An American Thanksgiving

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Please, internet, forgive me for posting what amounts to an unsolicited rant on the internet right before Thanksgiving. It’s the most inappropriate time for such things; indeed, Thanksgiving has become the holiday of unsolicited ranting. If it isn’t a rant from your right-wing uncle about how groups of systematically oppressed people are ruining this country by politely asking not to be shot, it’s your overly nutritionally conscious guest going on the warpath for their favorite dish not being gluten-free. Or it’s the organized bevy of relatives constantly asking when you’re getting married, or if you’re married when you’re having kids, or if you have kids when they’re going to college, and once they’re in college it’s time for them to produce of course.

So there’s enough ranting on Thanksgiving, so forgive me, but this rant is about Thanksgiving. It deserves its own rant. It’s a holiday in many ways unique to the United States, though its central (modern) theme is simply about being grateful everyone made it through the year in one piece with their health, and about celebrating that with the family and inner circle of friends and acquaintances. There’s plenty of political commentary to be had about what Thanksgiving means to different groups of people, but this post is not about that. At least not expressly.

This post is about the great Thanksgiving irony, the vacuum of cognitive dissonance created over these fifty states late every November that might, one day, actually drag us to our deaths like a black hole. It’s the irony of millions of people who have so much, many of them greedily clawing onto it with bloodied fingers, being grateful for what they have without being willing to share what they have with others. It’s an irony that threatens to completely rend the human condition in half.

Think about it for a second, ignore the uncomfortable feelings you get thinking about it and just think about what Americans have. As an American myself, I feel qualified to speak of what we have. We live in a country where most of us have access to pocket-sized smart phones powered by minerals thousands of child soldiers have died in Africa over the right to sell to phone providers for pennies on the dollar. We live in a country where civil war is unheard of except in a history class. Most astonishingly, we live in a country where even a Dunkin running out of dark roast is pretty unheard of.

And yet somehow, in that sea of excess, millions of Americans who are literally choking in luxury, who are literally so satiated and well-provided for they die of over-consumption, outright refuse to offer the simplest pf help to the less fortunate, whether those less fortunate be Americans or not. They recoil at the idea of the welfare state, they joke about panhandlers being con-artists living in million-dollar homes, they laugh at raising the minimum wage, they balk at paying a minimal portion of their income in taxes to fund unemployment benefit or community centers for poor children or tuition subsidies.

These same people will gather around tables across the country on Thursday and pronounce how grateful they are for what they’ve successfully horded to themselves. But no matter how loudly they acclaim their thanks they can’t escape the reality that Thanksgiving is a holiday the very premise of which strikes at the heart of their opulent and imperialistic worldviews.

Thanksgiving is about being grateful for one’s family, for one’s health, for the countless immaterial things that separate us from the animals. But one cannot feel grateful without understanding, appreciating, and grieving for the suffering of others. Thanksgiving is not a holiday for those who have never had to struggle. And may it forever stay that way.

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An American Thanksgiving

I Don’t Always Use Ten-Cent Words

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It is important to remember that the best place to look for inspiration is real life; taking into account that real life is usually, if not always, stranger than fiction.

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter R, like my roommate’s blood type… or so he insists.

I keep telling myself I don’t dislike my roommate because anything close to hate is too strong an emotion for the kind of things I have to deal with. It’s more like… obfuscation or moderate annoyance. But enough about that; today’s post is more about rampant anti-intellectualism in America than someone who adds to the problem.

I find that there are two kinds of ignorance. The first is one born from a lack of access to education or opportunities to advance oneself. All it takes to fix this is to try. Most people do try, or at least I’d like to believe that most people try.

The second kind is the sort of ignorance that drives me up walls and could, under the right circumstances, lead me into ruin or death. This is willful ignorance. Oh, the tales I could weave… and they’d be true!

Rather than sing the songs of irritation, I’ll tell a story.

So I have my roommate as a friend on Facebook. Not my first mistake, but not a problem really. Until he posts an image on my wall reading, “Sometimes, I use big words I don’t always fully understand in an effort to make myself sound more photosynthesis.”

Now, most probably would laugh and move on… but I take the world too seriously to just laugh an insult off easily. An overgrown, smoke obsessed infant took this round-about way to tell me I sound too smart for him; even taking the insult so far as to imply I do so on purpose.

No.

I speak the way I do because I assume – I afford people the respect that I should – that they can understand a fully articulated thought. I don’t need to sound like I failed high-school English to get an idea across and I want to believe you don’t need to be spoken to like an infant to understand me.

Maybe I assume too much. You know what they say about assuming anything, right? Mom always said it makes an ass of you and me, so maybe I’m in the wrong on this.

Or I’m right.

I cannot abide willful ignorance of the facts. I cannot abide people who go out of their way to make ill of good news. I cannot abide fools who do not attempt to rectify their ways.

Perhaps someday I’ll just chill the ever-loving Hell out.

-M

I Don’t Always Use Ten-Cent Words

On Paris: What We Don’t Know

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There’s a lot we still don’t know about the attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. There’s a lot we don’t know about the future after these attacks, or what’s going to happen in France or around the world as a result of ISIS demonstrating it can attack western targets once in a while if it chooses to do so (though now that even may not be true).

In this brave new media world where instant response and analysis is required in the face of events that used to shock the world into silence, many people have instead declared as loudly as possible what they do know. In many cases what they know are that according to them, Muslims are scary. That and clinical insanity can be the only reason behind Donald Trump wanting to tag every Muslim in the United States so he can then herd them and treat them as animals if elected president. In a less Hitlery but no less cowardly display, the GOP House, joined by almost fifty Democrats, passed a bill effectively banning helpless refugees (because apparently they’re also scary) from entry into the US. They even went so far as to surround and intimidate one of their own caucus members in a likely futile attempt to get a veto-proof majority.

But the fact is there’s still a lot that we don’t know. French authorities are still capturing some of the attackers; borders were closed due to the attacks until Thursday and may be closed longer. The French Senate is so unsure of what might happen next it extended the country’s state of emergency for three months. There’s no particular guarantee that will help anything.

The fact is it has only been a week since these attacks. Emotions are still raw, information is incredibly limited, and analyses are deeply flawed.

The fact is that by spreading fear and panic the media around the world is doing a gross disservice to humanity.

Analysis is one thing, and as we get it we will do our best to report it here on DSW. But for the rest of it, the fear mongering and the direct selling of emotional terror to the general public for political gain and holistic alternatives to Viagra for white male politicians in the US, enough. Shut up already.

-G

On Paris: What We Don’t Know

Will I Be An Adult a When I Grow Up?

A fair point to make when talking about the most recent generation to become legal adults is whether or not they consider themselves adults. 

When people call me, “Mr. Johnpoll,” I think to myself, “That’s my father’s name.” But really taking the time to worry out the implications of that idea, I am Mr. Johnpoll; and I find that to be the strangest thing. 

So I have to wonder how many young people and young adults think to themselves, “When I grow up, will I be an adult?”

-M

  
Image credit: Facebook page Anime, Nihilism, and a hint of Sarcasm; Anime, K-On. 

Will I Be An Adult a When I Grow Up?

When The World Doesn’t Make Sense

I should have been much slower when deciding on my first roommate out of college. Like… Sloth being dragged around by a snail slow. It should suffice to say I don’t understand my roommate and his… Lack of empathy.

Last week, an attack on Paris ended in the deaths of more than one hundred people and a large response from the world largely condemning the actions of the few responsible for these acts.

But some people went a little further than just those responsible.

I was chatting with my roommate, usually a fairly innocent thing to do, when he brings up that he bought a second handgun for “home defense.”

“Like this man,” he said. “If some asshole comes though that door, I be like ‘BLAM!’ and that bitch dead.”

My response, landing outside my usual act of being a bloodless, tearless demon of a man, was to point out that killing someone, regardless of intent or personal defense, isn’t something most people can live with. Hell, if Fallout 4 has taught me anything, it’s that meaningless death or murder in any context has no redeeming value.

The conversation skewed back and forth a few times and I finally asked him, after some particularly unempathetic comments about the lives of others, especially Syran refugees, what he would do about the so-called Islamic State, having given my opinion. He emphatically said that he would, personally and without joining the armed forces, get a machine gun, go to Syria, and just start shooting people.

I was struck speechless. I stood there, in my little apartment just off US 441, and shied from him in horror.

I asked, “Do you realize what they would call you?”

“A fucking hero!”

“A terrorist. They would call you a terrorist and a monster.” I can not believe that another human being, a person from the “enlightened” and “advanced” nation of America could, even in jest, consider such an act.

I am more terrified that there are many thousands of others like this all over America who seem to think everyone in the Middle East, except of course Israel, for… reasons(?), is the enemy and should be utterly destroyed. Good gods! Even a potential President, several, think this way. It baffles the mind that so many can be so short-sighted and narrow-minded to take the “it’s us or them” mindset.

Please leave your comments below and continue the discussion. Terrify me some more or let me hope a little.

-M

When The World Doesn’t Make Sense

THE SONG OF ROLAND AND THE ATTACK ON PARIS

Most of the responses to the recent attacks in Lebanon, Iraq, and Paris perpetrated (most likely) by ISIS sympathizers in Europe and the Middle East has followed the modern standard of what is appropriated or expected to be debated after a terrorist attack. We decide who is responsible, we have a (usually brief, rehearsed and passionate) debate about whether or how many people we should kill in retaliation, we give ourselves a pass at racism for a while while we boo and hiss at the brown-skinned terrorists, and we then return to work without thinking too much else about it.

That superficial understanding (if understanding is even the right word) of modern terrorism and of the Islamic State in general presents a far greater danger to national security then the threat of terrorist attacks themselves. It encourages jingoism and xenophobia as a default response for those that cannot understand the significance and ramifications of world events like the recent attack on Paris. But there was nothing surprising about these attacks, given France’s long and messy history with Islam.

There has been so much discussion on what ISIS really wants, what its goals are, etc., and I don’t want to delve too much into that here, but the popular opinion is that ISIS is an organization bent on bringing about the apocalypse, a gigantic cult so to speak. Certainly there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this is how ISIS recruits new members to its ranks; every culture in the world has a small, clinically insane segment of its population that believes the apocalypse is imminent and they are called to help bring it about. But that theory leaves a lot to be desired. It’s overly simplistic, it has a racist tinge to it, and it smacks of propaganda. At the very least, saying ISIS is a larger version of Jonestown with more aggressive tendencies is an incredibly difficult argument to make. In truth, this has far deeper roots. The organization’s recruitment strategy might take advantage of radical propaganda; there’s not a military in the world that hasn’t done the same at some point. But ISIS’s behavior suggests it’s attempting to restore the dark ages era Muslim caliphate that one dominated the Middle East and came very close to dominating Europe.

If you’ve ever read or heard of The Song of Roland you’ll understand where this is going. The Song of Roland is a very old French military epic poem from the eighth century AD. It celebrates the victory of Charlemagne’s general Roland over forces led by the Emir of Cordoba, as well as some Basque forces, some time around 777  or 778 AD. Even though Charlemagne had to withdraw from Spain a year later and the battle might actually have less historical relevance then the poem would have us believe, The Song of Roland still evolved into a piece of anti-Muslim propaganda through the Middle Ages. The poem wasn’t even written until at least three hundred years later and was steeped with western Medieval tripe about the superiority of Latin Christianity over the pompous and debauchery-laden Saracens.

Charlemagne, of course, was Frankish. And the Franks, after a few hundred short years, became the French. And one does not attack Paris unless one’s target is the French. At least that’s true if we assume one is even remotely competent.

The French have struggled with Islam and Islamaphobia in modern times as well. General Charles de Gaulle, venerated by modern French as a national hero (he even has an airport named after him) took power in France after WWII and immediately made it a priority of his to wage a vicious and bloody war against Algerian independence. This was a war for Algerian independence led by nationalists but many of those nationalists were Muslims. In other words, in modern times countless Muslims gave their lives for a cause dear to their hearts that was directly opposed by the French. Simply given the fact that old propaganda has a way resurfacing during times of war, it’s safe to assume many modern Muslims have read or know of the Song of Roland, and it’s likely that people inside the ISIS command structure know of it as well.

France was a critical turning point in the story of the early Islamic Caliphate. Its military advance was stopped by ancestors of the French, and Medieval Europe turned the story of that into sectarian propaganda. This is only scratching the surface of why ISIS is, but understanding the history of the first Caliphate is crucial to understanding the political and cultural environment of modern Islam and the motivations of the Islamic State in general.

-G

THE SONG OF ROLAND AND THE ATTACK ON PARIS