The Practice of Free Speech Is a Spiritual Necessity

I almost began by writing that I’m sick of politically tinged topics and wish to dedicate a column to something spiritual… but this one lands me right to the heart of free speech.  Everything, alas, has grown political.

In my nightly meditation (it’s my variety of prayer), I pass a “station” where I ask myself if I have “reached out” that day, because I’m convinced that exchange of some sort has to be an essential part of why we’re here.  We are not finished products.  We cannot allow ourselves to be deposited in a curio cabinet (or deposit ourselves there), safe from dust and errant missiles.  That doesn’t mean that we have a holy obligation to throw our elbows about and shout around the water cooler; it simply means that we must find a way to register our “take” on the truth as events unfold around us in this accelerated, hyper-active, overly medicated e-world of our creation.  Not to speak up in some manner, unfortunately (for the meditative, to whom silence is golden), is these days equivalent to nodding quiet assent to the slanders and inanities that build a dizzy momentum on Twitter, Facebook, and the rest.  “Pushback” is required.

And it was ever so, to be honest.  Monastic seclusion is beneficial only to the extent that it allows the hermit to reflect.  As soon as it favors a suspension of thought and a mind-numbed retreat into daily routine, it shuts down the individual’s opportunity to grow further.  A cow is not the ultimate sage.

I write this as someone with very strong tendencies to flee to an island and sink the skiff that brought me there.  That’s why I have to hold myself to an accounting every evening.  Exchange is required, not just (or even primarily) for the benefit of one’s “benighted” neighbors: it prods one’s soul, as well, into probing questions deeper and framing answers better.

Hence my quoting the word “benighted” above—for we must not think of our intellectual participation as gracing the world with prophetic revelations or as hammering sinners for not falling in with the onward march of Christian (or socialist, or utopian) soldiers.  An exchange not only runs in two directions: it also, in a truly Christian context, must accept limitation and fallibility.  Beings such as we cannot fully grasp ultimate truth, let alone express it.  Though I may be closer to the mark than you, and though I may know well that you won’t accept my correction—however modestly offered—I still need the “exercise in futility” involved in making my case to you so that I may better guard against any straying off target from my side.  When I’m enhancing a digital photo, I always overshoot the point where the lighting or coloring is just right; for how will I know where “just right” is if I haven’t veered into “too much”?

Not that I deliberately go too far in my speech or writing… but I will never “nail” the full truth; and without the evidence of a day’s slight (or gaping) misses, how will I restrain myself from the pride of feeling that I—in my superior silence—understand everything while the others are mere puny mortals?

There, in a nutshell, lies the spiritual necessity of exchange.  And there, as well, lies the wickedness of shutting down exchanges in the interest of “what’s right”.  So you know exactly what’s right, do you?  How generous of God, to loan you His eyes and sit you upon His throne!  But, of course, the people who would shut down such discussion do not regard their perspective as on loan.  In a post-religious world, their vision has become the new god—and they are all his prophets.

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If You’re Male and Have a Pulse, Then Someone Somewhere Could Ruin Your Career (Part Two)

Despite such moments of sublime insight as concluded my previous post, I was an emotional wreck by the time I was awarded a Ph.D.  Once again, I sought refuge among “salt of the earth” types who professed strong religious principles—specifically, in the singles class of a mammoth Baptist church feeding off the small East Texas city where I found work.  I ended up trying to court another strawberry blonde (damn it!), this one as statuesque and serene as the other had been tomboyish and lively.  We had many private conversations which I mistook for intimate, but which, in retrospect, were ice-cold with all that box-checking and “image maintenance” to which young women pay such attention.  When I dared at last to bring my Olympian beauty a lavish bouquet of flowers, the temperature hit Absolute Zero, and I realized that the soles of my shoes again needed cleaning.

Here I will observe (as I begin to aim this long ramble at a destination) that either one of my strawberry blondes—either Baptist Preacher’s Cowgirl Daughter or Celestial Ice Queen—could have charged me with stalking, as the word is now rather carelessly understood.  Yet in both cases, I was only believing the claptrap that I was told and trying to show myself patient and respectful.  One girl was competing with a roommate and a soap opera to stage Cattle Country’s Most Roller-Coaster Romance, the other playing some Duchess of Lonely Hearts game until a dentist finally swept her up in his gilded coach.  I could have done without the “I’m so innocent” act, in the former case, and the “My past has mysteriously wounded me” act, in the other… but I was given no cues outside the context of games that I didn’t know how to play.

If I were running for public office, could an incident of this sort not be dredged up out of my past to prove me a creepy pervert?  Or what about the woman (no longer a girl, by any measure) who threatened to accuse me to my new bosses of being a predator?

I had met her through a book club, of all things (this was a bit before the Internet and Match.com).  I was well into my thirties now myself; and as disgusted and embarrassed as I was by my own lack of progress in these matters, I had acquired greater powers of observation.  I knew very early that Cynthia was a seriously damaged subject.  She spoke to me once of her father (with whom—and her mother—she still lived) knocking her cold with a fire poker as if it were the kind of thing every child goes through; and her fondness for alcohol and cigarettes was hard to hide.  Yet there was a sensitive, genuine person on the flip side of her fiercely sarcastic and vindictive alter ego.  I could add that she was an attractive blonde… but that would explain nothing at this point, for our initial acquaintance had smoothly advanced though the mail.

When I severed this always prim and proper relationship, I knew well that I might be accused of rape, kidnapping, child-cannibalism, and burning candles at an altar to Adolph Hitler if Cynthia were having one of her bad days.  I haven’t forgotten that lesson.  The claim made currently in the press and other highly politicized circles that women never lie about such matters isn’t laughably wrong: it’s dangerously, criminally wrong.  It’s the equivalent of a loaded gun placed in the hands of a drunken psychotic. Does no one remember Potiphar’s queen, or the tragic Phaedra?

I met my wife shortly thereafter: a brunette, who was visiting the singles class in a Baptist church!

The ancients, having survived a disaster at sea, would take their tattered clothing and their salty oar and nail it all to a post in Poseidon’s temple.  I offer my past miseries up to God for anyone to see who’s of a mind to learn.  The Seventies and Eighties did not liberate women.  Those times left them abused, confused, resentful, eager to fight, and quick to run for cover.  We cannot undo the damage by burning a few—or many—males at the cross.  If the typical male has now become predatory and if gentlemen are in very short supply these days, it is because yesteryear’s feminists trashed all lady-like qualities and attempted to be predators themselves. The result was as predictable as a foolish wildebeest’s charge into a lion’s den.

Our culture remains, in sexual matters, a smoking Chernobyl, and a garden hose won’t accomplish the necessary detoxification.  Just this past week, I found a series on Netflix titled Godless—brilliantly produced and even very poignant at times, but heavily embedded in the notion that women could be gunslingers in the Old West or, as prostitutes, could make out as well as a Wall Street tycoon.  I could name at least half a dozen other serials, movies, or Netflix gems that sell the same Kool-aid—and I’ve only seen the trailers and teases, for the most part. Women “whuppin’ ass” in a world where whimpy men can’t pry themselves loose from their coffee mugs… really?  So that kind of Never Never Land fantasy is going to help us get everyone’s head straight? Including the male’s?

The old Virginia Slims ad propaganda needs revision: “You’ve got a long way to go, baby…” except that—pardon me, progressive marketers—a gentleman doesn’t address a lady as “baby”.

If You’re Male and Have a Pulse, Then Someone Somewhere Could Ruin Your Career (Part One)

Having begun a few disclosures about my own experiences of the dating game last time, I’m prepared to lay before the public the entire body of wisdom that has accrued to me from my amorous adventures of yesteryear.  But I must post a warning: if death by boredom is possible, my accounts may pose extreme risk to the reader.

(Seriously, there’s a highly relevant point to this excursion—but I won’t be able to reach it in one post, so please stay tuned.)

I was sent to a rich kids’ school by two hard-working parents whose means were very modestly middle-class.  To everyone concerned but them, it soon became painfully obvious that I didn’t belong on the campus of that elite K-12.  An uncomfortably memorable event occurred when I was in sixth grade. A blonde girl whom I was sweet on—but had never found the courage to speak to—told me with a high dose of vitriol that she hated my guts and wished I wouldn’t return next year.  The abuse was so random and vicious that it entered where there was no armor to slow down the arrowhead.

A couple of years later, I conceived the same sort of steal-a-glance-now-and-then obsession for another lovely blonde thing.  (I’ve thought many times since those days about the “not me-ness” represented by the blonde and blue-eyed, as if I were attracted to features as far from the stigma of my own dark-eyed person as possible.)  This girl was of a classier sort, and we were all rather older; so when she became the first and last person I would ever ask on a date in high school, she turned me down very gently.  God bless her soul!  She already had her sights set on a college lad who was Pre-Med—and whom she would marry and divorce in one chapter of what must really have become a Hallmark Channel kind of life.

Meanwhile, the sexual revolution was raging.  I was so eager to depart my high-rent penitentiary that I graduated after eleventh grade (I’d taken extra classes and made top marks in most of them), against everyone’s advice.  Free at last!  What I didn’t know was that I, an innocent of almost unbelievable naïveté, was entering a land where the bad rap on Sodom and Gomorrah had been rehabilitated by a new “love” amply supplied with long hair, weed, and guitars: the academic world.

In the interest of safety, I will skip over the years that left me with three degrees and a fiercely reclusive, misanthropic nature: otherwise, I might bore myself to death.  A single skirmish might well summarize many: an absurd date with the daughter of a Baptist preacher.  I thought she, at least, might be just about my speed.  To my mind, everything had gone great in that initial encounter.  It took me almost half a year to figure out that Miss Sunshine and Salvation really didn’t want to see me again—that she’d expected not to spend that fateful evening at my digs and held me accountable for an extreme humiliation before her roommate.  But… her father was a Baptist preacher!  This just couldn’t be!

Since I’m keeping score… yes, she had strawberry-blonde hair.

I caught on quicker in ensuing episodes of similar caliber; and there were also one or two comedies where the “desperately single” tried to haul me in.  I was lonely, but my life raft wasn’t growing loose and squishy.  While I reached the ripe age of thirty almost as socially inept as I had been at fifteen, I’d managed to become a pretty shrewd observer of people, if only because I personally was seldom more than a supporting actor in any scene.  I wasn’t interested in someone who just needed to check a box in order to win the esteem of a certain social circle.

In any case, graduate school offered few specimens of this kind: on the contrary.  The “best and brightest” were all about building a career and squeezing in diverse romantic interludes as time allowed.  And they were horribly miserable, which probably accounts for why so many had drug and alcohol problems.  The males who hunted through their lives like cavemen looking for just enough meat to last a week were moral invertebrates.  They took responsibility for nothing, though you might mistake them as having principles to hear how they railed against “bourgeois hang-ups”.  Of course, the would-be feminist free spirits who supplied most of their sexual diet’s menu claimed to endorse the same lofty utopian goals; but a girl has to know subliminally when she is being used, even when she keeps repeating to herself that she’s getting even more use out of her user.

As much as I wanted to curl up in a self-pity of utter isolation, I could never convince myself that these “successfully socialized” creatures were were happier than I was—were not, in fact, agonizingly unhappy.  No wonder some of them decided to seek companionship only in the same sex!  That decision was being driven by cultural, not biological, conditioning… and the culture was in a state of advanced decay.

Insanity Begins Where Truth Evaporates

In just the past week, I’ve been bombarded with so many outrageous claims and patently made-up fantasies that I’m somewhere between headache and nausea.

Did you know that illegal aliens actually commit crimes at a lower rate than other residents—overlooking the fact that illegal entry is itself a crime, I mean?  Of course, being illegal, many of this group don’t call the cops when they’re robbed, raped, or mugged in the barrio… but I’m sure that whatever study the professor was quoting to Tucker Carlson took this into account.  Right?

High rates of Ruthenium 106 have been detected in the southern Urals… but, hey, Russia isn’t engaged any longer in the covert weaponizing of nuclear materials, and Jared Kushner’s chat with a Russian lobbyist remains a far greater threat to our security than Hillary’s Uranium One deal.  Anyway, who’s to say that Greenpeace Russia isn’t lying as part of a Trump pay-off?  Right?

Today I saw a video claiming that Native Americans have observed Thanksgiving as a day of mourning for centuries, and that the actual date marks the occasion of a massacre wrought by the Pilgrims upon their swart, dark-haired, fatally naive hosts.  The narrator was a Native-looking young lass who truly seemed to be very distressed.  Why would she lie?

All week I’ve been reading about our “greatest president”.  No, not Barack Obama—the other one: Abraham Lincoln.  He promised not to free the slaves as a candidate, his proclamation freed them only in the South and not in Unionist border states, he freed them then only to find more cannon fodder for his unpopular war, he had to siphon off precious troops to suppress draft resistance in states like New York, he smashed presses and imprisoned editors when newspapers in far-from-the-front Ohio and Indiana criticized his policies… but these are all just charges assembled by Southern apologists.  I have it on the high authority of Glenn Beck, the official historian of Planet Earth.

A professional sportswriter penned something that crossed my bow yesterday.  It argued that we might as well usher all the Steroid Boys into the Hall of Fame and waive the character criterion, because the Hall’s prior occupants are a bunch of bastards.  Take Tris Speaker, who wouldn’t attend teammate Ray Chapman’s funeral because Ray was Catholic.  Naturally, the argument made in Charles Alexander’s painstaking biography that Chapman was born Protestant and that, in any case, he selected Speaker to be best man at his wedding reeks of bias.  I’m sure the no-name who has wearied of the Hall’s prissy “character” clause must have it right.

A certain relative at our Thanksgiving gathering launched a verbal tirade because my son beat her at chess.  She insisted that knights couldn’t leap over other pieces when moved—citing an Internet source which actually undermined her position… but that was just our interpretation of the passage.  And the Internet is always right, especially when it’s vague.

From the cosmic to the national to the trivial, I find myself wading through hastily stitched “facts” at every turn.  What’s happening?  Are we all losing our minds?  Am I, perhaps, a psycho for thinking that the sun sets in the west?

No, it seems to me, rather, that we’re falling into a habit of rewriting the rules (sometimes literally) to whatever game we’re playing so that we personally come out ahead.  And because I once thought that Putin could be trusted, and that Glenn Beck could be trusted, and that institutional or professional research could be trusted, I don’t think I’m the lunatic in this asylum.  Why not?  Because I’m capable of admitting error and changing my mind.

Here’s an exercise I recommend: think of three positions that you’ve had to surrender over the past year because the facts just didn’t support them.  Can you do it?

Thanksgiving Lite vs. True Gratitude

Like just about every other thoughtful person, I’m a little queasy when I hear all the Christian-lite bromides at this time of year. “Thank you for our health.” So the ailing are hated of God? “Thank you for our family.” Pagans have families, too; so do murdering drug-cartel kingpins. “Thank you for peace.” Well, sort of… only don’t go for an evening walk without a concealed weapon unless you live in an exclusive gated community; and if it’s peace in the world to which you refer, I guess you mean, “Thank you for not making me Mexican, so that I don’t inhabit a nation that produced 21,000 murders last year and 30,000 surviving casualties.”

That’s a little Pharisaical, don’t you think? “Thank you for not making me like that filthy publican at the altar.”

And then we have the unnerving fact that what we fear and loathe most is often what we most need. We don’t know what to be thankful for. Maybe our raise is just going to plunge us into a more materialistic lifestyle. Maybe being bumped to part-time will make us become more creative and independent. Should we be thankful that we can afford to view more trashy Hollywood movies and stuff ourselves on more sweets and fats… or should we be thankful that we’re now having to read books for amusement and grow potatoes and beans in the back yard? How we hate being forced into virtue! When that doesn’t happen, we’re so damn thankful!

I have enough of the old pagan in me that I’m almost afraid to be thankful for anything, lest I make a target out of myself. “Thanks for our prosperous investments… oh, my God! Did you see how much the Dow just plunged?” There’s an Irish saying that runs, Mol an là um trathnóna—“Praise the day as the sun goes down.” It’s the same sentiment that we find at the end of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and ascribed to Solon by Herodotus: “Let no man be called blessed before he is safely dead and secure from the world’s shocks.”

In my more Christian moments, however—truly Christian—I know that I must die to this world some day, and I am grateful for the little clues that alert me to a “winding down”. I am grateful that I can see a way to start tying loose ends together—to leave some sort of legacy that will warn others against living just for the here and now. And, yes, I’m grateful for something to put on the table. “Let each day’s worries be sufficient unto itself.” I am grateful that we get by, that the sun and the rain fall on good and evil alike, and that the means of survival are always within reach of the humble and hard-working. I want to learn more about those means in my final years, and I want to do more about passing them along. Simply feeling the days lengthen and then shorten, simply studying how the earth grows food and then gives it up to those who know her secrets, is a vitally important part of understanding bountifulness and feeling gratitude for it.

I am not grateful to this culture we have created which has carried us so far away from such understanding and such gratitude.

 

Girls Need More Prudence in the Post-Polite World

I would begin, “Please don’t misunderstand…” but I have long learned that those words are always wasted.  People who want to misunderstand will surely do so, as on the day when three senior English majors were pleased to construe a perfectly anodyne joke I hatched (to cover my irritation about rampant absenteeism) as a crude sneer at suicides.  (I had murmured, “Absent again?  Question 5 must have driven them to suicide!”)  These prissy censors decided to be offended rather than opt for a more civil, friendly, and obvious interpretation of my words; and as for me, I will never forget the offense I felt at being so zealously cast in a villain’s role.  No, I didn’t feel “raped”: I just felt slapped in the face.

So misunderstand, if you will… but listen: women who don’t wish to lure into the open their male colleagues’ Inner Swine probably shouldn’t leave dozens of photos on Google images showing themselves buck naked (or peu s’en faut), with the skimpiest of remaining strings or veils, perhaps, serving only to emphasize what isn’t in plain sight.

The Tweeden woman who is protesting Al Franken’s multiple molestations—and rightly so—might have considered that when you ring a bell in Professor Pavlov’s lab, all the dogs within earshot start to salivate.  I had no idea who this young woman might be; someone wrote that she was a newscaster.  I did a quick search… and my iPad’s screen started to blush.  Ms. Tweeden, I second your outrage, and I have decried the degeneration of male manners over a lifetime twice the length of yours… but if you don’t want the neighborhood strays nipping at your heels, don’t go jogging wrapped in strings of fresh sausage.

For fifty years and more now, feminism has been encouraging young women to flaunt conventions of decency (if not to advertise an overtly licentious lifestyle).  This was always a nasty pit-trap into which the most impressionable girls took hard falls.  Here they were told by academic mentors that they were going to gate-crash male lairs of privilege…. and all they accomplished was the rush-delivery of more low thrills to the worst kind of man.

I don’t know if the news desk and the Hollywood “casting couch” are distinctly different pieces of furniture any more, at least for young women.  If a daughter of mine were considering a broadcast career, I would warn her to develop a thick skin and study karate.  And if Megan Kelly, who hasn’t stopped protesting her harassment at FOX since her exit therefrom, really believes that she was originally hired only for her interviewing skills, then she must be the most naive human being ever to utter the words, “Tonight we begin our coverage…”.

It’s not right, of course, that women in particular should have to be eye-candy in order to land such positions.  Ratings rule, however, at the end of the day.  The profession is invincibly sordid in that regard.

Teaching isn’t so very different.  You can possess the knowledge of a Henry Kissinger about international affairs—but if you conduct your Topics in Diplomacy seminar in soporific monotone, you’ll soon be looking for a new gig (unless, that is, you are actually Henry Kissinger).

I wish we could recover some vestige of manners.  Few people loathe the moral and cultural cesspool in which we dwell more than I.  But as I recall my single days in the Eighties, when women never wanted to see you again if the first date didn’t end in bed, and as I now read of actresses feeling “assaulted” when a nonagenarian in a wheelchair slips his arm around their waist, I can’t help but conclude that today’s girls—for their own good—need to do their calculations all over again.  This world of “rights” and “freedoms” has grown dangerously pathological.  Don’t assume that any space is safe, ladies, and learn to keep your guard up better.  Listen to your grandmothers.

 

Sensible Tax Policy in Never-Never Land

It’s more than a bit sordid to listen to all the verbal jockeying that goes on as a new tax bill is debated. Overcrowded and overtaxed liberal states like New York and California want to keep their state-income-tax deduction. Otherwise, we’re told, their part of the federal burden would be unfair. But wait… there’s another way of looking at this. You blue states have freely chosen to engage in an experiment in socialism, and to do so you had to load whopping taxes onto your highest earners. Naturally, unskilled blue-collar workers also swarmed across your boundaries to have access to all the free goodies; and a comparatively large proportion of these, by the way, were not even legal citizens. So now you’re in a situation where you hand out more free stuff than anyone else and to more eager hands than are reaching anywhere else. Quite a pickle. To cut your gainfully employed some slack, you remind them that they can deduct their hefty state taxes… except that now, perhaps, they cannot. Ouch!

But that’s a predicament of your own making. If we’re all supposed to be taxed federally on the same scale, but your citizens get bumped down on the scale because you’re already working them over, then those of my state have to pay comparatively more. Indirectly, we’re financing your idiotic experiment in socialism. You supply the ruinous idealism… we supply the cash. Shall we keep talking about fairness?

Or what about the other side of the aisle, and the anguish that its members are enduring over capping the deduction for mortgage payments at $500,000? I’m supposed to feel sorry for someone who takes out a mortgage on a half-a-million-dollar house and wants it deducted from his taxes? Don’t buy the damn house if you can’t afford it! If you’re living in California and half a mil buys you a thousand square feet of roach motel… get out of California! Why should I take some of the burden that should have been yours—why should any of us have to underwrite your costly California residency?

As for 401K’s… wow. Guess what? I only recently discovered myself (much to my shame) that the 401K is just a shell game. You don’t pay taxes today so that you may pay those taxes later, just as you’re quitting your job. Essentially, the government is trying to incentivize you to do something that you should be doing, anyway, if you’re a functional adult (i.e., save). And the incentive is also written on water in disappearing ink. Why is this a bone of contention?

I have long said that ALL taxes—local, state, and federal—should be raised from a universal sales tax. This would have the following immense advantages:

  • There would be no tax fraud or evasion; every time you bought something, you would pay the requisite tax along with the item’s market price.
  • Taxation “moralists” would have to content themselves with the tough but fair lesson that those with wealth may buy much and those in poverty must buy little; there is no “right” to live like a rich man on a poor man’s income.
  • Those living beyond their means would be forced to grow up and become more frugal.
  • Those of substantial means who chose to be stingy and save would not be punished by Super Nanny and would enrich the investment sector, creating more jobs for laborers.
  • Everybody would contribute some little something to the national coffers and would hence partake of the sacrifice of being a full citizen.
  • Those who were not legal citizens would have further reason to go back home and stay.
  • Most importantly in my view, everybody would see just how outrageously expensive all our layers of bloated government are, and an angry electorate would demand change.

Naturally, none of this will ever happen.