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.
How many more Republican governors and so-called conservative Supreme Court justices, I wonder, will the American Psychiatric Association have to observe before adding self-righteousness to the DSM as a class B antisocial personality disorder?
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.
1. We’ve learned nothing.
2. We’ve forgotten nothing.
3. We’re not THEM.
4. Vote for us.
6. Thank you.
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.
I asked myself “if you own an iPhone, an iPad, an Apple Watch, and a pair of AirPods, what do you really not need any more?” Even though I had some idea of what to expect, the length of the final list came as a genuine surprise.
While it’s true that many of the single-purpose devices or services on this list can be better suited to that single purpose than our software-driven chameleons, is it really any wonder that even those of us who consider ourselves modern, cosmopolitan, adaptable, tech-savvy, etc., can sometimes find making a home for ourselves in the 21st century a daunting proposition?
- Alarm Clock
- Barcode Scanner
- Calendar/Appointment Book
- Carpenter’s Level
- Cash, Credit and Debit Cards
- CD/DVD Player
- Cookbooks/Recipe Files
- Document Scanner
- EKG/Pulse Oximeter
- Fax Machine
- Filing Cabinets
- Garage Door Opener
- House Keys
- Keyring Flashlight
- Kitchen, Laundry, etc. Timers
- Magnifying Glass
- Maps and Gazetteers
- Movie Theaters
- Music and Video Stores
- Note Pad
- OCR Reader
- Photo Albums
- Photocopier/Fax Machine
- Portable Videogame Console
- Public Libraries
- Record, CD and Tape Collections
- Still and Movie Cameras
- Tape Measure
- Tape Recorder
- Video Recorder
- Wired Headphones
Will Francis Fukuyama have something portentous to share with us later this evening, as we all gather to watch the arc of the moral universe unbend itself on Fox News? Damned if I know. Or care. History may or may not be bunk, but it’s very clearly not over.
Ask Ron DeSantis. Also ask him why he wants to turn America into a place where he can wear one just like it.
Ask Newt Gingrich, the world-renowned historian. I’m sure he can explain precisely how and why we’ve all lost our way since the time when men could wear hats like this without getting laughed at.
Ask Sarah Palin or Lauren Boebert or Marjorie Taylor Greene. I’m sure they’d give up their present gigs in a heartbeat to be the consort of a man with a hat like this.
Dulce bellum inexpertis
War is sweet to those who haven’t experienced it.
—Pindar, Fragments, 110,109
The six right-wing ideologues of the U.S. Supreme Court have arbitrarily declared war on millions of people who’ve done them absolutely no harm. Although they may presently consider themselves personally immune to the consequences of their vile self-righteousness, an unbiased reading of history suggests that in the end they themselves will suffer something of the agony they’ve inflicted on others. May that day come sooner rather than later.