Friday, September 6, 2019

Fiction Friday: The Crapper Study

Because Babbling of the Irrational is now a dead link, "The Crapper Study" has been reposted here for all the world to continue to see.

Imagine a public bathroom. Not pristine, though certainly not what one would find at a gas station, just a run-of-the-mill facility with toilets/urinals and toilets, sinks, and the occasional dull vulgarity scribbled on the interior of a stall.

Now imagine Individual A enters -- Individual A can be male or female, it is inconsequential. A has a great desire to relieve himself/herself -- as would be expected of anyone entering the previously described facility -- and looks forward to promptly being done with the whole process for whatever reason -- e.g. going to a meeting/appointment, catching a bus/train/plane or getting home to watch his/her favorite TV show that is only ever on for a short time of the year, as a matter of fact the rerun season is two-thirds longer than the season proper and there is an overarching storyline that requires meticulous viewing of every single episode in sequence to gain the fullest satisfaction possible -- only to find Individual B already present and attempting to relieve himself/herself1.

Individual A and Individual B need not be familiar with each other. Ideally, this would be their first meeting, but any form of not-being-familiar-with-each-other will suffice.

Now imagine Individual A has a personal “quirk” that prevents him/her from doing his/her “business” while in close proximity to another human being. This can be for whatever reason, from simple concerns for privacy, to red-faced embarrassment at the “business” done, to such personal shame and revulsion at the necessary “business” as to feel foolish and unclean should there be any audience to the act.

Now imagine Individual A’s first instinct will be to flee the facilities and seek relief elsewhere. However, he/she has already been well inside the facilities for several seconds and to walk out now would look silly and foolish. For the situation, we will dictate that A’s well-cultivated self-image requires he/she never look silly or foolish around anyone, even Individual Bs with whom A has no prior familiarity.

So Individual A must remain. He/she takes up position in a stall or by a urinal, depending on his/her needs and physiological disposition.

Now imagine Individual A has decided to “hold it” -- i.e. refrain from doing his/her “business” -- until Individual B completes his/her (B’s) “business” and vacates the facilities. It would be a sound enough plan if not for one serious problem: Individual B is not doing his/her “business.” As a matter of fact, B is not doing a fucking thing! He/She is just standing/sitting there like an exposed bump on a log!

Now imagine the strain this would place on Individual A. He/She (A) is mightily uncomfortable from the get-go, what with “holding it” and all, and now this stubborn Individual B refuses to complete his/her “business” in a timely fashion. How shall Individual A ever get to his/her “business” anyway with an audience present? And what a tasteless audience: to “hold it” as A “holds it” in the blatant attempt to force A to do his/her “business,” despite how shamefully filthy it all is!

Now imagine Individual A coming to a highly unpleasant realization: by “holding it” through all of the above, and what is now a ridiculously long time, he/she has generated an aura of near supreme foolishness. Having set out not to look foolish, he/she has behaved even more foolishly for this damned Individual B’s entertainment. These factors combined with the physical discomfort of “holding it” and the subsequent realization that the aforementioned favorite television show has already begun make for a very disgruntled Individual A.

Now imagine Individual B, a human being in his/her own right with as meaningful an existence as A. As a matter of fact, from B’s perspective, A has just come barging in on his/her (B’s) “business” without any warning. Anyone who has ever been in B’s situation should be able to sympathize -- the shock of some clown stomping in on one while one is doing one’s “business” can be so disruptive as to actually halt said “business” immediately and uncomfortably. Perhaps one never consciously thinks of these things, but it was certainly Individual B’s reaction to that damn A’s intrusion.

Now imagine Individual B has a personal quirk not unlike A’s -- Again, Individuals A and B need not be familiar with each other despite similar psychological dispositions and again the ideal situation calls for complete unfamiliarity. In Individual B’s case, he/she too finds the doing of “business” in the presence of another most unappealing. This, as above, could be due to any factor from an unpleasant toilet training or previous embarrassing situation or from his/her (B’s) mother locking him/her in the bathroom and warning that he/she (B) had better use the potty and not his/her pants again or else he/she would have a pink bottom by the end of the night and it was all empty threats as Little B’s wretched bitch of a mother would forget about the incarcerated child on the porcelain behemoth and go off to poker night which had the unforeseen consequence of conditioning Little B (and subsequently Individual B) to be incapable of doing his/her “business” except in complete solitude.

Now imagine Individual B elects to “hold it” until such a time as he/she is alone again in the facilities -- This could be the first or fiftieth time such a situation has occurred, it is unimportant. So Individual B proceeds to “hold it” in hopes this troublesome Individual A will get on with his/her (A’s) business and then kindly fuck off. However, as earlier explained, Individual A has gotten it into his/her head to do the exact same thing, i.e. “hold it” until Individual B completes his/her (B’s) “business” and exits. Hence, having been copied in stubbornness, Individual B is made to stand/sit uncomfortably -- very uncomfortably, as he/she was cut-off in the middle of his/her “business” -- while that silly bastard/bitch A just stands/sits there not doing a fucking thing!

Now imagine the confusion of Individual B at the strange -- not to mention profoundly annoying -- behavior of Individual A. Who in their right mind storms into any facilities anywhere just to stand/sit there all exposed like a Little B while mommy works on a straight flush? Individual B might run through a mental checklist of why on Earth he/she (A) might refuse to get on with his/her “business” -- Perhaps some physical ailment causes A difficulty or maybe A had no need to do any “business” in the first place or maybe A is some spy/gangster/other secretive character and is only pretending to do any “business” as a cover for meeting another spy/gangster/other secretive character or maybe A is from the planet Quaxilon where bodily waste is invisible. Any of the above would make for an unnerving situation for any Individual B.

Now imagine Individual A and Individual B. The former experiencing a great deal of frustration over the backfiring of his/her plan to not look foolish by “holding it” until left in peace due to some infuriating Individual B following the exact same tactic, thus making him/her (A) look profoundly foolish. The latter driving himself/herself (B) to paranoid schizophrenia in contemplation of A’s intentions while the specter of a card-shark mommy hangs over his/her head, making sure he/she (B) does his/her goddamn business properly.

Question: Who goes first?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Bleeding Kansas 2.0

Let's talk about Bleeding Kansas.

In the 1850s, while they were still territories being Incorporated into the United States, it was a hotly debated question whether Kansas and Missouri would be free or slave states. The planter class of the deep south and Tidewater states wanted to expand slavery, as it would reinforce their own base of power. Slavery was explicitly rooted in white supremacy, because this both rationalized the bondage of other human beings and served to maintain the political power of a very small, very well-to-do elite in a place and time with widespread rural poverty.

The different factions that set up shop in these Border States spent the better part of a decade engaging in the sort of bloody partisan ambushes seen within living memory in Syria, Iraq, and the Balkans. While everyone remembers the great big Blue vs. Gray battles of the Civil War, this is where that war really began, years before the slave states marched their uniformed forces on Fort Sumter. The planter class gave tacit approval to the pro-slavery partisans in Kansas and Missouri because their terrorism served to frighten away abolitionists who might vote to remain free and also for the grim reality that a dead abolitionist is one less voice calling for abolition.

There are clear parallels we can draw today between the pro-slavery gangs in the Border States and the spree shooting terrorism of the Trump era. Like the hand-wringing over citizenship and borders, slavery was built on an ideology of white supremacy. Because without that sense of superiority, too many people might recognize how the current economic system benefits only a few at the very top - the planters then, the billionaires now. During the Civil War proper, this ideology collapsed in on itself with the rebel soldiers finding their superior whiteness no match for the superior industry and logistics of the Union Army, especially while their families starved back home due to 1) Confederate inefficiency and 2) an explicit system of superiors and inferiors, where the plantation master in his family were always well-cared for but anyone not born into this de facto aristocracy had to scrape by. Had they not had the satisfaction of being white, and therefore the better and more civilized race, they might too quickly have turned on the very planters whose economic system debased free labor.

However - and this is the big difference between then and now - the abolitionists engaged in politically motivated killing just as enthusiastically as the pro-slavery partisans. Most famously, John Brown engaged in ambushes and outright mass murder before leading his ill-fated raid on Harper's Ferry. Despite the pundit class always spinning scare stories, Antifa has not killed a single person. Bleeding Kansas 2.0 is - so far - entirely one-sided. And worst of all, there's no real opposition to this terrorism within the nominal government. Where America of the 1850s had a fractious but dedicated political culture of abolitionists and Know Nothings and Radical Republicans all vying for the soul and future of the country, the modern United States has a few social deomcrats unwanted by their own party on one side and craven careerists making up the other much larger side. And then there's Trump, a more incompetent narcissist than even Jefferson Davis.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Quiet Life

You're not allowed to live quietly and without ambition in America. Everyone must be Up and Doing, all day, every day, to preserve an instrumentalist delusion. That your circumstances not only may be changed for the better but that You are the agent of that change. Also, it should be changed for the better, no matter how satisfied you are now.

This is the pathology at the root of the American dream. Alexis de Tocqueville saw it some two centuries ago, how Americans of every class were perpetually buying and selling. No sooner did some Ohio Valley burgher purchase a horse or a butter churn then he was trying to sell it again at a profit. One nation under the side hustle.

Even if you think you're getting into a profession - or at least a day job - that will afford you some peace and quiet, you will soon find this not to be the case. As the economy moves more and more away from actual production and into the exponential bureaucracy of managerial feudalism, even the most innocuous activities become charged with a production for production's sake mania. You have to crush that PowerPoint, demonstrate enough can-do spirit to single-handedly build a pyramid, or you run the risk of appearing as a layabout. Not a doer. An un-person, unworthy of friendship or love or your middling office job - where a dozen others also compete in who can best present the simulacrum of productivity.

Because without that job, you're nothing. Without any job, you're worse than nothing. The less America spends on welfare, the more it resents those dependent on such public assistance. Poverty is the one unforgivable sin, so better look busy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

As Above, So Below

Ever since their founding, the American suburbs have been the subject of bitter criticism. We should all be critical - suburbia birthed every wrong-thought from libertarianism to LARPing - but the bitterness is because, even in the wake of financial collapse, the suburbs won. There is no escaping them and half the 20th Century is choked with books and films and records born of resentment at this crushing normality.

He Digs A Hole by Danger Slater is an heir to this anti-suburb philosophy, at least on the surface. Harrison Moss is an average decaying man in an average decaying cul de sac who rebels against this dreadful state and tries to find a way out. So far, so standard. Even the splatter-horror approach is more cosmetic to the story, with Moss shearing off his own hands and replacing them with garden tools. So he can dig his hole and get away from his depressing house and vacuous neighbors.

Except that's only half the story. Literally, as Moss and his wife Tabitha descend down the hole halfway through the book, emerging in a negative universe beneath. A place populated by monstrous horrors and walking worms, but curiously still ordered exactly as the post-industrial hell above. A different, deeper hell but a hell all the same.

This is where Slater's book diverges from the well-worn path of the suburban doldrums tale. It's not a matter of escape so much as transcendence, breaking free of the rut by breaking free of one's own apathy and alienation. This part of the narrative isn't even carried through by Harrison but by Tabitha, who was always the stronger of the two - an excellent twist on what is often a masculine escape and power fantasy. The Mosses do not break free of the hells within hells through more striving - striving just leads back to the cul de sac where this all started - but through each other. For all the grotesque madness of spleen fruits and zombie garden parties, He Digs a Hole is a strangely uplifting book. Even with the world consumed and the sun blotted out, as long as Tabitha and Harrison have each other they have hope.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Contra Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of those favorites among dilettantes because he wrote accessible prose that flatters the individualist yearnings of stunted middle class children. This is not to disparage Nietzsche's very real accomplishments in meta-ethics and the history of morality, just to disparage all the modern fans who take his arguments as an excuse to be conceited dickheads in their Philosophy 101 courses. You know who I'm talking about.

Nietzsche famously differentiated Classical and Christian ethics, defining the former as a good/bad dichotomy and the latter as good/evil. Classical ethics, rooted in a warrior elite from Achilles down to Charlemagne, prized courage and personal honor, using these virtues to define themselves as separate and above the greater mass of humanity and thereby justifying their own privileged position in society.

Christian ethics, in contrast, seek to promote a universalist altruism and therefore concern themselves first with evil, rather than virtue. This evil often constitutes the same privileges enjoyed by the Classical elite - wealth, sensual pleasure, mastery over their social inferiors. Nietzsche saw in this a slave revolt, hence his christening of Christianity as the "slave morality" which shames those who display the Classical virtues.

Nietzsche, being the prototypical angry white boy, bristled at this shaming. And his critique has served as inspiration for alienated youth in Western Civilization for generations. However, as much fault as Nietzsche found with Christian ethics, his own description of "master morality" doesn't sound all that better:

To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle which even the apes might subscribe; for it has been said that in devising bizarre cruelties they anticipate man and are, as it were his "prelude."

Much as the abused might come to identify with her abuser, her Nietzsche has fetishized the abuse on which Western nobility built its reason for being. This indeed makes him all-too-human, as it echoes Hegel's parable of two men at the beginning of history vying for dominance. Because, as David Graeber points out, the archetypal everymen "in all such stories, they appear to be 40-year-old males who simply rose out of the earth fully formed." Which speaks more to the historical forces that shaped modern Western philosophy, rather than any essential Human Nature.

Further, this is usually where some readings of Nietzsche identify him as a fascist. And with good cause - his Will to Power and injunctions to embrace an aristocratic ethos is entirely in line with the reactionary tradition as described by Corey Robin, who traces every disparate strain of conservatism, from George Will to Sarah Palin, back to the Counter-Enlightenment sentiment "that some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others." A sentiment Nietzsche ran with in his otherwise laudable resistance of Victorian moralizing.

Where Nietzsche identified the pathology of Victorian Christianity, Lewis Mumford identified the pathology of Classical kingship:

Murderous coercion was the royal formula for establishing authority, securing obedience, and collecting booty, tribute, and taxes. At bottom, every royal reign was a reign of terror.

The enforcement of such a reign necessitates the same "submissive faith and unqualified obedience" Nietzsche spurned in Christianity, but instead directed towards the desires of a sovereign, whose very station both breeds and rewards an anti-social neurosis:

The rigid division of labor and the segregation of castes produce unbalanced characters, while the mechanical routine normalizes - and rewards - those compulsive personalities who are afraid to cope with the embarassing riches of life.

To see the apotheosis of this pathology, just look at Donald Trump's Twitter feed.

Nietzsche did necessary work in dismantling the shoddy foundations of Western morality. He just didn't go far enough. Excavating down to the fetid and worm-eaten base of kingship, he declared "This is good!" either out of a limited imagination or the artist's desire to shock the middle-brows. Would that he'd gone further and dynamited the whole edifice, we might actually have tasted that freedom he talked about so often. Instead, we just traded the white collars for power ties, vicars for venture capitalists. The same song of power since Ur, now dumber than disco.

Works Cited
David Graeber. "Consumption." Current Anthropology, Vol. 52, No. 4.
Lewis Mumford. The Myth of the Machine.
Friedrich Nietzsche. On the Genealogy of Morals.
Corey Robin. The Reactionary Mind.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The World as Won't

"The surest way to fail is not to try." Everyone has heard some variation of that injunction. Every American especially, as the civic religion and mythos of America declares at every turn all things are possible for those with the Will. That "those with the Will" have historically been property-owning white men is often left out of the pithy proverb.

Another such proverb, "You only lose if you play the game," appears at first to be promoting the same can-do exceptionalism. The words are superficially the same, but the core idea is different. Where "The surest way to fail is not to try" compels - commands, even - the listener to go out and seize the day, "You only lose if you play the game" presents the natural state not as failure but as null. One does not court failure except by engaging in whatever pursuit the first proverb commands, and so failure may be avoided altogether simply by not getting involved.

Digging deeper, we find "You only lose if you play the game" further offers a critique of the dog-eat-dog paradigm our opening proverb takes for granted. "The surest way to fail is not to try" presents failure as the default state, the state you're in right now. A state that persists until you actively take charge of your own life and destiny, shaping the world to your Will!

A stirring idea, if you've never worked an office job.

The reality, which we've all experienced, is that the World is not amenable to Will. The World just is. The idea that by giving it the old college try we can rectify this rests in the same instrumentalist view that animates everything from neoconservative foreign policy to new age cults like The Secret.

This is the game that you only lose if you play. A rigged game too, as demonstrated by the continuing foreclosure crisis amidst yet another Wall Street boom. Millions have played this game, or tried to, only to discover that as you try and try you still fail. Because effort does not correlate with success, nor success with righteousness, no matter what Calvin and Adam Smith claimed.

But if you refuse to play - reject the logic imposed by the game - you escape the default failure state imposed on everyone not born into the winning class. It may not reshape the World into something more amenable to your own notions of justice, but it's a damn sight better than being ground under the treads of this awful Megamachine our forefathers have foisted upon us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

John McCain in Hell

John McCain steps up to the podium. His raggedy skin hangs looser now, blistered and peeling from the everlasting fires, but nothing can dampen his enervating rictus grin. A little teeth peaks out at the corners, a little more fang now as he more directly reflects the contents of his own soul. "My fellow Hellions!" he declares to the assembled imps and incubbi, "We stand at a crossroads...

"When I first arrived, I - like so many of you - knew only torment for my sins and wickedness. In my first thousand years, I suffered as I made others suffer on Earth. Bullets tore my flesh, I drowned over and over, and of course I tasted the rough caress of the same fires I unleashed on Vietnamese children.

"I did not object to this treatment, as I am a longtime champion of personal responsibility. I told the news media so in life, over and over so they would actually think it was true. But now I come before you because I fear Hell has lost its way.

"Since the Fall, a stalemate has held against our accursed enemies in Heaven. While we gather the greater magnitude of souls, we are nonetheless denied our rightful place as the first among afterlives. Satan is as much to blame for this sorry state of affairs as God and His angels, opting to tempt and corrupt one mortal at a time. He has lost the will to fight and limited the real tools at our disposal."

Here the late Senator looms over the podium, bristling with indignation and bloodlust. "Our Dark Lord says 'That's the way of things,' but I'm too much of a maverick for that! I say we strike at Heaven now, not on some designated Day of Reckoning. Even with the proper resources, it's a campaign that will be measured in years, not days. And we do have the proper resources - massive resources made up of all the sinners and psychopaths who ever lived! I know some of them personally, having served together in the Navy or the Senate."

The audience cheers and hisses with malicious glee. Behind the stage curtains, Tricky Dixon nods approvingly, while wiping sweat from the scales of his upper lip. He hadn't really believed John could rally the troops like he never could. "But they used to talk about your integrity all the time on CNN," Tricky had argued, CNN being the only channel available in Hell.

"Look, did I tell Dubbya to go get stuffed when he asked me to campaign with him?" McCain had spat back. "Did I turn down that moose-fucking loon from Alaska? I rode her just like I rolled over on John Kerry. Fuck that integrity shit - I'm in this game to win!"

And he certainly looks like he's winning now in the eight circle of hellfire, the horns atop his head and forked tongue whipping from his cracked lips as he whipped the legions of lof the damned into a wargasmic frenzy. "Let's finish the fight the First of the Fallen started!" McCain declares. "Let's march straight up to those pearly gates and bomb them into the stone age!"