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.

Richard

***
On Thursday, August 10, 2017, 3:20:44 PM MDT, Matt Aiken <maiken@thedahloneganugget.com> 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:

Matt,

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.

Thanks,
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.

 

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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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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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A Question for My Readers

I’ve thought about doing this for years, but was never certain anyone would listen.

If I created a weekly/bi-weekly podcast, would any of you listen?  An answer yes or no will suffice.  Just write a message to this post at the bottom.

Of course, I speak English, USA version, and would use my lecturing voice and attempt to be clear and entertaining.  An episode would be 15 minutes or 30 minutes — 15 if bi-weekly, 30 if weekly.

Second question, if I did a podcast, what sort of content would you appreciate?  The sort of things I express here?  Commentary on a particular sort of topic?  Give me some feedback in the message if you would.

That’s all for the moment.

Thank you,

RVI

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I Have Seen The Light; the last editorial I wrote for The Dahlonega Nugget, with new added commentary

“Pick me. I’m your daisy.”
Doc Holiday
from Tombstone
There are many advantages to being completely out of touch with reality, out of one’s mind, cartwheeling through space and time by means of a warped imagination. One is that my dreams are far more vivid and striking than a normal person’s – so vivid and striking as to inspire within me the belief at times that I have been granted the gift of prophecy or some such. Of course, this belief is delusional, but at times I still wonder.
Take the other night: I’d stayed up too late after spending another shiftless day eating government cheese and sponging off of your tax money, using my food stamps to buy Delmonico steaks and several nice bottles of MD 20/20 to wash it all down with. I think I’d watched a New Star Trek marathon on the Sci-Fi channel and was contemplating shaving my head so I’d look like Patrick Stewart as, to my mind, his character on that show is second only to Tartuffe in terms of fictional personages I aim to emulate.
But the capper, I think, was the fact I’d just finished flipping through Voltaire’s Candide backwards.
Anyway, I fell into a deep slumber and during that slumber I felt a strange sensation, akin to someone removing bandages from my eyes; and then, all at once, I saw The Truth. The Truth, it turned out, wasn’t something terribly complex, not hidden at all – in fact, I’d been hiding it from myself in my long search for it. And The Truth was: I am wrong about everything I suspected about the world just as most people have always told me.
I found myself standing on a high mountain looking out over the bright and shining world and could see, for the first time in my life, absolutely nothing was wrong in that world with the way things are. My so-called “utopianism” was suddenly reduced to ashes in the burning light of Reality that is, evidently, already utopian. I had just stubbornly refused to see it for 40 years.
I saw, in the streets of the cities and towns, poor people working 18 hours a day for very little money and no benefits and no vacations, and something became apparent – they were happy with that; no, more: they should be happy with that. That is fair and just. They and everyone else thought it right for them to labor from dawn to dawn; they did not feel that they needed healthcare or that their employers or the community had any responsibility for such things. They were proud of the fact that they were working like slaves and paid barely enough to live in virtual poverty.
They were proud that, in the State of Georgia as of this year, 1 of every 5 children lives in poverty and, probably, few of them will ever escape it. I realized that these children enjoy the fact that their parents, since both parents must work to even survive, are rarely home and, when home, are tired and often irritable, being under the financial, physical, and mental stresses they actually revel in.
I realized that it is okay for us to say we value families so long as we don’t actually do anything to make it possible for families to live in a manner they can have their priorities straight. Because, in Truth, it was my priorities that were wrong in the first place: I thought the first tasks of a family were to love one another, raise the children, spend time teaching them how to do things and how to tell right from wrong.
No, in this perfect world, the main job of a family is to serve its role in the economy, make money at all costs for investors and, maybe, enough for the people working to get by. The second job of a family is to raise warm bodies to replace the parents when those workers become old and can’t function anymore. Any other responsibilities and expectations probably come just after buying a new X-Box and making certain the satellite dish bill is paid.
I saw all at once that poverty was not the evil I’d grown to think it might be. No – it builds character; it narrows one’s attention; it brings one closer to God and country. If anyone in this perfect world is burdened, it is the wealthy: they have so many terrible decisions to make and so much genuine work to do, deciding how best to create jobs for the poor and how best to take care of the less fortunate. From my vantage point atop the high mountain of my dream I could see for the first time all the rich had always, from the beginnings of the world, spent many a long hour of their lives completely lost in the service of others. And they did it so quietly, no one noticed! My idea they ought to be taxed to insure the public good suddenly seemed punishing and wicked.
No, the poor are only doing themselves a great favor by making profits for the wealthy while receiving little in return. By allowing the owners to take a significant part of what they make, their lives become much simpler and easy to manage, especially when they do not receive raises to keep up with the rising price of fuel and goods and education and healthcare. Cars cost a lot to manage – if the poor can’t make enough to maintain them, they can walk 20 or 30 miles to work each day here in rural areas. And that improves health, so who needs healthcare? And since poor working people can afford fewer groceries as prices rise and wages remain flat, they will all start living off tomatoes grown in flower pots or home gardens, and that, I realized, is pure health food.
As for education, well, how much does one need to mop a floor or do service jobs? “Hi, may I help you?” is easier and cheaper to teach than differential calculus. Reading and writing – after mom and dad teach you how to read Cat in the Hat and sign your name (sort of), what more does one want or need? In fact, it is dangerous to teach the young (or old) to read anything beyond “See Spot run” because, inevitably they’re going to wind up trying to read the classics or Cervantes or Swift or Voltaire or the Founding Fathers or histories or philosophers or Faulkner or Orwell. God forbid, they may read The Beats or Hunter Thompson, too.
Their pure minds will become polluted. They will ask too many questions, they may even move on from signing their name to expressing their own thoughts in words, and just look at the damage that causes. People that write and draw and whatever, when they aren’t aiming to only make a few bucks, have a nasty habit of saying or showing things good people would rather left unsaid and covered over.
After all, why do you think Plato didn’t want the poets hanging out in his perfect city depicted in The Republic? He says they lie; maybe it’s more like they don’t sing the official version of the news. And in our perfect world, the official news is the only real news, and you find it on the Fox Channel.
And I saw, from that wonderful peak, that there were no people in authority who did not deserve to occupy the fine offices they sit in. Didn’t the Bible say, according to some interpreters (the only correct ones), that those in authority are chosen to be there by God Himself? Who am I to question God, then? From King Herod to Attila the Hun, from Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush, a leader is a leader and is supposed to be there, no matter how they came to power or what they do with it.
A person at any level of authority can do no wrong in this best of all possible worlds, whether that person is a parent, a boss, a high school assistant principal, a principal, a school superintendent, a cop, a county commissioner, a legislator, a judge, a governor, a vice president or president. By definition, they are always right, otherwise they would not hold their office as given to them by God; they are right even when they are wrong. And the more wrong they are, the more I learned in my dream I am supposed to scream they are right.
Why, the world might fall apart if we acknowledged authorities can be in error or may have no business in their offices. We’d have to rethink a lot of things, beginning with this belief God gives the thumbs up to all leaders and supports all or any of their decisions. To do that, we’d have to question the interpreters of scripture who gave us this story; and to do that, we’d have to believe that some people who claim to speak on behalf of the Almighty might really just be speaking on behalf of some worldly power they happen to like or want something from. But, in this perfect world, to think such a thing is so cynical and bitter that I realized it was one of the sources of my problems in the waking world that kept me blindfolded and unaware of The Truth.
I saw that, in the dungeons of our nation, that what we were doing with war prisoners wasn’t really torture. In the perfect world, when the leaders hire lawyers to redefine things, the things themselves really change, too. (After all, we redefined ketchup to be a vegetable in school lunchrooms and, lo, it became a vegetable — but only in lunchrooms.)
I saw that letting loose attack dogs on prisoners, rape, beatings with metal flashlights, kicking people’s ribs in, playing metal music on loudspeakers 24 hours a day while leaving the lights on in a cell for the same time for weeks, drowning, even killing – once upon a time, for centuries, we’d have called that torture. Now it’s called “lawful interrogation techniques” even though the purpose of an interrogation is to elicit intelligence and it has been proven one gets little trustworthy intelligence by means of such techniques. But again, that is not the right attitude. My so very wrong inclination is to see in these things, not interrogation, but vengeance, out of control anger, sadism, dehumanization of captor and captive. But all of that is foolishness on my part, as I realized in my dream.
I saw that abduction isn’t abduction if we call it “extreme rendition.” I saw a P.O.W. isn’t a P.O.W. if we call him an “Enemy Combatant.” They aren’t even people if we call them “Enemy Combatant.” I saw we like the Geneva Conventions when they apply to everyone except us and, when the Supreme Court discovers they actually do apply to us, I saw that we can fix that by changing the law and changing definitions.
I saw that the Constitution can be suspended by the will of the president and we can be spied on without anyone overseeing the administrative branch, all with just a few words from a lawyer. I learned, in the space of one night to see how amazingly magical an Ivy League lawyer is, changing everything from ketchup to the Constitution with a little memo. This world, the perfect world I have denied and fought so long, is better than a Harry Potter novel.
And it was revealed to me that, since everything is just as it should be and must be, there’s no more reason to vote or even pay attention to my representatives – God is evidently moving them all around so they don’t need my interference in the process. They don’t need the prying eyes of the press, either, whether the paper be a large one or small. In the best of all possible worlds, this one, our world, the role of a newspaper is to try to act as cheerleader to businesses, attract tourism, print the police blotter, have some sports reporting, run ads and sales papers, maybe a column about how somebody’s Southern grandmammy cooked taters and beans in grease while putting on mascara and how men like to whittle while lyin’, and that’s about it.
In a perfect local newspaper: a bad play never happens within reporting distance and poor acting does not occur; no one ever sings off key in a musical; there are never too many musicals in one year; the art that gets reported on is mainly folk art or faux impressionism (anything with country themes or flowers), and it’s all good stuff, on the level of Michaelangelo (though you can’t show HIS pornography in the paper – he created nude figures and put them in churches of all places).
There is no boring music in the local scene and all venues are affordable, no matter how high the price. There are no expensive places to eat that really aren’t all that enjoyable, such that one might find oneself much more comfortable eating a sundae at the Dairy Queen with all that cash left over had one decided not to go. Newspapers aren’t supposed to say anything critical of anything. They’re just one long advertisement.
What we absolutely don’t want in the perfect world are complainers. Complainers about politics, ethics, culture – people with a different point of view different from the majority. Everyone ought to be in the majority – or pretend they are by smiling and remaining silent. That’s what helps keep the best of all worlds perfect; that bit of The Truth stood out starkly as I dreamed.
I heard a voice behind me, turned and saw a large crack in the ground with stairs going down, so I followed them to see more of the perfect paradise I really live in. Down, down I went into the gloom, but soon I realized the air was filled with smoke and moans and firelight flickered luridly on the dark walls. “Kid, down here,” came the voice. I looked down to see an old, pudgy man with a balding head and pug nose – he could’ve been Socrates or my first philosophy professor, Dr. Severins, I’m not certain.
He was sitting back against a rock drinking wine from a big cup and he seemed tired.
“Take my advice and don’t ask any questions.” His voice was slurred. “The world is like it is; it’s always been like it is; it’ll always be like it is. I tried to ask questions and look where it got me: Hades. You’re just wasting your time with all of this writing and philosophy crap. Where’s it getting you or anyone else? Why don’t you write something for the paper about how your Southern grandmammy cooked beans and taters in grease while applying mascara? I bet you’d make a fortune. And, son, that’s what it’s all about – m-o-n-e-y.
“Oh no!” I said. “This can’t be real! It’s a nightmare!”
And sure enough, it was. So I woke up and wrote it all down, just because I am foolish and don’t seem to be able to shake the habit. Plus my grandmammies didn’t wear mascara.
Originally written and printed in The Dahlonega Nugget Newspaper, August 2006, one issue prior to my being banned.Richard Van Ingram

[Explanatory note for context, 31 May 2015:

The previous two issues, I caught Hell from two of the rightest right-wing conservative Republicans in the county; a Mr. Tom Brown and the other one I think had the last name Martin, but I’m unsure.

Mr. Brown was an amature weekly writer of the most hateful, threatening bullshit I have ever read.  He did this by long letters to the editor so he did not have to publish a photo or stand up and be counted — as all bullies, he was a coward.

He did not wish to have his little reality disturbed by the likes of me or anyone even vaguely centrist in viewpoint, and, oh boy, was I leftist, loud, and critical.  His polar opposite.  After years of personal attacks in the paper, cheerleaded and praised by all “right thinking citizens,” the idiot attacked my parents and accused them of being welfare cheats and other things.  Anything written with another colored crayon would still have smelled as brown.

Well, the little old fascist caught it from people who normally supported him as my father and mother had worked every day in their lives, never accepted government support, ever, even when they qualified for it, and were respected by the community.  Brown had no idea who my parents were.  They were not of the same political persuasion as me, for one thing, and they had done things for people in the county their whole lives.

That counter-attack by his own pissed Brown off.  I was working three jobs at the time and, once about every two or three months, turning in these freelance columns to the local paper for ten bucks a pop and all the abuse and bullying I could handle, to boot.  No, I was not on welfare, no I did not waste anyone’s time.  I worked for public mental health, for the local university as a part-time adjunct instructor at night teaching future soldiers — and veterans — ethics, and part time teaching Introduction to Philosophy for the Distance Learning program at the University of Georgia in Athens.

I advertised my work as much as my parents did, which is to say, not at all.   Unless you knew me, and few did, you had no notion of my life, my vast number of relatives, nothing.

The other moron decided to mock me, a satirist, by writing an dim-witted, poorly executed “satire” about me and my beliefs, neither of which he grasped.  He was laboring under the belief I got my ideas from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I never watched, and was essentially a communist, which I’m not, and a purveyor of utopian schemes, which is laughable if one understood how pessimistic I usually am.

Unbeknownst to me, the editor/publisher, printed a form to vote on what needed to be jettisoned from the paper.  Mr. Brown, et alii, got their wish — 25 votes gave the editor/publisher cover to get rid of my columns forevermore — that in spite of published letters after the fact from respected members of the community taking up for me and at least 35 people mailing in support letters or showing up in person to protest.  And they continued to do so for years, at their own initiative, even after it was moot.

Mr. Brown, meanwhile, spent the next bit of time occasionally trying to get me fired from mental health (his narrow little mind could not conceive that I actually am a philosopher and was in the employee of the university system).  He did this, by someone’s report back to me, going around to people whose relatives I served and encouraging them to complain to my bosses.  For all I know, he did so himself.  Four years later, I was gone, either way.

And I moved far Westward (like old Doc Holiday who was born, raised, and practiced in my mother’s hometown of Hahira, GA.), leaving Dahlonega, Georgia, and the entire mess to someone else, should anyone have the gall and imagination to criticize and fix it.  Few have.

I’m writing this just to set the historical record straight from my end.  I never have, fully.  I had the premonition when I wrote this article, the last, that my time was short for all manner of reasons.  It took no prophet to decipher what was about to happen, even though the editor/publisher never warned me nor e-mailed me, nor gave me any notice after the fact I was no longer welcome.  I found out by reading the paper, like everyone else.  Bad form.

Then I wrote my farewell letter to the readership of the paper (published in this blog last week), and that was that.  Afterwards, in ’06, I began writing essays online in earnest, on and off, and went back to being completely ignored by my fellows and peers; I lost “friends”  – there were people that had spoken to me in public while writing that stopped doing so after my “fall.”  There were even people who spoke to me in private that stopped, stopped inviting me over, stopped associating with me at all.

And so, I learned that even minor fame (or infamy), like fortune, is fickle  and pointless.

“Vanity of vanities, all is vexation and vanity,” saith the Preacher.

And so it is.

~RVI

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A Meditation on Truth (updated and amended 27 May 2015)

“In the beginning was the Word….”
The Gospel of St. John the Divine

Truth arises in an interaction between ourselves and others, whether or not those others are living or dead. We interact with the dead through an encounter with their memory and the artifacts they have left, their values, their culture. We interact with the living in a similar fashion. Whether the exchange is between those present or not present, the process is the same: we interpret what others have offered, we respond, and then our companions respond in return.

Every response contains a question, one that desires from each of us our thoughtfulness, a search of our depths, then a response of our own, a response that itself is as much a question as an offering. Together we share our thoughts and anguish, honor and bear witness to others’ gifts.

This is full participation in a culture.

Christianity offers a way to think about this. Jesus said: where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them. What is the name of Christ? Besides the unknowable and ineffable Name, St. John tells us that “in the beginning was the Logos” – logos in Greek being “word,” but also “reason” and “meaning.” [It was a concept of the Stoics, long pre-dating John or Christianity, that the Divine is called Logos — the reason and meaning permeating the Cosmos.]

To speak the word is to give the reason and meaning of something; so God the Ineffable Father eternally speaking the Word is giving the Reason and Meaning of all reasons and meanings. The sacred breath of His speech is the Holy Spirit [the Shekinah – God In Our Midst, the feminine aspect of Deity] who is life and unfettered creativity; the Word bears this creativity and comes as an Eternal Gift, a standing invitation for intimate discussion with God and with one another.

The Logos is “true light from true light” as truth is always a light that unifies and brings forth what was lost in the darkness of ignorance and nothingness – the Divine Logos is simultaneously like a word and like a light; and our souls are reflections of that Light and reverberations from that Word. Each of us comes into the world as a reflection of the blazing Divine Face and as a living message, a message each of us is to deliver through our lives and struggles with meaninglessness. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable, and special word we were sent here to share with others; and others have their messages we are meant to hear and hold dear.

We were meant to speak with one another, share our creativity with one another, attend to one another and truly consider what is shared. We were not meant to shout at one another, to ignore one another. We were not meant to simply assume we know who we are and what it is we are supposed to be doing; we are not supposed to ever see ourselves or truth in this world as finished and static – we and truth are an activity, an activity that requires everyone else. Truth is no one’s property. We are the property of truth, each of us being unfolded in the ongoing conversation of culture, the conversation in the midst of which truth arises and dwells, granting us meaning.

A culture is a gift, one which makes us truly human. Without culture, we become less than animals, for without care for one another, without tradition, without a living connection to our shared past and its joyous and painful lessons we are rootless and pointless beings. We quickly descend to savagery when the hard-won truths that represent the long advance from barbarism are cast aside and our favor granted to power, technology, material wealth.

These three things, tools in themselves, cannot provide us guidance. They are the very things that require guidance to be used correctly, which is to say, moderately. In themselves they are meaningless – they open paths without foresight, they do not scout ahead to look for danger, they do not ask others for insight, especially not those long gone beneath the earth.

In our day, it has fallen to us to watch as power, technology, and the lust for material wealth attempt to replace the dialogue of culture. It has fallen to us to stand stupefied while societies convulse, precious values and truths, our orienting constellations, difficult enough to perceive, obscured by gleaming superficialities on display like bayonets in the starlight.

The perpetual conversation that asks us each to be citizens of the world, children of one Father, has been given over to experts and specialists, locked away in libraries and museums few visit, sometimes spoken of from pulpits, sometimes lectured about in classrooms, sometimes present on canvas, in cloth, in stone, in music, in poetry. We should be thankful for those who preserve and transmit the wisdom of the past and try to add to it; but is that conversation for most a living reality, a reality that informs their lives?

The world demands of most people that they work constantly, often for little in return, to support those few who have devoted their entire existences to the exercise of power, the accumulation of material wealth, and those who think technology is a fair replacement for the pursuit of truth – as if technology were a force capable of mysteriously creating truly human values.

We are being left with pseudo-values – created without a conversation, without a dialogue with the past, without a dialogue with our neighbors, without dialogues across cultures, without a dialogue with our own souls, without a dialogue with future generations about what it is we intend to leave, or not leave, them.

We have makeshift “truths” created without a conversation with the Living God: This is the mess of pottage that has been offered us in return for a birthright more magnificent than the crown of a king.

We are left with “talk” – not the sacred interchange that brings meaning and reason, but empty words that encrust it, words meant to obscure the beautiful hidden depths that open when we truly question, when we listen, when we dare to discover and share that wonderful message that is, in the end, ourselves.

Originally written 2005.

Richard Van Ingram

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No, Not Closing the Blog, Just Wandering Down an Ambiguous Memory Lane

THE FAREWELL LETTER TO THE DAHLONEGA NUGGET, 10 October 2006

Dear Editor,

One cannot be deprived of that which is not his.  So taught the great Stoic Epictetus following the example of Socrates.  That philosopher said no one can truly harm the good person because we can deprive people of anything we wish except one thing: their integrity, their dignity.

No, I am not a good person, but usually I do try.  I make some effort most days to avoid harming others in thought, word and deed while attempting to care for them for the right reasons.  I fail, but mostly I try.  I am no great example like Socrates or Epictetus.

However, I have met some truly good, caring, and kind people here in Lumpkin County and I have been honored to be introduced to many of them because of my columns.  I have enjoyed this aspect of writing very much.  And to those who wrote me, I cherish every piece of mail I have ever received and saved them all.  If I did not write back, it was only due to speechlessness or from a feeling I’d only ruin something if I spoke.

Thank you to both my friends and the gracious strangers who came to my defense, who wrote e-mails or notes on my behalf or on behalf of the principle that a minority opinion ought not be silenced by a majority vote.  But the people and the editor have spoken: my work is no longer welcome here.

I had a column for 5 and a half years and in it I said pretty much what I wished.  I represent an unpopular position, an uncommon perspective on ideas and politics many here evidently find threatening and see no value in tolerating further.  Certainly not enough to allow a fool to have his say once every several weeks.  To my mind, this direction implies a poor future for this community.  But, then again, this country as a whole has turned mean – why would Dahlonega be any different?

Losing the column doesn’t deprive me of anything truly mine so it’s childish to mourn it.  When a person like me can no longer sell his wares, he ties up his meager bundle, shakes the dust off his boots, and moves on.  So, into my bundle go my imagination, insight, suspicions, my smile, my heart, my mind.  And my pens and paper.  These are of no service to Dahlonega’s institutions or the people at large – they will find their home elsewhere.

That’s the best I can do given the circumstances.  That and say good-bye.

Richard Van Ingram

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