Bed Turned Tomb

The rain came in sudden great swathes across the treetops and hit the windows and the roof; like spring rain, out of season. The bedroom air seemed full of unspoken words, unformulated guilts, a vicious silence, like the moments before a bridge collapses. We lay side by side, untouching, effigies on a bed turned tomb; sickeningly afraid to say what we really thought. 

~John Fowles The Magus

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Always a Pace or Two Ahead of Us

“Perhaps, I thought, while her words still hung in the air between us like a wisp of tobacco smoke–a thought to fade and vanish like smoke without a trace–perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.” Evelyn Waugh Brideshead Revisited

Doing my damnedest not to think about her, I add only flimsy layers of distraction to the palimpsest. Saw her again last night. The conflicted coupling of the sexual nature of her outfit, a plunging decolletage and a rising inverted V-shaped hem and triumphant three-inch heels, with her awkward, hesitant movements and spastic bouts of excitement confirms that she is, sartorial sultriness aside, more ingenue than vixen. Still. Still. We spent the evening pretending not to notice each other. At least I did; she may, very well, have not noticed me.

Even if we had said more than our awkward hello, I am chasing only a hint and a symbol of something much more enduring. Eventually age will ravage the looks I adore, and intimacy will remove the distance that allows me to contemplate her almost religiously, filling me then with contempt for all her annoying habits that I have yet to discover. The sadness that may have left upon her entrance into my life will return, not having forgotten the residence of the heart. In glimpsing her, I see not her, ultimately, but the shadow that is able to turn the corner before I can trace its outline.

What then is the point of entering into any relationship? Any number, but I leave the paeans of love for those already caught up in the dance of Venus, for those already on the dance floor. Like last night, I remain hugging the wall, looking through one door only to see another.

 

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Tragic Manhood

Still reeling from having seen British auteur Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic gift, Dunkirk, I am reminded of the following statement from Yukio Mishima:

The average age for a man in the Bronze Age was eighteen, in the Roman era, twenty-two. Heaven must have been beautiful then. Today it must look dreadful. When a man reaches forty, he has no chance to die beautifully. No matter how he tries, he will die of decay. He must compel himself to live.

Though I am not convinced that Mishima had his life expectancy information correct, regardless, the rhetorical point remains sharp and penetrating: there is a singular beauty in the death of men stricken down in the height of their virility. Such men, merely through the accidental timing of their deaths, will remain forever young and beautiful, their blood having secured for them an immortality that could come at no other price. The British, French, and German soldiers engaged in the Battle of Dunkirk were, by and large as with any war, men still ascending the mountain of their manhood–men, the flesh and blood playthings of (((international bankers))), men whose only compensation being the glory they gained either in victory or in death.

These ruminations coincide with what I have thus far read of Jack Donovan’s Becoming a Barbarian. As short as the first chapter is, I would like to quote it in its entirety, but writing is nothing if not the art of culling. He begins the chapter with the following:

Masculinity is tragic.

Masculinity is a lifelong struggle, a gauntlet run against nature and other men to demonstrate virility and prove one’s worthiness as a man in the eyes of other men. Masculinity is a challenge to honor that ends only in death–a challenge to win coupled with a guarantee that, eventually, even the best men will lose. 

This, perhaps, captures the essence of manhood more succinctly than any other expression: struggle. Contrary to feminist vulva flapping claptrap to the contrary, men possess no inherent honor simply because they are men; men do not hold positions of power simply because they have testes. Masculine ontology, unlike feminine ontology, does not garner immediate respect. (AKA: sperm is cheap; eggs are costly.) Rather, from the youngest age, a man is told, either explicitly or implicitly, that he must prove his worth and that his worth can change in a moment’s notice. Men–at least the ones who keep the fire burning in their souls–then proceed to spend the rest of their lives doing this in sundry ways: athletic accomplishments, feats of physical strength, intellectual accomplishments, feats of romantic prowess, cultural accomplishments, feats of lineage line drawing, etc. No self-aware man, though, can in good faith and with total self-honesty lie about, expecting to be honored simply for being a man. Those who think such, male or female, are deluded.

Echoing the sentiments of Mishima, Donovan continues:

Every man who does not die in his prime will live to see his body fail and become weaker, making him more reticent. Most men will live to see their father’s competence falter, then their own competence falter, and they will live to see themselves lose the esteem of men. The best an older man can hope for is to have his achievements remembered, and to be respected for his wisdom and consulted for his experience. 

Men are born to struggle–to struggle in such a way that will ultimately consume them. Every man who is not a potential brother-in-arms is a potential threat. However, given that no man can either take on or befriend all other men, this is why, as Donovan preaches, men need tribes. Men need a clearly demarcated group of men to whom he is responsible and to whom he owes duties, not caring to impress or protect or assist anyone else. This is because universalism is antithetical to manhood, for, as he writes, “If every man is a brother and a potential threat, who do you fight for?” Thus, men must determine who are their brothers in order to determine for whom they will struggle and for whom they must die–and will die. Tribalism, however, is disruptive, as it should be, and this is why international corporatism seeks to tarnish it at every opportunity, for it disrupts the disembodied, unmoored, and unaffiliated flow of capital. Loyalty is valued only when it brings profits to those who are loyal to no one but themselves.

Sadly, men will find no respite from their struggles with the fairer sex. Knowing how fickle and ephemeral the opinions and respect of women are, men continue to spend themselves in order to win the respect/admiration/fear of other men. The nod that I once received from my boxing coach, the occasional praise from my jiu-jitsu professor, and the smiles of acknowledgement from the older male lifters at the gym mean more to me than any compliment or sign of interest a woman could give me. Any man who lives his life seeking the approval of women–mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, woman at the gym he really would like to shag in the gym shower–is embarking only on a journey for which there is no true destination and no chance at arrival; he might as well spend the rest of his days attempting to keep the shore dry.

Reflecting upon what both Mishima and Donovan have said, I consider my own decay. I will turn forty next year. Though I am in better shape now than I have perhaps ever been (and in far better shape than most of my students who are half my age), I have only, truly, decay to anticipate. Though I may continue to develop martial technique and though I hope to continue to grow in wisdom as I distill moral lessons from experience, I may be close to plateauing when it comes to physical strength and vitality. When challenging younger men, my goal is usually not to conquer, but simply to keep up with them. If I can make an eighteen year old struggle for five minutes on the mat, then, in my way of thinking, I have won, even though he may arise the technical victor. More threatening, though, than the inevitability of my physical decay is the fear that I have nothing in terms of wisdom to offer younger men. Would the aforementioned eighteen year old choose me to be a mentor, or would he consider me a fool, easily forgotten and even more easily despised? I believe that there are few sights sadder to see than older men who have nothing worthwhile to say even though they have a lifetime of experiences for which to show.

I disagree with Mishima. I believe that a forty-year old can still die a beautiful death. However, the beauty he leaves behind must be moral and spiritual rather than physical.

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The Entrance of Suffering

“Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.” ~Leon Bloy

In Lawrence Durrell’s Justine, the first of The Alexandrian Quartet tetralogy, the narrator recalls having once been told, “‘There are only three things to be done with a woman…[y]ou can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.'” Perhaps, though, these are stages or different ranges on the same spectrum of light.

Ever since she first walked into one my classrooms two years ago, I have been joyfully burdened with her charm, exceptional beauty, and intelligence. What a fool was I to think that the gulf in age, native language, and culture could be bridged by my will to love. Given who she is, not much was needed to give this man enough pieces to construct something akin to hope.

She claims that I know her well and that she trusts me, and this emotional couplet scares her. She tells me that she wants distance, and I tell her that she will have it. Cyril Connolly writes, “There is no pain equal to that which two lovers can inflict on one another. This should be made clear to all who contemplate such a union. The avoidance of this pain is the beginning of wisdom.” She must be, at her young age, far wiser than I ever will be.

Connolly continues, “[W]e should marry only when the desire for freedom be spent.” My desire, after years of half-hearted dissolution is spent; hers must continue to burn.

Not having been given the full opportunity to love her and refusing to suffer for her without the consolation of her warmth, I will turn her into literature. Not that I intend to model characters after her, but her large, luminescent brown eyes and animated facial expressions will leave their indelible impression–a stamp of the heart–upon everything that I do. At an age now that leaves me little energy and desire to feel this way about someone else, she may benefit from the accidental nature of time to remain the one that I continue to carry with me for the remainder of my life.

Through the alchemical  process of art, I can transfigure her through literary permutations, into a love that, for all my longings, would never have been realized had we actually come together as lovers. Returning to Durrell, he writes, “For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to [fulfill] it in its true potential–the imagination.” I can idealize her in a way that I would not dare do were I with her.

The only problem with this: you cannot hold an idea.

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Roaming Millenial Just Roamed into My Heart

Though I have heard her nom de Internet from alt-right bloggers, I had never watched one of her videos until recently. (Full disclosure: I did not know that RM was a woman–and quite a woman.) The above video appeared in the “Up next” column while watching this Lauren Southern video.  Intrigued by the title, I clicked on the racial bait, and, (mixed) baby, I am so glad that I did. Being Eurasian myself, I am usually interested in hearing/reading about the Eurasian experiences of others, especially when they are easy on the eyes and soft on the ears. I immediately connected with her pointing out that, while this seems not to be the case with most Eurasian children, she is the product of a Caucasian woman/Asian man coupling, as am I. In her case, people usually assume that her mother is the Asian in the relationship. I suppose that there is a certain level of racial security in the West in such an arrangement. While I have not experienced this too frequently, given that most people who currently know me know who my father is or simply look at my last name, my brother has commented on having had people ask him this while he was working in construction–when they were not assuming that he was an illegal Mexican worker. This is another point that I really enjoyed about this video: though neither my brother nor I look Mexican, much like with RM,  since people often have only three categories of racial reference in their daily experiences: white, black, and Mexican, they assume that we must be Choice C.

Having bounced back and forth between Canada and China, RM grew up in diverse environments, leading her never to feel as if she did not belong because she was surrounded by others who may not have “belonged” (*not her words*–my interpretation). She does admit that her experiences were very different from what she would have likely experienced had she grown up in Missouri, where she would have been a lone exotic (a description she does not mind, so we are cool) flower. She maintains that biracial children who feel identity torn are more than likely children who would be insecure regardless and often use being biracial as a way of acquiring victimhood status. While she may very well be correct, given our tendency to use anything we can to acquire more leverage in the social dynamic realm, I believe that we must look at the studies that reportedly correlate biracial identity with depression or behavioral problems. The presence of studies that support this theory cannot be wished away (for example, here  or here or here). I have also seen a study–that I cannot currently locate–that claims that the evidence is conjectural, arguing that biracial children experience the same type of identity-formation struggles that are common to monoracial children and adolescents.

Perhaps, as a result of identity-formation struggles, biracial children may develop a type of anti-fragility that may suite them well for this coming world of racial swirls, but this development depends upon a willingness to accept the fact that they are biracial and, thus, must acknowledge all the possibly disparate or grafted limbs of their family tree. Those biracial children who suffer from depression or mental illness may suffer because this is an existentially ancestry.com-esque task they are not able to do. (Any discussion that it is not fair to ask children to do such is meaningless in my way of reckoning, given that, strictly speaking, it is not fair to bring children into the world and to ask children to suffer anything, which is the inevitable result of living, regardless of who one is racially.) Returning to RM, while I agree that biracial children should not project themselves as victims, RM’s denying that there may be profoundly powerful and common struggles for biracial children strikes me as naive.

Recently, I publicly defended an obviously troubled young biracial man (black/white mix) who was found guilty of spray painting, of all things, anti-black graffiti (along with swastikas) at a predominantly black school. Given that he is a legal adult, he was looking at possible hate crime charges. I must admit that I did play the identity-confusion card in order to make my case that he should not be charged with hate crimes but rather should be treated as one in need of therapy. As far as I know, no hate crime charges were filed, but I do not know if my public defense played any role in the matter. While this young man may be juggling any number of issues, I cannot help but believe that his biracial identity played the determining factor in his choice of vandalism literature and its location.

While I do believe that biracial and mixed-race children face unique identity-formation struggles, I agree with RM that regardless of one’s identity, other children (and childish posters online) are going to find whatever they can to exclude one from the tribe and make one feel inherently inferior. I gleefully imagine the Caucasoid conniption fits that she must have given any ideologically-driven viewers when she stated that she hopes to have a big brood of mixed babies. (However, I greatly doubt that such viewers would turn down a wild night in Shanghai with her, though only for non-procreative purposes we are assured.)

All this to say: RM, if you ever come across my ‘umble blog, let us start making babies.

 

 

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Adbusters Keaton Human Comedy Show

In grad school, I was a consistent reader of the Canadian critique of consumer-culture monthly Adbusters. (I even sported a pair of its black high top uh-swoosh shoes–the anti-brand brand.) I found–and still do–that much of its Marshall Mcluhan-inspired media-scrutiny savviness paired well with a traditional worldview. Then taking Mcluhan’s communique that media is the message (or massage), Adbusters took on a decidedly sleeker look that I found jarring with its emphasis. In addition, an increase in a tone of self-importance and urgency often makes a casual reading exhausting. Still, when Adbusters is spot on, it is spot on. The current issue, “God, I’m Lonely,” concerns topics near and dear to my shrinking heart: automation and transhumanism.

In a snippet from Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, we can sneakily and freely read: “Liberals uphold free markets and democratic elections because they believe that every human is a uniquely valuable individual, whose free choices are the ultimate source of authority. In the twenty-first century three practical developments might makes this belief obsolete: 1. Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness, hence the economic and political system will stop attaching much value to them. 2. The system will still find value in humans collectively, but not in unique individuals. 3. The system will still find value in some unique individuals, but these will be a new elite of upgraded superhumans rather than the mass of the population.”

Even though one may believe, as I do, that democracy is the god that failed, one cannot deny that democracy is the reigning ethos in the West, the prism through which the light of our modern values is refracted. All institutions, movements, ideas, and actions are, consciously or not, viciously or not, judged according to how well they further the spread of democracy.  However, as we have seen, though, with greater economic dependence for the individual qua individual comes a myriad of additional ways that such an individual can be used and abused, economically, socially, and militaristically. (E.g., Given that women can now vote and compete on a, more or less, level playing field in the marketplace as self-contained atomic entities without the safety net of a family, well, by golly, they should be able to die on foreign soil in order to spread democracy to lands that still may not allow their women to join the military.) As I gather from this snippet, the author maintains that we may see the implosion of democracy as individuals begin to lose their economic and militaristic value because of automation and the rise of non-conscious but “intelligent” robots–using intelligence to denote the ability to set up, appraise, and complete tasks. What I also find interesting, though this is not explicitly developed in this short passage, is the paradox of democracy: for all the touting of the uniqueness and importance–if not sacredness–of the individual, in democratic societies people have value collectively, not individually. What will happen for democratic societies when people en masse begin to lose their value? Hariri speculates that we will see the corollary rise of unique individuals, but not in meritocratic sense; rather, what we will see is the rise of humans who through fortune will have the means by which they can transform their brains and bodies into highly efficient quasi-machines.

In a speculative piece by the chief editor, Kalle Lasn (KL), the emergence of our aquatic ancestor species onto land is labeled the first migration. The second migration, according to Lasn, is “abandoning the physical world and moving into a virtual one.” Whether one adheres to the evolutionary narrative, I believe this analogy is still very compelling. We are now at another watershed moment (see what I did there?) at which the choices we will be forced to make will determine what it means to be human and whether we want to stay merely human. Given, perhaps, that there is nowhere to go biologically, we must necessarily look to technological augmentation/”improvement.”  Such technologically-aided development may lead to a supra-species, a more purely effective and affecting species. Interestingly, were one to espouse eugenics for the purpose of fashioning a more racially pure breed, the enlightened world community would be in an uproar. However, holding the banner of the inevitable march of scientific progress, we can employ a similar breeding program.

Apart from this curious inconsistency, where could the rise of a supra-species lead? Another contribution from the magazine ponders the possibility:   “The new projects of the twenty-first century–achieving immortality, bliss and divinity [ahem, Ray Kurweil]–also hope to serve the whole of humankind. However, because these projects aim at surpassing rather than safeguarding the norm, they may well result in the creation of a new superhuman caste that will abandon its liberal roots and treat normal humans no better than the nineteenth-century Europeans treated Africans.” I take issue with the claim that abandoning our liberal roots will lead a new type of hierarchy. Instead, I think holding onto our liberal roots is that which will lead to such a fate. The essence of liberalism is a denial of the bonds found both in nature and in society. Liberalism proclaims that as atomic individuals we contractually choose into what bonds we want to enter, and we dictate the terms of the contract. Is such thinking not at the heart of transhumanism? (It definitely is at the heart of our current transgender madness.) Human nature is now treated as another contract into which we have entered and may have served us well, but we still remain free to dissolve this contract if a better option arises, and if life is understood strictly in materialistic terms, on what basis could one argue that it would be better to limit oneself to the current biological paradigm? For example, if learning a language becomes a matter of inserting a chip into our brains, why go through the years of grueling work in order to achieve fluency? Simply for the sake of the authentic experience? Why treat with respect people who may choose to remain merely human? Such people may come to be viewed and treated in the same way that racists and sexists are currently treated in liberal societies. Simple experiment: try reverting, as I recently have done, to a non-smart phone. Yes, there have been those who have admired my lifestyle choice, but I wager that the general response is one of incredulity. Why give up the good things that technology can give us? Anyway, back to the quotation: on what basis should we expect a superhuman breed to treat us unenhanced people with any more respect than we have historically treated those races of people thought to be inferior or still treat non-self-conscious animal species? What if the new breed of people, horror of horrors, is intelligent enough to see the weaknesses of a liberal democracy and then seeks to correct it, primarily by imposing a new caste system in which those of us who are too poor to/choose not to purchase enhancement stand the most to lose?

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Not My Symbols

Sam Francis—if the name registers with you, then you either relish his intelligently impish indictments of modernity or take offense at his studied lack of contemporary political sensibilities. Either way, you cannot in good faith deny the crispness of his prose and the lucidity of his thought. In a collection of his essays entitled Shots Fired: Sam Francis on America’s Culture War, though several essays were published more than twenty years ago, their vitality and pertness remain. With “In Defense of Symbols: Southern and Otherwise,” though the reference in question concern the Confederate flag in relation to the South Carolina capitol, one can easily extrapolate the rhetorical force and apply it to the recent removal of the Confederate statues in New Orleans. With customary insight, he writes that “while many Americans seem to think of the flag controversy simply as a Southern or racial issue, the truth is that it is a national issue, one that concerns them as well, and…the attack of the Confederate flag and Confederate symbols is merely a prelude, a kind of dress rehearsal, for a larger and even more radical attack on all the symbols of the American heritage and America civilization” (278).  In other words, those who want to remove all vestiges of Confederate history are, in actuality, seeking to rewrite or erase American history.

In line with the therapeutic society that we have become, there has arisen the belief that if history is not affirmative (read: offends group du jour or reminds group du jour that it once also committed vile acts or reveals to group du jour that it may be achievement-deficient in some area or another), then it must be negligible and, thus, removable. Granted, histories and mythologies serve many of the same ends, primarily helping a people group better understand itself—or at least understand itself in an idealized manner. This will ineluctably lead to whitewashing of star group’s atrocities and the, uh, blackfacing of competing groups’ attempts to survive and thrive. Perhaps the problem lie with a history that tries comprehensively to reconcile groups that differ radically in regional origin, temperament, and views of the good life. Referring, once again to the movement to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol, Francis writes, “What is also going on with the attack on the Confederate flag, on the part of groups like the NAACP and the blacks it represents, is a kind of racial secession from American society” (285). I cannot pretend to understand what a black feels—if anything, in all honesty—when he/she sees the Confederate flag or the Mississippi flag; perhaps if I were black, I would want to remove all instances of St. Andrew’s Cross as well. The point, though, is not for us to try to walk a mile in another’s skin everytime someone gets offended; rather, the piercing point is to recognize that perhaps different races/cultures cannot fundamentally understand each other in significant areas. This is not to say that different groups cannot live together in at least the semblance of neighborly peace, but this peace may exist only when there is a clearly dominant group at the head of the table and when the other groups know their respective places at said table. Such a dining arrangement is what we are seeing upset in the US. Conviviality abhors a vacuum, so more and more groups are vying for fuller plates and glasses and shinier silverware and more advantageous seating arrangements. (Okay, I think that I have extended this metaphor meal as far as it can go.) Okay, one more: more and more groups are now demanding that they decide the menu options.

In a way, I would prefer groups to declare boldly secessionist intentions, rejecting the social and governmental services from a country they find hostile. Yet, as Francis notes, this is not what we are seeing: “[M]any of the blacks are not really announcing their secession from the nation. What they are announcing is their intention to reconfigure the nation, to use political power based on their own racial solidarity to redefine the nation and its heritage in terms that will be acceptable to them. At the same time blacks also demand racial integration, affirmative action, and reparations, they are also demanding that the whites with whom they are to be integrated and from whom they are demanding special privileges give up their own symbols and heroes…” (285). While I think that what Francis writes about blacks still applies, any number of racial and sexual “rights”-interest groups could be substituted. Though we are seeing more and more groups demand sundry forms of exclusivity (e.g., campus days without whites [whiteout?] or all-black dorms), as far as I know such groups are not rejecting the benefits of the reigning regime, such as subsidized housing, Medicaid, school breakfasts and lunches, TANF, food stamps, police protection, etc. Minority groups do not want to start ex nihilo, and who would? Imagine Survivor on a national scale. Rather, they want to move into existing institutions and make them their own, either through legal channels or through demographic changes. As it is, whites seem more than willing to accept displacement. If a racial awakening ever occurs, though, the fallout—mostly for minorities (until whites become the minority group, I suppose)—will not be pleasant. Can we say “greatly unpleasant”? Truth be told, I want to see neither white displacement nor racial war. However, for as much as I used to shake my head at the idea, perhaps secession movements along, very roughly speaking, ethnic lines may be the only way to avert a truly great unpleasantness. However, this is all provided that a wave of grace is not, graciously in the fullest sense, unleashed upon this country like a spiritual Hurricane Katrina. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, it is the nature of grace to unite, but nature of matter to separate. This climate of constant differentiation, especially given the underlying ferocity that often accompanies it, reveals a spiritually parched landscape indeed.

The real question: will robots care what color we are when they conquer us?

 

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