Tuesday, April 30, 2013

E-Mail to the American Worker

(co-written with David Troxell)


Just kidding. I know that kind of language scares the shit out of you. In 1918, Lenin wrote his ‘Letter to the American Worker’ encouraging her to eschew the oppressive yoke of capitalism. I know that language scares you too, but Lenin was on to something.

Let me ask you a few questions:

Do you think it’s fair that you work as hard as you do, as long as you do, and for as little as you do, to create commodities via means of production that you do not own, all for the profit of your employer, who reaps the lion’s share of your yield without lifting a finger?

Do you think it’s just that you have been made to hate the concept of work, that thing which should give mankind her greatest sense of purpose? Do you think it is healthy that you invest so much time at such a hated activity which is so ill-suited to your natural talents that you seek to escape not only work in your ‘down time’, but--in a way--life itself?

Do you think it is right that the richest one percent--the owners of our society--are able to afford the best healthcare, best education, and best leisure (in the truest sense of the word), while allowing you only just enough freedom to create more workers for the work force (like some kind of factory farm animal), enough healthcare to keep you well enough to not die, and enough education to keep you intelligent enough to believe the lie of our capitalist system, and just comfortable enough to keep you from engaging in open revolt?

Lenin spoke of the oppression created by imperialism. Thankfully, we no longer  live in a world where imperialism is so prevalent. The unfortunate aspect of this is that it has been replaced with something not quite as tangible; neocolonialism has put shackles on all but the world’s wealthy. It has created a system of debt designed to enslave all that it can, with the bait of making your life better instead of living a life of perpetual poverty. It lures the lower and middle class in with the promise of a better life somewhere in the not so far off future if only we would transform ourselves into the thimble on the global monopoly board. To creatively paraphrase John Steinbeck: in a world increasingly infected with the capitalist virus, the poor see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

But it is a soulless business to be the thimble, and we have been reduced to escapism. We no longer define ourselves. Instead, we are defined by our yield. By the numbers of threads we stitch. By the amount of milk that is drained from our udders. We do not own the thread, and we do not even own our own udders! Our ability to self define through work has been stripped of us. They are turning us into automatons.  Rather than following our passions and self actualizing the way that the artist has proved man capable of doing, we are reduced to limiting and dulling the pain. With drink. With T.V. With drugs and passionless sex. We only know where the shoe pinches, and we seek to  anesthetize ourselves so we don’t notice the pinch. Has it ever occurred to us that maybe we might look into wearing a different type of shoe?  Capitalism disconnects us from what makes us human--we are alienated.

In the capitalist system, your worth is determined by how much you own. This is not an appropriate means for determining the worth of a living being; this is not the way to judge something that thinks and feels. This is how you judge a piece of machinery--a lifeless chunk of metal used to fulfill someone else’s ends.

There is a better path, comrades. We dare not say its name out loud, because the only thing more blasphemous than questioning a person’s faith in America is questioning the social structure.

This social structure is rotten. The boards are warped, the carpet is louse-ridden, and the pipes are fully corroded. It’s time to knock the structure down.

What we build in its place will be up to you.


David & Spencer Troxell

Suggested Reading:

‘Why Marx Was Right’, by Terry Eagleton

‘Letter To the American Worker’, by V.I. Lenin

Saturday, April 27, 2013

H.P. Lovecraft Furnishes Us With a Good Reason Not To Commit Suicide

It may seem strange to most people that one would need a reason not to commit suicide, but there are those of us out there who need one. To some, knowing that the self checkout lane is open is actually a consolation. Hunter S. Thompson said "If I didn't know I could commit suicide at any moment, life would be unbearable". Of course, there are many reasons not to kill yourself. ' This Too Shall Pass' is the protective motto of those traversing the Territory of the blackest mind. The transitory nature of everything is reason enough to see if you can ride it out when it comes to depressed states, mixed states, and plain old bad luck.

Far be it from me to suggest such a thing is easy. As a person with manic depression, I understand how the poisoned mind can laugh at our stoic bearings. Far be it from me also to suggest that there is anything inherently evil, selfish, or wrong about suicide. Sometimes, suicide is in fact a reasonable choice. Some choose to end their lives rather than experience prolonged pain and suffering connected to a chronic illness. I understand this choice, and would probably choose it for myself if it ever seemed necessary. Also, suicide is often committed by people with mental health issues, such as myself. They do this while in the grips of a disease, and faulting a person who kills themselves in such a state is akin to faulting a person with a heart disorder for dying of a heart attack.

One of the ways people such as myself manage to survive is to remind ourselves of the transitory nature of our suffering. Another is to participate in therapy or counseling. Another is to take medication that is appropriate to our illness, exercise, eat healthy, and get good rest. Another way that has benefited me is to seek out folks who share my experience and struggle, and to empathize with them and learn from their hard won wisdom (all wisdom is hard won, isn't it?).

That brings me to the excerpt I wanted to share with you. I am a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan. I love his stories, but what I am coming to love even more than his stories are his letters. He was a great letter writer, and in the below excerpt he talks about a time he seriously considered suicide, and how he navigated his way back out of it:
"How easy it would be to wade out among the rushes and lie face down in the warm water till oblivion came. There would be a certain gurgling or choking unpleasantness at first--but it would soon be over. Then the long, peaceful night of non-existence..."
But something held him up:
"And yet certain elements--notably scientific curiosity and a sense of world drama--held me back. Much in the universe baffled me, yet I knew I could pry the answer out of books if I lived and studied longer. Geology, for example. Just how did these ancient sediments and stratifications get crystallized and upheaved into granite peaks? Geography--just what would Scott and Shackleton and Borchgrevink find in the great white Antarctic or their next expeditions...which I could--if I wished--live to see described?"
Lovecraft goes through questions about history, Africa, Mathematics, and other intellectual curiosities that he would miss out on if he snuffed himself out, ultimately concluding,
"So in the end I decided to postpone my exit till the following summer. I would do a little curiosity-satisfying at first; filling certain gaps of scientific and historical knowledge, and attaining a greater sense of completeness before merging with the infinite blackness."
after finding himself engaged in life to a much greater degree on this path of postponement--starting up an old newsletter, finding more questions at the ends of questions answered--he decided to grant himself another extension:
"Possibly I would wait til '06 before making my exit...one could drown in '06 just as well as in '05 or '04!'
Questions of life and death and meaning popped up over and over again in Lovecraft's life--he kept a cyanide pill on his person at all times just in case 'it ever got too much'--but he found his way through that particular darkness with the aid of curiosity.

Curiosity is a fine reason to go on living. I had just discovered Billy Collins a little bit before the suicide of a dear friend several years back, and was very excited to share it with him the next time he was in town. Before I had a chance to do that, he had jumped off an overpass in Tennessee. Not far after all of the other assorted kinds of thoughts a person has after receiving such news, it occurred to me that my friend would never get to experience Billy Collins. My friend--a highly intelligent, clever, soulful person--had missed out on something I was pretty sure he would have liked.

I am always discovering new things. Life is about change and possibility, and who knows what is waiting for us in the future? It's a compelling reason to stick around.

This essay will appear in my book 'Everything In the Medicine Cabinet Has Expired', to be released on Friday, May 3rd.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I Have Made a Book!

Pretty fucking excited about the book I have coming out on May 3rd. It's a collection of essays, stories, and status updates that were originally posted on this blog and other places, plus some new content that I think is pretty good. Andrew Wood is illustrating it, and Christian Thompson will be writing the introduction. Here's the cover, by Andrew Wood:

It will cost around 11 bucks. You should buy a copy. May 3rd. Check back here at that date for a link.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Substance Abuse & Mental Illness: A Match Made In Hell

I have a degree in psychology, and have worked in the human services for 6 years if you count the 2 years I spent volunteering at Hospice. My current job--at a homeless shelter--puts me in contact with folks who have mental illness and substance abuse issues (often both) frequently.

In spite of my education, and in spite of my experience, I only have two years of sobriety, and received a diagnosis of Bipolar II within the past year. You would think my education and experience would have helped me address these concerns earlier, but no such luck. My experience with mental illness and substance abuse (which I talk about in more depth here and here) fits a very common pattern with other folks who struggle with the same issues. As clever and unique as I often think I am, I fell into the same trap so many other people fall into all the time.

Our bodies naturally seek remedies for what ails us. Not doctors ourselves--and very often even if we are doctors--we seek medication that is available to us. Mental illness often contributes to substance abuse, and substance abuse worsens mental illness in the long run. It's a vicious cycle.

I am so glad to have my sobriety, and so thankful that I was able to find whatever courage I could to face up to my mental illness. With a combination of talk therapy and medication, the support of loved ones, and my continuing education and experience, I hope to stay in this pretty-good-place for as long as possible.

And I want more people to look at the roots of their substance abuse. I want more people with mental illness to find the courage to seek help. There is no shame in having mental illness, and there is no shame in being in recovery. In fact, it takes bravery to address both of those issues. If it wasn't for the examples made by so many people I admire in facing up to these problems, I don't know if I'd be able to find the strength in myself to do the same.

There is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness and substance abuse. Only by talking openly about these problems, and by honestly evaluating our own issues, can we make any progress on them as a society, and individually. If you are so inclined, share your story. If you suspect you might have these same problems, reach out to someone. You still have so much life to live, and so much to offer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Many Americans Don't Understand Freedom

Again and again I hear Americans--especially of the conservative bent--talk about freedom as if it is an either/or proposition; "Homosexuals should be free to marry", or "the government cannot infringe upon our freedom to own guns", or "we should have the freedom to drive any kind of car we would like", and on and on.

The thing many folks don't understand is that whenever a person or population endorses one freedom, they are denying another one. Take our examples one by one: to allow homosexuals to marry, the freedom of bigots to force their subjective moral choices upon our culture is infringed upon. When a government does not regulate gun ownership, the freedom of citizens to live in communities without automatic and semi-automatic weapons is infringed upon. The freedom to drive any kind of car you like--with whatever mode of propulsion--infringes upon your freedom to breathe clean air.

There is no such thing as a free society. The libertarian worldview is truly a fantasy. Every freedom granted to a population or person comes with a freedom denied. What needs to be decided is what the underlying philosophy of the freedoms afforded a population are. A totally free society is not possible, but a just society is.

It is an infringement on the freedom of the wealthy to accumulate and horde wealth to re-distribute that wealth. It is an infringement on the freedom of those whom the wealthy exploit to accumulate and horde their wealth to self determine and self actualize by not re-distributing the wealth concentrated amongst such a small percentage of our population.

The question we have to ask ourselves is 'Why should we grant freedom in one area in this scenario and not the other?'

My personal operating philosophy when it comes to supporting certain freedoms and opposing others are as follows: I support freedoms that promote equality, justice, and human potential. I oppose freedoms that cause harm to others while unfairly benefiting a specific empowered group. I support freedoms that allow individuals to self actualize, and oppose freedoms that cause individuals to stagnate.

I'm sure there are other aspects to my personal view of how freedoms should be allocated, but that's a good snapshot of my personal metric.

We should all have such a metric, and should all understand that when you're talking about freedom, you're not just talking about positives and negatives. With each positive comes a negative, and vice versa.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Stories We Tell Ourselves

I usually check Facebook first thing in the morning. The theme today was pretty religious.

People were asking for prayers. People were quoting bible verses and discussing the deeper aspects of being a believer. My first feeling when seeing Christians putting a public and philosophical spin on their personal psychodrama is condescension. I'm not proud of it, but that's the case. I don't feel any condescension towards people who ask for prayers for urgent situations, because I understand the feeling of free-fall. I understand and respect the humility it takes to ask for help, in whatever way you know how.

My second thought was about how romantic it was to believe that there were powers and principalities conspiring against me, and against mankind. My soul was a prime target in a holy land war, and I was, in my small way, very important. It's flattering to believe that there is a demonic plan to damn you to hell. It's flattering to think that someone--especially someone so powerful--thinks about you that much. It's also reassuring, and flattering, to believe that the almighty God has a special plan for you, and that he is equally interested in your soul, and the fate of mankind in general.

Then I started thinking about the political stories we tell ourselves. There are some grand political dramas being played out in the lives of individuals all over the world, at least in their minds. I am not exempt: not long after I realized that religion provided me with an important purpose-narrative, I began to study and appreciate humanistic Marxism, and its sweeping narrative of the ebb and flow of history, and the obtainable victory of societal self actualization and freedom from all kinds of insidious slavery. Coincidence? Maybe not so much.

We tell ourselves all of these stories. They give our lives a grand scope. How true are the stories we tell ourselves? We can't all be right. We certainly can't all be right all the way across the board, however we might like to be.

I wonder how close to the actual fact of the matter we can allow ourselves to get and still live a meaningful life. I wonder who came closest? Is there an ideology out there that strips away enough of the fiction--however beautiful and invigorating--and still manages to preserve a certain amount of majesty?

I don't know. It's pretty early in the morning.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Recent Status Updates

4/10: Waking up in the morning is like getting renewed for another season. I hope i don't live long enough to jump the shark, on the other hand, i'd hate to get canceled during a cliffhanger. Whatever the case, i am looking forward to my episode with the harlem globetrotters.

4/9:  I miss being bored. When you're a kid, you're bored all the time because you haven't accumulated enough ideas and opinions to keep yourself entertained. You're in a state of accumulation as a kid. If you do things right, you should have enough shit in your head by the time you hit your mid-thirties to not need to listen to the radio on a 30 minute car ride. You should have seen, heard, experienced, and imagined enough stuff to occupy yourself for an indefinite amount of time. I think that's why I miss being bored, because some of the shit you collect in your head as you approach adulthood can pretty horrible.

4/9:  Life is weird.

4/8:  I also wanted to tell you this this morning: I usually like to wake up to the sound of burde chirping outside my window, but this morning there is some bird outside screaming his balls off. It's not exactly a crow sound, but it's pretty close.I'm like, find somewhere else to sing, bro.

4/8:  I've caught myself calling my sons 'bro' a bunch of times lately. I don't know where that is coming from, but I know I should probably stop it before it spreads.

4/7:  I owe all of my success in life to Satan.

4/6:  I am raising money for a Satanic competitor to the 'Upward' Christian-youth sports organisation. Obviously, it will be called 'Downward': Anybody want to donate?

4/6:  Some people who love me tell me I'm not fat, but the notches on my belt have never lied to me.
 Margaret Thatcher dies only a few days after Roger Ebert: coincidence, or is it Biggie and Tupac all over again?

4/6:  my little brother is applying for case management jobs. I am proud of him for going into such an honorable field, and jealous of the agency that will get to have him on their team.

4/5:  Open up all of the windows in your bedroom, strip down to your underwear, and take a nap on top of the covers with your feet at the head of your bed and your head at the foot of your bed. That's what weather like this is good for.

4/5:  Bummed out about rick warren's son. Public understanding of mental illness is so bad. We have to find better ways to help each other.

4/5:  I am 32 years old and I still feel like I barely know anything. I expected age to bring things like wisdom and understanding; not only do I have an increasing awareness of how little I actually do understand, my deficiencies are increasingly apparent. Life conspires to humble me.

4/5:  Unfortunate headline at The Drudge Report: "Bloomberg Fingers Cuomo".

4/4:  If you put your kid on a leash, i hate you.

4/4:  It's not the crazy people who are dangerous; it's the sane people. Crazy can explode, but sane is a slow, gray, persistent poison. It slays with mediocrity, and it takes a lifetime.

4/3:  It's hard to be cynical with a two year old around. Apropos of nothing, langston just said, 'i like rainbows. Do you like rainbows, dada?'. I said yes.

4/3:  Of all the horrible things mankind has spawned, bronies have to be the most unsettling.