Some Truth, 2 October 2017

Baby Killing Machine

I made this while watching news coverage of the Sandy Hook mass murder. Nothing changed except the propaganda machine salved right-wing consciences by proclaiming the deaths a “hoax” via Infowars.

I also, in my pointless outrage at the murder of Trayvon Martin, made a vicious attack drawing against Zimmerman and the right-wing love of guns and disregard for humans, especially if their skin color is a shade darker than fucking milk. Then more murders and violence, by cops, by idiots, by Neo-Nazis, Klan, by people who never ought to have owned or touched a weapon.  Many, many of us protested; many of us voted; some of us even wrote our elected representatives:

Nothing was done. 

Marching, yelling, demanding… and the far, far white trash violent supremacist GOP took over the government – state, local, Federal, the too-damned “White House.” With Russian dictatorship aid. Meanwhile, liberals are split, still believing bloody Bernie can get them universal healthcare or doctor what’s-her-name can get rid of oil and let us all get stoned.

Libertarians care about the second amendment and the right to economically screw you grave-deep into the ground and the demolition of government & law. Oh, and pot. Remember the dope, kids.   Because that’s the most important thing right now with your country halfway to a dictatorship.  Vote for them!

Yeah.

Fuck this shit.

Right now, the GOP & libertarians on the take are going to vote to make SILENCERS legal. So you won’t wince when some fool decides they don’t like you for some pointless, mythical bullshit excuse and shoots you dead. Or your family, your neighbors, people. Living people.

The USA is going to crash. How completely and when is the question to ask, not “if.” We have lost faith, collectively, in every value that made this place… human. Worthy of humans. We sold out cheap.

2 October 2017
Richard Van Ingram

P.S. Do not give up, do not give in. You nor I have to sell out or drop out simply because too many around us have. Resist and stand for something worth living for.

#RIP #politicalcartoon #guncontrol#LasVegas #LasVegasshooting

#murder 

#lowbrow #art #artist #philosopher

#RichardVanIngram

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At the Core of the Contemporary American Problem

[This is a continuation of the preliminary set of notes called “Trump and Bannon Alone Are NOT the Problem” – if you wish to read that, it is here: http://www.richardvaningram.com/?p=473
However, there is no necessity in doing so to understand what I will say here.  Clarity will be my aim.]

“You know we got to sit around at home
And watch this thing begin
But I bet there won’t be many live
To see it really end
‘Cause the fire in the street
Ain’t like the fire in the heart
And in the eyes of all these people
Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no Great Society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store
You know that five in every four
Just won’t amount to nothin’ more
Than watch the rats go across the floor
And make up songs about being poor…”
Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention
from “Trouble Every Day,” 1966

I.

How did Donald J. Trump wind up in office?

The American voters put him there.

Yes, he lost the popular vote by 3 million; but our system is not a direct democracy.  Because he won the states with the most Electoral College votes,
he wound up in the White House.

Never mind the Russian espionage that greased the tracks and slid him in.  Never mind he and his administration and untold numbers interacted with and collaborated with Putin and his mobster oligarchy to achieve this end.  Never mind that US Americans were bombarded with literally unbelievable propaganda across social media and through actual, legitimate news services that did not perform due diligence concerning the truth of the information and stories they spread.

No, shift your attention to the very people who read, saw, and believed the unbelievable: The voting public.  And of that public, only 25% or so bothered to go to the polls; some gave up on the process; some refused to vote for Trump but would not vote for Clinton – meaning, they did not see Trump as any sort of genuine threat.  And plenty believed and continue to believe whatever, whichever story — wholly fictional — that appealed to their gut beliefs and unexamined prejudices.

How is this situation a new thing in the world? — in the USA, at any rate.

It isn’t.  It is not new, simply qualitatively worse.

Historically, as time and human affairs are a continuum, more akin to a river than a string of pearls, each isolated and distinct, it is a difficult thing to point to any particular region of events and say, “Ah!  There.  It began there.”  It is possible to unravel strands of events back to momentous changes, though usually small and unnoticed at the moment they occur.  “There,” we say, “is the cause.”

Yet this is problematic.   It seems that human affairs (if not all affairs in this world) are the outcome of multiple causes — some more important, perhaps, than others, but all play some role; and which perspective one chooses, what questions one asks will tend to reveal a cause or cluster of causes while obscuring or hiding the others… allowing us to pretend “as if” they are not there.

(But that is another, epistemological and ontological, tale.   I mention it simply to put the reader on guard against overly simplified explanations of this and any  phenomenon.)

II.

Where did the public, the citizenry of the USA go wrong?  They did go wrong — I take this as given seeing what is running this country now and how it got into power.  There was no coup, no military takeover, nothing akin to these.  Instead, liberal democracy was employed to defeat the very idea of liberal democracy.

When Stephen Bannon says, in his pseudo-intellectual way, that he is up to “dismantling the administrative state,” he means: “destroying liberal democracy” – our republic, the res publica, the “public thing” of law, of civil liberties and civil rights, of protection of the minority against the unbridled will of the majority, whatever that “minority” may be: intellectual; non-European ethnic; non-fundamentalist Christian religious; non-wealthy white male; non-Eurocentric cultural.

He and the Trumpists are up to wrecking the notion of responsibility, social and political.  And every other virtue… which, oddly enough, are the heart of the good inheritances preserved within Western culture.

Trump himself (more on this later) could probably care less one way or another about this.  Playing on the prejudices of the white population got him power.  Being a cheap nihilist who values nothing except self-aggrandizement by any means necessary, Trump was happy to appeal to neo-fascist, neo-Nazi, neo-Klan, and other “alt right” groups as represented by Bannon.  He also appealed to as many other groups and their particular hopes and fears as well, some (if not many) diametrically opposed to one anther.

The people bought it.  They each heard what they wished to hear, ignored everything else.

One can and should see Trump as a sort of screen upon which each group projected whatever they wished for most fervently.  In return, he and his spokespeople reinforced the diverse and opposed wishes by speaking vaguely, lying outright, and by reinterpreting what was said and claimed to match each groups’ desires.

In return, each group paid attention to whichever messenger told them what they wished to hear and blocked out the messengers and interpreters who presented an opposed message to a differing group.  Everyone was promised whatever they wanted, no matter how impossible, within very few limits.

That was the activity; I think it is well-established now and noticed even by traditional political commentators from both American right and left.

How, then, did the public become disoriented in this fashion, to the point they put the most incompetent, careless candidate possible into office?

1975.

Could be that the set of moments we are looking for as a starting place (but not origin) occurred a bit before or after ’75, but 1975 will do.

By 1975, the Baby Boom came of age and the Boom outnumbered their earliest children, Generation X, tremendously; and Gen X was still underage, in control of nothing.

Those in control were mainly of the now so-called Greatest Generation which, at the time, the Boom could not hold in lower esteem.  This changed, but at that moment, the Boom lost all faith in most things the WWII Generation valued, good or bad.

Among these things was government in general and the Federal Government in particular, and not without reason.

I could talk about domestic spying by the FBI and CIA in the 1960s and early ’70s.  I could talk about the Vietnam War and the lies that escalated it and were tied up in keeping it running… for what, in the end, turned out to be no real purpose whatsoever.  When Vietnam fell to the NVA, no other “dominoes” followed.  Except in the ruins of Cambodia, which were ruins because of our illegalities in Vietnam, opening a vacuum to be filled by the insanities of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, and their “Year Zero” which we conveniently ignored.

No, the obvious place to look is Richard Milhous Nixon, the paranoid bully, and his administration that rigged the 1972 election, among other things.  Chased from office under an inevitable impeachment and prosecution, his vice-president, Ford, immediately pardoned him, placing him simultaneously in the category of guilty by admission and untouchable by law.

Now, here the people, the majority of whom still supported Nixon even as he left, saw their “hero” brought low ostensibly by leaks, the legitimate media (which began to be called “liberal,” as in politically slanted to the left), and “radicals.”  So the right wing went further right and saw that even the conservatives in Congress turned on their hero, in the end — there came the loss of faith in Congress.

The left and liberals lost faith in government down the line — governmental power was used, illegitimately , to lie to the people, oppress protesters and minorities, and send an entire generation off to die for no good reason.

As a whole, the Boomers “dropped out” again.  Became egocentric.  Stopped caring for the country in general, taking responsibility for it.  Every evil or failure was the failure of someone or something else — usually called “government.”  The hippies became the Me Generation devoted to the Hustle (in every sense) and an extreme sort of hedonism and consumerism.

By 1980, they voted Ronald Reagan into office.  Reagan who, as governor of California, hammered away at “hippies.” How strange!

But not really — Reagan told them what they wished to hear: “Government is not the solution to our problem government IS the problem.” He announced this as his administration began dismantling all the governmental programs and regulations that made the Boom the most privileged, healthy, and educated in our history.  The Boom, in turn, was more than happy to give up on the future of anyone besides themselves.

The Me Generation became Yuppies and began chasing the almighty buck.  They moved into management.  As a group, they became the “I got mine, fuck you” generation — the children of Ayn Rand and other pop-philosophy, pop-psychology, fundamentalist religious movements.  With the advent of the commercial internet, the Californian Ideology emerged, again, heavily influenced by Ayn Rand.  The belief was that, using the web, atomistic egos, each motivated by her own utterly selfish interests would cause order to spontaneously erupt, making government obsolete.

This was “The Invisible Hand” of Adam Smith and laissez-faire capitalism turned into an absolute principle of human and political reality, not simply economics (where it isn’t true, either, in any case).

2001, 11 September, New York.

On this day, after America watched a terrorist attack live on television, complete with unedited footage of desperate human beings hurling themselves out windows of the World Trade Center and exploding on the concrete below.  Then the things collapsed — something that they were allegedly designed against.

This gave rise to several things:

1.  The USA abandoned its commitment to civil liberties and rights in the name of “safety,” which is a myth of the worst sort.
2. Right-wing hate radio began spreading rumors about 9/11 being an “inside job” of some sort; “Truthers,” as they became called, spread baseless rumors that the government blew up the World Trade Center, not the jets and terrorists.  Further, they began saying no Jews died — they were warned not to show up to work that day, which is factually untrue and ridiculous.  The intention of this latter lie being to spread the neo-Nazi paranoid message that “The Jews” control world history and power — a conspiracy theory contained in the Czarist Russian forgery, “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”,  a booklet from about 1900 that has been proven many times to be utterly false but which always has an audience with the fearful, prejudiced, and propagandized.
This was the beginning of a new era of conspiracy theorists and propagandists such as Infowars and Breitbart… but the internet was soon swarming with lesser known neo-fascist, Klan, and Nazi speakers smelling their moment for a power grab.
3. It was declared by the American right-wing that history had changed — that we are in a “new world” calling for a “new approach” that includes declaring wars before the fact of threat, kidnapping, illegal indefinite imprisonment, torture, murder, spying on US citizens with or without legal permission, and other acts contrary to the spirit and letter of The Constitution, Bill of Rights, Common Law, and over 200 years of interpretation and application of law in our country.

“Safety” not law, not effort, not responsibility, and never virtue.  The ends justify any means.

The majority of the people enthusiastically and angrily went right along.  They threw away their liberties, protections, and those of others without a second thought and attacked and marginalized anyone who spoke out to the contrary.

“You are either for us or against us.”

About 72% of Americans supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, 23% opposed it, according to some polls.  Of that 72%, about 52% now claim they were part of the 23% in 2003, oddly.  Americans, it seems, cannot even own a mistake, even a massive one — they rewrite their own personal histories.  Example:
http://reason.com/poll/2014/10/16/poll-reveals-americans-supported-iraq-wa

2008

The “housing crash,” which was the outcome of 37 years of market deregulation, Ayn Rand/libertarian belief in an infinitely expanding, self-regulating market, and fraudulent banking practices on a nigh universal scale.

Common people were left holding the bag, including ownership of houses beyond their means to afford without credit, loss of employment, and being stuck with paying off multi-billionaires and millionaires on Wall Street with tax money to keep the banks solvent and market running.  No real conditions to help homeowners or people who lost everything in the stock market crash (after decades of being forced to place retirement funds in 401K stock investment schemes) were placed on the bail-out.  So no help was forthcoming.

This was the conservative farewell of the Bush Administration… yet people largely blamed the next president, Barack Obama as the racist reaction to the election of a “black man to the White House” began.

Donald Trump jumped on this bandwagon, fueling the “Birther” conspiracy movement — the groundless assertion that President Obama was not born in America, not an American, and so Constitutionally, an illegitimate president.  All nonsense, proven to be so again and again.

But plenty of people, white people, Boomer white people, preferred that tall tale to the prosaic reality and their elected officials on the right and harder-right got into office feeding the overt and covert racism.  Pure, hateful fiction replaced reality — and the people, having lost all faith in liberal democracy, government, law, helping one another, and half-terrified of nigh everything put the most ridiculous collection of politicians into office in 2010, 2012, and 2016.  The unifying theme: We will destroy the federal government and give the power to the states.  Pure Klan-secessionist nonsense we fought a Civil War over in the 1860s and definitively settled… for awhile.

The capstone was the election of Trump.  The ultimate representative of the nihilistic, xenophobic, immigrant-hating, ultra-nationalistic, white racist streak that feels free to walk about in public again in all states, not just the Deep South.  Some think this is the “last gasp” of the old disorder, the end of the rule of a majority white, European, nominally Christian upper class.  I think this judgment is premature in the extreme.

III.

Beginning in the 1980s, our public education system was slowly dismantled.  The general education required to raise a minimally responsible set of citizens to, at the very least, vote responsibly and informed was wrecked.  Vocational, overly specialized education for “useful employment” became the order of the day, not an education geared for historical background knowledge, clear thinking, judgment, and distinguishing false from true, doubtful from trustworthy.

It is no wonder to me that the vast majority of students who come to even good colleges and universities have absolutely no knowledge of history, even recent history.  Math, yes.  Some science, maybe.  But plenty of them are functionally illiterate — they can read a page out loud perfectly well, but as for interpreting it meaningfully, not so much.  Nor do they care or believe such is important.  The function of their hoped-for degree is an entrance ticket to a good, high-paying job, and that is all.

And the average attention span is next to nonexistent if the classroom is not kept as entertained as possible and everything broken down into bits than can be regurgitated on a test… preferably multiple choice.

The rest of the citizenry cannot get into college; hardly anyone can afford it with the destruction of the Federal Grant programs.  So they pick up their education off mass media — whatever mass media repeats the rumors that square up with their ingrained prejudices and never challenges them to doubt themselves and their beliefs.

A “self-organizing” populace, indeed:

…Otherwise known as a “mob.”  And all a mob can do is go along in the general direction everyone else is going because “they” say to do so.  Who are “they”?  No one in particular.  Common opinion.  Yesterday “they” loved the Iraq War; today “they” hate it and even lie about their support for it.  Because it’s “the thing to do.”

Not following along makes one seen as an “outsider,” even an “outlaw,”  Dangerous.  Perhaps such a person is a threat to our safety, is the general thoughtless thought.  Isolate them, ignore them; eventually, doubtless, attack them.  Direct action — violence, the “solutions” of fascism — not indirect action and tolerance, which are the values of civil society and liberal democracy… which are quaint, delicate things we can no longer afford in this new, muscular age of action and destruction.

Donald J. Trump and Company are simply the utterly common, vulgar, valueless destructive mob writ large.  “He speaks his mind!” — as if he has a mind or clear thoughts.  “He sounds like one of us!” — which is absolutely true — and the sure sign we are as deep in trouble as a society and people as we have ever been.  He and they (the GOP and the people who support them) are here to destroy, not create, not preserve, and certainly not to learn.

IV.

Do not look to me for answers beyond this point.

Not that I don’t have suggestions or some understanding.  But no one is listening. People do plenty of talking and hearing; but there is precious little consideration and listening,   My voice, added to that cacophony, will be just one more noise added to the din at this moment.

“People say,” “they say.”  This is an age of gossip and lies and the cheapest of fictions substituted for truth.  And of a populace unequipped to preserve or even value a constitutional republic, a liberal democracy:  the default preference is for action based on gossip and lies that sound pleasant, for cashing everything in right now; not for the effort required to truly be a citizen, an individual apart from, yet a part of and  responsible for her community both now and for a future she will never see.

Nothing I say will matter in the face of that.  So, I do more showing than telling.

25-25 July 2017
Richard Van Ingram

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The Living Rorschach Test

All Along The Watchtower

WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

© 1968 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1996 by Dwarf Music

There he was.  Saw his helicopters coming in to the Quicken Building because, you know, he sleeps in New York, not podunk Cleveland, Ohio.  That would not sound sexy enough — that would tarnish the image, sleeping among the commoners, even of the political party he now owns, lock, stock, and two smoking barrels.

I was there on Day Zero, the new beginning, the deformation of the United States of America: Me, down in the streets drawing political cartoons and observational sketches of the goings on, trying to make sense of utter senselessness.  Which, of course, is my calling as a philosopher; so I was switching back and forth among three personas — the observer, the theorist, and the satirist.    Cleveland, Ohio, a beautiful place with wonderful people, interesting people, most of whom were in hiding or hustling “Hillary for Prison 2016” tee shirts on the sidewalks, not because they believed in that, but because they were going to fleece these sons of bitches for invading their town.

One of the guys I was with said he asked a vendor, a black man, why he was selling those shirts and worse.

“Leave me alone, man,” was the response, “you’ve got your hustle, I’ve got mine.”

“There’s a sucker born every minute” and those RNC conventioneers had “sucker” written all over them.  Marks, every last one of them.  And you, too, could see that, assuming you tuned in to any of the floor action from the convention.  Suckers for believing in the man with the weird hair who helicoptered in and out of the Quicken Center so he did not have to get up close and personal with his filthy flock or run the risk of being questioned by a reporter who may have had the audacity to press him for something more substantive than an off the wall, fact-free assertion or a slogan.

If I heard “build a wall” or “ban all Muslims” or “Make America Safe Again” once that week, I heard it a bloody blue million times.  What I did not hear was why those were good things, much less possible things, what they would accomplish, and, certainly, I never heard how it would get done.  Those latter things are above the pay grade of the citizen and voter: Trump will just do it.

Trust me.  Trust me,” as he says often and loudly.

Law and Order — you know, like Nixon, and the return of the Silent Majority.  Rip-off after rip-off, from Trump’s slogans to Melania’s plagiarized speech.  And the suckers don’t care while the rest of you have given up.  It doesn’t matter what the man says, truly — it punches the emotional buttons of frightened, angry white people; it keeps him the subject of every news and infotainment program 24 hours a day; it creates a shiny caucasian fantasy of a sparking, brown-free land where “foreigners” do not belong, where everyone is a certain, acceptable form of Evangelical Christian, where “our culture and heritage” are never again tainted by notions from alien sources.

Not that any of these people know any history or are cultured, in any meaningful sense.  Or else they’d know the strength of Western culture at its best was always that it would borrow and absorb ideas and beliefs from anywhere, adjust itself, correct itself.  That it was revitalized and saved by the Moors of Al-Andalus who preserved Greek learning for the world and a better form of mathematics and science and medicine.  Those Moors, black people, Muslim, reached the heights of civilized life and rescued, made possible… a future worthy of humans.

“Ban all Muslims” indeed.

These people know nothing of The Enlightenment that once fought to rescue humanity from superstition, religious enthusiasm, monarchical absolutism and despotism.  They know nothing of the hard-won Western value of “tolerance,” or the establishment of “human rights.”  They know nothing of Voltaire’s 18th c. war on “being put to the question” — torture, in other words — or the real meaning of his battle cry, “Ecrasez l’Infame!”

Torture the terrorists, even harsher this time!

Law and Order.  Make America Safe Again.  Build the wall.

Believe me.

Sucker.

He’s got his hustle, too, this Donald J. Trump.

By all appearances, he is a human, an all-too-human human.  But look closely and you will see what has become clearer to me over the preceding months, finally confirmed on the streets of Cleveland.

Trump is an empty space, a vacuum, a back hole.  An ink blot and, so, a walking Rorschach Test.  That’s the man’s interior — there is nothing meaningful in itself there at all.  There never has been.  He has no belief in anything of value beyond himself… whom he does not value enough to wonder at.  He believes in appearances, in gaudy material things, in the trophy wives, in his brand, “TRUMP,” which, for a nominal service fee can be and has been pasted on anything.  Because, in itself, it means nothing, stands for nothing, is nothingness.

The secret of Donald Trump is not that the emperor has no clothes; it’s worse: The emperor isn’t even really there.  He is a nihilist.  Power for the sake of power, attention for the sake of  attention — that’s his activity, his function.

He is a black ink splatter and you see in him whatever you project.

For the neo-Nazi, for the Klansman, for David Duke, for the white people afraid the Age of the White People is drawing to a close, he is a neo-Nazi, a Klansman, a reflection of David Duke’s life-long fantasies; he is the savior of racist, white, Evangelical Christian America.

For the greedy, the money-hungry, or the working aspirant to the higher classes he is “financial success,” he is “the art of the deal,” he is “the rebirth of the American Dream.”  No, his record bears none of this out, sketchy as it is.  But reality is not the point; it’s that Trump has become all things to all men because he, in his depths, stands for nothing in particular.  He is happy to seem to be whomever or whatever you wish… just as is a Rorschach Test.

For the Tea Party, he is a weird, irreconcilable mix of libertarianism and protectionism and the confusion of church with state.  He is the promised reaction to LGBTQ rights, the final judgment on Socialized Medicine — both extensions of justice and human rights, long overdue.   And which don’t fully exist here, but he’ll make certain they go away, nonetheless.  Because you are throwing your fears into that black center and he echoes them back to you, only louder.

On the streets of Cleveland I witnessed a carnival without the fun, a carnival of incivility and anger, a celebration of laughing hatred and monstrous beliefs.  Halloween minus the holiness, all tricks and precious few treats.  Dueling bullhorns blaring unadulterated bullshit.  Hope that hopelessness will tear this entire nation into warring groups, each thinking Trump supports them, each utterly incorrect.

Not that, given power, he won’t step back and allow each hateful, fearful group to have their orgy of violence and exclusion… all the better to ignore dear Trump as he lives it up on the public dole and commands the airwaves to say whatever will fill up the otherwise empty 24/7 news cycles.

That’s worked for him so far; until it doesn’t, he’ll keep it up.

He’ll get his attention, make his narcissist’s sociopathic pronouncements, build the financial value of his brand, “TRUMP,” and then cash it all in and leave us an ungovernable, uncooperative shambles.

Perhaps he will go live with Putin whom, today, he openly encouraged to spy on the Democratic Party.  Crooked as Nixon was, he at least was ashamed enough to keep his treasonous, illegal, immoral activities hidden.  Trump couldn’t and does not have the capacity to steal the microscopic shred of conscience that barely lived within Richard Nixon — because that would require him to stand for something beyond his own empty self.  No, he just takes the slogans: Law and Order, Silent Majority.

Empty words.  Emptiness emerging from his dark emptiness.

And you’ve missed it.  The media misunderstood they were being used and played like a cheap piano.


27 July 2016

Richard Van Ingram

http://www.comixcast.com

http://www. losercomix.com

loser@losercomix.com

@RVI777

 

 

 

 

 

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A Prelude to Politics 2016

This post is not political, but philosophical, which immediately means many who see the word will treat this as toxic, if not boring. And we all must be thoroughly entertained constantly at all costs, right? Being incapable of playing “entertainer” 24 hours a day, I will proceed in any case. Read on at your own risk.

I am not writing about politics presently because of several reasons, the chiefest of which is: There is so little common cultural and intellectual background between me and most people in my country at this point that even the simplest of concepts do not mean the same thing by me and them when shared.

This seems a small matter. Perhaps I am a poor speaker or writer. Or perhaps I misunderstand what I am talking about. If you wish to take the risk that either of these is likely, ignore what I say and stop wasting your time.

Should you take the side of the bet that in this one area of expertise — the one in which I have read and studied intensely, with which I have painfully struggled, wrestling myself and the history of ideas and my circumstances since 1984, increasingly so since 1990 — I might have something to say, go further.

Why do I think there is little cultural ground shared between me and others? Is it that I am an elitist? Grandiose?

No. It’s neither of these things, not exactly. The grandiosity is unlikely as my medications suppress that psychosis while inclination and personal history tend to create in me a certain sense of inferiority. Inaccurate, but weighty.

Elitism — I do not think some are born “better” than others or “more human than human.” Yet, fortune and labor conspired over the course of 50 years to create an odd form of human life, the life of a specialist in general knowledge… a philosopher.

This vocation requires that I take in as many perspectives as is humanly possible, reconcile them in some rigorous fashion, and produce an ever-growing multiple perspective vision of existence explained with no more and no fewer theories than is absolutely necessary to attain truth. A human truth, not absolute, but not subjective either, one befitting “the height of our times.”

And that sets me apart, as I cannot live without bearing the burden of this task, not for my sake, but for the sake of truth… and then, in turn, for the sake of other humans who also must live from truth or else die stunted feeding off “myth” (in the worst sense) and rumor and outright lies passed to us as “truth.”

An antiquated but ever-necessary vocation, a very human vocation, out of fashion (besides, it does keep attempting suicide) but always required if humanity is to keep being human and civilized and not merely “survive.” Yes, we could choose to just survive as something less-than-human, something inhuman, and humanity also keeps making this attempt on occasion: This perennial attempt to throw off the creative burden of living-well and living-together to descend to the simple violence of running away and forgetting and selfishness.

But should we, or the majority of us, choose that path with the technology of the past age lying around the result will ultimately be widespread death, if not annihilation as those bent on survival will have no care whatsoever for questions, least of all whether to use the technology, when, or even why it is here, how does it benefit some form of beings we used to call “humanity”? How can there be any notion of the “common good” once I have given up on “others” and the future and serve only my own private passions and opinions and desires — in short, only the almighty “me”?

I live in a place that fantasizes it is the land where no one must care for any burdens whatsoever yet the future will turn out well for it. Questions are burdens; values are burdens; learning who to become and choosing to be the right person is a burden; helping and caring for others, even those we may be predisposed to dislike, is a burden. Learning is a burden. Human life, life lived fully as a human being is a burden.

The alternative is to give up on burdens, as we seem to have, and run amok — to be entertained cheaply, to spend lavishly, and to “get by” knowing as little as possible outside our specializations… if that much. The civilization and world we just emerged from and are now pretending we are immune to considering was built on books. Books, the reading of them, understanding them, and keeping those dead words of the past, good and bad, alive in a conversation built from our living thoughts. It was built on learning from and arguing with and attempting to surpass what was handed on to us through those books.

It is not so much that there are ready-made answers in those books, but the foundation for questioning — ourselves, one another, our world. In fact, in those books are the roots of the very beliefs most of us count-on but of which we are mostly unaware, beliefs good and poisonous both. In them are the schematics and maps of our souls and the world we find ourselves within and, if we go further individually or together, we must understand and consider these root theories and the historical needs that gave rise to their creation.

All so we can seriously consider and question and reform… and discard, if need be, in favor of creating theories more appropriate to where we stand in history, theories in and through which we can better believe. But that requires effort and, yes, effort is a burden… it is THE burden.

So, no, it will do no good for me to talk anymore about the more superficial layers of common existence — such as politics — because I and my audience do not even vaguely inhabit a similar world. To speak is already to be mis-understood in too many cases and being misunderstood now is a threat to the hyper-emotional egos punishable by.. death. Death by gun, unemployment, loss of insurance, homelessness, ostracism… the list is long and indefinite, but effective.

Not that I will remain silent even on the topic of politics, but when I decide to speak, as threatened days ago, I expect that this year, of all the years in which I decided I had things to say — this year will be the one in which words are either pointless, as those who need them worst are least capable of even desiring to decipher them, or they will result in something like violence. And I intend to be party to neither nor have I any great wish to be liquidated quickly or slowly over sharing ideas and standing by what is valuable.

Not that cowardice will keep me or any public intellectual silent in perpetuity. It’s my burden, gladly accepted and lived for a long while, to share my own witness to truth, inasmuch as I can grasp it. But only at what seems the right moment. At that moment, I imagine I will say what I have to say and hand on whatever I have learned and received. Whether anyone accepts what is said, much less bothers to listen… well, that’s the risk of talking with a purpose; Nothing new in that.

The new thing, the thing that has emerged finally, in a way that cannot be ignored, is that any potential “audience” cannot really hear what someone like me says. We sound as alien as if we came from some foreign planet no matter how plain the English in which we decide to speak. One of us is trying to make sense by appealing to trans-subjective standards — the crowd being addressed could care less about that as long as they get their way… by any means required to impose their desires.

And that is enough for now.

14 March 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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A Letter to My Students, December 2015

It’s that time again, the one where I share the letter I wrote my students last month. The usual disclaimer is this: I don’t share it out of pride but because maybe the words might carry some meaning for someone and it records where I and my students were as of last week, the end of our compressed semester together. I already miss most of my students, as I usually do — but I have a new set of people and a different class to teach next week and I do look forward to that. Change, like a very few other things, is constant and to be expected and accepted. So, without further ado, the letter for December 2015:

“One of the great things about teaching is that I meet many people from a variety of backgrounds that, otherwise, I would not know. Each of your perspectives, insofar as you choose to share it with me through class and discussion, gives me a broader view of the world – each of your sets of eyes have seen things I will never personally experience directly, just as mine have seen things you will never directly experience. Together, by sharing, we have the opportunity to widen and enrich our own notions of what the world and life are like and can be: Life, your life, my life, the life of each end every one of us must be lived by ourselves, alone, yet, paradoxically, my life includes the people I meet and the ideas and beliefs of the many, many who came before us all and yet influence us, even in the resonance of their actions. People we may know by name and a vast number we never will in this life, if ever.

“So, I always tell my students, I learn more from you than you ever learn from me in many, many ways – which, again, is the benefit of my calling as a philosopher and as a teacher. I learn to question again and again my positions, my choices, the complexity of the world I may have ignored, details I need to make room for and explain – or just accept. Teaching affords me the opportunity and necessity of having a bit of humility and exploring the limits as well as the extent of my own learning and theories, ethical and otherwise. Over time, I have learned to be more merciful and more tolerant than I began, which is good, and more open, more effective, and to take each person as they arrive in my life and open myself to learning from them.

“I hope I have given you that example simply by how I act – the only “sermons” that count for anything in this world are our actions. No, I am no paragon of virtue, not an example of the most moral person one could hope to be; I have my flaws and failings. Yet, I strive. I reach, most days to be better at being, becoming myself more and more, a bit at a time, to become someone good for others, my world, and, in the process, myself.

“That is the ethic I’ve shown and taught, the ethic of being resilient and trying to live up to standards of excellence in dealing with oneself, others, and the world. Of course, this entails work, which is part of life, and each of you have chosen a field where it is imperative that you are trustworthy, stable – someone who cares and can be counted on to recognize each person as a person in need of your care, someone who takes people, each person and their needs, seriously and does not see them as numbers, dollar signs, diseases, and so forth…. Even if you never meet them and only experience them as diagnostic codes and charges flying by on a computer screen.

“Remember, people are more than that, just as you are and I am. There is a secret life and beautifully important things each of those people have to contribute, a work each is here to do and they are irreplaceable. You are irreplaceable. You must recognize that and develop a sense of mission, destiny, and make that your life’s work: to improve what can be improved and to guide what can be guided in all your living moments, as long as you can with as much intensity as you can muster.

“This month’s classes – by which I mean my students – have inspired a measure of hope in me for the future that, sometimes, people do not inspire within me. There is a tendency to pessimism in my constitution because of the history I know and the history I have lived through and witnessed. These are bizarre times. If they are to improve, if the future I will not live to see, but you will, and your children and their children, is to be improved, it will be because of your choices, because of whom you choose to become and the degree of effort you put into creating yourself and influencing your surroundings by your life. You get to choose a portion of the future in how you raise children, in voting, in being a good citizen, in doing your work well, in choosing reasonably, in recognizing your abilities and limitations and making the absolute best of them. Together. That is how all of us got here in the strange world we have now – people in the recent past, in the majority, did you no favors in how they haphazardly and selfishly made themselves and history.

“That is no excuse to lie down and give up or give minimal effort, worry about “you and yours,” to hell with everyone else. You have the privilege of a college education which means you will have the responsibility to lead and make decisions in whatever your station in life. So decide and act and do it with excellence. All of you are capable of it; some of you already do it to a degree; all of you have been through terrible things and come out the other side. Now, make things around you so people do not have to go through the same trials. Make a better world beginning with where you are and who you are. Have an openness to others and show some care in your actions, and care for yourselves.

“Care for yourselves at least as intensely as your instructor does because I teach because I do care. It is the best thing I can do. You will do your work in the medical field and will go as far within it as you try, even against any obstacles that block your path. Push through or at least push and have a measure of belief in your dream. Help one another and ask for help. Do not give up – you are being counted on.

“And that is my final word to you for this month. Think on it for what it is worth. I will see you in the future which always arrives surprisingly soon.

“Mr. Ingram” (December 2015)

Richard Van Ingram

2 January 2015

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To My Students in a Time of Trouble

Most every month, I have parting words for my students. This month, I felt the need to say a few things early… it is never too early to encourage and guide if one can. The events of the past few days — atop the sheer insanity on all sides since 2001 — disturbs and saddens me in a way I cannot yet contain in the vessel of words. Perhaps I’ll never get it across. Nevertheless, I have hope for my students — my source of hope lies within the promise of my students’ very lives. My day is nearly done, literally and in the most final of ways. That isn’t sad — as I pass, perhaps that will signal that this age, too, is on its way off the stage to be replaced by those hopeful younger people who have the chance to do better and actually uphold beliefs worth living. Perhaps is better than “no.” In any case, for what it’s worth:

20 November 2015

As I am in a writing mood, I will say what I usually withhold until the end of the semester; perhaps you need to hear it now as this is the most difficult period in any class.

At this point, you are tired. Perhaps you are more than ready to “get on with it” and get past this experience – each month may seem like this by third week. But I encourage you to slow down a bit and take in what you are being shown – your life is time and how you choose to spend it. That makes you, you. Your life, and therefore the “you” that you are building, can be sloppy or well-established, or haphazard – a little of both.

For many of us, it is a little of both – we pay attention to what we are doing sometimes and not so much at other moments. And that, generally, is fine since we are humans and do nothing perfectly or well the first time; part of living will be, for you, going back to correct or fill in what you missed in the past. Just be certain that you constantly work to improve yourself and examine what you may be lacking.

Becoming conscious of your context – the wider world of the present and the past that makes the world you live within, that limits and provides the choices you may make – is one of the greatest gifts a college education can provide. Or, I should say, it gives you the opportunity to begin to learn this. What I am saying here may sound a bit mysterious because it is abstract. Let me be more concrete.

Most of us are fortunate if we know our family of origin back to our great-grandparents and something of their lives; a few may have some vague notion of a couple of generations previous to them. Very few of us know any detail of their circumstances, their world, and why they made the choices they did. But be aware – the choices they made, first, got us here, and secondly, played a part in how our lives up to this point turned out. Not all of it, of course, because there are no very young people in this class and where you are now is also due to your own efforts, values, and beliefs.

But some of those beliefs, perhaps most of them, arise from the story you were told about yourself by your surroundings as you grew up. As a philosopher and someone keenly aware of history and the history of ideas, I will reveal to you now that most of what you were told, the story you were given, is a mythology.

Mythologies can be good things – at their best, they are stories that symbolically contain truth. At their absolute worst, they are misinterpretations and, sometimes, lies. These lies may be intentionally invented by our ancestors to cover over some injustice… or they may be “lies” in the sense they were made up to substitute for truths no one cared to exert themselves to look for. They can also contain false theories – that the sun moves around the Earth, for example, or that “races” actually exist – as a misinterpretation of the fact our ancestors developed different skin pigmentation and eye shape by mutations and to deal with abundance or lack of sun.

Or, that one group has an absolute grasp of reality in a way no one on Earth possibly can as we are humans and are limited: some know the existence and mind of Deity so well they are willing to fly jets into skyscrapers and gun down crowds of people assembled to hear rock music; or they want to define entire groups of people as “dangerous” because of whom they love and make that illegal, even punishable by death; or make others, because of their religion carry identification cards so they can be singled out and treated unjustly even if they have never done anything wrong. Some even call for the return of the concentration camps in the name of some mythological thing called “safety” that no human being has ever seen or experienced.

Human life is perilous. Live is an adventure and a risk. It is never safe. It never has been and never will be.

What a human life can become is free from ignorance and the sort of mythology we call “superstitious fanaticism.” We can free ourselves from poor choices by discovering genuine virtues, or standards of excellence; we can become just and treat others as they deserve; we can be merciful and grant exceptions when that would be more beneficial to another and ourselves; we can show courage and stand up for decent things and push ourselves to do what others won’t in the face of adversity or resistance; we can exert self-control when tempted to have none at all and simply do what our emotions prompt us to do.

And far more.

Your college textbooks and classes will be the ground floor, not simply to a career but to the task of living as educated, cultured people who set the example in the community you chose to live within. But they are only the ground floor. The building of culture has higher floors, as many as you wish to climb and explore, in fact, from which to bring back treasures that will enrich your life and give you the materials from which to construct an interesting and high quality self.

The route to the higher floors is exploration on your own.

You must read. You must learn to commune with those people who lived in the past, set good examples in their day, and created the ideas and works of beauty, high quality, and insight that affect you now. And you will have to root out those who created the horrible ideas and misinterpretations so you can do intellectual combat with them as well.

The only way to do this is read. Begin with the classics of the ancient world and work your way forward. Read histories and biographies and autobiographies. Study art and literature. You have no time to waste now as your future – and the world you will leave behind by your contributions or lack thereof – is coming, like it or not. You may learn how to become a good example in the world and do that through your actions… or you may choose not to care.

I have hope for you. I see in this class a group of people, roughly the same generation, all capable of far more than they, themselves, dream at the moment. My generation, the one they called “X,” and especially the much larger one before mine, the “Boom,” are leaving you one hell of a challenge, one mixed up, disarranged world that has almost abandoned everything except violence, prejudice, intolerance, and greed. What you do with this situation, what you transform it into, is your generation’s challenge.

My generation largely dropped out or went silent, lost faith in itself. But some of us took on a mission to learn and transmit the tools for a better tomorrow to the generation behind us (you, that is) by teaching and setting our own small examples.

“Individually, we do not succeed,” said the philosopher, Aristotle, “but together, we do not fail.” Every instructor at this college I am familiar with is here for one major purpose: So that, together, we do not fail, so that you learn to believe in yourselves and do things beyond what you think you can presently, and so that you will have the opportunity, long after I and the others are gone, to become the people you ought and have the quality of world you deserve.

Not a perfect world, but one good enough to live decently within and build a future on. A world that is always a work in progress, yet, hopefully, at least progresses.

Welcome to college, the place where you may gain the skills for a career, and also for living honorably as educated people and citizens of this country… and the world. I truly have faith in you or else I’d not be here. Now, have faith in yourselves and accomplish your destinies. You’re in the right place to begin.

Mr. Ingram

Richard Van Ingram

20 November 2015

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NOTES FROM THE LAND OF THE FREE

In 1993… remember 1993? I remember some of it and it looks like some of it remembers me. About $40,500 worth of it. In 1993, I borrowed $20,000 to work on the first year of my PhD at the grand and glorious University of Georgia, and proud we are of all of that.

I had to drop out after a year for a couple of reasons after that first year — poor academics was not one of them, thank you — but I had become simultaneously full blown manic, didn’t know it, and then quickly became barely functional.

In 1994, I got stiffed on a job I spent all year working on and then in 1995 made $500.00 as a writer/illustrator/editor, wound up diagnosed and hospitalized in August through September, and divorced by the end of October. I was pronounced partially disabled by a psychiatrist who wouldn’t allow me to work full-time for three years, so I drove a van for minimum wage and barely made enough to live. (Thank you friends for keeping me alive.)

I wound up defaulting on that loan — it really didn’t matter to me and struck me as a reminder of failure. Later, I got some forebearances after I felt like dealing with it, and then went back into default. I made payments for awhile whenever I had money, but then they wanted an amount equal to more than half my pay in a month and would not reduce it so I File 13-ed their letters.

Then I asked for another forebearance — I qualified, but they said you can only do that three times. I offered to pay less. They offered to have me pay it all at once. They started seizing my income tax refunds and I haven’t seen one since — that was about 2002. I just gave up.

Loans got sold and resold and sold again and again — I had no idea who had them for years. But that tax money went somewhere; I figured it was at least paying the allegedly limited interest. But, then, a couple of months ago, I got a bill — they want $40,000. As if I make that much if you added up several years of income together. A new buyer acquired the loans. I have no idea how they jacked up those loans by twice. “Fees,” I’m sure.

And yesterday, I got more mail — in two months, the amount went up to around $40,500. Why not shoot the moon folks and ask for a million? I’m going to try to get the thing dropped due to the fact I had to drop out due to chronic illness and will never get to go back. They’ve ruined my credit in ways you would never believe. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try a fundraiser, even though I swore never to do that again. I own nothing of value. Teaching ethics and philosophy doesn’t pay an adjunct hardly anything. Art = $0 and comics have only cost me money to make and sell.

Writing — hell, I can’t give it away.

Financially, I’m fucked if I lose this appeal because they’re going to garnish 15% of any wages I make until I’m in the dirt and then sue my “estate,” which means it would pay for my wife to divorce me before I die.

Ain’t life grand? About 40 grand?

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