Tag Archive | poverty

That Summer in Arkansas

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

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

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

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

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

They almost never did.

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

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

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

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

And you know what? I never did hurt myself.

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

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

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

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

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

And Britt was nowhere in sight.

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

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

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

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

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

I was eight years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was horrible.

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

And one night I could no longer take it.

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

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

“Everett, I can’t breathe…”

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

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

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

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

I pulled two sharp knives from the kitchen drawer.

“Mom, I’ve got a knife!” I screamed.

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

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

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

 

Hell Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, unbelievably, it actually got worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brakes screeched. Charlie and I bolted inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad, I hate you!” I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” I convinced myself. “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Record screech*

Two bedrooms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, that’s not what I’m saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done for eventually destroying western society.

Bravo, liberals.

Bravo.

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

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

Reconciling the NAP & “Reality”

There are three main threads through everything that I write:

  • A rejection of absolutist black & white thinking.
  • Strict adherence to the Non Aggression Principle, to the extent that punishment becomes off-limits in favor of forgiveness and prevention of future crimes.
  • What I now call Nietzscheanism*–that is: morality is a human construct that primarily exists to keep the strong from abusing the weak; it is a luxury of the middle class, one not allowed to the lower class and one that the upper class isn’t held to.

It’s immediately clear, from the second two bullets–the first is only mentioned because it simply is a common thread, but it’s not the point of today’s discussion–that there is a conflict.

Can there be a greater example of middle class morality than the NAP? In fact, I would say that the NAP is the shining bastion of middle class morality–fully swearing off and condemning all force, violence, and coercion and asking that everyone else do it. Obviously, this can only happen in a world where everyone compromises the middle class. This is the crux of anarcho-capitalism, and the reason I insist that Nietzsche would be an AnCap if he lived today, knowing what we know.

nietzscheGoodness, there’s just so much ground to cover to bring my ideology full circle. It’s always difficult to explain to people exactly what I advocate, because it is very much circular, and that makes it hard to pinpoint a beginning. Here, we’ve started from Nietzscheanism and objectivism, and that works, but only if there isn’t a deity. After all, if there is a deity giving some sort of meaning to our existence, then life does matter. So before I could really get anyone on board with Nietzscheanism, I have to get people on board with atheism–Nietzscheanism, after all, is nothing but Applied Atheism. But before I can get anyone on board with atheism, there is a whole lot of groundwork to lay, and it’s groundwork that I’m not going to attempt to lay, because atheism and theism are irrelevant to the larger point. I can be right or wrong about individual pieces regardless of the existence of a deity.

However, I would say that before I could attempt to convince someone that there isn’t a deity, I would have to convince them the value of reason over emotion since, by any measurement, faith is an emotion-based position. We will keep going back and back and back until we arrive right back at subjective value determinations, which lands us right back in the territory of Nietzsche and the Austrian economists. I actually made a few years ago a document–a flow chart, for the most part–where one ideology led to the next, and it was clear by the end of it, after I was able to connect Nietzscheanism back to subjective value determinations–because the essence of Nietzscheanism is that morals are subjective–that I had just created a giant web. I know I still have it somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to find it, and it’s not that important anyway.

Morality, Very Briefly

There is no such thing as “morally good” or “morally bad.” These are values that we prescribe to various acts based on the consequences of those acts, the motive behind those acts, and the circumstances around which that act was committed. This is virtually a tautology at this point, but I will take the time to explain it anyway.

Let’s say that I push you down, causing you to break your arm. I have assaulted you. Everyone would agree that I was morally wrong to do so.

However, let’s say that I push you out of the way of an oncoming train that, for whatever reason, you aren’t aware is coming, and I cause you to break your arm. Suddenly most people would call me a hero and say that I’d saved your life.

In both scenarios, I did exactly the same thing: I pushed you, you fell, and you broke your arm. However, in the first scenario I was just being an aggressive bitch. In the second, I was saving you from being hit by a train. Yet the act itself and the consequence of that act are the same in both scenarios: the act was that I pushed you; the consequence was that you broke your arm.

What changed? In reality, what changed were the imagined consequences of me not pushing you. See, morality, as Henry Hazlitt observed in The Foundations of Morality, arises as a result of imagination, that wonderful characteristic that homo sapien has but so few animals share. It is our ability to imagine that gives rise to morality. Without even realizing it, so gifted are we at doing this, we imagine hypothetical alternative scenarios where I did not push you, and we compare the likeliest result of those scenarios with the reality that transpired. Marvelous creatures, we humans! And, in this way, imagination is literally the cause of morality, as it is precisely what allows us to envision these alternative realities.

In the first example, the most likely hypothetical alternative is that you continue standing unassaulted, and your arm is not broken. You go on about your day without a broken arm. By most criteria, that is certainly a better outcome for you, and since I am the reason you do not get to enjoy that superior outcome, it is determined in a fraction of a second that what I did was morally wrong. We do this innately; I’d almost say that we conceive these hypotheticals instantaneously, and the speed and proficiency are the reasons why we forget that morality is the result of imagination.

In the second example, the most likely hypothetical alternative is that you continue standing unassaulted right up until a train plows into you and utterly destroys you. By most criteria, that is certainly an inferior outcome for you, and since I am the reason that you were spared that inferior outcome, it is determined, perhaps instantaneously, that what I did was morally good.

These value statements themselves, though, are built on a few assumptions:

  • Empathy: This person is generally like me, and I should do unto this person what I would like this person to do for me. In most cases, what I want is much the same as what this person wants.
  • My own preferences: I prefer to not be in pain. I prefer pleasure. I prefer happiness. I prefer to not be sad. I prefer to remain alive.

By combining our own personal preferences with an extension of them onto other people–the very essence of what “empathy” is–we arrive at a criteria by which we assess whether something was good or bad. It’s by no means a perfect system–how could it be, when we are imperfect creatures?

Whenever I think of empathy and the application of my preferences onto others, I recall the time in college that I was behind the desk unplugging my laptop because class was over. While back there, without even asking, I took it upon myself to unplug my neighbor’s laptop, because he was in the process of packing his backpack. It seemed perfectly reasonable to assume that he’d like me to go ahead and unplug his while I was back there. Because I have all the social graces of Dexter, it didn’t occur to me at all to ask if he’d like me to do it; I simply did it. And I immediately learned that his laptop’s battery didn’t work, and that I did a cold shutdown on his laptop. Not a big deal, but something that has always stuck with me about assuming that our preferences automatically apply to others. They don’t. However, generally, they do. I mean, what are the odds that his laptop battery wouldn’t work at all? Under 95% of circumstances, the person would have said, “Oh, cool, thank you!” instead of “Oh, hold… What the hell? Did you unplug me?”

Nietzschean Morality

Nietzsche described good as “the will to power” and happiness as “having power.” From a strictly Darwinian perspective, he’s not wrong. He’s clearly not wrong; he can’t be wrong. However uncomfortable it makes us, he’s right. If our criteria is “survival of the species,” then the only thing that makes sense is to let the powerful do what they can. Do the powerful want to wipe out the weak? Turn them into sex slaves? Install governments throughout the world and use those governments to control the weak? Then they must be allowed to, under this perspective, because we do live in a universe that is trying to kill us, where only the strong survive. It’s a straight line from there to Eugenics, to forced breeding programs to breed the “most capable human.” It’s a sickening path.

Now, to be clear, Nietzsche most certainly did not go that far, and he did not advocate any of that. He was merely arguing that morality is a tool used by the weak to neuter the strong, creating three classes of people in the process: the middle class who were strong and obeyed the morality, the lower class who were weak and therefore didn’t have the luxury, and the upper class who were strong and rejected the morality.

The NAP

With all the above being true, we can see that the moral statement “force, violence, and coercion are unacceptable” is the epitome of Middle Class Morality. For one, this maxim is as close as we can get to a universally applicable morality. Is it true that absolutely no one wants force, violence, and coercion done to them? Certainly not. It’s no longer acceptable to say for some reason, but there are people out there who would genuinely like to be raped, for example. I’ve met a few, and their problem is always the same: they want to be raped without consenting to it, but giving someone permission to rape them is consenting to it, and the odds that a random stranger is going to rape them are not good. Beyond that, if they ran around clearly looking to be raped–wearing excessively revealing clothes and being unnecessarily sensual–it is passively consenting to it. I raise all this to make the point that they don’t want to consent to have it forced on them; they want it genuinely forced on them.

Rumor has it that Angelina Jolie once paid a hitman to kill her. She genuinely wanted someone to do violence to her, assuming it is true–and I don’t care whether or not it is, because there have been enough suicides by cop that it’s provable that some people genuinely want violence done to them. My own mother apparently sought out violent and coercive men. So obviously these things are not going to be universally applicable, because nothing is universally applicable to a species filled with individuals as varied and wild as we are.

Rights

In essence, all rights can be distilled to the following: we have the right to not have force, violence, and coercion used against us unless we consent to it priorily. This statement is all-inclusive. Just as you have that right, as does everyone have that right. This means, then, that you do not have the right to use force, violence, and coercion against someone without their consent. The right to free speech, free religion, free trade, free employment, and free everything else–they all stem from this basic right to not have force, violence, and coercion used against us. They are applications of this maxim to specific issues.

Are these inherent rights? Perhaps and perhaps not. It could be argued you have the right to attempt to stop someone from using force, violence, and coercion against you; in essence, it could be argued that you have the right to try to be strong, and, by being strong, subjugate the weak. It depends upon our subjective values–our criteria for determining morality. If we go with the Darwinian approach, then we arrive at this latter system of rights, where one has the right to do anything they can–this is an underground system of rights, the one that lives in the underbelly’s shadows in society, when certain behaviors are outlawed and black markets thrive.

Because that is, after all, the essence of the black market: a place where the forced middle class morality doesn’t apply because it happens in the shadows. The black market is generally created when the state outlaws something it has no business outlawing**, creating a new dichotomy of the strong and the weak, instead of the trifecta of those who can’t, those who do, and those who don’t. Since middle class morality ceases to apply to anyone, you’re left with only the strong and the weak–the victims and the aggressors.

It follows, then, that if outlawing things leads to the creation of a black market–which we know it does, from indisputable proof and countless examples from the drug war to abortions to ration stamps–that is differentiated from society by the fact that middle class morality doesn’t apply at all and we’re left only with the strong and the weak, then if we outlawed nothing, we would utterly eliminate this black market characterized specifically by the rule of the strong and Darwinian morality.

Application of the NAP Against Nietzscheanism

There are two things that must be done for the NAP to be realized, for middle class morality to be universally applicable–as much as it can be, at least. First, the lower class has to abolished and lifted up into the middle class. So let’s state this loudly and clearly:

No nation other than the United States has come close to eliminating its lower class.

This isn’t a bad thing. We look around the United States and, yes, we have a lower class still, but they aren’t really “lower class,” not in the grand scheme of things. They aren’t poor like the man in Ethiopia who throws out middle class morality to steal food for his family. By an overwhelming degree, the American poor abide middle class morality, though they have no qualms about stealing from the state. Seeing as the state is stealing from everyone, I don’t think it’s fair to condemn them for that one. Besides which, without the state and taxation, they wouldn’t be able to game the system to get “back” finger-quotes-wink-wink ten thousand dollars anyway.

Our “lower class” has electricity, clean water, running water, indoor plumbing, heating, air conditioning, vehicles, iPhones, laptops, steroes, flatscreen TVs, cable/satellite, Internet connections… Our lower class is so high on the totem pole that they’d be considered upper middle class in most parts of the world. This is actually part of the problem, since our lower class, our “poor” have totally lost all perspective on how luxurious their lives are.

To clarify the phrasing, the goal is not to kill off the lower class, not by any means. That’s horrible. No, the goal is to lift up the lower class and bring them into the middle class. Yes, this creates a new middle class, because humans naturally form hierarchies, but none of that matters. The point is that the applicability of middle class morality must be extended to the lower class and, if it is, then it is also true that they are not generally facing the threat of starvation, which is the escape clause that gives them an out from middle class morality in the first place.

Secondly, the upper class must be made to abide middle class morality. Currently, they don’t. I couldn’t even begin to guess how much shit the upper class gets away with in the United States. I’m positive that a solid portion of them engage in child sex tourism and pedophile rings. I’m not referring to the Podesta leaks, but a lifetime of hearing whispers and accusations directed at the upper class. It all may be false, but, in most cases, where there is that much smoke there is usually a fire.

But beyond that, does the upper class get away with theft? Holy crap, absolutely. Not only do they take part in the state and steal from us directly while calling it taxation, but they also use the mechanism of the state to create things like intellectual property and eminent domain, utterly gutting our property rights in the process.

Does the upper class get away with murder? Again, holy crap, yes. The death toll of the 20th century was 160,000,000 from war alone as upper classes in various parts of the world put the lower class to use killing lower class members who were fighting for other upper class groups. They call it “war,” but it is murder.

It’s indisputable that the upper class doesn’t just reject middle class morality; they do so brazenly and openly, in full view of everyone else, and they get away with it by using carefully constructed euphemisms, deceit, and manipulation. There are countless people who will insist that taxes aren’t theft. Except… they are, by any definition of theft. And sending a group of armed people to go kill another group of armed people is unequivocally murder. We cannot allow euphemisms and a refusal to face the truth obscure these basic facts.

Combining

So yes, it is true that we are animals who need to be strong in order to survive, and that our species as a whole must embrace strength and shun weakness. This does not mean a lack of compassion, though, as I’ve explained elsewhere. See, we have mistaken “compassion” as being hardly anything more than getting down in the floor with someone and crying with them. That is fake sympathy; it is empty sympathy.

If you are a herd of gazelle [humans] and are trying to get away from lions [the universe that kills the weak], and you have a loved one who is injured [weak, for whatever reason], then you are doing no one but the lions a favor by laying down with your weak gazelle friend and crying with them. This is empty sympathy. This is virtue signaling. This is nihilistic.

True sympathy leads one to help the other gazelle get up, heal their injuries, become strong themselves, and flee the lion.

We absolutely must have compassion and must be guided to help the weak–it is why we have our middle class morality. It is as close as we can get to “objective morality,” after all. However, if our gazelle friend refuses to get up, if they instead embrace their injury and their victimization, refuse to try to heal, and refuse to try to escape the lion, then we must cut our losses and flee before the lion gets us, too. There is a line between sympathy and nihilism.

Based on observable cause and effect–since it is impossible to speculate too much into our hypothetical alternate realities, and since we lack omniscience and can never know exactly how anything would really have played out if we had acted differently–we know that leaving the gazelle to be eaten by the lion would be bad, and our application of empathy derived from our own personal preferences compels us to help the gazelle. We know with reasonable certainty that the lion would eat the gazelle, and that, if we did not help, we would bear a portion of the blame in that.

We should all be strong; we should all be middle class, with no one enshrined above [through the state] or below [through poverty] anyone else. Now, what is the mechanism that allows that to happen? What mechanism eliminates the state that allows the upper class to escape culpability for their moral violations? Anarchism. What mechanism has provably lifted up virtually the entire population into middle class territory, where the fear of starvation is exceedingly remote? Capitalism.

So how do we create this world of people abiding the NAP, of all people being strong and none being weak?

Anarcho-capitalism.

Boo-ya, bitches.

 

* Thanks to the overwhelming number of angst-ridden ultra-emo millennials who think nihilism means “life sucks and death is cool,” I’ve been left with no choice but to change the label, but that’s fine; Nietzsche wouldn’t have approved of “nihilism” as the label anyway. Of course, these people have never read a word of Nietzsche and don’t fully understand the philosophy, because:

nothing-mattersand they get lost on that second part: nothing matters. They don’t fully apply it, though, or they would realize that it doesn’t matter that nothing matters. That is completely and utterly meaningless.

** Anything they outlaw is something they have no business outlawing.

The Most Depressing Thing I’ve Ever Seen

The Social Security Administration sent me a statement today.

IMG_1664You’re seeing that right.

Since 2003, I have made less than $75,000. Through my entire adult life, I have made less than $75,000. To really explain these numbers, let’s look closer.

2002 was the year I got my first job, at a Burger King, but I was essentially fired from it once they found out that my dad was an assistant manager. It took quite a while before they “transferred” me to Popeye’s Chicken, but it wasn’t even a transfer, at the end of the day–it was just BK firing me, and Popeye’s hiring me somewhere further down the road. I started there in 2004.

In early 2005, I quit and started working at a Domino’s Pizza. The next few years actually weren’t half bad, and the tips that came under the table made the $9,000 in wages a lot easier to work with. Around this time, I was living with my soon-to-be wife, and she worked various temp jobs, so I wasn’t the sole income. In 2007, I entered college and started working as a janitor at one of the casinos. I did that through midway 2009, where I was fired (as I’ve discussed before) and forced to drop out of college weeks from graduation.

I spent all of 2010 looking for a job and doing under-the-table work that I could find–anything and everything, as I sought a real job. Most of the work I did was through an I.T. contractor, and also under the table. Though it was untaxed, the figures were about $8000 for 2010 and about $7000 for 2011. In the tail end of 2011, I was completely unemployed and the oddjobs had pretty much dried up. I also left my ex-wife and refocused on school. I survived solely on the Pell Grant, which paid for my college, books, and my living expenses, netting me basically $200 a month which meant that I had to subsist on roughly $50 a week. I was able to, but holy shit, was it difficult.

In December of 2012, I graduated college.

No one can take this from me.

No one can take this from me.

It took me about five months, as a new college graduate, to find a job working at a Radioshack–part time, as a sales associate. After I had been there about four months, Harrah’s Casino called me and offered me a job as a slot tech. I’d interviewed with them nine months before, and expected to never hear from them again. With a pay raise up to $13.50 hour from the minimum wage I was making, on top of benefits and being fulltime, I obviously took the job. During the 5 months between graduation and trying to find a job, I started my own company, and was moderately successful with it. Even though working for Harrah’s meant putting my company on hold, I gladly seized the opportunity.

Five months after I started with Harrah’s Casino Tunica, they announced that they were closing, and we were all going to be out of work. I refocused my efforts on my company, because I knew already how extraordinarily difficult it is to get a job here–years of experience had taught me that, and my college degree didn’t seem to be doing me any favors. My company went from moderately successful to very successful, though I was able to write off nearly everything as a business expense (thus–no taxable income for 2014).

In spring of 2015, the figurative tornado hit. I closed my company and moved to Vegas. I was promptly stabbed in the back and forced to return, where I’ve been searching for employment since and trying desperately to rebuild some income. Given that I received a $100 check last Tuesday, and that’s all I’ve received, I must admit I’ve been unsuccessful. Why they haven’t yet filed away the $895 that I did pay in this year, I don’t know, but the 2015 figure should be $9000 or so.

That’s my full financial history, with the unimportant bits chopped out, leading to me earning less than $75,000 for a few primary reasons: the main one being that there are simply no jobs here, even for a college graduate with years of management experience, years of experience in the I.T. field, and years of business management.

Looking at this basically makes me cry, as it means that I need roughly 5% of all the money I’ve ever earned in my entire life to move, and that’s such an enormous goal to me that despair threatens to creep up on me every second.

I’ve got to get somewhere that I can get a job. That’s really just all there is to it.

Spirals

I’m not sure what to call it, but I’m sure that it will come to me as I write this. “Spirals” isn’t quite right. It’s self-reinforcing, though, perpetuating itself because it is and cannot be anything else. No, I haven’t been hit by a bout of depression or anything–I’m just thinking about the fact that, of my friends, none have ever done anything to help me do anything.

Poverty perpetuates itself. That is what I was trying to say.

I totally get why none of my friends would donate to the GoFundMe campaign, and I don’t begrudge them for that. They’re Mississippians, too, which means that they face the same harsh reality that I face: there’s just no money here anyway. In order for them to give me money, they’d have to have money, and they grew up in the same area that I did, faced the same economic despair that I did. Most of them live on their parents’ land, in a trailer on their parents’ land, or in a trailer on their wives’ parents’ land. Less than 1% successfully broke away, and those who did were already safely middle class. I think of the guy I went to school with, with whom I was best friends when we were much younger but drifted apart because I moved closer to atheism and faith is a big deal to him, and how he is now a reporter for ESPN or something. I’m thrilled for him, but that brings something else to my attention.

It’s fair to say that he had a better start than I did–Hell, than most people here did. The circle of friends I had in school all came from similar backgrounds, and I’ve mentioned it before: our parents were on drugs, divorced. Many of us didn’t live with either parent. And so we all rejected the system that had spit upon us.

Many people would here say something like “Oh, you’re blaming the system for everything now? Grow up and take some responsibility!” I’ve heard that refrain often. Never directed at me, though, because until the past few months I’ve never really sat down to think about how all of this came about. It was pointless. I simply went with the hand that I was dealt, and it served no purpose to sit around thinking about how some people were dealt better hands. And I’m still not doing so–the hand I was dealt is irrelevant, because I don’t mean any of this in a personal way. I’m talking more along the fact that it’s borderline impossible to be born to a poor family in a place like this and change those circumstances.

A lot of people grow up with parents who talk about putting back money for college funds. How hilarious. Because I remember when my dad took my sister and me to cash out our savings bonds that were supposed to go to college–all one of them that we each had–and instead used that money on himself. Probably on drugs. It never occurred to me in high school that there would never be a college fund, and it actually might have been helpful if my dad had sat me down at some point and said, “Do you see the way I live? You don’t have to do that. If you apply yourself, if you focus and try to excel, you can break out of this bullshit. But I won’t be able to help you do it. I’m not man enough to help you do it.”

Other people talk about getting $150 allowances from their parents each week while they’re living in dorms in college, and I can’t even fathom what that is like. I’ve been working since I was fifteen years old, specifically because my father couldn’t pay for me, and because I had to pay for myself. Even before that, he had me working outside during the summers at the trailer park at which he was a maintenance guy, putting this shit called “Cool Coating” or something on people’s roofs for $100 a trailer. Of course, he enjoyed a $40 Finders Fee for each one of these.

The last time I did this at all, I had four trailers to do in a single day–$400 for a single day of work. I was 14 years old, and had never even seen that amount of money, much less held it. I was dreaming about finally getting a PlayStation 2, like my cousin had because his parents had bought him one. Just as I’d gotten myself a Playstation X by trading in my Super Nintendo and every single SNES game that I had to Funcoland. I didn’t have a single game for that PlayStationX (there’s a difference between the PSX and PS1). In fact, I didn’t even have a way to connect it to my television, because my television was one of the old CRTs with only coaxial inputs, and the PSX came with composite cables. So there I was, without the SNES that my mother had given me for my birthday the year that the N64 came out, and without any of those games, but I didn’t care. I had the latest and greatest. No games for it, and no way to even connect it to my TV. But I had it.

That was what I wanted: a PlayStation 2 and Final Fantasy X. It looked amazing.

Instead, as we were leaving for the day, my father asked for $140 to pay back his boss for a loan. “I’ll give it back to you Friday,” my dad said. Then, after we left the office, “I also need to borrow $200 so I can get my license plate renewed.” By the time we made it home, I had $60 left–all that remained of the 8 hours I spent standing on roofs in the hot Mississippi sun at 14 years old coating people’s roofs in some coolant. Of course, my dad never paid me back, as I knew he wouldn’t, but it’s not like you can call your father out on things like that, not when you’re 14 and living with him. “Oh, I didn’t know you liked having a roof over your head.” Not to mention that my dad was spiteful in the extreme. “I guess you can buy your own food and start paying rent from now on then!” he would have replied.

There was a period of about a month where he basically made me play the boardgame RISK with him and his girlfriend every single fucking day. While I like RISK (not so much since this experience) and did enjoy playing it occasionally, a friend had loaned me a guitar, and I wanted to be practicing that–since I didn’t have a guitar and couldn’t borrow it indefinitely. That kid, Chris P., is solely the reason I was able to learn to play the guitar, something that I’ve become quite good at and that has saved my life on several occasions.

I also had Final Fantasy IX, I remember, and I badly wanted to play it. I’d gotten it at Wal-Mart for $20 with some of the money I made doing the cooling crap on roofs, because my Disc 3 had stopped working. Funnily enough, this was because I’d let my cousin borrow it. After weeks of trying everything from nail polish remover to toothpaste (yes, toothpaste) to remove the scratches, I accepted that there was no option but to replace the game. And I finally had. So I could finally get back to my quest!

But no. Because everyday I got home from school, ten minutes later my dad got home, and then we had to play that stupid goddamned boardgame for the next six fucking hours. After weeks of this, I decided that I just couldn’t play anymore. We never finished any of the games. We always stopped about five hours in, when it was obvious that my father was going to win, and decided “We’ll finish it tomorrow.” But then tomorrow came, and, rather than finishing, we’d restart the whole fucking thing. That went on for weeks. Seriously, weeks.

It doesn’t take that long to get sick of The Game of Global Domination.

When I said “No, I’m not going to play,” my father flew into a rage. So angry that he could barely speak straight, slurring his words and stuttering about what a “piece of shit” I was, and how I could just take my ass outside and cut the grass. With a weedeater. Because he was never going to buy a lawnmower, and never did buy a mower. His solution was what you’d call the “Cheap Because I Don’t Have To Do It” option of buying a weedeater and pushing responsibility of cutting the yard off onto me. After all, he wasn’t going to get outside with a weedeater to cut a few fucking hundred yards of grass (this was my uncle’s land).

So all that was to say that my father is petty.

But even that experience where my father “borrowed” $340 wasn’t the reason I stopped doing it. No, he would never have allowed that. He needed me to do it so that he could “borrow” *wink-wink* money from me, so under no circumstances would he have allowed me to stop doing it.

Instead, the reason I stopped doing it was that someone offered to pay him in advance, because they needed him to purchase the stuff. Two barrels of the stuff was about $60, if I recall correctly, so he was given $160. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

First, he decided he would “borrow” part of the $100 from me to get various things that he needed. On day three, that $100 was down to $0. So on Day 3, he decided that he would “borrow” from the $60 for the materials, and then “Pay it back on payday.”

Just like he “paid me back,” I’m sure.

So after that, I couldn’t continue doing it, because he had to come up with $60 to buy the materials, and he had to come up with something to pay me. Even he wasn’t a big enough piece of shit to ask me to do it for free.

Shortly after that, he was fired, as one might expect. A tenant complaining to the landlord “Hey, your maintenance guy kinda stole $160 from me” can have that effect, especially since my dad was never qualified to do any sort of maintenance anyway, and had already borrowed $2000 from his boss. That’s right. $2000. For what? Who knows. His car was paid for, and we lived in the one bedroom addition to my uncle’s house. And, at that time, my dad’s rent was a measly $150 a month.

Drugs, I’m sure. You’d be surprised, if you’ve never been down that road, how quickly you can burn money on drugs, especially lortabs at $7 a pop. Hell, there were days that I paid $10/pill. When you’re addicted and desperate, you’ll pay just about anything.

I got sidetracked on Quora arguing with someone who literally argued with my answer to a question while specifically demonstrating the exact mindset that I was talking about. Honestly, you can’t make this shit up:

https://www.quora.com/Why-are-many-people-against-direct-democracy-after-Brexit-when-it-works-quite-well-in-Switzerland/answer/Aria-DiMezzo

How in the hell can someone say in one comment that they don’t like direct democracy because they don’t agree with the criteria by which people who disagree on the policy came to their dissenting conclusion, while saying just a moment later that they value liberty? I am reminded of that brilliant passage from Thomas Paine in The Rights of Man:

It takes in a field too vast for their views to explore, and proceeds with a mightiness of reason they cannot keep pace with.

Love me some Thomas Paine.

When I took British Literature in college, I asked the instructor if I could do my term paper on Thomas Paine. This was a class that was largely dedicated to Romantic poetry (the reason that I took the class–I’ve always loved Romantic and Victorian era poetry). To my surprise, he allowed it. So I talked about how Thomas Paine had a better understanding of rights and liberty than most people today, and how he demolished the Pentateuch, as well as the notion that it was written by Moses, in The Age of Reason–after which I later named a song The Age of Aquarius. One of the greatest tragedies of human history is that Thomas Paine’s influence has been so narrow. The Rights of Man, in particular, is a masterpiece of the theories of self-government, and almost no one has read it.

I’m not really out for pity or sympathy when I write things like this, though. A friend of a friend commented this video:

…by saying that he knew I wasn’t after sympathy, and it never occurred to me that someone could feel sympathy over it. I don’t really feel bad or disenfranchised by any of the shit that has happened.

All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.

Although, I can’t deny that I’ve been much more focused recently on talking about my past and various things that have happened. But I don’t think it’s sympathy that I’m after–but understanding. The last thing I want is for anyone to feel sorry for me; I’m too proud for that. And why shouldn’t I be proud? I rose from a dirt poor family in the economic despair of Mississippi and put my fucking ass through college.

IMG_1521

But there’s no scholarship for me to apply for if I desire to move out of Mississippi and put this college degree to use. And though it’s only an Associate’s Degree, I’ve frequently considered getting my BA, but have ultimately decided against it. There aren’t many more doors that a BA would open that an AAS doesn’t. But I need to get to the doors. And there are no doors here.

I am humbly asking for help to make this happen.

https://www.gofundme.com/transgendermove

Clear & Concise: Mississippi’s Problems

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one less traveled by…

I hate Robert Frost.

That’s not true. I like Robert Frost quite a lot, and he’s a fantastic poet. I hate the effects that Robert Frost had on poetry, as I think a generation of people who grew up knowing nothing more about poetry than “Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe” did a great deal of damage to poetry as a whole, and that’s obviously not Frost’s fault. I would love for American students to have to spend a decade studying the Romantics, because that was some of the best poetry in human history. But that’s actually not what I want to talk about. Just a completely unrelated prologue, in fact.

I began to drop the hints to my colleague today that I am taking steps to move, but it was only something I weakly alluded to. When I left last year, he was the last person to find out. He won’t be the last person to learn of it this time, but I’m still not going to tell him until I’m much closer to the funding goal. That’s a link to the GoFundMe campaign, which you are free to share or donate to, to help me change my life for the better forever.

At any rate, I simply made it a point to bring up Mississippi’s latest piece of bullshit legislation, and my observation that the state is taking babysteps toward theocracy. But just a little while ago a friend shared something on Facebook that I found really interesting.

Diabetes rates across the U.S.

Diabetes rates across the U.S.

But we’re just getting started. Of course, I’ve already shared this one that drags in religion–particularly southern baptists–as well.

religionkeyOf course, poverty is worse here:

We're the blue one. The ONLY blue one.

We’re the blue one. The ONLY blue one.

It’s really hard to put into perspective how much Mississippi truly freaking sucks. Teen pregnancy? Yep, we’re full up on that, too. Might have something to do with the fact that our schools only teach abstinence for sex ed.

Sigh.

Sigh.

Of course, we also have some of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country–and I’m a statistic on one of those, because I didn’t graduate high school. I instead earned my GED and later went to college. Still. Interesting, Nevada is just as bad as Mississippi in this respect.

Slide4Oh, good. We also have gonorrhea.

ghonnoreaThe short version is that this place sucks.

It sucks even more than I thought it sucked, and I’ve always known that it sucks really bad. It’s not hard to look outside my window and see the boards on buildings, the empty, crack and grass-filled parking lots. Hell, even our banks close up and get out of dodge.

That building in the foreground used to be a bank.

That building in the foreground used to be a bank.

On a given day, I don’t notice on this. And I’ve never had an encounter with gonorrhea, so I’d never notice that anyway. But on any given day, I just see the overabundance of churches. That’s the only real evidence that, just below the surface, this state is sick as hell–horrendously sick, on the verge of catastrophic illness. Beneath the dazzling veneer of the holy churches is a society of petty, petulant, and bitter people, convinced that their problems are caused by:

  • The Muslims.
  • Icky brown people.
  • Them dang Spics done took ‘er jobs!
  • It’s them dang ‘um queers o’er thar that’s the problem.
  • Them boys wanna dress lock girls, what’d’ey ‘xpect was gun happen?
  • Obama’s gonna take our gerns!

And I know I’m sounding like the Liberal Redneck here, and I can appreciate the irony of that, but there’s a few important points to consider:

  1. He made his statements about specific people, specific individuals.
  2. I’ve frequently said this isn’t true of all of them.

Yet… with Mississippi’s Anti-Gay legislation on top of their latest “put God back in school!” legislation, with the fact that…

These people went HEAVY Trump (as I predicted, btw)...

these people went HEAVY Trump (as I predicted, btw)…

It’s certainly true of a majority of them.

They’re looking for someone to blame, and Trump didn’t tell them to blame Mexicans and gays. I know Trump likes to credit himself for bringing immigration up to the surface, but who is he kidding? Immigration never really stopped being a large issue anywhere in the world. That we in the U.S. went a few months without talking about doesn’t mean that Trump created the issue. These people–not all the people here, but the majority to which I’m referring–have always said that Mexicans, gays, black people, etc. were the problem.

My mistake was in thinking that the moderates had more sway than they actually do. Clearly, the moderates are powerless here. Our state legislature has proven itself firmly in the grips of religious zealots, and our Governor has proven himself firmly on their side. Rather than veto this horrific legislation, Phil Bryant proudly signs it into law. I spoke in the podcast last night about how this state has lost its mind. But it’s not like Mississippi ever had very far to go to lose its mind. The only thing that has really changed is that the moderates and reasonable people have been swept aside, and the religious extremists have taken over.

There are dark days ahead for Mississippi, and I’m not referring to my suspicion that secession and civil war are inevitable. I mean only that Mississippi has made it clear: Mississippi is committed to pursuing this path of Christian theocracy, where the moral proclamations of a single religion dictate the law. If I hadn’t decided Saturday that it was truly time to leave, then I would be making that decision now. Mississippi already has among the lowest Average Incomes in the country:

I was unable to find one that didn't specifically apply to millennials.

I was unable to find one that didn’t specifically apply to millennials.

When you add in the gonorrhea, the high school dropouts, the teen pregnancy, the high religious rates, the diabetes, and all the other shit, you have a place that is held together only by its religion. So it should be no surprise that Mississippi–which, I think we can all agree, is objectively the worst state in the United States–also has the highest rates of religiosity. What else do these people have, except their hope that they will have a better life in the next world?

Mississippi sucks, and I’m trying to leave it. Unfortunately, most of the problems affecting the statistics above also affect me (except, again, the gonorrhea one :D), and it’s largely irrelevant here that I’m a college graduate with a good work ethic. This is a place where you either work at a gas station, or at an assembly line in a factory (and there are only two factories nearby, both of which only hire through temp agencies and won’t hire someone with a college degree in an unrelated field). This isn’t a place where you get a college degree in I.T. and then stay here, working in your new field. No, as I’ve come to realize, the only option is leaving. And I need help to make that happen. So I ask humbly that you consider helping me with that, in whatever way you can, from donating to liking and sharing–it all helps.

https://www.gofundme.com/transgendermove

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your time.

Struggles in the South

My failure to bring it up on a daily basis–although I do mention it regularly–may leave you thinking that being transgender in Mississippi isn’t really that bad. But it is.

For years, my property was vandalized when I lived in a small town about 40 minutes south of Memphis, Tennessee. It got to a point where I didn’t have a mailbox or a garbage can, because someone came through and regularly destroyed my mailbox and kicked over my can. One of my vehicles was spray painted so that “SATAN LOVER” was written over the windshield. Thankfully, that proved pretty ineffective. Of course, all of this was merely because I’m an atheist. But there’s more to it than that, naturally, because I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m an atheist, and it got around in the communities pretty well. For the first few years after I “came out” as an atheist, I received death threats regularly. Locally owned gas stations would refuse to serve me and told me to take my business elsewhere, while people standing behind me in line often made remarks about how they’d love to catch me in a back alley.

This is the same place where we have pastors regularly calling for the death of homosexuals, and one of the LGBT bars in Memphis recently had to hire additional security because people were being attacked as they went to the parking lot. A lot of people were put in the hospital, but no one was killed this time. And I live about five minutes from where a gay black teenager was kidnapped as he walked down the street, raped, tortured, and literally beaten to death. While Mississippi has also produced wonderfully accepting people like my friends, it has also produced some of the most hateful and bigoted people out there. The Westboro Baptist Church is pretty well-known through the United States, but only because their antics are calculated to garner media attention; many churches in this area do things very similar to what the Westboro Baptist Church does, though they do stop short of picketing gay funerals.

But I don’t milk this angle often because I’m not in any real danger myself. I’m simply not, and it’s for the same reason that people stopped vandalizing my vehicles and property: I’m respected enough that no one messes with me. It’s not because I’m tough or anything like that–it’s because they know that I do nothing arbitrarily.

I have a friend who is a pretty fundamentalist Christian. And I am a vocal atheist. We’ve disagreed quite a bit, but we always respected one another. And that’s the thing–I’ve earned their respect. A year or so ago, this guy reached out to me and asked for my help getting, onto our county’s ballot, a referendum that would put prayer back in schools. You read that sentence correctly.

We had a brief dialogue about what he meant, because I had to explain that prayers are completely allowed in public schools; the only thing is that the school administration and staff cannot call for prayer and cannot sanction prayer. There is nothing stopping a student from kneeling at his locker and saying a quick prayer. There is nothing stopping a football team from kneeling and saying a prayer; it is illegal for the coach to say “Everyone bow your heads,” but there is absolutely nothing illegal about the team’s captain saying, “Everyone bow your heads.” Students are totally free to pray, and See You at the Pole Rallies still happen. He was aware of this already, but he wanted to make it so that the school administration could lead prayers, and he asked me, a vocal atheist, to help him with this.

This obviously created a conflict for me. I don’t think that a government school should be endorsing a religion, and that’s what it would be to have administration-led prayers. But, at the same time, that’s not up for me to decide. I don’t have kids at that school, for one thing, so I have no skin in the game. For another, whether school-sanctioned prayer should be allowed in this county is for the people in this county to decide, not for me to decide. Refusing to help him–considering my knowledge of politics, government, and how the system works–would have been attempting to make that decision for everyone else. It’s not my place to do that. I could help him get the referendum on the ballot, and I could write articles in local papers arguing against the referendum, but it would have been wrong for me to refuse on the grounds that I didn’t think it should be done. There was a choice presented to the people of this county, and it was my democratic responsibility to help the people of this county make that choice; it was not my place to make it for them.

As it turned out, he didn’t have the drive to really achieve such a thing anyway, and it quickly fell to nothing. I’m glad for that, in many ways, because it would have passed with flying colors–we’re one of the few counties in the United States that continues to be a dry county, and we’re the only state in the country that kept the Confederate Flag as part of the state flag.

Minutes from my house.

Minutes from my house.

It’s easy to lose sight of just how badly this place sucks. It really is. A number of years ago, before I went to college… I guess I was 20 then… I was the manager at a nearby Pizza Hut. I took a week vacation, and when I came back, I immediately realized what terrible shape the store was in. Nothing had changed; it wasn’t like the assistant managers had failed in their duties. It was just that sort of thing that you can’t notice because you’re too close to it. And, to be fair, it wasn’t unclean or anything like that–it was that the seats needed to be upholstered again, the floors needed to be stripped and waxed, everything metal in the building needed rust cleaned off it… Things that you can’t really do on a daily or weekly basis; that was what needed to be done. And it’s really hard to notice that sort of thing when you see it everyday. When I stopped recently to take pics of the area for some friends in Michigan, I realized instantly how terrible this place really is.

Grove Street's got nothing on this, CJ.

Grove Street’s got nothing on this, CJ.

Look at that place. To my right, not pictured, is a bank that closed. Even our banks said “fuck it” and left.

Excuse me while I derail this entire post because someone just pissed me the hell off. It’s a colleague of mine–the one who sends about 95% of my work to me as a contractor, and he just expressed the sentiment to me that he’s been worried that I fell back to taking opiates, an addiction that I used to have, because he thinks I’m burning through money. This not only pissed me off beyond measure at the mere allegation, but it also deeply wounded me, because I daresay that there is no one who would do better than I at this income level. So let me fill you in.

For the first four months of last year, I was doing great. My company was doing great, and I was making good money; I had a wage of $50 per hour, but only about 1 in 4 hours were billable. As a result, I was making about $500 each week and was doing great. I paid $6500 cash for a vehicle and still had about $3000 in the bank. I wasn’t wealthy by any means, but I was making money and generating savings. Then I dropped everything and moved to Vegas. I’m not going to get into that right now, because, frankly, I can’t. I’m emotionally frayed enough without getting into that bullshit. But the short of it, the necessary part, is that it cost me about $1600 just to go there, stay for a few weeks, and return. On top of that, it nearly killed the $6500 vehicle that I had just purchased, but that was my fault for buying an experimental and untested thing.

So I returned to Mississippi believing that I had about $1400 remaining, which should have been fine. What I didn’t know is that my psuedo-accountant had made a tax payment of about $1,000. I had nowhere to go so spent about two weeks in hotel rooms, and that drained every penny that I had. I immediately began putting in job applications everywhere that I could–including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s… I didn’t care. It didn’t matter that I am a college graduate, entrepreneur, business manager… I just needed income. But, of course, places like McDonald’s wouldn’t hire me because I was way overqualified, and it was obvious that I was just needing a job ASAP, and that I would leave as soon as I found something better.

I lost all my clients when I told them that I was closing the company and moving to Las Vegas. And when I returned, only one client took me back as their I.T. vendor–the rest had already replaced me, or didn’t want to work with someone who would evidently just drop everything and move across the country. As you can see from the images, this is not the kind of place where I can just shrug off the loss of clients and find replacements–there simply aren’t that many potential businesses here. For a while, I had to move around. I stayed with a friend in Gulfport for long enough to put in dozens of job applications and realize that I wasn’t going to be hired there, either. I went to Nashville and stayed with a friend, and then repeated the process there. Still nothing. No one was fucking hiring me. No one was even calling me for an interview.

I had no choice but to return to Mississippi, where I lived out of my car without any money–and with my cats in the car with me–until a family member happened to stumble across me where I was parked one day. I had stressed to them that I was going to be homeless, but they didn’t seem to really take it seriously–but now that I was homeless, they weren’t going to turn blind eyes to it, and my sister let me stay with her. I busted my ass and finally got to the point with this colleague where I was making enough money to survive, but only barely, and then had the falling out with my sister and had to move again. So I did, moving into my own place since now I had just enough money to do it.

Through all of this, I never stopped putting in job applications. Through all of last year, I interviewed for one job in the area. One. No one else even called me back. And it is no exaggeration to say that I put in at least 300 applications. No one has fucking called. No one hires in this area. We have some casinos relatively nearby–about an hour away–and they’re pretty much the only sources of actual, gainful employment in the entire north half of the state. Just look at those images. Life here is a struggle. The entire reason that I opened my company in the first place was that I couldn’t find a job after I graduated college, and I graduated with the most marketable degree out there–technology. Certifications, a college degree, excellent employment history–and no one is even calling me back. Because that’s Mississippi.

Last month, I made $545. That’s every penny that I made last month, and it’s not from lack of effort. I’ve reached out to every business within 30 miles. I’ve applied to every job opening I’ve found. I’ve done odd jobs for people. I’ve done what I can to promote my writing and get some money flowing from that. I’ve literally done everything that a person can do. And, of course, the job matter is going to be even worse going forward, because I’m transgender and this is Mississippi, where there are no anti-discrimination laws to protect transgender people from being fired. So even if I could find a job, I wouldn’t be able to have it long. And that’s ultimately my choice in Mississippi: to either continue living this lie, or to not have a job.

But for me, it’s really a non-issue, because I can’t get a job anyway. It’s ridiculous. My resume is gorgeous. I was only in Vegas for like three weeks and got no less than six callbacks–they continued calling long after I’d returned to Mississippi. One of those was for a $55,000 year job that I was more than qualified for. There simply aren’t any jobs here that I’m not overqualified for.

I made $545 last month. My rent is $300 a month, and my cell phone bill is $130 a month. That left me with $115 to survive the entire month. That’s food, gasoline, cat food, kitty litter, razors, soap, garbage bags–you know. The stuff people need to survive. But I did it. And I started hormones. People can level a lot of allegations at me, but the accusation that I can’t fucking manage my money is a direct slap in the face. But to go beyond that and to be worried that I’m back on pain killers because I’m broke after I survived an entire month and paid all my bills on what amounts to $7000 a year… No, man, fuck that. I won’t stand for that allegation. You pay your shit with $545 is my message to him. Because of how everything worked out, I made just over $9,000 last year, about $7000 of which was earned from January to April.

The poverty line is $11,800. I’m more than $2000 under the poverty line, all my bills are getting paid, my cats are well taken care of, I bought another $2500 vehicle in December because that piece of shit I’d paid $6500 for twelve months prior was completely dead, and someone has the fucking audacity to say that I should have more money than I do based on what I’ve earned?

I opened my company because I couldn’t find a job and because I became infuriated that my life was in other people’s hands. I couldn’t make companies hire me, after all. This was immediately after I left college, but i had years of work history in the field as a senior technician and office manager. I’m fucking qualified–give me a job and let me work my way up; that’s what I do. I started with Cubed3 thanks to some user reviews I wrote for Gamefaqs in my spare time, and now I’m an editor there. Because that’s what I do. I start somewhere at the bottom and work my way up to the top–or as close to the top as I can get. I’ve done it at every job I’ve ever had. Even when I was 18 and still in high school, I was an assistant manager at Popeye’s, because I work hard and because I work smart. But there’s nothing I can do to get a company to hire me after the interview; that’s entirely beyond my control. And I don’t like things being beyond my control. So I opened my own company and blazed my own path to success–and was successful doing it. Hey, I dropped $6500 cash on something without blinking–I was doing good.

$6500 for something that I was forced to sell a year later for two hundred dollars.

When I say that the Vegas shit destroyed me, that’s why. And now I’ve successfully begun the recovery and rebuilding process, bought a better car, and have my own place again, despite barely making any fucking money. And while I will never deny that I was an idiot for risking the Vegas thing in the first place, no one in their right mind would have expected to be given less than a month to make shit work, and, really, six months would probably be the minimum any sane person would expect. I mean, the Vegas chick knew exactly what I’d done, exactly what I’d given up, and exactly the risk I was taking. I can’t blame her that I took the risk, but I wouldn’t have taken the risk if I’d known that what I had given up would mean fucking nothing to her, and that knowing what I’d done would not factor into her bullshit. Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought, but at the bare minimum I expected that I would have three months, which would have been more than enough time for me to have a stable job and be able to just get my own apartment there. What would you say is the bare minimum amount of time that you’d give a relationship in these circumstances? Did you say “two days?” No. No one in their right mind, no one with any amount of decency, compassion, or heart would say anything less than “a few months at least.”

If it had turned out that I was violent and abusive, that would have been another thing altogether. But no, I did nothing wrong; I was fucking perfect. It’s easy to be perfect when you’re only a few days into the relationship. I gave her space, I gave her attention; I did nothing wrong. So while there are plenty of things that would undoubtedly have warranted what she did, none of those apply. I didn’t have a secret drug or alcohol problem, I wasn’t secretly abusive or controlling, I clearly wasn’t a bum, I clearly wasn’t secretly a bad role model–I was exactly who I said I was, in fact. So none of that applies, and I say this only to clarify that, yes, some things would justify giving the relationship only a few days.

But yes, Vegas is at the root of my current situation.

Did I let that stop me? No. Am I using that as an excuse to be in a bad situation? Hell no. I’m doing everything that a person can to move forward. Do I still harbor anger? Goddamned right–this chick destroyed my life, and she knew it when she was doing it. And, to make matters worse, every indication since is that she did it intentionally.

Sigh.

I intended to write about what it’s actually like to be transgender in Mississippi, what it really means on a daily basis, how it actually affects someone’s life. But instead I had to deal with this bullshit allegation that just pissed me off, which made have to explain why the situation sucks so bad in the first place. Again, it’s not that I haven’t rebuilt–I clearly have, to some degree. But it’s hard as fuck to lose everything except your piece of shit vehicle, and then reconstruct a life. It’s hard, and it takes time. And it takes even longer in Mississippi, since no one fucking hires anyone.

I intended to write about how it’s proving ridiculously difficult to get my next month’s supply of hormones, and how I’m going to run out during this upcoming week because I’ve been trying for about 8 days to order them and I keep running into problems. First, my bank blocked the transaction and put restrictions on my account. Now, the Chinese pharmaceutical company can’t process the transaction because it’s still saying that my account is blocked, while my bank assures me that it isn’t. Between the two, I trust that my American bank knows what they’re talking about. I’ve been using this bank for years; I know them well. I trust them, as far as banks go. Another pharmacy I tried didn’t process the order for 19 hours, when I finally called them and they told me that they were waiting on a prescription. If I had a prescription, I would go the pharmacy a mile from where I live, people, not a pharmacy in India. Besides, their website has Estradiol as OTC, as most countries do. It’s non-narcotic–why is a prescription required?

Only in the United States could I walk into a store, buy a gun, buy bullets, and then fucking shoot myself, but can’t walk into a store and buy hormones. Don’t take that wrong–suicide isn’t on the table. I’m just making a point. If hormones are restricted to prescription only because some fuckwad might start taking them and then sue someone because he grew breasts and the government has to protect us from ourselves, then why in the fuck can I buy a gun? I fully support the second amendment, but I fully support my right to do what I want to my body, too. And I’m not interested in taking the American doctor route, because fuck that. First, I’d have to see a general practitioner, who would be required to send me six months of therapy. Only at the end of that six months would the therapist be able to say “yes” or “no” about me starting hormone therapy, and then all the therapist could do is send me to an endocrinologist, who, after a lot of expensive tests and shit, would finally start me on hormones. I don’t have the money or time for that, and no one has the right to stand in my way in the first place. Society doesn’t have the right to tell me that I have to see a therapist for six months, and society damned sure doesn’t have the right to let a therapist tell me “no.”

I control my life, not the government, not a therapist, not an endocrinologist, and not society.

My sister went to a doctor yesterday, and I gave her one of the empty packages and asked her to get her doctor to “write her a refill” for these hormones that “minimize the recurrence of cysts” for her. She didn’t do it. She told me last night, though, that she was going back to a doctor today, and that she would do it then. She still didn’t do it. Honestly, because of her stance on things, it was always a longshot, but when she voluntarily told me that she was going to another doctor, I thought maybe she was being more open-minded. And she had agreed to do it, and then didn’t. Plus, she doesn’t know what these are for, or what they do. She knows it’s hormones, but that is all she knows. And I finally got her to call the doctor and tell them she forgot to ask, and she says she did it and is waiting on them to call back, but… I doubt it. And even if she does miraculously come through for me, what next? The pharmacy I’ve been using suddenly can’t process my payments, and I haven’t found a replacement pharmacy that won’t require a prescription. My life is fucking hard enough without the government standing in my way.