“Follow The Leader”

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.

“Trump TV” as a thing is actually up and running – state sponsored propaganda for The Leader, our Big Brother. Don’t know German? “Führer” means “The Leader,” “The Guide,” the only person with “the real truth” – anything to the contrary is a lie, aka “fake news,” even if absolutely true. Because “real truth” is what The Leader says and expects and demands – and you’d best conform to.

If this traitorous bastard is not standing at that narrow bridge over the Rubicon, he has already crossed it, leading probably half or more of U.S. Americans with him by belief, fear, apathy, or inertia.

A propaganda arm of any government turned openly and with full force against its own people to keep the Leader in power, to bypass free media inspection and reporting, is, by definition, an active symptom of tyranny – at least in the making.

You thought I was joking when I wrote my parts of “GOP NAZIS” and all the essays over the years before Trump and afterwards. Or you didn’t look and see what I said at all. Which is fine – I’m not the best messenger. Certainly, I’m no one, and not famous so why would you, in this age of celebrity, have known what I said or given a damn if you’d heard it?

But I am one messenger and one last vestige of an American citizenry that had faith in that Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and their expansion and protection – the protection of actual human beings, all of us.  I’m what a “regular” U.S. Citizen used to sound like.

This present “tissue of bullshit,” to quote William S. Burroughs, is not that (protection of our rights and liberties) at all. And it deserves no better than utter contempt and condemnation. The use of the values of liberal democracy to undercut and destroy liberal democracy and its values always was the weak spot in our form of government and society if enough people lost faith in our form of government and could care less about “society.”

Postscript:

“Enough,” more than enough people in the USA and Europe have lost faith in liberal democracy and civil society; it hasn’t ever been a stable thing in the US.  We went through a Civil War over it; a hundred years of Jim Crow “laws” and lynchings, bombings, the KKK, an American Nazi Party, various white nationalist/separatist organizations, domestic terrorism, mass xenophobia before and after 9/11… all alongside small steps in the direction of a genuine and humane civilization: universal suffrage for men and women from any and all backgrounds, public education, free speech and privacy expansion, LGBTQ rights, the recognition of black and Latino people as actual human beings, open borders, refuge against tyranny and violence, a decline in anti-semitism, destruction of “laws” against “race mixing,” and so on.

We almost had a public health care system for a moment.  Just a moment.

For every advance, a reaction in the opposite direction until, now, a major attempt to roll it ALL back, even the notion of liberal democracy and a republic itself, res publica, the “public thing” that benefits all as an ideal, even when not fully a reality.

THAT decline did not happen in a vacuum.  That happened because enough people lost faith in such – and don’t even understand what these things are, how precious, how delicate, how easily ruined from within.

In fact, I don’t doubt 9/10ths of Americans reading these words (if they bother to read anything) even give a damn to find out what they mean.  They (we) are angry and emotional, passionate, enthusiastic people and such people as that do not think; they act. And when they act, they destroy.  Because creation and preservation can only arise from a calm, thoughtful, care-full consideration as a pre-occupation, pre-activity, a guide for reasonable, self-restrained action later.

If I am doing anything, as I’ve often observed, it is this: Watching and commenting and theorizing for people who are not yet here.  People who may find something, anything of worth in the debris of my thoughts as I have little hope for the people presently in the grip of self-imposed or self-accepted delusions. And none of this will survive if you do not remember it and repeat it to others later, by word of mouth, and discuss these ideas.  My words will go away soon and my name is written on wind.

These, my countrymen, are not a people who will turn inward and doubt themselves and their beliefs for one moment as that requires effort and results in wonder and not a little fear and humility and a search for solid, rational answers, not the ready-made answers floating in the culture or subcultures that misguided them to begin with.  That fed them lies and tribal, parochial myths in place of truth… which is always cosmopolitan in character… that makes one a citizen of the world.

I don’t live in such a place and time.  I’m just leaving fragments of a map that might allow others, one day, to go search for that place and moment themselves.

6-7 August 2017
Richard Van Ingram

Links to some evidence:

“Trump TV” on YouTube

Keith Olbermann Predicts Trump TV, 11/3/2016

Sinclair Broadcasting Becomes Trump TV

Stephen Miller In Running For White House Communications Director

#Trump #TrumpTV #propaganda #authoritarianism #fascism#WelcometoAbsurdistan #Putin #media

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Dahlonega, Georgia, Home of the Klan Klubhouse

Roberta Green-Garrett, Klansman
Roberta Green-Garrett, Klansman

UPDATE: 15 March 2017: http://patch.com/georgia/atlanta/kkk-sign-dahlonega-incites-raw-emotions-controversy

UPDATE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/in-northern-georgia-a-kkk-banner-seemed-to-some-a-sign-of-the-times/2017/03/12/de5a3518-05bd-11e7-b9fa-ed727b644a0b_story.html?tid=sm_fb&utm_term=.c4fe2a9b8f62

http://www.forsythnews.com/section/1/article/32218/

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Free Speech; A Personal Story

Gentle reader, assuming this is read: What follows is a matter of personal history. This is a letter to the editor and publisher of The Dahlonega Nugget, Terrie Ellerbie, from 2008.  Not many months following this, I left Dahlonega finding it intolerant and intolerable — but, for me, that was nothing new.  I’d found it as such, increasingly, since the early 1970s when I began to be aware of many things about that community; I moved away to go to university in the mid 1980s with no intention of returning — yet, as Townes Van Zandt once said, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

So, HaShem saw fit to strand me, financially broke, jobless, homeless, sick back in my “hometown” — and I chose to get busy, sort of like an absurd Count of Monte Christo, and make my “prison” a place where I would learn what no university could teach, to prepare for a future I never really expected would arrive — a day when I could get in a car and drive away permanently to a different world, one which would listen to the little I had to share, read what I wrote, look at the art I made.

So, I learned.  I dealt with many sorts of people, many situations from the soul-crushing to the enlightening, and, little by little, I improved.  And I began to write freelance editorials on contemporary issues for the small local paper to share, to examine, to offer an alternative point of view; unpopular, to be certain, but one I thought needed to be heard from.  Especially as torture, concentration camps, dehumanization, and loss of civil liberties and rights became the order of the day.

I also began teaching ethics and philosophy at the local university along with my regular day job at public mental health… and dealing with a very confusing, depressing, intense personal life.

I got myself well-hated because of the writing, to paraphrase a poet.  But I also made friends, a couple permanent, maybe, most fair-weather who disappeared just as soon as I was banned — yes, banned — from being published in that paper because, ostensibly, of about twenty anonymous, unpublished complaints.

It didn’t shut me up but it did shut me down.  And I fell into a deep depression for a long while — it left a wound.  Sometimes, still, the wound seeps.  But I learned a very important set of lessons: when you stand up openly to be counted, you will be counted; there is only one of you; don’t count on anyone else who, in private, supports you, to do anything except hide when the counter-attack comes on you from the hateful and intolerant; and never expect them to come back and even speak to you after you’ve been “disposed of” by a vocal majority or the powerful.

“So it goes,” as the man often said.  

That is the life of anyone who becomes controversial or stands against injustice in a place where people believe the unjust to be their absolute right.  You’re out there by yourself. If others show up or “have your back,” that is damned good fortune.  And you never count on “good fortune” — bad fortune is what you prepare for as, really, it is far more likely.  Fear keeps good people silent, it keeps them in hiding, it causes them to censor themselves.  They are only rarely going to come out in any way when the danger of speaking up becomes greater, not lesser.

If you choose to speak up about anything that needs to be said, expect to find yourself bearing witness alone… except for the pack of wolves who come out to tear your reputation to shreds.  And maybe your livelihood… and, once in a while, your life itself.

A cautionary tale, but not a dissuasive one.  You are only what you choose to do and the inherent quality of what you choose to value and incarnate in this world through your actions.  The end.  I have no shame for that part of my life.  It was worthwhile.

After being banned, I wrote, over two years, three letters to the editor — the short farewell, which was published; a protest against a letter writer who encouraged physical violence for those who were “liberal’ — they published a heavily edited version of that; and this letter in defence of free speech in the paper, the sole public platform in that community, even for an editorialist who was a hate-monger, who had attacked me in the pages of the paper.  This one, of course, never saw the light of day.  You’ll see why should one choose to read on.

So, without further comment.

RVI, 22 February 2017

*****

“Dear Editor,

“Uncharacteristically, I will keep my words to a minimum.  This concerns your editorial comments of 27 February 2008 in “What you need to know about Moore & Martin.”

“I can sympathize with your frustrations, especially concerning the complaints about Mr. Martin’s column – but only to a point.

“You said:

‘ “We do not “endorse” any columnist, period. We publish what people write, because this is the place for that to happen. [ . . .] This is a public forum, not a private country club. We will not apologize for giving people with differing backgrounds and views a place to express themselves in their own words.
“I will say this: If you do not like what Jason Martin had to say, I suggest you muster up the courage to speak up and speak out yourself and express your own views.” ‘

“You seemed to show more than a little exasperation with your readers who won’t sign their names to complaints about Mr. Martin and those who have gotten the idea that, if they complain enough about someone expressing opinions in your paper, you will remove that person and refuse to print their columns in the future.

“Where, oh where, pray tell, could they have gotten such an idea?

“When, I wonder, was such a precedent ever set for that sort of decision-making in your paper?

“Could it have been, perhaps, a bit over a year-and-a-half ago when you publicly refused to print any more of my columns because some locals could no longer bear to be exposed to my point of view – one wholly opposed to Mr. Martin’s?

“Where was this editorial statement when a determined fragment of your readership — in some cases anonymously, in some cases not — railed that poorly written trash such as I compose should never waste ink in your fine publication again?  And all this mainly because I don’t sound or think like most people “from ’round these here parts.”

“As one of your more censorious letter writers used to say of me, “He isn’t one of us.”  Which is true enough, but in 2006 that sentiment was enough for you to publicly refuse to accept any more columns from my hand.

“So now, the tables are turned.  Your Mr. Martin has inspired a wave of people who don’t particularly want to read a column in which the writer so glibly excuses torture as “the final solution” for our nation’s terrorism problem, and don’t want to hear that “ideas and people that ain’t from ’round these here parts should leave on the road that brung ’em.”

“So they want you to ban him – which I think is a terrible idea.  By all means, let the man speak; as you say, it’s not as if what “he said is not being repeated in conversations all over this county . . ..”

“But, then again, the same could have been said in defense of my own columns.

“In Dahlonega, the local paper is the only real public platform for speech.  Therefore, it has an obligation to allow even the rude, ignorant, utterly parochial, and the crank to express an opinion.

“If it doesn’t allow that much, the paper may not print the words of anyone representing any controversial or unpopular position, even a reasonable one, whenever it becomes simply easier to silence those words.

“That’s not the sort of paper I want for my town.  It wasn’t what I wanted in 2006; it isn’t what we need now.

“Richard Van Ingram”

  • 02/29/08 at 1:41PM 
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A Stranger in a Strange Land

You can’t go home again… nor ought you try.

Thomas Wolfe, dear brother, lost and gone, but never far from my ear, I remember reading your wild books the first time, raging around that mountain college campus, no one giving a damn, you and I silently trading stories in the catacombs of my soul.

But the trade was mostly one way as you had lived and I was just a cheap 1980s version of a half-drunk Childe Harold and Eugene Gant filled with great sorrows at the ruins of humanity, but equally grandiose visions, hopes, for a future rebuilt on that wreckage.

There was no way back. I had no business where I was, no life, the marrow had been taken from the cracked bones of that place a century before my wayward birth. Wasted. Gold and copper gouged out of the earth, the miners’ families scattered to make do at… whatever.

What was there to remain for?

But I thought “home” lay off and far away, a “someday” as much as “somewhere.”

Thirty-something years would pass before I discovered there is no home here to be found or made, exactly, nothing permanent or even aeviternal. All is flux and fire in this world and this is the world in which I was made to live, to make a life, to share, travel within, to receive. To leave behind.

I am Gershon, a stranger in a strange land, the wanderer, the one who prepares.

Thirty-something years wrong as I could be before that stupidity in me, the haunting ghost of optimism that lingered from childhood, was buried with the whispering corpse of pessimism. Life is here and to be cared for, cherished in all its imperfection — what it amounts to, we’ll see. Neither good or bad, but what can be made of it or endured; what lies beyond is not my business.

My suspicions are that there will be an age of more ruination before anyone cares to build something better again on the wreckage I began to glimpse 33, 34 years back — I will not live to see that. That is my fate; perhaps yours as well, whoever you are. There is no going back — what lies forward may be an even more ridiculous form of ruination.

A petty, greedy, cheap age this turned out to be; gaudy, all surface and shallow as a mirror. Ages such as this come about… they can be the end of civilizations. We’ll see, in this case.

I’m a stranger here, sent to witness and wander. What it will or won’t end up mattering is as much beyond me as HaShem. And in my case, I must become who I must be.

Sleep well, Thomas Wolfe, Byron, Goya, Hogarth, Voltaire, Swift. and so many others close and far — we each play our roles. None small but most unnoticed. How well we pull it off, we’ll see in the long stretch of time and fiery change.

Richard Van Ingram
22 January 2017

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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
#CarrieFisher

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Imminent Doom & Other Vacation Spots

“An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.”

 

William Butler Yeats

from “Sailing to Byzantium”

 

Going within – the passage into dark, deep waters in the eternal night of the cavern of subjectivity. Will one arrive at Byzantium or any shores at all?  In the flashes of lightning the seas are rough, whitecapped, and in the gloom the sailor beholds monsters in the deep, some with shining eyes; they nearly surface menacingly and then dive down, down into the abysmal mysteries where all dreams and nightmares sleep.

 

Crises – will the wife leave or throw me out due to dissatisfaction?  Will I maintain what post I have from month to month teaching philosophy to the resistant and sometimes thoroughly uninterested?

 

 “What’s this got to do with computer technology?”

 

Indeed.

Or earning a living, if that’s defined in economic terms as Americans and nearly all the world, now is inclined to believe and believe fervently.  Come on – get the show on the road; we know nothing of this “Byzantium” or an “interior life” or retreat.  Nope.  We are storming the gates of the future and seizing whatever is there to be taken for booty.  By any means, let me tell you, and then we will be happy. 

 

Happiness, damn it, and nothing less, happiness and ease and progress.  What use is history, sir?  What point is all this nonsensical talk of “limit” and theory and value – value?  I’ll show you value: New car every year, fistfuls of cold Benjamins, big houses, vacations, and the corner office with the window.  Or whatever.  If I can touch it and spend it and use it, it is all the “value” I care to know anything about.  And, of course, old man, leftover from some dead age, you have nothing to teach me about that.

 

Indeed.

 

We have the monuments of our own magnificence – the skyscrapers and jets, the all-knowing oracle of the internet: science and its children, physical technologies.  Not that we know anything of science or the culture required to keep the enterprise alive; but we do know the value of antibiotics and facelifts and faster cars and air conditioning and the iPhone. 

 

No, I’ve little to add to the lists of what you already think you know.  No, I’ve less than nothing to tell you about making money or keeping it or attaining status of any sort, much less more than token and impermanent respect and its false substitutes.  How else to explain these “tatters upon a stick”?  It’s not as if I can afford a new suit and that’s not by accident.  Yes, I shop at the thrift store.  No, I never made enough at my art to pay the bills or fill the car with gasoline more than a few times.  Yes, it’s depressing.  No, I’m no one to envy.

 

If you’d only worked harder… or, my favorite, “Worked  smarter.”

 

God knows, I’m not smart or else I’d fit right in.  Even the cheapest village has a place for its idiot and I couldn’t even get that job and hold it long.  Adios, hit the road, Jack and don’t come back no more, no more, no more.

 

So, here I am, as happens more and more often, in retreat, gone within on the high, mean seas, sailing for a myth near my heart which, too, is probably a myth.  The world outside has gone mad, at last, or, as it would say back to me, I was always crazy to expect the world not to experiment with every form of drug, even fascism, even the destruction of civility and sociability and tolerance and, and, and….  Hell, we, as humans, have done this over and again for well over a hundred years – why not let America have its turn at the table of pure weirdness?  Cash it all in and eat to our bellies are full-to-bursting with satisfied paranoid strangeness and hatred, violence and death?

 

After all, we owe it to ourselves.  Mom and dad’s left us the credit card and gone on permanent vacation – let’s have a party and only invite “our  kind,” hire security to beat the hell out of any gate crashers and televise it all, just for fun and ratings.  Why not?

 

I got tired of saying, out loud, “How long, O Lord?  How long?”  Yeah, I still pray it, but deep inside while taking the night journey to Nowhere.  Or “Not-here,” at any rate.

 

You go on your permanent vacation and leave me to mine.  You’ll be more the missed.  Genuinely.  If we survive this savage and ugly period of history, perhaps I’ll come back out and sing my tuneless songs of philosophy and share other sorts of magical words and draw some pictures.  And maybe you’ll be interested then.  But not now.  I know and it’s not your fault – the pink slip was handed to me a long time ago, in childhood, and I was too much of a dunce to read it rightly:  the ticket to Byzantium, not the inaugural ball or even to any sort of position that would show… well, hell, not even something like my great-grandfather’s job as head of the custodial department at the local college.

 

He could at least raise a family off that and maintain property with some dignity.

 

Different age. 

 

Ages pass.  I was not born for the past and, I fear, not for the present.  My country is the one for old men who have passed, are passing, and are yet to be.

 

27 May 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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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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The Letter to My Students, January 2016

 This is the letter I write my students each month; it differs from month to month, depending on circumstances and what I’m compelled to teach and leave each unique group — and some particular individuals who rarely know I’m speaking directly to them in passages.  I don’t know that it matters; I don’t know it doesn’t.  We never know — we do what seems best by our best efforts to discover who to be.   This is part of my effort, such as it is.
I send a letter to my classes each month.  Lucky you, it’s your turn,  The only test it’s “on” is life.  It begins with a quote from a song to set the mood:

“It’s a beggars life, said the Queen of Spain
But don’t tell it to a poor man —
‘Cause he’s got to kill for every thrill
The best he can.
Everywhere around me
I see jealousy and mayhem,
Because no men have all their peace of mind
To carry them.
Well I don’t really care
If it’s wrong or if it’s right,
But until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.

“When the joker tried to tell me
I could cut it in this rube town,
When he tried to hang that sign on me
I said, “Take it down.”
When the dawn patrol got to tell you twice
They’re gonna do it with a shotgun,
Yes, I’m cashing in this ten-cent life
For another one.

“Well I ain’t got the heart
To lose another fight
So until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.

“Well I don’t really care
If it’s wrong or if it’s right
But until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.”

Steely Dan

“Night by Night”

from the album Pretzel Logic

1974

When my thoughts bother me, I sit up half the night or longer.  Most nights, I’m awake as if Truth herself will come over for a visit and ask for tea and cake in return for a good talk.  That’s not going to happen.  Instead, I meditate on things; not idly, but actively, turning problems over and over in my mind.  Sometimes I actually make some progress, though it may take years.

 

Genius I don’t have.  But stubbornness and creativity – those are my cursed-blessings.  And all curses are blessings and all blessings curses, depending on what attitude you take to them.

 

Truth, goodness, beauty: These do not “just arrive” in our lives.  We have to go out and struggle for them, fight for and pursue them with all our might or we get no closer to them than the day we were born.  Maybe we fall further from them.  Because mature activity itself brings truth, goodness, and beauty into the world inasmuch as humans directly experience these.  We see them in an example of a life lived at a high level of intensity, not satisfied with just any old standard or none at all; we see them in works well-made, well-performed.

 

I have seen beauty and honor in a janitor assiduously laboring at cleaning toilets; I have seen viciousness and sluggardly behavior in managers and powerful people in high places.

 

It is ethics that allows us to take what others might take as a circumstance full of curses and turn them to a great gift for themselves – because we are what we choose to do, how we choose to do it, and the standards we choose to live up to; and the same is a gift for others at the same time.  It is a failure of morality that allows some to take the greatest of fortunate circumstances and turn them into a living hell for themselves and those they touch in any way.

 

Think of Enron.  Jeffery Skilling told his professor at Harvard, “Smart?  I’m a fucking genius,” if you recall.  If that is an example of “genius,” I’ll choose to remain poor, worried, cautious, contemplative, artistic, and stubborn.  I’ll choose to remain dissatisfied with myself and continue working at being a little better each day; I’ll continue being not so certain of myself, always having a bit of doubt, and judging myself by a higher standard than I use for others.

 

And, as I told you all, I’m not paragon of virtue.  Or anything else.  I just make a genuine attempt to care until I am exhausted from not sleeping.

 

I worry over my students.  This month has done none of us any favors and I’m not certain I turned the situation to the best effect in how I handled it.  As it’s practically over and I can only correct future versions of the course to adapt it to changing times, there’s little I can do about that.  I had more students in both classes than usual and the work isn’t designed for huge classes.  We had fewer days in which to do the work and I lacked about six hours of lecture to guide you.

 

I have compensated by grading with a lighter hand than usual, though many of you would have done well either way.

 

That aside, if you walk away from this class with anything, walk away with this much:  You cannot afford to make ethical decisions arrived at by “your own personal experiences” and nothing else.  Besides being haphazard and lacking in consistency, you, at the beginning, have no idea where your moral beliefs originated and whether that origin was to meet an actual problem you face or whether it was well or poorly constructed.  You have no idea if the interpretation of the belief you were taught and is reinforced by your culture or subculture is the best interpretation available.  Worst of all, you don’t know if “your personal experience” is limited (it is) to the point of being misleading.

 

No, you must acquaint yourself with the history of ideas to find out where your beliefs came from; you must acquaint yourself with general history to find out how the culture you emerged from originated; and you must study philosophy and the branch of it called ethics to learn the basic theories to give you rational grounds to examine and judge better ideas from worse, better interpretations from worse, and how to make better choices over worse.

 

This itself will not make you moral, but it will put you miles ahead of most people and give you fresh eyes to see the world.  It will instill within you a tendency for a healthy skepticism for slick claims and manipulation.  It is the beginning of being an effective and responsible human and citizen.

 

The rest of it is up to you and your choices and how open you are to hearing others’ perspectives and integrating them into your own and keeping a check on your own prejudices.  It is up to you to learn to expand your world to be more inclusive, though selective, and to walk a reasonable balance between these.

 

Being ethical is a skill, like driving a car.  It is the skill of building a good human life and, like driving, not just any actions will yield the results you need.  Learning to want what you truly need and looking for that in your limitations instead of just “wanting” things without an understanding of your full needs as a human is itself a skill.

 

Skills, once practiced enough and worried over enough become transparent we just begin to perform them as “second nature,” as Aristotle once said.  You no more think about all the steps in driving a car while driving than a good person is consciously thinking about all the things involved in living well.  No, the only two times that happens is when we make a mistake and snap into awareness or we, in the luxury of contemplation, review and revise what it is we do in light of new experience — our own or that we’ve heard from others.

 

Hence, we must be open to hearing from others, alive and dead.

 

Form bad habits, poor skills, skills for manipulation, cleverness, become locked up in “your own personal experience,” as limited as it is, and you will fall into selfishly motivated disasters as sure as a poor driver causes wrecks and Jeffery Skilling and Ken Lay wasted billions of investors’ dollars and years of other peoples’ lives who worked for them based on promises that were lies.

 

I gave you the shadow of a beginning here.  I suggested a direction and have told you what you, on your own, as responsible adults must study on your own to truly advance and lead, be examples not followers looking for someone to exploit them.

 

People in college exert themselves beyond the curricula of any particular course: Course work begins to teach you how to think, not what to think, no matter how strongly an instructor accents some content over others.  Figuring out the true values you need to live up to, ultimately, is your choice.  And you must choose and will choose, regardless (that’s our common fate) – I just hope it is in such manner that you learn how to transform even curses to blessings, not the other way around, and bring some measure of peace into your lives and those around you.

 

The future needs you and it is yours, not mine, to make.  Choose your path well.

 

22 January 2016

Mr. Ingram

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Sometimes.

“If you see something that looks like a star
And it’s shooting up out of the ground
And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
And you just can’t escape from the sound
Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys
And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance?
Or something sim’lar as this?
Don’t worry too much It’ll happen to you
As sure as your sorrows are joys
And the thing that disturbs you is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)

“If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything, including my pride —
But spirit is something that no one destroys
And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)”

TRAFFIC

“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”

Sometimes.

Sometimes is a bad location in the terrain of life; it is in my case.  It’s the ever-shifting space not on any map — suddenly, one arrives upon it and has no idea how long it must be endured.  It is an occasion of indefinite duration that may immediately be followed by another… and then another.  Or one may traverse it and not encounter such again for quite awhile.

How many times a day did Voltaire contemplate throwing his quills out the window, do you suppose?  How many days did this happen in a lifetime?  Physically, he could have gotten by perfectly well without writing a revolution into being — especially not knowing whether there’d be any revolution or not at the time.  Lacemakers gave him income; writing made him trouble.

But once a year on the anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, he became violently ill without fail, ran a fever, vomited, had to take to bed for a space.  All because the utter injustice and hate of it ate away at him so badly and his conscience was such that he suffered for the dead in his own flesh.

So, back to the quills and ink.  Like it or not.

He was a man of good, high spirits not often given to fits of melancholia; instead, his bile came forth as bouquets of wit and satire.  Right and wrong, it was beautiful and effective.

The temptation to quit all his creative activities or hide them away never seemed to be part of his life — his “sometimes” came in the form of having to escape the censors and the crown by fleeing to Switzerland.  A dangerous but adventuresome sometimes that at least let him know: “Voltaire, you are one effective son of a bitch.”

I am no Voltaire.  Yes, I become physically ill when wars erupt — I ran a 104 degree fahrenheit fever during the debate over the first Gulf War after protesting it with the Quakers and became so sick I wound up at the hospital.  The whole thing, as a memory, is hallucinatory and terrible: I felt to my depths that this was the beginning of a string of horrors for humanity.  And so it was though I could do nothing about it but lie in a bed of torment for a couple of weeks.

My art turned more political after that and my writing often the same until I became a lone voice crying in the wilderness during George W. Bush’s administration — in a small Appalachian town, I wrote lead-heavy long essays for the county’s only newspaper, the only weapon of protest I had to oppose illegal domestic spying, torture, kidnapping, lying, our soldiers being sent to die for Halliburton, human beings — as vicious as some were — redefined legally to the point they were outside the possibility of due process.

Hatred, in the main, was my repayment.  That and $10.00 a pop for the privilege of penning those 5 and 6 page essays every couple of months.  But all that’s external and insignificant: I had to bear witness to the times and use my small voice to say what someone more important should have been saying from the floor of the Senate.  My own conscience would not let me throw my pens out the window.  Maybe that’s why Voltaire never threw his own.

People think it’s my paranoia acting up like a bout of rheumatism, but I swear to you at the height of my writing, the last two years of nearly six years as a freelancer at that paper, all my mail arrived in the box pre-opened.  Was it angry locals at the post office trying to dig up dirt?  Was it the FBI not even bothering to cover their tracks anymore?  (After all, who was I going to call: The FBI?)  All I know, once I was banned from writing for the paper — yes, that happened — my mail was fine thereafter.

That was one of those “sometimes” I felt so defeated I considered just quitting.  I had no platform to speak to the community; some people who were very friendly  to me when I was infamous quit and wouldn’t even do me the grace of saying “hello” when face-to-face; the invitations to come over and discuss ideas failed to arrive anymore.  In short, I was shut down and shut up.

A friend let me begin putting essays and art on a page in his popular website… but it was mainly an exercise in keeping me busy, not gaining readers.  Too broke to get my own site — like this one — no one knew to read it except by word of mouth.  I couldn’t advertise it in the sole paper in the county: That cost money and I’m unsure the ad would have been accepted.  Decline followed and depression as I am melancholic.

I got letters and e-mails now and again from people who said I spoke for them because they were afraid to say anything, or that something I’d said touched them, or to keep up the fight.  Those were good moments, but I rarely responded; I had no words for praise and barely knew what to do with it.  I’m not used to such.  Abuse, yes — that I can do something with; sincere praise and agreement — that’s shocking and frightening, perversely enough.

Someone standing by me and fighting the fight would have been nice, or at least people writing their own ideas, even more moderate, and picking up where I fell would be good.  I was replaced in the paper by a high school girl who wrote columns about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.  God bless her for at least putting herself out there and getting something in print and her $10.00 a week.  She made more than I did overall for her efforts and it looked good on the college applications. And the people had their wholesome sweet nothings to not bother their consciences — a must for every editorial page.

But it truly made me wonder why I’d bothered in the first place.

The years passed, I mostly moved on, physically if not entirely in spirit.  Loss of my job with insurance, cut-backs in the number of lectures I had at the local university due to underfunding the state educational budget, loss of my marriage… then, I moved to Texas.  Georgia, except for my son and friends who barely speak to me anymore, has nothing but very bad memories for me.

Here, I got to work trying to make comic books and eventually to lecture again, and I do both and attempt to sell some art.  But now, a few years after all the aforementioned,  I’ve wandered into one of those “sometimes.”  I’ll hit 50 in a couple of weeks and Americans have some sort of psychic time-bomb that goes off each birthday ending with a zero.  But 50 is a half-century and 50 is easily more than half my potential lifetime on planet Earth.  In fact, my life could easily be over with at any minute I have so many chronic illnesses and a major mental illness with an average 30% fatality rate.  Manic depression is a hard thing to live with, especially when the tension and pressure becomes intense and all these thoughts of failure and stupidity come boiling up.

I’m becoming too tired to write anymore and I imagine this is tiresome to read if you’ve made it this far.  50 years.  I did not do much damage or accomplish much, really.  My work is uneven, my art difficult to look at, my underground comix are appreciated by other artists and that’s about it — not nothing, but not the popular audience I was looking to speak to, either.  If I last a little longer, maybe more people will read.  Maybe not.  If I last a little longer, some gang of misfits might decide my art is inspirational or speaks to them — who knows?  If I keep writing, I am at least a writer and spreading ideas… then again, I’m unpaid and have no idea whether actual humans are looking at this and not “robots” and webcrawlers.

And my students: some benefit, some don’t; some resist and just don’t care, say so openly, and act as if, because they are “paying customers,” they have arrived at Burger King College where they can say and do as they please and “have it their way.”  The others — I have no clue.  We rarely do: Teachers do their best to plant seeds that might sprout years down the road in their students’ lives and must be content with that, content with having planted better seeds than worse.

As a philosopher… I don’t know and don’t even wish to hazard a guess.  Philosophy, thank God, has kept me alive and given me guidance through Hell several times.  Including the Hell of “sometimes.”  Maybe I gave a good example if anyone noticed.  You never know.

You never know.

16 January 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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What I’d Do With $1.5 Billion…

That’s what they call a “hook” — that title, I mean.  Everyone sees the money sign and goes completely mad: It grabs the attention, the heart races, dreams and visions float before one’s eyes.  Or does it?

I play the lottery in America when the numbers get to the point of absurdity.  Why not?  Sure, I have my fantasies of what to do with more money than humans ought to have: I tell myself I’d endow several chairs of philosophy at my favorite schools, chairs for teaching Stoicism as a practical approach to contemporary ethics , and chairs in the philosophy of Ortega y Gasset.  Leave behind an educational legacy.  Fund the Ortega Institute in Spain.  That sort of thing.

I’d leave behind scholarships for creative people, not necessarily the top grade-earners, but the ones who were rebellious, didn’t fit in worth a damn, but were intelligent and who write the best essays as to what they would try to make of themselves with a liberal arts education.

I’d establish trust funds for my son, step-daughter, and step-son.  The idea would be they’d be able to do something decent with their lives and not be enslaved to the capitalist system anymore.  And pay medical bills.

I’d pay off the student loans… hell, I’d pay off a number of people’s student loans, people who work in fields that make no money and involve service and creativity.  Why not?

And pay my own medical bills.  Get some decent insurance.

I’d buy a printing company and publish the works of artists, writers, journalists, political cartoonists, and commentators and pay them a very decent wage to raise hell and investigate and attack every sort of hypocrisy and injustice one could lay hands on in the United States.  And never worry one damn minute about ever turning a profit — only beginning social and cultural change for the better and that’s it.

Give enough money to all my friends so that they could pursue their dreams… or have time to invent some.  Tell them to go forth and do good works and see what they come up with.  I have some faith they could do some damage of a positive sort and leave behind their own legacies.

Me, I’d teach and make art.  Make more art than I can now and maybe teach less, but donate the pay into scholarship funds for the most needy at the school I teach at.

Establish an endowment for the Scottish Rite Valley of San Antonio that would perpetually pay the upkeep of the cathedral and even repair it; donate enough for the Scottish Rite Hospitals and St. Jude’s to make a real difference; establish another for my mother lodge, Perfect Union #10 with one string attached — if any brother Mason or his family is ever in need, all of their bills are to be paid, no questions asked.  I’d leave enough in the fund so that it couldn’t reasonably be exhausted.

Make an endowment to the temple I wish to attend so that education and passing down the Reform Jewish tradition would never have a financial stumbling block in its way here.

Make sizable contributions to the ACLU and NAACP — I’m members of both, but it would be nice to see their war chests well-stocked for the foreseeable future.

See that many independent comic book artists got their work published, good, bad, indifferent — I don’t care.  Flood the market with stories and new visions, not collectibles and not digital comics, but real, paper comics that can be passed around in low-tech areas surreptitiously and distribute them far and wide in many languages.  Chinese, Hindi, and North Korean might be nice.  They can have any profits to make more books and live.  What the hell?

And while were on North Korea, surely I could smuggle some people out of that slave pit?  Give them a chance at a life.

Oh, my laundry list goes on like that for a long while.  But I’m not going to win $1.5 billion and it may be a good thing I wouldn’t.  Money corrupts people.  I’m not certain I do a good job managing the little I have now — expand that exponentially overnight and I might become a monstrosity.  Who knows?  All blessings are potential curses if you allow them to rule you and not you them.  Likewise, all curses can be parlayed into some sort of small blessing if one masters the situation and oneself.  I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to know this is truth, or a glimpse of it.

So there it is.  Not soured grapes, but a caution to myself:  Do good regardless; be the person I am supposed to be, broke or a billion dollars in the black.  The money doesn’t matter as much as who I make myself through what I value and what I do.  The same goes for you.

13 January 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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