Saturday, May 20, 2023

Your Big Box Of Terror Weekend

 Bark Bark Bark Bark
Yet Another Long Howl

Recent conversations with friends, with The Last Of The Old Unit, over the past few weeks: we talked about Covid (Hey! Remember that? Still the 3rd-highest cause of death in America?). We talked about the Trump-time, and everything that's happened since.

We admitted feeling an uneasy sense that The World had changed, fundamentally, in a way we can't fully grasp or articulate. Everything around us has shifted, slightly -- like a kid's party game, where you're given ten seconds to look at items on a table. Then, you close your eyes -- and when you open them, you have to guess which items have been removed.

The Oldest Friend said: "It's like I went to bed one night, and woke up in an alternate universe that was just a little different than the one I went to sleep in. Like discovering there had never been Mars Bars. Or the original 'Star Trek' on TV ran for three seasons, not two. 'Stranger in a strange land' stuff.

"That's completely subjective, I know," she said, "but that feeling never completely goes away."

All of the people I spoke with defined that feeling with variations -- but there was common agreement that we perceived some difference between ourselves and The World that hadn't existed before -- which led us to feel mildly alienated from that world.

When we said "The World", we didn't mean the planet, Gaia; Our Big Ecosystem. Climate deterioration aside, the Natural World seems to be abiding. 

'The World' we referred to is built out of social fabric, stretched on a framework of collective relationships, stitched together by the cultural Ways our society accepts and agrees to in our relations with each other. It was something about that world we felt, suddenly, out of place.

The Girl Who Refused To Be Mrs. Mongo said it reminded her of the Cold War -- what it meant to live in the knowledge that nuclear war was possible (Hey! Know what? It still is). It was an understanding we kept in the basement of our consciousness, jammed in a dark corner, along with the box that has the big, yellow label with red lettering -- Terror: Or, we are Mortal; Death is Coming; Death Is Mystery.

There were times in the long years we've walked when we woke up in the middle of the night, thinking what if the sirens went off? But now the possibility of an apocalyptic event is replaced with... mass gun deaths. Some new repression by the Motherfucking Cletuses, whom no one can seem to stop. 

Nearly every morning, we get up and wonder what new outrage has been committed, what new boundary was crossed, while we slept. This was a singular feature of the Trump-time; now we come awake expecting bad news.

Please understand: members of The Last Of The Old Unit, including me, have experienced Bad News. Every time there's a bulletin, a new "mass casualty 'event'," we have a moment of recognition. We know with almost cellular-level certainty what that experience is. And something still grips us after fifty-five fucking years, and for three seconds or three hours, we're right back in it.

We'd already experienced dislocation from reality (there was a reason people used the phrase "Back in the World" to describe a non-war zone environment) and thought, Thank Christ That Shit is Over. Except it's not.

Another friend noted, "The Republicans are the new Cold War" -- meaning, like that time in our collective past, they have become symbols and avatars of that dark corner in our basements. Their collective antics are a reminder: The World, that social fabric, is just a construct and the control we think we have over it is an illusion.

Trump, DeSantis, Sarah-Huckafuckle; the lot of them, are the embodiment of malevolent unpredictability. They can destroy the World, the social fabric we participate in, as well as any ICBM with a five-pattern spread of MIRVed warheads.

As a 76-year-old, Trump will not live forever. Maybe he realizes this; maybe not. Spasmodically, he acts out and splatters America with his own feces, then revels in the disgust he provokes, the impotent anger of others -- all to feed an endless hunger for validation, and avoid the Big Box Of Terror at the center of his own being.

And there are those pending legal issues -- which, bizarrely, don't seem to slow him down. They feed the chaos engine, the endless urge at the heart of America's political and cultural Right -- to burn everything the fuck down.

So I wake up in the 2:30AM, sometimes with the Terror, sometimes not. I remind myself that we're animals, hard-wired to survive -- and self-conscious animals, who understand that our lives are finite. Provided the right stimulus, we hit the Fight-Or-Flight wall.  

Our World -- the actual one around us; and the perceived one in our heads -- is changing.  It has always been unpredictable in its details -- but not in our beginnings, rites of passage, ecstasies and sorrows, and our end. No one alive can say why we came to be or where we're going -- but we demand our Reason Why, even if we'll never receive it.

I remind myself: all of our Details are in The Stories. It's why Gilgamesh. It's why Homer and Herodotus, Chaucer and Pope; Dickens and Melville. It's why statuary and panel and canvas and paper, camera, movement and words on a Stage. It's why music from Cantos to Paart, Bach to Ravel, Joplin to Pere Ubu -- and all of it, the virtuous effort of telling a Story of What Happened To Us When We Went Through It. All of our details will disappear. Only the Stories remain.

I considered this, and because I'm only a Dog and not a philosopher, passed my observation on to friends in the version used at the Soul Of America: Be Kind, Motherfuckers.

We all pretty much agreed we could get behind that.

Additional Bark Bark Bark Bark

I found Peter Fritzsche's 2016 book, "An Iron Wind: Europe Under Hitler", browsing at a bookshop, I was idly looking for resonances with the perspective that we're living in a country invaded by some alien presence and ideology.

I do actually know better. My life in America is not even remotely similar to the European experience between 1939 and 1945. As swinish, bloated and mendacious as the Rethugs are, they aren't foreign invaders. They don't speak a different language. And while they can be proto-fascists, they aren't nazis. I call them that all the time in the Twitterverse, but: I actually do know better. 

Nazis were members of the National Socialist Party, which existed from 1919 until the Spring of 1945, when it was put out of business at the cost of tens of millions of lives. The nazis committed a specific set of crimes between 1933 and 45. Calling DeSantis or Gosar or Cruz a nazi may make me feel better for ten seconds, but it cheapens the experience of survivors -- of the Occupation, and of the genocide of the Holocaust, which the nazis perpetrated, supported, made manifest.

I'd like to say Republican governments in Florida, Arkansas, Texas; Ohio, Montana, Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming; Idaho; North and South Carolina; Kansas; Kentucky, Tennessee; Mississippi and Alabama; Georgia and Louisiana, don't ban abortion, demand to check children's genitals; censor and ban books; demand prayer and 'christian' religious instruction are included in secondary school education; demonize LGBTQ+ persons, and Persons Of Color, and Women and Liberals and Immigrants. But they do these things, and more. 

As David Neiwert noted recently on Twitter, the political and cultural Right didn't stop with January 6. They're trying a slow-motion coup -- at County and State levels, introducing laws to force their vision and belief on America. The trick is getting Americans to admit to themselves that it's happening, 

Like the nazis, America's political and cultural Right is backing up its Thou Shalt Not rhetoric with laws -- fines, arrest; prison. Whole classes of people are being identified as the enemy. You know what comes next, because these Cletus Thugs certainly do.

And while these Thugs are not nazis, they do treat others like the nazis would have done. They'd just gotten started, during the Trump-time. And they intend to burn it all the fuck down.

In the 1970's in Europe, I noticed (with surprising regularity) something rarely seen in America -- it seemed a significant percentage of adults in their late forties to early sixties had serious facial scars, eye patches or glasses with one darkened lens; crutches, missing limbs, fingers, ears.

At a bus stop on a warm morning in southwestern Germany, a man stood waiting at a streetcar stop, wearing a Tyroler hat, topcoat and gloves. His face was a smooth mask of shiny, oddly pink skin, which made discerning his age difficult. Plainly, he'd suffered serious burns -- except around the eyes, where a pilot or air crewman would have worn a set of goggles.

I had been staring; the man looked over at me, took in my non-European appearance and clothing, and said, "Good morning," in English. I nodded back, said nothing, and so missed the opportunity for an insightful conversation with someone who at the least had an interesting personal story. He also might have confirmed what I was already guessing: that the European experience of the Second World War seared everyone by degrees, civilian and military, the persecutors and persecuted, right down to their souls.

Those who weren't killed in occupied Europe continued to experience degrees of cruelty, humiliation, betrayal, anxiety and uncertainty, at levels that would have been unthinkable before 1933 -- and all because it became acceptable and popular in Germany to believe ideas which first became policy, and then law. 

Europeans woke up one morning and the world was... different. A new set of outrages, every day, week, month. And while they could hope for Liberation, for more than four years -- one thousand, five hundred and fifty days -- there was no guarantee it would happen. And for those under occupation, each of those days had to be lived, experienced; suffered.

It isn't often mentioned, but the Germans, whether they recognized it or not, had their very souls disfigured by the experience of Hitler and the pack of animals around him. They became something else, for over twelve years: 4,500 days. And even after the war ended.

One aspect of the Holocaust is as a teaching moment for humanity about intolerance and hate, and where it can lead. Fritzsche's book shows clearly what the power of belief can do to individuals, and groups, in even more detail than any other look at the period I've seen -- something I didn't think was possible. 

Using only contemporary documents and writings, he shows how The Leader in an authoritarian system provides permission to his followers for accepting astonishing levels of violence (as well as committing it), and how The Leader becomes a psychological scapegoat for that violence if it should it all go bad later. 

America's history has already burned us, as Europe's before WWII had done to its own cultures and societies. We aren't living in an occupied country, but we are changing (“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig... but already it was impossible to say which was which”).

We run the risk of being seared down to our souls (as Europeans were, over twelve years of nazism) by whatever seems to be coming.  I'm not sure what it will feel like to live here, when America gets to wherever we're headed.

We can try to be kind, first; perhaps that's all we can do. Perhaps it's just an act of resistance, in the end.

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