On Pessimism and Misanthropy

Pessimism is the routine expectation that things will happen for the worst (pessimus being Latin for “worst”). Misanthropy literally means “hatred of mankind” in Greek (misos + anthropos)–but in common usage, its tone is somewhat milder, as in “not trustful of people”.

I have been called both of these; and while I certainly haven’t a lot of trust in people, especially in an age where young high school and college graduates are constantly encouraged to “follow their dreams” in idiotic commencement addresses (a recipe for disaster, given the irresponsibility of dreams nourished on video games and Netflix fantasies), I think “the worst” is most often averted when we’re suspicious of our neighbors. The founders of the republic thought the same thing. In my lifetime, it has been the optimists who typically open the door to disaster: the people whose expectations are so absurdly self-indulgent and rose-colored that cynical manipulators run circles around them and create a hell on earth. Then, when the “snowflakes” finally wake up and realize that they’ve been played, they become as naïve in their mistrust as they were formerly in their gullibility. They tend to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong at the doorstep of a certain designated group of villains, in a romantic kind of Manichaeism—good guy versus bad guy—rather than growing up and recognizing that all people have at least latent corruption nestled somewhere within them.

The trouble with optimism is that it can leave those whom it burns stupidly pessimistic. And on their way to getting badly burned, the naïve can get innocent people killed. I won’t repeat my remarks of a few weeks ago about Pope Francis.

Let me toss out just a couple of examples that sailed past my bow this week in illustration of why I don’t feel just all peachy soft and fuzzy about human civilization’s future.

One case stares at me from my Kindle almost every time I fire it up. The murder mystery seems to be to our casual reading public what oats are to a horse. Now, my mother loved mystery novels, and I think most of us enjoy a good crime drama on occasion. I had to give up watching Joe Kenda, however, because at some point I just couldn’t take any more young single moms letting strangers they’d picked up at the bar into their lives and winding up in a dumpster. Real murder, you see, is anything but glamorous. It’s the most squalid crime imaginable. The motive is generally some mix of lust, greed, egotism, and stupidity—with a very strong dose of the last: murderers are almost never evil geniuses. The murder itself is usually a brutal act of superior physical strength asserting itself over a victim screaming piteously, and pointlessly, for mercy. Even the higher predators in the animal food chain show more heart than the average murderer.

Yet nowadays, even as we create safe spaces and trigger alerts to coddle our epidermis-free sensitivity, we willingly accept murder into our amusements as an integral part of escapist fantasy. It’s the sanitization of murder in the pulp romance that gripes me—the degradation of mass taste that is implied in that makeover of human depravity. Joe Kenda’s tales were real enough to leave me mildly nauseated after a while: Joe Kindle keeps insulting my intelligence with teases about the latest “humorous, sexy murder mystery”.

One more quick example: I was looking up the Romanian word for “bull” because I know almost no Romanian whatever, and I needed to make a linguistic point about the modern languages descended from Latin. I’m not kidding you: the first full page of a dozen entries that popped up on my computer screen when I Googled my question offered Romanian street parlance for “bullsh*t”. Seems that we have all forgotten about the male bovine with a bellowing voice and what Jack Falstaff called a “pizzle”. How did we come to the point where coprologisms have more currency among us than basic words for basic realities? What does that say about us?

So, no, I’m not real happy with things. It’s because I can still generate the energy to be upset that the notion of effective action continues to mean something to me. Would we be better off just smiling every time our decadent culture serves us up a dish of “bull” when we ask for bread?

Except for People

Just got in from checking on my garden. The sweet potatoes are starting to send their leave up out of the ground—it happens literally over night. My bell peppers are doing much better now that I’ve transplanted them from the raised, boxed garden with its rich soil into more sandy terrain; they just didn’t take to the high-rent district! My goji bush is exploding; an odd little tree that I think (and hope) has sprung from a jujube seed continues to thrive; and the ever-screwball butternut squash have actually volunteered this spring (after I had given up on them after so many years of wasted time) and are producing plump gourds that, by all lessons of the past, just shouldn’t be there!

One can usually make peace with Nature. If things aren’t growing, there’s a reason, and one may be able to figure it out with a lot of patience—though it would have been even better to have preserved some of that ancestral wisdom which we’ve trashed along with Grandma’s sewing machine. Many times, I have the thought that a large part of our postmodern malaise is owed to our having ruptured our bonds with the soil and the seasons. Life and death, health and sickness, the stages leading to maturity, the rain that must fall so that the sun may give further life… even the electricity released by violent thunderstorms, I suspect, must be balancing out something in the atmosphere that would prove toxic if the weather were forced to be “peaceful”.

Yet all I hear and see in the human world is irksome whining about natural limitation (e.g., our paltry two genders), arrogant rejecting of cycle in favor of strict linear progression (e.g., our looming immortality as human/robot hybrids), and tasteless self-insulating in childish fantasies (e.g., the newly released Wonder Woman—and should she have hair under her arms, or not?). Plants can talk to you through how they look: my bell peppers told me that they preferred the sand when I saw them putting out new green leaves. Their language always makes sense. It’s about sun, and water, and survival, and supplying the next generation. People, in contrast, just don’t make any sense at all to me any more. Their audible language is much easier to assemble—but its message, the combined product of its words, is gibberish.

As I was walking back inside, I had the kind of thought that isn’t typical of me these days—and it came to me so powerfully that I was actually saying it out loud: “God, the world is beautiful… except for people. Except for people.” Yeah, that last part is typical “me”, I suppose, as I’ve now become; but I sometimes forget how Edenic life on this planet can be if you can just escape the clamoring, yammering apes in clothes. The alternative is well worth seeking out.

 

Animal Planet Peddles More Unicorns

I think “cryptozoology” is a really fascinating subject. The assumption is always made by the general public (and usually fed by professionals in the sciences, who don’t like to admit that something might possibly lie beyond their ken) that we must surely have discovered by now every life form on Planet Earth. This is an ignorant, arrogant leap of faith. Because most of us have now squeezed ourselves into “megalopolis” or into one of the concentric rings of suburbia enclosing it, we can’t imagine any weird creature’s escaping detection. One thing we fail to consider is that our collective influx into cities has left rural areas depopulated. Yes, the explosion of human inhabitants in all quarters of the globe would seem to compensate for any relative diminution in the percentage of people filling this or that corner. I doubt that this proposition is unassailable, however. Comparatively few though we were a hundred years ago, our overwhelmingly agricultural society still concentrated its strength very heavily in the boondocks. Now any drive along a rural highway (and how many of us ever take such a drive?) reveals desolation on all sides. Abandoned houses are falling apart everywhere, and seldom does any new structure rear its satellite dish in their place.

People who should find themselves in the country for some reason are also less likely now to know its sights and sounds. They can’t tell a wolf’s cry from a coyote’s or a crow’s call from a caracara’s. The situation where a tenderfoot thinks he may have seen a chupacabra when he’s only run across a large stray dog often works in reverse, thanks to such ignorance: a person might see an unidentified species and assume that it is a familiar one. Witnesses in shooting incidents almost invariably say that they at first thought the gunshots were a backfiring car. The stronger tendency of the human mind is to blend the unique into the commonplace, not the other way around.

Thirdly, the encroachment of human beings on so many once-remote parts of the natural environment can create opportunities for more resourceful species that were formerly hard-pressed. Squirrels are much more abundant in suburbia than in the wilderness. Humans have chased off or killed most natural predators (foxes, snakes, hawks) while allowing the “cuddly, adorable” little fur-ball to chew up orchards and attics unmolested. If something extraordinarily perceptive and intelligent like a Sasquatch did exist, an invasion of humans that thinned out rival predators like panthers and bears while allowing food sources like deer and squirrel to proliferate might actually improve the outlook for survival.

All of this is merely to say that I was looking forward to the first episode of Animal Planet’s Destination: Mungo last Sunday. Quite a letdown. Once again, we are treated to a showman who expensively, ostentatiously makes his way to some forgotten corner of the planet… and then spends one night in the “hot spot” to see if his infrared cameras are activated by anything larger than a rat. Bwana Mungo hasn’t even heard of the coelacanth, apparently (and hasn’t yet figured out how to pronounce the word, either). In one scene, he contacts his biologist buddy in the States to ask if the Postosuchus, a Triassic ancestor of the crocodile, might really exist today, as Liberian locals are reporting. Responding via satellite through a laptop linked to a smartphone, the suitably bearded academic tells an inspirational story. “Have you heard of the coelacanth, Mungo?” “No, never. Tell me about it.” Oh, please!

In the first place, the coelacanth’s presumed date of extermination was considerably closer to our own time than the late Triassic (by a factor of close to a thousand). In the second place, coelacanths inhabit ocean trenches and would be virtually undetectable to human beings in the normal course of events. In the third place, of course Mungo has heard of the coelacanth! I learned of its lately discovered survival into the present when I was a young boy—a professional wildlife photographer and cryptozoology enthusiast could no more have remained ignorant of the subject than a physicist could fail to have heard of a quark. And finally, biologist buddy’s fishing stories transmitted by satellite, however inspirational, are insufficient reason for Mungo to rise from his laptop feeling new confidence in his quest. He hasn’t garnered a single particle of arcane information about tropical African fauna that might be seen as assisting his search. The whole exchange is highly staged and utterly ridiculous… almost as bad as a mockumentary about mermaids.

So… my quest of credible shows on the subject of cryptozoology continues as we permanently put the Amusement Park of Mungo at our backs. I’m looking for something rarer than a unicorn, it seems. In the meantime, old episodes of River Monsters are far less a waste of time.

Publishing: The Grandest and Vilest of Occupations

As I prepare to put my association with The Center for Literate Values to bed, after a seventeen-year struggle to make it grow, I’m greatly relieved… but also saddened. A lot of stuff in my life seems to be getting bundled off into memory’s attic at just this time. My son is done with college and busy with a full-time job at a location almost a thousand miles away. Who knows when I’ll see him again? I can’t wait to sell this old house and move into a new one built much more to our taste… but my boy grew up here, and every inch of the property stirs its own recollections. I’m about to begin my professional swan song as an educator, and it’s high time for me to bug out before I have to do everything online in semi-robotic fashion… but I had a few successes as a teacher, and I won’t be having any of those after next April.

The Center—and its quarterly journal Praesidium—shared much with my frustrating academic career. I thought we could reach a critical mass of people and help to keep a taste for classic literature alive; but we were forced to wage this war through a website for financial reasons, and people who surf websites generally don’t care about the proper interpretation of Virgil or Ariosto. It often seemed that I was fighting the spread of kudzu across my lawn by whipping new tendrils with vines of kudzu.

I continue to write and translate, and I know now that I can’t stop. But I also know by now that none of the conventional outlets for “success” is open to the likes of me. My translation of three medieval Celtic romances isn’t riddled with neo-Marxism, feminism, or Gay/Queer Theory, but rather juxtaposes the threesome from the point of view of comparative mythology and Christian allegorizing. Try getting that published at a university press today! A novel I wrote last summer represents through fantasy an eternal punishment for wicked deeds, its vision founded in an “absolutist” (what stupid words we’re forced to use now!) vision of good and evil. Try getting some money and press lined up for that from the “creative” community!

In fact, publishers rarely accept anything in any genre nowadays from someone not previously published and successfully marketed (the same old Catch 22 as, “We can’t give you this job unless you have experience”). Now, if your last name were Clinton or Trump or Kardashian and you were willing to tell all—in broken fifth-grade prose—about the intimate workings of certain households, the rule would be waived. Otherwise, publishers want proof that you can make money. The days of a thoughtful editorial board reading over, heatedly discussing, and taking a chance on an offbeat submission probably died somewhere in the Seventies.

Even academic publishers now require a curriculum vitae (what normal people call a résumé) to be submitted with the manuscript. The reason given for the request is completely disingenuous in an age when you can research “Halifax McGarnicle” instantly on your smartphone and see if he’s all he claims to be. No, the purpose of that somewhat creepy requirement is to ensure that the University of Deadwater Press doesn’t say “no” to Professor Gastropod, the world’s leading expert on gay behavior among narwhals.

I’m more and more attracted, then, to the idea of publishing my own stuff as cheap PDF and EPUB downloads—and the stuff of others who are equally sick of the publishing racket. We would do well to make a few dollars’ profit, but we would perhaps reach worthy audiences. And the investment would be virtually nil, unlike the notorious shakedowns operated by vanity presses, whose architects never report your sales to you honestly (as I know from bitter experience). One of the things I need to find out is if software exists to inform collaborators instantly and automatically of sales—for I would hate asking authors to rely strictly on my integrity.  I’ve known outfits whose marketers do this, and then bristle indignantly if you raise a question. Even if you set a trap and catch them in specific breaches of faith, what are you going to do—pay a lawyer to recover the ten bucks you’ve been cheated out of?  How do you prove that it’s more?

The “information for prospective authors” on my site would read something like this:

Aspiring authors are encouraged to submit their work for processing in inexpensive downloads, for which they may set their own price and for whose sale they will receive 100 percent reimbursement. The objective of this system is to draw potential buyers to a site where they may view works reflecting tastes and values similar to those of the author whom they originally came to seek; so your contribution is assessed in shoppers drawn to visit, not in pennies scooped off your sales.

I hope it works. I’m running out of ideas for saving literacy—and out of years on earth to give them a try.

Greed Downs Honesty 10-0 at Coors Field

My son, knowing of my fascination with the physics of baseball (and perhaps mistaking it for a love of the game as it’s now played), wanted to surprise me with tickets to the Cubs-Rockies game when I was in Denver last week.  That was the day when an afternoon hailstorm broke out windshields all over the city.  Rain continued non-stop: it was perfectly clear to anyone with half an eye and a two-digit IQ that no baseball would be played that night.

Yet the official word was that the show would go on.  So we duly drove downtown during rush hour in a cold, steady drizzle to crawl our way into a parking deck and trek miserably to the ballpark.  Since nobody could take a seat in the unprotected areas (and since Cub fans represent a massive cult in any American city), the bottled-up throng could scarcely be navigated.  Moving from A to B was like trying to get a red square on one corner of Rubic’s Cube without shifting the blue one on the far side.  (I could never master the Cube.)

With my martyred wife in tow, we tried to find something edible.  Really amazing, how a big league ballpark can’t even give a concession to Chipotle or Subway.  Disgusted by the options, we exited the stadium to explore nearby sports bars and bistros.  Of course, all were overflowing… and the rain continued to pour.

At last we returned to the park and managed to find a dry spot.  (My son had paid pretty good money for seats that turned out to be sheltered.)  No longer hungry, we just watched the great green field soak up more water under blazing light towers.  Half an hour later, the game was officially postponed.

No one can convince me that the string-pullers of this operation ever had any serious intention of giving the green light.  No–they saw a chance to draw thousands of people downtown to spend a pointless wait milling about beer, burger, and nacho concessions.  I’m sure the local bars also loved the decision.

This is one thing I hate about Big Baseball.  It’s big business, in the worst corporate sense.  It taps into a clientele so vast that alienating a few hundreds or thousands here and there, now and then, poses no threat to the overall Product.  We’re cattle, straining to get through the chutes and to the troughs wherein the Operators have poured an insipid swill for us to slop down.  No consideration for the struggles of the little guy fighting weather and traffic, not a thought given to the several dozen fender-benders that likely occurred around game time, a big shrug to the hundreds of cases of sniffles that children and oltimers would suffer the next day… hell, it’s a business.  If you don’t like the risks of patronizing it, go fishing.

Message to MLB: I’m not holding anything in my hand (or my wallet) that I’m willing to pass to your side of the table.  Go fish.

Open Letter to the National Christian College Athletic Association

Dear NCCAA:

My wife and I lately attended a baseball tournament hosted in McPherson, Kansas, specifically witnessing three games on May 11 and 12 in which our son’s school participated. We were pretty shocked. Speaking for myself, as a Christian, an educator, and a human being raised in civilized circumstances, I came away feeling that the tenor of this competition was far too often disgraceful and disgusting.

Full disclosure requires me to admit that our team did not fare well, nor was my son’s single stint as a relief pitcher a success. On the other hand, CCU has under-achieved all season; and as for my son’s performance, he was actually victimized (as usual) not by poor execution on his part, but by the weak defenders behind him. In these regards, nothing made May 11-12 any different from what I’ve observed all season long.

I will further admit that the irritation caused to me and all the parents near me (not to mention, most likely, some sitting on the other side) during our first game with Ecclesia College was entirely owing to a single boisterous mother, whose bellowing surpassed anything I recall even from the earliest days of Little League. It’s a real jolt to observe such behavior in college grandstands… but only one such stentorian orifice is needed to spread a dark auditory cloud over the whole field of play.

Things became more concerning on Friday. We actually began the day by handing Dallas Christian College their second of two crushing defeats, and they handled their misfortunes with dignity and humor. The problem started when the Ecclesia squad collected in the grandstands to follow the game’s outcome and know of their own fate in the tournament. I myself didn’t witness the heavy tobacco chewing and spitting that went on among that group, because I was determined to keep a distance between myself and Foghorn Mama; but my wife and several other parents remarked that finding a clean place to pass on the sidewalk was growing difficult.

Tobacco-chewing is a squalid and unhealthy habit which is unbecoming of a well-groomed and self-controlled person, let alone a Christian gentleman. Bobby Richardson didn’t do it, and neither did Dale Murphy. By the way, it’s also against NCAA rules and the codes now enforced in most minor leagues.

Yet it happens, especially in our neck of the woods. Several levels worse, in my opinion, is the consumption of caffeinated substances before a game in such quantities that one’s “enthusiasm” cannot be reined in. This was the state into which I suspect Southwestern Christian University’s players had medicated themselves for our final game. I know enough about amphetamine use in the MLB (Hank Aaron once wrote that “greenies” were always overflowing a bowl in the clubhouse like candy) and various caffeine/alcohol/nicotine-laced cocktails (such as Ron Darling described in accounting for the 1986 Mets’ success) to understand that the game has long been riddled with such stuff. I do not know what the NCAA rules are in this regard; but again, though certain spiritual leaders tell us these days that Christians never judge another person, I’m pretty sure that deliberately impairing your self-control in order to reach Dionysiac energy and ecstasy isn’t something Christ would have approved.

For this team was out of control. Their manager, early on, protested a relatively routine and uncontroversial call by shouting and gesticulating angrily on the field. Everyone on the bench was howling, screeching, mocking, jeering, and chanting from the first pitch to the last. Naturally, the game has a long and not very respectable tradition of deriding opponents from the dugout; but such remarks are always sniper fire, not constant artillery barrages. I could scarcely sit back and take in any of the plays—which, I suppose, was probably the purpose of the display. If SCU’s members and boosters wanted the rest of us just to long for early and maximum physical distance from the ballpark, they were indeed a huge success. Never have I sat through such an annoying and repellent two hours at a baseball field.

It was in this atmosphere, of course, that I had to watch my son throw the last pitches he would ever make in a uniform. I would be less than honest if I denied feeling almost furious about that. But the less subjective, more important issue is that human beings can’t normally behave this way except under the influence of some kind of stimulant. If a drug test had been administered before the game, the SCU squad would have produced some very interesting results.

As we returned to our car afterward, my wife and I overheard one coach say to a player, “I’m so hoarse I can hardly talk. But we came out on top—that’s all that matters.”

NCCAA will forever remain tarnished in my memory. I suppose anyone who wants is free to participate in its events… but in my opinion, one of the “c’s” needs to be dropped. I can tell you as a teacher with almost forty years experience that the one factor most discrediting to Christianity in the eyes of young non-Christians is hypocrisy. The faithless perceive us as all-for-show, “do as I say, not as I do” phonies. It’s precisely because of occasions like the McPherson tournament that they come away with such an impression… and who can blame them? In its own small way, that tournament gave a black eye to our faith; and, as many such displays throughout our culture add their individual punches and kicks—all under an ostentatious Cross—we crucify our savior all over again.

Really, really sad.

Abortion, Ritual Sacrifice, and… “Conservatism”?

It almost seems like abortion is a dead issue (no pun intended). When hold-nothing-back mouthpieces of the Twitter generation like Tomi Lahren (of whom I lately wrote) can’t grasp the basic facts as they float one garish utterance after another like helium-filled balloons at a birthday party, discussion no longer appears to have much point. And Tomi, recall, is supposed to represent “conservatism”.

Her position, stated infamously (if very casually) on national television, is essentially, “Hands off my guns, and hands off my body.” In other words, the government’s intruding into a woman’s pregnancy is equivalent to its confiscating the weapon with which she would have deterred a rapist climbing through her window at midnight.

May I offer the following analogy in dissent? Say that you contract to be the lifeguard on a stretch of ocean beach during the summer. You demonstrate superior swimming ability and are offered the job on the spot. Great. Now the summer proceeds to unfold without incident, and you fall into the habit of munching potato chips and swilling softdrinks rather than leaving your shaded throne to swim around the pier once in a while. You grow fat and are easily winded. But so what? It’s your body, isn’t it? Don’t you have a right to abuse it if you so choose?

Well, no, not really. Not in this case. The terms of your employment assume that you will remain performance-ready; and if you fall out of shape, furthermore, another may die. The swimming novice who screams and flails beyond the pier in late August will drown because you can’t reach him, thanks to your consuming interest in supplying pleasure to your taste buds. You were supposed to be that person’s lifeline, the door to another day for someone who can’t survive without help. You should not have accepted your post if you intended to ignore its responsibilities.

Unless a woman is raped (against which outrage a gun is a pretty good insurance policy, as Tomi says), she should be able to partake liberally of the joys of sex—if such is her inclination—while preserving a few abstinent days in the middle of her monthly cycle. Or if that’s just barbarically severe, then she can always equip herself with contraception (or purchase one of the wide variety of contemporary toys that promise to keep her happy). If she chooses to handle her body in such a way that she risks conceiving another life, then she needs to be prepared to supply the lifeline: those are the “terms of engagement”.

Frankly, I don’t see why any educated woman should find herself in an unwanted pregnancy unless she wants the drama of it—unless, that is, she wants to perform the sanguinary rite of passage into a sick sisterhood that is represented by abortion. Today’s cutting-edge feminists say they don’t need or even like men, anyway: they tend to prefer each other. So why does this remain such a hot topic with them, unless they require a blood sacrifice to cut their ties with human decency the way a gang initiation requires a drive-by murder?