Libertarianism and Labor Day

Libertarians and Labor DayWhat most annoys me about Libertarians — and free market purist of all varieties — is that they see the only potential liberty killing force as being the government. Or if they don’t believe that they believe that it is only the government that we should be fighting against.

This seems to come from the idea that they can’t stop businesses from doing what they want because that would limit the individual liberty of the business owner. And they are unwilling to make any judgments to maximize liberty. Even if a law would greatly increase the liberty of workers and only decrease the liberty of employers by a tiny amount, it can’t be done. This is largely because libertarians don’t see in terms of trade-offs, and they don’t even know they are making a trade-off.

The result of this is that their philosophy comes down to support for oligarchy. Since they start with business owners’ rights as undeniable, workers always get screwed. And this is why for example Libertarians almost to a person are in favor of Right to Work laws, even though they are clearly liberty killing on the part of the workers and employers. Libertarians just don’t like workers. It is simple as that.

What Limits Your Liberty?

If you vote for a libertarian what you end up getting is a politician who is against all of the good things that the government does. But they are all for continuing the gravy train for the rich.

But think about your life. Do you find it is the government that destroys your liberty? Unless you have spent a lot of time in jail, the answer is almost certainly no. The single biggest thing that gets in the way of your liberty is your boss.

Libertarianism might not be so bad if we still had a rural economy where almost everyone was a self-employed farmer. But today almost no one has any choice but to get a job working for someone else. And depending upon their boss, they are living in tyranny.

I stress the fact that workers had no choice because Libertarians always throw this idea up. To them everyone has endless choices. This may come from the fact that most libertarians are themselves from affluent or at least upwardly-mobile families themselves. But the truth is that people have at most an alternative not a choice. And most people don’t even have an alternative.

Libertarianism Just Helps the Rich

So libertarianism is a useless philosophy. All it stands for is bashing the government and allowing in the rich to do whatever they want. And I will fully admit that governments are often a huge problem. But in the United States it is not. The government is a problem mostly to the extent that it acts as a protector of the rich. Thus it isn’t surprising that the rich tend to be libertarians. In the United States it’s quite a deal. You have a government that supports the powerful and here is this supposedly scruffy political philosophy that wants to destroy the government.

This goes back to something I noticed many years ago and is probably the biggest reason why I stopped being a libertarian. If you vote for a libertarian what you end up getting is a politician who is against all of the good things that the government does like helping the poor, providing healthcare, providing for retirement, and so on. But they are all for continuing the gravy train for the rich.

Now it is true that if you talk to libertarians, they will usually tell you how they don’t believe in all this crony capitalism. But there are two important issues here. One is that in practice this is the way libertarians always act when elected. And the other is if you look at the libertarians themselves and how their default position is pro-business and anti-worker, you will see that it’s no accident that in practice libertarian philosophy always comes down to the worst form of conservatism.

Libertarianism Is Anti-Worker

What workers need to know is that libertarianism is not their friend. Even if it says some nice things about workers and rights it is dead set against them. It believes that if you aren’t a business owner you are just a taker and you should be glad that some great Job Creator is there to give you a job.

When you get down to it, libertarianism is the worst political theory that gets any kind of a fair hearing in our society. It is quite amazing that libertarianism hasn’t been soiled the same way that communism and fascism have been. But I believe this is only because a major country has not explicitly called itself libertarian. The truth is that Pinochet’s Chile was a libertarian system of government. Of course libertarians will never admit this.

Libertarians Will Not Accept Its Practical Results

Libertarianism only exists as a platonic ideal in the minds of its adherents. When it exists in practice it simply reduces to the worst kind of conservatism: absolute law of the jungle capitalism for the poor and crony capitalism for the rich. But this is never the fault of libertarianism. This is because libertarianism is a cult. It can never fail; it can only ever be failed.

Thus I get incredibly tired of even talking to libertarians because they aren’t willing to talk about the real world. They are stuck in their minds. But even on that level they are no friend of the workers. Remember that. If you work for a living, libertarians hate you.

Happy Labor Day!


On this Labor Day, you should really read Elizabeth Anderson excellent article How Bosses Are (Literally) Like Dictators. I read it right after writing this article, and I was pleased that she said much of what I had. But she goes into a lot more depth overall. What’s more, she talks about how all the great free market (libertarian) writers were talking about a totally different economic environment, and how the Industrial Revolution made what they were talking about irrelevant. I highly recommend reading it. I’m going to get her book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It).

So Long, Chuck Berry

Chuck BerryThe rock and roll legend Chuck Berry died yesterday at the age of 90. When I a kid, I thought of him as just a great guitarist — certainly the most recognizable and most copied lead guitar player ever. And he was certainly that. But I tend to downplay it now. Sad as it is to say, he is the only lead guitar player who I can play like — basically, I’ve never gotten past the surfer bands of the 1960s, and they didn’t know a thing they didn’t learn from listening to Chuck Berry.

It was only later that I realized that he is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. And I’m not just talking about rock and roll. He is as good as Rodgers and Hart, for example. And I can’t really give a songwriter any greater compliment. There is lots to say about Berry’s life, but I prefer to let the music speak for itself. So let’s listen to a few of his hits.

First there is the classic, and possibly the greatest rock and roll song ever (but not my favorite), “Johnny B Goode”:

Second is one of my favorites, “You Never Can Tell”:

Beyond Teen Music

One thing I especially like about Berry’s work is that by and large it isn’t adolescent. That doesn’t take away from it’s fun. But I love the multiple generations of “You Never Can Tell” — rather a more adult take on marriage than The Beach Boys’ anemic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

In “Memphis, Tennessee” he wrote about trying to get in touch with his daughter following a break-up. It’s poignant:

New National Anthem?

As many of you know, I’m not fond of our national anthem. Not only does it have a questionable history, it isn’t a pleasant tune and it brings out the worst in our modern day screechers. But Chuck Berry wrote a song that would make a great national anthem, “Back in the USA.” It is the most patriotic song I know of, and without a hint of jingoism. Maybe it’s time to finally change:

What can I say? Chuck Berry gave more than he took. I guess I’ll just take a hint from Douglas Adams…

So long, and thanks for all the songs, Chuck Berry!

The Joke of Existence: Happy New Year!

The Joke of Existence - The Nihilist by Paul Merwart

I generally think in terms of days. This is why I manage to make at least 365 foundational errors every year: each day I choose to continue on being conscious of the universe. But today, let’s consider this whole year that we look toward. Are we really all going to sit through the whole thing? I think it makes the question of continued survival more stark. Yes, I can make it through the next day. But the next year? Given that we know it will be much like last year, it’s hard to answer in the affirmative.

The Meaning of Life

Many people ask, “What is the meaning of life?” That’s a stupid question. Can you honestly look forward or back on your life and see any meaning in it? I don’t want to upset anyone who really hasn’t been paying attention, but life is meaningless.

For most people, I stand as an object lesson for never allowing a teenager to read Schopenhauer. So I’m on record — repeatedly — about my belief that the continuance of life — the will to live — is an irrational thing. But one needn’t be rational in all things. Indeed, I write more about the irrationality of humans than I do Schopenhauer. One of the easiest ways to annoy me is to tell me that humans are rational. They aren’t — even in little ways.

It’s because of this that I have a thin reed to hang onto as I continue into the future. Perhaps you will find it helpful.

You Make the Universe Worse

I have a great love of anti-art. This is the kind of art that is created only for the process itself. So an example of anti-art might be a digital music device programmed to destroy itself before playing any of the music it was programmed to play. It is art explicitly created for no one. And I am a work of art created for no one. (When you get into ontological matters, it gets hard to distinguish between the implicit and the explicit.) I like to learn things, gain skills, create stuff — all while knowing that they are all ephemeral.

An enormous amount of the universe’s energy has been used to fight entropy and create me. And then I exist for a period of time before giving into entropy. Ultimately, I will have taken very useful energy and turned it into heat, which is a decidedly poor energy source. The universe will be more chaotic after I’ve gone than it was before I existed. So the universe has greatly harmed itself for the purpose of creating a machine that understood for a short period of time that universe was doing this.

And that is hilarious!

More Than You Think

It’s even more hilarious when you consider that the vast majority of people on earth are too caught up in their delusions of meaning to even know the joke exists — much less to get it. And that’s to say nothing of billions of years of evolution of creatures that didn’t get the joke.[1] So why not hang around for another year?

Think of yourself as conscious toxic waste. Wouldn’t you want to hang around as long as possible soiling your environment? But if you don’t like that analogy, you can feel good that most of the damage that your existence has done to the universe has already been done. Maintaining your wasteful machine is pretty cheap. And depending upon how funny you think your existence is, maybe it’s a net positive.

Existence Is a Joke

We are all a joke. If more people understood that, maybe we would live in a more just society. Because when you know that existence is a joke, you also know that it has nothing to do with justice. Your existence is a waste of elementary particles. In this next year, thousands of children will be burned alive. And a trust-fund baby will get the biggest ego stroke on the planet by being the leader of the “free” world. Try not to think of that. Focus on what a waste you are in this universe. That might get you through to next year when I promise I’ll have a whole new reason for irrationally continuing on.

[1] Or maybe all these “lesser” brains did and do get the joke. Maybe this whole self-awareness thing makes the joke harder to get. Maybe when a female mantis is biting the head of her mate, she is laughing up a storm, thinking, “Can you believe this?!” The male might be thinking the same thing in its final milliseconds of consciousness. For the record, I suspect that no mantis, dog, or cat actually gets the joke. But they do have us beat in not thinking themselves rational. Biting the heads off your mate is just what you do.

Happy Birthday: Noam Chomsky at 88

Noam Chomsky 1977Today is Noam Chomsky’s 88th birthday. It’s remarkable to see him these days. We know that the human brain deteriorates distinctly around the age of 70. Yet Chomsky’s certainly doesn’t seem to have. Now part of this is no doubt that he was operating at such a high level before that he’s still sailing above most of us.

Noam Chomsky vs William Buckley

But it’s not that I don’t see it. I don’t think he is quite as quick as he was in 1969. Watch him debating William F Buckley. He was 40 years old at that time. It’s interesting in that Chomsky flails Buckley effortlessly. But it is clear that Buckley (no intellectual slouch) is working very hard and losing to a man who seems to be preoccupied with something else — perhaps a linguistics question that came up at the graduate seminar that day. It’s only because of Chomsky’s passive speaking style that conservatives think of this confrontation as something of a tie rather than an embarrassing defeat, which it obviously was.

After all these years, this exchange is well worth watching. It isn’t just because nothing has changed in a categorical sense. It’s also just wondrous to watch Chomsky at the peak of his powers (full debate):

I can’t speak to Chomsky’s work on linguistics. The basics of it are clear. I even put “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” into my most recent book to make a point about the lack of editing from certain small presses. But that is a subject for another time. For the last fifty years, Chomsky has been known for his political work. And it is the reason that he’s been important in my life.

Chomsky at 88

It is still amazing to listen to him or, even better, read him. He’s probably been the biggest influence on my thinking about foreign affairs. That has, in turn, changed how I’ve thought about domestic matters. But this interview he did with Mehdi Hasan is probably the most insightful thing I’ve seen about the post-Trump world. Given that I’ve highlighted it twice already, you’ve probably seen it. But if not, you really should take the time.

The down side of Noam Chomsky is that he can make you feel hopeless. His insights are so clear that it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that those in power know. That’s what is so devastating in the Buckley interview: that it shows that Buckley understands what Chomsky is talking about, but that he just doesn’t care because all the pain that the country causes results in much better lives for people like Buckley — and let’s be honest: Chomsky and me as well.

Chomsky Still Has Much to Teach

The one thing that I can get almost no one to understand is the biggest thing that I learned from Chomsky: that all the stuff we tell ourselves about being a force for good in the world is a lie. That’s not to say that we kill innocent children for pleasure. But it is to say that killing innocent children would only get in the way of our policies if it might create an unacceptable level of blow-back.

The world — my world — is a far greater place because Noam Chomsky is in it. And even at 88 years old, he continues to improve it. I hope I can wish him many more happy birthdays.

Another Thanksgiving

ThanksgivingI do like Thanksgiving in the sense that I like cooking and I like eating. But it’s hard to get past the mythology of the holiday. You know what I’m talking about: the Wampanoag and Pilgrims getting along and singing Kumbaya. One day out of hundreds of years and we pick up on it. The reason is clear enough: our European ancestors were awful. And the room that I write this in — much less the house that I will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner in — are the result of straight-up theft, combined with unthinkable acts of cruelty and murder.

That’s not to say that the hundreds of American tribes were perfect people. I don’t buy into the noble savage myth either. Humans are, all things considered, pretty awful. But when the first Americans came here, they weren’t invading; they were settling. And they ended up with a diverse system of cultures. Most important, they interacted very much like the countries of Europe: sometimes they got along and sometimes they didn’t. It’s sad to say that today, most people just assume it was one or the other. Either these original Americans were peace-loving peyote eaters. Or they were constantly at war with each other.

The truth is that the first Americans were just people — like any others. When Europeans invaded, they won because they had more firepower. And by “firepower,” I’m talking more about disease than guns. Cortés didn’t manage to destroy the Aztec empire by his brilliance. It’s just that all his men, coming from disease infested Europe managed to wipe out 90 percent of Moctezuma’s troops by breathing on them. This, of course, was typical of meetings between Europeans and Americans.

European Invasion

I discussed this last year, AskForgiveness Day. I noted that, “The Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages.” But don’t get the wrong idea; it wasn’t just inadvertent death and destruction. Those earlier Europeans kidnapped many Wampanoag people and sold them into slavery. You should read that article, it’s got some other nice tidbits of information that are worth thinking about today.

It isn’t my intent to beat up on the Europeans. As I said: humans are awful. But the whole European invasion of America always makes me think of a platitude from my youth, “Might doesn’t make right.” But unlike most platitudes, this one is so obviously wrong. Might indeed makes right. If it didn’t, certainly all our presidents going back to at least Ronald Reagan would have been hanged for war crimes. And does anyone think but that that Churchill would have been tried and hanged if the Nazis had won World War II?

Hard Truths

We humans try to avoid hard truths. So we come up with fairy tales to justify why we are rich and others are dead. But fairy tales are for children. After a while, we tell children that Santa Claus is a fable. But we never get around to admitting that the Thanksgiving story is equally one.

Halloween Movies That Will Make You Feel Undead

Halloween MoviesGood morning everyone! It seems I have gotten back my evil will to live — others call it their “groove.” And just in time because it is the best holiday of the year: Halloween! And I thought I would share with you a few wonderful clips from my favorite Halloween movies.

The Bride of Frankenstein

Okay: I have to make a disclosure. My favorite Halloween movies really aren’t scary. When I was eight years old, I stayed up late with my older sister to watch Creature Features. They were showing The Bride of Frankenstein. And I was so afraid, that I vomited. Now, of course, I find it one of the most charming films ever made. The monster is not frightening. If you treat him well, he’ll be nice to you. He just wants to be loved!

There is so much to love in the film. But the ending really does sum everything up, “Friend? Friend?” Not that he can’t be riled, as he is soon enough.

The House on Haunted Hill

This one is pure fun. But again, when I was kid, I was very frightened by it. The following video is of the entire The House on Haunted Hill. But I have it set at the very ending because it is so ridiculous. When Vincent Price appears out of the shadows with his preposterous contraption for controlling the skeleton, lesser minds think, “That’s stupid!” But the evolved know that it makes perfect sense that a man would have a small pool of acid and a skeleton marionette. Right?!

The Last Man on Earth

Before Night of the Living Dead there was The Last Man on Earth. In fact, George Romero has said that he was inspired by the film (and the book by Richard Matheson). When I was very young (six or seven), it seemed that The Last Man on Earth was always being played on Creature Features. Now I’ll admit: it isn’t as good a film in terms of narrative. But it terrified me as a child. “Morgan, come out!”

What’s remarkable is just how beautifully the film is shot. I recommend watching it just as an exercise in the craft of filmmaking. The whole film is there.

Bride of the Monster

Okay, Bride of the Monster is a hard film to watch all the way through. People say that Ed Wood was a terrible director. He wasn’t. But he didn’t worry too much about the scripts that he wrote. Most people don’t know this, but Wood published over 80 novels in his life. He was a writing machine — apparently because quality wasn’t that important to him. But he was capable of great work. And that is well on display in this star scene with Bela Lugosi.

Best of the Halloween Movies: A Comedy of Terrors

Of course, I’ve never been a big Lugosi fan. I love Boris Karloff. And we’ve already had one of his films. Also: two with Vincent Price. And one film written by one of the greats, Richard Matheson. So why don’t we throw in Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone and enjoy a whole film, A Comedy of Terrors. It is not at all frightening. It probably wouldn’t even have been to 8-year-old Frank. But it’s wonderful:

Have a wonderful holiday all of you! Use it as an excuse to enjoy some great old Halloween movies. Let’s finish with a song:

Edward Albee Is Dead

Edward AlbeeI just learned that Edward Albee died yesterday. It isn’t a shock; he was 88 years old. Still, it is sad. He was a hero of mine.

I first discovered him in high school. I went over to the college, which was performing The Zoo Story. It was a total mystery to me going in. And it was performed in a converted classroom. There were perhaps 50 people in the audience. I was blown away. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could do so much with just two actors and a bench. Now, of course, I see it in context. But then it was totally new to me.

It started my obsession with Theatre of the Absurd. But that term always brings to mind Eugène Ionesco. It’s actually much broader than that. Albee was more in the tradition of Samuel Beckett. Although clearly The Zoo Story was influenced by John Osborne. Albee was at his best when he was at his most real. Things like The American Dream are at best uninspired, and certainly nothing worth reading more than once.

Edward Albee’s Work

The truth is that Albee’s work was quite uneven. But I think that says something good about him. He was always searching. At the same time, it is hard not to think he was just a bit evil. I read Tiny Alice many times in high school — trying to figure out what Albee was on about. I finally went to the college library and researched the play. After it opened in New York, reporters asked him what the play meant. He replied that he knew when he was writing it but that he had forgotten. It was a good response, but I think Albee was rarely clear what he was doing.

Edward Albee is best known for his 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’ve cooled to it over the years. It is such hateful play about four unlikable people. I have a bleak outlook on life, but it isn’t that bleak. Don’t misunderstand: the play is brilliant and there is much truth in it. But I think his aim was much more true in A Delicate Balance.

Middle Period

After that, Albee got a little soft with two of his best plays: All Over and Seascape. He seemed to get to the point where he could see past alienation. Both of those plays triumph over alienation in their way. And then, Edward Albee went rudderless — for about a decade.

That’s not to say the work was bad. Certainly he got lots of bad reviews, but that was true of most of his work. He never wrote the kind of stuff that was meant to be fully appreciated in one viewing or reading. But he wasn’t doing anything he hadn’t done before. But all that changed in 1991 with what I consider his masterpiece, Three Tall Women.

Three Tall Women

It’s hard to say just what is so great about the play. The second half is simply a conversation between the same woman at three different ages: 20s, 50s, and 90s. And it shows, in such a powerful way, how cynicism grows in us. I’ve done a lot of writing trying to mimic what Edward Albee does in that play. But like the greatest art, it’s obvious yet elusive.

Anyway, it’s sad that Edward Albee has died. But he left us a lot of great work. And I assume he had as good a life as anyone could reasonably expect.

Remember 9/11: 15 Yearly Missed Opportunities

Remember 9/11Do you remember 11 September 2002? It was the first year that we got to remember 9/11. Ah, it was a good time. By that point, we had only lost 67 American troops in Afghanistan. No one was much thinking about Iraq, even though the Bush administration was already pushing hard for war. That’s not completely true, of course; Donald Trump told Howard Stern that day that he was for the new war. But overall, it truly was a good year to remember 9/11!

By 11 September 2003, it wasn’t quite so great to remember 9/11. By then, 342 American troops had died in Iraq. On the plus side, the number of American deaths in Afghanistan was down to only 54. The unemployment rate had gone up to 6.1 percent. Things certainly weren’t getting better, but times were nice enough to look back and remember 9/11.

On 11 September 2004, things were much the same as they had been in 2003. There were a few things that were worth celebrating. The unemployment rate had gone down to 5.4 percent. What’s more, Thomas Friedman had already started using what would later be called the Friedman Unit. On 30 November 2003, he wrote, “The next six months in Iraq… are the most important six months in US foreign policy in a long, long time.” Yes, it was still a good day to remember 9/11!

The Unwinding

Still, things had started to unwind a bit. By 11 September 2005, every person I knew who had voted for George W Bush the year before claimed to regret it. How could they have known that the Iraq War was a sham — something the Bush administration had wanted to do from the moment they got into office? Certainly reading a book was out of the question! This was the Bush era: real Americans didn’t read! In 2005, it was not a good day to remember 9/11.

So when we remember 9/11, just what are we remembering? It doesn’t seem to be anything deep. It seems to be like the frat boys partying on the announcement of Osama bin Laden death. “We’re number one!”

So much had changed. But I wondered from the start exactly what we were remembering. It’s not that I don’t accept that 9/11 was a huge tragedy. But it was also a great gift to the war mongers. I doubt that Bush would have gotten his Iraq War if everyone didn’t remember 9/11. We wouldn’t have seen the huge increase in the security state. We wouldn’t be flying unmanned death machines all over the world and killing children because some set of criteria indicate that maybe someone in the vicinity kinda seems like maybe they are sorta terrorish.

Remember 9/11: In Your Own Way

Every year that we remember 9/11, we get yet more reruns of documentaries about what happened that day. I don’t think anyone has to be reminded. We all remember. But I think “Remember 9/11” is kind of like “Remember the Maine.” It’s just a call for war. We were attacked and therefore anything we do is okay. “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!”

Now I know: everyone remembers 9/11 in their own way. But as a society, I think we remember the attack. Many remember the rescue, which was both heroic and incredibly successful. (Pretty much everyone who could get out did.) But overall, I’m not sure what we are remembering. It seems that too much of it is remembering that we were wronged. Well, even if you accept that simplistic analysis, what did we learn?

What Are We Learning?

As we remember 9/11 for the 15th year, what are we getting for it? As a country, we are just as likely to resist democratic movements and support autocrats. We have normalized continuous war. Jihadism seems to be alive and well. We haven’t accepted a lick of responsibility for the blowback of our meddlesome foreign policy.

So when we remember 9/11, just what are we remembering? It doesn’t seem to be anything deep. It seems to be like the frat boys partying on the announcement of Osama bin Laden death. “We’re number one! We’re number one!” It means nothing to remember something if you don’t learn from it. And I don’t think that our country has learned anything. We will remember the attacks on 9/11 until the next attack. And we will respond to that attack in the same way we always do.

On this 15th remembrance of 9/11, I think we should remember that responding to tragedies like this should be done in a mature way — and not as a child would. But we won’t. We never do. Humans never have. “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!”

Sudoku Meaning on Labor Day 2016

Sudoku MeaningIt’s Labor Day and I do hope that you aren’t working. I am of course working. There are a lot of reasons that are specific to me. One is that I work with people all over the world. International Workers’ Day is on 1 May. We have Labor Day because of the federal government’s disastrous response to the Pullman Strike. Those were the days when politicians actually worried about revolution (although not enough to do what was right in the first place). So most of the people I work with will not have today off.

The other reason is because I work all the time. The closest I’ve had to a day off since I returned from Mexico was on Friday when I worked about two and a half hours. The truth is that this work is kind of addictive. I’ve come to think of it as providing me with Sudoku Meaning. It’s the kind of meaning that I get from doing Sudoku puzzles. I’m very good at them. They engage my mind. They require a fair bit of creativity. But they aren’t deep. What television is to most people, Sudoku is to me.

Sudoku Meaning and My Job

I get Sudoku Meaning from my job. What’s more: I get paid to get Sudoku Meaning. I consider myself quite lucky in this regard. Just the same, this feeds itself. I shouldn’t work this much. But to stay with the television analogy, it’s like people who always watch The History Channel or whatever. They know there are other things on. But it’s just convenient. In this regard, my job is way easier than running Frankly Curious. I never know what I’m going to write around here. There’s no structure. There’s just a vague notion that I should write something interesting for the people who make a special trip here each day — and there are quite a number of them.

Frankly Curious Too!

But the truth is that Frankly Curious mostly provides Sudoku Meaning to me. There isn’t anything fundamental about it. There are times when what I write about transcends the format. Some of my work on Don Quixote works that way — providing me with sense of self-actualization. But way too much of it is facile craft. Give me any subject and two hours and I’ll give you an 800 word article, typeset with images. Hell: give me a first sentence! After writing over 7,000 articles for this blog, I’m good at that kind of stuff.

Rather than find meaning that has substance, we settle for a simulacrum…

It’s all Sudoku Meaning. So I’m looking for some deeper meaning. What that requires, I think, is slowing down. And that brings us back to Labor Day. We should have lots of them. But the truth is that most people don’t get one of them. Even if they get the day off, they don’t get paid for it. It’s hard to have friends and family over for a barbecue if you don’t have any money. But I think we lack leisure because we’ve embraced Sudoku Meaning.

Sudoku Meaning Is the Modern Sisyphus

Think about Sisyphus — the guy who rolls a huge boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down, requiring him to repeat the process — for eternity. I see this — Quelle surprise! — in Schopenhauerian terms. It is the struggle of life that we live through each day just so we can repeat the same struggle tomorrow.

But we don’t need to struggle anymore. There is more than enough food for all. We can shelter everyone. In the west, we are doing quite well. So I think we developed Sudoku Meaning to help us carry on the Sisyphusian struggle. As Neil Postman put it in Amusing Ourselves to Death, “Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours.” Rather than find meaning that has substance, we settle for a simulacrum of it.

I see the problem very clearly in my own life. And I am fighting it. And losing. Badly.

Happy Labor Day.

4th of July: Peace, Love, and Understanding

Nick Lowe - Peace, Love, and UnderstandingIn 1978, Elvis Costello recorded the best known version of “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding.” It’s a great version, there’s no question of that. But a lot of people are surprised to learn that he didn’t write it. This is because his version seems sarcastic. The song was written by Nick Lowe, a man certainly capable of great cynicism. But I think this song is really a self-indictment. It’s an honest question, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?”

When I was in graduate school, I lived with two Brits. I liked them both very much. I still do. They were fun people. But they had a very cynical view of the world and considered themselves very cool. In some ways, I thrived around them. It was knowing them and their incredible self-assuredness that got me to start my first underground newspaper and eventually led to me being a professional writer. But it also brought out a lot of bad things in me, especially being over-conscious of how people viewed me.

As any teenager can tell you, the easiest way to feel un-judged is to be cynical and to pretend that nothing really matters. And I think Nick Lowe suffered from that same thing as many creatively minded people do. So the song is kind of him slapping himself in the face. I know how that goes. I remember writing a song once told from one perspective and thinking that it was so unfair. So I wrote a song from the other perspective. The second song was better, because it was more thoughtful.

I think that America suffers from the same kind of insecurity. This is why we take up 48% of the world’s military spending. We just aren’t right with us. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? Everything! It’s for weak people, suckers, or as Donald Trump would say, losers. But I want all the peace, love, and understanding that I can get.

The 4th of July always strikes me as the opposite of peace, love, and understanding. When I was kid, I liked the fireworks. They were colorful. But now they are all illegal. So people get illegal “fireworks” that are not pretty. They are just bombs — loud. And I hate loud sounds. They are the sounds of conflict, hatred, and intolerance. And that is what America is for me to a large extent. If Donald Trump becomes president, it will be a catastrophe, but it will also be fitting.

But on this 4th of July, I want to offer the hope that we can be better — that we won’t laugh at those who are kind. That being an “easy mark” is a sign of greatness, not stupidity. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? Not a damned thing.

Morning Music: I Felt Like a Gringo

I Felt Like a GringoThe Fourth of July always makes me think of the Minutemen’s song “I Felt Like a Gringo.” It tells the (true) story of the band taking a day trip down to Mexico on 4 July 1982. It ends with the line, “Why’d I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?”

I guess that’s why I don’t much go in for this holiday. I feel like an outsider. I think that’s a lot of my desire to live in Mexico: if I must feel like an outsider, I might as well be one.

Anyway, “I Felt Like a Gringo” was first released on the EP, Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat. It was the first Minutemen album I bought. Less than three years later, D Boon would be dead in a tragic car accident, and one of the best bands ever was finished.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Got a ton of white boy guilt, that’s my problem,
Obstacle of joy, one reason to use some drugs.
Slept on a Mexican beach — slept in trash
American trash — thinking too much can ruin a good time.

I asked a Mexican who ran a bar for Americans
“Who won,” I said, “The election?”
He laughed, I felt like a gringo.
They played a song and they had some fun with us.

Why can’t you buy a good time?
Why are there soldiers in the street?

Why’d I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?