Title says it all, but just for good measure: my book, Stories of Who We Are and How We Eat, will be free on Amazon April 4-6. Here’s a link to my book page where you can read about it and find links to reviews.
Gossamer is an album of electronic harmonies, chaotic and urgent instrumentation, and soda pop melodies. It begins with a vignette of modern day capitalism, an overt passivity coming through the lyrics with a pounding edge that subtly gives the listener to know they are not okay with it. Though the content of these lyrics serve as a stark contrast to the more personal subject matter of later tracks, it does well in providing a setting for the human tapestry of tragedy that follows it.
From here the album navigates the murkier waters of love and excess, and an existential dread shines through it all. In the song “I’ll Be All Right,” Michael Angelakos allows the human effort to squeeze validation from the mysterious Other when he sings, “I won’t let you go unless I’ll be all right.” The song is followed by “Carried Away” wherein he accepts the need for companionship, even when it contradicts his own lack of interest; however, it is toward the end of the album that he proclaims his own happiness despite all the reasons to be otherwise.
The energy of the album might, at first glance, seem contrary to the heavier side of its lyrics. Each track has the potential for sending any unwary listener into a spontaneously choreographed number as they float along the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue.
But if we are doomed to the fate of Sisyphus, should we not dance along the downhill path of the boulder? So buy this album and put some headphones on, because you only got so long to live.
Dear Gentle Readers,
How long it has been since last we met on the freshly tilled grounds of a new post, and now it would seem that such a state of affairs will be more commonplace, or, rather, it will be more expected.
I have recently decided to limit my use of this blog to those subject matters of which my writing is more spurious: politics, current events, social issues, etc. As for my poetry, short prose pieces, and philosophical meanderings, they will no longer be featured here at Julien Haller Responds.
I have numerous reasons for this decision, too many to elaborate in full, but I will touch on two of the major points.
1) I would like to expand on many of these writings and publish them on Kindle as collections (e.g. a poetry collection). I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and think that this move will help motivate me.
2) Very few people read my blog anyway. I had hoped by freely sharing some of my works on a blog, I would earn the respect of readers who would then, in turn, purchase my short story collection. This never occurred. To be brutally honest, I do not believe I have sold a single unit of my short story collection outside of review requests. At some point, I will probably write a post on my disillusionment with the state of art in this internet age, but, for now, suffice it to say that this failure played a large role in my decision.
For any regular readers I have left (that is to say if I ever had a regular reader at all), I will extend the courtesy of leaving up all my old posts for a week so you can scroll through them and copy any you would like to keep; however, after a week from today, I will take down many of them. It is hard to say exactly which will make the short list and which will end up on the chopping block, but I would say any under “poetry,” “prose,” “fiction,” “philosophy,” “napkin thoughts,” and “existence” will be axed.
My final news clip for the evening is that my first full length novel is VERY close to completion; however, I have made the decision to try to publish it conventionally. As a result, it may be a while before it is available to the public, but I promise that a collection of sorts will be available on Amazon by the end of summer (or winter for those of you south of the equator). I have enough writings on the back burner to fill a submarine, so it will just be a matter of putting together a set of pieces I want to share and then editing them to perfection.
So that just about wraps things up. I want to say thank you to everyone who still checks my blog for updates. I know there are very few of you, but it means a lot. And don’t give up on me just yet. Once I finish the novel, I will probably take some time off from longer works to focus on essays, and I imagine some of them will find their way here.
Let me start by making a few clarifying remarks. I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative. It is depressing to watch as society serves up some linear, bipolar model of ideology and individuals buy into wholesale. Without going into great detail, this is the mark of our tribalism, our wish to have others validate our own views, because if we step out of the model given, we can only do so alone, and, for most people, that is terrifying.
So how do I describe my ideology concerning the function of government? Here is the basic premise of my stance: I am a problem solver. The point of government is to better provide for the joy and peace of its constituents than the naked state of nature can. Therefore, any change to our current form that I espouse can be best viewed as a solution to some problem I see hindering that goal.
Furthermore, I am in favor of the continued legality of abortions. I would not say I am for abortion, and I think the “pro-choice” epithet is as misleading and dishonest as the “pro-life” epithet, but I do stand by the upholding of Roe v. Wade. My reasons are complicated, especially given that my vegetarianism is provoked by a belief in the essential possibility that all life can be wonderful, but I would characterize them as a saddened choice of the lesser evil. Even without pointing to the extremes women have gone to in the past when abortion was not legal, I see that, though the possibility of all life being wonderful is my essential truth, not all life has a good probability of the same; and when a mother rejects her child before it is even out of the womb, I know that probability is low, and I do not wish a bad life on any being, so I think it best to let it go before it gains consciousness and the pain starts.
But, despite my fundamental support of keeping abortions legal, I want to discuss the absolutely disgusting liberal response to the events in the Texas State Congress this week. For a recap, republicans were trying to push through a bill that would greatly restrict access to the medical care needed for an abortion. It looked like the bill was going to succeed after passing the House of Representatives and entering the Senate for a vote. As most official actions in a democratic government though, there was a bureaucratic restriction: the vote had to occur before midnight on Wednesday morning. Of course, this does not seem to be too great a restriction. I mean, unless there were the mother of all traffic jams clogging up every street in the entire state of Texas, the republicans could get their vote in on time, right?
You see, there’s a funny little strategy any senators opposing a bill up for a vote can implement: a filibuster. Since there is a time deadline on the vote of any bill, a deadline that, if not met, will kill the bill, someone can stand up and begin talking about the bill. And keep talking. And when they’re done saying anything of substance, they can still keep talking, so long as they do not stray too far from the subject matter on hand. And that’s exactly what democratic senator Wendy Davis did: she talked. Senator Davis talked for roughly twelve hours starting around 11 AM Tuesday morning. And why? Because, so long as she was talking, the vote could not take place, and, once the deadline passed, it would die. So, in essence, this senator held up the democratic process, hindering the function of our government to operate, and as a result, threatened the possibility of a vote occurring on the bill.
You know what, though? That’s government for you. Holding up the democratic process, upon which this nation was supposedly founded, for thirteen hours is, sadly, just a drop in the bucket. So she’s a sleazy politician who is willing to manipulate the system to get her way, who in an elected political office isn’t?
But the story did not end there. Late in the evening, roughly twelve hours after her filibuster began, the republicans seemed to regain control by pointing out that she had fallen off topic. One of the restrictions of maintaining a filibuster is that you have to stay on topic, and how long can someone without any background in medical sciences really talk about an abortion bill? Frankly, I’m surprised she lasted that long. So, with about an hour left to vote, they got her off the floor.
But for anyone familiar with the National Convention government under Robespierre you can already guess that even this is not the end of the story. You see, people who were opposed to the bill were actually present. Just as the republican government of the National Convention was overrun by Parisian mobs who happened to live close by the center to which delegates from every province had to come, a mob of protest erupted in the Texas state capitol after Senator Davis’ filibuster was stopped. This was the final commotion which delayed the bill enough to kill it. In a last ditch effort, it seems the republicans tried to claim that they got the vote in on time, but the whole event had been recorded so that, of course, did not work.
So how long after midnight did they get the vote in?
People, I have four time telling devices in my apartment. Here are what each of them say right now: 12:57, 12:58, 12:59, and 1:06. The spread demonstrated is nine minutes. So, unless they’re running atomic clocks over at the Texas State Senate, I’m going to go ahead and say two minutes, compared to the thirteen hour filibuster and mob protest which aimed their power AGAINST the DEMOCRATIC PROCESS, is not a big deal.
Unfortunately, other people did think it was a big deal.
I’m a fan of a few webcomics and general funny sites on the internet, and found that most of these people, being wholesale buyers of whatever ideology the democratic party is peddling, whether it be gay rights (good) or the screaming over rational discourse so as to halt the representatives of the people from voting on something they don’t like (bad), saw the “two minutes” as some great example of republican corruption, and completely overlooked the thirteen hour cessation of democracy prompted by their beloved party. I will not point fingers and call names, but I will post a few of the quotations I found:
“So just to be clear: The Texas Senate *changed the timestamp on the vote* after it clearly showed the vote was taken after midnight.”
“GOP senator claiming that the vote was taken at 11:59, unaware that we’re all recording this shit apparently.”
“If you have women in your life that you care about, you should be enraged about what happened in Texas tonight.”
“If you’re not totally ignorant and evil you should be enraged about what happened tonight.”
These are real quotes, and real examples of how limited our partisan way of thinking really is. I know I’ve mentioned this enough times to call the horse not just dead, but also skinned with bones bleached, but it needs to be said again: republicans tried to cheat the system by two minutes, whereas Democrats are proud of having basically screamed as loud as they could for thirteen hours in an attempt to halt the democratic process and “get their way.” I know three year olds who would get their asses beat for such behavior, but these people are actually proud of this.
So, from a supporter of the decision made in Roe v. Wade, here’s my message to any of you who wrote the above statements, or anyone else who believes the democratic process should be detoured any time a vote might not go their way: you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. You are the reason this world and all its governments have been unable to produce the joy and peace we know is possible, because you are so self-absorbed as to believe that a better world can only come on your own terms. You are crying children, no more than the white noise that stops us from having rational discourse, trying to force your own morality on others. You are no better than the forces you claim to despise, because in principle you are the same: fascists.
“Where’s evil? It’s that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side. It’s that part of every man that finds all kinds of ugliness so attractive. It’s that part of an imbecile that punishes and vilifies and makes war gladly.”
-Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
I have not spoken in depth on politics here at Julien Haller Responds. To be honest, I do not keep myself up to date on all the latest comings and goings of various bills, personas, and regimes. I tend to view the subject matter of twenty-four hour news channels to be clogged with much of the pointless detail and none of the substance, political speeches with empty rhetoric, and policy debates with disgusting appeals to mass prejudice. As a man of ideas, I certainly have those that are concerned with the betterment of human society, and a few of them are sprinkled throughout my blog; but as a whole, I find myself disinterested in conventional politics and their mundane treatments in the blogosphere.
However, to even someone such as myself, a disinterested writer of literature and philosophy without a single television to his name, the swelling aggression of right-wing extremists in recent years has become painfully obvious: the Tea Party Movement, increasingly combative dialogue, and, of course, the very existence of Fox News (and Conservapedia). I normally make light of these trends, having learned to treat men such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and women like Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin, with the laughter they deserve. But today I heard about an Alabama State Senator named Shadrack McGill who cited “biblical principle” in an argument against paying teachers a higher salary. In another article I read, he supported public schools allowing events with obvious religious overtones, telling those who criticized such affairs that any parents who did not want their children engaged in such activities could homeschool their children, basically upholding the “right” of the majority to oppress the minority.
Living in a major city, I sometimes forget such ignorance coupled with the force of government still exists. Maybe I should not laugh so much when I see it; maybe I would not if I were reminded of it more often. But I’m not laughing now, and I have something I need to say to Shadrack McGill and all men who think like him
You will lose. If the historical record proves anything, it is that. Since the advent of the first humanistic sentiments coming out of the Dark Ages, and the advancing Enlightenment that saw its great achievement in the revolutions it spawned, the forward momentum of progress has stood undefeated against those of you who would see the course of humanity steered back into a retrograde primitivism: in the eighteenth century, the power of kings was sanctified by the church, but the power of the people opposed them, and the people won; in the nineteenth century, the power of slave owners was justified by scripture, but the power of equality opposed them, and equality won; in the twentieth century, the power of governments to withhold the teaching of evolution was touted by the faithful, but the power of reason opposed them, and reason won.
And now, in the twenty-first century, your backs are to the wall. Intellectual freedom and liberty, those most necessary complements of peace and joy, have reached new heights, and though humanity is still far from perfect, we are evolving; and your rising tide of hate, of anger, of everything unbecoming of a decent human being, we know it for what it is: fear. You are going the way of the dodo, and none too soon.
But before you do, before your voice dies in a whisper upon the winds of change, I want you to know something: many of you have children, and one day they will have children of their own, and so will these children give birth to even more, and some day, somewhere down that line, there will come a generation that learns to despise you. Like the ancestors of former slave owners, they will be ashamed of the ideologies you bear today, and they will betray the immortality you sought in them. They will strive to see your name erased from the annals of history, and when they are finished, you will be no more than a blemish on the record of human progress, an annoying insect buzzing in the face of a giant.
And once the world has bred out you and your ideas, the most frightening prospect concerning life after death will come to pass: you will be forgotten. Lost to the shifting sands of time, you will be buried under the sea of a new generation, one that is a step closer to the joy and peace you stood in hindrance to; one that is a little less ignorant despite you; and one that is better for not having you.
In a previous post, I remarked on the lack of narrative coherency I found in Saul Bellow’s “The Adventures of Augie March.” I do not stand here corrected, for the description was apt enough; but I do stand humbled. Like any great crescendo, the narrative took time to rise to itself; but, if not for the softness of its feet at the beginning, the ending’s crash and bang would not have had the power it did.
I have written elsewhere (not on this blog, but rather in the megabytes of philosophical wandering on my laptop) that art, though at times inspiring and uplifting, should not be chained by the idea of the “happy ending.” It is a reflection of existence, a crystallization of life’s form given in large swathes of color, whether painted by pigment or word, and that is exactly what Augie March is: a reflection of life.
In the beginning of our lives, beyond our biological and molecular makeup, we are largely tabula rasa waiting for the concepts, experiences, and all else of life to write upon our brow. And so we, like a sponge, absorb everything around us without prejudice or judgment. Jumping from one thing to the next without ceremony or finesse, our lives lack narrative during these days, much like Bellow’s work did.
But as time progresses and patterns are spotted, we begin to weave tales of our lives from the cluttered fragments of existence. No longer do we take from the rawness of life, but rather we begin to give that same life as an offering to the order against which we hope our lives will measure favorably, and it is from that order that the narratives of our lives are composed.
This is exactly what Augie, the protagonist of the story, does, same as the rest of us. From the imposition of his childhood experiences, he builds an idea of the world, and then sets out to conquer the same in the name of his wants and desires. But, along the way, he comes to realize that the world has its own ideas concerning his life, and from this struggle is born the narrative of this well crafted work.
As I read books in print (I mostly read from a Kindle these days), I fold down every page in which I find passages I like. In the first one-hundred pages or so, I think I folded down two at most; however, by the end of the book, I felt I needed more than the mere two corners any single page has to fold over. Hell, I probably could have had hundreds, one for each of the words on the page, and still felt limited. And this feeling continued to increase up to the final paragraph, the narrative having reached the peak of its crescendo, whereupon the reader gets Augie’s final self reflection on the nature of life and how he fits in the mix:
“What’s so laughable, that a Jacqueline, for instance, as hard used as that by rough forces, will still refuse to lead a disappointed life? Or is the laugh at nature—including eternity—that it thinks it can win over us and the power of hope? Nah, nah! I think. It never will. But that probably is the joke, on one or the other, and laughing is an enigma that includes both. Look at me, going everywhere! Why, I am a sort of Columbus of those near-at-hand and believe you can come to them in this immediate terra incognita that spreads out in every gaze. I may well be a flop at this line of endeavor. Columbus too thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn’t prove there was no America.”
Human penal systems over the millennia have operated on the assumption that people need a set of consequences enforced upon them to sway them from socially undesirable behavior. The implication here is that we would murder, rape, plunder, and pillage in our search for resources, such as sustenance and shelter, if there were no big brother looking over our shoulder. But is this true? Are our individual consciences so wrapped up in the evasion of consequences that we would become bloodthirsty animals without them?
At the beginning stages of society, during the Neolithic Revolution, when agriculture became a chief avenue by which sustenance was obtained, I would say yes. On an evolutionary scale, we were very close to our more animalistic beginnings and society had existed for so little time that it had not really changed us. Fresh from the killing fields of natural selection, these new societies in places like Sumer, Egypt, and Harappa would have regressed to a more warlike state without strong leaders imposing harsh laws. In this way, they served a purpose, and as the slavery these strong leaders and their laws imposed on society competed with those who remained in the more warlike state of nature, the slavery of society won the day and more and more areas were absorbed within its sphere of influence.
It is now eight to ten thousand years since the onset of the Neolithic Revolution and distinctly human society, and much has changed. We have watched local chiefdoms rise and fall on the waves of monarchy and the world be swept in the wake of empires. Monotheistic and revelatory religions have replaced pantheism, and now religion and mythology is breathing its last as science comes to take its place. Over two hundred years ago European style democracy swept the Western world, and now Middle Eastern nations are beginning to carry that same torch. Where once it took eighty days to circumnavigate the globe, it now takes less than forty eight hours, and information travels at the speed of light instead of the speed of a horse and carriage.
So do current day laws and penal systems serve the same purpose as they once did?
In some cases, they do. Though social evolution progresses at a rapid rate, biological evolution does not, and we have to realize that many people are still driven more by the animal impulses inside us all than by the social customs in which we all share. There still exist those who approach interactions with others in a more warlike manner, and only stop themselves from hurting others by virtue of the consequences enforced by our legal apparatus.
However, this is not always the case. These laws and customs which were once enforced by power have come to hold a purpose in and of themselves, what we call “morality.” I will speak on morality in great length in future posts, possibly as footnotes to this post, but, for now, I will merely define it:
“A set of behavioral codes which have become internalized after repeated exposure from external sources.”
Once morality is born within the individual, he no longer follows said behavioral codes for fear of retribution, but rather because he does not want his existence to deviate from his will for that same existence, a will which is, once the codes are internalized, partly shaped by their standard.
So far we have covered two cases of individuals:
1) Those for whom the laws and customs are still external forces which stop them from committing crimes by fear of the consequences should they be caught.
2) Those for whom the laws and customs have become internalized and stop them from committing crimes with or without consequences.
Within a set of laws meant to deter intentionally committed crimes, there is no need for any further qualification between the two groups. The former group will have the consequences of each crime to deter them, and imposed upon them should they still commit the crime and be caught, and the latter group will have their own internal standard to deter them, with or without the external consequences imposed upon them.
But let’s murky the waters a little. First, I would like to look at why any individual fails to internalize laws and customs as a code of morality. The legal apparatus of any society can be viewed as an implicit contract with its constituents. I say “implicit” because none of us were given a choice to sign or not sign any contract with our home country. If we live within its boundaries, we are considered bound by it laws by implication.
Now, societies are formed to better provide for the needs of its people. Long term benefits which require initial investment must be protected; otherwise, we will never be able to rise above the “hunt, kill, eat” mentality. For example, a good many months pass between sowing seeds and harvesting yield. If we existed in a warlike state, as in nature, it would be unlikely that our investments would be protected so long that we could reap the yield, so no one would make the investment. Therefore, we enter into these implicit social contracts as a tradeoff: we must accept the society’s laws and restrictions, but, as a result, we are able to maintain higher standards of living, economically speaking.
But not everyone reaps the same benefits. Inherent to the hierarchical model of society is a measure of income inequality; and, insofar as the total yield of any given society increases, this income inequality grows. So are those on top committing the crimes? I’m sure anyone can come up with examples to answer this question with a “yes” (Enron, anyone?), but, in regard to the more basic of laws (e.g. murder, rape, theft, etc.) the answer is, in general, “no.” These individuals have reaped the most benefit from the social contract, so they have no motivation to break its dictates. Going even further, they have more motivation to see that its dictates are enforced because having them broken would harm them more than other, less affluent, individuals. This is most aptly seen in how Republicans, the party of the rich, are greater proponents of a merciless and unforgiving society than Democrats.
So who commits the most crimes? Statistically speaking, those in a lower socioeconomic class do. The social contract does not provide for them as well, so, other than the consequences faced if caught, they have little motivation to fall in line with its dictates. Is this a good reason for committing crimes? I’ll leave that to your judgment, but the point here is that the social contract does not provide for them; therefore, they never internalize its dictates since they serve to keep them at a lower socioeconomic class.
The second way I would like to murky the waters is by bringing in unintentional crimes. People who are strongly driven by morality, or an internalized set of ethical codes, can still make mistakes that hurt others: people drive drunk, intending to go home, but end up killing someone else; kids play with guns, intending to have fun, but the gun goes off and someone dies. There are a thousand examples I can come up with, and, in each example, the legal apparatus serves to punish them. But, if they had no intention to harm someone, what deterrence is the social contract serving? These individuals, by the assumption given above, have internalized the laws and customs of their society, turning them into a morality. When they make these mistakes and someone is hurt as a result, would not the remorse serve enough as deterrence? Why should they be further punished, thus harming their chances of ever leading a fulfilling life again (e.g. jobs will turn these individuals down due to criminal history)?
At this point, many of you are probably saying, “But Julien, we cannot pick and choose who and how we punish. The law must be the same for everyone.” I could not agree more, but that is not an excuse for lazy thinking. We must have a legal apparatus that can account for everyone and best serve each and every individual, along with the society as a whole. With that in mind, I would like to outline, very briefly and generally, an approach to how we can set up a penal system that better serves the purpose of maintaining a fulfilling society.
When a person commits a first crime, I believe the best response can be captured in a single word: mercy. We, as individuals and members of a society, must begin to recognize that others who have not benefitted as much from the social contract have very good reason to be angry. As long as all societies are structured on a hierarchical model, there will always be those who are barely scraping by, and this economic injustice is inherent to the system. When these individuals, feeling desperate or angry, commit a crime, why should our first inclination be to punish them? Should it not be to help them?
I think yes, we should help them. For any first offense, every person should be made to go through a government sponsored psychological treatment program. While there, they should be evaluated and helped to understand how society works and how they can best use how it works to help themselves. If the individual is deemed to have made this understanding, then, when he is released, a job of sorts should be waiting for him and he should be helped to reintegrate into society so that his crime does not follow him for the rest of his life.
This treatment center approach could also help those who make unintentional mistakes. It could help them understand how high-risk behavior can result in others being hurt by their own actions. They should be nurtured, forgiven, and helped to forgive themselves, and then allowed to go back to their lives, again without any criminal history following them forever.
But what if a person commits the same crime again? What if, after we help nurture and reintegrate these individuals, they continue to break the social contract? Or what if, in the psychological evaluation, it is determined that this person cannot be brought to live according to our social contract? This is where I become a little harsher.
In principle, what these individuals are communicating is that they believe they should not be bound by the social contract. They were given the benefit of the doubt with their initial crime. They were nurtured, forgiven, reintegrated, and given the opportunity to mend their ways without that one mistake hindering their growth. But now, either by committing the crime again or being recalcitrant in the evaluation process, they are showing themselves to be unable to abide by the laws and customs of their society.
I still do not believe in punishment, per se, in these instances. I still want to help them. But what is the nature of that help? Well, if they do not feel they should have to abide by the social contract, we should help them vacate the physical boundaries within which the social contract is in effect. All of these individuals should be shipped off to an uninhabited area of land, one kept for them specifically, and allowed, along with all the others who would not live by the social contract, to build a society of their own with a new social contract of their own making. That way, they are given the opportunity to make a society that better suits them, and the rest of us are allowed to live without anyone who consistently breaks the terms of our social contract.
If any feeling or concept were at the heart of my perspective on the penal system, it would be mercy. People make mistakes. They do stupid things. Furthermore,we must remember that none of us were given the opportunity to opt out of the social contract, and any crime might just be a desperate cry to free one’s self from its dictates. And so mercy and compassion must go hand-in-hand with the legal apparatus; otherwise, society does no more than take the warlike state in nature and deify it within the pages of a dusty book of laws.