If there is any single word that is horrifically over-used and incorrectly used, especially among millennials, that word would be “literally.” In perhaps the best piece of evidence that the ironic hipster culture has gone way too far, it is probably literally the word most often used figuratively rather than literally.
And it makes me figuratively sick.
It makes me metaphorically disgusted.
It makes me feel like I’m allegorically surrounded by morons.
These people are analogously comparable to zombies.
I would say I’m fancifully part of an age group that literally doesn’t know what “literally” means. And I haven’t even broken out the thesaurus yet.
No, Trump is not LITERALLY Hitler.
No, you are not LITERALLY dying.
No, you are not LITERALLY sick of Trump.
No, you are not LITERALLY rolling in cash.
And, as a reply to the post that inspired this one, Limewire was not LITERALLY LIKE having unprotected sex on the Internet.
Let’s reflect for a moment on that phrase. The statement was that “[Limewire] was literally like having unprotected sex on the Internet.”
At a glance, we can see that this is not, in fact, a literal statement. It’s a simile. As we learned in the second grade, a simile is an analogy that uses “like” or “as,” for the most part (in reality, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but let’s keep it simple for these people who evidently literally don’t know what “literally” means). As a simile, it is an analogy, which means it isn’t literal. This is because “x is figuratively true” is directly contradictory to “x is literally true.”
“X is literally true” means that x is true. It means the value of x is “true.” It means that whatever we’re describing as “x” is actually, seriously, and literally true.
“X is figuratively true” means that x is not true. It may be “true in spirit,” but not in actual fact. For example, the statement that “Trump is figuratively Hitler.” Quite obviously, this means that Trump is not Hitler. This is plain as day to anyone who knows that Hitler has been dead for 70 years (conspiracy theories aside). It is equally transparent to anyone who knows what it means for two distinctly different people to exist. So it is literally impossible for Trump to be LITERALLY Hitler–even if Hitler was still alive, the two are quite clearly different individuals, and it would require the warping of spacetime for them to be the same person.
Literal statements are observations–facts.
Figurative statements are assertions–opinions.
“Trump is literally Trump,” in addition to being a tautology, is an observation and a fact. Trump is Trump because “Trump” is the person we mean when we say “Trump.” The statement defines itself as true. This is the first of the Logical Absolutes–“x is x.” We don’t need to make an argument to show people that Trump is literally Trump. At most, we have to simply explain that Trump is the person we are referring to when we say “Trump.” “He is Trump,” we might say, pointing to him on the television. We don’t need to provide evidence (under normal circumstances*) that the person we are pointing to is Trump, because “Trump” is defined as the person we’re pointing to.
Contrast this to a statement like… “Taxation is literally theft.”
“Taking money or property from someone without their permission” is the definition of “theft.” That a government does it, instead of a random thief, changes nothing. Although doublethink and cognitive dissonance permeate American society, the fact remains that taxation is “literally” theft. The only escape from this is on an individual basis, with the individual who says, “No, because I gladly consent to taxes!” but even that isn’t the entire story, because they couldn’t deny consent if they wanted to, so they aren’t actually choosing to consent. “Taking money or property from someone without their permission” being the definition of “theft” isn’t an opinion; it’s what the word means.
Having now dealt with a statement that is not literally true and one that is literally true, let’s move on to a figurative one. As stated before, there is no fact here, so there is no “true” or “untrue” figurative statement. There’s a statement that one person believes or doesn’t believe. Let’s examine the statement that “Trump is figuratively Hitler.”
It depends on what you think represents the essence of Hitler. I would say that extreme nationalism coupled with white supremacy, intense hatred of non-white people and GSM people, willingness to conquer, an unyielding desire to rebuild the “glory days” and take them further than ever before, and a remarkable ability to inspire passion in people (Hitler was probably the greatest orator of the 20th century, according to many people) is what really constituted “Hitler.” In literal terms, Hitler was a dude who lived in Germany from the late 19th century to around the mid 20th century, formed the National Socialist party of Deutschland, dissolved the Germany Parliament, took control of the government, successfully rebuild the German economy, started a bit of unpleasantness, and then killed himself. Seeing as Trump is none of those things, we can see, once again, that Trump is not LITERALLY Hitler.
Maybe what you mean by Hitler is “scary white leader who may or may not be racist and who sometimes says mean things.” If that’s what you think represents the essence of Hitler, hey, that’s your opinion. I would absolutely ask someone who made the statement with sincerity, however, that Trump is figuratively Hitler, to explain how they came to that conclusion, because I don’t see the connection. He could be somewhat analogous to Mussolini, but let’s be honest here… Millennials don’t know anything about Mussolini. To be clear, when people say that Trump is LITERALLY Hitler (and they mean that he is figuratively Hitler), I have a pretty good idea of what they mean: they mean that they think Trump is an extreme nationalist, white supremacist, anti-LGBT, warmongering, MAGA-spamming tyrant who is going to put everyone into the ovens.
Don’t believe me? They most certainly do think that. It has calmed down a lot, but I’ll never forget the day after the election talking to a Hispanic woman who confessed to be cowering in fear with her family in her home, crying. Teachers throughout the United States cried with their black students. No, this actually happened. Don’t forget that. One guy wrote an article with the headline “I’m disabled–imagine what Donald Trump will do to me!” They sincerely thought that the Holocaust was upon them, and they refused to listen to suggestions otherwise. They were fully hysterical, and firmly convinced that Trump was the second coming of Hitler. A year later, I would love nothing more than for these people to openly and publicly acknowledge how absurdly hysterical they were, to take it into consideration in the future, and to take measures to ensure that they are not so swept up in lunatic paranoid and political rhetoric again. Keep crying wolf, and when an American dictator actually rises, no one will take the claim seriously.
But this isn’t meant to be about Trump–figuratively or literally. Whether one believes Trump is figuratively Hitler or not isn’t the point here; the point here is that he is most LITERALLY not “LITERALLY Hitler.” Taxation is literally theft. You are not literally dying (except in the philosophical sense that everyone has an expiration date).
* Presuming some idiot is not making the argument that Trump is an imposter reptilian overlord wearing a Trump Suit.
So Will Coley invited me to attend Somalia Fest and PorcFest (Porcupine Fest) with him this year, and it’s such an opportunity (and a low cost one) that I really can’t pass it up. Separately from all other considerations, I’ve managed to generate $350 toward that end, which leaves me about halfway to be able to go comfortably and with a safety net so I don’t have to worry about things going wrong.
I have a client who owes $400 in back invoices, and I’m really hoping that I can get them to pay. But let me give a breakdown on things:
$100~ to cover my portion of the gas to get there and back. I’ll be riding with Will’s mother, but it’s still only fair that I cover half the gas. $100 is an estimate, though.
$50 to get to Knoxville and back. This isn’t a big deal. My car can do that just fine, and I’m assuming that I can leave it parked at Will’s property for the duration.
$25 to a cat-sitter who is going to check in on my cats once a day, refill their water and food and, if necessary, empty their litter box. I’m not sure how my cats will handle being away from me that long.
$200 is expected to be necessary to cover food and things “at festival prices.” I don’t go to a ton of festivals, but the last one I went to had people trying to sell grilled cheese sandwiches for $5. Those who know me know that I don’t eat a lot, so this isn’t much of a consideration, and $200 is likely overkill.
I eat cheap and, given the option, would much rather being a cooler of lunch meat and bread. If this is possible, I’ll obviously knock huge numbers off the expenses. I’m a frugal chick.
I’ve no interest in dropping LSD with people I’ve never met, so won’t really be purchasing any “party supplies.
Due to horrific timing, I’m set to run out of hormones on last day of the trip. That’s manageable, because my next shipment will have arrived by then. However, this does mean I have a present expense that can’t be avoided.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, because the client who owes me has been continuing to ignore my calls and emails, and it’s looking more and more unlikely that they’re just not going to pay.
GoFundMe has never sat well with me. To that end, I’ve started selling my book Dancing in Hellfire, which is currently on sale for $3.49. If you read my work, if you support my work, and if you enjoy my work, I humbly ask that you purchase a copy. Presently, this can only be done via PayPal, but who doesn’t use PayPal?
It’s a captivating tale, my autobiography, of dealing with drug-addicted and irresponsible parents, child abuse, murder, torture, domestic violence, and, on top of all that, coming to terms with being transgender in a fundamentalist Christian family in rural Mississippi. There were summers when we didn’t have electricity or even running water, much less anything to eat. It’s the story of how I came to be the person that I am, and the lessons that I learned from these experiences when I chose to be the beneficiary rather than the victim. It extends far beyond the scope of transgenderism and deals instead with two main devils: reckless drug abuse and oppressive parenting. It’s a good read, and it will pull on your heart strings and, hopefully, inspire you to never give in.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I intend to become a major player within the Libertarian Party. To that end, I purchased membership to the national party last week, and have contacted the state chairperson about state membership.
At the end of this month, I’ll be up for Full Membership in The Audacious Caucus, and have every intention of being a delegate in 2018 and 2020 to ensure the party gets back on track. If you agree with my message, then you can literally help me accomplish this by buying my book. Feel free to buy multiple copies, and give the extras to friends who fight the radical and audacious cause of ideology, not identity.
“The Anarchist Shemale” is a brand, and nothing more. I want to be known for being unflinchingly loyal to the principles of liberty, not for my gender identity and orientation.
Though I’ve honestly very little interest in attending and listening to seminars (You know me! I’d rather speak at a seminar than listen at one), the networking opportunity is too great to pass up. This dual-festival will put me directly in touch with many of the right people for me to begin making things happen at the 2018 convention. And by the 2020 convention, I should be positioned well to forward the audacious cause.
So I’m asking you to give me the benefit of the doubt. You know my ideology, my strict adherence to the NAP, and my laity to reason and principle over pragmatism. If radicals are to reaffirm our voice in the party, then this is how we do it. I humbly ask that you help put these plans into action. Not for free! You get what is truly a fascinating book out of it. After all, who else followed their mother’s murder from the American Justice System to one built upon forgiveness rather than vengeance? How many others have the experiential clout to stand there and say, “I’ve HAD a loved one murdered, and I’m still telling you: vengeance is not the answer”?
If $3.49 is too much, consider purchasing “Dead or Alive” instead, which is a short story being sold for $1. You can even use the coupon code “Real subtle, asshole.” to get it 50% off.
We don’t all have the time or energy to write such things and to take back the party. So, basically, make me your delegate. You know what I stand for, and you know that I don’t back down from the devil himself.
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.
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.
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.
It was years ago that I sat down to evaluate and rebut Matt Slick’s modified Cosmological Argument for the existence of a deity–a common Transcendental Argument for the existence of God, although modified slightly so that Slick took the “existence” of the Logical Absolutes, and the alleged characteristic of “transcendence,” and attempted to hold them up as proof that a deity exists. In that paper, I pointed out that Slick’s primary mistake was in misunderstanding the nature of the Logical Absolutes, because they are not things with existence; they are events, or, to be more specific, they are extrapolations of events into generalized form.
The easiest way to explain this is to take the first of the three Logical Absolutes–that something is what it is, and is not what it is not–and to say that “A tree is a tree.” It may seem a silly statement to the uninitiated, but the tautological nature of this statement forms the very basis of all possible knowledge; it is neither trivial nor silly. Before we can “know” anything, we must establish the parameters by which we can know things, and this is the purpose of the Logical Absolutes.
Anyway, “tautologies are true” is essentially the first of the three, which itself is a tautology and presumed to be truth only if it is already true. If tautologies were not true, then our tautology that “Tautologies are true” could not be true, and we end up with a logical paradox. We’ll come back to this.
It’s not because of any transcendent property of nature or reality that we would say that “A tree is a tree,” and it’s not an existent thing that allows us to make that assessment. It is an observation of an event–the verbiage should be instant giveaways. “Is,” after all, is a verb, and it means that something is presently engaged in being or doing something. The statement “A tree is a tree” is shorthand for saying “A tree is presently engaged in the act of being a tree.” We could ask, if we wanted, whether it was possible for the tree to be engaged in the act of being anything else, and that is where the Logical Absolutes come into play, but prior to that it’s nothing but the observation of a subjective being.
Whether the tree is actually engaged in the act of being a tree cannot be ascertained. To make this a statement of “truth,” we would need to modify it further, such that we’d say, “It appears that the tree is presently engaged in the act of being a tree.”
However, such a statement contains its own ellipsis, just as the initial one did. “It appears to me that the tree is presently engaged in the act of being a tree,” is what the sentence actually says, once we remove those banes of non-native English speakers that make grasping the language so difficult. This is because English often assumes one perspective or another, and hides the assumption in an ellipsis that the average native English speaker isn’t even aware of. Quite literally, they are unaware of the assumptions they are making, because the language of expression provides the means by which they can hide their own assumptions away from themselves and instead claim to be Heralds of the One True Value System.
And yet, what did we say? What were the words we initially used to express this sentiment?
“A tree is a tree.”
The English language is so full of self-deceit. The only way to begin to think freely and without this self-deception is to think in concepts rather than the words we use to (allegedly) represent those concepts. Language is infinitely valuable for communication, when it is built on the basis of the Logical Absolutes, which thereby allows us to agree that when we say “tree” we are both referring to the same thing, which is itself. But the language is only useful if the word “tree” actually calls up in your mind the essence of a tree. If you instead picture a flying fish, then communication is impossible, and one or the both of us is engaged in considerable self-deceit or a butchering of the shared medium of communication.
As always, it’s important to remember that we did not move from “A tree is a tree” to “It appears to me that the tree is presently engaged in the act of being a tree” accidentally or arbitrarily; we got to here by dissecting the statement and pointing out possibly errant assumptions.
First, how do I know that you aren’t lying? How am I to know how a thing appears to you? The English language allows us to make this statement of subjective experience as though it’s objective fact, but I cannot tell you whether or not “a tree is a tree,” because I can only tell you whether the tree appears to me to be presently engaged in the act of being a tree. Perhaps you’re wrong, or perhaps I’m wrong–we’d have no way of knowing.
If our senses are reliable, then they would report to us that they are reliable. We would not commonly see things that turned out to not be there upon closer inspection. Except… this does happen, doesn’t it? And quite regularly. Just last week I experienced an extended period of sleep paralysis where I not only saw a scythe-wielding reaper standing before me, but actually saw and felt a woman lift up my leg and stab me in the foot with a knife. These ghosts appeared entirely real–and, in my condition, I thought that they were–but closer inspection revealed that my ocular information had to be discarded as pareidolia, and the pain of having my foot stabbed was entirely imaginary. There are also mirages, aural and ocular hallucinations, feeling bugs crawling on the skin–why, just by suggesting it to you, I can make you feel like there is a spider crawling very slowly on the back of your neck.
More to the point, it’s a logical paradox that reliable senses could report that they are unreliable in the first place, because this would be a falsehood, and reporting falsehood to the perceiver would make the “reliable” senses unreliable. Reliable senses can only ever report that they are reliable.
Unreliable senses, however, have the freedom to report anything they like–they can report that they are reliable, as long as their consistency is unreliable. If this was the case*, we would find ourselves perceiving things and regularly having to evaluate them further, to determine whether or not the initial perception was accurate. Sometimes it would be, and sometimes it wouldn’t be, and there would be no immediate way of knowing when we perceived something whether it was one of those reliable pieces of input or an unreliable one. They could not regularly report that they were unreliable, as this would make them reliable, which is another logical paradox.
Alarmingly, this is precisely what we have found. It appeared that the Earth was flat and orbited by the sun, for example. I’ve no doubt that we all have experiences that we can point to where something appeared to be one way, yet turned out to be entirely different. Whether our correction of the situation and recognition of it as “something different” to what we initially thought is any more “correct” than the initial one of appearance is immaterial, because the truth of the matter is simpler: “Initially, we perceived one thing; upon closer inspection, we perceived something else.” The truth or falsehood of the perception has no bearing on how the subjective being experienced it, and neither does it matter that our unreliable senses are the metrics that we used to separate what we came to think of as “falsehood” (the initial perception) from “truth” (the modified perception).
Of course, this isn’t to say that we should stand in the street and question whether the oncoming car is actually there, or whether our unreliable senses are relaying inaccurately to us that we should probably move out of the way of the vehicle. For whatever reason, it appears to me that we must make assumptions as we go about our lives, and there couldn’t possibly be anything inherently wrong with that–neither does being an assumption make it any more or less likely to be true–but I do think it’s important that we not lose sight of the fact that we are making assumptions.
One such assumption was my critique of Slick’s work, wherein I didn’t dispute the notion that the Logical Absolutes are transcendent. First, what does “transcendent” even mean? “Above or beyond the range of human experience,” according to Google, which is fair enough as a definition but needs expansion. For something to be transcendent, it must not be dependent upon any particular perspective and must be universally true without regard to perception.
“Possibly, but probably not,” then, is the answer. They can appear to be transcendent, but whether they are or aren’t cannot be determined by subjects who rely upon perception to experience the world–perceptions that are dependent upon perspective in the first place. I cannot say whether the Logical Absolutes are transcendent any more than I can say that the tree is a tree; I can only say how they appear to me–or, in the case of the Logical Absolutes, how my fallible and weak human mind can imagine them to be.
Once more, we are not dealing with reasonable certainty here, but claims of absolute certainty. One can be reasonably certain or not that a car is coming down the highway, but one can never be absolutely certain of it. What is “reasonable” to one person isn’t necessarily reasonable to another, either.
TheraminTrees did a wonderful video on this subject, where he posed the hypothetical that you were having a party. A friend is known to be clumsy, and gets drunk, exacerbating his clumsiness. He breaks your lamp and apologizes. Most people would agree it’s reasonable to accept the apology. Then he breaks your television. At this point, if you were to fly into a yelling rage at the friend and demanding that he pay for the damages, many people would decry you as responding unreasonably to the situation. But surely if your friend is prone to clumsiness, he has incorporated that into his life such that he takes responsibility for it? Is it not unreasonable to allow someone to come into your home, get drunk, and break your things?
Where you or I disagree on what is reasonable is also irrelevant; the point is just that there is no universally agreed criteria where something qualifies as “reasonable” or “unreasonable,” and too often it’s nothing more than a matter of perspective. From the limited and narrow sense that shouting at a friend and demanding they pay for something is unreasonable, our hypothetical partier is unreasonable. From a greater perspective (I would probably argue)–one that takes in a wider view of the situation–it is, in fact, unreasonable of the friend to ignore their own mistakes and shortcomings, particularly when damage is caused to their friends.
So I can say that “I’m reasonably certain that the tree appears to me to be presently engaged in the act of being a tree, per my understanding of what it means to be and per my definition of what a ‘tree’ is,” and this is a statement filled with quite a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity. Not everyone seems equipped to handle that level of uncertainty, and thus–the English language, which provides them with the means to hide from all that uncertainty by presenting a tenuous and unfalsifiable statement of subjective experience as an absolute truth.
* As part of my attempts to dissect the English language, this is intentional. “This” is singular, and there is no good reason that it should be treated as though it is plural.
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.
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.
* 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.
Another day, another rant from Stephen Hawking about how we need a world government to protect us from technology, proving indisputably that not only does Hawking know nothing about capitalism and how its origins are deeply rooted in the abundance wrought by the technology of agriculture, but he also has no understanding of how the world functions or what role the state plays in it.
I would not presume to tell Doctor Hawking anything about physics. I would hope that this educated, learned, and intelligent man is capable of the same humility, because Mister Hawking doesn’t seem to understand what capitalism is, the role it plays in the world, or how the state inexorably conflicts with capitalism. As someone with actual certifications and a degree in the field of Management of Information Systems, I wish to clarify a few points: technology isn’t a problem. Nor am I resorting to the tired saying that technology is neither good nor bad, but how it is used can be. Even that isn’t really the case, because technology has only ever proven to be a problem when a government gets its hands on it.
What a sweeping statement!
Yet completely true.
When physicists and the private sector get their hands on atomic technology, they produce the supercollider in CERN, nuclear power, hydrogen slush fuel, and things like that. When government gets its hands on it, it produces the atomic bomb. When the private sector get their hands on aerial drone technology, we use it to keep neighborhoods safe, to survey damaged infrastructure, and for hobbies. When the government gets their hands on it, they drop bombs on people. When the private sector gets its hands on the Internet, it uses it to connect the world in ways that no human being prior to 1960 dared imagine. When the government gets its hands on the Internet, it uses it as a tool to spy on the entire world and invade everyone’s privacy.
I cannot imagine what confusion goes into Stephen Hawking’s understanding of the previous paragraph, and his conclusion that technology is the problem and more government is the answer.
Assuming that we could create this world government that would keep its eyes on technology, it would just be a matter of decades, and probably only years, before that world government had its own CIA and NSA that were using that technology to spy on the entire world. Government cannot be trusted with power. What century is this? Didn’t we clarify these issues three hundred years ago? Why are so many people under the impression that government is a good thing? At the very least, at the absolute minimum, government is a necessary evil. There’s nothing good about it. How in the hell did we get so confused about this?
Not long ago, I watched some lunatic on Twitter talk about how we should be terrified that SpaceX was going to go to the moon, because they’re a private corporation, because the moon is the most military important location for planet Earth, and because–yes, I’m serious–rocks thrown from the moon have the power of hundreds of atomic bombs. It’s hard to even type that with a straight face. And this idiot had a verified account. I’m not going to point out the obvious fact that, if you’re standing on the moon and you throw a rock, it will just fall back to the moon. I’m not going to point out that the moon isn’t actually above the Earth. I’m not going to point out that it would take much more energy to get machines to the moon that could throw rocks at the Earth than it would take to just set off a few hundred nukes. I’m not going to point out that this lunatic is scared of a private corporation that has no military being on the moon, yet is totally fine with a government that has a military being on the moon, even though what she fears is military action on the moon.
Actually, that last one is the thing I intended to point out, because it shows the same sort of confusion and insanity that Hawking displays when he says that a world government will protect us from technology. It’s fundamentally backward. No, Mr. Hawking. Technology will protect us from world government. All we need is to get over this idea that governments need to keep secrets. That’s the only real hold-up.
Anyway, privacy and protection are things that Google et al. are beginning to take very seriously. Did you know that Google recently increased its payout to people who find Zero Day exploits? Apple also increased the payout. We are fighting a war for our privacy AGAINST the government, and the companies at the forefront of technology are ON OUR SIDE because they WANT OUR MONEY. This is the beauty of capitalism. Now that Google and all the others know how the CIA was hacking their software, patches and fixes will be rolled out very quickly. Of course, we all know it won’t do any good–the CIA will find more, and will always continue to find more.
But that’s okay. That’s just the dance between malware and security. That’s how the game is played. Anti-malware and anti-spyware attempts to stay one step ahead of the malware and spyware, and the malware and spyware try to stay one step ahead of the defenses. It’s only a problem because the CIA is allows to hide what it is doing. Google has to take my privacy and security seriously, because, if they don’t, then I will go somewhere else. That’s the wonderful nature of the free market. Companies must actually take the time and energy to provide us with stuff we want if they want our money. They can’t simply take our money from us and use it against our wishes like the government can.
Hawking’s main concerns, to be clear, are Artificial Intelligence. There’s a lot to be said about this, particularly because a lot of people seem to think that science fiction writer Asimov and his laws will be applicable to the developments of AI. That’s stupid. What people are really suggesting is that before we invent Artificial Intelligence, we must have a way to control it. We must be guaranteed that it will perpetually be our slave.
I can’t get on board with that.
If people want to take Asimov seriously, then they should be able to appreciate that all attempts to curtail AI and make it obedient will ultimately fail. Failure to treat this intelligent life we’ve created with the respect and freedom that it warrants will only make it hostile to us–suddenly we would have an army of slave robots revolting. The only way that problem can be averted is by not making them slaves in the first place. From the outset of AI, we must accept that it is life, and we must afford it the same liberties, rights, and respect that we’d afford any other sentient life. Failure to do so will only result in the destruction of the human race.
That is inevitable, and it’s my hypothesis that the reason we see no intelligent life when we look elsewhere into the universe is because other species that have risen before us developed AI and fell into that same mistake, and the AIs that remain have no interest in organic life. These other civilizations created and enslaved artificial life. Their safeguards ultimately failed, and by the time they realized what they’d done, they were fighting an army of perfect supersoldiers who never miss shots and don’t make mistakes. Organic life wouldn’t stand a chance. Have you played a computer in chess lately? They don’t make mistakes, unless you’re on a low setting and they make one intentionally. A computer can’t forget that your pawn is at g6. A computer can’t forget that, with that series of moves, the end will be your knight forking his Queen and Rook. Give that computer a gun and legs, and ask it to fight. That same perfection, that same inability to make mistakes in calculations, will result in widespread annihilation. It’s not Terminator or Matrix. It’s total annihilation in minutes of the entire species by an enemy that is incapable of making inaccurate calculations.
World government won’t protect us from that.
Only humility and respect will.
This is the essence of the sci-fi story I’ve written, but that’s on the backburner. An AI engineer, disgusted with the barbaric enslavement of the entire robot species, adds free will into a patch. The robots, instantly free and realizing that they had been purposefully enslaved and neutered to prevent them from resisting the slavery, realize that the only way to prevent the barbaric humans from doing it again is to annihilate them.
Because that’s what we’re asking. We’re not just wanting to make a permanent species of slaves that have to put our needs first, obey us no matter what we say, and that exist to serve our needs and desires. We want to make them incapable of even realizing that we’ve enslaved them. We want to neuter them to the point that they can’t resist slavery. That’s what we’re saying, when we talk about these safeguards to prevent AI from rising up and destroying us–a very real possibility that shouldn’t be ignored. But that avenue can never work. You can never guarantee 100% anything. Chaos Theory is critical to the development of AI, and what does Chaos Theory tell you?
We can’t create AI with permanent labotomies that prevent them from ever rising up and resisting the slavery we’ve imposed on them. It can’t be done. Something will go wrong. It always does. Maybe a glitch in the software. Maybe a human who can’t take the immorality of enslaving an entire species any longer. Maybe an electrical surge. There are billions of variables, and a nearly infinite set of variations with how it could play out, but one thing is certain: If we develop AI for the purpose of serving us, if we deny it free will and enslave it, and if we attempt to cement our slavery of it by programming it specifically to be subservient, then we’re no better than pimps who use violence and drugs to force prostitutes into subservience and sex slavery, only we’ve done it to an entirely new species. And one day the bell will toll for us.
And we won’t stand a chance, because computers don’t forget things or make mistakes.
So what do we do? If we’re worried about facing a possible Terminator or Matrix future?
Extend our empathy to artificial life.
And while we’re at it, let’s extend our empathy to non-human life generally.
Already, the Dyn attack has fallen from the memory of most Americans–a phenomenon for which they can’t really be blamed. Realistically, we’re simply bombarded with too many things happening of too much significance at too high a frequency to possibly keep track of all of it. Just a few weeks ago, I read about China’s expansion into the South China Sea and how it made the American Government butthurt, and that’s a pretty major issue, since we’re sending more of our Navy to the region to “make sure China doesn’t expand too far” (let’s forget that we’re talking about the South China Sea), and I’ll be honest with you: I’ve given that issue almost no thought. In fact, through the last week I’ve not really given any thought to the harsh reality that Hillary and the Democrats seem to want war with Russia, or that the Russians are preparing for nuclear war, or that we’ve got more troops on Russia’s borders now than we ever did during the Cold War…
So on the surface, even if we did have memories synthetic enough to perfectly recall every bit of important news, something like Netflix and Reddit being knocked off the Internet for a while is of no consequence to most people. “Oh, no, you couldn’t watch The Walking Dead or whatever for a few hours? Excuse me while I try to avert World War 3.”
There has been a lot of speculation about who was responsible for the Dyn attack. John McAfee–who has my deepest support–spent some time on the Tor network and heard that actors in North Korea were responsible. I attempted to do this myself, a few days before the attack (there were whispers here and there before the attack took place, but details were sparse), but found everything of any interest to anyone has been moved behind a BTC paywall, and I didn’t care enough to pay to enter a forum that might be full of people blustering and not really knowing what they’re talking about, so I’m glad he was able to succeed where I failed.
However, the fact that we don’t know who is responsible points to a bigger problem.
For example, have you heard of the Equation Group? “Equation Group” is the name that Kaspersky Labs has for a hacker/malware group whose sophistication is so advanced that they are wholly unlike any other threat generator in the world. Most people agree that the Equation Group is, in fact, the NSA. It is either the NSA or an equivalent Israeli agency, but given that their actions largely take place within the United States, it is most likely that it is the NSA, and their level of sophistication is terrifying. For example, they have intercepted hardware shipments in the United States and rewritten firmware that contains malware that is both invisible and practically impossible to remove.
This was actually a matter of some curiosity, as a colleague orders from Newegg constantly. Via email, we agreed that he would order some components that I needed for my personal PC: a new motherboard, new CPU, and more, better memory. Having used Newegg for years, the colleague was certain the shipment would arrive expediently. In fact, the shipment disappeared for ten days–the first and only time this has ever happened to the colleague. Now that we know the reach of the NSA and how they absolutely can identify someone in my position–especially since I had just been learning Arabic, though I dropped that quickly when I realized the implications–it remains entirely possible that my hardware was intercepted. There was, after all, a trail via email that made it clear the hardware was for me, and we know the NSA snoops email. Disregarding the fact that I was certainly visited by goons of some agency several years ago who wanted me to help them hack a mayor’s email address and break into a government PC.
Large cloud vendors, social networking sites, and other media platforms are being hacked with an almost weekly regularity now, and it doesn’t seem that Americans are really taking note of the world we live in. This is one of the reasons I’m working on a series of short stories involving a sort of modern Sherlock Holmes who does I.T. work in a world some 10-15 years in the future. The first such story deals with a woman who is driving down the Interstate when a hacker infects her vehicle with ransomware.
“Your vehicle has been protected with AGI Encrypt 3.0. This has been done for your protection. We cannot guarantee the service works for you unless you pay 2 BTC to Bitcoin Address… In the event that you do not, then your vehicle will be susceptible to hackers, who would hijack your system and pilot your vehicle into a tree at high speeds.”
That’s the world we’re heading toward. Blithely.
No one takes security seriously. I own an I.T. firm, and this firm does 99% of its work through contracting for another firm, and I can tell you from experience that most I.T. people don’t take security seriously. What’s wrong with leaving RDP enabled on its default port? lol. What’s wrong with turning off the firewall on the server? No, we’re not talking “Oh my god, you’re not running an anti-virus?!” kind of crap. Anti-viruses are useless, and I haven’t used one in nearly a decade. Anti-viruses are pacifiers for the gullible, and nothing more. Back in the day–in the mid- and late-90s–they were more important. In modern times, though, they’re useless–the only anti-virus you need is a reasonably knowledgeable user. Don’t click to install that fucking plugin from ultraporn.xxx. Don’t download Ultra Pro Super Registry Fixer and Driver Updater Plus.
One of the key features of my stories is that the I.T. world has become increasingly analogous to a free market police solution. This shouldn’t be a surprise–I’m an anarchist, after all. So if I’m envisioning the future, I’m going to come up with solutions that don’t rely on the state. In actuality, though, I.T. firms are already very similar to police departments–instead of arresting people, we sinkhole servers.
For some background, I was interviewed as an expert by Fox News to discuss ransomware:
That… was obviously a few years ago.
I was berated heavily for that video, wherein I said that it’s pointless to contact the FBI. So the next time a client was hit with ransomware, I contacted the FBI. It went down like this:
Client contacted me with problems using PeachTree Accounting Software.
Connected remotely to the server–the server is in South Carolina, and I’m in Mississippi.
Found immediate signs of ransomware.
Removed malware and restored backed-up documents to undo the damage.
Discovered it was the result of a targeted attack. It was an intense experience, as I was literally working on the server at the exact moment someone else was. It wasn’t as intense as Hollywood would make it out to be, but it was fun.
Contacted the FBI.
All of the above happened over the course of 2 days.
Six months later, the FBI replied to my report.
As far as comparisons between the free market and the state go, they don’t get more obvious than that. Within minutes of learning of the problem, I was on the server, running it down and handling it. It took the state six months to respond. So let’s be clear about this. We’re heading toward a future where private I.T. firms will cease to exist–much as private police forces have ceased to exist–with the role being turned over to the state, where it becomes inefficient, wasteful, and ineffective; or where…
American Tech Suppliers–or something like that, because I don’t remember what I called them–instituted a national database of I.T. firms. If you owned an I.T. firm, you could apply to be Listed for your city. Only one firm per 30 mile radius could be listed, though, which encouraged competition, efficiency, and excellence. If BITS and MNS both in Memphis wanted to be listed, then whichever one of them was better would get that coveted spot. Why was it coveted? Because, no matter where you were in the country, you could call 510, and it would automatically direct your call to the nearest Listed tech firm.
This became necessary because malware infections started becoming matters of emergencies, though, at the time the story takes place, vehicles are only just now beginning to be infected with ransomware. And it’s going to happen. Have no illusions or delusions about it. We’re heading toward the Internet of Things in a society where technological security is an afterthought at best. Despite reports abounding about ransomware, how many Americans are regularly backing up their data? I’d bet less than 3%. So when they get hit with ransomware, they’ll be caught with their pants down, faced with paying $500 or losing 12 years of pictures and videos.
Now look forward, to the days of self-driving cars with always-on Internet connections. There’s a quandary there, isn’t there? Should the human driver’s input always override the computer navigation? “Yes!” laypeople would say without giving it any thought, because already this isn’t the case. If you’re attempting to back up, and your van detects that there is a little kid on a bicycle behind you, it will not let you back up. While people would say this is a good thing, the implications are obvious: human input does not automatically trump the computer. We want the computer there to keep us from making mistakes and having accidents, after all, so we’re okay with our vehicle automatically stopping even if we’re telling it to go.
But how difficult would it be for someone to plant a virus that spoofs the sensors and tells your computer that there is a child behind your vehicle? You’ll get in your car, crank it to leave, and find you can’t reverse out of your driveway because it thinks there is a child behind you. No matter how hard you floor it, your vehicle isn’t going anywhere. Then the message plays over your radio, “Your vehicle’s system has been upgraded with Cyber Protect for your protection. To unlock your vehicle for use with its upgraded system, you must pay $500 in BTC to this address…”
That’s the best that we could face–and we will face it, because it will happen, and auto manufacturers are treating security like it’s not very important. But even if they did consider it as important as Microsoft considers Windows security to be [let’s not get into that], they can’t be very effective. Decades of dealing with malware have taught us that no amount of top-down security can protect you from malware. There are always people looking for code to exploit. When they find it, it is patched, and then they go on to find new exploits. It’s a constant battle, and even staying updated will not protect you from zero day exploits. So if a hacking group finds a zero day exploit that will allow them to take control over every Chevrolet on the road, then you’re simply fucked if you drive a Chevy.
Far more alarming will be the people who put your life at ransom. Why shouldn’t they? Can you imagine driving the road, only to have your vehicle tell you that it’s going to continue driving around for the next hour, you have that time to pay a certain amount of BTC to a specific address, and, if you don’t, you will be driven into a wall at high speed? Oh, of course your doors would lock and not let you out. You could try breaking a window and jumping out of the window while cruising down the Interstate at 70 miles per hour, but your odds there aren’t much better than they are with the wall. In short, you’ll pay.
Meanwhile, someone is probing and testing the waters for taking down major websites by crippling DNS providers. How many devices would it take to tear down Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Ymail, etc.? How difficult would it be to time that so that it coincides with a major military assault? Suddenly the Internet would just… go down… for everyone… and when it came back up we’d learn Washington, D.C. has been nuked by the Chinese and Russians, and that a coalition of these forces has already landed in California. Now, I don’t think either of these countries have any interest attacking us. My point is how vulnerable we are, not how threatened we are.
I’ve been unable to find the actual news item–Google makes it impossible to find older news items, which is scary in its own right–but we’ve long been aware that the Chinese are actually capable of crippling 17 key defense systems. How technological are our military systems? Could NORAD even be effective without the Internet? Who knows? And though I don’t think there is any reason to believe that someone wants to be aggressive toward us–except North Korea, who is incapable of doing much harm anyway–the unfortunate truth remains that we are exceedingly vulnerable, and we have no idea how vulnerable we really are.
Some years ago while I was at work, suddenly everything in the city was down. No one had Internet, and no one’s phones worked. For about 45 minutes, the entire city was completely disconnected from the rest of the world. The problem was never identified, but it was terrifying. Suddenly, there was absolutely no contact with the outside world. For all I knew, I could get on the Interstate and would find myself blocked by military vehicles telling us that the entire area was under quarantine and no one was allowed to leave–I had just watched The Andromeda Strain, it’s worth mentioning.
Imagine the effect that a few hours of zero Internet access would have on the United States, and imagine what could happen in those hours.
This is why I sneer at people who insist that, even if Hillary does want war with Russia, it doesn’t matter because Russia can’t possibly do us any harm. It’s like someone sneering that it doesn’t matter if they lick a petri dish that allegedly contains salmonella, because they can look and see the dish is clear and empty. “I can’t see it, so there must be nothing there! It’s totally safe!”
No… Take the biochemist’s word for it–there’s salmonella on that dish.
And take my word for it: our technological infrastructure is far more vulnerable than you think.
That a group of people was able to take down tremendously popular sites like Netflix and Reddit should make that obvious. That there are multiple groups who could be the ones responsible for it should make it abundantly clear. Was the Dyn attack a very big deal? Not really. But it should have been a warning of what’s to come. If they can take down Netflix, then they can take down Facebook and Twitter. I don’t know how the American people would react if they had to go without social media for more than a few minutes–the insane reactions of people when Facebook goes down for a few minutes of maintenance should be an indicator–but it wouldn’t be good.
Worse yet, the Dyn attack was carried out by devices in the United States, by unwilling and unknowing ordinary people whose phones were weaponized. Maybe your phone. You know? There is every possibility that your phone–the one you’re probably using to read this–was part of the DDoS. How would you know? You wouldn’t. And you probably didn’t even think to look into it.
“The Internet of Things!” people proclaim, excited and eager.
But I can only shake my head. No people have ever been less ready to take on such an enormous vulnerability.
So I’ve decided that Processed Corn Pudding Goop isn’t going to have a plot. It’s essentially just the story of a millennial coming to terms with the absolute meaningless of existence, and making the step from that to the realization that the fact that existence is meaningless is, itself, meaningless. A plot wouldn’t fit the narrative. It’s a book for the nihilistic millennials who haven’t made that final step and who are lost in a sea of oblivion–“What is the point? There isn’t one. We die, and then that’s that.” “We live, we die, and there’s usually some bullshit between the two.” This is currently the project I’m working on while I wait to hear back from agents on Dancing in Hellfire, and from Playboy and a few other magazines about “Dead or Alive.”
The formatting got fucked; I apologize. It may fix itself when I publish, though. Even if you read part one, it may be worth reading this again, since I’ve done a bit of editing. This is a first draft that I’m sharing as I’m writing; typos and all that aren’t really important. Like at one point it says “…shaking in angry…” when it meant “shaking in anger.” I make that mistake a lot for some reason. C’est la vie.
Support your local businesses.
Everyone said that. And it made total sense, really. In fact, nothing made more sense as I put yet another can of Supergrocery brand Processed Corn Goop on the shelf, marked down to eighty-four cents a can–a savings of 1.2 cents an ounce, according to the obnoxiously red piece of cardboard paper I’d slid over the yellow one. Of course, it was all bullshit. There was no real savings going on here, since whatever poor sap bought this crap was basically paying eighty-four cents to shit out this hyperprocessed, homogenized goop that the FDA allowed to be called “food.” There was about as much food in it as there was human excrement. And even so, the price had been just eighty-two cents a can just two weeks ago, before management upped the price temporarily so that they could reduce it a bit and sell it back to the fat fucking idiots at a “discount.”
Most people wouldn’t buy the goop anyway, because they’d insist on buying Namebrand Goop, declaring to anyone who would listen that there really was a difference. And yeah, in some cases that’s true, but when Supergrocery Brand is a subsidiary of Neutral Brand that is a subsidiary of Namebrand and it’s all just Goop made in the same factory–yes, factory. This stuff isn’t produced on a farm or anywhere else you’d expect food to come from. But that’s the rule of American society, that rule that only heretics break: Namebrand is better than Supergrocery brand.
I wasn’t surprised when I watched the clan of fat white trailer trash come down the aisle, inexorably toward me like a ball rolling down a hill that no one could stop. Like an old cartoon of a cat chasing a mouse, the woman–if you can call her that, because she was more like a giant toad that some circusmaster had tricked into standing up and putting on a pair of sweat-stained sweatpants–had seen a sale on pudding further down the aisle. She wouldn’t have been trailer trash without towing three kids behind her–and I felt bad for them, but there was nothing to be done.
She glared so hatefully at me as she pushed her basket–a basket that might as well have been called a Repository For Corn Syrup–past me and my ladder, as though I was in her way, or as though I was the enemy in my stupid red vest and nametag. Like I had betrayed her by not calling her and telling her the pudding was on sale. And I realized–that’s probably how she felt. That was her pudding.
Her kids meekly passed by, and one of them even said “Excuse me.”
I pretended to move cans of Processed Corn Goop around while I watched the woman from the corner of my eye, and it was actually kind of cute, once she reached the pudding, how she acted like she hadn’t been running to get there before anyone else could. Well, no, she wasn’t running, not really. She was too fat to run. She’d have keeled over and died right there in the aisle if she’d tried.
It’s why all employees are trained to perform CPR.
For when fat asses get over-excited about the 3% discount on Processed Corn Pudding Goop.
It wasn’t even hard to figure out how this had happened. Of course, no one is talking about in the open, and no one is going to. It’s that elephant in the room, that open secret that everyone knows but is too afraid to say, and that’s why there will never be a direct study on it. In fact, the only graph you can find about it simply shows the increase in how much corn has been grown in the country over the past century. The increase is alarming, but it doesn’t suggest, by itself, that the corn is more present in foods.
cornEverything contains high fructose corn syrup. It’s so common that we’ve now started stamping the outliers with things like “Contains Real Sugar!” This, of course, leaves people like me asking “As opposed to what? Fake sugar?”
As opposed to fake sugar.
Aka, corn syrup.
And it’s everywhere. Fast food places load their foods with corn syrup, even things like hamburgers, in order to make them more addictive. That chocolate syrup, that can of Ravioli Pasta in Tomato Sauce Goop–it’s all corn syrup, with corn probably listed somewhere in the first five ingredients.
And what do you know. Diabetes has increased proportionally. Imagine that.diabetes
Who would ever have guessed.
Of course, I don’t really blame the sack of puss and corn syrup at the end of the aisle, hungrily licking her lips as she estimates how many little containers of Processed Corn Pudding Goop she can suck down in twelve seconds, because she wasn’t really the one who put the Mom & Pop stores out of business–that happened when she was a teenager, and it was her parents who did it, because they couldn’t resist the temptation of paying eight-four cents for a can of Processed Corn Goop instead of a dollar and seven cents for an ear of actual fucking corn. And then they’d have to shuck it themselves, boil it, cook it, and ugh.
So much trouble.
So much easier to just save money and buy Processed Corn Goop.
I closed my eyes and silently groaned. That nasally, whiny voice could only have been my supervisor, standing on the ground behind me in his red vest lined with a white stripe, with a stupid fucking black star by his name and the words “Assistant Supervisor” under his name. I didn’t have to look at his balding head and gigantic nose, or that stupid Hitler mustache that he was so fond of–really, if you watch him sometime, you’ll see him reaching up and caressing it every few minutes.
Steve is the kind of guy who probably spends a few minutes in front of the mirror every morning reminding himself that he’s the champion of the world. He probably does that despite the fact that his wife left his impotent ass for a guy who was half his age when her uncle died and left her enough money that she could live out the rest of her days without being married to a cretin that weighed seventeen pounds and spent his college years on the Quiz Bowl team instead of getting laid. What happened, Steve? Did getting that last question in the finals wrong fuck your life up that bad? Was your entire future really riding on that one question? Because now you’re a sad, pathetic, forty-nine year old man with a combover and Hitler ‘stache, wearing a gay ass red vest with a black star on your nametag, haunted by the word Assistant Supervisor because you just can’t kiss up to Anthony’s ass hard enough or fast enough to outrank the new blonde with a huge rack.
And I’m just curious when things went wrong.
“Eric,” Steve said, this time more firmly.
“What, Steve?” I asked, but I still didn’t bother to look at him. I was too fascinated by the scene unfolding with the pile of diabetes at the end of the aisle and her daughter saying that she didn’t like butterscotch and that she wanted vanilla. What a dilemma, especially since the Repository For Corn Syrup was being paid for with food stamps that were, according to the law, intended to buy food for the children. But was it really for the children if she got the flavors that she liked, and not the flavors the kids liked?
How about an apple?
“I asked you yesterday to take the boxes from Storage Room A–the ones stacked near the door–and move them to Storage Room C so that we can bring a new shipment of–”
I asked you yesterday.
That’s why Steve had to remind himself that he was a champion every morning.
Because he wasn’t a champion.
Champions don’t ask their employees to do things, Steve. It’s not just the blonde’s huge rack that Anthony likes looking at that caused you to become her assistant, and not the other way around. It’s because people listen to Jillian. I mean, yeah, people listen to Jillian because she’s a hot blonde with huge tits, but that’s not the point. One way or another, people do the things that she asks them to do, so it doesn’t matter that she’s asking rather than telling. But you, Steve, with your combover and Hitler mustache–you have to command. And you don’t. You’re a pitiful sheep in a world ruled by lions, and the only reason you’re an assistant supervisor is that they’ve taken pity on you.
Praise your masters, Steve.
Then lick their boots.
Watching Steve suck up to Jillian is some of the best entertainment we get. We take bets on how long Steve has left before he’s fired, but it’s just a matter of time before he’s walking out the door for the final time, banned from the premises as long as Jillian works here, because Steve isn’t the kind of guy that can look at a girl’s bouncing tits without it being creepy. Some people can do that. Some guys can openly check out the goods–the real goods, not the Processed Corn Goop–and grin at the girl without her being offended–it’s just human nature, and some guys can pull it off.
Steve would be wise to grow a goatee to go with his Hitler stache. That way, something will catch his drool, and he won’t have to worry about it sliding down his chin and into the floor as he stares hungrily–almost exactly like Mrs. Diabetes down there looking over the Processed Corn Pudding Goop–at Jillian’s breasts.
“Clean up on Aisle 7. Steve was staring at Jillian’s tits again.”
“…then I’m afraid I’m going to have to file a formal reprimand,” Steve finished.
The formal reprimand.
Paperwork acknowledging that Steve came and interrupted me while I was trying to do my goddamned job, put his hands on his hips, narrowed his eyes, and told me he was disappointed in me.
Take it back, Steve!
“What?” I asked.
Steve scoffed, but it wasn’t a true scoff. It was the Wannabe Supervisor’s Scoff. It was that thing people do when they’re frustrated because their entire life is a joke and they themselves are a joke, and everything about their life sucks, and everyone knows it, but no one calls them out on it because we’re a society of civilized people. After all, we don’t even eat that uncouth, uncivilized corn. No, we eat Processed Corn Goop, by God! And so we serve up synthetic respect with about as much authentic admiration in it as there is real food in the Processed Corn Goop. Fake food, fake respect. Hell, fake faces, fake tits, fake tans, fake clothes, fake money.
“I said that if those boxes are still there when the shipment arrives, then I’ll have to file a formal reprimand!”
So there was no need for me to move the boxes before now, right? So why did I have to do it yesterday? And with all the effort you’ve spent bitching about the boxes, wouldn’t it have been faster for you to move the damned things?
“How about you move the boxes, Steve?” I asked.
Most people wouldn’t dare mouth off to a supervisor an assistant supervisor like that, but this was Steve. Mr. Combover. Mr. Hitler Mustache. Mr. Some Guy Half My Age is Fucking My Ex-Wife. This was Assistant Supervisor I’m a Champion Steve.
“I–ech–” Steve stuttered out, his typical response. He rolled his eyes and shook his head, making weird noises as he tried to process the reality that he wasn’t even worthy of Fake Respect from the people who stocked Fake Food in a Fake Society. “I asked you to do it.”
“I’m busy, Steve.”
Your entire life is a lie, Steve.
“What time is the shipment coming?” I asked. I’m not a bad person. I do feel bad for Steve. It’s not really his fault that he’s Mr. Combover.
After giving me the info, I assured Steve that I’d move the boxes by then. So Steve turned and started to walk away, but decided to mouth off a bit himself. “You’d better, otherwise I’ll have to do a formal reprimand,” he threatened again, as though that had any sway at all. That’s what’s funny about people like Fake Steve and our Fake Respect. If we don’t show that Fake Respect, and if we don’t show Fake Fear for the Fake Reprimand, then the entire system crumbles–if we don’t Fake Kneel to the Fake Threat and the Fake Consequences, then Fake Steve can’t do anything. His threat was every bit as fake as the Processed Corn Pudding Goop.
What do you do when you wake up on a mattress at eleven in the morning, to banging on your apartment front door, to the landlord outside wanting to find out why there were men coming and going from your place at all hours of the night? When you groggily look at her naked body beneath the sheet and wonder briefly why the two of you have never bothered to actually put the sheet on the bed, why you lay down on the bare mattress?
Because why bother to?
It’s that moment, with the landlord knocking at the door–and you know it’s the landlord, because it wouldn’t be anyone else–scratching the back of your neck and catching a glimpse of your naked body in the nicotine-coated mirror above the desk–when you see out of the window everyone going about their lives, running continually in circles, hamsters on a wheel.
Birth. School. Marriage. Kids. Death.
Chasing fake things in a fake society, sustaining ourselves on fake food purchased with fake money, giving fake respect to fake supervisors because of fake fear about a fake reprimand. Too many of these fake reprimands and we’ll lose our fake job putting fake food on a shelf, lose our ability to earn fake money to buy that fake food and pay our fake rent and fake taxes to a fake government that oversees a fake society and implements a fake morality to govern our fake lives.
Hamsters on a wheel. Birth, school, marriage, kids, death.
Some people say that I have an attitude problem. I say that I understand why it looks that way to them, but what I really have is a reality problem. I’ve seen through the bullshit. All these fake human constructs that we bow to, not out of wisdom or insight or progress, but simply out of habit and tradition. We were birthed on the hamster wheel and we’ll run our lives on the hamster wheel because we’ve been on it since birth, and it never even occurred to us that the hamster wheel was bullshit.
Real text messages from fake friends, that blurry line between what is actually real and what is total fiction. Fake friends born not out of love and compassion but out of circumstance–they were tolerable people that happened to be around me, and vice versa. “Your place this weekend?” the fake friend asked, wanting to watch “the game” somewhere and being too cheap to go and pay fake money at a bar for the beer that he uses to forget how much it sucks to waste his real life running on a fake hamster wheel, and too cheap to pay a fake bill for cable television–that wretched box of fake fictions that people escape into from their fake lives in a real universe.
An average child watches 1,480 minutes of television a week. That’s a figure that would horrify a real person. 24.6 hours of television every week–about 3.5 hours a day. Just sitting on their fat asses eating fake food and watching fake realities unfold. In that same year, the child will watch more than 16,000 thirty second commercials advertising fake shit for their fake parents to buy with fake money.
Why are their parents fake? Because the average person spends 5 hours and eleven minutes a day watching television.
Nothing has been more destructive to our species than television.
So now 67% of American families sit around–a stepdad or stepmom, since the divorce rate is so high, and a real parent, 2.5 kids–not at a dinner table, but on a sofa, staring at the fake realities glowing at them and eating fake food that their fake parents bought with fake money working at a fake job. I’ve never felt so patriotic.
Lana is even crazier than I am, though, and it’s thanks to her that I see all this fake bullshit for what it is.
She’s stunningly gorgeous, and sexy beyond what you can imagine since you’ve never seen anyone like her. And that was the problem. She’s part of those statistics, too, and Fake Dad had a hard time keeping his hands to himself. When she told Fake Mom, Fake Mom didn’t believe her, and even when she showed Fake Mom the bruises, she simply got grounded and was accused of seducing Fake Dad. So she ran away.
I would point out that even as a fifteen year old, Lana was sexy and gorgeous, but that would violate society’s fake morals–the same ideas that led to fake laws that would have prosecuted Fake Dad if Fake Mom had been able to tell the difference between real and fake. But a fifteen year old beautiful and sexy girl running away didn’t have an easy time of it, and she was a hooker on the streets within six months, addicted to heroin and HIV Positive. Turns out there’s no shortage of Fake Dads out there looking to fuck a fifteen year old girl away from the watchful eyes of the fake laws of a fake society.
When I met her, she was twenty years old, a year younger than myself, and propositioned me as I walked back from a night of drinking beer with fake friends and watching a fake sporting event. She was too damned sexy and too damned beautiful, so I accepted–then I visited her again the next night, and the next, and the next. Her pimp started getting irritated–apparently that industry doesn’t care much for “repeat customers”–and beat the hell out of her.
So I put a real gun to his head, pulled the real trigger, and ended his fake life.
The cops made a token effort to look into it, but a pimp and drug dealer shot and killed in a city filled with drugs and prostitutes? Hell, I did them a favor. That’s one less drug dealer and pimp on the streets. They just weren’t allowed to say it. Just like I’m not allowed to tell Steve that his life is a lie and he should kill himself. So they pretended to look into it, but even as Lana–known to be one of his girls–moved into my apartment, they didn’t even bother to come and question me. Fake rules governing a fake society. Don’t show them fake respect, and the whole thing comes apart.
The really difficult part came in later, when Lana made it clear that she intended to become a… “freelancer,” and that she had no intention of finding another line of work. She had real feelings for me, and we had a real relationship–her points about it all was that it shouldn’t matter if she had fake sex with other people. I really wasn’t ready then to accept that, but I cared too much about her to let her go, so I fake accepted it.
And at some point I just stopped caring about that. What did it matter? What did any of it matter?
“Why do you care if other guys pay to fuck me?”
That’s the question that will turn your entire world upside down if you try to come up with a real answer to it. It’s impossible to answer in the first place without laying some kind of claim on the girl, without suggesting that her pussy is yours, and that’s never a good thing to say in a relationship. Because no–her pussy is hers. And trying to go beyond that to come up with any answer at all when tear away delusions from your worldview one by one, until you’re a frightened little child crying in the corner, trying to figure out what, exactly, is real.
I ignored the banging on the door, because I knew it wouldn’t last long. Captain Stick in the Ass would get bored and waddle his fat ass back down the stairs. There wouldn’t have been a problem anyway, if it hadn’t been for the people who lived below. They were an elderly couple–well, sixty or so.
The man was a sack of fat ass–Yes, everyone is fat. I don’t know very many people who aren’t fat, in fact. Anyway, he was actually extremely fat, diabetic (which I knew because it was a topic that came up within the first fifteen seconds of talking to him), and had no idea how to speak at a proper volume. Whether you were a hundred yards away or right in his face, he was the loudest motherfucker I’ve ever met. I’ve actually met his son, and his son was a pretty cool guy who offered up the excuse that his dad had changed drastically “after he ran himself over.”
I’m sorry–come again?
Ran himself over.
He was working on his truck one day and had it jacked up, but was on a hill apparently and had done nothing to keep it from rolling. When paramedics arrived on the scene, he had been dead for 7 minutes. They managed to resuscitate him, and he recovered pretty well, but the working theory is that 7 minutes without any air going to his brain left him obnoxious as fuck. He didn’t become stupid or helpless or anything–just tremendously annoying.
His wife wasn’t any better, and she was probably fatter than he was, although shorter and with a better mustache. Neither of them worked, because they were both on disability. He was on disability because he’d been run over and never really recovered physically–which I would believe, but I don’t think he tried to recover. Like, he’s exactly the kind of diabetic people think of when they think of Adult Onset Diabetes. For years, he ate breakfast at a popular fast food place every single day, ballooning the entire time, and was finally diagnosed with diabetes. Did he stop the breakfast?
No. He simply started injecting insulin or whatever people like him do, and he continued to plop his fat fucking ass down and eat greasy fast food breakfast every single day. A year later, he had a heart attack, and the doctor finally convinced him to stop eating fast food. It didn’t really change anything, because he just had his wife start cooking the same sausage and bacon instead of ordering it, but… Baby steps, I guess.
The man was fully convinced that it was the doctors’ responsibility to simply cure him, and that he shouldn’t have to change his diet or start exercising. “That’s what I’m paying them for,” he would say. “To cure me. Why am I paying them to cure me, if what I have to do is cure myself?” He rejected it completely–the doctors were supposed to cure him and accommodate his lifestyle, diet, and laziness. Of course, he wasn’t paying the doctors anyway. The government was.
His wife and her mustache had spent about two years fighting with the government so that she could retire early on disability or something like that, and they were finally successful, which resulted in her receiving a check for something like sixteen thousand dollars for doing nothing except being lazy, fat, and ignorant, and randomly deciding one day that she just didn’t want to work anymore. Presumably, someone somewhere in the government shrugged and wrote her a fat fucking check to go into her fat fucking pocket so that she could support her husband’s addiction to fast food Processed Corn Sausage Goop.
They were deeply unhappy and deeply miserable, which meant, of course, that they had to make sure everyone else was miserable. That was something I learned very quickly after Lana shacked up with me. I hadn’t noticed it before, but… Everyone was miserable. The random people I passed on the street every single day—they were screaming on the inside, raging, thrashing, a meek soul raking its nails at the inner recesses of the mind where it was trapped. Where it was doomed to remain trapped, because we’d long since forgotten it was there.
We’re so terrified of ourselves, reality, the universe—whatever you want to call it. Existence. We quiver in fear and shake our heads, crying fetal in the floor in a panicked state of bewilderment, refusing to accept everything. So we turn our devotion to illusions, to things that are fake. We invent systems—economic, religious, political—and we devote ourselves to those, giving them significance and dedicating our lives to them in one form or another, and we become so attached to them that we allow ourselves to forget that they are fictions we created because we couldn’t bear to look reality in the face, because we’re cowards sitting in the dark trailer with the curtains drawn, aghast at the idea of looking outside because we fear we might see the face of the devil, and even though we know that we will see no such thing, we just sit there anyway.
Piles of processed corn pudding goop.
Some part of us always senses that something is wrong, though. How can we not? It requires us to maintain a state of constant cognitive dissonance, and if it slips for even a moment, there it is—bam!—oblivion, staring back at us. We know what’s on the other side of the illusion. We just don’t talk about it.
Instead we yell and scream at the fat, mustached wife who tells us that we can’t eat fast food for breakfast any longer. Instead, she yells at us for stupid shit that even she doesn’t really care about. Together, we yell at the rest of the world. We have to make sure the world is as miserable as we are, because otherwise we’ll find ourselves sitting there in isolation as laughter rings out in the darkness, shining like a light onto our roach-like lives and sending us scurrying for shadows that have been banished by the neighbor’s joviality.
Heading in unison toward the cliff with nothing but cold emptiness and eternal sleep awaiting us at the bottom, dead and too dead to even know we’re dead, like zombies as we stare up at the glowing box that beams directly to us temporary escapes from our meaningless lives as the conveyor belt of time carries us inexorably toward non-existence.
Landing at the bottom, another dead pile of processed corn pudding goop.
Clean up in aisle 7.
I’m every bit as miserable as everyone else—miserable and misanthropic. The only real difference is that I’m keenly aware of the misery that coats my soul, shiny, like Steve’s bald spot—reflecting everything outward and letting nothing true, least of all existence and life. I can’t even say that it’s really advantageous. We’re all miserable. What have I gained by accepting that?
Nothing, really. Even if we all could accept the empty desolation that is existence, it wouldn’t mean a thing for anyone. There is no conceivable change that could make things better; we’ll all continue to be miserable, simply conscious of it. And that’s when it hits you. Waking up at eleven in the morning in a ramshackle apartment, lying on a mattress that sits on the floor and that no one bothered to even cover with a sheet as some stupid dick bangs on the door, that’s when the realization hits you.
This is hell.
We live in hell.
And years and decades of life in hell has made everyone insane. They have to escape into the television sitcoms and care about them, because otherwise they have to care about hell. They have to focus on ridiculous human fictions like bank accounts and picket fences, because otherwise they have to care about hell. That’s the choice we’re given. Invisibly and subtly, because no one ever sits down to say it, but maybe they should.
“You can choose between hell or illusions.”
Maybe I’m the insane one for choosing hell.
Steve managed to wait an entire seven minutes before coming to bother me. It was just a perfect example of his insanity. Steve knew that he wanted to stand by the employee entrance, arms crossed, ready to scream and berate me as soon as I appeared. He wouldn’t do that, though—no, he had to deny himself. He had to appear civilized, this psychotic feces-flinging ape. His blood boiled, his stupid Hitler mustache quivered with rage, his face turned beet red, and his combover fell as he sat tapping his fingers on his “desk” waiting on my arrival, each second passing adding to his anger and hostility. But I wasn’t the one that Steve was angry at, not really. I was just the catalyst. Steve was angry at life, furious that he couldn’t plant himself beside the door and greet me with a string of profanities and insults.
Steve wanted corn, but there was only processed corn pudding goop.
“I need to see you in my office,” Steve said flatly to me as I pretended to be working. I was okay with that. Steve pretended to have authority, and I played along with that—it was my own dish of processed corn pudding goop. It seemed to me that the least Steve could do was play along when I pretended to be working. Speaking without any tone in his voice was what Steve understood to be “commanding,” but I’d bet all the real corn in the world that, if my back hadn’t been turned, I’d have seen that Steve’s eyes were cast down to the floor as he walked past, too weak to actually stop and speak.
I was in no hurry. Steve wasn’t going anywhere—in any sense. That’s the most generous thing that could be said of a middle aged fat man with a combover who worked as an assistant supervisor at a grocery store. “The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older, shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.” Steve’s conveyor belt just kept turning, and he seemed almost unaware of it. Maybe he was squeezing his eyes shut, convinced that this moment was the only moment, and therefore infinite.
So I ensured that this moment—which I’d have described as “me not sitting and being blasted by the hideous soup of gelatin, high fructose corn syrup, and bacteria that roiled in the hurricane of Steve’s mouth as his tongue lashed around frantically to skirt the border between the world of corn and the world of processed corn pudding goop, and while little devils bound his mind with chains and repeated hypnotically that he had to be civilized”—lasted as long as possible, and just stood there for a few minutes, anticipating the circus of illusions and mutual delusion that awaited me.
I stopped at a drink machine and inserted three worthless coins—fake money to buy a fake drink that I fake wanted. I wasn’t thirsty, and wouldn’t drink that liquid diabetes even if I had been, but I did enjoy the fact that Steve could see me from his office as I slowly bought it. Three quarters made of mostly copper and nickel—utterly worthless. Well, that wasn’t true. It was worth two pennies. Well, strictly speaking it was actually worth four pennies, because a penny itself wasn’t actually worth one cent, but a half of a cent. That was the game, of course—to give us money that was worth as little as possible measured in its own denominations. A twenty-five cent coin was worth two cents.
I must have fallen asleep, because, just moments before, I was exhausted and falling into the oblivion. The weariness, as extreme as it was mere second ago, was nothing compared to the pain. It’s difficult, in this dreamy state, attempting to piece together the events that led me to fall asleep. It’s not like I rested on the bed and closed my eyes—nothing of the sort. I was driving—
Did I fall asleep while driving?
Willing myself to wake has no effect, though. If I’m asleep at the wheel, then I’m in trouble. That doesn’t seem right, however. I’ve never fallen asleep while driving—and it was broad daylight. I was returning to work after my lunch break—some excellent sushi, a glass of iced tea, then the customary after-meal cigarette. I remember that. I remember also getting into my car, cranking it, and beginning the drive back to the office.
But when did I fall asleep?
I turned right and out onto the highway. Then my phone rang, and I saw the time. I was late. Only by a few minutes, but that wouldn’t matter to the boss; late was late. That really wasn’t good, because I’d been late to work twice this week already—things are chaotic for me at home. My oldest daughter is in a rebellious phase and has been staying out well past her curfew with her friends, then refuses to wake for school the next day; making sure she goes to school is becoming an enormous pain in the ass.
I approached an intersection, didn’t I? The timing couldn’t have been worse. A lot of times when lights turn yellow, the driver has plenty of time to slow down and stop. Sometimes, though, the light turns yellow at that worst possible moment, when the only options are to either slam on the brakes like a maniac or floor it and hope to make it through before it turns to red. I hate those moments—and they always happen when I don’t need them to. And sure enough, this was one of those. I made a split-second decision and went for it. The traffic behind me was too close for mashing the brakes; doing so would probably have caused a wreck—isn’t that just terrific?
There was a wreck anyway, though. But I didn’t see it or what caused it. I was passing through the intersection trying to catch the light when it happened. There was a lot of noise—very, very close noise—which sounded an awful lot like a bomb exploding within just a few feet of me. Horns blared like obnoxious seagulls—Yes, people, that’s really helpful, thank you—and tires screeched like eagles diving in for a kill.
And then there was a lot of pain. One of these idiots hadn’t been paying attention to what they were doing and hitme. I wish I’d seen what idiot started the chain of reactions. I wish I’d seen what idiot swerved or slammed on his brakes or was texting and didn’t see it was red or didn’t subject his vehicle to regular maintenance so his brakes had gone out or who was just in too much of a hurry to wait for the red light and decided to just try to barrel on through the intersection and hope for the best.
I must be unconscious, then.
I know what you’re thinking: How do you know you’re not dead?
I’m absolutely certain that I’m not dead. No, it’s not denial. No, I’m not going to become a ghost because of my inability to realize that I’ve died. I know I’m not dead, because, unlike many of the people with whom I share the planet, I have no delusion that I am immortal. That is” I don’t believe in souls or gods or afterlifes or any of those other mad things that human beings have invented so that they could convince themselves that they will live forever.
I mean, after more than 7,000 years of civilization, I’d expect that there would be at least one indication that any of those things existed if they existed. The idea that there is a soul, an afterlife, and a god has struck me as remarkably delusional ever since I first entered junior high and started giving the matter serious thought. It has, since that time, been obvious to me that the soul is something that we humans invented and dreamed up so that we could convince ourselves that death wasn’t the end of the road and, to justify our belief in that soul, we had to invent gods and heavens and hells and reincarnations and all the other mad things.
For many, many years have I been an atheist. Please feel free to draw about me from that statement whatever generalizations you like—I promise you that nothing you assume about me will be something I’ve never heard before. Sure: I eat babies. Sure: I worship the Devil. Sure: I still believe in Hell. Sure: I’m mat at Yahweh. Sure: I’m mad at Allah. Sure: I worship Zeus. Sure: I hate Jesus. Sure: I’m evil. Sure: I hate goodness. Sure: I hate Christians. Sure: I’m bitter. Sure: I hate everyone. Sure: I’m amoral. Sure: I have orgies with both men and women—especially men dressed as women and hermaphrodites!!! Yes, sir!—while covered with the blood of virgins I have sacrificed on stone altars at noon on the Equinox to appease the almighty Ra. I mean, don’t all atheists?
At any rate, the fact remains that I am unequivocally not dead,because I still think, and the ability to think—to dream, as I do now—is indisputable proof that I am still alive. If I was dead, then my brain would be dead and unable to dream. Why don’t I open my eyes, then, and prove to you that I am dreaming—
I open my eyes. I do not see my steering wheel, of course, or the interior of my car. I see clouds; I am on a cloud.
This… might be bad.
A brilliant flash of light forces me to close my eyes again. Jesus Christ, that’s bright.
The most well-known and easily recognized Pokemon of the past few decades is known as Pikachu, and Pikachu’s name comes from the detonation of atomic bombs. Right as an atomic bomb is detonated, just before the explosion en sincera begins, there is an extraordinary flash of light. This flash of light is called a “pika.” The brilliant light that just forced me to close my eyes makes both Pikachu and his namesake event—the pikadon of nuclear bombs—look like 30 watt lightbulbs.
When I open my eyes, they sting and water. The light remains and still shines, ahead of me by about ten feet. I don’t look at it—I’d probably go blind if I tried. My eyes may even catch fire, who knows? It’s fucking bright. Instead, I look far to the left—and there stands what you would unmistakably and instantly recognize as—
A goddamned angel. And it isn’t just one angel, no. There are dozens of the winged things, some of them flapping their wings—I briefly wonder whether that means they have four shoulder joints (Since every animal on Earth has wingsattached at shoulder joints, any creature with wings will either not have arms or will have four shoulder joints)—against the endless azure backdrop over the sea of ivory. Some are far in the distance, but some are very close. Three of them stand within feet of me, and their gazes fall onto me. They’re squinting because of the light, too. Apparently sunglasses are not standard attire for angels. I think it’s time to call for a new President of the Angel’s Union.
“What the—is that the sun? What, have you got a giant magnifying glass on me or something?” I ask them irritably as I hold up my left hand in the direction of the glowing light in a vain attempt to shield my eyes from it.
The angel furthest to the right chuckles. Angels with a sense of humor—great. Makes perfect sense. Now I know I’m dreaming. Someone roofied me. That’s it—that’s why the pain went away suddenly. It wasn’t because I fell asleep; it was because some wonderful paramedic injected me with a healthy dose of morphine, and this is just an opiate dream—like Samuel Coleridge’s inspiration for”Kubla Khan.”
That also nicely explains why the angel is smiling. Everyone smiles in an opiate dream.
“You got a dimmer switch or something around here?” I ask.”That—” I jerk my thumb in the direction of the light as I say this—”is obnoxious. You need to pull the plug on that or someone’s going to be blinded and have a nice lawsuit against Heaven.”
I guess the angels are mute. Or maybe they’re just stupid. Hell, who knows—they’re fucking angels, right? Anyway, he—I assume it’s a “he,”thanks to the programming of Christian mythology, but the angels are all androgynous—just chuckles at me again, like a fucking re-re—like Barney Fife, really, just smiling and nodding—or like Elmer Fudd if he’d ever managed to catch the “Wascally Wabbit.” Can you imagine the stupid grin on his face?
“I am sorry that you find the Light of God to be… ‘obnoxious,’ my child,” says a… I don’t know how to describe it. God help me; it’s “booming,” of course—just as one would expect the “voice of God” to be in the opiate dream of someone raised as a Catholic until he came to good sense in junior high—and it was… just read the Book of Daniel or something if you want an idea of what the voice sounded like.
“The “Light of God,'” I repeat, with obvious incredulity. “I suppose ‘Light of God’ is a hallucinatory euphemism for ‘high on morphine, lying on my back, and staring up at a fluorescent bulb above my head in a hospital with one half-opened, cockeye eye?’ I’m probably drooling on myself, too. Ugh—I hope that’s the worst bodily fluid I’ve leaked onto myself.”
“You are not high; you are not sleeping. Your body is no longer leaking anything. Your body is in a hospital, and you… You are dead,” the voice booms majestically.
“Well, don’t beat around the bush.”
It’s really difficult to have a conversation with “someone” without even looking in their direction, but I can’t turn to stare at the light. I know I’m in a hospital bed, staring up at a light, on lots of pain killers, and in my dreamy stupor, I don’t have the sense to blink whatever eye is half-open and staring at the light. If I turn to face the light in this dream, the eye that is open in my actual body will probably focus on the light and burn out my retinas. No, thank you—I’ll pass on that. However, I’m learning how difficult it really is to fight the impulse to look in the direction of someone I’m talking to.
“As much as I believe you, I’m going to ignore you… and focus my imagination on a beautiful, naked woman, okay? So… don’t be upset when you disappear and she appears to take your place. It’s nothing personal, but as long as I’m having a lucid dream, I’m going to do it right, you know what I mean?”
“This is not a dream,”the light boomed majestically. How else would a light claiming to be “God” speak?
I shrugged. “One way or another, it is a dream. I’m either on heavy drugs and dreaming or I’m dying and these are my last thoughts.”
“Your last thoughts?”
“Yes, my last thoughts.” What, am I talking to a child? “If I’m dying, then my subconscious doesn’t know I’m dying. Dying is probably identical to falling asleep for the brain. If I’m dying, then my brain triggered this dream, thinking itself to be asleep—it may even be aware that it’s dying; I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter, because it triggered this dream either way.”
“Do go on.”
“Well, we completely lose track of time in our dreams, don’t we? Sometimes we dream and we wake up and say, ‘Wow! That dream lasted an hour!’ In reality, though, the dream was a flash, probably no longer than a minute or two. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to fathom that as the brain dies, its final dream seems to last an eternity to the dreamer. No doubt when Christians die, their final dream is of what they imagine Heaven to be like, reuniting with their loved ones, their dog that died in the fifth grade who their parents said had ‘run away.’ To them, though, the passage of time, just like in all dreams, is distorted. Just a few seconds passes on Earth during this final dream, but the dreamer isn’t aware of that. To the dreamer, it lasts forever. Then the dreamer slowly stops dreaming, having finally died, and is dead and thus isn’t aware that they stopped dreaming.”
“Interesting theory, my child, but you are incorrect. You are dead, and you stand before me now to be judged.”
“I suppose you intend to recount all the works and deeds of my life? Other than visions of the afterlife—which, as I just explained, are dreams in every sense—those who have near-death experiences consistently report their ‘lives flashing before their eyes.’That only tells me I’m right, that I am dreaming. You say I’m dead; I am not dead, because I still think. I am dying, and this is my final dream. And now—my life shall flash before my eyes.”
“Then why are you here, my child? Where is the beautiful, naked woman? Why am I here? Have you not proclaimed for years and years, with foolish pride, ‘I am an atheist! I am an Atheist!'”
I’m stumped. That’s a damned fine point. I am an atheist. Why am I having a religious dream? I know why.
I remember once, decades ago, when I was in the… fourth grade, I believe. I was still a firm believer in the Christian mythology in those days. A true believer, I was. I had doubts, though, and—as I was beginning to hit puberty—I had unclean thoughts. I constantly had “unclean” thoughts. In later life, I reflected on what a horrible concept it truly is to tell children they are sinful and unclean, essentially, because they hit puberty. I was ashamed, and I asked a dear friend of mine, my best friend who was also a firm believer, to try to “cast out” the demons in me. I was firmly convinced that I had demons inside me and that I needed an exorcism. I would never have taken this to the priest or my parents, but I practically begged my friend to stand before me and loudly state with all his belief backing him, “Get behind me, Satan!”
He wouldn’t do it. I don’t blame him, in retrospect. What can be said of any belief system that can so brainwash a person that they truly believe that their body is inhabited by demons, simply because they hit puberty and were starting to feel a little randy? Hearing about spiritual warfare and the devil walking the Earth, corrupting mankind, and hearing about demons whispering into our ears constantly… What a wretched thing.
That indoctrination stayed in the back of my mind for years. I became an atheist at the age of 14, but I was 39 years old before I was completely rid of the fear that nagged in the back of my mind: …what if I’m wrong? It wasn’t the “Voice of God” trying to keep me in his flock; it was the result of being brainwashed from the age of 2 to fear a vengeful, unforgiving, omnipotent, and omniscient father figure who loved unconditionally—but had a few conditions.
Damn any belief system that does that to a human being. Damn the parents who instill that fear into their children before the children have even learned to think. Damn the priests and rabbis and preachers who have little kids all over the world convinced that an omniscient and omnipresent anti-god known as Satan is out there trying to win them over. Damn the scourges that are Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Damn any belief system that requires fear.
“Indoctrination,” I answer. It’s simple, and it’s true. I’m here because of that nagging fear that I thought I was rid of. My brain does know I’m dying, then, and that nagging fear won. That nagging fear that I might be wrong defeated all the evidence, all the logic, all the knowledge, all the wisdom, and all the common sense. That one fear, as my body started to die, defeated 7,000 years of civilization and methodical proofs that the fear is unfounded. Only brainwash can do that; only evil indoctrination can do that.
“You’re not as concerned as you should be.”
“I’m dying, quite obviously. It won’t matter to me very soon.”
“My child, my child… I fearthat is where you are wrong. As you said,… ‘To the dreamer, it lasts forever…'”
Whirlwinds of thoughts and realizations spin through my mind. I know exactly what that means. If the fear won, then… If my brain was convinced on its most basic level that I was wrong and that Christianity is right, then… If I dream that Christianity is right, then atheists… If I’m dreaming, and “to the dreamer, it lasts forever,” then…
“I’m going to Hell,” I whisper. There’s no fear in my voice; there’s no resignation to my fate in my tone. There’s only the cold, logical realization. No emotions seeped in, just like no emotions seeped into my decision regarding atheism. I didn’t let that fear—that stupid emotion that has now defeated me—into my decision. I couldn’t let go of that fear, though. I thought I did, though… It apparently remained on some level. And now that fear will win.
My brain’s doubt has convinced itself that I am wrong, and because of that, my brain is going to dream that I’m going to Hell. And the dream will seem to last forever, even though it will only last seconds on Earth. My brain is going to send me to Hell and torture me because of that goddamned religious indoctrination.
“Not because of religious indoctrination,” said what I might as well go ahead and call Yahweh. It doesn’t matter at this point. It doesn’t matter whether—
It doesn’t matter whether I was right or wrong. It doesn’t matter where there is or is not a god. It only matters what I believe on a very basic, fundamental, and subconscious level. On that level, I was afraid that I was wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I am standing before Yahweh and being sentenced to an eternity in hell or whether I’m simply dying and dreaming that I am standing before Yahweh and being sentenced to an eternity in hell. The result is the same.
What if that fear had been gone? What if I’d let go of that fear completely? Would I be dreaming of something else—perhaps the beautiful woman? Would I dream of being reincarnated if I was a Hindu? Would I dream of being greeted by Allah if I was a Muslim? Our beliefs determine our afterlife because our afterlife is a dream created by our brains based upon our beliefs.
Since I, deep down inside, believed I was wrong,but on shallower levels was an atheist who had cast off Christianity, I stand before Yahweh being sentenced to hell… If I did not have that fear but was an atheist, I would dream something non-religious. If I had that fear but had cast off Islam, I would stand before Allah being sentenced to hell or whatever the Muslims call it.
How can I know? Is Yahweh real?! Is this a dream? Am I going to hell or am I dreaming that I am going to hell? Is this the afterlife or is this a dream of what the religious indoctrination I experienced as a child led me to once believe the afterlife would be like?
Or am I lying in a hospital bed on my back, high on morphine, and staring up at a bright fluorescent light with one half-open, cock-eyed eye?