Escorting and other things

How are you? I hope you’re good. I’ve been kinda okay. I say kinda because almost a year ago I had a panic attack. I didn’t know what was happening to me. It took a few days to settle down, but then the stomach aches started. To this day they haven’t really stopped. It is generally believed I have IBS. I’ve seen specialists; therapists; had various tests, including an ultrasound; changed diets; taken various over the counter meds, two different prescriptions, countless supplements and teas; meditated consistently and so far, nothing has led to, well, getting back to normal.

The last-ditch effort, which is still ongoing, is Zoloft, which I was terrified to start taking. I can’t tell if it’s helping or not. At first it seemed like it wasn’t. Then it got a little better. The last 2 weeks have been worse. Per my doctor, I’m continuing with it for 6 months to a year. Though if, by the 6-month mark, it hasn’t demonstrably helped, I’ll likely stop. And then it’s just sucking it up and dealing with it, which isn’t too different then what I’ve dealt with the past year.

It almost seems as if the panic attack led to something breaking inside of me that hasn’t been and may never be fixed. It’s just such a weird thing to have a stomach ache all day every day for a week straight. It sucks but it’s not the worst. It has made my life less good, but it’s not the worst that could happen to me. So many deal with so much worse.

***

As I am wont to do, I started this post weeks ago and left it unfinished – one of dozens of blogs in various states of disrepair. Over the past few months, I’ve primarily been scratching the itch to write on social media: pithy, caustic, poignant and hilarious posts that likely induce eye-rolling by friends and family. Behold:

Antifa: Fascism is bad and needs to be confronted, lest its genocidal philosophies again take root.

Pudding-brained conservative politicians: ANTIFA ARE LITERAL TERRORISTS!

Right wing extremists: [responsible for an overwhelming amount of domestic extremist-related murder, including the Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting]

Pudding-brained conservative politicians: Something something thoughts and prayers and mental health and senseless tragedy and [trails off; resumes racist dog whistling, demonizes immigrants/refugees/Muslims, likely renews calls for labeling Antifa a terrorist organization]

(This was posted after the Garlic Fest shooting and before the El Paso shooting)

Anyways, the desire to write again in this blog occurred while listening to an episode of Science Friday, which made me want to put my fist through a wall. The relevant section was about deforestation in the Amazon. Very often I’ve noticed the host, Ira Flatow, seamlessly segueing from horrifying environmental news into something tech-related. And this is probably just me, but I always get annoyed with his tone, which alters between vaguely sad & subdued, and cloyingly optimistic. During the Amazon segment I noticed something that I hadn’t ever heard before: genuine dread in his voice as if he had actually confronted – conceivably for the first time – the ongoing horror of the destruction of the Amazon. Of course, perhaps I’m just projecting.

But that wasn’t what made me so irate. During an interview with Brazilian scientist Carlos Nobre, Flatow asked if he had hope. And this brilliant, intelligent, shrewd man of science said yes. Why? Because “the people” don’t want the Amazon cut down. The “people” need to and will get out and vote because Brazil remains a democracy (never mind the fact that “the people” voted for a borderline fascist).

Readers of my blog, given my past output, may justifiably regard me as something of a nihilist, but I can’t help but perceive this as absurdly hopeful in a way that is not at all warranted.  My rage has lessened, but hasn’t entirely subsided weeks later

This was the point I stopped writing. I just didn’t and still don’t have the will to deconstruct why I feel his optimism is both unjustified and dangerous. I’m tired. Sad. I feel hopeless – for the indigenous peoples, nonhuman animals, trees, rivers.

***

Switching gears – I’m going to talk a little further about what’s going on with me. For a few years I volunteered at a restorative justice program for youth that was recently discontinued. My city apparently decided that actually things are fine for our delinquent youth and the status quo is sufficient.

I felt I should be doing something else and decided on abortion clinic escorting. If you aren’t already aware, escorts guide patients into clinics and act as a shield against pro-life protesters. The clinic I’m at provides half of the state’s abortion services and has only one doctor on staff. Of course I was cognizant of the existence of the protesters, though it was mostly in the abstract sense, because I don’t see them in my day-to-day life. But when one escorts they’re just there, with their signs, loudspeakers, and punchable faces. And it’s their constitutional right to do so, apparently!

One of the horrifying things I learned was that kitty corner from the clinic is another clinic, which is basically a front for a Christian group that tries to dissuade women from abortions. So when women come to their appointments, the pro-lifers converge and, amongst other horseshit they yell, try to convince them to go to the other “free clinic” across the street. Devious fucks.

Another somewhat interesting thing I learned, that should have been intuitive had I considered it, was the segregation of the various Christian groups: evangelicals out in front, in-your-face and holding gory placards; quieter Catholics somewhat respectfully across the street; Children of the Corn-like Quiverfull adolescents; and unaffiliated damaged people with nothing better to do with their lives. And scattered throughout are the children, forced by their parents to waste their youth on religious zealotry.

The protesters especially scorn male escorts such as myself, who are emasculated degenerates who gleefully aid in fetus genocide. I experienced this firsthand upon leaving one day. I had taken off my rainbow-colored vest (a thus far fool-proof way to dissuade infiltration) and began walking to my car. I was wearing an Iron Maiden shirt and, aside from comments about the shirt, I was called a “Mary.” To my back, of course. I’m still smarting from it.

Overall, I theorized I would be good for this because I couldn’t care less what people for whom I have no respect said to me. And that’s proven to be the case so far. I’ve literally never said a word to any of them. Sure, I’ve laughed and smirked and talked about them as they stood feet away. But I have no desire to engage in discussion. We are instructed not to do so, but most of the escorts at one time or another will, whether out of anger, amusement or exasperation, talk to them.

A lot of the regulars are damaged, and have experienced trauma: a man who was supposedly able to pray the gay away thanks to conversion therapy; someone who was abused as a child, did every “drug there is” and was a “whoremonger;” the Quiverfull kids indoctrinated into their grossly misogynist cult since birth. So I am able to maintain a tiny amount of empathy (or sympathy? I can’t decide which), though it evaporates the second they start screaming at women about how they’re murdering their child and don’t have to do it.

In the past, escorts at this location have experienced doxing, being followed to their cars, having car tire lug nuts loosened, and protesters showing up at their houses. They’ve had to get restraining orders. They’ve witnessed cars wedged into the clinic entryway. I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing any of this, although I’m apparently on a protester’s livestream somewhere on the internet. Originally conceived as a 6 month program, escorting still exists at this location 25 years later because it needs to – these people are tenacious and need to be confronted.

***

Finally, I want to mention LINGUA IGNOTA putting out the album of the year. The first time I heard it I was reading and decided to put on some background music. But this is not background music. For the next 10 minutes I sat with my mouth agape. So so fucking good, raw and brutal. If just one of you listens to this I will be satisfied.

Not sure if this will lead to more blogs. Maybe, maybe not.

I, satanist

[Scene: Waiting area situated between two restaurants in Gatlinburg, TN (a tourist hellscape that is a necessary evil whilst visiting the Great Smoky Mountains). My wife went to the bathroom and I’m alone. A guy sitting across from me notices my hoodie.]

Guy: What’s that shirt you’re wearing?

Me: It’s a band called Choking Victim.

Guy: What kind of music is that?

Me: Kind of like a punk band.

Guy: I don’t like stuff like that with the [makes a weird muffled scream-like sound]

Me: Ok

Guy: [Pauses long enough that I think the conversation is over] So you’re a satanist

Me: What? No

Guy: Your shirt says otherwise

[To be fair, the shirt contains a pentagram and upside down cross]

Me: Ah. If you look at the rest of the shirt you can see it says “no gods no managers

Guy: [Pauses again, but I’m fairly certain he’s thinking of something to say] Satan’s not a god

Me: [not wanting to get into the nuances of Christian theology as it relates to atheism] Well, fine – anything biblical I don’t really believe in

Guy: [walks towards one of the restaurants; then he walks back to the waiting area and continues toward the other restaurant] So I guess Trump ain’t your president

Me: I mean, he is the president

Guy: [doesn’t respond; continues walking]

My wife liked my response but I thought of a few alternates to his devastating parting shot which heinously accused me of not liking America’s special big boy president:

#1: Actually, Malcolm Brogdon is the only president I recognize

#2: I don’t really get the question, if it was even a question rather than a statement. Using the word “my” has the connotation that he belongs to me or that I have some kind of claim on him. It’s kind of silly. So he’s not “my” president, same as Obama wasn’t “my” president. But I hope we can both agree that he’s a real pile of shit.

#3: You know, I’d like to say no but Trump is the perfect encapsulation of all that is revolting in American society congealed into one grotesque person. Just an utterly vile amalgamation of greed, sexism, racism, xenophobia, cruelty, hypersensitivity, unearned arrogance, short-sightedness, and an almost pathological amount of ignorance injected into a screaming, hate-filled, creamsicle-colored blob. Perhaps worst of all is his childlike understanding of science in a moment where it might be a good idea for the scientifically literate to take the wheel (did you hear about this utter clown talking about wind farms causing cancer?). And a bunch of people listened to the things he said, and read the things he attempted to write and, rather than thinking this person is deeply, deeply puerile, they thought “yes, he should be one of the most powerful people in the world – one who should definitely have control over nuclear weapons.” And whether I like it or not, I’m complicit, as most of us in America are to varying degrees; we participate and benefit by virtue of residing in the world’s most powerful nation-state that is hopelessly unwilling and unable to meaningfully confront its foundational mythologies and deep structural problems which continue to immiserate large portions of its own populace (not to mention the peoples it exploits and kills throughout the globe); all of this while situated as the Leviathanic head of an unholy beast driving all living beings toward ecological disaster. Let’s be real – our society’s vast problems both transcend and predate this oafish goon’s ascent. Anyways, I guess from that perspective he is very much my president as he is surely yours. But I hope we can both agree that he’s a real pile of shit.

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Pretty sure if I said any of that it wouldn’t have ended well for me.

The death throes of Leviathan

***This is probably my last post here. Thanks to those who have read any of my bullshit.***

He might think of it as a worm, a giant worm, not a living worm but a carcass of a worm, a monstrous cadaver, its body consisting of numerous segments, its skin pimpled with spears and wheels and other technological implements. He knows from his own experience that the entire carcass is brought to artificial life by the motions of the human beings trapped inside, the zeks who operate the springs and wheels, just as he knows that the cadaverous head is operated by a mere zek, the head zek.

[…]

Everything is artifice, and whatever is not will soon be artifice. There is nothing outside but raw materials ready and waiting to be processed and transformed into Leviathanic excrement, the substance of the universe. Some raw materials resist the transformation more than others, but none can withstand the inexorable March of Progress.

I’ve long considered Fredy Perlman’s Leviathan to be a useful metanarrative for the totality of modern-day society (or culture, civilization, “the way things are,” etc.). In Against His-story Against Leviathan! he reimagines and recontextualizes the forms and functions of Hobbes’s Leviathan as it rampages across the globe. There have been numerous Leviathans throughout human history, continually configuring and reconfiguring, dissolving and recombining, but we have long since reached the point where it is One, containing most of humanity within its entrails.

With imagination, from the outside, one can perceive it in different lights, shimmering, obscuring – here it looks like a hellbeast despoiling the wild, there it looks like comfort and longer life spans granted to the fortunate. With imagination we can behold it as a collective whole – what it has done and what it is currently doing. Even then, we can only tenuously grasp the size and scale of its monstrosity.

There are many divisions within Leviathan, constantly warring against each other. Scraps are fought for by large conglomerations of entities – nation-states, corporations, revolutionary groups (both reactionary and otherwise). On a smaller scale, individuals and families fight for access to plush areas of Leviathan’s decaying interior in the hopes of remaining relatively free from the unsightliness of its worst excesses. Members of the fortunate classes do everything in their power to ensure that they and their progeny gain access to what they rightfully deserve. The unprivileged hordes, existing in the less desirable margins of Leviathan while being exploited for the benefit of their social betters, must know and accept their place for Leviathan to function properly.

Regardless of the manners in which classes of people are divided, within Leviathan we stagger ever ahead. The diffusion of control is such that there is no one person (no “head zek”), or collection of persons that can be said to have control over it. Sure, some may have more of a say in lurching this way or that, or conjuring different ways to execute its modus operandi, but it is accurate to say that it is largely autonomous. Its agenda consists of two primary components: depositing the raw materials of the earth into its gaping maw and, in its gut, cohering these raw materials into products which diffuse into every nook and cranny within the great creature. The primary concerns are related to how to go about doing this in the most profitable and efficient manner possible. These products – with their congealed and abstracted environmental destruction and human misery – find their way via labyrinthine pathways into every facet of human life. Surrounded by the fruits of mass production almost every second of every day, it is as impossible to conceive of the human/environmental costs of each and every product as it is to conceive of life without them.

In Leviathan’s wake, vibrant mountains are converted into poisonous slag heaps, bountiful estuaries into anoxic dead zones, biologically diverse forests into denuded greenhouse gas producing pasturelands. In short, converting the living into the dead. Capitalism and industrialization are the steroids that catalyzed pre-existing processes and kicked it into overdrive [1]. But it would miss the point to apportion blame solely to these hyperobjects – the origins of what we have wrought transcends both of these human creations, as elaborated by Perlman and many, many others.

Outside, there is no life, no existence – only materials waiting be consumed. Though that is not entirely accurate: there does happen to be some form of existence, however it is – as Hobbes contends – nasty, brutish and short. It is barely worthy of legibility to Leviathan, unless, at some point, it is determined that it stands in the way of Progress. Otherwise, there is little to no utility in its quasi-existence.

***

A few weeks back, the IPCC released yet another damning report about industrialized capitalism and its conduciveness to the continued existence of human and non-human life. Like this essay, its contents are broadly similar to what has been written, researched, and reported on 2, 5, and 10 years ago. More will be written – albeit with updated scientific data – 2, 5, or 10 years in the future. When confronted with this, many will shake their heads sadly and get on with their day. Because what else can you do? We are so habituated to “the way things are,” that we cannot conceive of how to live outside of the suffocating confines of Leviathan. This is unfortunate because there is the possibility that we will, out of necessity, be forced to do so.

To live with the prospect of impending, though vaguely defined doom is new to those of us that have never labored under the delusion of a religion-inspired apocalypse. It is also new to those too young to have lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation. What we are collectively facing is frustratingly vague – if it weren’t, if it were easy to comprehend its enormity, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves. Perhaps more of us would actually perform meaningful actions to stop it.

I do not know what it’s like to believe that Jesus, with a flaming sword protruding from his mouth, will descend from heaven heralding the apocalypse. I do not know what it was like to live in fear of nuclear annihilation. The Bible’s vision of the endtimes is fantastical, but comprehensible. Nuclear annihilation is all too easy to understand. Both are less complicated and easier to grasp than what the depredations of the Anthropocene (the crystallization of Leviathan’s aforementioned modus operandi) and catabolic capitalism have in store [2].

***

Some see Leviathan for what it is and wish to extinguish its death-drive by any means short of violence against others. Thus far, despite scattered and localized success via direct action, their efforts have done little to so much as slow its gait. Their small numbers have left them largely unable to conjure tumors, or abscesses. When they do, they are easily ignored or scarred over. Moreover, Leviathan’s antibodies have proven to be very adept at infiltrating, entrapping, and mitigating infections.

Excepting illegal resistance – denied by most as desirable – leaves only the usual, unsuccessful means that have also utterly failed thus far: encouragement of responsible personal lifestyle choices and, especially in the heart of Leviathan, voting for the party that is partially less beholden to the same world-destroying interests as the grotesque party of rank bigotry, ignorance and gleeful earth annihilation. To think or believe this is sufficient is sheer wishful thinking – you may as well decide which god you find most likely to exist and get praying.

The balance of power in Washington has subtly shifted with the Democrats winning the house. Leaving aside what the political ramifications of this will be for the next two years, what if the Republicans maintain power in the next presidential election? Then what? Marches? Protests? Devastatingly witty and hilarious infotainment from celebrities and comedians? More liberal vote-shaming? More exhortations for mindful, “ecologically sound” consumerism? Not using plastic bags or straws? Will it be the same old shit that has proven unable to halt or slow our culture’s death march? Probably. And yet, much of the same things would happen under a more liberal administration but, insidiously, also containing the false sense of security that many will have with “the right people” regaining power. After all, 8 years of Obama did little to halt climate change, environmental destruction, and mass production/mass consumption (the same goes for income inequality, US imperialism, institutionalized racism, the Flint water crisis, the Dakota Access Pipeline, etc.).

On the heels of the latest damning report from the IPCC, millions are, as they have been for years, exposed to insipid bullshit like this:

See how easy it is? You can even feel a smug sense of superiority for your enlightened consumerism. After all, you’re doing YOUR part, and the only discomfort you need feel is in your pocketbook, as environmentally conscious products tend to be more expensive. (I kind of feel ripped off because I actually do many things considered to be “green” – and have for many years – but weirdly enough it hasn’t appeared to have made a difference (this should go without saying, but none of this should be taken as an argument against doing “green” things))

It should be obvious, but the vast majority of carbon emissions are the result of multinational corporations. So you reading this – assuming you are not a captain of industry – are not responsible for the existence of Leviathan and what it is doing to both its inhabitants and its host. What you do and don’t do within the context of living your day-to-day life probably doesn’t matter. You were born into a socio-politico-economic system you played no part in creating. However, you (and me) are responsible for attempting to stop those who maintain and perpetuate this destructive, fundamentally unequal/unjust socio-politico-economic system (that is, if you grant my premise, which I’m sure many of you don’t). Especially if you are a beneficiary of it. I won’t speak for anyone else but I know I’m failing.

***

If I’m correct that we are neither close to nor will ever be close to voluntarily reigning in Leviathan’s worst excesses, what is most likely to occur is a series of Hail Marys on a global scale. Geoengineering is inevitable – leave it to the First World to put our hopes in fixes that will allow us to maintain our lifestyle. In doing so we will, as we approach nearly every systemic problem, address only the symptoms while leaving the root causes undisturbed. It’s the easy way out (not that the specific geoengineering projects will be easy). We won’t abandon our hyper-consumptive lifestyles without being forced to do so. Perhaps these projects will enable “the way things are” to continue for the foreseeable future, and thus prolonging the inevitable need to confront the contradiction implicit in capitalism’s “infinite economic growth on a finite planet” ethos. Maybe this new Scientific Revolution could enable the oppressed classes to lead better lives – though if neoliberal capitalism continues as the global economic system this is almost impossible to believe.

In addition to the widespread implementation of geoengineering and its promises for a better tomorrow, there are two other broad paradigms that could be in store: the proliferation of dictatorships as resources dwindle and the consequences of climate change become impossible to ignore [3]; or collapse, as efforts to prop up Leviathan fail, leaving large amounts of people, land and resources outside of centralized state control.

If a series of collapses were to occur, the resulting communities would be kaleidoscopic in how they develop over time and depend on an uncountable number of variables: population density, environmental conditions, access to land and water, culture, religion, food acquisition techniques, self-defense abilities, base of knowledge of the natural world, and, perhaps most importantly, the extent to which any specific community is able to deal with breakdowns in the product distribution networks that are the hallmark of modern-day civilized life. Some will be violent and tyrannical. Some less so. Some friendly, others insular. Some will flourish, others will suffer and die. Some will defy conventional means of description. Most will be mixtures of every trait imaginable. And none will be static, as human communities are fluid and continuously changing.

Looking to the past, human societies have existed in countless forms throughout our history as a species [4]. To continue with the thematic narrative of the previous paragraph, some have been more egalitarian, some less so. Some relatively peaceful, some warlike. Some completely vegetarian and others almost entirely carnivorous. There have been socially stratified hunter-gatherers, and egalitarian agricultural villages. There have even been many societies that walked away from collapsed central power and thrived. Most of them haven’t rendered wide swathes of the planet uninhabitable for their human and non-human neighbors (the WWF recently determined that we have “wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970.”). And, perhaps, a number of post-collapse communities will tap into that legacy.

***

Cycling back to our present-day quagmire, to channel comrade Lenin, what is to be done? Shall we seize power and transition to some kind of eco-socialist economy that equitably distributes goods and services in a way that doesn’t destroy the biosphere [5]? Vote actual leftists into power in the hopes of mitigating at least some of the detrimental effects of mass production (and institutionalized racism, economic inequality, etc.)? Is it sufficient to merely find concrete ways to dissuade those who profit the most off of earth’s destruction? Should we myopically enact doomsday prepper fantasies? Participate in decentralized mutual aid networks in preparation for inevitable discrete and ongoing disasters that states are unable/unwilling to adequately address? Should we destroy oil extraction infrastructure? Torch gas guzzling vehicles and aircraft? Dismantle power-plant apparatuses? Or do we sit back, cling to our lifestyles based on extraction and consumption, and hope that Science and Technology, in conjunction with the friendlier capitalist political party, will save us?

Such is the immensity of Leviathan that there is an infinite number of things one can do. Such is the immensity of Leviathan that it is unknown to what extent anything one can do will actually matter – both globally and, to a lesser extent, locally. What is to be done?

There is one possible endgame – some of Leviathan’s inhabitants may claw their way out of its corpse, behold the world in a new light, and build societies on top of its decomposing remains. They may use the putrefying entrails, but these communities can work to ensure that they are never able to recombine into another monstrous iteration of Leviathan, and thus begin the world-destroying process anew. Maybe they’ll dance on the rotting husk of what used to be a world-encompassing death machine.

One may write this off as utopian and naïve. And you are very justified in thinking this, at least for those of us firmly entrenched in Leviathan. But for the indigenous the world over – from the Sentinelese in the Andaman Islands, to the San in southern Africa, to the Sami in northern Scandinavia, to the Mohawk Nation in Akwesasne straddling the border of the U.S and Canada (to say nothing of exploited, terrorized and endangered nonhuman animals) – it’s not at all inconceivable. Their hope lies in the death throes of Leviathan not taking them down as it feeds upon itself.

Perhaps I’m just plain wrong – a wild-eyed, Nietzschean madman stumbling about, howling “industrial civilization is killing the planet!” instead of “God is dead!” Steven Pinker might just be right about the likes of me. As I write this in my office cubicle, I can’t fathom how anyone in my vicinity would seriously consider more than a few things I’ve written to have merit (the same goes, I think, for many readers who’ve made it this far). Like me, they want to finish their work, go home, and live their lives. They have other things to worry about. Broadly, tomorrow will be like today. Next week will look like last week. Next month will be similar to last month. But it seems as if we are inching closer to… something. After all, our culture’s doomsday prophesiers are not the charlatans of yore; instead, they are those to whom we in the West have entrusted the empirical study of the totality of existence to.

In closing, I’m reminded of Ishmael, by the late Daniel Quinn, which is sadly even more relevant today than it was in 1992. The novel features a series of conversations between Ishmael, a gorilla-sage, and the unidentified narrator, a surrogate for the privileged, civilized man who senses things maybe aren’t so great:

Ishmael frowned […] “As long as the people of your culture are convinced that the world belongs to them and that their divinely-appointed destiny is to conquer and rule it, then they are of course going to go on acting the way they’ve been acting for the past ten thousand years. They’re going to go on treating the world as if it were a piece of human property and they’re going to go on conquering it as if it were an adversary. You can’t change these things with laws. You must change people’s minds. And you can’t just root out a harmful complex of ideas and leave a void behind; you have to give people something that is as meaningful as what they’ve lost — something that makes better sense than the old horror of Man Supreme, wiping out everything on this planet that doesn’t serve his needs directly or indirectly.”

I shook my head. “What you’re saying is that someone has to stand up and become to the world of today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire.”

“Yes, basically. Is that so daunting?”

I laughed. “Daunting isn’t nearly strong enough. To call it daunting is like calling the Atlantic damp.”

“Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand-up comic on television reaches more people in ten minutes than Paul did in his entire lifetime?”

“I’m not a stand-up comic.”

“But you’re a writer, aren’t you?”

“Not that kind of writer.”

Ishmael shrugged. “Lucky you. You are absolved of any obligation. Self-absolved.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What were you expecting to learn from me? An incantation? A magic word that would sweep all the nastiness away?”

“No.”

“Ultimately, it would seem you’re no different from those you profess to despise: You just wanted something for yourself. Something to make you feel better as you watch the end approach.”

[…]

“One thing I know people will say to me is ‘Are you suggesting we go back to being hunter-gatherers?’ ”

“That of course is an inane idea,” Ishmael said. “The Leaver life-style isn’t about hunting and gathering, it’s about letting the rest of the community live — and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers.” He paused and shook his head. “What I’ve been at pains to give you is a new paradigm of human history. The Leaver life is not an antiquated thing that is ‘back there’ somewhere. Your task is not to reach back but to reach forward.”

“But to what? We can’t just walk away from our civilization the way the Hohokam did.”

“That’s certainly true. The Hohokam had another way of life waiting for them, but you must be inventive — if it’s worthwhile to you. If you care to survive.” He gave me a dull stare. “You’re an inventive people, aren’t you? You pride yourselves on that, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then invent.”

__________

[1] It is both tragic and somewhat fitting that the home city of the Venetian Octopus (Perlman’s term for pre-modern sea-based Leviathans), which played an integral role in the rise of globalized capitalism, will likely be rendered uninhabitable by it.

[2] Craig Collins describes catabolic capitalism as “a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by devouring the society that sustains it. As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.” This already exists in parts of the world – the question is to what extent the affluent West will experience it. The article is well worth reading in full and I can’t help but quote a bit more of it:

Catabolic capitalism flourishes because it can still generate substantial profits by dodging legalities and regulations; stockpiling scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; scavenging, breaking down and selling off the assets of the decaying productive and public sectors; and preying upon the sheer desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

Without enough energy to generate growth, catabolic capitalists stoke the profit engine by taking over troubled businesses, selling them off for parts, firing the workforce and pilfering their pensions. Scavengers, speculators and slumlords buy up distressed and abandoned properties – houses, schools, factories, office buildings and malls – strip them of valuable resources, sell them for scrap or rent them to people desperate for shelter. Illicit lending operations charge outrageous interest rates and hire thugs or private security firms to shake down desperate borrowers or force people into indentured servitude to repay loans. Instead of investing in struggling productive enterprises, catabolic financiers make windfall profits by betting against growth through hoarding and speculative short selling of securities, currencies and commodities.

[…]

Catabolic capitalism is not inevitable. However, in a growth-less economy, catabolic capitalism is the most profitable, short-term alternative for those in power. This makes it the path of least resistance from Wall Street to Washington. But Green capitalism is another story.

As both radical Greens and the corporate establishment realize, Green capitalism is essentially an oxymoron. Truly Green policies, programs and projects contradict capitalism’s primary directive – profit before all else! This doesn’t mean there aren’t profitable niche markets for some products and services that are both ecologically benign and economically beneficial. It means that capitalism’s overriding profit motive is fundamentally at odds with ecological balance and the general welfare of humanity.

While people and the planet can thrive in an ecologically balanced society, the self-centered drive for profit and power cannot. A healthy economy that encourages people to take care of each other and the planet is incompatible with exploiting labor and ransacking nature for profit. Thus, capitalists will resist, to the bitter end, any effort to replace their malignant economy with a healthy one. [emphasis added]

[3] Again I quote Collins:

As globalization runs down, this grim catabolic future is eager to replace it. Already, an ugly gang of demagogic politicians around the world hopes to ride this catabolic crisis into power. Their goal is to replace globalization with bombastic nationalist authoritarianism [the most recent example being the absolutely vile Bolsonaro in Brazil]. These xenophobic demagogues are becoming the political face of catabolic capitalism. They promise to restore their country to prosperity and greatness by expelling immigrants while carelessly ignoring the disastrous costs of fossil fuel addiction and military spending. Anger, insecurity and need to believe that a strong leader can restore “the good old days” will guarantee them a fervent following even though their false promises and fake solutions can only make matters worse.

[4] One can find sources just about anywhere. While writing this, I had in mind Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott and Worshiping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Formation by Peter Gelderloos. I don’t expect anyone to actually purchase them so, if interested, check out this rather long article by David Graeber and David Wengrow.

[5] Unlike the Soviet and Maoist Leviathans – both as adept at world destruction as the capitalist West – hopefully this new “dictatorship of the proletariat” would actually progress towards a state in which the very scaffolds propping up Leviathan wither away. Seems unlikely.

A heartwarming tale of redemption for the singer of a shitty Christian metal band

To be a fan of metal can be annoying if you care at all about supporting people who aren’t terrible. The vast majority of bands in the genres (and genre crossovers, and subgenres, and subgenres of subgenres, etc.) are composed of cishet white dudes. Because of this, one has to be – again, if they even care – on guard against supporting racists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, rapists, and garden variety garbage people. I suppose in this regard it’s not all that different from supporting the work or art of any person you don’t know – artists, politicians, comedians, scholars, bloggers, etc.

As I Lay Dying – God, what a terrible name – is a Christian metalcore band. Metalcore is basically a hybrid of hardcore (itself an offshoot of punk) and metal that began in the early 90’s and whose best days were over by the end of that decade. One might think that Christians wouldn’t be very good at playing such evil sounding music, but Christian bands are among the genre’s best: Zao, Disciple, Living Sacrifice, Strongarm, Overcome. Not among those bands, in my opinion, is AILD, who began in 2000 and signed to Metal Blade Records in 2003 (this is indicative of their popularity within the context of the underground metal scene).

But the good times didn’t last as the singer, Tim Lambesis, was convicted of trying to have his wife killed in 2013 – I’m not certain, but I don’t think is something Jesus approves of. I don’t want to get too into the convoluted timeline, but it seems he stopped being Christian without telling anyone in the years leading up to the attempted murder-for-hire. He further claimed the band wasn’t really Christian, which they vehemently denied (I love the idea that he pretended to be Christian just to sell his band’s music and merchandise to Christians). Anyways, it seems it was during his “atheist phase” that he tried to have his wife killed.

Lambesis served his time – 2 whole years – and was released in 2016. Somewhat hilariously, he sued the State of California for $35 million because they wouldn’t provide a prescription to combat his withdrawal from steroids (the toxic mixture of atheism and steroid usage are the true culprits in all of this). But, whatever, he’s out now and AILD has triumphantly reunited (check the comments for how to be a terrible online atheist)! In the months leading to the reunion, Lambesis had this to say

I cannot say for certain what life looks like going forward as so much is different now and I’m still learning. Music always has and always will be a part of me, and has helped me get through the darkest parts of my journey. However, this apology is not a part of promoting anything [Sure, right]. Rumors circulate, and that’s something I’ve learned to accept, but this apology is just that, an apology to everyone around me.

I’ve remained silent to the public since expressing remorse at my sentencing because time seemed like the best way to promote healing. Today marks the first opportunity to freely apologize without any motivation to gain favor from the courts, as I have now completed the entirety of my legal sentence (including the completion of all parole/probation requirements). Let it be clear that no amount of time served can right my wrongs. I do not feel deserving of a second chance and am not asking for anyone’s trust [Several months later, he apparently made the decision that he very much deserves a second chance; though, no doubt, he will make no such claim publicly]. The way many people feel about me makes sense, and only time will tell if my future actions line up with my remorse, something I pray for every day. In the last five years, the ripple effect of all my actions has extended further than a written statement can address. Thus, I will continue to apologize in both words and actions moving forward.

People who like bad music are really psyched – shows are selling out, or being put in larger venues.

The band claims that the singer might be a Christian again:

[Lambesis] has spent much of the last year re-evaluating what originally convinced him to abandon belief in God. After much brokenness and repentance he sees things differently, considers himself a follower of Jesus, someone submitted to the will of God, or whatever you want to call it,” adding, “That’s for him to talk about when he’s comfortable and only time will tell if he is sincere.

That was from 2014 and occurred a couple months after his conviction. It does not appear he’s addressed his faith, or lack thereof (aside from the reference to praying in his statement above), but I can’t wait for the interview where he explicitly blames his atheist lapse for leading him astray. Because who among the godless readers of this blog hasn’t used their non-belief to justify orchestrating the murder of someone close to them?

I checked out a few Christian sites to see how this is being handled among those types. A sampling:

I, for one, am hoping Tim is a changed man and becomes a productive member of society once more. Often the greatest stories of redemption carry the heavy burden of failure. Tim will have to earn people’s trust and prove he’s different. He has a long road ahead of him and his crime will always haunt him. Yet, I’m hopeful. My story is marked by failure and shortcoming, but people were kind enough to believe in me when I was at my worst.

You don’t have to listen to or support As I Lay Dying’s return, but I think we can all agree that the best hope for a broken world, is reformed healers who mend the parts they’ve shattered [I, for one, don’t agree with this simplistic nonsense].

If that happens, we might just see more people’s evil actions become a story of redemption and reconciliation. [Right]

[L]ambesis points to his embrace of atheism as precipitating the whole thing. There’s a long and storied argument about whether objective morality can exist in a universe without a creator, and a lot of atheists take personal offense at it because they think it implies that atheists are inherently immoral. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case [THANKS BRO!], but I have encountered plenty of people in my own life who, upon losing their religious faith, used it as an excuse to do horrible and ugly things to the people around them. What I am fairly certain of is that a rupture in worldview seems to make people behave abominably [ESPECIALLY when Christians morph into atheists]. When our ideological presuppositions come out from under us, our true, ugly selves are revealed [I love the idea that he apparently thinks Christians like himself are “ugly” and need their religion to keep their “true” selves locked below the surface. I almost wished I gave a shit about being Catholic so I could have went fucking wild when I rejected it. Sad]

That’s a scary thing. Scarier than after-school-special-style ‘roid rage, almost.

Scary stuff indeed. I’m scared.

Lambesis, of course, will be fine – there are many who fucking love redemption stories of men coming back from the bad things they’ve done. That’s what makes it so galling when people like Michael Ian Black (“we’re in a cultural moment in which some men who do terrible things have no pathway for redemption”) mewl about how it’s apparently a difficult thing for men to regain their lost status. Motherfucker, the roadmap for doing so is very well established. One only needs to have the requisite social capital in relation to whatever it is they did/said. Add in a dose of real or feigned contrition and you can be well on your way to regain lost status.

There are many, many bands that are far better than AILD in the underground metal scene. Due to this, I actually am a bit shocked at the response because they are so derivative, so generic. I should add I think it would be unfair to single out the Christian portion of their fan-base as they have wide crossover appeal to the non-religious. How nice that shitty, banal music can unite them in supporting someone who was thankfully too inept to coordinate the murder of his wife during a protracted phase of atheism and ‘roid rage.

The pope should shut the fuck up about indigenous resistance

[Note: I wrote almost all of this blog before learning of Caine’s passing. I only interacted with her a few times, but I was repeatedly struck by how fierce she was in her writings. She will be missed.

Some months back, she had written that she’d like to see her fellow bloggers write about indigenous issues and we had a little back and forth about it. A coincidence, then, that it is the topic of this post. Condolences to those who knew and loved her best, and anyone else who’s enjoyed her work on FtB.]

Via The Onion:

In a historic admission of the Catholic church’s complicated and often shameful history, Pope Francis admitted in an informal public statement Thursday that “like, 97 percent” of Catholic leadership are “probably burning in hell right now.” “Believe me, contemporary Catholics are quite familiar with our legacy of murder, rape, cultural exploitation, and thievery on every scale from splitting up South America for silver rights down to just stealing stuff—make no mistake, most of those holy men were simply terrible people who deserve to fry in their own considerable fat for eternity,” said His Holiness, who took time during an informal lunch meeting with interfaith leaders to deliver a capsule history of manifold crimes committed by Vatican higher-ups, complete with a running commentary on the church’s long tradition of manipulating and mistreating its devotees. “Keep in mind this was just the stuff they did to other Catholics—at least, they were Catholic when those vicious scoundrels were done with them. Well, they’re paying for it in searing pain and screams now. Oh, and if someone wouldn’t convert, or couldn’t be converted by force? That’s when we get into Crusades, the Inquisitions, Spanish and others, the name of Christ invoked in the slaughter of native peoples, which is why their eyes will forever boil from out of their roasting skulls.

This is one of the many times I lament the fact that The Onion is #fakenews. What a welcome sentiment this would be in light of the Cool Pope’s somewhat recent shitty comments on the Mapuche conflict in Chile (this is something I meant to write about way back in January). First, though, who are the Mapuche and what made Francis think he had the right to tell them what to do? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

[T]he arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century seems to have triggered the amalgamation of several indigenous groups and the forging of closer social and cultural ties, all of which is part of what we know today as the history of the Mapuche identity. The Mapuche people rebelled against Spanish subjugation and burned the cities built by the European colonizers south of the Bío Bío River. This rebellion marked the beginning of the Arauco War, in which Spain was forced to maintain a professional army to guard its territorial borders and to recognize Mapuche autonomy within indigenous lands. The Mapuche people did not submit to outside rule until 1882, when the Army of the Republic of Chile began its campaign for the “Pacification of the Araucanía Region.” The campaign came in response to the urgent need to conquer usable land and was driven by an ideology that sought to eliminate indigenous groups by “civilizing” them. After the Chilean military victory, the process of colonization by European and local mestizo settlers was facilitated by restricting local indigenous inhabitants to small plots of communally held land. The direct consequences of this process for Mapuche society included a drastic decrease in their territory through reiterated, large scale usurpation, dependence on the Government as an external agent, and the breakdown of Mapuche society due to the loss of authority of the lonkos or chiefs.

The struggle has continued in fits and starts to the present day, with different groups pursuing different ends with different means – some are peaceful and some engage in property destruction (what the state and media refer to as terrorism) [1].

Their current adversaries are the usual suspects: a panoply of different entities including the state and military, non-indigenous landowners, the Catholic Church, and, of course, foreign & domestic capitalists:

Today, the Mapuche people are fighting to recover their territorial rights in the Araucanía Region. In these efforts, they confront forestry companies as well as the military. The consequences of the conflict are dramatic. Levels of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and illiteracy in this region are the highest in the country.

Moreover, the mass media labels Mapuche protests as “terrorist,” misleading the general public and encouraging the spread of violence. The economic consortiums that control the forestry industry in the region also own the national mass media. This relationship fuels the conflict, protects specific economic interests, and validates military intervention against the Mapuche.

As for Cool Pope, he became upset because churches were burned in Mapuche territory. But, why would such things be done?

Between 1818 and 1950 during the first stage of Chilean colonization, the Chilean State used methods of evangelization [that] were used to submit and dominate the Mapuche People.

This meant the internal plunder of the self or person (what the Chilean government and the bishopric class calls the desecration of faith). Our Machi [Medicine Healers]  were demonized, and their rewe [medicines] plundered and destroyed. Our sacred spaces (tren tren, trayenco, mawizantu) destroyed and eliminated, and among the ruins they planted pine and eucalyptus, houses and churches were built, and we were confined to spiritual and emotional imbalance.

In the definitive occupation of our territory, the Catholic Church played an outstanding, even military, role, acting as the vanguard in the displacement and occupation of Wallmapu [Mapuche Territory]. They were not only the transmitters of dominant norms and values, but also controlled and punished indigenous transgressors, prohibiting the continued belief in their traditional ways, imposing determined values of resignation, obedience and respect to so-called superiors.

Currently, it is not surprising that the Catholic Church owns all educational facilities in the Araucanía Region, and that every school serves as its economic bastion.

So into the fray he descends, bestowing these words of wisdom:

You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division [actually, one can definitely do that – Christians were able to assert themselves all over the fucking world by destroying others and their culture. Also, burning churches isn’t the same as destroying others]. Violence begets violence; destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”[By that logic, wouldn’t violence perpetrated by Christians in the name of Christianity turn Christianity into a lie? Nah – how silly of me to apply his own words to his religion] [2]

Anyways, the pope is an asshole. That he’s apologized for Catholic complicity in the horrors of colonialism (which, next to absolutely nothing, is the bare minimum the Catholic church should have done a long time ago) certainly doesn’t grant him moral high ground – especially when the legacies of those horrors are ongoing and still perpetuated by members of his flock.

You don’t get to tell people who have been oppressed for generations by adherents of your religion how to resist their oppressors. Although, far be it from me to tell the infallible messenger of God what to do – but the Mapuche are eminently justified in telling him to fuck off.


[1] There was an incident in 2013 where white landowners, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mackay, were burned alive in their home by Mapuche protesters. I was only going to briefly mention this, but I ended up going down a rabbit-hole. The details are sketchy, but this occurred on the five year anniversary of a Mapuche activist shot by police on Luchsinger’s property. Both situations, the shooting and arson, were preceded by conflicts/arguments that lead to death.

There was one conviction for the arson. Most recently, 11 other defendants were acquitted, with the ruling stating there was “not enough proof to support the prosecution’s allegation that it was a terrorist attack or a premeditated plan to stir fear and pressure farmers into leaving their land.”

To give more context, the Luchsinger family

arrived in Mapuche territory from Switzerland in the late 1800s and benefited from the government’s colonisation policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile’s Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.

The nephew of the deceased couple stated that “with this attack it seems that my prophecy was being fulfilled that the region is suffering attacks to empty farmers and entrepreneurs.” So long as the farmers and entrepreneurs remain, his prophecy may continue to be fulfilled on a somewhat regular basis.

[2] I don’t really consider burning churches as violence. One can’t commit violence against a non-sentient object. I used to think this without qualification, until I considered domestic abusers and their victims – an abuser using property destruction as an intimidation tactic certainly qualifies as violence, not to mention it being unjustified and reprehensible.

To me, when the power disparity is such that those with far less power commit property destruction against individuals or entities with far greater power, I’m not inclined to view it as violence (whether or not I agree with the cause will ultimately influence if I see it as warranted or not). The burning of Catholic churches in indigenous territory may cause psychological harm to Catholics who work there, but I don’t really give a shit – the enormity of the historical and contemporary crimes & injustices perpetrated against the Mapuche by the entity they freely chose to join utterly dwarfs destroyed property. But that’s just me.

This is the best Jesus

Behold:

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe cat wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying chilling in a manger like he owns the place.”

Maybe had I learned about this Jesus in my formative years I would’ve stuck around longer.

h/t: The Dodo

 

A confession

Last fall, shortly after starting this blog, I became a theist. It’s a secret I feel I must now reveal.

In 2013, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of that year’s draft. At the time He was largely unknown. He had only recently took up basketball, while His family scraped to get by as illegal immigrants in Greece. Bucks fans only had grainy video footage from high school-sized gyms to go on. Since then, His meteoric rise has felt simultaneously improbable, though in retrospect inexorable. He’s become a darkhorse MVP candidate at the very young age of 22. It was only last year that casual fans became aware of the latest stage of His metamorphosis – no longer were basketblogger nerds and Bucks fans the only groups to joyously witness His continuing ascension.

I know, I know – you could not care less. But the Cult of Giannis is an evangelizing faith. It is my duty to speak of the Good News:

Someday, someone will take he and his family’s story and make it into a shitty movie. I can’t wait.

I apologize to those inadvertently subjected to an irreverent sports post, with nary a whisper of the problematic social issues roiling beneath the surface (i.e. the refugee/illegal immigrant experience in Europe, another Horatio Alger story as a supposed example of how exemplary the meritocratic West is, etc.)  .

Anyways, let us pray:

New job, less blogs (maybe)

I’m pretty boring. The only possibly interesting thing about my presence on this network is the fact that I work in child welfare. Due to my perspective, I’ve been meaning to write about it, but for various reasons haven’t. For the past 10 years I’ve worked in the field both directly with families as well as more behind the scenes. Guess which pays better. The paradox of all social services work is that the more money one makes, the less direct interaction there is with those they hope to help.

Working in child welfare has only cemented my non-belief in a kind and loving god. Such a god who doesn’t stop the horrors perpetrated against children that I’ve been confronted with on a daily basis is beneath contempt. I have intimate knowledge of some the worst things in the world – specific stories of abuse, neglect, violence, child sex trafficking, etc. Each story is different in it’s own heartbreaking way. Every person in the field needs the ability to compartmentalize. In my case this has led to numb feelings of desensitization, which is a depressing coping mechanism.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been long been ambivalent to shit like presidential elections. No matter who’s in office (federal, state, local), the workload of child welfare workers generally remains the same. The plight of abused and neglected kids, an extremely large proportion of which grow up in poverty, are mere talking points by asshole politicians who don’t do shit. Any attempts to mitigate poverty and institutionalized racism are band-aids applied to gaping wounds, and the children are the ones who suffer the greatest. It’s a fucking race to get ahead in the hyper-competitive developed world, and these kids are held back and getting lapped by the more privileged.

***

Social services workers are almost always overworked, underpaid, and very unappreciated. There are no TV shows or movies celebrating what we do (or are there? I don’t really have an encyclopedic knowledge of the entertainment field). If we’re ever portrayed it’s always as exhausted and mildly incompetent, with the latter being a direct consequence of the former. Compared to other public servants, such as firemen, nurses, and even teachers, we’re largely invisible, little thought of, and certainly not worthy of fetishization by popular culture, as opposed to the aforementioned.

The only time the general public is aware of anything relating to child welfare, to pick the aspect of social services I’ve been involved in, is when something horrible happens – a child dying in foster care, a social worker clearing a family for child abuse or neglect only for the worst to happen. At the same time there is a nagging, and not entirely undeserved perception of child welfare workers breaking apart and ruining families – after all, we are paid representatives of sociopolitical structures that have historically oppressed people unluckily born into bad situations.

None of this is to excuse the fuck-ups, of which there are countless in child welfare and other areas that comprise the field. There are wide systemic problems in the delivery of services to vulnerable populations. That we are a largely reactive industry that confronts systemic societal problems certainly doesn’t help. Also not helping: there’s little sign that systemic societal problems show any meaningful signs of abatement. A professor once told me that there will always a need for work in human services, and that’s proven to be right in my experience. But as I wrote, the work is low paying, hard, and little appreciated. Turnover is high on and just behind the frontlines, and there’s stiff competition for mid to upper level management. Often this necessitates prohibitively expensive higher education, a risk in any field that may or may not pay off financially.

***

Anyways, it’s not all bad. I’m just feeling a bit melancholy about it all because I’m about to start something completely new. While I’m still with the same organization, I will now be performing quality assurance related duties. It’s hard to say how often I’ll be able to blog, as I’ll need to devote more brainpower to an area I’m relatively unfamiliar with. It doesn’t help that I write slow and scattered – it takes much more time than I’d like for my thoughts and words to coalesce. So we shall see.

My atheist story

Lately, due to various personal reasons I haven’t felt like writing about much that requires discerning thought. But writing about my atheist story is easy. Moreover, I have written little about atheism on this blog.

I was raised Catholic and had to attend church every Sunday from birth until around age 17. That included CCD classes once per week in the fall/winter. I fucking hated all of it. I didn’t care for school in general, and church represented more time that I had to be bored out of my skull. Despite this, during my childhood and early adolescence, I recall having a vague acceptance that God was real, and so was the Jesus story. I remember wearing a cross necklace or two because I thought it looked cool. [1] I also wore a WWJD bracelet because it seemed like Jesus was a good dude. This was probably around age 13 or 14.

I was not the type that interrupted church classes with pointed questions and attempts to expose hypocrisy or things that didn’t make sense. No, I paid next to no attention, doing the bare minimum in terms of participation and watching the clock miserably (oh what I would have given for a smart-phone back in those days).

I only recall a few what-the-fuck style memories about religion in my early years:

  1. In 3rd or 4th grade I gave some money during the solicitation portion of mass, thinking that the money would go to the poor. I was informed afterwards that that wasn’t the case; instead, the money went directly to the church. Fuck that, I thought, the church doesn’t need another stupid fountain.
  2. During my freshman year in high school, I made it to state for wrestling. By this point it had been drilled in my head that God was responsible for good things happening, while receiving none of the blame for the bad. For as long as I remember I thought this unfair. Anyways, I was told I should be thankful to God for my success. Fuck that, I thought, I’m the one that did this shit, why should I give credit to God?
  3. What the fuck happened to people who died before Jesus’ time? Or peoples who lived in places free of Christianity and had to wait hundreds of years to receive the means for salvation? Seems kinda shitty, Jesus.
  4. I didn’t get how people decided they could pick and choose what parts to believe/follow from the Bible. It seemed to me that either ALL of it was true and needed to be followed or it was flawed, and thus imperfect and definitely not divinely inspired.

By freshman year of high school, I was already a year or so into my chosen rebellion of punk and hardcore music. It was through this that I was introduced to radical politics and to a lesser extent atheism. The latter was manifested primarily via blasphemous lyrics and imagery. Some of the best were Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Propagandhi, Integrity, Overcast, Converge, Disembodied, Bloodlet and Catharsis. There were also some good Christian punk/hardcore bands in those days (Zao, Slick Shoes, Living Sacrifice, Strongarm): “See mom? This band is Christian so it’s not bad that I listen to this type of music!” Here are some awesome songs:

By junior year I self-identified as agnostic. Despite this, I was still Confirmed. I had skipped classes, finagled my way out of the overnight retreat, and my mom had to convince the priest to do it. Even during this time, I played the sulking teenager, paying no attention and participating only when necessary. In retrospect, it’s too bad I didn’t play the bad-ass punk contrarian. At any rate, I went through with it out of love for my mom, though getting money from the subsequent Confirmation party certainly sweetened the deal.

In 2006 or 2007, I finally decided I was an atheist. Dawkins’ “spectrum of theistic probability” as described in The God Delusion was the pivotal factor and I rather liked this way to categorize belief. On that scale I wholeheartedly identified with the “De facto atheist” definition of “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.” Moreover, the agnostic label never was able to adequately convey my disdain and repudiation of organized religions and their hypothetical deities.

Atheism is a foundational aspect of who I am, though it doesn’t figure too prominently in my day-to-day life. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded socially by other non-believers, as well as respectful believers that don’t give me any shit (#blessed). I enjoy coming to FtB to consume stories from an atheist perspective, and the writers here do a very good job at addressing the insidious, the absurd and the infuriating. It’s so well-covered that I rarely feel I have anything substantive to contribute. Perhaps that will continue, perhaps not.


[1] I was wrong. It was not cool.

 

 

Ancient atheism

“When life is yours, live joyously;
None can escape Death’s searching eye;
When once this frame of ours they burn,
How shall it e’er again return”

“There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world”

Sarva Darsana Samgraha by Vidyaranya [1]

When I’m fortunate enough to get out of the city, I like to take time to stare at the stars. Thanks to our scientific apparatus and educational system that explains certain scientific findings, I know that our sun is a star, same as all the stars seen in the night sky. I’ve long considered the sheer scale of the universe to be a powerful argument against a Creator. [2] Why should there be so much matter in the vast emptiness of space if humanity is the all-important center of the everything?

If I were a Scythian nomad, or an aristocratic medieval prince, or a pre-Colombian Amazonian hunter-gatherer I have little doubt I would accept whatever wisdom and knowledge I received from the culture I was born into in regards to the universe and humanity’s place in it. I would gaze at the stars and likely never conceive that they were made of the same stuff as our sun if it weren’t conventionally known. I would fully believe in the deities of the culture and that there was some form of life after death.

It’s with that in mind that I enjoy reading about the metaphysical beliefs of pre-modern peoples, especially those that are iconoclastic with regards to their time period and lay adjacent to the current scientific conception of reality. Roughly contemporary with the Pre-Socratics, a sect of philosophers in Vedic India espoused a view that is recognizably atheist from our modern perspective. [3] I’m referring to the ancient Indian school of Charvaka. I did a search on FtB and it appears no one has written about it. What follows is a brief and very broad synopsis, though every subject briefly described is deserving of far more explication. I should point out that I have a layperson’s understanding and am certainly open to those with more knowledge of Indian philosophy pointing out errors and misconceptions.

Charvaka is seen as heterodox in terms of arising from the philosophical/theological framework of the Rg Veda, Upanishads, and Mahabharata but neglects to provide justifications for the teachings from those traditions. Arising during the Vedic and Epic periods in Indian history (roughly 1500-500 BCE), Charvaka is grouped spatiotemporally with Buddhism and Jainism as standing opposed to the six orthodox Hindu philosophies: Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Yoga, Samkhya, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. Unfortunately, the primary Charvaka document, the Brhaspati Sutra, dated to roughly 600 BCE, is lost. The primary evidence for its tenets come from rival sects and are preserved in writings dated a thousand years after its founding. The seventh century CE Tattvopaplavasimha by Jayarashi Bhatta is the earliest complete account, though there are arguments for and against its association with Charvaka. [4]

Samkhya and Mimamsa are both atheistic in terms of not positing a creator, but they adhere to the atman/prakrti (roughly equivalent to soul/matter) dualistic conception of the cosmos as the rest of the orthodox philosophies do, with the exception of the Advaita sub-discipline of Vedanta. Buddhism, while atheistic, has both dualistic and monist characteristics that vary by sect, but all reject the soul/atman. However, there is belief in supernatural elements like reincarnation, different dimensions inhabited by gods and demons, ghosts, etc. As far as I can tell, Charvaka is the only school of thought from that fertile philosophical time period to be both atheistic and nominally monist vis-à-vis the atman/prakrti dichotomy [5] while repudiating the fantastical elements contained in the other systems. There is no concern with breaking the karmic cycle of samsara that their contemporaries strive for, since death is final.

There is a sense of hedonic nihilism embedded within the doctrine:

“The enjoyment of heaven lies in eating delicious food, keeping company of young women, using fine clothes, perfumes, garlands, sandal paste, etc.” – Sarva Siddhanta Sangraha, by Shankara

Given the obsession of Buddhism and the orthodox Hindu traditions with suffering and the best way to cope with it, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the impoverished masses didn’t gravitate towards a hedonistic lifestyle they didn’t have access to. Moreover, the ruling classes probably weren’t likely to exploit a “religion” that didn’t advocate piety and obedience, with the promise of a better subsequent life to make up for one’s present shitty life. These could be two of the reasons why Charvaka didn’t last.

It’s wild (to me anyways) to think that during the life of Thales of Miletus in ancient Greece there were dissident proto-atheists half a continent away. I’m humbled by the the thought of early humans being able to cast aside what current atheists regard as illogical beliefs, something that’s fairly easy to do nowadays given widespread access to scientific information. I’m pretty sure if I existed in an earlier era I wouldn’t be able to do the same.


1. Most of the following information comes from A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishan and Charles Moore.

2. It turns out that our observation bubble is even larger than previously thought: http://www.space.com/34382-universe-has-10-times-more-galaxies-hubble-reveals.html

3. I’ll reductively classify atheism as the denial of a Creator coupled with a monist conception of reality (i.e. only physical reality is real).

4. The book referenced above definitively places it within the Charvaka paradigm, but the Wikipedia entry for Bhatta cites proponents of arguments against this.

5. I should note Charvaka describes the principle elements of matter as listed as air, fire, earth and water, so perhaps monist is not the best description. However, the existence of a soul/atman is explicitly denied. Consciousness is said to arise from a mixture of the aforementioned elements and ceases to exist upon the body’s dissolution. As yet another aside, Vaisheshika, while still dualistic in nature, has an atomist conception of matter/prakrti.