No Political Cartoonists Need Apply

[Personal nonsense – with broader implications in the USA. Maybe.

Charlotte, Virginia, USA witnessed the iceberg tip of the neo-Nazi/Fascist/KKK  movement today and last night, the one Donald Trump played to get into office and paid off by giving important positions to its adherents: Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, Bannon, Gorka, etc.. Trump, of course, had nothing to say specifically condemning these terrorist White Nationalists and their rampage.  What he said was open-ended enough, the “Alt-Right” (i.e. Nazis) openly says on Twitter “he loves us.”  

I expected nothing better.

Anyway, I make political cartoons and underground comix.  I teach philosophy… when there’s work.  I’m controversial because I believe in liberal democracy, neo-Stoicism, am a sort of existentialist in the Ortega y Gasset vein… which, in the USA, now, is enough to make one so out of (goose) step with people that run things, I have a difficult time finding a teaching position.  52 years-old, excellent teaching record, excellent work record, no criminal record, better educated than many that I compete with… but, no thank you.

Misfortune?  Could be. Fate goes as it will.  Fortuna’s wheel spins.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, I send out political cartoons… hard to get published in the States, now.  Newspapers are dying, they’ve shrunk, space is at a premium.  Most get their cartoons from a syndicate — and getting syndication is not easily done, no matter how good one is.

But I popped one over to my hometown in Georgia – why?  I’m an idiot.  Nostalgia. Curiosity.  Who knows… just to see.  In the end,
I even offered the damn thing for free.  So, this is what happened thus far:]

As a friend said the other day, “Didn’t you leave Dahlonega?” Dahlonega being where I was born, raised, and after university, trapped within for an extra 16-17 years.

My response, in part, was, “It didn’t leave me…” as in, it haunts me. For a plethora of reasons, few worth mentioning, all personal. When I talk about Dahlonega, I speak with a broad brush – mainly about its worst elements, its racism, hatreds, parochialism, escapism, false history. I rarely talk about the good people, the nurturing and encouraging people – there are many and many were very good to me and for me.

Many good examples of living well and caring. Many good changes. And NGC, then NGCSU, now NGU really kept me alive, opened the world to me. That place and the professors and friends were the mercy of HaShem, the Divinity on me.

Yes, I used to write editorials in the local paper – 2001-2006 when I was banned for making about 23-25 vociferous right-wingers angry.

It doesn’t matter. Really. I got away with editorial murder – I wrote essays, not editorials. I pushed the limit every time as I figured each editorial would be my last. Until it was, to the relief of the weak and angry.

This year, from Texas, I have now submitted 2 editorial cartoons – one about Roberta Green using a pro-Klan billboard on an historical building to blackmail the city council into letting her demolish it and create an eyesore. That one did not fly as it was too “mean.”

I submitted the Stephen Miller one this past week – as I knew what would erupt in Charlottesville, VA this weekend days ago. I got a “heads-up” message.

Nope – that didn’t make it either, this time for a completely non sequitur “reason.”

Hell, it doesn’t matter my stuff won’t go in The Dahlonega Nugget. I don’t matter – I’m just a guy who thinks and makes things that are hard to see and read. Unpleasant. The part of truth I see is unpleasant. It’s my gift.

Unfortunately, no one wants to risk anything on spreading “unpleasant” around. Maybe we’ll lose customers! Maybe we’ll get angry calls! Maybe we don’t agree with this!

The First Amendment gives me no right to be published in a private paper… or anything else if the editor doesn’t approve, care, or give a damn. Or perhaps I’m just no good. I’m unsure. Them’s the breaks.

So, this is what i wrote instead – the editor did say i could write a letter to the editor. This is well under the 500 words.

So, if you’d like to follow the mini-drama of a nobody who accomplishes not much, start at the bottom, work your way up. This is the e-mail exchange. Really, just for my personal records and memory.

I’ll stick the cartoon on at the bottom as a reminder.

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, 6:28:24 PM MDT, Richard Van Ingram wrote:

[If you won’t run the political cartoon, run this as my letter to the editor. Thanks.]
Dear Editor,

I submitted a political cartoon of Stephen Miller, 31 year-old White Nationalist, racist working as a White House “adviser,” pretending the immigration policy which he helped design is not racist in effect and origin.

I dressed him in a Gestapo uniform with SS Nazi and Klan symbols – both for irony and to openly display what he believes.

Yet, you chose not to run it or any other political cartoonist aside from the water-thin stuff from “Powell” that holds a monopoly on the editorial page. I’m certain you have to pay him. I offered to let you run my carton free of charge. You may even run a disclaimer – I don’t care. I speak for myself, not the paper; I always did.

It’s not as if you cannot run two cartoons and even shrink mine down. It is a matter of choice on your part.

Instead, you said I may write a letter to the editor (as anyone else). Your choice – you are the editor.

So, this is the letter. My request is a response, in the paper, detailing your policy and rules for submissions of political art. If such is completely forbidden, tell us why – what’s the standard? Is there one? Is it reasonable? Ad hoc? Consistent?

In light of the Nazi terrorist riot in Virginia Friday and Saturday (11-12 August), my carton is relevant. That was on purpose. I keep up with these groups, what they plan. I knew that the rally in Charottesville, VA was going to happen – they advertized it.

The cartoon spoke directly to the occupation of our White House by fascist and Nazi advisors. Sycophants. Miller is likely to become Communications Director within the next week or so. If people had cared or paid attention well before this violence, we may have minimized the influence of these groups or slowed it.

Pretending this shift beyond far-right into racist fascism, pure immorality, is not actually happening gives it power. Satirizing and calling out its idiotic beliefs might help others think twice before drinking the Nazi-flavored Kool Aid, no matter what it calls itself.

Or not.

But if no one sees the message, that vague opportunity never occurs. If it doesn’t come from me, it should come from someone. No, I’m no one special, but I do stand up against things I am sure, by reasoning and history, are wrong. Maybe others will send you even better cartoons. If you don’t recognize this as speech, just like a letter, explain why.

Thank you,
Richard Van Ingram

On Thursday, August 10, 2017, 8:29:44 PM MDT, Richard Van Ingram wrote:

You’re welcome for the congratulations. You earned it.

As for writing a letter: Perhaps.
Jim Powell has had that spot in the company’s papers for quite a few years. Is he someone’s nephew? His work certainly has nothing about it to challenge or annoy… which I suppose is the point.

This is a different answer than what you told me last time when you said you’d be happy to consider running political cartoons by someone not named “Jim Powell” — and, yes, he already had that “slot” filled at that time. Logically inconsistent, but doubtless effective in delaying any possible second attempt on my (or anyone else’s) part.

Your paper, your decision.

My cartoon will shrink – easily – to fit an area of a column of 500 words. You may use it free, copyright remains mine. But I imagine space isn’t the actual issue. I really can’t waste much energy imagining what that issue might be: beyond my control.

Pictures are far more powerful and visceral than words… this kind of drawing, at any rate.

And, presently, I’m unsure I have words, 500 or less, for readers in Dahlonega. I’ll let you know tomorrow. You’ll run ’em or not if I write ’em. Them’s the breaks.

Thanks for the time.


On Thursday, August 10, 2017, 3:20:44 PM MDT, Matt Aiken <> wrote:

Hey Richard,
Good to hear from you and thanks for the congrats. I appreciate the submission but when it comes to editorial cartoons we’ve filled that slot with Jim Powell. Would you consider a letter to the editor instead? You’d have 500 words to play with if so. If interested feel free to send it my way and we’ll save you a spot.
Matt Aiken
On Aug 9, 2017, at 4:28 AM, Richard Van Ingram wrote:


Congratulations on having the editorial page recognized. That page is the heart of a newspaper – any of them. That the quality has returned under your leadership speaks volumes.

Yes, I was skeptical when last you told me you were running the paper differently; I am happy to have that skepticism put to bed. A rare occurrence in this age.

Having said that, I asked last go ’round (during the Roberta Green fiasco) whether I might submit other editorial comics for consideration. You said to do so. I understand at the outset what I do may not be… acceptable. It never was. But I am of the belief my “hometown” could do with a message from its red-headed stepchild once in a while, the philosopher who also draws, is published elsewhere, and lives in a wider world both in terms of ideas and familiarity with a variety of humans.

At least, when I draw political cartoons and comix, they’re funny and brief (unlike my essays). Yes, i am vicious, but the pain passes quickly.

So, here’s a submission. You can reduce the thing and it will still look good in print, but I work large (as is usual) and send the large versions.

Let me know what you think.

Richard Van Ingram
#antiTrump #antiNazi #antiFascist #rejection #fuckme#TheDahlonegaNugget #Dahlonega #Georgia #fear #Amerika



11-12 August 2017

Richard Van Ingram

Stephen Miller – neo-fascist, racist follower of Jeff Sessions, AG, architect of the racist immigration policies, likely to run the White House Press Office soon.



I’ll Miss Your Voice

Everyone comes from somewhere.

That’s one of those things about human life we get no choice about whatsoever, though we do get to interpret what it meant or didn’t and, eventually, to tell our own story. Some of us write it down; some talk it out; yet others, a bit of both. What isn’t said is as important as what is… and our interpretation tends to change as we do.

There is what happened, who was involved; what it did to us, for us, and what we did with it — are we victim? victimizer? vengeful? insightful? Do we merely survive at all costs or come to see others as integral to our being who we must become? Do we drift, moved around on the current of events and others’ interpretations of who you seem to be to them, play a role in their drama, or do you create your own life — which is always dramatic, theatrical, roles thrust upon us or chosen or created?

Patterns, patterns, patterns — they repeat in all of us more than most notice, a needle stuck in a scratched groove on the record that becomes part of our approach to life. Some never jump the scratch or learn to incorporate it as a pop and crackle in the tune: imperfection rejected, not owned, embraced, even loved.

This, because perfection is not possible for a human being or desirable; a perfect imperfection, yes: becoming good enough, struggling with what one was handed to make the artistic achievement that becomes… each of us. Interesting or not; creative or stereotypical; repetitious in self-destruction, the use and destruction of others, or in slow, relentless spiraling, upwards, outwards, downwards, inwards… becoming more and more oneself a bare hair’s-width at a time.

Or just stuck in that scratch on the groove, repeating the pattern, repeating the pattern, repeating the pattern… refusing to choose and struggle a way out, or deal with it at all.

Addiction, complexes, bipolar disorder — all words, clinical and cold, for a certain way of life bearing deep scars and scratches. Carrie Fisher’s life had these. Oh, God, but so much more, eventually. She made great art and fantastic written and spoken autobiography from all this. A famous, talented self-destructive father and a famous , talented actress mother; a close brother; a daughter whom she loved. And many lovers… all passing through and passing by, or bypassed.

Drugs — copious, self-medicating; bouts of mania and depression, mood storms terrible enough to drive her from self-loathing to fantastically destructive plans.

She’s one of the few people I know of who volunteered for ECT to stop the depressions at the cost of her memory. So, in part, she wrote to remember, to interpret and re-interpret, to revivify what the darkness swallowed. One does not enter ECT lightly, not at all. Some never quite return from it… but that’s not the mission, to return to repeat what keeps happening, but to return and overcome, to jump the scratch in the record and keep going, keep spiraling.

Over the past six months, I worked my way through Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” and “Shockaholic” as read/told by her in recorded book form. Watched a performance of “Wishful Drinking” onstage on cable a couple of months back late one night. Bought her new book, “The Princess Diarist” two weeks ago and began that, reading on my own this time, an early Hanukkah gift to myself from the woman who was half in love with being “Princess Leia” and half despairing that role would forever overshadow her novels, her own work, and autobiographical explorations.

Since age 11, Carrie Fisher has wandered in and out of my life disguised as Princess, now General Leia Organa — the princess who did not need saving but was doing the saving — and as a novelist, scriptwriter, and spelunker into the depths of her own psyche and history… all with wit, irony, self-deprecation, yet… strength. Power, the real thing. Dignity.

And as one plagued with Bipolar I Disorder. Me, too. There’s quite a bit in her writing I “get” — the inside joke on all people suffering mental illness who learn to make the illness suffer from us. Yes, I’m classified Bipolar I, too, in case anyone forgot, and we were diagnosed around the same time, or the same ages. What she doesn’t say, the space between the lines, is as important for me as what she does, what she implies. So it is with all genuine people, I reckon.

There she was today, nine years older than me, done here. Gone on, work finished, heart literally broken flying between heaven and earth. The Baal Shem Tov taught that HaShem grants us only so many words in this world: when you’ve said your say, you are finished. The point: Be willing to speak in such a way that what is said is worth dying for once you’ve spoken. Make it count for something.

That Carrie Fisher did. She did so for many; and I am one who listened in on her conversation, who appreciated and valued her work and so, her. No, I never met her, but I met something of her, what she wished to share, no malice involved. Her story is now a part of mine, a great gift to me… so I’ve a burden to pass on what I received through her.

Ms. Fisher, I won’t say goodbye. You’re not gone — you’re just not here except in the form of those words and images that mean much to me, and in the example of riding the illness, making it sing as part of her own wild chorus, scratches, pops, and all.

But I will miss your voice.

27 December 2016
Richard Van Ingram


Just a Man

I suppose that some days I am “more human than human.” Memories are all we have of the past and they are always reconstructions that we make anew each time we call them forth — how many of them are fully what they seem? How real? How many are “more human than human”?

They are, in their effect on me, real enough.

They are always colored by where I am and who I have become and are expanded, contracted, reinterpreted, edited, changed by this and more… my feelings — the part of me I understand the least, trust the least — who knows how much they color and affect memory? All I know is that memories summon up feeling, even memories of theories and ideas and discovering or creating these.

I recall sitting at desks reading and thinking and considering, pushing hard to gain an understanding of myself and my world, years of it; years of reading, sitting alone in many places, some academic, some domestic, some underneath trees on campuses, some in the wild, some on the steps and porches of old buildings built in the fashion of Roman temples.

Anywhere I’d be alone with the old ghosts of dead people, communing, listening intensely, questioning them, often hearing silence but sometimes hearing their words, their answers, and their own questions.

I remember reading and walking streets of my “hometown” alone — more town than home where I was an alien in familiar territory; reading and sitting alone thinking, thinking, thinking in the abandoned homes of my great-grandmother and then my great-great uncle Charlie… a man I never met who died a decade before I was born but more real to me than my own parents, me and his ghost in communion in that old house, that photographer and tinkerer and man of technology who was more akin to me than my living relatives.

I have memories of him, too, and he was present in his absence, in the stories my great-aunt told me, my grandmother told me.

And the people I knew, grew up with… they are always in my memory, close to me, and people I’ve met and learned from along the way, many with no knowledge I learned anything from them, noticed many things, collected their words, their styles and mannerisms, their habits of belief and expression, their approaches… they are all there in my silence, my deep interior. Some were close to me in life, others not close at all. Some appearing close but forever away, dreams… some within my dream world, my fantasies, my guesses. Some enemies, some who opposed me and gave me something to avoid or push back against with all my limited abilities.

Some fully aware of their status as friend or enemy, some never conscious of it in the least. The judgment was within me and my choice. Most who’d not care at all what I thought and felt.

How odd.

The judgments toward myself… sometimes I’ve been my own enemy, less friend than others have been, less caring for my self; I’ve hated and abused myself more than many on the outside, or I replayed the small slights from the outer world, the harmful messages, or the physical and mental abuses, the terrible, barely tolerable situations I thought would never end, over and again until they became everything, became a reality I wrestled with constantly in my own self-constructed hell — the dead and gone returned to drag me to the depths within my own Inferno.

I heard the preachers I grew up with telling me I deserved my hell and more to come in a never-ending afterlife where God Himself would cast me down for my questions, my doubts, my interests in the beauty and wonder of women.

My memory is filled with pulpits and sermons and screaming.

I remember walking with a girl at school on the playground, admiring her intelligence and humor and how pretty and unlike — yet like — the Caliban she’d chosen to spend her time with, in her own exile; in later years I’d wonder about her interior world, too, too late to know much about it. But I was quiet and ashamed, never good enough for her in myself — part of it they call “introverted” to a maximum degree, part of it is shyness, a persistent loneliness and terror of reaching out for fear of rejection and the pain… too much for my young companion who needed a companion, the girl who would grow to womanhood and required a real companion, not a devoted worshipper and idolator. I became her brother, not companion, and we remain forever like those stars that remain circulating side by side but never touching, never, forever, and travelling a parallel path through space and time.

That is as it had to be.

And she faded into the dreamworld with time.


Fate is a large portion of my reality, and I learned to accept her, too, as neither friend nor foe, but just the ever-present. She goes through her life as I go through my own, and her life is not mindful of a small thing like me. She was not made to care but to act.

And I must act in return and build a life from what I am given to work with, not rail against it. If my choices are not good and affect others poorly, if they do not make for me a good life and of me a good person, the fault is my own, inasmuch as I had choice. This much my thinking and worrying and the life in communion with history and the dead has delivered up.

Regret… will remain ever-present. Another companion of my own construction. Regret at poor choices in the past. It reminds me not to squander the present. To show care to the people I love, to be a companion and friend to my wife, to be as much of a friend to people who care for me as possible, to be a good teacher and guide to my students, to make art of some effectiveness, to labor at it and not make shoddy things, though none of this is ever quite good enough… but at some point, some days, I must be satisfied with the “good enough.” Aiming at perfection I will never attain cannot stop me from arriving at the “good enough” I can accomplish for today, and the “a little better” I might get to tomorrow.

But all of this, for me, requires a greater measure of solitude than for most people. My life includes my fate, and my portion of fate is to spend the greater part of life on the interior before I can come outward in action and do anything of worth.

My angel, my destiny, is inside me, and there I wrestle him for my true name.

I am only good for some at a great distance. My habits of life are not for many or most. not tolerable, not interesting. Not many can bear the intensity of me when I come “out” into the world from my interior of contemplation, study, and self-torment. I must shield them from it in carefully chosen words and images, like the burning sun passing through stained glass — no one can “look into the eyes of the sun” but most can tolerate the eyes of the sun looking at them through a lens of subdued colored glass silently whispering a story.

It is not my superiority to my fellows that make me intolerable and difficult, but my inferiorities and flaws, the stuff from which I’ve made myself. One’s weaknesses and defects can be exploited to advantage, given time and labor, the way the Greeks made their rough coastal world a marvel or the Irish monks those forbidding little islands like Skellig Michael a place for protection and a rich, beautiful life. Complex cultures and and even civilizations have, with time and labor, been built up in even the least life-affirming portions of the world.

Memories are real enough. Good enough. I either build something from them or fate will take and work them into something that does not care for me or anyone else. They are not hers to play with until I am gone and only then in the form of whatever evidence I leave behind, for good or ill.

More human than human.

Not the Overman, but just a man.

Richard Van Ingram
15 August 2015


To My Students, 30 July 2015

Students and scholars,


We are at the end of this portion of your journey through one area and one approach to knowledge called “philosophy.”  I have barely shown you a glimpse, and a whirlwind one at that, of the history of the subject and have attempted to raise for you both some central themes of this approach – this life that is not quite living, but theorizing so that we may live better – and have given you as much context for each central idea as was possible.


Why the contextual material?  To help put you in the place of each individual philosopher that created the theories they did because each was in a time of crisis: A crisis of having the ground drop from beneath them in some essential sense, a moment of deep and radical doubt, and each had to search for something true and solid from which to begin because the earlier way had failed in some way.  The thinker could no longer place any vital faith, a faith they could live from in whatever ideas had held sway previously.


For Descartes, for example, the older Aristotelian version of knowledge and reality would no longer do – it did not support the advent of modern science as Galileo and others had discovered.  So he set about pulling into himself to locate something indubitable, a solid piece of “ground” from which he could stand and work his way back, clearly, without doubt, to what is knowable.


From there, philosophy moved on in a conversation with the earlier versions of reality and Descartes new version and modern philosophy became what it is now.  And your world changed in ways you cannot imagine as yet… it became the place in history you live.


And, yet, there is more to be done… evermore there will always be more to say and do and learn and you are a part of that, willingly or not.  I have given you some tools for the task, or shown them to you, suggested more than recommended.  Because history, your circumstance, your time and place has imposed a destiny upon each of you; and within that destiny, you must choose who to become, who you will be, must be in this very strange moment that, itself, is another moment of crisis in history.


Moments of crisis are dangers and opportunities, simultaneously (the Chinese character for “crisis” is a combination of two other characters: “danger” and “opportunity” to show its double face – your choice between the two paths).


Who you will choose to become is not provided – you must choose it for yourself; you must, as the poet Pindar wrote so enigmatically in ancient times, “Become who you are.”  The limits to the choice is provided by your historical circumstance against which you must push, be creative, write out your autobiography in actions and choices, in what you choose to value, what you struggle against and reject.


No one may choose for you.


Many of us grew up in circumstances that, if we allowed others to make our choices – first, they will choose poorly; secondly, they will choose whatever is convenient to them, what will give them the most benefit; and they will dispose of you as soon as you are no longer useful.  Slavery by another name.


The liberal arts – and philosophy is a liberal art – is one of those things widely misunderstood in our age, if not dismissed and devalued.  Partly, this is because of the changes in the interpretation of words over time.


“Liberal,” in this sense, does not mean that practicing these things will turn you into a political liberal (but it may have that effect for some).  “Liberal” means “freeing” – the practice of freeing you from enslavement from to the hidden chains your circumstance and culture laid on you as a child: ignorance; a fear of asking questions; the acceptance of popular mythologies and lies taken for reality; common opinions and prejudices.


The “art” part is it is a method of introducing you to a genuine culture, a healing of soul, of deficiencies, teaching you how to teach yourself; it introduces you to a tradition of inquiry and curiosity and questioning in the search for truth, goodness, beauty.


The “liberal arts” are the arts that free you to perform your mission in life which you must choose and arm you to perform it, perform it well, to be good at the task of being human, to change your world, transform your fraction of history, to work together and understand you have allies around you now and people from a distant past you are as yet unaware of… go seek out your allies.

The “job” you do for money may just be a means to the end of performing your mission; if you are fortunate, it will itself be a part of your mission itself.  Aim for that latter goal and use the other jobs as a bridge to get closer to being an effective agent in changing your world.


My time in this age is passing.  I am a relic of a past age; my time, in a certain way, as an effective agent of change by action, has come and gone to some degree – this time is yours. My mission is to prepare you, to place my bets on you.  No matter where you came from, your background, what people expect or don’t expect from you, how they judge you, look down at you because of your past – that is pure unadulterated foolishness.  You are who you make yourself.


I came from similar circumstances and achieved far, far more than anyone ever would have or could have expected.  I have changed parts of the world – at least a little – that people thought were unchangeable.  If I, of as little worth and background as I have, can do this, you can do better, go further, do more, and work together to make this age closer to something worth living in.  I have this faith.  It is why I teach.


This will require patience and a great deal of labor; it will require you to believe in yourself and one another more than you ever have; and it will require you to teach yourself many things college cannot.  A degree from college means you are now ready to learn, not that you have much by way of genuine knowledge.  You have the skills to teach yourself, to read, to travel back in time through books or search around for people who make sense, and to sort the better from the worth, the more likely true from the probably false.


Effort:  Nothing worth doing is achieved by any other means.  It will not fall into your lap.  Should you have the great good fortune for it to do so, you still will not know what to do with your windfall without the effort of preparation.  Look around you at the many famous people who ruin their lives because fortune smiled on them and gave them a great deal of money and power: How many of them actually live good, exemplary lives?  What will they be remembered for in future ages?  What will future ages be like because of their actions?


Do better than that, in your own ambit, your own sphere of influence.  If you do so, you will be worth more than all the wealthy wastrels of our age combined – because you aimed at something more serious and difficult and tried.


Trying your best is all any human can ever expect of you, including yourself.  Take yourselves seriously.  You are of infinite worth and your point of view and your mission cannot be provided to this world by anyone else.


And patience:  You labor will require a lifetime – sometimes it will bring joy and sometimes it will require pain.  But if done in the service of genuinely valuable standards and goals, you will become a living example of what it is to live a good human life.  And there is, in this entire universe, nothing better we know of.  If you fall or fail, stand back up.  If you are perplexed, return to the battle and find what you seek even if you never quite lay hold of it.  That is success in the most intimate sense.


I will miss each and every one of you and have valued my time with you.  You each taught me more than I taught you, but you will never know how… and that is as it should be.


I leave you with the words to an old Kate Bush song to think about – poetry often says far more than a loquacious old man can get out in prose:


I see the people working

And see it working for them

And so I want to join in

But then I find it hurts me

Some say that knowledge is

Something sat in your lap

Some say that knowledge is

Something that you never have

I see the people happy

So can it happen for me?

‘Cause when I am unhappy

There’s nothing that can move me

Some say that knowledge is

Something that you never have

Some say that knowledge is

Something sat in your lap

Some say that heaven is hell

Some say that hell is heaven

I must admit, just when I think I’m king

(I just begin)

Just when I think I’m king, I must admit

(I just begin)

Just when I think I’m king

(I just begin)

I’ve been doing it for years

My goal is moving near

It says, “Look! I’m over here”

Then it up and disappears

Some say that knowledge is

Something sat in your lap

Some say that knowledge is ho ho ho ho

I want to be a lawyer

I want to be a scholar

But I really can’t be bothered

Ooh, just gimme it quick

Gimme it, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme

Some say that knowledge is ho ho ho

Some say that knowledge is ho ho ho

Some say that heaven is hell

Some say that hell is heaven

I must admit, just when I think I’m king

(I just begin)

Just when I think I’m king, I must admit

(I just begin)

Just when I think everything’s going great

(I just begin)

I get the break

Hey, I’m gonna take it all

(I just begin)

When I’m king, just begin

In my dome of ivory

A home of activity

I want the answers quickly

But I don’t have no energy

I hold a cup of wisdom

But there is nothing within

My cup, she never overfloweth

And ’tis I that moan and groaneth

Some gray and white matter

(Give me the karma, mama)

I’m coming up the ladder

Hey, I’m coming up the ladder

(A jet to Mecca)

Up the ladder

(Tibet or Jeddah)

(To Salisbury, a monastery)

(The longest journey)

Across the desert

Across the weather

Across the elements

Across the water


“Sat in Your Lap”

30 July 2015

Richard Van Ingram




Where Am I?

I’m old and I’m tired. Don’t look as old as I am nor do I look nearly as old as I feel. I’m afraid, as someone far wiser and observant said to me the other day, “Richard, you were born in the wrong age.” As a feeling or suspicion, this has been my experience for the majority of my life, being out of place in time. But I’ve never really been certain at all if I was born too soon or born too late. Maybe either would do. Living anachronisms have no choice in this.

If too late, I’m pointing backwards to something I find valuable in a bygone time that, perhaps, would provide some antidote, or an element in the antidote to the secret poisons at work in this time — and I do that. Not well and from no great position of influence, but I do that work.

If I am too early, I’m announcing the possibility of a better moment in history, a moment we could choose something better, a time that will come long after me. I don’t mourn that I won’t be here to see it, only that it may not be chosen and probably will not. It is only a possibility — and I am rather pessimistic by inclination.

That part of the task depends upon others and my part in things is to persuade a tiny few to pay attention to the injustices, the sloppy morality, the carelessness of the times, the wild-eyed extremism of this particular time… the urge to split into tribes as no overall effective values (good or bad or mixed) hold the people of my country or world together. Nothing beyond some utterly vague desire to “survive” (as what? as whom? at what price?) and to accumulate worthless trash.

To live by lies and off conspiratorial mythologies of the basest sort. To live without actual philosophy while science, as powerful a tool as humans have ever constructed to deal with physical reality, is mistaken for the entirety of the knowable mainly because it gives a basis for our magical, ubiquitous technologies.
And the technologies — a “technosphere” – substitute for the raw reality we call “nature” humans can no longer live within with any assurances. If we ever could.

.A power-driven nihilism — valueless, except beyond whatever is expedient, whatever gains more power, pseudo-values abandoned when no longer useful.

In the end,if pursued far enough, it will cut off even science at the knees and make it an impossibility by destroying or starving out the values and freedom of thought required for science to even function or exist. Science does not give us, guarantee, or explore these values, much less theories of knowledge… it is the task of philosophy, history, the arts, even proper theology to provide these and safeguard them.

Can you imagine a region ruled by ISIS producing a genuine science? Certainly, technologies of control and destruction based on old scientific advances, but no new theoretical imagination required to look into the unknown about the physical world. No peace or civilization required for such, Or our country ruled by religious evangelical fundamentalism which would effectively accomplish the same by misuse of law under theocracy and an economical libertarianism that makes all subservient to the wealthy, to the grim grip of gold and the need for immediate profit?

No planning for the future: Future ages have no meaning for a people who have no plans to be around for them or care for their unknown, unknowable progeny.

My face forward, that’s what I dimly see coming our way, in outline. Rough and shadowy, that’s the Beast slouching towards Bethlehem out of the night into dawn.

Were I in the past, I could have sounded the alarm and done a small portion of the labor, perhaps, to give us a better present. If I were born in the moment of the aftermath of the disaster I guess at here, I could work to rebuild. As it is, I am a child of this moment, someone whose voice is small and drowned out in the din of louder, brasher, more aggressive calls to politics and action without forethought, enthusiasms of all sorts, violence, makeshift immediate responses to long-term problems that are akin to patching up a dam that will burst eventually without actual replacement of the entire structure by something designed with the future in mind.

That would require a collective, sustained work of effort and cooperation between all disciplines and seriously reviewing, reconciling as many varied perspectives as possible. That requires tolerance, even curiosity and a sense of mystery and a willingness to suspend belief in one’s pet prejudices to see the past and present living accomplishments, expert or not, of many with fresh eyes.

As is, I am Janus, a face to the past and face to the future, out of place in time, a doorway, a liminal being. Neither here nor there, but something that might allow a passage.

A passage for whom? I am unsure… me, maybe, anyone else who might listen or care to add to my near-insignificant body or work, my students – or a few of them, no one. I do not know. I am in an odd place temporally, uncomfortable with it, and my attempts at philosophy, writing, and art derive from the discomfort.

There is no grandiosity in this; just a solemness, taking stock of where and who I am, partially, and I have to take stock occasionally to find my location.

26 July 2015
Richard Van Ingram


The End and Beginning of Many Things

Thanks be to Deity that people were given resilience and bravery to fight for their rights and that this day, Providence has seen fit to, finally, grant that our government recognize that LGBT people are actual human beings. Just like anyone else, with the same right to marriage. Blessings from a sinner to my brothers and sisters, all, who are perfect and holy just as they are in my eyes — and the all-seeing eye of Justice.

Our battle — it is OUR battle, all of us, people — will continue and, I predict, worsen. The retaliation will come and come swiftly by the reactionaries, by the bigots, by the people who are utterly blind because of rationalized wickedness masquerading in priest’s robes and waving a book they cannot interpret adequately.

For one thing, to have any right, the battle to defend it must be refought each and every generation, from now on to save it from ignorance and erosion. People must be educated and persuaded, as many as who will and can listen, and that is a work of culture and individuals — no law can do that for us. A law that becomes unrecognized and re-interpreted to nothing is no law at all… its spirit is strangled.

Secondly, we must swiftly move to guarantee that no one can be discriminated against because of whom they love, whom they marry, how, within the bounds of reason, they live. That must be enshrined in law very quickly or the very next thing you will see are the religious bigots rushing to fire and punish people they dislike on the basis of their warped and merciless “religious beliefs.”

We live, suddenly, at a moment of crisis — and as I learned long ago and have taught all people who would listen, “crisis” means both “danger” and “opportunity” at one and the same time. Tear down state supported flying of that damned flag of the Army of Northern Virginia — and, yes, two of my ancestors fought under that flag, under Lee and Longstreet, and another fought under the “stars and bars” of the State of Georgia led by Gen. John Bell Hood, at the Battle of Atlanta and fell dead at the Battle of Jonesborough, slain by a Northerner’s bullet.

As a “son of the South” do you know what I say to that?

I say the same thing Gen. Longstreet said after the war was over — “Good riddance to a foolish cause and a waste of lives.” That man had the guts, from his home in Gainesville, GA, to become a Republican (when that actually meant something decent and right), to support racial equality — in the 1860s, mind you — and got himself hated for it. He renounced that stupid war and the “ideals” it stood for, and his role in it. And he gave no more a damn about that marginalization than he cared for the artillery shells that fell all around him and even into his tent as he calmly ate dinner on the battlefield.

Lee told everyone to fold up the flag, put it away, and reapplied for his citizenship in the United States of America six months after he surrendered to the Union.

If you cannot — will not — follow suit now, at this late a date, you are following a lie, not your “heritage”.

What we are living through now, people, and will live through, is the undead hand of hellish beliefs trying to choke the advent of better beliefs, a better way. That hand is tight around your throat if you are gay or lesbian or transgendered, bisexual, or if you are an ally to a better way; it is around your throat if you are black, if you are a latina or a latino, if you are a woman.

You can bet your life it’s trying to choke you to silence if you have better ideas to offer, if you speak of a better world.

The only way to break the death-grip of that skeletal hand of the worst remnants of history — a history that does not have your good in mind as a living human being, whoever you are — is to snap each skeletal finger off with a superior idea, something worthy of belief, a better morality than our past — that past as it actually was and in its misinterpreted, romanticized forms I hear screamed at me from every corner now,

We live now. We have a tremendous battle ahead on many allied fronts. Do not rest now that you have won one right and, perhaps, gotten some of those rags of hatred off some state houses. Celebrate a moment, but begin sharpening your weapons — your ideas, your beliefs, not guns — and join together in organizations. Do it now. Get active. Your enemy is so well organized, it should cause you grave alarm — but they are wrong. Their fortresses are built on sand. They will fall flat if opposed and their errors ridiculed in the open and in the courts.

Go and show us how to make a better future. It is yours.

‪#‎marriageequality‬ ‪#‎scotus‬ ‪#‎resist‬ ‪#‎racism‬ ‪#‎starsandbars‬ ‪#‎flagissue‬‪#‎justice‬ ‪#‎mercy‬ ‪#‎morality‬




Talking to anyone about anything… an undertaking in itself as one finds oneself alone in an existential sense. Which is fine, as I am an introvert in the extreme and have accomplished most things of any value simply talking to myself or worrying a problem like a dog worries at a bone, living uneasily with provisional make-do solutions until something solid and substantial — meaningful, rather (let’s not mix the metaphors yet), the marrow of the matter,is reached. It won’t be of much concern to anyone but me, but I have to live this life and do the best I can with it and that can’t be pursued any old way.

I can’t be satisfied with “any old way”, that is.

In the end, I, who am other, “otro,” “alter” am more so because of my pursuits, which are boring or exasperating to most. And even an introvert has some need of sociability beyond professional connections and family, who can be wearied by his foolishness.

From those small doses of human interaction I draw out years worth of topics to consider, other points of view, a greater richness than my ascetic life would otherwise provide.

I’ve nothing much to contribute to a conversation, though. I listen intently, take everything in to the point of exhaustion, and then you’ll not see me again for a great deal of time. Constitutionally, without aid of the social lubricant called alcohol, anaesthesia, I am worn out by being with too many people. Plus, there’s a lack of sense of humor and wit — there are exceptional moments when it comes to me, but it comes on its own and leaves of its own accord, a fickle daimon.

As for serious conversation, when I do speak, I find I must locate what world the interlocutor resides within and just how different it is from mine… not simply “what do you know and what have you read,” but what is your ontology and epistemology? As for either, I may as well be practicing oncology and episiotomies for the nauseous pain such enquiries induce. No, of course I don’t use words like “ontology,” “epistemology,” “phenomenology,” or “existentialism,” nor “vital reason” and “historical reason” in my normal talk… but the questions bring out the other’s positions. And then I try to reach common ground and rarely find much.

Not out of superiority but from the odd place on the outside of normal life I’ve always found myself. Further beyond the happy, comfortable shores now than ever. Mania at least allowed me a sort of social aspect to my duality, a delightful, angry buoyancy, and without that: There is permanent depression, life underwater, which is a strange place indeed to exist.

Richard Van Ingram
25 June 2015


“Are You Out There?” Instructor’s Letter, June, 2015

[I write my classes a letter every month toward the end.  I don’t know why — I feel compelled to do it… I always wished someone had done this for me, I suppose.  But I went to university in a different time, place, age.  I choose to do it because it seems right and will til I’m ordered to stop, whether anyone reads it or not.  Like the song says, “It doesn’t matter” — not to anyone but me, unless they choose to read and care.  Same for you, whoever you are out there.]

Students and Scholars,

I do this at the end of each semester — it’s a sort of summary of experiences and observations from my point of view.  It may or may not be helpful to you now or in the future:  As is anything you learn or don’t.  The same goes for me as well as I’m speaking for and to myself when I speak to you all.


“Therefore make up your mind before it is too late to live as one who is mature and proficient, and let all that seems best to you be a law that you cannot transgress. And if you encounter anything troublesome or pleasant or glorious or inglorious, remember that the hour of struggle is come, the Olympic contest is here and you may put off no longer, and that one day and one action determines whether the progress you have achieved is lost or maintained.

“This is how Socrates attained perfection, paying heed to nothing but reason, in all that he encountered. And if you are not yet Socrates, yet ought you to live as one who wishes to be a Socrates.”

Epictetus, from section 51 of ENCHIRIDEON

“I see my future shufflin’
A shaky step at a time

I got no choice but careful

Thank God I’ve done my crime

The tools I see on tv

Can’t stand it when they fake

A prick’s a prick at any age

Why give one a break?

“I wanna live a little bit longer

I wanna live a little bit longer, now

I wanna live a little bit longer

I wanna live live, live, live, live….”

Iggy Pop
from “I Wanna Live”

The end of the semester is always a sad time for me — a month is never enough for me to get to know people and, prior to being students, you are all unique people with your own worlds, beliefs, approaches, and attitudes.  I learn as much from you, probably more, than you learn from  me, both from what you say and how it is said and what you refrain from saying.

One thing I have learned in my years seeing classrooms of college and university students from this side of the podium is that each class has its own personality, its own social order, its own spoken and unspoken understandings.

Most all of you except one or two are of a different generation than me which means you have a completely different generational mission than my own.  My generation was known as Generation X — I am at the prow end of it: It began around ’65 and ended with people born at or just prior to 1980.

We were “X” because we are an unknown and quiet bunch, on the whole, except in pop culture; the smallest generation born in America — our parents were the first to have access to birth control and the notion of the Sexual Revolution; the first generation that will economically be less well-off than the one before it; the first generation to come of age under threat of AIDS; the last generation to consciously grow up under Cold War fear of instant  nuclear annihilation –

The first generation to almost completely raise itself — everyone was at work or busy (the term “latch-key kids” was invented for us) — we are the children of what became the “Me Generation” of the 1970s (one of the experiments the Post World war II Boomer generation went through) –

The last generation to have teachers and professors who were old enough to give us a smattering, at least, of an old-style “classical” education; the first generation to be taught by younger ex-hippies; the last generation to see the remnants of old legalized institutional racism; the first generation to live with the hope we might actually make our country a more equal and free place for all in terms of human and civil rights and civil liberties – and culture –

The first generation in modern times to see the return of “free market” deregulation, the loss of the social safety net, the rise of libertarian and laissez-faire economic ideologies….

As you know, I could go on and on.  I won’t.  The point is: I come from an entirely different world than most of my students.  Sometimes it is difficult to put myself in your places, inside your lives — even vaguely — to understand from your point of view what the world appears to be.  And without a background in history, philosophy, sociology, art, and practical psychology… you cannot put yourself in my shoes even abstractly.

So each semester, I have to re-learn who my class is, individually and as a group: To begin with you where you are, who you are, in your place, and share the little I know and suspect from my standpoint and experience, my learning and my ignorance… my failures.

I work at this very hard.  If I can’t reach you in language you will understand, if I can’t identify with your general direction — individually and as a group, if I don’t warn you what I and others better than me see dimly up ahead, I can’t begin to prepare you for the world and life.

And all this class is, in the end, is a preparation for learning how to live the right sort of life, to look around and see where we, as a nation and world have been, where we are, and where we might head.

Where we might head, gentle, patient reader, is up to you.  It’s your choice, in your own life privately and as a generation of citizens who will choose to lead… or choose who will lead you and where.

Perilous, those words.  Life, yours and mine, is always perilous, in a time of crisis (obvious and not so obvious), But crises are always times of choice.  The Chinese pictogram for “crisis” is a combination of two more basic characters, one meaning “danger” and one meaning “opportunity”.  Two paths.

Always there are at least two paths and you must become creative enough to find the right one for you and turn what seems disastrous on the surface to your advantage.

“The thing that matters is not what you bear but how you bear it,” said one of those old Roman Stoics (Seneca), along with “…disaster is virtue’s opportunity.”  [Those are from his writing “On Providence” if you ever wish to read the whole thing.]

I have shown you, but only just barely, some of the weapons for your struggle and which will always break or tend to mislead and which, if used well, will increase your ability to truly turn disadvantages to your benefit — at least to bear the trials life will hand you and emerge on the other side intact, with integrity, whatever “the other side” might mean…:  In work life, in private life, in social life.

I have shown you, just barely, ways to apply the theories and which theories are being applied by others, even if they don’t understand what they believe or why they believe it.  I’ve shown you the tools to become more conscious and conscientious and careful…. If you choose to do so.

Yes, my lectures are “heavy,” yes my words in class are many, yes my e-mails sometimes are long or pestering.  I always communicate with class as if this will be the last time we might speak with one another (one never knows these things).  We only have roughly four weeks together, I want you to pass.  Above all, though, I want you to walk away with more to think about and an approach to how to discern true from false and good from bad.

Yes, you are supposed to have more questions in your mind at the end of a class like this than at the start.

Questions are a sign you are beginning to understand you have a need.  If you need to know, you will ask, “why” about everything important and won’t be satisfied until you lay hold of a better way than you may previously have been following.

That takes a lifetime and working that out is practicing “philosophy,” in the ancient, deepest sense.

I can point out many possible directions.  I can challenge you.  I can warn you where some directions are liable to send you if followed consistently.  But I can’t live for any of you; I can’t take your place or perform your special mission in life that is your calling.

But I can tell you how important it is you choose well as possible and pick yourself back up when you make a mistake or are manipulated.  You are important and I’ve no proper words to explain how important you are: important for your own future, the future of your families, your communities, your countries, your world.

Each of us does our public and private work, whatever it will be, and we each create a part of the future.  Your action and your inaction creates the future you will leave for others whom you will never know as well as creating the present.

What else do we have in this world as human beings more important than recognizing the gravity, the value, the quality of our choices for ourselves and one another and generations of people yet to be?

(Here is one of my infamous asides; skip it if you’re bored: My entire life has been a very strange experiment in trying out ethical theories to find out what sort of life one gets from them because I began directionless and obsessed with finding a good way to live; I do not recommend you ever do this without mature forethought and advice from many wiser, smarter people or looking to their example.

I say this as my life has also, at times, been a string of disasters I did not know how to “turn to my advantage.”

 When I talk about terrible theories and why they are terrible, I used to believe and live them.  When I talk about better theories and ways to think, it’s because I’ve tried those, too, and still make use of them or see the use of them in a good life.

This, in large part, is my destiny — to learn things the hard way and come back, if I get to come back, to share with others, to give warnings and evaluations. Take them or leave them: I must do this.)

I am hardly an example of an upright and good person; I am as imperfect as anyone, more so than some, and a little dense sometimes.  You can do better than I’ve done.  I learned to try and to try hard — but you can do better.  I have faith you and your generation will; your voluntary willingness to return to school at this stage in life tells me you have the desire and drive to have a better life, a better future.  And this is good.  I was not so intelligent or able at your age.  (Maybe I’m not now: it’s possible.)

Live your own life, but live it to a high level of intensity by following values that are truly valuable, as a sailor navigates her way by the trustworthy stars at night.  Make those values your own and put them into effect in your own life, in your own way, with your own style.

The future is not mine: it’s yours.  Over time, you will learn to do well with it — again, this is my faith or else I wouldn’t teach.

I’ve compressed a lifetime of experience and learning into one heavy, dense chunk and handed it to you over the past three weeks.  After next week, you’re done with me and you can all be relieved.  But you are not done with morality because it is tied to human choice and life is nothing but time and choice.  What we choose and the quality of the choices is who we are and who we become.

Please, choose well.  Continue to teach yourself — a bachelor’s degree means you are prepared to learn and grow maturely as well as pursue a career, which is part of that.

And that is the most I will say from this point forward.

“Manifestly, no condition of life could be so well adapted for the practice of philosophy as this in which chance finds you today!”

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, philosopher, in his tent after a day of battle and decisions in his older years, writing to himself… and you and me.

MEDITATIONS, Book Eleven, section 7, Penguin Classics.

19 June 2015

Richard Van Ingram