An Irregular Column
for MRR 319, December 2009
by Mykel Board
“"They knew that in politics, like religion, power lay in certainty-- and that one man's certainty always threatened another.”-- Barak Obama
L'shona Tovah. Today is the first day of 5770. Pretty amazing we made it so far. At least I made it so far. Jim Carroll and Lux Interior did not.
SETTING THE SCENE: I sit in Café Café, a small place on Greene Street, tucked far enough into Soho to charge $9.50 for a sandwich. Too far south to be crowded with horrible NYU students, it's café enough to have teeth-grinding jazz blasting at the inmates. It's better than home, though. Fewer distractions. No dishes that suddenly need washing. No garbage that suddenly needs to be taken to the basement.
In front of me, behind my laptop, is a covered cup of coffee, the cover torn just enough to let me sip from it. The lid slowly melts in the coffee beneath.
The residents of Shkodër rebuilt many of its buildings after a strong earthquake in 1979. One of the city's main attractions is The Museum of Atheism, which Albania's Communist government built to celebrate its ban on all forms of religious practice...
The Museum of Atheism??? Holy Pentateuch Batman! Sounds like my kind of place.
By the time you read this I'll probably be back from Albania. I leave in two weeks. No punk connections. No nothing. I just take the plane to Rome, a train across the boot, and a boat from Bari to Durres. I can't tell you what I expect to find (except, maybe, a museum of atheism.) That's why I'm going.
Give the Context: A couple months ago, I wrote about factives. This group of verbs creates truth... or at least the image of truth.
To review: verbs like know, realize, understand are factives. Phrases like everybody knows that, or nobody knows that... are factives.
If you say, “Everybody knows that Arnold is a piss drinker,” Arnold is a piss drinker. If you say, “Nobody knows that Arnold is a piss drinker,” Arnold is still a piss drinker.
Extend the context: There's another kind of factive-- a truism-factive. This one involves a cliché that unconsciously controls your point of view. It's a phrase that molds what we think. A one-sentence assumption.
My father used to say, “Never assume. It makes an ASS of U and ME.”
That phrase itself is one of these truism-factives. People say it all the time. Utter the words I assumed... and someone's sure to spit it out. Sometimes they'll just say “never assume.” You're supposed to fill in the rest. Everybody knows it. But... it's WRONG!
You assume all the time. You can't live without assuming. If you drop a marble, you assume it will fall to the ground, not shoot upwards through the ceiling. If you buy a cup of coffee at a Soho café, you assume it will not be laced with acid, tearing your stomach out, bubbling blood from your mouth at the first sip. As I type these words, I assume when I push the F key, the letter F will appear on the screen.
These assumptions come from 70 years of marble dripping, coffee sipping, and F-pushing. But even babies assume. If they press their lips against a warm nipple, for example, they assume it will dispense some tasty milk. Sometimes it doesn't happen, but to live, they have to assume.
Life is assumptions. Sometimes we're wrong. But we HAVE to assume in order to live. It's obvious. But people think in truism-clichés so they miss the obvious. The cliché trumps the reality.
More Context: It's 1989, somewhere on Second Avenue. This guy in Doc Martins wears a plastic jacket with a bunch of patches on it. He runs his hand over his smooth head.
Having recently been punched and booted by a colored skinhead, the image does not attract me. That this guy is white is scarier. As I turn to walk back to the Mars Bar, I read one of the patches on his jacket: IF IT DOESN'T KILL YOU, IT MAKES YOU STRONGER.
What the fuck? How many people have this truism-factive doing maneuvers in their mental battlefield? It's easy to see where it came from. If you give chickens antibiotics, the antibiotics kill off the weak bacteria. The strong ones survive. They do the bacteria screw, and the surviving bacteria get stronger. But that's it. Bacteria. Otherwise, the truism is WRONG.
I visit my father in an old folks home. I see people in wheelchairs. I see blind people. I see folks unable to speak, howling like wolves howl at a full moon. These people have diabetes, alzheimers, emphysema. Thousands of medical problems that don't kill them.. but make them WEAKER-- not stronger.
Of course, you die in the end, so you can say EVERYTHING kills you. But at any moment, if it doesn't kill you (unless you're a bacterium), it will probably make you WEAKER... not stronger. It's as obvious as the cancer on your nose, but you think in truism-clichés and miss the obvious.
The Crux: It's not only verbs, and truism-clichés that act this way. It's an entire mindset, a brainbug.
You hear something and it triggers a string of thoughts. Newspapers headline that a highschool girl is gang raped in the bathroom. Cops arrest four guys. They're looking for a fifth. The public is outraged.
Our girls, our daughters. How could we let this happen? We need more security in schools. We have to protect our women.
Here is the NY Post front page of September 19th, several days after the “rape.”
Danmell Ndonye, 18, told cops she had been raped during a restroom romp at a Hofstra dorm early Sunday.
Stalin Felipe (left) and his cousin Arvin Rivera talked about their ordeal yesterday. Felipe credits Rivera, who had filmed the bathroom orgy, with clearing his and his friends' names.
He and his stepbrother, Kevin Taveras, 20, and pals Jesus Ortiz, 19, and Rondell Bedward, 21, were all charged with first-degree rape, which could have landed them in jail for 25 years.
"We went to Hofstra just to have some fun, and it turned out to be a nightmare," Felipe said. "Cops were telling us, 'You are going to rot in jail.' "
They were exonerated only after the fifth man -- Felipe's cousin Arvin Rivera, an 18-year-old senior at Harry S. Truman HS in The Bronx -- contacted prosecutors through his lawyer and said he had videotaped the sex romp with his cellphone. The video showed the sex was consensual.
Get it? The girl was lying! But we're so conditioned to believe the woman, the cops who were investigating reached their conclusions before they started. So did you.
How many innocents are in jail because people believe the victim. How many times have you heard cries against blaming the victim, when it may be that the victim is to blame!
This happens again and again. Remember the Duke University LaCross scandal in 2006? Even if you do, it probably won't matter. Let a woman cry rape and the guy is guilty. It's in your brain. Everybody knows men rape and women are victims, right?
The innocent woman/guilty man image is an idea thousands of years old. It's responsible for most of the gender inequality in the world. Woman's circumcision is mutilation. Men's is “protection against disease.” Husbands defend women's honor. Women can't defend themselves. Men are perpetrators. Women are victims.
Take Sweden... please.
“Enlightened people” say that Sweden has found the right way to handle prostitution. Instead of punishing the whores, as in most countries, Sweden gives them the right to ply their trade. BUT, if you frequent a prostitute, if you pay for the offered service... then you can go to prison.
Huh? That's the opposite of enlightened drug policy... or any criminal policy. It would be like saying, it's okay to sell heroin, but if you buy it, you go to jail. Talk about blaming the victims!! This is jailing the victims.
Where does such perverse thinking come from? It's a brainbug. An unconscious everybody knows it's true. The same brainbug that creates the knee-jerk reaction to cries of RAPE!
Women are victims. Most prostitutes are women. Most purchasers of prostitutes are men. That means the victims are the women. If that's the case, the criminals are the men. Jail them. Bullshit!
Careful thought shows the only victims are those created by the law. Prostitution, even more than drugs, is simply a paid relationship of mutual agreement. How could it be legal to have free sex between consenting adults, but illegal to have paid sex? Is there anything else in the world that's legal to give away, but illegal to pay for? I can't think of it. It doesn't make sense.
But sense has nothing to do with this. It's the mindset. Women are right. Women need protection. If there's a crime, women must be the victims. It never occurs to people that there may be NO victims.
Throwing up my hands: Ah fuck it. I'm going to Albania. There are no clichés about Albania. No performatives. There's NOTHING everybody knows about Albania. My brain will be free to make its own discoveries. Let's see what happens.
-->Gimme Nuuk department: Greenland had its first election since it won near-independence from Denmark, my favorite country. The leftist Inuit Ataqatigiit Party of Greenland took control.
Why? Global warming has melted the Greenland ice. Suddenly, the natives have access to natural resources worth exploring. The Greenlanders wanted control of their own resources. Danes, being Danes, let them have it.
Speaking in the Greenlandian capital, Nuuk, the new leader said, “Greenland deserves this.” I hope he's right.
-->What's up Doc? dept: It used to be that doctors were the biggest block to healthcare in the U.S. In the old days, doctors opposed Medicare and any other government interference in the health biz.
After a taste of rule by insurance company, a bunch of doctors are now head-banging to a different speedmetal song.
Physicians for a National Health Care Program includes more than 16,000 healthcare professionals. It was started by Dr. Linda Farley who has since died of cancer.
“The doctors who have been on the front lines can tell you,” Dr. Farley said, “there only one real 'public option.' It's single-payer.”
That means socialized medicine. Yeah!
-->Plugging myself department: During my trip to Albania, I'll be blogging my adventures. And, depending on if I can find an internet site... and if my computer gets stolen, you can read that blog regularly at: http://mykelsdiary.blogspot.com/
-->A weird church-state issue: A Washington D.C. Christian Science church has sued that city's historical landmark department.
They asked for the right to tear down their own church. It looks like a windowless war bunker, they said.
At a press conference, church leaders said, “Little is more representative of a church’s theology than its architecture, and this building is not us.”
The landmark department has reversed its ruling because of the suit. But since there is no plan for a replacement, the building still stands.
A windowless war bunker, huh? Sounds like a pretty good representation of any religion to me.
-->A tougher church-state issue: During the last days of the Bush administration, the president issued new regulations about healthcare. The rules say the government will cut funding to any group, state or local government that does now allow workers to follow their religious conscience.
That means pharmacists don't have to fill birth-control prescriptions if it goes against their beliefs. Lab workers don't have to give lesbians in-vitro fertilization if it goes against their beliefs. Catholic hospitals can refuse to provide morning-after pills to rape victims, if they believe it's a sin.
Who is right? Should the government force workers to violate their beliefs? Or should there be equal treatment for all in need of it?
I say, if you're gonna go for the belief side, you gotta go whole hog. My belief system says that wage-slavery... expending effort for the profit of someone else... capitalism... is immoral. For me, to participate in such a system is a sin. I want the right to my paycheck without the duty to actually work. If my employer has to respect MY BELIEFS, then I agree with the religious guys. Let 'em follow their conscience.
Otherwise, face it, in capitalism, we DON'T respect the beliefs of working people. That's the whole point.
-->Good news department: Ward Churchill, the guy who was fired from the University of Colorado for saying the World Trade Center victims were little Eichmans, won a lawsuit against the university. It's not clear whether he'll be rehired, but it is still one small victory in the fight for free speech and academic freedom.