons. Of course, we lose sight of this, because they are our values–we hold them dearly, because we value our values. Because we value our values, we establish all kinds of ways of certifying our value systems as the One true Value System, and we have varying degrees of difficulty dealing with it when we come across other people who share our values.

For the purpose of this conversation, we have to go further into what “value” means, because most people think about it in economic terms. The value of a McDouble, or the value of a home. These are certainly types of value, and this type of value is one that we easily measure in dollars or some other currency. That’s right–currencies are merely units of measurement that are used to measure value. Many things go into this “economic valuation,” but it can all be summarized as a matter of need and want. Needs have practically infinite value, while wants have an enormous variability in their value, but are also boolean–one either wants things or not. What I mean by this is that–if a person’s needs are not met, then no want has any value. We’re not talking “I need a few hours of sleep” here. We’re talking “I need food to not die.” We lack the capacity to even want things when our needs are not being met. The man who is on the edge of starving to death has absolutely no desire in his heart that is not a need. The largest television, home, and Lamborghini in the world would not pique his interest if they cannot be used to acquire food. When needs are met, the boolean value of want is “true,” and we begin to place economic values–as measured in dollars, which is a representation of how much we want it.

That’s not going to be enough to say what I’m trying to say, is it?

It’s going to have to be, though, because I don’t have any desire to expand it further.

Moral values are another obvious example, though we tend to not think of them as subjective. This is that same knee-jerk response, though. Like if you devote a few years of your life to purchasing a Porsche, and someone comes along and says, “What a waste of time. That little car is so not worth all that.” The response is a knee-jerk one filled with anger as we recoil that someone would dare say that our values are incorrect. But, of course, they believe their value system is the One True Value System, too. We have the same reaction, of course, when people disagree with us on matters of morality. We can handle some minor disagreement, most of the time–homosexuality, marijuana, alcohol, and things like that. When you start saying that the moral maxim that “murder is wrong” is also subjective, though, that is when you get into the area where you’re really starting to piss people off.

One of the more insidious ways that we assign values to things is to call something “important” or “unimportant,” and this is the topic I want to really get into, because someone posted this earlier on Facebook:

There’s a lot more here than transphobia; there’s quite a lot here, and it’s why it captured my attention instead of just causing me to roll my eyes.

The first is an interesting question. One would assume that the 16-year-old who identifies as a 21-year-old has a fake ID to substantiate her identification as a 21-year-old. “Should” is a rather interesting word here, as it implies that there is a moral right and a moral wrong here–what we “should” do is the right thing; what we “shouldn’t” do is the wrong thing. A better question would be should a random bystander be able to tell another human being what they can and can’t do? Should a random bystander be able to ask someone who old they are and make the determination on that someone’s behalf on whether it is “right” or “wrong” for them to drink?

How amazing that we forget that. Should a 16-year-old be allowed to drink alcohol? I really don’t understand the question. “Who is asking?” would be my initial response. The girl’s parents? I’m not sure I agree that the girl’s parents should be able to make that determination for her, and I’m not sure they have any “right” to be able to tell another person what that person can and can’t do. I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience parents are some of the worst people out there at making decisions for themselves, much less for their kids. A random bystander who seeks to use the state to force everyone under the age of 21 to not be allowed to drink? The answer there is “Certainly not.” I have no more right to dictate that 16 year olds can drink than such a person has to dictate that they can’t. If this is the speaker’s kid that we’re talking about, I will acquiesce that they can make the determination about whether their 16-year-old son or daughter “should” be allowed to drink. I won’t be happy about it, because that’s tyranny over that 16-year-old, but I’ll give them that ground for the sake of the argument.

Once the kid turns 18, though, assuming the kid moves out, who then is allowed to say what the 18 year old can and can’t do? So let’s up the age a bit. Should an 18-year-old who identifies as a 21-year-old be allowed to consume alcohol? Well, there are laws on the books that tell us that someone must not sell alcohol to someone under the age of 21, but this tells us nothing of should not. If law and morality were perfectly synchronized, there would be no law. That someone “must not” do something according to the law does not suggest that they “should not” do it, because “must not” is a matter of legality and “should not” is a matter of morality.

Whenever this topic comes up, I’m reminded of people who said that the guy who shot up the theater in Colorado couldn’t have really been a psychopath, because he clearly knew the difference between right and wrong. How did they come to this assessment? I’m not kidding: they stated this because he didn’t run stop signs on the way to the theater. This is how confused a lot of people are, and it’s something that is worth mentioning. Many people do believe that “must not” and “should not” are the same thing; many people believe that legality and morality are in perfect harmony and that if something is illegal then doing it is morally wrong.

So that the state forbids this 18-year-old from buying alcohol tells us nothing about whether or not the 18-year-old should be allowed to buy alcohol, much less anything about whether the 18-year-old should be allowed to consume alcohol she might not have purchased. Perhaps a 21-year-old boyfriend purchased it. Should she be allowed to sit in the comfort of her home and drink a few wine coolers? More importantly, should Random Bystander be allowed to dictate whether or not she is allowed to?

Yet even this isn’t the full extent of the confusion shown in this little diatribe.

Because what is age but a measurement of how much time one has spent on Earth? What value does it really have?

None.

Yet enormous importance is being placed in it; a person’s age is being given ridiculously high value and is being used to determine what that person “should” be allowed to do. I will admit that there is usually high correlation between age and maturity, but the real point of concern here is maturity, and not age. The question “Should a person of x age be allowed to consume alcohol?” is shooting at the wrong target–and is an attempt to dictate what other people can and can’t do on top of that. The only question that should matter is “Should a person of reasonable maturity be allowed to consume alcohol?”

And this is rife with problems, isn’t it? First, there is the obvious issue–we have no right to tell anyone else what they are and are not allowed to do, nor do we have the right to set the criteria which determines what they are and are not allowed to do, and nor do we have the right to delineate a bunch of secondary characteristics that indicate that “this person is mature” but “this person isn’t mature.” This is precisely my point: our fixation on age, and placing this importance in it, has grossly oversimplified the issue, to the point that the question itself is stupid–yet people are asking it in sincerity because they’re so confused.

I get it. We humans like our laws and moral maxims neat and tidy. It doesn’t matter that this means that a guy one day “should not” be allowed to consume alcohol because he is only 20 years and 364 days old. It doesn’t matter that the difference between a 20 year old and a 21 year old isn’t a year but is a single day, a single hour, a single minute. A person does not magically gain maturity, wisdom, and insight when they reach the threshold of 21 years old.

This mindset probably hearkens back to the days when we actually had rites of passage, but even then we usually weren’t so insane as to pick arbitrary and meaningless numbers. In most cases, a girl became a woman not on her 12th birthday but on her first period. In most cases, a boy became a man not on his 13th birthday but on the event of his first successful hunt. When we had these clear milestones that were supposed to help a person develop maturity and wisdom, they sort of made sense, even if the methods were often misguided and archaic, such as separating the “unclean girl” from all the villagers or making the man wear a sleeve filled with bullet ants. Or get plates attached to their lips, you know. That sort of thing.

If there was some sort of lead-up to this, some actual rites of passage that a person embarked upon and completed around their 18th birthday–not including the faux rite of passage that is high school graduation or the driver’s license, because there’s no suffering, no hardship, and no difficulty in any of those. I don’t mean to be harsh, but ease and comfort are not the ways through which we learn wisdom. Hardship, suffering, pain, and difficulty are the teachers of wisdom and maturity.

Rites of passage have become meaningless formalities. A man takes his son to a field where they carefully have planted corn through the last several months, and then they hide and wait in a tree for one of the deer that has been conditioned to find food there wanders up, at which point they shoot the poor animal and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. “Hunting!” they call it, but let’s be honest about it. It’s land fishing. It’s the equivalent of calling yourself a hunter because you laid out a cracker for three days in the same spot, and then placed the cracker on a mousetrap and killed a mouse. Yay! You did it! You big man, you!

The Sweet 16s, the Mexican thing that I don’t know how to spell–these are just formalities. They are Rights of passage, not rites of passage. They are unfailable. They are not tests; they are not trials. And so they are pointless, except as arbitrary milestones to make people feel good about themselves. And we all know this to be the case in modern western society. When was the last time you saw a 14 year old Jewish dude who had recently finished his Bar Mizvah actually treated like the “man” that it supposedly made him into? Never. Because it’s just a formality. It’s just empty words.

I’m not saying that we need to return to en sincera rites of passage. On some level, I think that we probably do need to, because… as I said, suffering is the teacher of wisdom and maturity. We don’t have a generation of immature crybabies playing with Play-Doh in the floor of college classrooms “traumatized” by the election results because they are filled with wisdom and maturity, after all. But, then again, that I value wisdom and maturity are subjective values, and there I go treating the valuation of wisdom and maturity as part of the One True Value System.

Anyway, the underlying assumption to the first question is that the 21-year-old “should” be allowed to consume alcohol, but that a 16-year-old “should not” be. The question would better be asked “Whether it’s a good idea for a 16-year-old to consume alcohol.” So let’s drop the “should” thing from it, because of the previous 2200 freaking words I wrote about it, and let’s ask whether it would be a good idea.

The only conceivably correct answer would be, “It depends.”

Is it a good idea for even a 21 year old to consume alcohol? Who the hell can say? That depends on a ton of factors. Is the 21 year old from a family with a history of alcoholism and drug abuse? Is she drinking to escape her problems? Is she going to have to drive later?

Or are we asking this question more generally? “More often than not, in any and all possible circumstances such a person might be in, is it a good idea for a 21 year old to drink alcohol?”

That’s a remarkably different question from what was initially asked–“Should a 16-year-old be allowed to consume alcohol if she identifies as a 21-year-old?” Let’s remember that we didn’t reach this more complex, more nuanced question accidentally; we reached it by picking apart assumptions and fallacies that weren’t true and weren’t applicable. That someone could ask this horribly simplified version with any amount of sincerity should scare us all–so much importance being placed on the absolutely meaningless age of a person. You might as well say that only people who have a cup size of B or more or who have a penis size of 5 inches or more should be allowed to drink alcohol–a person’s cup size and penis size have just about as much to do with maturity and wisdom as age does.

After all, correlation does not equal causation. The reason people generally mature as they age is that they suffer, experience pain, and experience hardship. That’s precisely what destroys “childhood innocence,” after all–and we all know this. And obviously, the loss of childhood innocence is the gain of maturity; it’s two ways of saying the same thing. “Gaining maturity” = “loss of childhood innocence” = “result of pain, suffering, and hardship”. That’s how we end up with freaking 22 year olds in college blowing bubbles and playing with Play-Doh. Immature–childishness–lack of pain and suffering, lack of trial by fire.

This is going to have to be Part 1 of a two part series.