Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

On Love, Life, Cocaine, and Impossible Monday Morning Questions

September 24, 2012 By: Mel Category: Misc

Scarface cocaine scene

Somehow my last post on mental illness ended up in a Facebook discussion about love. Well, I know how it happened. My friend asked if love was a mental illness and informed me that cocaine and love release the same chemicals in the brain.

This is an intense question for a hungover Monday morning, but what the hell.

I must admit that sometimes love and cocaine benders are strikingly similar. Amazing highs. Horrible crashes. Always wanting more. Knowing if you don’t stop you will fuck up your life for sure. And yet you keep going.

That might seem mental, but it depends on what you think love is supposed to be.

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in a personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace- not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth – James Baldwin

I think what Baldwin meant by “the infantile American sense” is that most Americans define love as, not just being happy, but being safe. It is the kind of love that people want to give to children, doing cartwheels through fields of flowers with not a care in the world. People crave a sense of security and calm, a refuge. Maybe that is why so many people marry someone like their parents and try to recreate their childhood life, or the childhood they wish they had.

And when intense emotions end up bringing anything but calm, security, and happiness people don’t know what to do with themselves.

We all need a refuge sometimes. But a refuge is a place to hide. You can’t hide forever. Security is mostly an illusion. Spending your life seeking security has awful consequences. That infantile American definition of love may actually explain a lot about our foreign policy.

If love is quest, daring, and growth then it isn’t about safety – at least not just. It is also about risk. Calm and turbulence. Highs and lows. Permanence and change. Pain and pleasure. Struggle and surrender. It is fucking things up and starting over again. It is whatever experiences you need to have. In short – LIFE.

And love doesn’t just apply to “romantic” or sexual relationships. In fact, it doesn’t need to apply to relationships at all. As much as we learn from our relationships with other people, even the most casual ones, we learn so much more on our own. And that is also a kind of love.

So no, T. I don’t think love is a mental illness. If anything, avoiding love/life in all its extremes might actually be the mental illness. But next time you should really ask me this kind of question on a Friday. Or when I’m drunk. Or both.

To All the Marriage Pushers

March 04, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Sex, Stratification

If I have to read one more article on how a group of people must somehow be damaged because they aren’t in a 1950s nuclear family, I am going to spit nails.

Kay S. Hymowitz has a piece in the Wall Street Journal where she complains that men in their twenties “hang out in…a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”  Poor Hymowitz and her fellow women can’t find a husband and breed.  All the guys are playing video games, fucking around in bands, smoking pot, or watching porn and comedy central.

Don’t feel too bad, dudes.  Tracy McMillan, has been married three times and so styles herself some sort of expert on what is wrong with those loser women who haven’t even managed to get married once.  According to her, women are shallow, selfish, slutty, lying bitches who don’t spend enough time acting like a doting mama to their men. And if you are a black woman who isn’t married, well then your lack of a mate is headline news and asshats like Steve Harvey make money telling you all the ways you should change yourself in order to attract a charmer such as himself. (I just threw up a little.)

Why is it that people are so fixated on marriage?  Why is it so fucking important to them that they will excoriate anyone who doesn’t hop right onto the marriage bandwagon? (Why the hell is our tax money going to try to make poor people get married?)

Usually, marriage pushers say some crap about marriage being the foundation of society. Horseshit. Marriage as a monogamous death pact has not been the foundation of society. The foundation of society has always been much bigger than the fragile nuclear family.  If marriage has historically been the foundation of anything, it is privilege, hierarchy, sexism, and the accumulation of property.  The kind of marriage we are familiar with is an ownership arrangement.*

If you really want to get to the heart of why people are so marriage obsessed, you must read the conservatives on the subject. Here I actually appreciate them. Most people pretend that they want you to change your entire self for your own good. They tell you it is what you really want. They tell you it is about love. At least some conservatives are honest.

Sam Schulman says that marriage is about controlling sexuality, especially women’s sexuality.  And we can’t possibly let the gays marry, cause gay marriage has nothing to do with controlling who people can fuck. It’s like telling everyone they can go out and fuck willy nilly.  We can’t have that. And my god, didn’t you realize that,

Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband.

How the hell are two gays supposed to navigate those all important elite and gender specific roles? I mean all our parents hunt and belong to a club right? (Seriously, you should read his piece.  You can’t make that shit up.)

These people piss me off so much. They want you to revere an institution that gives them privileges. They want you to modify yourself to serve their needs. They want you to give up looking for something real so that you can be as miserable as they are. They want to stuff you into the same tiny box they have stuffed themselves into.  They want you to have the opposite of love.

Love is not about putting people into boxes, making them into something that suits you. As James Baldwin put so perfectly, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” These people are telling you to put on more masks, to be as phony and miserable and deluded as they are. And for what? So rich people can have a system for property inheritance? So selfish people can delineate which tiny group of people they have to care about in life? So men can delude themselves into thinking that there is some virginal housekeeper waiting to take care of him who will never, ever want to fuck anyone else?

To hell with that.

Guess what? Not every girl has that Disneyland princess fantasy that McMillan and the rest claim we do.  As Violet so eloquently put it, some women listen to all that crap and think “Yes, I’d like to put a ring on it. The kind attached to a ball gag.” And here is another crazy fact for you. Men are actually human beings with feelings and not just walking hornbots. No, it is true.  I swear. It is possible to be a man and actually want something more than sex or money from people. I know, I could hardly believe it either.

I have no intention of getting married. I knew that by about the age of fifteen. It doesn’t make me damaged. It makes me someone who actually thinks about things before doing them. I have no idea if my fourteen-plus year relationship will last another four years or fourteen years or forty years. I do know that I love my video game and guitar playing, pot smoking, porn and comedy central watching bfriend. And I have no intention of telling him to “grow up” and fit into some Ozzie and Harriet idea of what a man is supposed to be. And I know that he loves me, not despite the fact that I am angry and raunchy and thoroughly undomesticated, but because of it.

So to all you marriage pushers who want the rest of us to sacrifice our happiness on the alter of your delusion – I know you hate to see people be honest about who they are, despite the harsh social consequences people like you met out for not conforming.  It must remind you of your own phoniness, unhappiness and mediocrity. I kind of feel sorry for you, but mostly I just want to tell you to suck it.


*  If you have never read Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, I would highly recommend it.

Preparing for Peace

January 18, 2010 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Seeking

Many people believe that some injustices are so heinous that violence is not only necessary, it is obligatory.  But they rarely take the next step.  They rarely imagine what would happen after the violence stops, assuming it can be stopped.  Who among them is going to create a better, more just world?  A soldier?

A soldier is not trained to create.  He is trained to destroy.  Military training is about smashing a person’s ego until they are willing to obey without question.  It is about instilling hierarchy.  It is about learning to dehumanize the “enemy.”  It is about suppressing pangs of conscience.  It is about becoming a killer.

When the soldier returns from whatever horrors he has to see and participate in, he brings the horrors back with him.  Returning soldiers have mental health problems.  They are more likely to have drug and alcohol problems.  Many are suicidal.  Some are homicidal.  Is that soldier, with all his problems, the person who will be able to create a better way of life?

Contrast the training of a soldier with the training of a non-violent resister.

Imagine the inner strength, patience, and command over your own emotions it takes to face down dogs without responding with violence?  Imagine the vision that comes from that kind of discipline and self awareness.  How could that not be better preparation for building a more just world?

When James Baldwin and Malcolm X debated each other (recordings below), Malcolm X asserted his right to defend himself.  He claimed that the black man’s freedom rested on his willingness to do “the same thing that Patrick Henry did to make this country what it was for white people.”  And in doing so, he called out the hypocrisy of idolizing the actions of one person and vilifying those same actions when another claims the right to them.

That hypocrisy is indisputable.  So is the fact that Americans idolize violence and violent heroes.  But while Baldwin did not dispute Malcolm X’s facts, he did dispute his conclusions.

“Patrick Henry is not one of my heroes…I don’t see any reason for me, at this late date, to begin modeling myself on an image which I’ve always found frankly to be mediocre and not a standard to which I myself could repair…the only thing that really arms anybody when the chips are down is how closely, how thoroughly, he can relate to himself and deal with the world…I don’t think that a warrior is necessarily a man…It is very difficult to be a man…What it involves, for me anyway, is an ability to look at the world, to look at whatever it is and to say what it is and to deal with it and to face it.

A soldier will have a very hard time looking at the world and seeing it for what it is.  A soldier has to lie to himself.  How could a soldier stand not to?  You can’t make a better world by creating people who can’t look into their own hearts, who have to live in denial of their actions.

We all have the right to defend ourselves, but we also have the obligation to examine what we will become by exercising that right.  If, in the process of becoming the victor, you have to also become a monster, what have you really won?

Ideas are Funny Things

October 08, 2009 By: Mel Category: Seeking

Ideas don’t know boundaries of time and place.   They can be disproven or discredited.  They can be hidden or forbidden.  But they will still manage to seep into unexpected areas and pop up at unexpected times.

I was watching a program about James Baldwin once (my favorite author).  One of the guests was a professor speaking about the influence of Russian Jewish thought on Baldwin’s writing.

I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if my adopted family was Russian.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if one of the reasons that Baldwin’s writing spoke to me so strongly was because we had both absorbed some of the same ways of looking at the world – he by going to school with Russian Jews, me by being adopted by them.

My father never spoke about his family’s background.  He was from the Bronx and that was that.  His father died when he was only eleven.  He didn’t talk about him, presumably because he didn’t remember much.  He spoke about his mother, but never about where she originally came from.  But I did remember a cousin of his saying something about Russia once.

Happily, in the age of the internet, I was able to solve the mystery a few moments after it popped up.  There it was on the 1930 census.  My father’s father was Russian.  My father’s mother’s parents were also Russian.  Practically the entire building in the Bronx where my father lived was Russian.

And I thought, how cool.  How cool that I could feel such a strong connection to someone with such a different background and life experience.  How cool that we are connected by thought.

I tell you this because I have been thinking a lot about thought, about world views, about debate, and about writing.  I’ve been thinking about how frustrating it can be to butt up against people whose ways of seeing the world are so fundamentally different than your own.  And I’ve been thinking about how it sometimes feels like an effort in futility to argue.

I have a particularly hard time arguing with people who accept authoritarianism.  In fact, many people seem to relish it.  Alicia over at Last Left Turn before Hooterville has a great post about the authoritarian tendencies of the republican party.

In the comments of Alicia’s post she says that she doesn’t think that die hard conservatives are amenable to liberal arguments and she prefers to spend her time trying to get progressives to become more active. That is a completely rational view from a liberal/progressive standpoint.  There are many others liberal/progressives out there.  You have a wide audience.

When your political views are more radical, the options are more limited.  After all, the changes I would like to see are as drastic for most liberals as they are for most conservatives.  At times it can seem hopeless.

But then I remember that you never know where an idea can go, once you put it out there.

Religion, Education, and the Desire for Superiority

January 26, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Religion, Stratification

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about superiority and how many of our social problems and political paralysis stem from a seemingly universal need to feel superior.

James Baldwin* wrote that when he heard people talk about equality he always wondered, equal to what. People don’t want to be equal. They want to be superior. And we humans have invented all sorts of way to feel superior.

Throughout the colonized world, we inherited European ideas of the superiority of one race over another. In the Republic of Congo, it is height that makes Bantu feel superior. Superiority of gender is ubiquitous. And lets not forget classism. The U.S. may like to pretend that we are a classless society, but in a classless society one would not be judged on the car they drive, how big their McMansion is, or which designer’s name is written on their ass

The current financial crisis may cure us of some of our obsession with labels, bling, and the “real housewives” of the obnoxiously rich. And discrimination based on some accidents of birth is slowly becoming less socially acceptable, but other illusions of superiority stubbornly persist.

The antagonism between the “liberal elite” and the religious right is all about feelings of superiority on both sides. And the defensiveness of our discourse has everything to do with the implicit claims that, whichever side you are on, the other side considers you inferior in fundamental ways.

“Liberal elites” think they are better educated, more worldly, less racist, and more humane. After all, we have diversity. We have degrees. We speak other languages. Some don’t even eat meat. We are tolerant (of homosexuals, freaks, and premarital sex…evangelicals and conservatives, not so much).

“Heartland” people believe they are more hardworking, down to earth, family-oriented, self-sacrificing, god-fearing, and humane. After all, they join the military and lay their lives on the line for their country. They give their time and money to their church. They don’t go to the government for handouts. They take care of themselves, their families, and each other.

Our views of each other are the exact converse of all the things we think make us special. If we “elitists” think we are superior for our degrees and our diversity and our worldliness, we look down on those people in the “fly over states” as being backwards, uneducated, and ignorant.

Case in point, while I was at the University of California Santa Cruz, one of my teachers referred to conservatives in the middle of the country as people with the “bubba syndrome.” Mind you, this was a Latin American Latino Studies program. If anyone had suggested that any homophobic, anti-abortion, Latin Americans were “bubbas” (or the Spanish equivalent) a shitstorm would surely have ensued.

Meanwhile, what Sarah Palin refers to as the “real America” looks down on us coastal people as being pretentious, lazy, criminal, immoral, and selfish. Most of all, they point out, we look down on them. In fact, Republican House candidate Robin Hayes said that “liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God.”

Steve J. Sterns wrote a book called Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru. The book is about Sendero Luminoso (the Maoist guerrilla group that terrorized Peru for years and is now, reportedly, in the midst of a resurgence). In the book, he describes the rift in Peruvian society, saying:

They also believed that ‘superior’ persons were marked by their benevolence toward inferior classes (a benevolence that liberals attributed to education and conservatives to religion).

Isn’t that a perfect description of the rift in our society as well? Conservatives believe that their religion makes them morally superior, while liberals believe it is their education that makes them morally superior. Conservatives give money to their church. Liberals give money to Amnesty International. Each thinks their choices are superior.

I’m not naive enough to believe that people will ever be rid of their desire to feel superior, but it would be nice if we challenged people more. The next time that some twenty-five year old snot implies that their degree confers wisdom, remind them that George Bush has an ivy league degree and it didn’t do him much good. And the next time someone implies that religion is the only source of morality, remind them that some of our greatest moral philosophers – from John Stuart Mill to Albert Camus – were atheists.

And lets not forget that the more strongly we feel superior to another group of people, the more we need them in order to define who we are. An educated person can only feel superior when there are other, less educated, people. A churchgoer can only feel superior when there are non-churchgoers to compare themselves to.

And now, for your amusement, is a concise description of our differences from Dave Barry.


* I can’t for the life of me remember which essay this was in, so if anyone could help me out with that I would be eternally grateful.