Blogging forces your own adequacy in your face, and if you’re a skeptical blogger, you wind up examining it closely to make sure your assessment of your own mediocrity is not too full of confirmation bias. Then, you turn to the list of things in your head that you want to write about, and wonder if you can do them justice.
Meanwhile, the world around you continues to be a mad whirl, like it’s deliberately trolling you, trying to get you to completely lose your temper and thrash the keyboard to the point where key-caps go flying about your office – except it’d be wrong to waste a perfectly good keyboard. So you pick something and start to write. Someone you know lost a beloved dog and now your own ghosts are snuffling at the door; you know they are waiting for you to walk out and miss the dogs that won’t be there ever again. There’s a whole piece you’d like to write, about ghosts, and how the ghosts of your friends follow you around through life until you become someone else’s ghost or are forgotten. But honesty makes you think you’re just not that good a writer and it’d wound you if you tried hard and failed, when it’s that topic. Writing a beautiful and poetic piece about your ghosts – that would be good. Writing a self-indulgent piece would be insulting to everyone. So, forget that.
The world brings me a headline that Alex Jones is apparently an anti-semite, racist, and all around asshole. Who’d have thought? I can’t scrape up enough caring to comment further. People follow leaders for the wrong reasons.
Ah, now, there’s a topic I can write about: leadership and strategy. I can’t make my pen dance like Voltaire’s but I can plod across the trenches like Von Clausewitz. The atheist/skeptical community is being rocked by discoveries that some “spokesmen” (it’s always men) are predatory. As if discovering that Hitch was a closet Thatcherite and Dawkins is a querulous old anti-feminist wasn’t enough; but this has been going on for years. I can write about the strategy of leadership, how having leaders and spokespeople are good strategy for the weak if those leaders and spokespeople confer a morale or tactical advantage. I myself listen to old Howard Zinn speeches, given at peace rallies in the 1970s, and I want to stop the Vietnam war. But then I fall down behind my keyboard, again, because there is not a comparably vital anti-war movement and I am not willing to get in line to have my head bashed, like Zinn was.
So I start to write and then I slam into the wall of my own skepticism: I am about to try to write a clarion-call to “no clarion calls.” I am about to try to lead people away from leaders. It takes me 3 minutes and a cup of coffee to tear my own arguments to pieces, hit control-A, <delete> and be staring, again, at a blank screen.
My email is a pit of despair. One of my colleagues here is dealing with cancer and my spam filter coughs up a doozie: CANCER IS A GOOD THING!!!” says Montreal’s Own “Food Babe”. The flavor in my mouth is gall. Did you know that rage tastes like gall? I have known this for years; perhaps it’s my distant viking ancestry – it’s an adaptation, maybe I should ask an evolutionary psychologist then run away laughing. I can’t take it, my own incandescent frustration (incandescent frustration is what you get when you wish you could muster a full-on rage but you feel you don’t have standing) makes it hard to write. I wind up meandering all over the page, starting to get maudlin. I want to go sit on the porch with my ghosts, and have them on either side of me, as they used to be, so we could look out across the fields at the deer. Jake would always say ‘whfff’ softly, and turn his muzzle toward new deer – I think he knew that daddy couldn’t see or hunt very well, he was trying to keep me from embarrassment. My ghosts smell like oak wood-smoke, dead rabbit, and dog. What do yours smell like? Suddenly I can’t write any more, my eyes are pounding and the computer screen looks like the colors are running. Fucking Windows 10.
Then there’s the lovecraftian horrors from the past. One of the emails (to the person who wrote: this is not a complaint) is a member of the commentariat asking if I had seen a certain report that was released in 2015, regarding US war crimes that were buried successfully in the 1950s. Is that the sort of thing, they ask, I am interested in? It’s more complicated than “being interested” – it’s a matter of figuring out what I believe. I don’t even remember what I wrote back, but the whole time I am thinking about revealed anti-semite Alex Jones and how I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy buff, constantly posting terrors from the depth of the cold war. But those terrors, I know, are true. I’m not sure about this one, that I am being asked about; I think it is probably true. If it is true, it’s a Mengele-level medical nightmare (at least psychologists didn’t commit this one!) I don’t remember how I reply but I can’t write about this yet. I need to write about SIOP and the Mace-B missiles, first. And I can’t bear to do that.
“No Heroes, No Movement.” I write. I’ve written that in comments all over FtB for years. Maybe I can explain, that would be good – it might even be a little uplifting. I try. It comes out dry, and technical, and crumbly. I’m not a passionate person, I can’t get people to look in the mirror of their own hearts and realize that we don’t need a movement, and we don’t need heroes, because we’re winning. You need brilliant strategists when the war is in doubt, when you need a force multiplier, when you need to bring out the vote. Religion is dying; the internet is killing it. Stick a fork in it and move on. There is no need for an “atheism/skepticism” movement because the demographics are all pointing toward a social trend – we don’t need to organize when young people are turning away from religion like it’s going out of style. Because, it’s going out of style.
We don’t even need a movement on the social equality/lgbtq/feminism front: we just need to all be part of a broad social trend toward equality and justice. Have you noticed how the “anti-feminists” have to resort to crafting lumpy straw effigies of Andrea Dworkin so they have something they can tilt against with a chance of victory? There are only a few fools who will step forward and say they are anti-equality (“oh, you must be an aristocrat?”) or who scream their racist hatred and then fall whining that they lost their job. There is hope. But there is always my blogger’s disorder: a deep unsettling feeling like an infection about to spread – the things Howard Zinn was warning us about – there has been no progress in those. And, of course, there is Trump in the White House. How can a person who is concerned with truth even look at the world today and not wonder if there is anything worth saying? Perhaps I should just go for a walk in the woods with my ghosts. And not come back.
“Nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do. It’s not even close,” Trump told the Gridiron Dinner, a gathering of political allies, opponents, and the Washington press corps. “I was very excited to receive this invitation and ruin your evening in person. That’s why I accepted.” [guard]
Some mornings, I can’t organize my thoughts.