Unbidden Bits—May 30, 2024

I’m in Arizona, in the checkout line at Walmart, clutching something I need today that was two days away by Amazon.

I look around at the patriarchal beards, the camouflage cargo pants, thinking idle thoughts about the carnival barkers on Fox News, Samuel Alito’s wife, how temporary the privilege of calling Trump a felon will probably turn out to be.

It comes to me then: A people camping out in the ruins of their own civilization. I pay for my indispensable, cross the parking lot, head back home.

I throw my car keys on the kitchen counter, hearing Hillary the imposter’s earnestness, her arrogance, back in 2016. It was way too late even then, and now….

“Going forward,” as the Wall Street pundits are so fond of saying, it’s not what we do with them that will matter. It’s what they’ll do with us.

Just Sayin….

“Das wird immer einer der besten Witze der Demokratie bleiben, dass sie ihren Todfeinden die Mittel stellte, durch die sie vernichtet wurde.”

“This will always remain one of democracy’s best jokes, that it provided its mortal enemies with the means by which it was destroyed.”

Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, 1935

Yeah, probably ain’t gonna happen here. Almost everybody says so. No harm considering what it’s gonna take to stay out of the cattle cars if it does, though.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

“I stayed for three nights in a modest one-room unit at the King Salmon Lodge, which was a comfortable but rustic facility. As I recall, the meals were homestyle fare. I cannot recall whether the group at the lodge, about 20 people, was served wine, but if there was wine it was certainly not wine that costs $1,000.”

On the Proposed Rehabilitation of Mike Pence

Mike Pence has one of those faces, frozen in malevolence, that are usually pictured standing stoically behind a Franco, or a Stalin, or a Gotti as they deliver their epiphanies to a cowering public. Pence has no soul; he’s replaced it with a clockwork Christanity devoted only to his own self-righteous ambition. Even the Bible would advise us to shun him.

Identity Politics

Je pense, donc je suis.

—Renė Descartes, Discours de la Méthode Pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences, 1637

I am I because my little dog knows me.

—Gertrude Stein, The Geographical History of America, or the Relation of Human Nature To the Human Mind, 1936.

Gertrude Stein’s little dog may confirm her sense of self, but in doing so it also defines her in terms of a moral obligation which she cannot betray without sacrificing her identify. Our identities as human beings are constructed of many such relationships, many such obligations. We see ourselves reflected in them, and know who we are.

Or do we? René Descartes‘ assertion doesn’t actually deny that we are a part of the society which has created us, or that as a consequence, we have obligations to that society. He would not, I think, disagree with John Donne that no man is an island, entire of itself. Implicit in his assertion nevertheless is the supposition that individual human beings have moral and political agency, that they have the right to assist society in defining what it is, and therefore who they are.

The consequences of Descartes’ assertion, whether or not he was as conscious of them as we are today, are clear enough. If, by virtue of being a rational creature, the individual human being has the right to agency on their own behalf, then there can be no divine right of Popes, Mullahs, Kings, Führers, or General Secretaries to arbitrarily define the collective will of a society, or to censor the behavior of the individuals who comprise it merely because they lack the power as individuals to defend themselves. This is the founding principle of the Enlightenment and of secular humanism in general, that no one owes obligations to a society which refuses them the right to contribute to its governance.

In a civilized society, you shouldn’t have to pray, genuflect, make pilgrimages to Mecca, recite the shahada, or go to confession. You shouldn’t have to salute the flag, say the Pledge Of Allegiance, or sing the national anthem. You shouldn’t have to publicly admire the thought of Xi Jinping, avoid expressing certain opinions, or sit still for the burning of books, heretics, or so-called enemies of the state. The relationship between individual and collective in a civilized society is reciprocal. There’s a feedback loop between the two, one governed by mutual respect. The political manifestation of this feedback loop has traditionally been called democracy.

Democracy, though, is fragile. It has many enemies, even in so-called democratic societies. More often than not, what outs these enemies is their ritual acts of public piety. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Whatever he may have intended, Kennedy’s appeal to a grandiose selflessness was in fact a radical attack on the very idea of a personal right to self-determination. You don’t have to doubt that we have both a moral and political obligation to contribute to the society which gave birth to us to find formulations like Kennedy’s of benefit principally to tyrants and sycophants.

Authoritarians love to tell us that freedom isn’t free, as though we didn’t already know that all too well. What this bumpersticker-on-the-back-of-a-pickup actually means is something more like this: When they tell you you’ve got to go somewhere and shoot people, you have to do it. Otherwise we get to spit on you.

This is the kind of freedom that a genuinely free person instinctively rejects. The real price of freedom is very different. The real price of freedom is one that no patriot, no acolyte, no devotee will ever realize that they owe, let alone be capable of paying. That their little dog knows them is good enough for them, although I doubt it’s ever been all that good for the little dog.

The Republican Party Platform, 2023

1. Some people have no right to exist.

2. Other people have a right to exist, but all their other rights are contingent upon the good will of the Republican Party. (See attached appendix no. 1 for a currently-approved list of other people.)

3. Women have no rights that a white man is obliged to respect.

4. After January 20, 2025, all books distributed to anyone in the United States under the age of 40 will require the nihil obstat of the Republican Party.

5. Immigrants are filthy scum, and they’re illegal too.

6. All history not approved by the Republican Party is bunk.

7. Scientific theories are theories. Republican assertions about the irrelevance of science are fact.

8. America is a Christian Republic. No ifs, no ands, no buts.

9. All lives matter. (This means white lives, police lives, heterosexual male lives, and the lives of those who haven’t yet been suspected of thought crimes by Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Donald Trump Jr., or the governors of Florida, Texas, or Mississippi.)

10. Vladimir Putin has never accused a Republican of racism, and supports the death penalty for homosexuals. Therefore all aid to the Ukraine must cease immediately.

11. All Democrats are satanic, communistic pedophiles who hate America and want to take away our personal machine guns, mortars, and armored vehicles.

12. Freedom means a) not being vaccinated, b) not wearing a mask, c) riding a Harley without a helmet, d) not paying taxes, and e) calling people you don’t approve of any kind of names you feel like. All other definitions of freedom are the inventions of a woke conspiracy supported by funds from George Soros.

13. This platform will be updated whenever the Republican Party finds someone new to hate, some new apostasy to reject, or some new way to cosset our precious billionaires. (See attached appendix no. 2 for a currently-approved list of precious billionaires.)

14. We know where you live.