School Prayer

I’d like to start by talking about the Pledge of Allegiance.

The first Pledge of Allegiance in the US was written and publicized in 1885 by Captain George Thatcher Balch, with the intention of teaching patriotism to children in public schools, particularly children of the European immigrants who began to flood the US beginning in 1850. It reads:

We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance was rewritten in 1892 by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, as a general pledge to a national flag that could be used by any citizen of any republic.

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance

It was modified in 1923 to make it specific to the United States of America, and again in 1954 (during the post-WWII Cold War against the officially atheistic USSR) to include the words “under God.”

Reciting the Pledge was compulsory in public schools until 1940. The Jehovah’s Witness church, one of the American Fundamentalist sects of Christianity, claimed the Pledge was a form of idolatry in conflict with their religion, challenged the pledge in court, and won. Recitation was officially non-compulsory in public schools from 1940 onward, but in schools where reciting the pledge continued and continues to be practiced, it demonstrably causes discrimination against students who exercise their right to decline, and continues to come up in court cases, one of the most recent being in 2015.

My mother was a fundamentalist (not Jehovah’s Witness, incidentally — I’ve read that there are around 2000 distinct Fundamentalist sects in the US at any given time, and she was raised in one of the many). As a child, she taught me that the Pledge of Allegiance was idolatry, and was quite upset about it.

Every morning in school from the ages of five to eleven, I stood by my desk, faced the flag, put my hand over my heart, and recited a vow of allegiance to a piece of fabric using words like “Republic” and “indivisible,” words utterly meaningless to a six-year old. I had no real idea what it meant.

What I did know was that my mother did not approve, and that — presumably — God did not approve either. So this compulsory act every morning felt like a violation. It did not inspire loyalty to that piece of cloth, nor to the Republic for which it stood. Instead, it inspired distress, anger, and a certain contempt.

I remember the day that I saluted the flag with my hand over my heart with all the fingers curled, except for the middle one. I think it was fifth or sixth grade. I was careful, and was not caught by the teacher, though a couple of other students noticed, and that gained me a day’s notoriety. It was more pre-adolescent rebellion than anything else, and despite the notoriety, it made me feel worse than just going along. So I didn’t do it again. But the ritual was completely meaningless to me after that.

When I entered junior high school, we no longer had a home room, instead moving from classroom to classroom, and any time we might have spent flag-pledging was instead spent winding through the narrow, overcrowded hallways between classes. I don’t recall ever being required to recite the pledge in school after that, certainly not daily.

With that personal experience in mind, I’d like to talk about group prayer in school, particularly in sports.

It suffers from exactly the same defects as the pledge of allegiance.

It’s always easier to just go along, but if you don’t respect the prayer, or the religion, it feels like a violation. That sense of violation breeds distress, anger, and contempt. A constant diet of that in a school setting can be very, very dangerous, for the student (naturally), but also for the other students and teachers.

Students have the “right” to not participate in the group prayer, of course, but the reaction to that refusal in a team setting has very good odds of making you a pariah, meaning you might as well drop the sport and take up chess.

But why pray before a game at all?

Are you actually praying that God will support your team, or smite the other team, so that you can “win?” Seriously?

Are you trying to bind the outcome to God, so that if you lose, you can blame it on divine disfavor instead of poor playing? Or worse, so that if you win, you can claim that you are the favored children of God? Seriously?

Are you asking for God to make sure you don’t get injured on the field? If that’s a concern, why are you playing the sport in the first place? In a war, where the other “team” is literally trying to kill you, and you don’t really have the option of not participating, then yes. But intramural basketball? Seriously?

It’s none of these, of course, but I wanted to get them out of the way.

The coach, in these settings, is attempting to offer a blessing to his team. To do that, he needs to channel divine power — that’s simply the anthropological requirement for human beings: you cannot bless unless you have been blessed. It’s the same thing as a Medieval soldier being shriven by a priest before going into battle. It’s the same as the shaman of a tribe blessing the hunters before a hunt. It is offering a larger-than-life permission to go out and do what needs to be done, without fear, without doubt, without hesitation. It unlocks something primal in the human psyche. A particular edge.

But it loses all its power if you don’t say the words right.

Delivering a blessing is like fitting a key into a lock, and if the key is not the right key for the lock, or if you handle it badly, it not only won’t work, it will sow discord and confusion.

Here’s simple illustration. Take your typical all-white, all-Evangelical-Christian basketball team from a high-school in Indiana, and bring in a Pagan Druid to bless the team just before the Big Game against their toughest competitor. Does ANYONE think this would be a good coaching tactic? I certainly don’t.

Now consider the same team where the star player is Jewish. Or Muslim. Is an Evangelical Christian prayer going to unlock their edge? Unlikely. It’s going to trigger that distress, anger, and contempt, no matter how hard they try to let it slide over them. “This doesn’t include me,” they will think. “I’m not part of the team right now.” Maybe they’ll shake it off, and play well. Maybe they’re so talented that it just doesn’t matter. But you are handicapping them with this prayer. That’s really bad coaching.

You may have just as much trouble if some of your players are devout Catholics.

A great coach will understand all this, viscerally, and he or she will find better ways to bless their team. Just a heartfelt, “I am so proud of you all,” will do far more good for a mixed-faith team than any prayer to a God that some members of the team feel is someone else’s God.

Prayer should simply not be part of public school. In any capacity. Period.

In most cases, public prayer in schools serves no purpose but the narcissism of the self-justified “person of faith” leading the prayer. And regarding these, I shall simply quote Jesus:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6:5 New International Version

The Chattel Slavery of Women

I am furious with the current Supreme Court. It’s been only two days since the Roe v. Wade overturn, and I’m barely coherent. But I am starting to cool, just a bit. Almost down to the melting point of copper.

I’m starting to think that the Court was correct to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This issue has never been about “right to life.” That has always been an empty slogan, a misdirection, a propaganda phrase to manipulate the masses and confuse them.

The real issue is the chattel slavery of women, to serve as breeders.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The original colonies of the United States were founded on chattel slavery. Chattel means “property.” It is property in the same sense that you might consider a cow, or a pair of pants, or a leather wallet your property. Chattel slavery means that the slave is owned by someone. Like a cow, the slave can be bought and sold. If the slave is more trouble than he is worth, he can be “put down” by the master, like a sick cow. The slave could — in principle — even be carved up and eaten, just like a cow.

The slave is property.

Likewise, going back thousands of years, girls were born property of their fathers, and chattel ownership of the girl was transferred to a husband — as in “husbandry,” the care, cultivation, and breeding of crops or livestock — typically in return for a bride-price. A woman without a husband was that most miserable of beings, a slave without a master, a sheep without a shepherd, an old maid or a widow.

Two of the consistent reasons for a man to “put away” his wife throughout history have been infidelity, and a “barren womb.” Infidelity confuses the ownership: which man owns the offspring? Failure to produce offspring means the woman is defective merchandise, and if she cannot be returned for a refund, she should be discarded and replaced.

That is why all of the “medical” arguments for abortion fall on deaf ears among the anti-abortion folks, because these arguments miss the real point. Women in the US are chattel breeders, and if a woman dies in childbirth, the ancient rule is to save the child, not the mother: if the child lives, the woman has fulfilled her sole purpose as a breeder, even if she dies. If the child dies, or is born with defects, it is the woman’s fault as a defective breeder, and she should be discarded and replaced. If she refuses to breed with her husband, by abstinence, contraception, or abortion, she is being willful and disobedient, and can be forced to breed. This is not considered rape. It is only rape if she is impregnated by a man other than her owner.

Among the anti-abortionists, there is absolutely no valid reason for a woman to terminate a pregnancy. The “sanctity of life” argument is a red herring to deflect from the real issue, which is the sanctity of property rights.

Women did not get the right to vote until 1920 in the US. The woman was property. She had one function, which had nothing to do with politics. Would you allow your cow to vote? Your pet dog?

Women were not allowed to speak in the church my mother grew up in, through her adulthood in the 1940’s, and well into my childhood memories in the 60’s. What would be the point? Would you allow your cow or dog to speak in church?

The reason oral contraception was so outrageous when it came out in 1960 was that it gave the power to breed to the woman, taking it away from her husband. Unthinkable!

So the real abortion question is this. Are women chattel? Or are they citizens?

When the US fought the Civil War, it was over the choice of whether to expand or abolish the chattel slavery of workers. It resulted in the Thirteenth Amendment, and then the Fourteenth, which freed the slaves and made them citizens. It is still a matter of great dissent in this benighted nation.

After Roe v. Wade was decided by the Court in 1973, there was an expectation that Congress would follow up with some kind of “Women’s Rights” legislation. That never materialized, and that is where the real problem lies.

As much contempt as I hold for this current Supreme Court — and it is substantial contempt — I don’t think the solution is to expand the court or impeach the justices.

The solution is to fix Congress. By whatever means is necessary.

And then we need to settle this matter of the chattel slavery of women as breeders, by law, and preferably a constitutional amendment.

Will it take another civil war to accomplish this?

Probably.

Roe v. Wade

I’m having a very hard time with the United States right now.

Do I love my country? No. Not today.

Do I love my countrymen? No. Not today.

Absolutely the only caution I have in this sentiment is that I think this is exactly the place that the bastards want us all to be in. I don’t want to give them the satisfaction.

But the alternatives are becoming less supportable with every month that passes.

Today, the US Supreme Court — Supreme is such a sick joke in this context — overturned Roe v. Wade. We all knew it was going to happen. But something fundamental changes when the first shot in an impending war is actually fired. Now that they’ve fired it, I curse them.

I curse them with the one thing their overarching, swollen egos will feel, which is historical condemnation.

I curse you, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett. That your names will be remembered until the English language is lost. That you will be remembered as the bought-and-paid-for corruption at the bitter ending of the American Experiment in democracy. That you will be remembered as collaborators with and bellwethers of the tyranny and anguish that is coming.

I curse you.

I do not wish you death. I wish you a long, long, long life. A life of second thoughts, of doubts, of self-recrimination, and eventually, of public shame. A life of empty bluster and increasingly weak self-justification, ending in misery.

In the end, when you breathe your last and find yourself in the next world, you will search long for your Lord, who will not greet you at the gates as you expected. When you find Him at last, He will be seated on a rock near the Lake of Fire. He will look at you impassively.

Then the children will come. The pre-born, who died in agony, fighting for breath without lungs. The children addicted to toxic drugs at birth. The children born with only fluid where a brain should be, born without arms, or legs, who lived in pain for their entire short existence. The unwanted children born to unfit parents who knew they were unfit, unwanted children beaten, murdered, and destroyed, in body, mind, and soul.

Those who cannot walk will be carried by the mothers who died giving birth, bleeding out, screaming in agony.

Victims of your unspeakable arrogance.

They will roll a huge millstone with them as they approach, inscribed with the names of every mother and child who died untimely because of your “judgement,” a noose fixed through the hole in the center. And you will finally understand the words of Your Lord, that it is better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be cast into the sea, than to have harmed one of these little ones.

They will tighten the noose about your neck, and start it rolling into the Lake of Fire. And your Lord will look at you, at last, with some emotion: with the smoldering ire that drove him to whip the money-changers in the Temple. He will watch without blinking as you are dragged into the flames.

You are cursed.

Keeping Secrets in the Dark

I have to confess, I don’t really understand why the Supreme Court justices are so tweaked about the leak of a draft ruling on Roe v. Wade.

Let’s leave abortion out of this for a moment. Let’s make it about abolishing some obscure turn of law adopted as a precedent in the early 1800’s requiring porcelain garden gnomes to be placed front of government buildings. (I just made that up, by the way.)

Someone — someone — then leaks a draft of the Supreme Court opinion that abolishes the Garden Gnome Precedent.

RAGE! The Sanctity of the Court has been compromised! No one in the Court can be trusted! Who leaked this document? Search out the vile miscreant! SOMEONE NEEDS TO PAY! We can only hope and pray that The People will not lose ALL TRUST in the Court because of this! ARRRGGGHHHHH!

Seriously?

When people start to distrust the courts, it is (and has always been, and will always be, in all times and all places, forever and ever) the result of the Court repeatedly handing down shit decisions.

The real issue here appears to be that the Court was “outed” over a shit decision in-the-making before they had the chance to pass it off as settled law. In this regard, it is a bit like the failed coup of January 6, 2020. When you attempt to overthrow the government, the goal is to get it over with before anyone catches on. Otherwise, it turns into “for want of a nail,” and all that.

When you intend to hand down a shit decision from the Supreme Court, it’s useful to keep it secret until it’s a done deal.

All this outrage from Alito and Thomas in itself seems to me a plausible reason to distrust the Court. Something is distinctly off. Like opening the door to your son’s room to tell him dinner is ready, and when a cloud smelling of skunk and mint wafts out, he launches into a screaming rage about “privacy.”

It isn’t about privacy.

In other words, I think all this rage and pouting is really about the fact that the very justices who wrote the draft already know it’s a shit ruling. It would not matter if it were about abortion, or porcelain garden gnomes. The court understands perfectly well that it is trying to wrap the law around something indefensible, and now that it’s out in the open, they are going to have to face the wrath and distrust of The People before they’ve managed to make it a done deal.

So let’s talk a little about the history of both the nation and the Court.

There have been two fundamentally different models of (white) government in the US since the Europeans arrived.

The first — the earliest — consisted of entirely autonomous colonies (subject to European rule, but like mobsters, if you keep them paid, they leave you alone), which gradually expanded, consolidated, and became the original thirteen states of the US. The Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1777, bound these thirteen states together as a Confederation. In 1789, the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the US Constitution.

The core problem with the original Confederation, and with the United States up until the mid 1850’s, was that the states really didn’t get along very well.

One of the difficulties was slavery.

The southern states, in particular, had grown rich on an agrarian model, exporting various crops and agricultural products to Europe, and the profit margins were based on the economics of slave labor. Between the original colonies in the early 1600’s and the states of the early 1800’s, several things changed. The southern agrarian model depleted the soil, especially cultivating cotton, so yields declined. Competition from other nations started to cut into export profits. The slave trade started to decline, particularly after England abolished slavery (1807), raising the prices and reducing availability of slaves. And perhaps most importantly, the Mechanical Age, or the Technological Age, was rapidly replacing manual labor, and capturing the lion’s share of new wealth. This gave the northern states an alternative to trying to compete with export of agrarian products, an alternative that required an increasing number of increasingly skilled workers.

Slaves escaping to northern states could be trained.

Slavery turned into a very tense national issue through the early 1800’s, particularly as the Abolitionists began making a strong (i.e convincing) moral/ethical argument against the institution of human slavery.

In 1861, the southern states seceded from the northern Union of States, and formed a new Confederacy of States under new Articles of Confederation. The Union and the Confederacy went to war.

The Confederacy lost the war, was abolished, and its states were re-absorbed into the Union. All the states again became a United States of America under the Constitution.

This tension between a single united government, and a loose confederation of sovereign states, has never receded more than momentarily since 1778. It still lives.

One of the central issues is the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery immediately after the Civil War, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which made full citizens of black people and gave them the right to vote. It is intrusive on “freedoms” in two very fundamental ways.

First, it abolishes slavery across all of the states, which establishes that the federal government can, indeed, tell the states what they can and cannot do.

Second, it establishes that the federal government can establish national laws based on a moral basis — we call it “humanitarian,” but that’s just a sugar-frosted word for “moral.” From an economic standpoint, slavery is and has always been economically profitable for the slaveowners (though it generally sucks for the slaves.) You need look no further than the $15/hour sticking-point on the national minimum wage to see that slavery is still profitable. But outright slavery — legal ownership of human beings as property — is enshrined in the Fourteenth amendment as “morally repugnant” (and illegal) within the United States.

Moving to the present, there is a current strain of legal theory called “originalism.” I’m not the right person to walk the ins and outs of this theory, but my take on it is that it basically wants to go back to a Confederacy model of sovereign “states’ rights,” much as was embodied in the original US Articles of Confederation and the original Constitution, minus all of the fluffy Amendments (including the Bill of Rights). It isn’t clear if they think the entire Bill of Rights needs to go, but the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments definitely need to go, and pretty much everything after that. It’s all lumped together as “federal overreach.”

This legal theory is deeply dependent upon understanding the “Original Intent of the Framers.” Of course, the only people who could possibly determine this “Original Intent” are legal scholars like (for instance) Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. Perhaps John Eastman, the “legal scholar” involved in the Jan 6 coup. Perhaps Jared Kushner: he’s apparently an expert on everything.

The naked conceit that any 21st century person could truly understand the “intent” of an 18th century slaveowner-turned-statesman is ridiculous.

My observation is that people who pretend to understand the Intent of the Framers are running a con. Or to step away from American slang usage, they are simply lying.

But fine. Let’s just presume that they have some kind of magical, trans-historical psychic power that lets them enter into the mind of, say, Alexander Hamilton, and divine his Inner Thoughts.

So what?

We live in a different world than Alexander Hamilton could possibly have imagined. These historical people were not gods. They were not all-knowing. Many of them weren’t all that smart. All of them were flawed.

I personally believe that “originalism,” as a legal theory, is an intellectual fraud, at such a basic level that even a layman like myself can call bullshit with some confidence. It’s merely a way to overturn custom and government while pretending to “restore” it to a romanticized earlier state that almost certainly never existed.

But the two fundamentally different philosophies of government remain, and those are quite real.

So to bring this back to the Rage in the Supreme Court, I think this current packed Court’s intent — at root, with all dissembling stripped away — is to abolish the Fourteenth Amendment, to “restore freedom.”

When you hear people screaming about “freedom,” the Fourteenth Amendment is at the core of it. And they are basically screaming for their state governments to have the freedom to oppress citizens of that state in cruel and arbitrary ways, as in the Good Old Days. The right of states to do whatever they damn well please. To bring back slavery. To criminalize abortion. To make Christian Evangelicalism the State Religion. To restrict the vote to “desirable, productive” citizens. To deport minorities. To lynch people on hearsay without trial or evidence. To maintain Law and Order with armed militias.

The people screaming about “freedom” think this freedom applies to them as individuals, because they are all the “right kind of people.”

They are in for such a rude awakening….

The Fourth Turning

The Fourth Turning is a book by William Strauss and Neil Howe, published in December of 1997.

The thing that first caught my eye was that they predicted an odd and rather catastrophic problem in US politics that would be unfolding between 2005 and 2025. It wasn’t entirely specific, but it was detailed enough to make me sit up and wonder, “How in the world did they know about THAT?”

Recall that, in 1997, Bill Clinton was president, Windows 95 was new, Islamic terrorists were firmly “over there,” the Twin Towers still stood tall in New York City, and you could wear your shoes all the way through the airports. The biggest, baddest thing on the horizon was the “Y2K Bug,” though it was comfortably three years away. Only scientists and science fiction authors talked about Hubbard’s Peak, and “Global Warming” was a private crusade of Al Gore.

Yet here the authors of this book were talking about Generation X (children born in the 1980’s, barely teens) being derided in the 2000’s as worthless in all possible ways, widespread distrust and disgust with all branches of national government including the Supreme Court, economic turmoil on a major scale, and the rise of fascism in the US, all brought about by a “trigger event” sometime in the mid-2000’s decade.

Think back, folks. Think hard. All of these things were purest dystopian science fiction in 1997.

Yet here we are.

How did they know about THAT?

There’s a remarkable simplicity to their observations: there’s a pattern in history. It’s as predictable as coming darkness, after the sun gets low in the West and the clouds start to turn orange.

I need to write about this, because writing is my way of thinking out loud and settling my thoughts. There is a lot to think about here.

Let’s start where the authors do, with the concept of the Saeculum. This is a Latin term, and it comes from a Roman concept, borrowed from the Greeks, and probably goes back as far in history as you wish to go. It is generally defined as a period of between 80 and 100 years, based on the measure of a long human lifespan. Most of us make it to our 70’s (if we survive childhood illness and wars and plagues), and always have. Many surpass 80. Some surpass 90. Few cross the 100-year line. Saeculum is the name for a historical period roughly equivalent to a “long human life.”

Another observation is the concept of a Generation. We’re all aware of the meaning of this, and most of us relate to a particular generation. A “generation” is not strictly bounded by dates or age. We could call it a kind of collective mindset. We talk about the “Boomer” generation, for instance, and nearly everyone alive either identifies with this generation, or does not, and usually quite strongly.

What’s interesting is that there is any identifiable thing called a generation. We are all born on different dates, and born to different parents over a wide range of ethnicities, wealth, geography, and recent history. First grade classes are always full, as are high school graduations, and new graduates enter the world as young adults every year. You would think we would be all quite different from each other, spread out along a continuum. Yet we somehow fall into these very distinct generational categories, and go through our life-changes as a cohort, or a “generation.”

Another observation is that generations have types that occur in a cycle over the course of the Saeculum. This is largely invisible to us as individuals, for the simple reason that there are roughly four distinct generations in a Saeculum, that is, a long human life. The generation most like our own was therefore our great-great-grandparents, and we will not see another generation like ours until our great-great-grandchildren. No one nearer in time is really anything like us, and because this spans the entire Saeculum, the long human life, most of us will never meet anyone like ourselves from a different generation. Our great-great-grandparents were gone before we were old enough to remember them, and we will be gone before our great-great-grandchildren will know us. So all that most of us ever see, throughout our lives, are the three generations before us, and the three after us, and they are all very different from us.

We all think — with good reason — that we are alone, and quite unique.

What I’m starting to notice, now that I’m a grandfather, is that there really are similarities between my own grandchildren, and my grandparents. Or in my case, my parents, since my parents were around 40 when they married.

Something about this concept of generations pulls all of us together into this generational collective mindset.

So let’s talk about this cycle of generations, using the latest cycle for reference. The authors give the generations “functional” (recurrent) names, as well as specific names that have been used to describe these particular generations in history:

  • Hero : G.I. generation
  • Artist : Silent generation
  • Prophet : Boomer generation
  • Nomad : X generation

The next generation to come is the Millennials, and they are currently in their school years. They will (or should) become the next Hero generation. The one that follows them is not yet named, because they haven’t been born, but they will be an Artist generation. The one to follow that will be a Prophet generation. And so the cycle continues.

The ordering of this is pretty much fixed, not just by the nature of the parental generation, but by the combination of the parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent generations, all functioning at different levels of society. When a generation is born, the great-grandparents hold the greatest influence within society, as the elders in government, religion, business, and communities. The grandparents hold the senior-management power: the supervisors, the deacons, the school principals, the senior bureaucracy. The parents form the young working class. This combination, and the tensions between these generations, are what shape the newborn generation.

As the new generation comes of age and starts having its own children, their great-grandparents are either dying or stepping-down, their grandparents are moving into fullest power, their parents are moving into senior management, and they themselves are becoming the young working class.

There are two major cyclic events within each Saeculum, one called The Awakening, and the other called The Crisis. The resolution of the Crisis is coincident with the coming-of-age of a Hero generation, while the Awakening is coincident with the coming-of-age of a Prophet generation. This is a straightforward pendulum between material and spiritual peaks. The Hero builds a functional society that glosses over spiritual values and justice in the name of expediency, and the Prophet addresses a spiritual awakening and re-assessment that glosses over functionality.

A Hero generation is an enthusiast of the society it has built. A Prophet generation is a critic of the society it lives in.

At cross-quarters to this cycle is the cycle of the Artists and Nomads. The Artists come of age in the midst of a materially functional society marked by stability, material opportunity, and cultural enthusiasm, but also by conformity, conventionality, and a certain kind of stagnation. The Nomads come of age in the midst of an increasingly dysfunctional society full of almost unlimited freedom (or license), but marked by increasing instability, declining safety and access to opportunity, and the need to improvise, partition, and disconnect just to survive.

An Artist generation is full of bright hope for the future of society, even if it is a tad dull. A Nomad generation sees little or no hope for the future of society, though it can be profitable and exciting if you are willing to be nimble and not-too-fussy about the rules.

So let’s talk a little about where we are in 2022. It sure ain’t 1997.

We are sixteen months out from an attempted coup by a sitting President to retain his office despite a resounding rejection at the polls.

We have a Supreme Court worried that a premature leak of a draft decision regarding Roe v. Wade is going to “damage confidence in the Supreme Court,” apparently in some strange universe where loss of decorum — rather than shit rulings — is what makes people lose confidence in the Court.

We have a Congress that simply cannot govern, and at least one party (Republicans) clearly not even interested in governing.

We have increasingly open Christo-Fascist movements agitating for dissolving the United States, by force and terror, with substantial support among Republican politicians at every level.

We have an economy constantly on the edge, just one misstep from inflationary collapse, supply-chain collapse, production collapse. The rot is deep.

We have a billionaire class rapidly advancing to a trillionaire class in an inflationary economy where much of the nation lives on less than $15/hour.

We have WW3 on the horizon, should an aging, ill, and demented Russian dictator decide, Oh, what the Hell….

We have global warming on a runaway course of destruction, and we are rushing into its arms like a lover.

The Prophet generation — the Boomer generation — is aging, and the Silent generation is dying out. The Nomad generation is well into parenting years, and the next Hero generation is is school.

We are moving toward a Crisis writ as large as WWII. Times that “try men’s souls.”

Here’s the comfort: this has all happened before. This has been the Saecular cycle for as far back as we care to look, with remarkable (though not infallible) regularity. The reason we don’t recognize it, as we recognized the cycle of day and night, or the cycle of the seasons, is that the cycle lives just outside living memory.

On the plus side of this comfort is that in the past, the US has always pulled through Crises into a new Saeculum that was better than what came before.

On the minus side of this comfort is that there is no guarantee that this Saeculum (or any other) will end well. Nations fall. Civilizations vanish.

I’d like to close with a figure he authors call the Gray Champion, dating from 1689.

King James II was about to strip the US colonists of their liberties and their fantasies of self-rule, and the Colonial Governor marched troops through Boston in a show of strength. As they marched, “the figure of an ancient man” with “the eye, the face, the attitude of command” appeared on the street and stood in the path of the soldiers, and demanded that they stop. His appearance was so daunting that they did. This so inspired the citizens of Boston that they deposed and jailed the governor, which set in motion forces that eventually led to the Revolution a century later. No one knew exactly who this “Gray Champion” was, save that he was once one of the young Puritans who had settled in New England a half-century before.

The Gray Champion has re-emerged in each of the major American Crises since.

A Prophet.

A Boomer of a bygone age.

As the generation that has been charged with safeguarding the Spirit of the Nation, of looking deep into the spirit of the nation and of criticizing its hypocrisy, and injustice, and failings, it falls to us in our nation’s time of need to stand, and say, “This shall not pass.” To be the Gray Champion of our time.

And in so doing, to precipitate the Crisis, and guide the nation through it.

Just as it will fall to the Nomads to get us through the chaos by finding ways to keep the material side together.

Just as it will fall to the Heroes to build something — as a generation — that will rebuild from the wreckage, and inspire hope and enthusiasm for the future.

Just as it will fall to the next Artists to enjoy the harvest of fair times, to perfect and embellish.

Just as it will fall to the next Prophets to focus on what was left behind and corrupted in the chaos and compromise and rebuilding. To call out the injustice, and the spiritual emptiness, and the hypocrisy.

This is not a time to be cowed by statistics. This is a time to stand up for what is right.

To become the Gray Champion.

The Bells

The Witches’ Bells started to toll as the Senator entered the parking garage under the US Capitol. The Bells were loud today. They had been tuned to the Capitol building.

“It’s the speed of sound,” one of her staff had explained, back when the Witches had first started ringing the Bells. It reminded her of her father teaching her as a child to count off the seconds between a lightning flash and the thunder. He’d explained that it takes sound about five seconds to travel a mile, but light travels almost instantly. So if the lightning was a mile away, you would see the flash the moment the lightning struck, but the sound wouldn’t arrive until a full five seconds later.

There were thirteen Bells located around the Capitol area, and a master computer program timed them all. One stroke every five seconds, but rung at slightly different instants so that the sound would arrive at a location of choice at exactly the same moment. People called it “tuning” the Bells.

When you were at the tuning-point, it was an uncanny, disturbing sound. It seemed to come from everywhere, and nowhere, almost like you were inside the bell. It also seemed impossible to block out the sound. The thick walls and bulletproof glass of the Capitol building only muted it. If you used earplugs, you could still feel it in your chest and belly. The relentless five-second peal got into your head, into your heartbeat, and rubbed you raw from the inside out.

But it wasn’t merely an annoyance. The Bells carried a moral burden. A curse, in fact. An actual curse.

She remembered the first news item she’d seen, five years ago: an unsteady iPhone video from a bystander watching a street-performance, accompanied by the usual snarky commentary from celebrity newscasters. The video showed a portion of the Supreme Court building in the background, and three women, pushing a long cylindrical wind chime that hung from a wheeled framework. All were dressed in full-body leotards, with hooded cloaks: one wore white, one wore black, and one wore scarlet. Their faces were painted in the same colors as their clothing, with stylized features: the woman in white had a cold, pitiless face, like a porcelain mask; the woman in black wore an expression of permanent anguish; the woman in red had the appearance of a vengeful demon from Hell. The women gathered around the wind chime and stood motionless, facing inward. A small crowd gathered.

Then the woman in white pulled a large book from a pocket inside her cloak, and a large feathered quill. She opened the book, and wrote in it with the quill. She raised her face, and called out in a loud voice.

Allison Sue Baker!

The woman in black drew a black stick from her inner cloak pocket, tipped with a dull black rubber ball, and struck the chime. It was surprisingly loud and faded slowly, as the woman in black crouched and threw back her head, hands raised in supplication to Heaven, teeth bared in a grimace of pain.

The woman in red whirled, her cloak spreading out like wings, and she lifted her hands toward the Supreme Court Building, fingers twisted into claws. She called out in a loud voice.

I DO CURSE THEE, JOHN GLOVER ROBERTS.

Then all three women screamed.

The women had powerful voices, trained voices, opera voices, and the long shriek they produced caused the entire crowd to surge backward. It seemed to go on forever, then cut off instantly. All three turned back to face the chime.

Nine times they repeated this ritual, each time calling out a different woman’s name, and cursing another of the nine Supreme Court Justices. Then they wheeled the garden chime away, separated, and vanished into the Washington crowds.

The Senator pulled into her assigned parking spot. She knew the tolling of the Bells would continue for at least another hour, perhaps two. That was the real genius — the cruel genius — of the Bells. Each toll represented one young woman’s life lost to a botched self-administered abortion.

Statistics were just numbers. Six hundred thousand abortions per year, before Roe v. Wade was overturned. Divide by 365, and you have 1600 abortions per day. Roughly half of those were now classified as homicides in states around the country, so that’s 800 per day done with a coat hanger or knitting needle, or using deadly poisons. If only half of those resulted in a fatality, that was four hundred deaths a day. Four hundred out of a population of 300 million. Negligible.

But four hundred deaths, measured by slow bell, is 33 minutes.

Every. Single. Day.

And that isn’t counting the suicides.

The Senator gritted her teeth. She threw open her car door violently, dinging the car next to hers, and found she didn’t care. She closed her door partway, and then slammed it into the other car as hard as she could. It made a satisfying scraping sound.

She got out, slammed her car door shut, and strode toward the elevator. The tolling of the Bells echoed in the concrete cave of the parking garage. A curse, a scream, a death, every five seconds.

The Witches’ Bells were all owned by the Church of the Three Sisters, a new church that had registered as a tax-exempt religious organization shortly after the Three Witches had staged their street theater a stone’s throw from the Supreme Court building.

The Church had immediately begun to preach in favor of a national law codifying a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, medical care, and privacy. There was serious money behind the movement — they had been able to purchase the thirteen properties in DC where the Witches’ Bells were located, as well as create a national network of churches throughout the country. Those churches offered places for parents who had lost daughters to come together and grieve and speak freely. That had created a powerful political coalition that had put a lot of pressure on her party to pass today’s Women’s Rights bill.

The Senator was still a freshman Senator, only two years into her first term, but she’d been hand-picked by the Majority Leader to play hard-to-get on today’s vote. It had been a key role in ensuring that today’s vote would fail. She’d felt honored, and flattered.

Her role was to pretend to be on the fence, to act as a honey-pot to attract the attention of the other side. Several of her party had already defected, and if she joined them, the other side would be able to pass the bill directly. That was the honey: the other side knew they only needed one more vote, and she courted their attention. There were other members of her party far more likely to defect under pressure, but she’d managed to draw attention away from them by playing the second-year ingénue. Her vote with her party line today would not only scuttle the bill, it would bring substantial rewards for her.

A sudden instant of overwhelming panic and doubt almost made her stumble.

Am I ready for this?

She took a deep breath, and then continued toward the Senate chambers.

The Majority leader glanced up as she entered, and he immediately moved toward her.

“I’m surprised to see you here,” he said quietly.

“It’s an important vote,” she said.

“It is,” he said. “But you’ve already done your part, and done it well. We could have managed without you today. You should be home.”

“I need to see this through,” she said, her jaw tight.

He gave her a strange look. She broke eye contact and headed toward her seat.

She paid little attention to proceedings until the Majority Leader raised the Women’s Rights bill, S.12. She stood.

“Majority Leader, I wish to address the Senate,” she said, her voice firm.

He looked up, sudden alarm in his face. This was not any part of the script they’d discussed. She waited.

After a long moment, he said, “The Chair recognizes the Senator from Texas.”

She looked around the room.

“Some of you know that my husband and I have very recently suffered a terrible loss. The rest of you should know, as well. We lost our daughter over this past weekend. She is dead. What most of you would never learn is that she died by her own hand. She was a suicide.”

There was a stir of movement around the chamber, but now she had their full attention.

“She was also pregnant.”

The room became deathly quiet. Every eye was on her.

“My husband and I are devout Christians, as you all know, and we are deeply involved with our church in Texas. We have always believed that ending a pregnancy is a sin against God, and we celebrated the overturn of Roe v. Wade five years ago. I entered politics to ensure that abortion would never again be legalized, because we believe that there is always another way, a way that does not end an innocent life. We supported our daughter. We knew her boyfriend, and we felt he was a good young man. We were disappointed that they weren’t willing to wait, but we were more than willing to bless their marriage. 

“She refused. My daughter refused. She said she would not marry her boyfriend, and she would not give birth to the child. She demanded that we take her out-of-state to abort the child.

“We didn’t understand. We tried to reason with her. We told her that we would be there for her, that we could make it work. We counseled with our pastor.

“She finally told us that her boyfriend was not the father of the child. But she would not tell us who had fathered the child. We … we still didn’t understand.”

Her breath caught. She looked down. A tear ran down her face. She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath.

“My daughter left a note. She explained in writing everything she could not say to us.

“She wrote that her boyfriend was not the father of her child. It was her boyfriend’s father who had sired the child. It was rape. A forcible rape by a man my husband’s age.

“Had our daughter bent to our wishes, she would have quietly, obediently married her boyfriend, and would have lived the rest of her life in the terror of another rape by her father-in-law. Of another child that was not her husband’s.”

The Senator took a deep, slow breath.

“HOW IS THIS JUSTICE?” she screamed.

A babble of shouts and arguments erupted.

“I. STILL. HOLD. THE. FLOOR.” the Senator shouted, each word like a gunshot.

The babble subsided. The Senator waited for complete silence.

“I set my sights on preventing the death of an innocent life,” she said, quietly. “I destroyed two innocent lives. Not one. Two.”

She paused for a moment.

“You do not set a bone before you straighten it. You do not give birth to a child — a precious child — before you at least try to straighten the life that will raise it.

“And there are times when you must amputate a limb to save a life.

“The criminalization of abortion is wrong. It is vicious, it is arrogant, and it is wrong.

“I will vote in favor of S.12. I urge all of you to vote for it as well.

“I yield the floor.”

She sank into her seat as an uproar rose around her. She ignored it. She lost track of time.

When she returned to the room, she found the chamber empty, except for the Majority Leader, who stood in front of her.

“What will you do?” he asked.

“What will I do?”

“Your career here is over. You’ve done some damage. No, I’ll be honest. You’ve done quite a lot of damage. But it won’t really change anything.”

“Oh, that,” she replied. “Yes, once the vote is taken, I’ll step down. Health reasons, probably. I haven’t really decided. I won’t look back. You needn’t worry.”

“So what will you do?”

She thought for a long moment.

“I think I might join the Witches,” she said.

She stood and left the Senate chambers.

She did not look back.

A Letter To Congress

I sent this today to my Representative, and to both Senators. Feel free to copy and use it yourself, or use it as a template for your own thoughts.

The technical phrase is: I release this to the Public Domain. It belongs to the public.


Dear Senator/Representative,

I am writing about a deep concern regarding the future of our nation. I apologize for the length, but it is a deadly serious topic.

The United States is ripping itself apart, politically. This much is obvious. Other democratic nations have noticed, calling us a “backsliding democracy,” even questioning whether we are still a democracy. I question it, too.

This has happened at least twice before, in the 1850’s, and again in the 1930’s. In both cases, the Union was at serious risk of dissolution. We are now in a similar position.

The core issue seems to be the same in all three cases: the entitlement of the wealthy to increase their wealth to the detriment of the nation.

In the 1850’s, the issue was slavery, the right of the wealthy to own other humans, work them as property, trade them for profit as property, and pursue them if they fled as “stolen” property. In the 1930’s, it was the dominance of corporations and trusts, which sought to evade the new federal taxes, manipulate the stock markets, and monopolize entire industries to eliminate competition; to raise prices and lower wages, all with no concern for the harm it caused the workers or the residents near their operations or the nation as a whole.

The issue since the 1980’s, culminating in the 2010’s with the election of Donald Trump, has been the attempt to reduce the federal government to a tool for the wealthy to protect their “investments,” returning all other political power to the states, which may choose to nullify federal regulations and any pesky amendments to the Constitution that offend them. To “shrink the federal government until it can be drowned in a bathtub.”

We see the kinds of powers the states wish to exercise in the behavior of Governor Abbott of Texas, or Governor de Santis of Florida. We are headed toward Balkanization, interstate economic war, and (eventually) military conflict supported by state governments and militias.

The nation fell into civil war once, and avoided it the second time. I am not confident of our chances this time.

It is clear that the entire Republican Party is deeply complicit in this matter. They have packed the Supreme Court with “originalists,” a philosophy that enshrines the Constitution as Holy Writ, and carries the potential for disregarding any of the amendments to the Constitution, such as the 14th, which makes human slavery illegal, or the 16th, which allows a Federal income tax. Under this philosophy, even the 1st amendment could be ignored. Or the 5th. When in the majority, Republicans use the filibuster relentlessly to shut down debate, discussion, and lawmaking. They were deeply involved in, and have turned a blind eye toward an attempted coup of the office of the Presidency — a coup that very nearly succeeded.

It falls to President Biden and the Democrats in Congress to carry us through this time. The Republicans will bring us to dissolution and war.

I do not wish to see a civil war. I have grandchildren.

I believe that the dry wood fueling this fire is a disaffected, angry population, with one broad underlying problem. Put in simple terms, we all live now in a nation-sized company town.

I’m referring to the “company towns” of the big logging and mining operations of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, where you could go to make big paychecks, but found that the company store would take it all back with inflated prices that kept your pockets empty. You would make great money, spend it all on necessities or small pleasures, and walk away older and no richer. The Trump supporters call this a loss of “freedom.” But it is really a loss of opportunity, based on a loss of security. You cannot pursue an opportunity when you have no time to do anything but try to make next month’s rent.

US Americans have no security.

Medical care is catastrophic. I went through a medical bankruptcy, for colon cancer. I watched a man suffering a heart-attack decline care because he could not afford the ambulance; he died that night, alone and in pain. I was forced out of independent contracting, trying to keep up with medical insurance under the pre-Obamacare price-padding from the insurance companies. Drug prices are a scandal, even with medical insurance, due to open price-gouging.

Housing is increasingly inaccessible. Denver, Colorado, where I once lived, has been reported as approaching a $1M median house price. California housing prices have long been ridiculous. Where does all that money go? To the mortgage bankers.

Old age is desperately insecure. My first “stake” in retirement was wiped out by the 2001 tech-bubble collapse. My second would have been destroyed by the 2008 meltdown, had it survived the medical bankruptcy. Social Security is coming up fast on the “boomer” trust-fund cliff, and the Republicans have successfully blocked any fix to that since Reagan.

Income for many is capped at a level below a living wage by monopolies on jobs. Throwing money into the workforce can create new jobs, as Biden has demonstrated, but it doesn’t address the fact that many of those jobs remain below living wage.

Education is no longer a right, but a speculative commodity, surrounded by loan sharks. It is rapidly falling out-of-favor with the young, for the very good reason that it no longer makes any economic sense for them.

Few believe the US government will rise to the challenge of global climate change — I certainly do not.

The common element underlying all of these ailments is ultimately the failure of the Federal government to finish the job it started in the 1860’s. Back then, the ownership class owned people. Now, the ownership class owns everything except people. Food. Water. Shelter. Land. Labor.

The Democratic Party needs to stop dithering, and face the core of the problem: the ownership class. The American oligarchs, barons, investors. The wealthy. The systems of ownership that make them wealth, and keep them wealthy.

Both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have thought deeply about these matters, and while their solutions may need more work, the core idea is sound: we need to return ownership of the nation to the people of the nation.

If the Democratic Party continues to dither, telling the citizens that this is the best they can do, then the United States will fail.

I feel this in my bones.

Isolation Disorder

By nature, I am an introvert.

A lot of people who know me casually might not believe this — I can be pretty outgoing and sociable. But it is true: I am an introvert.

The most intuitive and useful description of the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” I’ve heard are in terms of “energy,” meaning whether you “recharge your batteries” when you are alone, or when you are with other people. An introvert recharges by being alone. An extrovert recharges by being with other people. Introverts can party, and extroverts can sit and read a book in a quiet room, but in either case, it drains their energy, and they have to return to an environment where they can recharge. It’s like sleep: chronic lack of sleep makes people cranky and eventually psychotic.

Sometime in my late 30’s or early 40’s, I discovered how to reverse that flow of energy, entirely by accident. I was out, by myself, on a cold evening at a pub in Fort Collins, I think at an annual tapping of their Christmas Ale, and the bar got — well, “happy.” All of you fellow-introverts out there will understand perfectly when I say that my normal response to this would be to leave. It’s too much to handle, and processing all that “energy” — or information, or noise, or whatever it might be — is totally exhausting. But that night, for the first time, I just went with the flow. I found myself actually drawing from the energy of the crowd, rather than fighting to stay afloat. I damn near got high from the experience. And I wondered: is this what an extrovert feels in a crowd? Wow. Nice!

In the years since, I’ve found that I remain an introvert at core in the sense that I really need the alone-time to continue to function. But I’ve also been able to get into the extroverted mode of recharging from the group energy. I loved being in group environments.

The last five years have taken a brutal toll on me, primarily the Trump phenomenon, followed by COVID, and I’m finding that I’m not really enjoying my interactions with people any more.

My social life came to a stop with COVID, of course, for two long years. But it runs deeper than that. COVID restrictions are mostly over — in our area, for now — and I have the opportunity to get back out there.

I don’t want to.

I took a look at my blog, for instance. In 2010 through 2015, I was averaging around 40 posts a year. Since then, it’s looked like this:

2017: 31
2018: 19
2019: 17
2020: 11
2021: 4

2020, the year of the pandemic, when I was stuck in the house with lots of free time to spend on blogging, I posted only 11 entries, and in 2021, I managed only four. This is my second post this year, and God alone knows whether I will manage a third before 2023 rolls around.

When I do go out and interact with people, as I must in order to buy groceries, I feel awkward and uncomfortable. My “energy” drains out rapidly, and I walk away from every human exchange feeling badly, like I’ve made some kind of faux pas. Like I’ve just told an offensive joke, though all I’ve said, literally, is “Good morning.”

I’m choosing to call this “isolation disorder.” It doesn’t feel good, and it doesn’t feel right.

I’m writing about this because I strongly suspect I’m not alone in this. I suspect a lot of people are feeling this way, and I’m even guessing that some of the discomfort I feel in interactions with other people is an empathetic reaction to their discomfort at being with people.

So to talk about this, I want to take a closer look at that moment, years ago, when I “turned on” my extroversion. What I think lay at the core of that experience was trust.

I had a rather nasty childhood, which was typical for the time, but particularly rough for any bright kid in a small town in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. A single phrase from a story I once read sums it up: “Different is dead.” And I was different. As a result, I learned quickly to not trust the other kids. The adults of that time weren’t especially trustworthy, either. We were still in the tail end of the “children should be seen and not heard” model of childrearing and school-teaching, and Doctor Benjamin Spock’s “Baby Book,” published in 1957, in which he recommended being affectionate and flexible with your children, was considered scandalous: common wisdom demanded that caregivers be stern and provide rigid, inflexible boundaries. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” as the Good Book says. It was quoted often, and believed widely.

What I think happened as I approached the age of forty, in that first-time moment of extroversion, was an unexpected sense of trust in the midst of all these loud, rowdy, happy strangers. I didn’t have to protect myself from them, and their noise, and their good cheer. I was one of them, an adult among adults. I felt safe.

I don’t feel very safe these days, largely due to the Trump phenomenon.

It isn’t about Trump, as such. Yes, he’s a sociopath, and a compulsive liar, and a textbook narcissist, entirely self-centered and “what’s in it for me?” His business dealings are crooked, his presidency was corrupt, and then there’s that little attempted coup he fomented a year ago when he lost the election. He was a terrible president: he reduced the office to a reality television show about the office, but without script-writers. History will not treat him kindly.

The Trump phenomenon is something different, that involves the people in what many are calling the Trump Cult. These are the people who continue to blindly support Trump and believe his lies, but also all the hangers-on who see something in that movement to profit from.

This latter is a very large group. It includes much of the media, which continues to report on Trump and the increasingly demented drivel that comes out of his mouth. It certainly includes the Fox Network. It includes most of the Republican political class, and has iron control of the Republican Party across the nation. Many of the state governors dance wildly to Trump’s mad fiddle. It also includes a lot of rank-and-file Republicans who are party-loyal to a fault, even a fault as calamitous as Trump.

This last includes some of my neighbors. It includes people I know. It includes family members. It includes people in every group I might choose to mix with.

There is someone in the next block who flies an American Flag on his property, with a “Fuck Biden: Not My President” flag on the same pole. One of the landmark buildings in town has an attorney’s office on the top floor, and in his window is a 2020 Trump campaign sign, and a Betsy Ross American Flag, now a symbol of white supremacist movements.

This Cult has roped in most of the Christian Right and many of the American churches, white supremacists, American Nazis, and pretty much anyone who is willing to get angry (at something) and start shooting people, or driving cars into crowds, or marching on the Capitol in Washington and hanging people Trump has claimed are “corrupt.”

You can’t really have a conversation with members of the Trump Cult. I’ve had better — and more honest — conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door.

At a personal level, I’m back to my childhood rules. Different is dead. People cannot be trusted.

I don’t like living that way. So I’m taking little steps back into the world.

If any of my readers sees this, and feels the same way, let’s talk about how you are moving back into the world, post-insurrection and post-COVID.

Perhaps we can help one another.

Climate Change and the Young

I recently saw a YouTube post (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYSLyvbR_1w) featuring Bill Maher dissing the young for their widespread “hypocrisy” regarding climate change. There is something that rubs me entirely the wrong way about snide old men, who “love comfort and capitalism,” mocking younger people as hypocrites.

The problem is not climate change. The problem is our lifestyle.

The solution — the only solution — is to change our lifestyle.

Let me first brush the “alternative energy” concept out of the way. It isn’t that there aren’t alternatives to oil, or more generally, petrofuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). There are many alternatives. But there are no alternative sources of energy that can support our current lifestyle.

I’ve written at considerable depth about the hypothetical “cold fusion,” for example, and this would, indeed, be an alternative source of energy that could not only support, but expand our energy usage orders of magnitude. It’s been floating around as a concept since the 1990’s, and has come to nothing.

It’s perhaps (barely) plausible to think that the oil industry, combined with a sclerotic scientific establishment, somehow suppressed research and development into this magic bullet in the 1990’s. But Peak Oil was predicted back in the 1950’s, and its estimated peak date converged on 2005 back in the 1980’s. We’re now nearly 20 years past the peak, and are beginning to see the expected price volatility of the downslope. Within a century, at most two, we will no longer have an oil-based economy: oil will be too expensive to burn. There is no oil company in the world that does not know quite clearly that it has no long-term future. If cold fusion were viable, the oil companies would have patents and ownership rights locked in, and would have been introducing pilot plants as the Next New Thing for the last two decades.

In fact, had there been any economical alternative to oil, including nuclear energy, the oil companies — which have called themselves “energy” companies for some time — would have been advertising, introducing, and scaling up those alternatives for years. They’d be in the lithium battery industry. They’d be investing in solar panel production. They’d be digging up Magic Crystals from Atlantis. They’d be preparing to downscale oil production, shift mass-market revenues to the new tech, and raise prices on oil.

They haven’t done any of this. Instead, they’ve been fracking for oil. Which is like going through peanut shells on a tavern floor, looking for stray peanuts. That’s telling.

There are certainly energy alternatives to petrofuels. But no combination of alternative energies provides a way to support our lifestyle.

This was, in fact, the point of Maher’s article. It’s the lifestyle, stupid.

So what does an appropriate lifestyle look like?

Well, the last time we didn’t have oil powering everything, was (roughly) 1900. Let’s look at a few key features of life in 1900.

  • There was no air travel. The Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk was in 1904, and used a gasoline engine. Zeppelin flights didn’t start until 1928. Hot-air balloons had been around since the 1700’s, but drifted wherever the wind took them, and weren’t terribly useful.
  • There was no significant automobile traffic. The first automobile was invented in 1886, but automobiles didn’t become widely accessible to the public until 1908, and these used gasoline.
  • Commercial electric plants first became available in the 1870’s, using coal-powered steam engines. By 1900, electric power was common for street lighting (arc lamps), and for electric motors of various kinds. House wiring of any sort was avant garde.
  • The principle form of transportation was a good pair of shoes, and supported a maximum sustained speed of three miles per hour.
  • The main form of local goods transportation was the horse-drawn cart, with a sustained speed of 7-15 MPH, depending on load, terrain, fitness of the horse, and so forth. The pony express averaged only 8 MPH (1900 miles from St. Joseph, MO to Oakland, CA, in 10 days).
  • The fastest form of transportation was the steam-engine train, which averaged 25 MPH in the US, but could achieve 60 MPH over short runs under the right conditions. It was also the main form of long-distance bulk transport, such as grain and cattle.

There are a great many things that changed in the modern world as a result of petroleum use, which you spot instantly if you travel in the older parts of Europe, the most notable being the closeness of everything in Europe. Cities do not spread out over dozens of square miles, like Houston or San Antonio, and are not hundreds of miles apart. Towns are close to each other, and are separated by small farms and forests. Parishes and neighborhoods in larger cities are more distinct, and more diverse. City centers are readily accessible to foot traffic.

This was also true of the US in 1900. Daily life lay within a physical distance accessible by a half-day’s journey. Twenty miles takes nearly seven hours to walk: fourteen to travel there and back again. My grandfather’s farm in Oklahoma, built in the late 1800’s, was one mile from the nearest neighbor, and four miles from the nearest town. If you look at any US map of older blacktop roads in the plains states, you’ll see that every road is littered with ghost- or near-ghost towns every twenty miles or so, places that served as a necessary travel-stop and point of community contact in the early 1900’s, but ceased to serve much of any purpose at all by the early 2000’s.

A lot of support services went away during the 1900’s. The supermarket replaced the local grocer, because the automobile brought the supermarket within reach of a much larger local customer-base, and the trucking industry brought enough daily goods to keep the supermarket stocked for all those people. Corner stores scaled back or went out of business. Suburbs spread out into places that were wilderness in 1900. Horse-drawn wagons vanished. Horses mostly vanished. Carriages vanished. Ice trucks vanished. Families dispersed across the country. Family gatherings changed from weekly, to yearly, to not-at-all. The parish, the grange-hall, the community center all unraveled and became quaint historical monuments.

A lot of household-management technology went away, as well. The original idea of Home Economics in school, as I understand it, was to preserve and pass along the rapidly-vanishing art of managing a household. Cooking, of course. Food management: preserving, storing, unpacking, rationing in hard times. Basic nutrition. Sewing and clothing repair. Care of infants and small children. Basic medical diagnosis, treatment, and emergency care.

Shop classes taught basic manufacturing skills and tool management. I remember tempering my own chisel in shop class. Folding sheet metal. Working leather and copper. Measuring, cutting, and finishing wood.

My point is not to sing a paean to the hand-forged chisel, or to glorify the horse-drawn cart. My point is to call to mind how much has changed since the last time we knew a world without oil-powered trucks and automobiles.

As much will need to change in the next century as the oil economy winds down, and with that change will naturally come all of the new infrastructure that is needed to survive and thrive in a world without gasoline-powered cars and air travel.

This is infrastructure that currently does not exist. We spent a century dismantling huge pieces of it. We don’t know what pieces we’ll need to recover, and what pieces need to be invented. Even if we tried to anticipate this and get a head start on this infrastructure, no one would use it. Not while an oil-powered alternative still exists.

So to take your tone, Mr. Maher: Exactly what the fuck do you expect of the young? What behavior, exactly, would relieve them of the onus of your contempt for their hypocrisy?

Do you want them to voluntarily start raising chickens in their back yards, and putting up their own potatoes and bacon for the winter? Do you want them to walk two miles to school? Do you expect them to love comfort — or what is marketed as comfort — any less than you do?

Perhaps they do admire a woman who has a room full of clothing she has only worn once. How many of them actually have anything they have only worn once? How many Medieval daughters swooned over the idea of a silk gown? How many Medieval sons longed for a sword made of Damascus steel? How many actually burdened the world with such extravagances?

What people dream about rarely has much to do with how they live. It’s kind of the point of a dream.

Do you really expect the Zoomers to be any wiser than you were at their age?

The End of Liberty

There was a book by Reay Tannahill, years ago, titled Sex In History. It was a fascinating read, but the overall impression I gained from reading it is that traditional American views on sex are historically-atypical and grotesque perversions of the rather more commonsense views and practices of sex in different cultures throughout history — and most startling of all is our complete ignorance of how utterly parochial our views are.

It’s much the same with religion. The chief clue, in my mind, is in the Roman Latin root for religion, religio, which derives from the root ligare, or bond, and could (in my mind, at least) be viewed as “re-binding.”

Consider: among band hunter/gatherers, the band is the family bond. Simple. Intimate. Co-dependent for survival. There are origin stories that vary from band to band, but are passed down as traditional stories in a context of simple survival needs. There are rules that vary for swapping men and women with other bands, to prevent inbreeding: rules range from trade to warfare. This model moves fairly well into pastoral societies, which herd, but are generally migratory. But as soon as you form an agricultural society, you are stuck in one place. You have to become more militant to defend the land, and then you end up attracting other bands and tribes that are starving because they have become too populous and have stripped Eden of its treasures, so you either have to kill them, drive them away, or appropriate them into your culture. Only the latter is stable in the long run. So you have to re-bind them under a common origin story.

Re-read the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) in this light. Cain and Abel, the farmer and the hunter, where the farmer (the agriculturalist) slew the hunter (the tribal band) and was then expelled from Eden to till the soil. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and their interaction with, and assimilation under, the great agricultural civilization of Egypt. Moses, their independence from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and eventual creation of an Israelite Kingdom. It’s all there: the birth of “civilization.”

Agricultural villages give way to city-states, which give way to kingdoms, which give way to empires, which give way to nation-states. Every increase in scope requires a new organizational structure, and a new re-binding under some kind of common origin story.

Catholic (universal) Christianity was the great binding story of the late Roman Empire, and as that empire split between East and West in decades after Constantine, the Catholic story broke into the Roman and Orthodox varieties. The Roman Church grew deeply corrupt as the remains of the Western Empire fell and then rebuilt, and was challenged repeatedly by “heresies” — many (all?) of which were reform efforts targeting the corruption. The Protestant Heresy successfully broke off in the 16th and 17th centuries, and created an entirely new model of belonging, with allegiance to “individual conscience” carrying an equal stature to the Word of God and the Authority of the Church, enabling the creation of an increasingly technological/economic/secular society.

The United States — post-1776 — was one of those secular societies, and one of the first European societies (I believe) to prohibit religion as a basis for governance. It was aided in this by the utterly fragmentary nature of Protestantism, owing to its elevation of individual conscience. In the US, diverse religions sprang up like weeds: Mormonism; Christian Science; Theosophy; various Fundamentalism(s). None recognized any contrary religious authority. None had secular authority to force acceptance of its own religious authority.

So what did the US do to re-bind its individual elements, and tribes, and religions?

I think it’s this word, “Liberty,” which only has meaning in the context of its antonym, “Tyranny.”

“Tyranny” was the iron hand of the Roman Empire. It was the brutal corruption of the Roman Church. It was the wars of all the European Monarchs, and most notably (for the US), the Damned British Empire. When the Leninists decided to create a worker’s paradise based on a totalitarian model, it was the Damned Communists. And then, of course, the Damned Nazis in Germany. And the Damned Japanese Empire.

Since 1991, when the Damned Soviet Union fell, what Tyranny are we fighting? What binds us as a people? What ARE we, in the absences of either a coherent religion, or a nation fighting Tyranny?

What does “Liberty” even mean?

I think what is happening right now in the US is EXTREMELY deep.