“Pick me. I’m your daisy.”Doc Holidayfrom Tombstone
There are many advantages to being completely out of touch with reality, out of one’s mind, cartwheeling through space and time by means of a warped imagination. One is that my dreams are far more vivid and striking than a normal person’s – so vivid and striking as to inspire within me the belief at times that I have been granted the gift of prophecy or some such. Of course, this belief is delusional, but at times I still wonder.
Take the other night: I’d stayed up too late after spending another shiftless day eating government cheese and sponging off of your tax money, using my food stamps to buy Delmonico steaks and several nice bottles of MD 20/20 to wash it all down with. I think I’d watched a New Star Trek marathon on the Sci-Fi channel and was contemplating shaving my head so I’d look like Patrick Stewart as, to my mind, his character on that show is second only to Tartuffe in terms of fictional personages I aim to emulate.
But the capper, I think, was the fact I’d just finished flipping through Voltaire’s Candide backwards.
Anyway, I fell into a deep slumber and during that slumber I felt a strange sensation, akin to someone removing bandages from my eyes; and then, all at once, I saw The Truth. The Truth, it turned out, wasn’t something terribly complex, not hidden at all – in fact, I’d been hiding it from myself in my long search for it. And The Truth was: I am wrong about everything I suspected about the world just as most people have always told me.
I found myself standing on a high mountain looking out over the bright and shining world and could see, for the first time in my life, absolutely nothing was wrong in that world with the way things are. My so-called “utopianism” was suddenly reduced to ashes in the burning light of Reality that is, evidently, already utopian. I had just stubbornly refused to see it for 40 years.
I saw, in the streets of the cities and towns, poor people working 18 hours a day for very little money and no benefits and no vacations, and something became apparent – they were happy with that; no, more: they should be happy with that. That is fair and just. They and everyone else thought it right for them to labor from dawn to dawn; they did not feel that they needed healthcare or that their employers or the community had any responsibility for such things. They were proud of the fact that they were working like slaves and paid barely enough to live in virtual poverty.
They were proud that, in the State of Georgia as of this year, 1 of every 5 children lives in poverty and, probably, few of them will ever escape it. I realized that these children enjoy the fact that their parents, since both parents must work to even survive, are rarely home and, when home, are tired and often irritable, being under the financial, physical, and mental stresses they actually revel in.
I realized that it is okay for us to say we value families so long as we don’t actually do anything to make it possible for families to live in a manner they can have their priorities straight. Because, in Truth, it was my priorities that were wrong in the first place: I thought the first tasks of a family were to love one another, raise the children, spend time teaching them how to do things and how to tell right from wrong.
No, in this perfect world, the main job of a family is to serve its role in the economy, make money at all costs for investors and, maybe, enough for the people working to get by. The second job of a family is to raise warm bodies to replace the parents when those workers become old and can’t function anymore. Any other responsibilities and expectations probably come just after buying a new X-Box and making certain the satellite dish bill is paid.
I saw all at once that poverty was not the evil I’d grown to think it might be. No – it builds character; it narrows one’s attention; it brings one closer to God and country. If anyone in this perfect world is burdened, it is the wealthy: they have so many terrible decisions to make and so much genuine work to do, deciding how best to create jobs for the poor and how best to take care of the less fortunate. From my vantage point atop the high mountain of my dream I could see for the first time all the rich had always, from the beginnings of the world, spent many a long hour of their lives completely lost in the service of others. And they did it so quietly, no one noticed! My idea they ought to be taxed to insure the public good suddenly seemed punishing and wicked.
No, the poor are only doing themselves a great favor by making profits for the wealthy while receiving little in return. By allowing the owners to take a significant part of what they make, their lives become much simpler and easy to manage, especially when they do not receive raises to keep up with the rising price of fuel and goods and education and healthcare. Cars cost a lot to manage – if the poor can’t make enough to maintain them, they can walk 20 or 30 miles to work each day here in rural areas. And that improves health, so who needs healthcare? And since poor working people can afford fewer groceries as prices rise and wages remain flat, they will all start living off tomatoes grown in flower pots or home gardens, and that, I realized, is pure health food.
As for education, well, how much does one need to mop a floor or do service jobs? “Hi, may I help you?” is easier and cheaper to teach than differential calculus. Reading and writing – after mom and dad teach you how to read Cat in the Hat and sign your name (sort of), what more does one want or need? In fact, it is dangerous to teach the young (or old) to read anything beyond “See Spot run” because, inevitably they’re going to wind up trying to read the classics or Cervantes or Swift or Voltaire or the Founding Fathers or histories or philosophers or Faulkner or Orwell. God forbid, they may read The Beats or Hunter Thompson, too.
Their pure minds will become polluted. They will ask too many questions, they may even move on from signing their name to expressing their own thoughts in words, and just look at the damage that causes. People that write and draw and whatever, when they aren’t aiming to only make a few bucks, have a nasty habit of saying or showing things good people would rather left unsaid and covered over.
After all, why do you think Plato didn’t want the poets hanging out in his perfect city depicted in The Republic? He says they lie; maybe it’s more like they don’t sing the official version of the news. And in our perfect world, the official news is the only real news, and you find it on the Fox Channel.
And I saw, from that wonderful peak, that there were no people in authority who did not deserve to occupy the fine offices they sit in. Didn’t the Bible say, according to some interpreters (the only correct ones), that those in authority are chosen to be there by God Himself? Who am I to question God, then? From King Herod to Attila the Hun, from Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush, a leader is a leader and is supposed to be there, no matter how they came to power or what they do with it.
A person at any level of authority can do no wrong in this best of all possible worlds, whether that person is a parent, a boss, a high school assistant principal, a principal, a school superintendent, a cop, a county commissioner, a legislator, a judge, a governor, a vice president or president. By definition, they are always right, otherwise they would not hold their office as given to them by God; they are right even when they are wrong. And the more wrong they are, the more I learned in my dream I am supposed to scream they are right.
Why, the world might fall apart if we acknowledged authorities can be in error or may have no business in their offices. We’d have to rethink a lot of things, beginning with this belief God gives the thumbs up to all leaders and supports all or any of their decisions. To do that, we’d have to question the interpreters of scripture who gave us this story; and to do that, we’d have to believe that some people who claim to speak on behalf of the Almighty might really just be speaking on behalf of some worldly power they happen to like or want something from. But, in this perfect world, to think such a thing is so cynical and bitter that I realized it was one of the sources of my problems in the waking world that kept me blindfolded and unaware of The Truth.
I saw that, in the dungeons of our nation, that what we were doing with war prisoners wasn’t really torture. In the perfect world, when the leaders hire lawyers to redefine things, the things themselves really change, too. (After all, we redefined ketchup to be a vegetable in school lunchrooms and, lo, it became a vegetable — but only in lunchrooms.)
I saw that letting loose attack dogs on prisoners, rape, beatings with metal flashlights, kicking people’s ribs in, playing metal music on loudspeakers 24 hours a day while leaving the lights on in a cell for the same time for weeks, drowning, even killing – once upon a time, for centuries, we’d have called that torture. Now it’s called “lawful interrogation techniques” even though the purpose of an interrogation is to elicit intelligence and it has been proven one gets little trustworthy intelligence by means of such techniques. But again, that is not the right attitude. My so very wrong inclination is to see in these things, not interrogation, but vengeance, out of control anger, sadism, dehumanization of captor and captive. But all of that is foolishness on my part, as I realized in my dream.
I saw that abduction isn’t abduction if we call it “extreme rendition.” I saw a P.O.W. isn’t a P.O.W. if we call him an “Enemy Combatant.” They aren’t even people if we call them “Enemy Combatant.” I saw we like the Geneva Conventions when they apply to everyone except us and, when the Supreme Court discovers they actually do apply to us, I saw that we can fix that by changing the law and changing definitions.
I saw that the Constitution can be suspended by the will of the president and we can be spied on without anyone overseeing the administrative branch, all with just a few words from a lawyer. I learned, in the space of one night to see how amazingly magical an Ivy League lawyer is, changing everything from ketchup to the Constitution with a little memo. This world, the perfect world I have denied and fought so long, is better than a Harry Potter novel.
And it was revealed to me that, since everything is just as it should be and must be, there’s no more reason to vote or even pay attention to my representatives – God is evidently moving them all around so they don’t need my interference in the process. They don’t need the prying eyes of the press, either, whether the paper be a large one or small. In the best of all possible worlds, this one, our world, the role of a newspaper is to try to act as cheerleader to businesses, attract tourism, print the police blotter, have some sports reporting, run ads and sales papers, maybe a column about how somebody’s Southern grandmammy cooked taters and beans in grease while putting on mascara and how men like to whittle while lyin’, and that’s about it.
In a perfect local newspaper: a bad play never happens within reporting distance and poor acting does not occur; no one ever sings off key in a musical; there are never too many musicals in one year; the art that gets reported on is mainly folk art or faux impressionism (anything with country themes or flowers), and it’s all good stuff, on the level of Michaelangelo (though you can’t show HIS pornography in the paper – he created nude figures and put them in churches of all places).
There is no boring music in the local scene and all venues are affordable, no matter how high the price. There are no expensive places to eat that really aren’t all that enjoyable, such that one might find oneself much more comfortable eating a sundae at the Dairy Queen with all that cash left over had one decided not to go. Newspapers aren’t supposed to say anything critical of anything. They’re just one long advertisement.
What we absolutely don’t want in the perfect world are complainers. Complainers about politics, ethics, culture – people with a different point of view different from the majority. Everyone ought to be in the majority – or pretend they are by smiling and remaining silent. That’s what helps keep the best of all worlds perfect; that bit of The Truth stood out starkly as I dreamed.
I heard a voice behind me, turned and saw a large crack in the ground with stairs going down, so I followed them to see more of the perfect paradise I really live in. Down, down I went into the gloom, but soon I realized the air was filled with smoke and moans and firelight flickered luridly on the dark walls. “Kid, down here,” came the voice. I looked down to see an old, pudgy man with a balding head and pug nose – he could’ve been Socrates or my first philosophy professor, Dr. Severins, I’m not certain.
He was sitting back against a rock drinking wine from a big cup and he seemed tired.
“Take my advice and don’t ask any questions.” His voice was slurred. “The world is like it is; it’s always been like it is; it’ll always be like it is. I tried to ask questions and look where it got me: Hades. You’re just wasting your time with all of this writing and philosophy crap. Where’s it getting you or anyone else? Why don’t you write something for the paper about how your Southern grandmammy cooked beans and taters in grease while applying mascara? I bet you’d make a fortune. And, son, that’s what it’s all about – m-o-n-e-y.“
“Oh no!” I said. “This can’t be real! It’s a nightmare!”
And sure enough, it was. So I woke up and wrote it all down, just because I am foolish and don’t seem to be able to shake the habit. Plus my grandmammies didn’t wear mascara.
|Originally written and printed in The Dahlonega Nugget Newspaper, August 2006, one issue prior to my being banned.Richard Van Ingram
[Explanatory note for context, 31 May 2015:
The previous two issues, I caught Hell from two of the rightest right-wing conservative Republicans in the county; a Mr. Tom Brown and the other one I think had the last name Martin, but I’m unsure.
Mr. Brown was an amature weekly writer of the most hateful, threatening bullshit I have ever read. He did this by long letters to the editor so he did not have to publish a photo or stand up and be counted — as all bullies, he was a coward.
He did not wish to have his little reality disturbed by the likes of me or anyone even vaguely centrist in viewpoint, and, oh boy, was I leftist, loud, and critical. His polar opposite. After years of personal attacks in the paper, cheerleaded and praised by all “right thinking citizens,” the idiot attacked my parents and accused them of being welfare cheats and other things. Anything written with another colored crayon would still have smelled as brown.
Well, the little old fascist caught it from people who normally supported him as my father and mother had worked every day in their lives, never accepted government support, ever, even when they qualified for it, and were respected by the community. Brown had no idea who my parents were. They were not of the same political persuasion as me, for one thing, and they had done things for people in the county their whole lives.
That counter-attack by his own pissed Brown off. I was working three jobs at the time and, once about every two or three months, turning in these freelance columns to the local paper for ten bucks a pop and all the abuse and bullying I could handle, to boot. No, I was not on welfare, no I did not waste anyone’s time. I worked for public mental health, for the local university as a part-time adjunct instructor at night teaching future soldiers — and veterans — ethics, and part time teaching Introduction to Philosophy for the Distance Learning program at the University of Georgia in Athens.
I advertised my work as much as my parents did, which is to say, not at all. Unless you knew me, and few did, you had no notion of my life, my vast number of relatives, nothing.
The other moron decided to mock me, a satirist, by writing an dim-witted, poorly executed “satire” about me and my beliefs, neither of which he grasped. He was laboring under the belief I got my ideas from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I never watched, and was essentially a communist, which I’m not, and a purveyor of utopian schemes, which is laughable if one understood how pessimistic I usually am.
Unbeknownst to me, the editor/publisher, printed a form to vote on what needed to be jettisoned from the paper. Mr. Brown, et alii, got their wish — 25 votes gave the editor/publisher cover to get rid of my columns forevermore — that in spite of published letters after the fact from respected members of the community taking up for me and at least 35 people mailing in support letters or showing up in person to protest. And they continued to do so for years, at their own initiative, even after it was moot.
Mr. Brown, meanwhile, spent the next bit of time occasionally trying to get me fired from mental health (his narrow little mind could not conceive that I actually am a philosopher and was in the employee of the university system). He did this, by someone’s report back to me, going around to people whose relatives I served and encouraging them to complain to my bosses. For all I know, he did so himself. Four years later, I was gone, either way.
And I moved far Westward (like old Doc Holiday who was born, raised, and practiced in my mother’s hometown of Hahira, GA.), leaving Dahlonega, Georgia, and the entire mess to someone else, should anyone have the gall and imagination to criticize and fix it. Few have.
I’m writing this just to set the historical record straight from my end. I never have, fully. I had the premonition when I wrote this article, the last, that my time was short for all manner of reasons. It took no prophet to decipher what was about to happen, even though the editor/publisher never warned me nor e-mailed me, nor gave me any notice after the fact I was no longer welcome. I found out by reading the paper, like everyone else. Bad form.
Then I wrote my farewell letter to the readership of the paper (published in this blog last week), and that was that. Afterwards, in ’06, I began writing essays online in earnest, on and off, and went back to being completely ignored by my fellows and peers; I lost “friends” – there were people that had spoken to me in public while writing that stopped doing so after my “fall.” There were even people who spoke to me in private that stopped, stopped inviting me over, stopped associating with me at all.
And so, I learned that even minor fame (or infamy), like fortune, is fickle and pointless.
“Vanity of vanities, all is vexation and vanity,” saith the Preacher.
And so it is.