Archive for the 'Fairness' Category

Feb 25 2014

Art and Artist

Back in September, I had the good fortune to attend a Death In June concert with my wife, in San Francisco. The show was visited by a few misguided AntiFa protesters – I’ve written about it here.

Don't make me get all batrachian on you...

Don’t make me get all batrachian on you…

Twice now, within the last few months, I’ve again had to deal with more self-appointed culture police. This time, the target is H.P. Lovecraft.

The argument usually goes like this: “How do you reconcile your love of Lovecraft with the fact that he was a horrible racist/sexist and the ‘he was a product of his times’ argument doesn’t count – GO!”

This is what’s known as a shit test. It is designed to provoke, and it is also designed to prevent any “correct” answers, because to defend Lovecraft makes you an equally reprehensible person. You should be ashamed for liking such things, because these are “enlightened” times!

Or something.

First and foremost, you should never have to defend art, music, or literature that appeals to you. I may not like what you like, and you may not like what I like. However, I find art that is forced to sanitize itself into some sort of all-inclusive tokenism just to make sure someone somewhere isn’t inadvertantly having their delicate sensibilities shattered by the Big Bad Insensitive Artist to be incredibly dull and boring. Did anyone really actually enjoy “We Are The World”?


Second, I’m sorry, but nobody has a monopoly on “transgressive” art (whatever that is). So, Douglas P., and H.P.L. are both entitled to use provocative symbols, and have beliefs that don’t sit well with today’s hand-wringers. I will also support your right to create films with topless women making out in university libraries, cracking eggs on each other’s heads, and dancing around chicken carcasses.

will laugh at that, however.

I also find Herrmann Nitsch to be rather fascinating. You should check him out.

I think these days we seem to be running into a convergence of conveniences.

  1. It is convenient to categorize thoughts, feelings, beliefs into two categories: “correct” and “incorrect”
  2. This enables us to instantly decide that anything, or anyone, that does not fall into one of our two convenient categories, must therefore belong to the other category.
  3. It is more convenient to hold people forever accountable for their brief forays into “incorrect” than it is to acknowledge that they are human, may have different beliefs from you, may grow, may change their minds, and may renounce their former beliefs.  Thus it is easier, to forever hold, say, Tony Wakeford, accountable for his brief participation in ultra-right wing political groups and therefore believe he is secretly leading an entire musical genre in promoting crypto-fascism (sometimes so crypto as to be unidentifiable even with a microscope), than it is to acknowledge his own repeated mea culpas. It is more convenient to simply label him and anyone ever seen in the same room with him as fascists. That way, you don’t have to worry about any of them, learn anything about any of them, or worry about tainting your precious little mind with the “dangerous” ideas that you read somewhere they are promoting. Effort is hard.
  4. It is convenient to just have all of the answers handed to you. When reality doesn’t fit your worldview, obviously reality is wrong. The rest of us just need to “do the research!” and we’ll be instantly enlightened as well.

I think some of this is pure laziness.  I think a good chunk of it (at least in the States) is the fault of the educational system. Kids are no longer being taught how to think, but rather provided with lists of things to memorize for The Test.

Before our son was born, my wife decided to take a philosophy of religion course at the local junior college. From what she told me, it sounded more like remedial high school English. The professor spent more time trying to teach the students how to write 5 paragraph themes than being able to effectively discuss philosophy or religion; the students kept demanding to know where the answers were in the book for their discussion topics.

Discussion Topics. Discuss. Philosophy. As in, “What do you think?”

As a former compiler of course and faculty evaluations at a different university, I was saddened by how many professors were getting low marks for “lecturing too much – wouldn’t tell us what was on the exam.”

With convenient categories, of course, comes the lack of a need to recognize complexity and nuance. Instead, you skim for a few indicators and red flags, and you instantly know all you need to know about an artist/author/person and there’s no need to investigate further once you’ve put them in their appropriate box: “Correct” or “Incorrect”

For the record, there’s a third category: “Problematic,” which is usually reserved for people who you want to like, but simply can’t, because they’re in the “Incorrect” box.  “Problematic” puts the categorizer in a bind, because on a level they acknowledge human complexity.  But, since everything has to be a zero-sum game, “Correct”/”Incorrect”, most people prefer to err on the side of caution, and go with “Incorrect”, lest they be tarnished by association, and also labelled “Incorrect.”

This dance is tiresome.

Russell Berman, in his preface to Ernst Jünger’s book On Pain (2008. Telos Press), agrees:

Although conventional political thinking still tries to police a neat separation between left and right, we should not be afraid to explore the gray zone in between without leaping prematurely or unnecessarily to an unwarranted assertion of identity (p. viii).

So, can you separate art and artist? Is it okay to like someone’s creative output, even though you think they may be a bit of an asshole?

There’s a simple solution.

The quick version: Don’t hate the Player, hate the Game.

The not-so-quick version: like what you like. Who, ultimately, gives a fuck?

If you are so caught up in worrying about what other people think of your tastes, then you have bigger issues than “is Dave Sim a misogynist, or might he have a few points?” Nobody has all the answers – especially in these “enlightened” times. If you feel that you suddenly aren’t “allowed” to like something, because the creator has unpopular opinions, or may have put their foot in their mouth in an interview somewhere and is currently being eaten alive by the Internet Outrage Machine, then I have to question the strength of your sense of self-identity.

As Robert Anton Wilson said to me, and I’m fond of repeating: “Read things you disagree with. Otherwise you aren’t exercising your mind.”

Embrace that which scares you and makes you uncomfortable.  That is what art is supposed to do.

This is also good practice for embracing other uncomfortable moments in life.

To quote Aleister Crowley:

There are only two courses open to logic; one can either accept the universe as it is, face every fact frankly and fearlessly, and make one’s soul immune to the influence of any invasion; or abolish the whole thing by administering soporifics to the spirit…The pious pretence that evil does not exist only makes it vague, enormous and menacing. Its overshadowing formlessness obsesses the mind. The way to beat an enemy is to define him clearly, to analyse and measure him. Once an idea is intelligently grasped, it ceases to threaten the mind with the terrors of the unknown.

Quit whining.

Own up to your tastes.

Tell me why you like the things you do, rather than apologize for them.

And enjoy (sidenote:  if you’re worried about your etheric body, wear a condom).

There are no brownie points.


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Jan 28 2014

An Evolving Checklist for the Next Generation

‘Old men like to offer good advice in order to console themselves for no longer being in a position to give bad examples’ (François de La Rochefoucauld)

My son just turned two years old not long ago.

He is starting to assert his independence, and while it is challenging at times, I couldn’t be happier for him. This has to be exciting for him, and sometimes I can almost see the little neural networks forming in his head.

I didn’t plan to be a father.  In fact, due to complications, he was born significantly earlier than we expected. I will probably write about this at some point (I still hit PTSD-induced blocks when trying to put it in writing), but for now, I’ve been reflecting on what values I want to instill in him. If I was to write my own version of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, to pass on to him, what would it look like?

I find myself in the uncomfortable place of dis-identifying as a Leftist. I certainly support the aims and goals that the Left aspires to (I’m not about to go join the Heritage Foundation, or suddenly vote Republican), but in practice, I see too many self-contradictions and things that either don’t work, or don’t add up. (See Destroying the Village in Order to Save It, for example).  In all honesty, as much as I am loathe to appear to endorse him or his actions, I think Ted Kaczynski has at least a few points in his Critiques of the Left section of The Unabomber Manifesto. Am I advocating that mailing pipe bombs is a good idea?  Hell no. But I think if the Left were to take a moment of honest self-appraisal, it would see that his comments – while biting – are not without accuracy at times.

If the Right lost the plot long ago (which, I think most of them have), and the Left seems hellbent on throwing the plot away (which I think most of them are intent on doing through endless self-flagellation), what do I tell my son is morally and ethically right?

Maybe I’m getting old (or, maybe I’ve been in California too long), but I’m becoming increasingly of the opinion that no one “side” has all the answers.  Trying to conform facts and reality to ideology is a waste of time.  This is something that both sides are guilty of. Yes, they are. Shut up. Additionally, I can no longer in good faith stand by and agree to any theory that posits that every single human interaction is based in oppression and domination. It is nihilistic, and does not take into account the beautiful complexity of life. As Dr. Candida Moss says,

 It turns disagreement into a struggle for survival with an innocent ‘us’ pitted against a hateful ‘them.’ This polarizing view of the world not only makes it impossible to have meaningful dialogue and collaboration, but it can also be used to legitimize violence against others in the name of “self-defense.”

This is a work in progress, but if my son were to approach me right now, and say “Hey Dad, what do you believe?” this is how I would answer.  This is what I would tell him is important in life.  I will be elaborating on each of these themes in coming posts, as I see fit. I don’t claim to be expert at any of these things. But that doesn’t mean he and I can’t learn together.


Pride in who you are. Pride in where you come from. Who are your ancestors? What did they do so you could be here? Where did they come from? Why did they leave? Do not let anyone make you feel bad for being who you are. You are not responsible for the ills in the world. You are only responsible for the ills you perpetrate. There is no guilt by association – do not believe those who would condemn you because you look a certain way, believe certain things, or love who you are (see RESPECT, and also give others these same benefits). Do not perpetrate ill, unless a situation calls for it. These situations, while rare, do exist. Think twice, and carefully diagram the reasoning behind vengeance. Consider the cost/benefit ratio. Sleep on it. Sleep on it for seven days. If your heart still burns for vengeance, be careful in how you execute it. Ask yourself if the object of your vengeance could do a better job destroying themselves than you could. 99.9999999999999999% of the time, this is the case.


Respect yourself. Respect others. Respect those who deserve respect, and don’t waste your time with those who do not. If they mistreat you, take appropriate action. Don’t start fights, but be prepared to finish them. Know when it is wiser to walk away. Everybody is entitled to one freebie. Just as you would be respected by others, offer the same respect to them; even if it is not immediately forthcoming from them. Be the bigger person, but also know when to cut your losses. Be prepared to let them go (see PROVISIONAL ALLIANCES). Respect the land, and its inhabitants. If you find yourself away from home, respect and honor the traditions of those you are visiting. Know your own history, and know the histories of others. You can never know enough history. The more you know, the easier it is to respect.


Be fair in your dealings with others. Expect and demand fairness in return. There are no zero-sum games. Everyone has a chance to prove themselves. You do not get a ribbon, however, simply for showing up. Equality of opportunity – not outcome. Genuinely support the attempts of others. Know and respect your own limitations.


Be open to self-analysis. Could you have handled a bad situation differently? Is an apology in order? If so, make it. Just as you may have had to let people go, others may feel that they need to let you go. Ask yourself why that is. Be objective. Be critical. Be equally prepared to understand that it may be something you did, or it may be them. Sometimes what may seem like a loss may not be one after all.


Take ownership of your actions. Admit to mistakes, and take pride in accomplishments.


Almost every alliance you form is ultimately temporary. Some will be permanent. It is my hope that you find true love with a partner of your choosing, and that love you provide him/her will be equally returned to you. You will know when you find this person. You will learn how to not be deceived. Know, too, that organizations, ideologies, and belief systems do not love you. They are using you. You can use them, too, and ally yourself with them (and certainly join up with them if you agree with them!) Ally yourself with them provisionally, however. Know when their usefulness has expired, and apply the same inquiry you apply to yourself, to them. If an organization, ideology, or belief system you subscribe to does not follow the criteria I’ve listed above, it doesn’t serve you. Actions speak louder than words. Hold any group you join to high standards.


Why? Because I said so.

“Never stop learning, and always do a little more than you have to.” – Adele Gutsch Hunter

“Always read things you disagree with – otherwise you are not exercising your mind.” – Robert Anton Wilson



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