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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.

See You On Sugarcandy Mountain

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

That’s nothing like what we have today.

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

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

What did it all mean?

Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Guilty By Accusation,” proclaimed the kangaroo.

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

“Guilty By Accusation,” proclaimed the kangaroo.

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

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

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

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

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

Western Nihilism 2: Victim or Beneficiary?

I’ve talked previously about the extreme nihilism of western society, and how we have become so confused that we hate strength and love weakness, which in turn causes us to glorify victimization–since a victim is, by any measurement, a weak person who was abused by a strong person. The victim, then, is the embodiment of our values–a rejection of reality and a hostile universe that literally kills off the weak–an embrace of undue and universal empty sympathy while genuine sympathy is derided as selfishness. We hate survival of the fittest, and so we hate capitalism, just as we hate all of the underlying socioeconomic, biological, and behavioral characteristics that brought us to this plateau, where we have done nothing but reject those characteristics as backward and archaic, choosing instead to embrace our new “progressive” values that just so happen to be wholly nihilistic.

Now, if the above paragraph seems to cover a lot of ground, then click the links. It’s necessary groundwork for the stuff I’m about to say. This series of not-really-linked-ostensibly articles is like a building, and those I linked are the scaffolding. We are building more scaffolding today–today, we are constructing the scaffolding that will hold the arch. I want to call your attention to something I read in what is literally a secret Facebook group full of Hillary supporter crybabies who are whining about having lost the election.

pansyI looked into the author’s profile, and there was absolutely nothing there that serves as any indication of any sort of trauma. Far be it from me to speculate about anyone’s past, but I’m willing to bet that anyone who genuinely has PTSD has true horrors in their past. You know that condition that some Vietnam Vets have that cause them to piss themselves and duck and cover when they hear a firecracker explode, because the horrors of the Vietnam War were so terrible that they left people permanently scarred?

Yeah, that’s what she has.

Only instead of firecrackers reminding her of mines going off and blowing her best friend’s legs off, or of bamboo traps springing up from the ground and Iron Maidening someone into a tree, it’s debate that triggers her PTSD. We can speculate, then, that the cause of her PTSD was probably something like her parents arguing when she was a child. Right? What triggers PTSD is obviously going to be a strong indicator of what horrors the person experienced. Vietnam vets duck and cover when they hear firecrackers because this reminds them of mines; she is triggered by confrontation and debates because this reminds her of some louder/greater event in her past that was about confrontation and debate. It’s not bitterness or being a bitch; it’s being logical. And, seeing how this person looks like she is probably still in college–and from a comfortably middle class life, probably upper middle class–we can readily surmise that it was probably something like her parents arguing.

You know what?

There is one area where I might actually have PTSD. This event is certainly the reason that I’m claustrophobic, why I won’t let anyone bind my hands during kinky sex, and why I don’t care what’s wrong–I am not crawling under the crawl space to fix the plumbing. It can cost me ten thousand dollars a month on my electricity bill, but I am not ever crawling under that house to fix it.

It’s not an experience that I talk about much. But when I was 16 or 17, my father had me arrested. I didn’t know it at the time, and thought I was being arrested for grand larceny. On pain pills years later, my father confessed that he had them arrest me to teach me a lesson. It was the same year of the A Perfect Circle The Thirteenth Step tour, which I know because I was still allowed to go to the concern just a few months after I’d been arrested. Okay, so this was 2003. I’d have been 16 or 17, depending on the exact day I was arrested. Even that isn’t a very big deal–16 year olds are arrested fairly often, after all.

Usually when this happens, the parent meets the police at the station, pays some money, or uses a bail bondsperson and the kid is let out. Not so here. My dad took me to the sheriff’s office at 7:30 in the morning. After talking to me for a few minutes, they arrested me and put me in holding, where I remained until about 8:45 the next day.

Now, under most circumstances, we would say that “holding isn’t solitary,” except… here, it was. This jail didn’t have separate solitary confinement cells; it had two holding cells that functioned as its solitary cells. So, yes, it was solitary. For more than 24 hours I sat in an 8 foot by 8 foot concrete box–concrete ceiling, concrete floors, concrete walls. There was a metal toilet in the corner–with nowhere near enough water to drown yourself, or I’d have done it. Along one of the walls was a large, steel door with no windows and with only a narrow latch about thigh-high for them to open and slide me a food tray through–not that I felt like eating. The lights were fluorescent and recessed, of course–impossible to get to, because you could smash one and use the glass to cut your wrists–which I’d have gladly done if they weren’t beyond my reach. Along three of the walls were what we’d call “concrete benches,” except they weren’t benches. They were just raised parts of the concrete and square-shaped. I had a horrible blanket that felt about like fiberglass, made up of billions of tiny threads glued together–that way you couldn’t pull the threads out and use them to make a rope to hang yourself with, of course. And I had what was basically a kindergarten mat, but larger. The blanket was nowhere near long enough to cover me–I’m a little tall–and it didn’t matter, because anyone with a brain used their blanket as a pillow anyway. The only thing to do was lay your horrible kindergarten mat on the concrete bench, lie down on it, and use that horrible fiberglass blanket as a pillow.

Surrounded on all sides by steel-reinforced concrete, there were no sounds bleeding into the room. There was nothing but silence, except, perhaps, the irritating hum of the fluorescent lights that my 16 year old ears could still hear, but my 29 year old ears wouldn’t be able to hear today. It was, for all intents and purposes, an isolation chamber that I was stuck in, held in against my will, knowing that there was no escape–not even death. There was nothing but silence, concrete, and the thoughts resonating in my head, for more than 24 hours. I didn’t know what was going on or how long I was going to be there. That room, to me, was jail, and that’s what jail meant–isolation, cut off not just from the outside world but from everyone, every other human being. There was no one to petition, no one to beg, to be let out. Trapped, a caged animal held against its will in a concrete box–indefinitely.

bdsmFor my 16 year old mind, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it had given me PTSD. However, it manifests itself only in ways that aren’t very important to me. I’ve never been into BDSM anyway–to me that’s “kinky” sex for people who want to be as mundane as possible. It means that I always take the stairs when given the option, because I’m not going to allow myself to be trapped on an elevator. When I worked as a janitor at one of the casino’s hotels, we had a 9 story hotel in one part of the building; I never used an elevator unless I absolutely had to. It means that I won’t let myself be put into a small space, and it means I really don’t understand cats’ love for small spaces.

Then again, cats like small spaces until they’re not allowed to leave…

But that’s enough about isolation, imprisonment, and solitary confinement. It just has certainly occurred to me that this is one area in which I might actually have PTSD, and for fairly good reason–isolation sends adults into madness with some regularity; the same to a 16 year old would undoubtedly be devastating. I survived by inventing stories and watching movies in my head–movies that I made up as I went, featuring little marshmallow people and stupid crap like that. It’s been pointed out to me that I have exactly the kind of mind that would be most in danger of going insane in isolation, but also best equipped to handle that. I suspect there’s a correlation between those two things.

Anyway, I want to share some stuff about me to all the special snowflakes out there who are dealing with “trauma” from the election, who have “PTSD” that is triggered by debates. I’m not saying this because I want sympathy. I’m saying this because I want them to sack up, grow a pair, and at least pretend to be adults capable of functioning in the world. It could be said that all the horrors in my past are precisely the reason that I am strong today, but I reject that reasoning, because I refuse to believe I’m better than anyone else. Anyone can be strong. It takes only the conscious decision to not be a victim. It doesn’t take being tortured. It doesn’t take parental murders. It just takes one single decision to be strong rather than weak, to fight rather than cower, and that is a decision anyone can make.

So buckle up. I’m going to give you the cliffnotes version. There’s enough material that I’ve got about an hour and a half of Youtube videos discussing it, a 45 minute long podcast, have written an entire book about it, and have, no exaggeration, barely scratched the surface. I have stories that will make you weep and cry that anyone would do that to a child, that anyone would be so negligent, that anyone would be so hateful. But I am not a victim. Because I am alive and I control my destiny. I control who I am.

Mother

My mother vanished off the face of the Earth when I was 12. Of course, this was after 6 years of only seeing her once or twice a year, because she was poor, addicted to heroin and meth, and preferred using her money to buy more drugs than coming to see her kids. Of course, this was also after she had kidnapped me and put me through That Summer in Arkansas–one filled with so much horror that there can’t be a Cliffnotes version. After a string of abusive alcoholic boyfriends who beat the living hell out of her while my sister and I could only look on and cry, terrified of making a sound, she finally hooked up with one who murdered her–my uncle, my aunt’s ex-husband. Of course, it took more than a decade for me to figure that out, because no one on my mom’s side of the family had anything to do with us, and never called to tell us anything. My older brother was no better; once our mother disappeared, he came to see us only once in the next six years, and it wasn’t until my sister and I took it upon ourselves to go see them that we reconnected.

But, no, you go ahead and tell me about your trauma.

Divorce

My parents separated when I was 5 or 6–depending on what time, during my kindergarten year, they actually separated. Of course, I didn’t understand what was going on, though I certainly cried a lot, and was mostly unsure whether to leave my dad the “good Nintendo” or the one that barely worked. “Didn’t work” would probably be a more accurate assessment. Naturally, I took the good one. I was 5. Rather than sitting and talking with my sister and me about what was going on, mom simply yelled at us all day–she didn’t handle stress well–and shouted that we needed to stop crying. We lived on our grandfather’s land in a trailer, and, strangely enough, he didn’t come over there with a gun to beat the hell out of mom; instead, he just found a way to let dad know.

Dad pulled up while we were loading the rest of the crap into mom’s car, almost like something out of a movie. He returned exactly as we were finishing up, and mom–in that tone that she’d been using all day that meant “shut the fuck up and do as I say”–told us to get in the car. So we did, my sister and me. We climbed into the backseat while Eric grabbed the front passenger seat. After they yelled and argued, mom got in the car. Dad, standing near the car, banged his fist against it while mom floored it. He immediately collapsed onto the ground and onto his back, pretending to have been hit by the car.

My sister and I screamed, hysterical, sure that our mother had just run over and killed our father. As we pulled away, he just lay there in the grass, not moving, and mom, once again, yelled for us to shut up.

Tim

Tim was one of mom’s boyfriends, and he really enjoyed lifting me up and holding me over the actual well that was in the backyard of this old ass house we lived in. It was an actual well, you know? Circle of bricks around it and everything. He really got a kick out of holding me over it while I kicked and screamed, while he laughed and threatened to drop me, saying that he might “accidentally” drop me if I didn’t stop squirming and kicking. I say he must have really enjoyed it, but I don’t remember how often it happened–more than enough, I can say that with certainty. More than once, at the very least.

Transgender

Shall we discuss how I’ve been trying to wear women’s clothes since I was three years old, how I would hide all of my underwear so that I could wear my sister’s instead, even back then, before the divorce, before any of that? It’s fair to say I’ve been transgender my entire life. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to be. Shall I go into how when things finally settled down I lived with my fundamentalist Christian grandmother who threatened to send me to a home if they found girl clothes in my room again? Or how my father took me out back with a belt? Is there any reason to get into any of that?

No Water or Electricity

With some regularity, once I moved in with my dad around the 8th or 9th grade, he had me stay home from school in case someone from the electric company came by to disconnect our electricity, but this was already something I was familiar with. We didn’t have electricity through most of That Summer in Arkansas, and one day mom left me alone–keeping in mind this was the summer between the 2nd and 3rd grade, so I was 8 years old–and someone from the city came by and did something to the water line out front. I secretly watched him from the window, not sure who it was.

Well, mom returned and learned that we didn’t have any water. So naturally, I got yelled at and in trouble for not opening the door and telling this stranger that I, an 8 year old kid, was home alone but if he could come back in a few hours my mom could totally arrange something with him–probably fucking him, of course. I’m not kidding, either. She honestly screamed at me for not opening the door to a strange man–I couldn’t recognize a city employee–and informing him that I was home alone.

That wasn’t the first time she said something that indicated that she wanted me to be kidnapped, either. Of course, she knew kidnapping pretty well, as someone had tried kidnapping her when she was a teenager. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but he pulled a knife on her as they drove down the road, so she jumped out of the car. Because that’s what you do when you have a problem to be dealt with: you deal with it. You don’t sit there and beg the man not to hurt you as you undress so he can rape you. You handle it.

Arkansas summers are every bit as bad as Mississippi summers, though they might be slightly less humid. Not having electricity meant there was nowhere to escape the heat, and not having water meant that every day my sister and I had to carry a five gallon bucket to a nearby gas station and fill it with their faucet outside when no one was looking–because we’d already been chased off.

And when your mom is an idiot who tears down a shed in the backyard–as requested by the landlord–and sets it on fire, it tends to chase all the bugs and creepy-crawlies out of the backyard and into the front yard. Then your mom really shows her idiocy by choosing to deal with the problem–of being unable to step out the front door without immediately being assaulted by hundreds of fleas–by lighting a bonfire in the front yard. This, of course, chased the fleas into the house. And holy crap, they were everywhere. No amount of bug bombs or flea powder did a thing about it. It was full on infestation. No electricity, no water, and a house filled with fleas in the middle of July in Arkansas.

But no, I’m sure you’ve got trauma that gives you PTSD and forces you to flee debates.

Naturally, this entire situation had fried my nerves, to the extent that I couldn’t eat. Not that we had anything to really eat anyway–as I said in one of the videos I linked earlier, on those rare occasions when we did actually have money to buy food, Treet Meat was an actual treat. If you’re unfamiliar with Treet Meat, it’s basically generic spam. Mm-mm, good.

My sister and mother fought all the freaking time. Dad stood at the edge of the driveway and cold-bloodedly threatened to kill my mother, saying, “I will kill you.”

Death and Murder

Of course, that wouldn’t be the first time my father killed someone. When I was real young–somewhere between 3 and 5–my sister and I rode with him to my go visit some relatives. He, of course, was high as hell and shouldn’t have been driving. Some dick in an 18 wheeler decided to pass us. I was too young to really know the problem. My father insisted that the highway wasn’t wide enough. It was a scary highway, out in the middle of nowhere, with a steep ditch on both sides and heavy forests on both sides. Going into that ditch would have been virtually instant death. Whether the highway wasn’t really wide enough or whether dad swerved, I don’t know, but the sideview mirror of the 18 wheeler smashed through the driver-side window, spraying a hurricane of glass through the cab of dad’s truck. We weren’t injured.

Later that day–later that same fucking day, man–dad rear-ended a woman driving an auburn car. Again, I don’t recall all the details. He either gunned it as soon as the light turned green, or he didn’t brake hard enough because he expected the woman to hurry up and go. I don’t know which. I know only that we rear ended her, hard enough for her car to careen more than fifty feet forward. Her neck broke. She died on the spot. My father, driving high, had killed her.

Obviously, the police were called. I can only imagine the horrified panic in my father in those moments, and I can almost sympathize with that–the Mistake To End All Mistakes, you know? You know that sinking feeling when you make a mistake… Now multiply that by a billion because now someone is dead, and it’s your fault, and you know you’re going to jail and nothing will stop it. I sympathize with the dead woman, too, don’t get me wrong.

My dad, my sister, and me were all placed into the backseat of the police car. No, I’m not kidding. I, somewhere between 3 and 5 years old, was being arrested too, as far as I could tell. My father was in handcuffs, and I wasn’t, but that didn’t change the fact that I was in the cop car, too. No one was telling me anything; no one was telling my sister anything. We had no idea what was going on. Then, wouldn’t you fucking know it, again, just like it was out of a movie, that same goddamned truck driver who had smashed out our window earlier that same damned day arrived. Next thing I know, he’s banging on the cop car’s window, shouting obscenities at all of us. My father started frothing at the mouth and demanding to be let out so that he could kick the truck driver’s ass, but the truck driver just kept shouting and yelling at us while my sister and I cried, our entire world slipping between our fingers.

I was traumatized by that, too. I know that for a fact. It was almost impossible, for a long time after that, for my parents to get me into a vehicle. They had to give me “nerve pills”–probably the Xanax that caused that mess in the first place–in order to get me to get in the car. I refused to. I’d get sick and start vomiting, crying, panicking, any time someone said that I had to go for a ride.

But I’m sure it’s totally fair and justified that debates trigger you.

That’s Probably Enough

If it’s not, then check the links I provided earlier, or check out Dancing in Hellfire when I finally get it published. It’s got some brutal shit in there, and I still didn’t cover everything. I’ll never be able to cover everything, because I remember things every other week. You can’t cover all the sordid details of a life like that. There’s just too much ground to go over.

Other people have certainly had worse lives, and I don’t mean to say they haven’t. But not many people had worse childhoods here in the west that they actually survived. I’m not trying to earn the sympathy of these special snowflakes, these suffers of Special Snowflake Stress Disorder. I’m trying to give them a bit of perspective. Because, yeah, if you have no idea how bad things can really get, then you might come to the conclusion that your parents arguing when you were a kid is a good reason to run and hide whenever arguments start.

But sack up, sunshine. It’s fight or flight, not fight, flight, or cower.

I’m not going to compare my suffering to  yours. I have spent too long arguing that suffering is relative. Sure, I bitch about all of the above, but there are 12 year old girls who have now spent years as the forced brides and sex slaves of Boko Haram. We can, and should, say the same about your suffering. I know that people like to compare suffering, though, especially the kind of people who say that debates trigger their PTSD. Well, they like to when they think they can come out “ahead” with their suffering as “worse,” and why? Because they think being a victim is a good thing, so obviously the person who has suffered the most is the winner in their worldview–whoever has suffered the most is the biggest victim, and they want to be the biggest victim because being victim is a good thing now.

Someone always has it worse, but that someone has it worse doesn’t mitigate the suffering we have experienced. Suffering, after all, is relative. This girl crying in the corner because someone tried to debate her truly feels her own past suffering to exactly the same extent that I feel my past suffering, and to exactly the same extent that the kidnap victims of Boko Haram feel their suffering, and to exactly the same extent that poor woman was held in her father’s basement and raped for 17 years feels her own suffering. We can’t put a value on suffering, and it’s a fool’s task to even try.

But…

But whatever value we place on suffering, if you survived your childhood, aren’t a serial killer, and live in the west, then chances are that the horrors I can point to cause yours to pale in comparison. My point isn’t to say “Oh, poor me, I had it so much worse than you.”

My point is exactly the opposite.

The past doesn’t matter. The past doesn’t shape you unless you allow it to. You cannot be a victim unless you consent to be a victim. My past is not marked by horrors and traumas that have victimized me; my past is marked by lessons that have taught me. I am not their victim. I am their beneficiary.

So make your choice, but don’t pretend like it’s not a choice.

Will you be a victim or a beneficiary?