Ghostbusters Doesn’t Belong to You

One of the biggest stories in social media for the last couple of days[1] is the “news” that the trailer for the new Ghostbusters is the most disliked video in YouTube history. This is the least historically useful piece of news I have ever heard. And I used to watch a shitload of baseball.[2]

Here’s the trailer for the new Ghostbusters:

As a point of comparison, here’s the trailer to the original Ghostbusters:

Based entirely on trailers I can say that the original Ghostbusters looks terrible. Like, just awful. But, of course, it’s a bit handicapped. Here, let’s take a look at the trailer for The Blues Brothers. Or how about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Movie trailers before the ‘90s sucked is what I’m saying. At least for comedies. Things got better during the golden age of SNL movies and SNL alum movies. But that’s neither here nor there.

The internet hates the new Ghostbusters. It hates it with a passion. The reason why is pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain: it’s because the movie was made with four women in the starring role. There is no other explanation.

Internet assholes would have you believe something else. They’ll tell you that Ghostbusters is somehow sacred. It’s somehow this untouchable historical artifact that we had better not mess with. Yet I do not recall seeing news stories about how the universally-reviled-on-the-internet Michael Bay TMNT movie or the eventually-universally-reviled-on-the-internet Michael Bay Transformers had the most disliked trailers in YouTube history. I’m pretty sure that if you total up Michael Bay’s YouTube dislikes they don’t equal the dislikes that the new Ghostbusters got on its first weekend.

There are also going to be people who aren’t big on Leslie Jones’ character. I absolutely get that. You’ve got three white women who are smart and accomplished and their streetwise, sassy black friend. Their sassy black friend also appears to be excessively yell-y and religious. So that checks all the boxes for racially profiled writing and casting choices.

But the thing is that if we take the reflexive Michael Bay haters and the people who have a genuine beef about racial stereotyping and the statistical percentage of people who weren’t going to like it just because there are always people who don’t like things we still don’t get to the, “ZOMG! Most Hated Evar!” status. So here’s the part where I have to tell asshole misogynists on the Internet to shut the fuck up. Because that’s what’s at the core of pushing this movie into historically-hated-before-it-comes-out territory.

Here’s the thing: who the fuck cares? Really. Is Melissa McCarthy going to travel the country, stepping on all DVDs of the original Ghostbusters? Is Kristen Wiig going to go to your house and shit on your copy of Ghostbusters? Is Leslie Jones going to go to Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and force them at gunpoint to sign a contract that says they’ll never stream the original? No. That’s not how it works. If Michael Bay can’t do it then neither can anyone involved in Ghostbusters. Because Michael Bay has people. And a huge stockpile of pyrotechnic charges.

So does the new movie infringe, in any way, shape, or form on your ability to enjoy the original? No. No it does not.

As such, the new movie is forced to stand or fall on its own merits. So let’s draw another comparison. Anchorman 2 was a not-at-all-anticipated, super late to the game sequel to one of the best comedies of the last decade. No one asked for it. No one wanted it. The original response to it from pretty much everyone was, “Why? No, really, why?” The trailer to Anchorman 2 currently has a bit under ten million views and a bit under two thousand dislikes. So I’m calling this the baseline.

Let’s say that the new Ghostbusters starred Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg, and Hannibal Burress. I’m just going to assume that it would be in Anchorman 2 territory. Everyone would be asking, “So, um, why is this a thing?” and then just going on with their lives.

In order to get to the level where something is the most disliked stupid comedy ever it has to be perceived as somehow destroying something important. Ghostbusters in and of itself can’t be that important, in the grand scheme of things.[4] I’ve already pointed out situations where the supposed destruction of a beloved cultural artifact didn’t result in historically low approval ratings.

As such the only thing that can possibly be driving the historically mentionable hatred of the new Ghostbusters is because the internet is filled with misogynistic assholes. There is no other explanation. So just shut the fuck up and don’t watch the movie.

However, this does then get back to a larger issue. I brought up a lot of Michael Bay movies earlier. He seems to keep remaking movies based on properties from my childhood.[5] I mostly manage to not care. I am apparently a rare breed.

Every time some random thing from the ‘80s or ‘90s is rebooted there’s an internet constituency that comes out of the woodwork to make sure we all know how much of an injustice it is that we’re being subjected to it. This week it’s Ghostbusters. Not so long ago it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Next week it will be Voltron or something. Because to some people the very act of making this new reboot is, to use the vernacular of internet dipshits, “raping their childhood.”

First of all, stop. Just fucking stop. A new Transformers movie isn’t raping you. Comparing someone you’ve never met making a new movie based on a piece of intellectual property created by someone you’ve never met to rape is deeply offensive to people who have actually been raped. It’s also fuck stupid and selfish and self-absorbed.

Second, if your entire childhood memory bank is based on cartoons made in the last thirty years then I am sad for you. Because every single one of those cartoons was created with one and only one goal in mind: to convince you to go beg your parents to take you to Toys R Us to buy toys based on that cartoon. That’s it. I had a shitload of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys growing up. I look back on that now and realize that I was a goddamn sucker, played for a fool by a bunch of suits in marketing.

So the primary difference between me and you, dear reader who is bitching about how your childhood is being stolen, is that I’m better and smarter than you. I’m better than you because I’ve moved on. I’m smarter than you because I’ve seen the strings and realized what they are.

Ghostbusters doesn’t belong to you. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn’t belong to you. Transformers doesn’t belong to you. They belong to a bunch of suits in a boardroom somewhere. Those suits bring out new content from time to time. Whenever they do it’s not because of nostalgia. It’s not because they love you. It’s because they’ve come to the conclusion that putting out new content will make them money.[6] They’ll sell tickets. They’ll sell ad time. They’ll sell toys. They don’t care. It’s all debits in the cash revenue column. It’s all yacht money.

So shut the fuck up because it doesn’t matter. Ghostbusters doesn’t belong to you.

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[1]This is based on the fact that it just keeps fucking popping up on my Facebook as a news story. This is the least scientific survey of important news stories this side of Glenn Beck telling us that everyone is talking about how Barack Obama is really a space mutant based on articles he read over at Breitbart and cross referenced with the National Enquirer. And my apologies to the National Enquirer, as it does not deserve to be mentioned alongside such obvious non-news entities as Glenn Beck and Breitbart.

[2]There is a ton of dead air during baseball games. So the color guy needs to do a lot of work to fill the viewers’ ear holes while the pitcher is scratching his nuts and trying to figure out which stitch he put his index finger on last time he faced the guy at the plate because he got a K last time and the guy at the plate is the current best hitter in the league. So baseball announcers end up spending a lot of time talking about the historic implications of something that happened. The vast majority of the time there is absolutely nothing worthwhile in those lessons.

Now, there are plenty of historical things worth mentioning in baseball. There are things like perfect games and no-hitters. There are hitting streaks. There are historically important winning or losing records. Those are all genuinely historically relevant. Those also only come along every once in a while, which is why they’re historically worthwhile in nature.

There are also plenty of things worth mentioning in the silly trivia category. This is stuff like, “This is the first time in history twin brothers hit back-to-back home runs,” or, “This is the first time that pitchers who each won two games in the World Series the previous year faced off against each other on Opening Day the following season.” Like, that sort of shit is crazy or fun or crazy and fun.

But then there’s the stuff that usually comes up. That’s stuff like, “He’s the first guy to strike out five switch hitters in the month of May since Fred McJackerson did it in 2003.” First of all, striking out five switch hitters is not something anyone cares about. Second, 2003 isn’t really that long ago. Third, unless you’re Fred McJackerson or his mother you’re probably going to have to look him up. Then when you do you’ll likely find out that poor Fred lost all of the games he pitched in May of 2003 before getting sent back down to the minors by a Kansas City Royals squad that only won 73 games that year. In short, there is absolutely nothing of historical significance about this historically significant event the color commentator is bringing up. He’s only doing it because most of his audience is drunk, asleep, or doing something else while pretending to watch the game.

[4]It would be like if they did a remake of Black Sheep or Tommy Boy with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. Or Sarah Silverman. I bet Sarah Silverman would be an awesome female David Spade. Those are undeniably awesome movies, but no one is talking about them right now because why would they? Much like no one was really talking about Ghostbusters at this time last year because oh my god, thirty year-old movie.

[5]I can’t entirely hate Michael Bay right now, though. He’s an Executive Producer of both Black Sails and The Last Ship. Black Sails is, hands down, the best thing on TV right now. The Last Ship is a pretty good show, too.

[6]I am a lifelong Star Trek fan. I despise the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies. Paramount keeps making them because it makes them money. My response to this is to occasionally make fun of the JJverse while mostly ignoring it in favor of focusing on the things that made me love Star Trek in the first place. It’s not rocket surgery here.

The Democratic Party is Irrelevant

It looks like Hillary has the Democratic Party nomination all but locked up right now. We’re down to recriminations and sour grapes and I-told-you-sos and calls for party unity. Bernie’s still talking a big game but Hillary’s already gearing up for her victory lap and Trump has started ignoring Cruz and Kasich in favor of taking potshots at Hillary and mocking the media for its notion of what “presidential” looks like while the media tells us that he is, in fact, presidential.[1] All of this is maneuvering and posturing for the big show that will consume all of us between now and November. All of this ignores the one thing no one in America is able to recognize. Whether Hillary wins by 90 points or Trump becomes America’s most wildly unqualified President-elect since Zachary Taylor the Democratic Party is going to lose.

We’ve been hearing tales of the death of the Republican Party for years. In 2008 there were gleeful reports of the end of all things Republican Party. John McCain went from being one of the most respected politicians in America to a has-been joke accompanied by a word-salad shooting moron in a matter of months while the Democratic Party Ascendant had Barack Obama and still had Hillary waiting in the wings. In 2012 when the Republican Clown Car was whittled down to a bafflingly wealthy board with an amazing head of hair with no chance of winning the pundits looked at the vast wasteland of Republican benchwarmers and also-rans and asked yet again if the Republicans would soon go the way of the Whigs, the Anti-Masonic Party, and the American Party.[2]

What all of this ignores is the fact that the Republican Party is far stronger now than it was in 2008. The Republican Party won the most important political race of this generation in 2010 while the Democratic Party was asleep at the switch. Don’t believe me? Let me throw three names at you: John Kasich, Scott Walker, and Rick Snyder.

What do all three of those men have in common? All three were inaugurated as state governors in January of 2011. All three followed a Democratic Governor. All three are currently governors of old, mainline Union states whose men had heroic tales of fighting the Confederates in the Civil War. All three had a long tradition of leading the way on labor rights issues. All three states went to Barack Obama in 2008. The states in question are Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

You may recognize all of those names. John Kasich is, of course, the current answer to the question, “Hey, who’s the other guy who’s still in the Republican race for some reason?” Scott Walker is famous for having to run another race for his own job shortly after being elected when it turned out that he mostly wanted to tell teachers to go fuck themselves. Rick Snyder, meanwhile, let the city of Flint, Michigan drink and bathe in delicious lead water for a year or so.[3]

The Republican Party didn’t just grab a few governor’s offices in 2010. They took control of the House and very nearly managed to grab the Senate. The Senate seat grab came at the cost of the Illinois Senate seat that had belonged to Barack Obama, although there was the weird influence selling scheme by Rod Blagojevich and Roland Burris had already vacated the seat by the time Mark Kirk was sworn in. The big loss in 2010 came in — wait for it — Wisconsin, where liberal stalwart Russ Feingold was booted in favor of Ron Johnson, as dingbatty a Tea Party dingbat as any of the other Tea Partiers.[4]

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other Republicans who won the governorship in formerly Democratic-governed states. Rick Scott took Florida and became the first governor to push for drug testing of welfare recipients. He also refused to say that he knows anything about climate change while governing a state that’s slowly drowning. Paul LePage got the governor’s seat in Maine with just under 39% of the vote and proceeded to just be the worst. Sam Brownback won in Kansas and decided to use it as a laboratory for Republican financial policies of cutting taxes to the rich and services to everyone else and Kansas is suffering heavily from lack of funds. But it’s okay because Kansas is going to pay you $2,500 the state doesn’t have if you check the genitalia of everyone in their public restrooms and find that someone has an outtie where there should be an innie.[5]

So, in short, in 2008 the Democratic Party won the Oval Office and majorities in both houses of Congress. The pundits started asking if that would be the end of the Republican Party. Two years later the Republicans had taken basically everything back but the office of the President. We should all have such a difficult death.

This whole change came about because of the Tea Party, a pseudo grassroots organization that was fueled by equal parts racism, religious bigotry, hatred of the poor, and generalized rage at the Other. Much ado was made about how the Republican Establishment wasn’t a fan of the Tea Party and either the Tea Party would take over the Republican Party or the Republican Party would splinter into a Mainline Conservative faction and a Tea Party faction. This, it was reported, would be the death of the Republican Party as a force in American politics.

We all know that didn’t happen. I’m now convinced that the Republican Party will long outlive the Democratic Party. This, of course, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. The Republican Party is the party of old people, after all. Its supporters will soon die out and its ideologies will soon become irrelevant. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The simple fact of the matter is that it’s the Democratic Party is irrelevant. There is no nationwide plan. They look at the major grassroots, socially-driven, progressive movements in this country and they respond with shrugs at best and lectures at worst. The Democratic Party did nothing to help Occupy or Black Lives Matter. The Democratic Party gave up the high ground on North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” and let Starbucks and Target and Bruce Springsteen take up the fight.

For all of the gleeful discussion of how 2008 was a sign that the Republican Party was in its death throes the Republicans gained ground. For all of the speculation that Donald Trump will destroy the Republican Party the Republicans keep gaining ground. The Republican Party has a strong coalition because the Republican Party has a coalition based on hate and fear. It doesn’t matter if the voters hate taxes or government or gays or brown people, they all hate something. And Donald Trump hates and fears the same things they do just as strongly as they do.

I do not for a moment believe that the powers that be in the Republican Party actually give a shit about whether or not Trump wins the nomination. The Kochs and the Adelsons and the dark money groups know something that most of America doesn’t: the office of the President doesn’t actually matter. It’s a sideshow. Get a stranglehold on 50 governors and 50 state legislatures and a plurality of Congress and the President could be a magical unicorn that farts jobs programs and shits healthcare vouchers and it won’t matter.

The Republican rank and file will go to the polls in November. They will vote for Trump. Whether or not Trump wins it won’t matter, though, since those very same voters will also vote for Louie Gohmert and Chuck Grassley and David Vitter and they’ll go back to the polls in two years to vote for Louie Gohmert and Rick Snyder and Bruce Rauner while the Democratic Party takes a nap and maybe lectures social progressives on what they need to do to get on the Sunday morning shows and the front page of HuffPo.

If Hillary loses, which is not a bet I’m currently willing to take, the Democratic Party will eat its own tail. It will turn on Bernie’s supporters and wag its finger and tell all of those damn Millennials and misogynistic BernieBros that it was their fault. The thing about it is, though, that those same lazy Millennials and misogynistic BernieBros flock to rallies and march in protests and love Elizabeth Warren. So maybe it’s not that they’re too lazy to vote or hate women but that they’re looking for something authentic and they see it in Bernie and Warren and don’t see it in Hillary and the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party needs to find ways to leverage enthusiasm for Bernie but it won’t. How do I know this? We saw it in 2008 with Howard Dean. Dean, for those who can remember things that happened 12 years ago, was the presumptive frontrunner going into the 2004 election. He lost, badly, but became the DNC Chair and formulated the 50-State-Strategy, which was an attempt to counter the Republican tendency to make sure they had people running for every seat from President on down to County Coroner. Dean’s strategy was crucial for the Democratic Party wins in the 2006 mid-term and 2008’s visit to the woodshed with the Republican Party. How was Dean rewarded after the 2008 election? He was kicked to the curb.

See, it’s conventional wisdom in the Democratic Party that some seats just can’t be won and, as such, no money should be spent on those seats. It was Dean’s belief that you lose 100% of the seats you don’t put a candidate up for. Dean’s primary opponent was Rahm Immanuel, also known as Obama’s first Chief of Staff and the current mayor of the soon-to-be-formerly-great city of Chicago. It doesn’t take too much to figure out how Dean ended up on the outside of the fight.

I can assure you, as someone who has taken the Democratic ballot in several primaries and seen that half of the sheet is blank, that it’s frustrating and demoralizing. This primary season I wanted to vote for Bernie. I was also proud to get a chance to vote for Tammy Duckworth. After that most of the boxes on my ballot were blank. All that does is signal that in November those same boxes will have a name with an R next to it and no name with a D.

So let’s review. The Democratic Party doesn’t care about trying to win seats in districts that are in Chicago’s collar counties. The Democratic Party would rather that the people from Occupy and Black Lives Matter go home and be quiet and speak with their votes. When those people do speak with their votes for Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party scolds them for dragging out Hillary’s coronation.

Meanwhile, the unfettered id of the Republican Party runs amok. “Hey, I hear you hate Muslims. So do we!” say Trump and Cruz. “What’s that? You’re worried that the Mexicans are taking your jobs? We’ll build a wall!” “You don’t like the gays getting married? Here’s a bill that will stop all that from happening!”

And that’s the lesson the Democratic Party needs to take from the death throes of the Republicans in 2008 and 2010.[6] There will always be Tea Partiers. There will always be angry people. The rank and file of the Republican Party isn’t united in their love of low capital gains taxes or Evangelical Christianity. It’s united in the fact that the people who vote Republican are deeply, existentially, afraid of something and are looking for someone to tell them that they’re not alone in their fears. They’re looking for someone to tell them, “Yes, we are standing here on the ramparts and we will defend you from that big, scary monster.”

The Tea Party didn’t destroy the Republican Party because as far as the Republicans were concerned the Tea Party was a giant, angry focus group. Trump’s supporters are much the same. The entire Trump campaign has normalized hate and bigotry to a degree that would make Barry Goldwater blush. No matter what happens in November of 2016 the Republicans will take that information and run with it in 2018 and again in 2020.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, begs Black Lives Matter to quiet down and told Occupy to go home because they might make it harder to work with the Republicans. Those self-same Republicans who seven years ago said it was their entire job to keep Barack Obama from accomplishing anything while he was President. On one level they failed, since Obama got quite a bit accomplished. But even when Obama pushed through a victory, like the ACA, the Republicans still managed to functionally stop it from working in states like Texas by just refusing the Federal subsidies. They also made sure it was a horribly written law hated by basically everyone from the start.

Occupy should have been a refreshing of the Democratic Party. Black Lives Matter should be the signal of the start of a new Civil Rights Movement. The enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders should be a wake-up call that a huge chunk of the country is clamoring for a real progressive bent to the supposedly liberal Democratic Party. That’s simply not happening. The Democratic Party is pushing away those they should embrace.

It should be said at this point that the Democratic Party has had a pretty good track record with gay rights and women’s health issues these last few years. But even those victories have to be written down with big, fat asterisks. For every step forward at the Federal level there are huge steps backward in the Red States. Gay marriage is now the law of the land but Republican lawmakers down in the states are doubling-down with discriminatory laws. Planned Parenthood and similar organizations have been all but pushed out of the South because legislators have been allowed to write bizarre, specific laws and then change them on a whim.

What it all comes down to is the idea that a big, splashy win is meaningless if it doesn’t bring about real, helpful change. The Democratic Party focuses on big wins while the Republican Party focuses on little victories because the Republicans know that the little victories add up. The Oval Office is a big win but six governors, seventy Congresspeople, and a whole bunch of state legislators are a heap of little victories. We know from American history that the little victories mean more.

In 1876 the Republicans got the White House. The Democrats got the little victory of the end of Reconstruction. This set the stage for Jim Crow and allowed racist policies to rule the South until the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1963. The Civil Rights Act was a big win. In 1964 the Republicans started their string of little victories with the Southern Strategy. That strategy, as I’ve talked about before, is why we are where we are today.

There are real people in America who are hurting. Transgender people in North Carolina are being told they aren’t allowed to use the bathroom because they’re sexually violent. Black kids in Chicago and St Louis are being shot by the police who are supposed to help them. Toddlers in Flint have developmental defects from drinking lead water. The state of Illinois is no longer paying its bills because Bruce Rauner has made sure there isn’t a budget for nearly a year. Kansas appears to be at a breaking point but Brownback keeps doubling down.

Each of these things costs us something. Each of these things is another step down the road to ruin. It’s not inevitable. It’s not irreversible. But as long as the Republicans keep finding a new way to harness hate and anger while the Democrats keep seeing the progressive grassroots as a hindrance we’ll keep walking down that road.

The Democratic Party either needs to wake up or move aside. Anything else is a death spiral of irrelevance and ruin.

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[1]This is one of the subplots of the 2016 Presidential race that just completely boggles my mind. The news media mocked Trump when it looked like he was just running to sell more books last year. As this bizarre farce has gone on the news has started telling us that, no, really, he can totally be President, you guys. Look! He’s learned how to use a teleprompter! And he went three whole sentences without kicking Ted Cruz in the nuts, metaphorically speaking! So President. Much gravitas.

[2]A.K.A. the Know-Nothings. That’s my second favorite political epithet behind the Mugwumps.

[3]The whole thing with Snyder is actually significantly worse than it looks if you do a little digging. One of the reasons it got to that point in the first place was because of the Emergency Financial Manager position in Michigan. It was a law originally created in 1988 to give the state the ability to step in and fix broken financial situations in municipalities. One of Snyder’s first acts as Governor was to drastically expand the scope of the Emergency Financial Manager’s power. The people of Michigan slapped the revision down but then Snyder pushed a similar bill through in 2012. Flint was living under Snyder’s rule when the city’s Emergency Financial Manager switched from Lake Huron water to Flint River water.

So, y’know, fuck Rick Snyder.

[4]2010 also included an off-cycle Senate election that followed the death of Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. In that election the woefully inadequate Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican empty suit and former underwear model Scott Brown. In 2012 Scott Brown got his ass handed to him by Elizabeth Warren because Elizabeth Warren is one of the five or so politicians in America who is actually good at their job. Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Dick Durbin, and Tammy Duckworth are the other four.

[5]Here in the civilized world we call people who go into public restrooms and force other people to show them their genitals “sex offenders.” I guess things are different in Kansas.

[6]And, for that matter, 1964.

Donald Trump and the Rise of American Fascism

Fascism is a difficult subject to discuss. Mostly it’s because fascism itself was never truly and properly defined but was always one of those, “I’ll know it when I see it,” sorts of things. Unfortunately ever since the end of WWII the, “I’ll know it when I see it,” aspect of defining fascism basically boiled down to, “Fascism is when my political opponents do something I don’t like.” The internet has made it even worse, with everything immediately going to name-calling of the “Hitler” and “Nazi” variety.

The most interesting thing about attempting to define fascism is that looking for comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis isn’t really a useful place to start. German fascism was very different from Italian fascism and different again from Spanish fascism. They started from different places but ended up in a similar space that we’ve labeled “fascism” ever since.

So we must start by talking about where fascism came from. We can actually get a pretty big clue from the origins of the word itself. The term originated with “fasces,” a Latin word for an ax bundled inside of elm or birch rods. It was a symbol of authority in the Roman Republic. In the late 19th Century the image was appropriated by workers’ parties in Italy, the most famous of which, eventually, was the one run by Benito Mussolini.

In the aftermath of WWI Mussolini and his compatriots were angry with the Italian government for not taking advantage of the end of WWI and expanding Italy’s borders. They believed Italy was the true heir to the Roman Empire and that the key to survival as a nation was to take that heritage in philosophy and action. This is why Mussolini claimed that his ultimate goal was to turn the Mediterranean into a “Roman lake” yet again. In Italy, then, the root of fascism was imperialism. The fascists appealed to a mythological interpretation of Italian history as descending directly from and deserving of the laurels of the Roman Empire.

Spanish fascism, as lead by General Franco and the Nationalists, was a different story. It was rooted in civil war and fear of both communism and anarchism. Franco and the Nationalists declared themselves defenders of Christian civilization against the slavering hordes of communists and anarchists who were trying to destroy Spain.

German fascism grew out of anger. The reparations foisted upon the Germans after Versailles were punitive and impossible. It was, at its core, anti-communist and racist, appealing to a German national identity that we all recognize now as the Aryan supremacy. The attempted extermination of all Jews receives the most attention, but the Nazis were indiscriminate, attempting to exterminate homosexuals, gypsies, and all other undesirable elements in order to create a purified Germany. One of the interesting things about the early years of the Nazi party was that although it was deeply rooted in anti-communist rhetoric and action it also did not support the notions of a wealthy class or unrestrained corporate power.

This was, in fact, one of the key aspects of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s. They believed in a merging of the government and industry and complete mobilization of the citizenry to achieve the national goals of prosperity and strength. This is not all that different from the communist ideal of the workers taking over the means of production and, I believe, one of the many reasons that current discussion of fascism confuses and obliterates the distinction between communism and fascism. The communist ideal, however, was for the workers to rise up and throw off the shackles of their bourgeois oppressors. The fascist ideal was to put the government in charge of the means of production in order to dictate the actions of the state.

This aspect of a fascist revolution is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of in America today. It is deeply embedded in the rhetoric of the right, however. We hear it every single time a conservative talks about how regulations, any regulations, strangle business. We hear it when right wing pundits spout off about how the Affordable Care Act was Barack Obama taking over the entire medical industry. Government regulations are a necessary part of making the world work to the satisfaction of as many people as possible. At no point did Obama nationalize the health care system and anyone who knows anything about how much money the Affordable Care Act put into the pockets of the insurance companies knows that the ACA was anything but an attempt to break the back of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

In order to understand American fascism, then, we must look at other aspects of the great fascist movements of the 20th Century. Many historians with much better credentials than I possess have tried and failed to come to a universal understanding of fascism so I won’t even try. I only wish to draw in broad strokes.

First of all, the fascists were all deeply nationalistic. Moreover, within that nationalism they were tribal, appealing to a notion of the proper Italian, German, or Spaniard. This notion of the proper person was different and based on the ideal of that particular nation. Having identified a true and proper person they then defined their enemies. Communists were always on the top of that list.[1] Jews were on the list in Germany because of good, old-fashioned anti-Semitism and the ancient notion that the people were poor because the rich Jewish bankers had stolen all of their money.

Second, they were based on a mythology of power. The Italian fascists pointed back to the Roman Empire as their true birthright. The Nazis were heavily into the occult as a source of mythic power from ancient German and Christian symbolism.

Third, they required a narrative of stolen glory. The Italian fascists believed the government had sold the Italian people short in the wake of WWI. The Nazis believed they were being victimized by the reparations in the wake of WWI.[2] In each case, though, the nation was once great and had been destroyed. There was then a group or collection of groups that were responsible for that downfall. The failures were emphatically never the responsibility of the state or the right kinds of citizens.

Fourth, fascism itself is, at its core, a cult of personality. Mussolini and Franco were leaders of their parties and drew their followers to themselves as much as, if not more than, the parties they represented. The Nazis chose Hitler as their leader because they saw him as a galvanizing and controlling force over the people. We would not have had the Fascist Party without Mussolini and the word itself would still just be a description of a Roman ceremonial device languishing in the minds and books of professors of antiquity. The Nazis would be a footnote in the history books without Hitler.

One of the most interesting things to note here is that it can easily be said that the United States had its own form of proto-fascism long before Mussolini popularized the term. The South in the years after the end of the Civil War built up the Lost Cause myth, gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan, and blamed all of their problems on freed slaves, Northern carpetbaggers, and Southern scalawags. What the South was missing in the years immediately following the Civil War was the cult of personality. Nathan Bedford Forrest is the only figure I can really consider having the necessary clout but he did not extend his influence beyond the Klan itself. The most obvious person to take on the mantle of would-be proto-fascist strongman was Robert E. Lee, but he was far too much of a gentleman to involve himself in such things. The South would get their strongmen during the Civil Rights Movement in the form of George Wallace and his ilk. By then the game had changed, however. Still, it should come as no surprise that as I discuss the notion of American fascism the people who most resemble that notion are the heirs of the old South and oftentimes still fly the Confederate flag.

When I say that the game changed I’m talking about Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Presidential election, and the Southern Strategy. This is the part of American history that apparently never happened according to everyone’s racist uncle on Facebook. According to the racist uncle the Democrats are the real racists and the Republicans are the real defenders of freedom because Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and the Democrats were the party that seceded in 1861. What this ignores is the events of 1964 and 1965 when Lyndon B Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law, effectively reversed the Democratic Party’s stance from the century before, and essentially completed Lincoln’s legacy.

The main opponents to the Civil Rights Act in 1964 were Southern Democrats, known as the Dixiecrats. The primary Senate opposition came from Richard Russell, Robert Byrd, and Strom Thurmond, all Democrats from Georgia, West Virginia,[3] and South Carolina, respectively. Two months later Strom Thurmond would switch party affiliation to the Republican Party. In 1968 he was a key figure in gaining the South for Richard Nixon. In this he was assisted by George Wallace, who split the Democratic ticket with Hubert Humphrey that year.[4]

This was the realization of the Southern Strategy. It began in 1964 when Barry Goldwater won the Deep South as a Republican on his way to losing the election to Lyndon B. Johnson. The Republicans simply did not win in the South up until that point but the Democratic Party’s increasing support of civil rights was angering Southern white conservatives. In 1968 the Republicans specifically targeted the South and, aided by George Wallace’s third-party run and the switchover of prominent Dixiecrats, won the South. The Republicans have held onto the South ever since, save for the 1976 election when Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, managed to wrestle it away, and 1992 when the Clinton/Gore ticket, consisting of an Arkansan and a Tennesseean, managed to nab a couple of the Southern States.[5]

The Southern Strategy has long depended on the Confederate sympathies of the South and that proto-fascist streak that has lived in the hearts of the unrepentant secessionists who still make up a vocal minority of the population below the Mason-Dixon Line. Much as the South simply lacked the capability of winning the Civil War the retrograde elements of the Southern electorate aren’t enough to carry the entire country in an election. The lessons learned in 1964 and 1968 taught the Republicans that there are enough people out there who can be swayed by a Southern Strategy style campaign to win elections. This is what gave us the rise of the Tea Party and right wing rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims and homosexuals. Immigrants and Muslims and homosexuals all represent a form of other that’s scary to some segment of the American population.[6]

This is the electoral ring into which Donald Trump threw his Make America Great Again cap last year. I honestly believe he thought he was just going to have a laugh and sell a few books. I don’t think he set out to become an American Mussolini but he managed to do exactly that. His rhetoric actually hits on all of the main points of fascist propaganda starting with that Make America Great Again ball cap. It says that America was once the pinnacle but has been dethroned and someone needs to step up and fix it. Who is it that ruined American greatness, according to Trump’s rhetoric? Illegal immigrants, liberals, the media, and non-white people in general. He then presented himself as the strong man with all of the answers to all of the problems and his followers created the cult of personality that’s the final key to the fascist movement. It’s terrifying to watch in real time and, worse, it’s escalating as time goes on.

One of the new themes in Trump’s rallies is the kicking out of protestors. I have now read many accounts of Trump rallies where protesters are regularly surrounded, security is summoned, and the protesters are removed from the building. All the while Trump stands on stage and eggs on the spectacle. In most of the accounts I have read some of the protesters are actually making noise, but most seem to be people who are there and minding their own business. One account I read was of a pair of black teenage girls who were wearing anti-Trump shirts but interacting pleasantly with the people around them until suddenly the crowd turned against them.

Historians have often asked how Germany went insane in the 1930s. This is the answer to that question. It starts small. It starts with people turning against their neighbors in small ways. It starts with the leadership applauding the actions of those who turn on their neighbors. Germany did not wake up one morning and say, “Hey, let’s put Hitler in charge and kill all of the Jews.” The Nazis took over a small percentage of the Reichstag and eventually rose to just under 40% control. From there they stopped the government from doing anything while forcing von Hindenberg into declaring Hitler Chancellor. Even that was met with protests.

All of this leads us, for the moment, to Chicago on Friday. The Illinois primary is on Tuesday[7] and this is the first time in a long time when Illinois actually mattered in the primary election.[8] Trump scheduled a rally in Chicago on Friday night and ended up cancelling it. Violence ensued.

The initial reports were that anti-Trump protesters in Chicago got violent and Trump called the rally because of that. I initially reacted by saying that it was a disgrace that Chicago had descended to Trump’s level. Then on Saturday morning new information came to light. Eyewitness reports indicated that the anti-Trump crowd was generally peaceful and it was also far too large to be bullied like the scattering of anti-Trump people at his usual rallies. So Trump cancelled the rally. That was when everything went to hell.

Trump has since claimed that the Chicago protesters violated his First Amendment rights to free speech. That’s beyond stupid, but par for the course for most of America these days. The First Amendment guarantees that the government won’t suppress free speech but says nothing about whether or not protesters are allowed to try to stop or drown out someone else. That’s also beside the point.

The big lesson here: you don’t fuck with Chicago. We don’t put up with Trump’s shit. I expect that as we continue our death march to the Republican Convention Trump will be met with larger and better organized protests. The country is starting to take him seriously. The fight started in Chicago but won’t end here.

Trump’s Presidential run is scary. His supporters are scarier. It’s hard not to see the undertones of fascism in Trumps rallies. I fully expect that if Trump wins the nomination the rallies will get more dangerous, the protests will get louder, and that there will be at least one headline about someone getting killed at a Trump rally.

This is how fascism comes to America. There is nothing inevitable about President Trump. What we need to do is recognize the roots of American fascism and remain vigilant. We must realize that “it can’t happen here” is incorrect. It is happening here. We can stop it. We can’t stop it with Twitter hashtags or passing around memes making fun of Trump’s hair. We have to stand up and say, “No, we won’t allow you to be the loudest voice in the room.” We have to recognize that anger at the other is the first step to oblivion.

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[1]This opposition to communism was more or less opportunistic. The communists were simply the bogeyman and a visible force to rally against. Communist philosophy was a natural foil to fascism, though, as the ultimate goal of communism is the obliteration of the machinery of the state in favor of the workers while the ultimate goal of fascism was the transcendence of the state itself.

[2]This, for the record, is a valid complaint. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were ruinous to Germany. Which is one of the great tragedies of WWI. As far as wars go it was basically morally neutral. There was no great good v. evil frame for WWI. It started by accident and snowballed because of an interlaced web of treaties and protection agreements. In the aftermath of the war, though, Germany was treated as if it had singlehandedly undertaken to destroy the world while the Kaiser cackled maniacally and clapped with glee. It’s entirely likely that this reaction was based on the overall horror of the war itself but had the unintended consequence of forcing the German people to turn to monsters to protect themselves.

[3]The West Virginia part there is interesting, as West Virginia effectively seceded from Virginia when Virginia went with the Confederacy. West Virginia’s legacy since then has not been one rich in liberalism, however.

[4]Byrd, it should be noted, remained a Democrat and would later renounce his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. He remained a conservative voice in the Democratic Party but he did see the light on the issue of civil rights.

[5]There’s a cautionary tale built into the electoral maps for Hillary Clinton. Her biggest primary wins were in Southern states where she holds a major lead in the black vote. Barack Obama, who got something like 97% of the black vote if my memory serves, didn’t win a single one of those states in 2008 or 2012. This is an electoral mine field for the Democratic Party, as Bernie Sanders has been winning in the states that will probably go blue in the general. It’s possible that we’re headed for a perfect storm of Democratic Party malaise that will open up a path for Donald Trump to actually win in November.

[6]There is, of course, nothing new under the Sun here. America has a long and troubled history of immigrants closing the doors on the next group trying to get in. Eastern Europeans and Southern Europeans were once thought of in the same way that a lot of Americans think of Mexicans today. The election of John F Kennedy was a major coup, as Americans had long thought of Catholics as a dangerous religious group beholden to the Pope over the President.

[7]I’ve already taken advantage of early voting, as is my wont. Feel the Bern!

[8]There were two times in my life when I had the chance to vote for Barack Obama and didn’t. The first was the 2004 general. I was out at school at the time and never quite got around to figuring out how to vote outside of my home precinct. That election would have marked my switch from conservative to liberal, as I voted for Bush in 2000 but intended to vote for Kerry in 2004. That was also Obama’s Senate election, where he was initially running against Jack Ryan, former husband of Jeri Ryan, who played Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager. Ryan dropped out of the race in disgrace when it the proceedings from his divorce came to light and the public learned that he had a thing for sex clubs and public sex in general and the whole thing was super weird (but, in Jack Ryan’s defense, if I was married to Jeri Ryan in the ‘90s I would totally want to have sex with her in public because, holy shit, people, look at me having sex with Jeri Ryan!). The Illinois Republican Party then seriously attempted to recruit Mike Ditka as their candidate. Da Coach was not interested. They eventually recruited professional runner-up and general disaster Alan Keyes to run against Obama. Obama won that race by so much that he actually sent his money and volunteers to work for other Democratic campaigns. It was this that paved the way for Obama’s keynote at the 2004 Democratic Convention and caused everyone to declare him the future of the Democratic Party.

I voted for Dennis Kucinich in the 2008 Democratic Primary. By that point Obama had the nomination locked up and I had an irrational love of Dennis Kucinich. He was kind of a proto-Bernie but he also believed in aliens and shit and was just generally amusing. I remain convinced that he’s actually some kind of magical elf.

This American Dream I am Disbelieving

So I had big plans for the blog this week. None of them happened, so we’re going to have to push things back a week. Instead I offer an attempt at sharing some thoughts I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words for quite some time.

Didn’t you know that this world
Is not meant to be dreamt in
But what hurts me most
Is all the time that we’ve wasted
I’ve wasted all the dreams in my head
I’ll have to move out of this country instead
–Idlewild, “You and I are Both Away”

It seems to me that it’s easier to make something of yourself if you start with nothing than it is to make something of yourself if you start with something. Like, I’m not talking rich when I say “something,” I’m talking your basic American middle class existence. If you grow up middle class your life is planned out for you pretty much from the start. You go to school for 13 years. The final two years are spent applying for college. You then go to college and emerge with a slightly pickled liver, a degree that may or may not be useful, and crushing loads of debt. Then you’re supposed to get a job as an accountant, get married, buy a house, have 2.4 children and a dog, and eventually you die.

The reason I say it’s easier to make something of yourself if you start with nothing isn’t a Republican-Presidential-Candidate-esque rant about how the poor have it too easy in America. It’s a psychological statement. If you have nothing you don’t have anything to lose. If your dreams are big enough, your skills are honed enough, and luck is on your side you can go anywhere from nothing because no one is expecting anything of you.

If you start with something most of the messages you get as you’re growing up are about how to not lose what you have. You can’t be in a band because guys in bands don’t make any money. You can’t be an artist because artists don’t make any money. You have to be an accountant[1] or an engineer or a middle manager or something.

Last summer in a fit of pique I wrote three posts about how corporate America is destroying America. I still believe every word I wrote.

The message we get growing up in the vast and shrinking middle classes of America is, “Make the safe choice.” We kill ourselves every day with the safe choice. Our dreams become secondary things that we might get to turn into hobbies when we’re 50 if everything goes according to plan.

What if the plan is terrible? Does that matter?

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I also think that this directly impacts the politics of America. I’m not really talking about Trump rallies or Bernie and Hillary here. I have many things to say on the subject of Trump rallies, though. Hopefully there will be a long-ass post about that next week.

What I’m talking about is something more primal. We’re increasingly divided and increasingly hateful of each other. There’s the obvious shit, like the way that you can apparently get one third of the country to support you if you spout off any racist shit that you can think of.

I think it’s because most of us are mad. Most of us are scared. That convenient path to a long, healthy life is increasingly closing off. Wages are stagnant while college costs and housing costs are climbing ever higher. But this is the American Dream. This is what we’re supposed to do. What do we do when it’s not working anymore?

This is where Donald Trump gets scary. He might be a buffoon or a con man or pulling the greatest piece of performance art since Andy Kaufman disappeared, but he’s tapped into something primal and dangerous in America. It’s something that’s always existed at the fringes of the American psyche and sometimes gone mainstream, but it’s always something that goes away and we pretend can’t happen anymore. America has always had a nativist streak, always had an isolationist streak, always had a hateful streak. The waves crested with the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Clan but they’ve always been around and will probably always be around.

So when the bully stands up and says “Make America Great Again,” people know what that means. They look around at the ruins of their own lives and look at the American Dream and they know that something has stopped them from achieving the American Dream. It can’t possibly be that they failed. It can’t possibly be that America as a whole failed. It has to be because someone, somewhere, is trying to actively destroy America.

It can’t be my fault it’s all falling apart. It has to be yours.

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I am increasingly convinced that politicians cannot fix this. Obama couldn’t do it. Bernie Sanders won’t be able do it even if he does get past Hillary. The President is just one person at the head of a vast, sluggish political machine. Each of the cogs of that machine are more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs and the crazy thing about politicians is that doing your job is not a pre-requisite for keeping it. That machine is propped up on an 18th Century document not designed to cope with the sheer size and complexity of modern America.

Politicians let Flint, Michigan drink lead water for over a year. Politicians stand up and tell us how awful all the gun violence is and never actually lift a finger to fix it. Politicians don’t fix it because it doesn’t actually matter to them anymore. They’re going to get their votes, anyway.

Americans don’t follow politics anymore. This might seem like a weird statement to make since we’ve had wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 race for over a year now and people discuss politics in America in the same way the residents of Constantinople once discussed the finer points of Arianism. But what we’re doing isn’t about the actual politics anymore. We follow politics like we follow team sports. It’s no longer an exercise in deciding who can best steer the ship of state but an exercise in handicapping and picking the right team and winning.

The Democrats don’t have to talk to the Republicans anymore, since a huge number of Republicans wouldn’t vote for Hillary or Bernie if Mecha-Hitler won the primaries and chose a methed-out velociraptor as his running mate. The Republicans don’t have to talk to the Democrats anymore since Trump is a guy with bad hair pretending to be Mecha-Hitler and Ted Cruz is a methed-out velociraptor who may or may not be the Zodiac Killer.

So in the absence of anything better to do the Democrats are currently eviscerating each other as Bernie continues to insist on not going away. It’s positively vitriolic between the Bernie and Hillary camps right now. If you don’t support Hillary you’re a sexist douchebag. If you do support Hillary you’re just begging for four more years of a President toadying up to Wall Street. If you support Bernie you’re an idiot who doesn’t know how reality works. If you don’t support Bernie you’re a fucking moron who wants Wall Street to keep running our lives.

The Republicans, meanwhile, are, um…actually, I’m not sure how the followers of the various camps are doing over on that side. It’s all just unintelligible screeching and men in suits that cost more than a house in Flint, Michigan smearing shit all over each other.

Meanwhile real Americans drink water filled with lead. Real Americans can’t find work. Real Americans lose their houses. The shitheads that are supposed to help them and represent them point at the other shitheads wearing the opposite team’s colors and say, “It’s their fault.”

And those real Americans believe the shitheads. Because it doesn’t matter whether the shithead is wearing a blue or a red jersey. It’s all about the team.

——————–

I’ve come to realize that the politicians cannot save us. The politicians don’t want to save us. The politicians just want to keep their jobs and if we’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s that the only way to keep your job as a politician is to avoid doing your job.

You know who’s going to save us? The artists, the thinkers, the philosophers. It’s going to take people rejecting the simple path and taking the difficult one. We do need a revolution, but it needs to be a revolution in how we treat each other and think about the people we put in charge.

That’s a scary thought. But the alternative is even scarier. The American Dream is a lie and every 4 years we make that lie a little bit bigger.

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[1]I am currently taking a corporate accounting course. Oh. My. God. Accounting is the fucking worst. So I’m a bit down on accounting right now.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Belteshazzar?

So there were these four Jewish dudes. Their names were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were burly, strapping young lads at a time when the Babylonians were in charge over in Israel. Nebuchadnezzar, the king in Babylon, was all about having Jewish captives in Babylon to keep the Jews in line. It was custom at that time.

So Nebuchadnezzar, who’s better known as the hovership in The Matrix, was interested in getting his new subjects to go native and figured the best way to do it was to take their highest quality young folk and, um, Babylonify them. So he gave them names that were more Babylon-y than Jewish-y. So he called Daniel Belteshazzer. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah got names that would be familiar to anyone who grew up in Sunday School: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. For the younger folk they might be better known as Rack, Shack, and Benny.[1]

Our four little buddies then had a series of adventures. There was the one where they ate a bunch of vegetables because the king’s food was too sinny or something. Then there was this other one where they didn’t bow to some idol. Then there was that one time Rack, Shack, and Benny got thrown into a fiery furnace while Daniel was back home visiting his mother and presumably using his Kung Fu skills to clean up his old block that was now infested with a gang of Illyrian toughs or something. I assume there was a romantic subplot involving his old high school girlfriend, too. Daniel also interpreted a few dreams and gave us the phrase “the writing on the wall.” He was an all around cool dude, y’know? Like Idris Elba.

The one that I want to talk about is the last story in the cycle. It’s the famous one about Daniel[2] in the lion’s den. You know the story, right? Daniel got thrown into the lion’s den. The lions didn’t eat Daniel in spite of the fact that they were super hungry. King Darius realized that the god of the Jews was super awesome and bowed his head or whatever. Then everyone lived happily ever after until Alexander the Great showed up and ruined everything.

The part I care about, though, is the why of Daniel being in the lion’s den. See, he was a super popular adviser and seer under the Babylonians, because god told him stuff and all the prophets of the false Babylonian gods didn’t know nothin’ from nothin’. Daniel even prophesied the very night Darius and the Persians would take Babylon from King Belshazzar.[3] Darius was so impressed by him that he made Daniel one of the most powerful men in the Persian Empire and satrap over the former Babylonian territory. So what happened?

The king’s other advisers didn’t much like Daniel, so they tricked the king. They got him to sign a decree under the law of the Medes and the Persians that people could only pray to the king for a certain period of time and violation of the law was punishable by lion. Well, it turned out that Daniel rather famously prayed out on his balcony every morning. To his god. So it became a gotcha game and, sure enough, Daniel got got. The king didn’t actually want to put Daniel in front of the firing lion,[4] but his hands were tied, since the laws of the Medes and Persians just couldn’t be broken,[5] not even by the king. So into the pit Daniel went.

But Yahweh would not take that assault on his favored son lion down. Daniel survived, the king himself got him out of the pit, and for a moment it seemed the only losers were the poor, hungry lions. So the king solved that by throwing those other guys who tricked him down. It’s a win-win!

————————

There was this one time Jesus was preaching, as he did. He was on a roll, y’know? Pharisees this, faith of a mustard seed that, kingdom of god. Real good stuff. So in the middle of all this he told his followers not to pray as those pagans and hypocrites did, out on the street corners and all braggy-like. He told them to go pray in secret. Hide in the closet if they have to.

Proponents of secular culture in America love this part of Jesus’s wisdom above pretty much anything else. See, we have this real problem in America of people deciding they need to get all Jesus-y in public and rub everyone else’s face in it. It’s tasteless, really. Like having sex on Main Street right there in front of the elementary school and fire station. Nobody wants to see that. Well, I don’t know. Maybe if it was, like, Scarlett Johansson and Charlize Theron we’d all stop and let it happen and then we’d spend the rest of our lives talking in hushed tones about where we were the day an entire town uploaded videos of ScarJoCharThon[6] to YouTube at the same time. But, like, if it was just some random middle-aged couple who have a really specific fetish that they finally worked up the courage to try we’d all be like, “Ew, stop that. Regular people are gross.”

Religion is like fat people having sex is what I’m saying. It’s pasty and kinda floppy and there’s way too much grunting. Wait, where was I going with this?

This particular preaching from Jesus is actually kind of weird. See religion at the time was a public practice. We’re talking about a part of the world under the thumb of the Romans, who appropriated most of their culture from the Greeks. Religion was totally a public spectacle for the Greeks and the Romans. The Greeks were even a step back from some of their neighbors, notably the Egyptians, for whom religion was an all-consuming aspect of everything.

For the Jews the notion of religion as public spectacle was a big deal, too. That’s why the building and rebuilding of the Temple was such a big deal to them. Ezra didn’t head back from Babylon with Cyrus’s blessing so he could supervise the rebuilding of the Temple and then go pray in the root cellar for fear someone would see him.

I don’t think Jesus had any real problems with public religion. His real problem is right there in the beginning of Matthew 6: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your father who is in heaven.” It was an attack, as we so often see in the New Testament, on hypocrisy.

———————-

So here we get to the heart of the problem. Whenever someone does something blatantly religious in public in America people who are against that sort of thing throw Matthew 6 at them. This doesn’t help, though, because those people see themselves as living out Daniel 6. So when we all take to Facebook and Twitter to mock them they see themselves as being thrown to the lions.

Sometimes this sort of behavior needs to be smacked down. Is a judge starting court sessions with prayer? That’s a problem. Is a public high school teacher telling gay kids they’re going to hell in sex ed classes? That’s a problem. That sort of thing needs to be stopped. It’s against the law.

Most of the time I think this behavior should be ignored. Is some jackass trying to start a controversy because of the color of a coffee cup? He can be ignored. Is some has-been celebrity reinventing himself as a warrior for Jesus? Who cares? I tell you, they’ll get their reward in full in the form of page views. Let’s try to make that number as close to zero as possible. Because while we all know they’re just being assholes they think they’re being latter day Daniels. Silence is the best response in that case.

———————-

[1]This has now brought us to the part of the show where Geds goes to YouTube and watches VeggieTales videos. So I watched the Hairbrush Song and Song of the Cebu and, wow, VeggieTales have not aged well. Song of the Cebu used to be hilarious.

It’s kinda weird, too. It’s not like I was only allowed to watch VeggieTales in my youth. I was out of high school by the time they got popular. But I worked in a Christian book store at the time and VeggieTales was huge money, so I was quite familiar with the whole thing. It was enjoyable and silly in a way no Christian children’s entertainment had been before. Most of the previous stuff was just terribly earnest and kinda creepy. I present Bibleman for your viewing…uh, pleasure? VeggieTales was way better than this. Not that it takes much.

Also, yes, that’s Willie Aames, Scott Baio’s sidekick from Charles in Charge as Bibleman. So if you’ve ever asked yourself, “Hey, what happened to that guy from Charles in Charge who wasn’t Scott Baio, now you know.

I’m terrified to find out what tonight does to further fuck up my YouTube recommendations.

[2]One of the things I’ve always found weird about the book of Daniel is that all four got Babylonian names, but Daniel remained Daniel while the others were always Rack, Shack, and Benny. Meanwhile, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego aren’t really Babylonian names. They’re undoubtedly symbolic of something.

Which, actually, gives us a whole different topic of conversation. Daniel is a Jewish name meaning “God is my judge.” The “god” part of that name is right there at the end: El. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are all various ways of saying god is great, but the use of god there is Yahweh. This goes way back to the book of Genesis where god is alternately referred to as El and Yahweh, which is a good indication that the early Jewish texts are actually an attempt to merge two different traditions. I don’t actually know if this has any significance. I just find it interesting. Because I’m a nerd.

Meanwhile, Daniel himself is a semi-legendary figure in Jewish myth. It was traditional in ancient literature to attach stories to legendary figures and people had a hard time telling truth from myth. We haven’t advanced too much from there, honestly, even with all of our advances in literacy and communication. Look no further than President Obama, who is single-handedly traveling the country to convert all of the good little Christians into Muslims and take away the guns while using the Constitution as toilet paper and laughing at us because he’s really from Kenya. Meanwhile, all the stupid liberals think he’s just a centrist who’s helping the economy and bringing America’s respect abroad back up from the abysmal levels to which it descended during Bush’s presidency. Poor, deluded fools.

[3]How do we know that the book of Daniel is pretty much made up whole cloth? Timelines and actual historical fact. Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius were, indeed, real people.

Nebuchadnezzar actually did conquer Judah in 597 BCE. Belshazzar did, in fact, lose Babylon to the Persians. Belshazzar, however, was the son of King Nabonidus and the guy in charge of the army that lost to the Persians. This was in 539 BCE, which is 58 years after Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah. Now it’s certainly possible that Daniel lived through all of this. He would have been somewhere in his 70s or 80s, which isn’t unheard of for someone living high on the hog as the king’s favorite advisor.

This is where we hit the other half of the problem, though. Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon. Darius the Great became king 17 years later. Daniel 9 referred to him as Darius son of Xerxes. Darius was, in fact, the son of Hystaspes, a minor satrap, and managed to take the throne after a minor scuffle when Cyrus’s sons, Cambyses II and Bardiya, had a minor civil war. Darius, meanwhile, had a son who also took the throne: Xerxes I.

The latter half of the book of Daniel, meanwhile, takes the form of Daniel writing his recollections, including being the guy who convinced Darius, son of Xerxes, to allow the Jewish people to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple. The book of Ezra records that it was Cyrus the Great who allowed that to happen. As far as history goes, we have the Cyrus cylinder, which records Cyrus’s good deeds in terms of sending Babylonian slaves back to their homelands and restoring their native religions and places of worship. It does not specifically mention the Jews, but there’s no reason to think it would.

Our big takeaway here, though, is that the book of Daniel is problematic, historically speaking. It seems likely that it was written by someone who knew enough to know some real names, but didn’t know where they belonged. So we’re talking about someone who lived much later. Most scholarship points to the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was rather famous for being the Hellenistic king at the time of the Maccabean Revolt.

[4]Firing lion. Firing. Lion. I just wrote that. I feel good about it.

[5]I’ve studied the history of this area in some detail and never run into a reference to this unbreakable law outside of he book of Daniel. It seems to me more like a convenient plot device than anything else. The entire first half of Daniel comes across that way, though. The king’s jealous advisers see that the 4 Jewish guys are prospering so they convince the king to do something that will result in their deaths. They don’t die and in a convenient reversal the jealous advisers are hoist on their own petard. Then the king orders everyone to obey the Jewish god. Then the credits roll and, “Next week on the Dukes of Babylon…”

And now I’m seeing four guys on a chariot named the General Zedekiah jumping ramps over the Tigris to escape Boss Neb and Sheriff Rothbus P. Coltrazzar. And I’m not gonna lie. I would watch that.

[6]Pronounced “Scar-Jo-Char-Thon.”

The Unbearable Rightness of Being

I’d been working up a theory about why you don’t want Ben Carson as President because brain surgeons make terrible polymaths when the whole pyramids-as-granaries thing broke.[1] The theory is pretty simple. Becoming an amazing brain surgeon doesn’t reward any activity that isn’t devoted to becoming an amazing brain surgeon. Every waking hour that isn’t dedicated to the singular task of becoming an amazing brain surgeon is, in a way, a wasted hour. As such, you can be an amazingly brilliant brain surgeon and know absolutely nothing about the mechanics of tying your own shoe and that will be fine. Your practice will find someone to tie your shoes for you.

A brain surgeon, then, probably hasn’t spent a lot of time studying the geopolitical realities of a post-Cold War world. A brain surgeon probably hasn’t spent a lot of time studying Russian history from the Bolshevik Revolution forward. A brain surgeon probably hasn’t written a lot of treatises on the effects of gunboat diplomacy on the subjects of European or American colonialism. There’s also a pretty good chance that a brain surgeon hasn’t studied the long-term social effects of slavery or looked at the impact of the Union movement or checked to see if Reaganomics are actually a valid economic theory.

This isn’t to say that every president has done such things. A brain surgeon, however, isn’t required to deal with any of those things outside of possibly taking a few blow-off gen-ed courses during college. A lawyer has to deal with at least some aspects of the Constitution and the history behind case law. A lifetime government civil servant has to have some knowledge of the population they’re working with. Someone who came from the State Department or, theoretically, Senate has had to deal with some aspect of international politics. They might not necessarily be brilliant, single-minded people, but in most situations a broad, shallow pool of knowledge combined with curiosity is far more useful than a single, deep hole combined with drive and focus.

This isn’t something that the general population understands, of course. We shorthand “rocket science” and “brain surgery” as “really, really smart shit done by really, really smart people.” The weird thing is, though, that we’ve largely demystified the idea of the “rocket scientist” as the all-around brainy guy. In movies and whatnot he’s usually the one with glasses slightly askew, a tendency to not pay attention to what other people are saying, and an obvious unfamiliarity with the basics of fashion and comb usage. The “rocket scientist,” then, is smart but not aware. The brain surgeon, however, is a doctor. And we all know that doctors are suave and sexy and smart and sleep with all the nurses and shit. This is because the “rocket scientist” is a nerd and the brain surgeon is not. Nerds aren’t cool.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I said my piece on Carson’s stupidity in re: pyramids and walked away. Something didn’t sit right with me, though. His pyramid thing was stupid, yes, but it’s a particular variety of stupidity that I recognize all too well. Then Fred Clark cleared it all up for me. That was nice of him.

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I cut most of my ties with the Christianity of my youth in the months and years following my departure but a few remain to this day, mostly in the form of the few friends who I still love and respect and who still love and respect me. It makes for some interesting blasts from the past, however. Like, this morning when I was introduced to the thoughts of an old pastor of mine attempting to engage the internet with a bit of the ol’ Socratic Method.

He pointed out that the world thinks Ben Carson is crazy because of the whole pyramid thing, but then asked why we don’t think Hillary Clinton is similarly crazy because of her belief that people came from amoebas by way of bats and monkeys and whatnot. He then linked to an article in the New York Times and I clicked it because I wanted to see what kookiness Hillary applies to evolution.[2]

The article happened to be about what Hillary Clinton would do as President for public policy about science. It was, on the whole, some pretty amazing stuff about how she’d lower the restrictions on the use of stem cells for research and stiffen the government’s defense of the teaching of evolution in schools. It made me like Hillary just a little bit more.[3] And it became quite obvious that the monkeys and bats and amoebas were just poetic license on the part of the pastor.

This, then, is the problem with Ben Carson’s odd belief in the true purpose of the pyramids. I grew up in the church. I grew up with the pastor in question as one of my pastors for at least half a decade. The first time I can recall ever hearing the pyramid theory espoused by Ben Carson was when I was reading an article about what Ben Carson thinks the pyramids are for. This is not something that was ever, to the best of my recollection, taught to me in church. But it’s something that’s being used to call into question a different candidate’s belief in evolution. Because Carson comes from a place of Truth while Clinton doesn’t. It doesn’t actually matter that most Christians also probably believe Carson is completely and totally, provably, wrong.

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I left the church and religion of my youth because of moments like this. I was a bright, inquisitive kid who asked a lot of questions. A lot of the time those questions were answered with cobbled-together answers similar to Carson’s theory of the pyramids. These just-so stories filled to answer the immediate question but created greater and greater problems down the road.

The farther I got down that road the scarier each successive step got. I couldn’t avoid learning. It was just something that I did. I couldn’t avoid using each lesson as a jump to some further point of learning. And, from time to time, those just-so stories came into sharp focus.

In the book of Genesis, for one, we’re told that Adam and Eve had sons named Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel. Cain then lied about it and was marked by god so that others wouldn’t harm him and ended up going somewhere else, getting married, and starting a city. Wait, what? Where did these others who wanted to harm Cain come from? Where did his wife come from? How do two people found a city?

Actually, come to think of it, I never got a good just-so story to explain that one. Inconsistencies and impossibilities like that vexed me. The fact that I couldn’t ever truly explore the end result of such inconsistencies bothered me a lot more.

I learned about evolution in biology class and more-or-less accepted it as a thing. That was the first place where I got myself into trouble. Studying history in college was what split everything open. All of those questions I had avoided asking, all of those just-so stories I had avoided examining too closely all fell apart.

Believing that the pyramids were used to store grain is relatively harmless. I mean, it’s utterly wrong and might cause Peter Weller to cry himself to sleep at night, but in the grand scheme of things it’s no more or less harmful than believing that ancient aliens landed spaceships on the Great Pyramid at Giza.[4]

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One of the great dangers of being bright and inquisitive is that you learn too much about too many topics to allow the bullshit to hold sway for long. For instance, I love history, but I’m not particularly interested in Egyptian history. Still, it’s an important enough subject that while I don’t know enough to argue with a true Egyptologist I do know enough to tell Ben Carson exactly why and how he’s wrong about his theories of pyramids as grain storage and explain to the ancient aliens people exactly why they’re wrong about their theories of pyramids as power plants. I also love science fiction, which has caused me to learn enough about real science to both know why it’s laughable to think that the universe is 6,000 years old and why JJ Abrams is a freaking moron.

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The Christianity in which I grew up offers many rewards to someone like Ben Carson. It pours praise on someone who wants to single-mindedly pursue a path to knowledge that doesn’t challenge Christianity itself. It then praises him as a “man of science” who still manages to believe in that Christianity.

The Christianity in which I grew up also gives people who know nothing of real science a platform to take potshots at people who actually do understand it and its importance in the modern world. It rewards them, too, because there are so many people who are afraid to try to reconcile that Christianity with what they read in textbooks. It doesn’t hurt anyone’s faith to point out that we actually do know what pyramids were used for and we know what Egyptian granaries looked like because they can simply say, “Oh, so there was still a place to save seven years’ worth of surplus? Neat.” They can’t do that with knowledge that the planet is 4.5 billion years old and an occupant of a 13 billion year old universe when their pastor tells them that the planet popped into being some few thousand years ago and all the animals and humans popped up in the space of a week.[5]

The Christianity in which I grew up has no place for people like me. Ben Carson illustrates that bit of truth. My former pastor illustrates it far more effectively.

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[1]For anyone who has managed to avoid the internet for the last few days, here’s a shorthand: someone unearthed a video of a Ben Carson speech back in college where he claimed that the pyramids were built to store grain in Bible times because of the part in the book of Genesis where Joseph predicted seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh then ordered food from the first seven years stored to make it through the second seven years. Hilariously he also used that as a chance to attack the people who thought that pyramids powered alien starships. So Ben Carson was taking potshots at Erich von Danniken before it was cool.

Either way, Carson was asked if he still believed in his theory. He said yes. The internet exploded. So meme. Very fun.

[2]Evolution is a weird thing that a lot of people get really wrong in the details while getting correct in the overall sense, so I am always interested when I see someone explaining evolutionary lineages. The most common one, of course, is that humans evolved from monkeys. This is convenient shorthand, but it’s wrong. The great apes and the various are our closest relatives, but we did not evolve from them.

Think about it like a family tree. I have a niece. After her own parents I am one of her closest relatives. She is younger than me. That does not mean that she descended from me. We do, however, have a common ancestor in my parents. Humans and chimpanzees are like that. Somewhere deep in the dark mists of time there was some lemur-looking thing that had a family that branched off in two directions because of different evolutionary pressures put onto its various descendants.

[3]Politically speaking right now I am full-on feeling the Bern. I voted for Obama back in ’08. I will vote for Hillary and won’t consider it a clothespin vote or anything. She’s a little too war-mongery for my tastes and tends towards that whole political triangulation thing that Bill perfected back in the ’90s, but I think she’s more liberal than we’ve been lead to believe, since she seems to be perfectly comfortable shifting her positions leftward to compensate for Bernie’s popularity. If anything, I think that the two of them have been setting up for Hillary/Bernie ’16 for a while. I can always be proved wrong by this, but I said right after the pair started their campaigns that I would love to see that ticket and couldn’t imagine the Republicans coming close.

The political reality is that Hillary will get the Democratic nomination. Bernie is too much of an outsider and while he definitely has the grassroots that won’t do anything come Convention time. This isn’t 2008 when Obama stole a march by firing up the base, since Obama was already an insider. He brought down the house in 2004, after all, and people were talking about him as a future Democratic Party Presidential candidate. They were just talking about 2016 or 2020 and he accelerated the schedule.

That said, Bernie still has the grassroots support. Hillary is the presumptive candidate, but who is she going to tap for her Veep? Martin O’Malley and that guy who hid under the podium are out. Jim Webb is probably in a shack in Montana right now. There’s always a Julian Castro-type pick for the “let’s appeal to people who can be visually picked out from a freshly primed wall” politicking, of course. Julian Castro is the current Julian Castro-type guy getting all the VP buzz at the moment. I’ve got nothing against Castro. I like him, in fact. San Antonio is a great city and he’s had a lot of experience in local and federal government. But Bernie brings a ground game.

Of course given that Hillary and Bernie have run their respective campaigns with such mutual respect so far it could easily go that Hillary picks Castro, Bernie endorses Hillary, and then goes back to being the Senate’s lovable old Commie curmudgeon. And, yes, I know that Bernie isn’t a Communist. But Socialist doesn’t alliterate well with curmudgeon.

Either way, either scenario might be overpowering enough to force the Republicans to take a Hail Mary with something like Trump/Nugent and just completely blow the whole party to kingdom come.

[4]Or whatever. I’m getting Chariots of the Gods confused with Stargate again. Like, I know that the ancient aliens people believe that pyramids were power sources and connected with the space people, but I don’t know if they actually believe them to be landing pads.

[5]Although one of my favorites came recently with someone arguing that the age of the universe keeps changing according to science. The thing is that ever since the advent of modern telescopes the number has changed, but most of the numbers are somewhere close to 13 billion years and while the numbers “change” it’s not because they’re wildly swinging around from one place to another, but because they’re becoming more precise. This is an important nuance. It’s not like some scientist is going to show up tomorrow and announce they’ve definitively aged the universe to 27 trillion years. It recently moved from 13.73 billion years to 13.82. On one level that’s a 100 billion year swing, which is pretty huge. On the other that’s a tiny fraction of 1% in terms of difference and it’s actually within the margin of error given on the previous best guess.

Also, the math for figuring out this sort of thing is massively, stupidly complicated. Here, I’ll let Phil Plait explain it all to you.