America: an Epilogue to Baudrillard’s Grand Tour

by Guy Walker

“Deep down, the US, with its space, its technological refinement, its bluff good conscience, even in those spaces which it opens up for simulation, is the only remaining primitive society. The fascinating thing is to travel through it as though it were the primitive society of the future, a society of complexity, hybridity, and the greatest intermingling, a ritualism that is ferocious but whose superficial diversity lends it beauty, a society inhabited by a total metasocial fact with unforeseeable consequences, whose immanence is breathtaking, yet lacking a past through which to reflect on this, and therefore fundamentally primitive…” —Baudrillard, America

“Why only in America? Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?” When Sky News correspondent Mark Stone asked Ted Cruz this question, in relation to the recent massacre of schoolchildren, the senator sneered with his beady eyes, and stormed away. His salt and pepper beard now trying to cover his usual greasy cartoonish villain face with an attempt to look scholarly, like an Oxford professor who reads books. But his usual bottomless contempt for people looks more like the hooting of an altered beast. Who can blame him? This is his America.

But Cruz did retort with something that at least used to be true. He asked the reporter why people from around the world come to America. It begs a moment of consideration. I have friends from much more prosperous, safe, resplendent countries, who move here to work and begin families and raise their children. They spend years to obtain a green card. And when more children die in classrooms than police die in the line of duty, it behooves me as to why you would want to raise children here. A hundred and ten thousand people died from overdose last year. The homeless walk through the streets like zombies, covered in filth, screaming at the setting sun. There’s no affordable healthcare. California will be in complete ashes, and New York will sink.

When Baudrillard published America in 1986, it stood out as a reflective portrayal of the country’s sprawling banality juxtaposed against its vicious idiomatic splendor. He wrote about an amalgamation of culture whipped up in a chaotic, self-immolating flurry: the national anthem by Jimi Hendrix, permanent trailer parks like high-class ghettos, “giant hamburgers on the sixteen-foot-long billboard.” The extravagance of banality that, to the French philosopher, is a “luminous, geometric, incandescent immensity.” Culture as the main export, from a country of cannibalizing filth. Its “human flotsam of conviviality” as our collective consciousness, like the tremors of a school of fish or flock of birds that make it function as a single being. Our obvious loneliness marching en masse, the stereophonic hammering of a people without footing. This is what he took away from touring through the United States. He wrote of the Texan hills and the sierras of New Mexico, the sublime eternity of driving through our deserts without any finish to the frontier. His chapter on New York, although strangely childish and naive in its observations about the sound of sirens and the range of weird hairdos, remains persistently objective. “Why do people live in New York? There is no relationship between them.” It’s a childish question, but in its noblest form. Why do we live here? Or, why do we persist the conditions in which we live?

Baudrillard’s America was published three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, something that prompted the political scientist Francis Fukuyama to write his famously inept book, The End of History and the Last Man, a treatise on the universalization of Western liberal democracy, that we had progressed to the final and complete stage of political evolution, and eventually all others would follow. It seems absurd now for a self-assured intellectual to ever have thought that, let alone written four hundred pages trying to prove it, dominating the conversation of our cultural victory. Baurdrillard too wrote that “the US is utopia achieved,” that we are correct in our conviction of being the center of the world. To read America today is not all that different from watching the nostalgic reels from home videos, where there’s an innate glamorized innocence to the way we trotted around the backyard in our underwear, chasing dandelions dancing in the breeze. It’s lacking the embolism of violence that percolates through the dominant culture.

I live in Los Angeles, and we are dominated by the hegemony of homelessness. It used to be that you had to occasionally step over a homeless man sprawled out on the sidewalk, his barefoot and open porcine belly blackened with the soot of unwashed years, as you calmly ignored any consideration of if he was sleeping in the blazing summer sun, or just dead. But now, the unhampered ubiquity is inescapable, what we calmly refer to as homeless encampments, as if fifteen blocks of rancid despair were just some of the diehards leftover from a musical festival. The writer Michael Shellenberger says we should follow the Dutch’s example, and call them “open drug scenes,” because rape and arson and hard drug use are the standard issue norm, and we should not treat them all like victims of the system. I don’t entirely agree with his thesis, but it’s true that the appetizing benevolence of what we call these surrounding storms of catastrophe is propagandistically naive.

School shootings weren’t yet in vogue at the time of Baudrillard’s America. Mass shootings have taken over the arena of horror where serial killers once dominated, and mass shootings at schools have a particular volcanic tragedy. America is the only place where the routine sacrifice of children is deemed a sad but acceptable price to pay for the rightto use the weapons that do so. 

In 2003, the Bush administration banned all news coverage of coffins returning from Iraq. It was a depraved propagandistic tool to prevent any anti-militarism sentiment, a boorishly inhumane lever to not recognize the young men and women who died for nothing, who’s bodies erupted like fireworks over a landmine or when pummeled with bullets that were designed to explode when entering a body. And we weren’t even allowed to see the coffins, much less the bodies. The bullets of an AR-15 explode when they enter a body. The parents of the children who died at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde had to provide DNA samples because many of their bodies were too unrecognizable. I used to think that if Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott had to see the exploded bodies of eight year olds, they might shift their positions on gun control, but I don’t think they would. I think ideology is too strong, like some irrefutable Aristotelian epistêmê, where the freedom to own machines of massacre is obviously tantamount to the massacre of children.

Baudrillard said that America is the origin of modernity. Because colonization is the ultimate coup de théåtre, replacing all subtraction of values with heightened cosmetics, we lack all mythical authenticity that typically gives a place its cultural identity. We have lawless militarism. Our extraordinary military budget serves the police, giving much of its excess equipment to even some of the smallest departments. Some of our biggest blockbuster cinema works in conjunction with the military, known as the military-entertainment complex, contractually supervised by the Department of Defense’s Entertainment Media Unit. Navy recruitment skyrocketed 500% after the original Top Gun. Zero Dark Thirty was largely funded by the CIA, with the rather oafish “Queen of Torture,” Alfreda Scheuer, played by the red-haired temptress of Jessica Chastain. Torture is sexier with a low cut top and aviators. In Dialectic Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer’s social critique of the failure of the Enlightenment, their chapter, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” argues this point specifically, that popular culture is as manipulative of mass-scale apathy as factory-line consumer goods are. I don’t agree that it’s quite that monolithic, but movies like American Sniper are obvious cruel fetishisms of death, slaughter gaffed as glorious. Movie stars love making their proclamations in support of gun control, or how the NRA is merely an ATM for corrupting politicians, but don’t seem to bat an eye at their military-sponsored spectacles of death. The moderate abstraction of our death drive is enough for most the rest of us to swallow it gleefully.

American exceptionalism is akin to its glorification of death. Baudrillard said “America is the original version of modernity.” But he also said it “is the only remaining primitive society.” This isn’t a contradiction. It’s because we don’t have a past, no real origin story of hammering at the edifice of a slow evolution, that we are both modern and primitive. Our buildings are a crumbling chimera of rubble and stucco finish, its ideologically-fixed banality a permanence on splintered asphalt roads, as the homeless stagger like zombies between the scintillating pornography of sports cars zig-zagging between them like they were traffic cones. We are the entrails of glamour dying in a deserted paradise, the leftover ruminations of broken dreams. There’s a Lamborghini dealership down the street from me, and a half-mile long stretch of people smoking meth in their tents down the embankment from it.

American exceptionalism is the adolescent shame of your own awkward inability to do anything about anything. We can pop our beating pimples with the help of the bright lights of an expensive vanity, but we’ll still be ugly. Share a meme to your Instagram stories that your friend shared earlier (but only to your stories and not a real post, because that’s permanent and you know the memory of this school shooting will eventually fade away like all the others, and you don’t want to mess up the fine curation of your profile layout). Do MDMA with other liberals in matching wide-brimmed straw hats. Repeat impenetrable statistics about gun violence. Drink your morning matcha in your underwear on your backyard patio as the farts escape without a sound.

In America, Baudrillard wrote that “the important point is that the whole of America is preoccupied with the sect as a moral institution,”with our collective madness for a shimmering oasis of abstract and cherrypicked freedoms, where every military intervention is at least intended for good, where the accruement of material dominion and proprietorship is the real religion. To be the star-spangled whores of moral attention. And, Baudrillard continues, if we were to lose this moral perspective of ourselves, we would collapse. I think for the most part we have lost the moral perspective. Maybe there’s a few diehard aberrant patriot types who still deeply believe we are the moral vanguard of the world, but the self-examined cynicism is winning for obvious reasons. It’s always there, but the two recent mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo are routine reminders of our primitiveness, that our barbarism is now modern, that we can do what we’ve always done but this time with more efficacy. And then we can protest it behind small screens, as a Netflix show rolls into the next episode.

As Baudrillard notes, America is both utopia achieved, and a sprawling desert of deformity. We are the juxtaposition of paradise and hell wrapped into the same firework careening through the sky. But there’s no end; there’s no spectacle of a grand finale. If he wrote it today, I would like to think Baudrillard would have more to say, but this time with more evidence to our misery. But maybe he wouldn’t even write the book. Maybe the opportunity for a readable critique about America without coming across as obvious and cliché has already passed, and the fluttering examples he makes of Disneyland being paradise and Santa Barbara being paradise seem only like quaint nostalgia. Because the moral milieu of those places have also deteriorated. If we were a book, or a novel—judged by recent trajectory—we’d be pulp, collecting dust in the smoldering sun. So maybe Ted Cruz sneered at the question about our American exceptionalism being so awful because he knew it will only get worse.


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The Abortion Meeting

by Guy Walker

They wait in the knee-deep red sludge that’s quietly humming like a muffled symphony. Justice Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch all huddle inside the crowded and pregnant womb of a young woman. The claustrophobic air is pumped with a fog machine, choo-chooing red steam until it’s hard to see. The crimson, translucent glow casts a moody artificial sunset tone across their faces, as they stand around in a circle, looking solemn. Its slimy, nutrient-soaked walls dripping in the gelatinous muck. It reminds one of the same gurgling fortune that created life out of nothing, when all there was was space dust that is somehow kept glued together with gravitational pull, and life arose seemingly out of nowhere, from the gaseous vents at the bottom of the ocean, and somehow dominoed into complex self-aware lifeforms.

The nine Supreme Court Justices are hot. They’re tugging at the collars of their ridiculous gowns, wiping the sweat from their temples and brows. They’re waiting for the meeting to begin, rendering the same formal orchestration as the masked ball ritual scene in the movie Eyes Wide Shut. In fact, they’ve modeled every meeting based on that scene…or was it the other way around? Their dull and spiteful jitters in preparation to enact some demonic carnival for millions of women they’ll never know personally. A sexually repressed Clarence Thomas, whose face and overall posture has collapsed into an amoeba-like, formless glob, takes up what little light there is. His decades of cynicism was enough to kill the last of the pollinating bees during his earlier years as a lawyer for Monsanto.

Outside, there’s only horizons of asphalt and condominium complexes. Drones whiz by overhead, dropping off Amazon parcels of cat food and cordless headphones and purple curtains this time because you returned the green ones. Joe Rogan blares on the city-wide emergency loud speakers: “Look, I’m just keeping an open mind! I was on DMT once, and saw this baby crawl out of the soil and sat in my lap, and it was me!! It didn’t really look like me, but I knew it was me, you know what I mean? So when the woke mob says [he does his weak, girly liberal voice] ‘Oh, I’m pro-choice,’ what are they saying about the soil baby that’s a reflection of their own, you know? Besides, I have a sensory deprivation tank and a cold plunge!!!!” His testosterone booster injections trigger a delayed response with the gorilla coffee he drinks, and his neck veins burst, sending a spray of blood across his studio like a Jackson Pollock painting.

A jack-lifted truck drives down the empty street with an American flag waving behind. The conservatives won, and now flags are mandatory. The “Don’t Tread On Me” flags are mandated by every Republican governor. Every single house and car (which is all just tract housing and trucks with those fake bull testicles known as “truck nuts” dangling freely from the toe hitch) are issued at least one flag each, turning the low sky into a flittering arena of yellowed flotsam, the collective and intersecting butterfly-effect of their waving flags cause storms spanning from Norway to Thailand, the smoldering skies churning like cauldrons, as a tornado bursts onto the Siberian tundra with a baleful wrath, pulling up weeds and trees in huge clumps, lifting barns into a confetti of splinters. Roadkill fatalities caused from the swinging truck nuts skyrocket, hitting squirrels and raccoons and opossums square in the forehead—their evolutionary progression had started to adapt to dodge cars by freezing right under the middle of a car, but not yet realizing the fatal mistake of those huge brass nuts.

The Democrats protest all of this. To stop the storms, they march in their pink pussy hats; while some of their own self-immolating attendees protest the pink-pussy people because they say their hats are strictly pink and it implies only a white woman’s pussy is at risk, and therefore the grandmother pastime of knitting is inherently racist. College-age Republicans counter-protest in their hats, which are simply gargantuan felt testicles bobbing from side to side as they march. A buck-toothed man in oversized cargo shorts and a bulletproof vest, who walks with his feet pointed out like a ballerina’s, begins a chant: “I don’t eat pussy! And my dorm room is messy!” He pushes his bicycle helmet up above his eyebrows, so he can continue to avoid every crack in the sidewalk, in order not to break his mother’s back. Everyone in the group does this, hopping to-and-fro from one unbroken section of sidewalk to the next, creating a sort of embryonic form of goose-stepping. It’s hideous to watch. There’s even a conspiratorial faction of the right that believes the deterioration of our streets, the splintering of spiderweb cracked roads and sidewalks is an attempt from the elite to break more mother’s backs. The pro-life position, they claim, is having the full health of the mothers in their best interest. Can a mother with a broken back give birth to more babies? they ask in their meetings. The buck-toothed man’s mates continue the chant as before. Clearly, they have rehearsed this bit, as everyone knows the words without missing a beat. “A cute baby is pretty adorable! If I break my mom’s back, it would be real horrible!” They then all pull out framed photos of their mothers from their back pockets. “This is my mum! There are many like it, but this one is mine!” The featureless landscape of office buildings and condos and tract housing cul-de-sacs fills with more than the usual banal lurking contempt of its own, and the hatred becomes real. Battalions collect more forces. Everyone has their flags and their bumper stickers and their hats, as the sprawling hideous void of society materializes into a billowing storm cloud, the clattering fiefdoms beyond the city erupt in flames.

Back in the poor young woman’s womb, are the justices, shifting from side to side with impatience for the formal deliberation to begin. Amy Coney Barrett tries to force a smile while working through the maze of a rather complex Cat’s Cradle that she made for herself, but she breaks down in tears. She attempts to show Neil Gorsuch her creation, but he scowls, and then accomplishes hacking up a marble of mercurial-colored phlegm, telling the others with casual confidence that his rock hard little morsel of barf is the postmodern pearl, and they should all invest in his industrious hobby. The four-month-old developing fetus bobs over them like an illuminated orb, its gigantic size in comparison causes Roberts to faint. Under a Freudian understanding of psychosexual development of the id, Kavanaugh never developed beyond the oral stage, and so he simply sucks and licks and chews everything around him. He grabs one of Alito’s earlobes which sags like an empty canvas, and begins sucking on it like a pacifier, to which Alito admonishes: “You idiot! We’re here to look presentable. Even the Taliban have victoriously ruled that all women wear full gowns with a face covering, and all you can do is make us look like fools! Now get up, and straighten your own goddamn gown.” Alito then clears his throat as to get everyone’s attention and begin the meeting, but then this descends into a coughing fit. He gags, then wipes his eyes. “Ahem. Anyways, so happy you were all able to make it. We thought it’d be a fun treat for the viewers at home if we had this deliberation in-person. In person.” There’s a long silence, as the other justices look around aimlessly, not understanding another one of Alito’s strangely garish attempts at humor. Then, Kavanaugh finally gets it, and shrieks more than laughs, with a gaping lipless mouth. “That’s enough, Kavanuagh, quiet down,” to which Kavanaugh abruptly stops, and does the Charades game motion of zipping his lips shut. “We’re here to discuss the already infamous case, Chicks vs. The Harness of Serfdom,” Alito continues, “in which we’ll discuss such topics as When walking a woman on a leash, it’s better to have a harness around their chest than one tight collar around their neck; When ‘trimming the hedges’ or ‘mowing the lawn’, or any other libidinally suggestive garden duties, it’s your responsibility—not the State’s—to keep your mind clean. Umm, let’s see here…” he flips through some pages, squinting. “Oh right, right. Disney princesses won’t show midriff; Bellybuttons are simply that, buttons. They are not scars leftover from being in the womb, because there really is no womb; Ummmm, Now that condoms are illegal, the black market is popularizing criminals pulling them over their head like they used to with pantyhose…what should we do about that?; and lastly, and this is really my favorite, Mary Magdalene was a whore, so, do you think Jesus scored or what? Kavanaugh now presses his bellybutton with the palm of his hand over and over as if it was a buzzer in a game show, and makes the accompanying buzzer sound with his mouth. “It’s not that kind of button, you idiot!” Alito exclaims. “Why do you think it’s in the same vertical line as the buttons on a shirt? You think that’s just a coincidence? Think for once in your pathetic life.” Kavanaugh proceeds to wipe his nose with the length of his forearm. Amy Coney Barrett, being one of the few members of the ecumenical covenant, People of Praise, a parachurch community of about 1,700 members, most of whom are Catholic, and whose two founders were involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and advocate for the practice of speaking in tongues, begins screaming in gibberish. Her eyes roll to the back of her head, and her hands raise to the ceiling, shivering, groping the sordid red air. “HAIL!!!! Shabada-diddy-slim-shady…TITS ON RATTLESNAKES!!!” Her glossolalia collapsing in on itself, and she gasps for air before beginning this routine again. Breyer finally looks up from the murky sludge that makes up the ground, and asks, “My God, the poor woman’s a schizophrenic.” Alito’s eyes widen in disbelief. “Are you nuts? This is a religious experience, she’s speaking to God.” “Oh, I see,” Breyer replies. “I’ll shut up then.”

A rumbling is felt under their feet. The dark red nutrient bath curdles into a thick foam. There used to be a fountain that gurgled like a fabulous spring, and the womb would hum in its coquettish mass, pulsing around the fetus as an invisible slow-moving lightning storm. These multitudinous involuntary forces aren’t like that of a clattering machine, but rather as a unified and benign world that manifests all of life’s forms from a subterranean infinity. But suddenly, there’s a rupture in the system, and the warm liquid cocoon turns into a huge fondu sculpture splashing violently from underground tremors. The nine Justices clamor for something to hold onto, something solid, but the viscous knee-deep ground slips out from under them, and they summersault backwards, dunked head-to-toe in the coruscating muck. Their meeting is ruined, sending Alito into a psychotic diatribe, his spit-soaked exclamations about how it’s not over ’til it’s over. The developing baby rolls over them, crushing Kavanaugh mid-scream, as Thomas easily drowns under his heavy black robes. There’s a struggle afoot, but only inside, as the young woman whom they are inside of casually gets ready for bed. She dropped her toothbrush, and had bent down to pick it up. She holds her tummy, feeling it rumble gently, the baby kicking the inner wall. She smiles, and takes a deep breath as she stands back up, sending the Justices again into a huge tidal forced baptism of blood and embryonic tissues.

Finally, in bed, her husband puts his ear up to her taut and glossy stomach, mistaking the Justices’ faint whimpers for the cute rumblings of their baby. His eyes widen in excitement, as he leans his ear in closer, obsessively trying to listen, as if he were listening for morse code inside a seashell. “Baby, I can hear the baby,” the husband says. Alito croaks his last feeble cry. “America is the violent extroversion of a people in exile. I was only trying to wrangle you back to a time and place of good behavior.” And his voice fades under the gurgling in the womb.

The Best Ladder and the Wrong Wall

by Guy Walker

The Afghanistan War was always supposed to be invisible. After the initial fanfare of our cimmerian payback following the 9/11 attacks, it hid away into the depths where it always meant to be. The Iraq War was the same. Remember the exuberant media coverage of the toppling of the Saddam statue, and the cheering children running after our Humvees. And then it all went away. It’s why Bush ordered the Pentagon to prevent all news coverage of the bodies of American troops being brought back from war. It’s why there was no draft—a draft would only popularize our natural revulsion to war, sending kids straight out of high school to bomb some sandbox of infinite hell, their pimples oozing larger than their undeveloped prefrontal lobes. It’s why much of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were outsourced to private mercenary armies like Blackwater. When former NFL player Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, it was initially covered up to look more heroic than it was. And it largely did stay invisible.

For two decades it’s been waging on quietly, like a cancer gnawing away at the throat of American decency, our reputability pulverized into the scorched earth we’ve left behind. It’s been almost entirely removed from our daily consciousness. In 2020, between NBC, ABC, and CBS, the Afghanistan war was covered for a grand total of five minutes. For the entire year. Even when The Washington Post published The Afghanistan Papers,which revealed high-ranking officials knew early on that the war was not winnable, and took great efforts to mislead the public into thinking it was moving along steadily and successfully, it doesn’t seem to have made the impact the Pentagon Papers did for the Vietnam War. In Craig Whitlock’s newest book, The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, he details how the US government partnered with Afghanistan, funneling billions into their coffers, funding lavish palaces of excess and glee. He explains that the Afghan population didn’t see the billions of dollars we were spending as money to spread democracy, or to legitimize some form of nation building, but rather to prop up leaders with deeply corrupt and brutal histories. In many rural Afghan communities, populations saw the Taliban as preferable to the Afghan government, who shared little historically, religiously, and ethnically with the Afghan people. Even Donald Rumsfeld’s internal memos, just six months into the war, admitted that he suspected American troops would be there forever.

Maybe there’s too much other noise in the world today. Maybe our attention spans have fully rotted through. Who knows why this war has largely stayed invisible until now. The truth is, everyone will forget about this Afghanistan story—about what permanent hell we’ve punished a nation of 35 million to. You too will forget about this episode in our miserably despondent legacy—there’ll be another election, or another natural disaster, or another cat meme or TikTok video that takes your attention for a while. You’ll go to Burning Man, do some mind expanding drugs and show the world how free spirited you are; you’ll travel to Tulum, and finally forget about all this too. Down the spiraling tangents of illiteracy, a generation consumed by their own embarrassing brutality.

Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, it was Hunter S. Thompson of all people who wrote the most prescient predictions of despair, for, of all places, ESPN.com :

“Make no mistake about it: We are At War now ― with somebody ― and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”

I’ve never been to Afghanistan, and I’ve never been to war, so in one sense I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just ingesting content I consume mostly online and spill it out for another helping, another blog post, another diatribe about the nihilism of our politics. But in another sense, many of our instincts are correct. Why was Hunter Thompson—the wild drug and gun enthusiast—right, while almost none of the experts were? As is famously noted, none of the highjackers were Afghani or Iraqi. Fifteen of them were from Saudi Arabia, and it was planned and organized in Hamberg, Germany. Everyone, from Bernie Sanders to The New Yorker, supported the invasion of Afghanistan. It had unanimous support in the Senate, and only one dissenting vote in Congress, Barbara Lee.

So, most of us can be accused of not knowing what we’re talking about. But you can watch Adam Curtis’s BBC documentary, Bitter Lake, and realize we never would have won a war there, not if we spent five trillion, not if we instituted the draft, not for anything. You can watch Ben Anderson’s Vice documentary, This Is What Winning Looks Like, and realize that in 2012, when the documentary was made, it was clearly not winnable, and spending another nine years there was insane. You can read Stathis Kalyvas’s 2006 book The Logic of Violence in Civil War, and understand that the complexity of tribal conflict is beyond anything an American military can undermine and declare their own to fix. You can read James Bradford’s Poppies, Politics, and Power: Afghanistan and the Global History of Drugs and Diplomacy, and understand that it was largely drug control policy and intervention that created the Afghanistan poppy trade what it is today. In addition to, in the documentary Bitter Lake, it explains that it was American engineers in the 1950’s who built massive dams throughout the country, thus raising the water table, and bringing salt to the surface, allowing poppies to thrive in the this new soil. You can Spencer Ackerman’s Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, and map out our almost logical collective insanity of the last twenty years. Afghanistan just happened to be there, in the hazy midst of our madness.

Humans have been hammering out their quarrels in Afghanistan for at least 50,000 years, one of the oldest agrarian civilizations in the world. There’s an almost rugged transcendence in knowing our sprawling tantrums of tribal adolescences began there. It was controlled by the Medes, of the Iranic tribe, between the Nuristani and Indo-Aryan groups, until Darius the Great took over with his Persian army, establishing the Achaemenid Empire. It changed hands constantly, from Darius III to Alexander the Great, to Seleucid Empire, to the Grego-Bactrian Kingdom, leaders from Chandragupta Maurya, eventually defeated by Seleucus I Nicator. Islam only became dominate in the 7th century, a blink of an eye on an earthly cosmological scale. Before that, it was of course sects of Hinduism and Buddhism, but also myriad forms of Paganism, Zoroastrianism, and Surya worship. 

History is a funnel of distilling complexity down to our more modern brutish monotonies. We condense religion and language and wild species and tribal sects and everything else down to an abbreviated worship of banality, organizing our lives like accruements lined up neatly on a mantle. Our congratulation is being one of seven billion pawns rummaging through the wreckage. History is digested almost as a fiction, in order to convince ourselves that this ephemeral polemic of subjectivity actually matters. We are the conjugated feral beasts of someone more interesting, hammering through made-up diatribes and reality tv dramaturges of self-importance.

Religions—like that of the Zarathustra—, empires like that of the Median, bubble out of the muck of our ancestors, throwing their fits of rage for a while, until they burn out and evaporate into whatever’s next. What’s next is just marginalia. If you read the ancient history of Afghanistan, you’re tempted to accept that our cimmerian and spiteful installment of the last two decades of war is just another footnote in their sprawling episodic tapestry of turmoil. But it’s still unconvincing. Everyone seems to be up in arms about our American reputation: We pulled out too quickly, abandoning girls and women to the mercy of the Taliban. We abandoned interpreters and translators who sacrificed themselves and their families. These things are important, no doubt, and our legacy is justifiably embarrassing and brutal because of it. But by focusing only on those issues, it presumes the war was justified, and could have succeeded if we only did it differently.

In retrospect, it’s easy to be smug about our failure there. It’s been called the graveyard of empires for a reason. The British lost there in the First Anglo-Afghan War—or as the British call it, the Disaster of Afghanistan—fought between 1839 and 1842. The Soviets fought a nine year war alongside the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, eventually being defeated by the Afghan mujahideen (the precursor to Al Qaeda, and heavily funded and trained by the CIA), as well as other Shi’ite and Maoist rebel groups. Operation Cyclone was one of the most expensive covert CIA operations, lasting from 1979 to 1989, funneling $630 million to the mujahideen in 1987 alone. Reagan welcomed the Mujahideen leaders into his Oval Office in 1983, as pictured at the top of this article. The divisive partisan milieu of our body politic wants to criminalize the whole Afghanistan catastrophe as party issue. It’s Reagan’s fault, or Bush’s, or Obama’s, Trump’s, and now Biden’s pullout method. As if our collective dementia has clogged our memories all along. 

But this is not the correct thinking. The defense budget was and is the only thing both parties continue to agree on. Matt Taibbi emphasizes this in a column on his sub stack, quoting Chuck Shumer in 2018: “We fully support President Trump’s Defense Department’s request” of a $160 billion increase for 2017-2018. So who cares if our exit strategy wasn’t tidy. It’s a distraction from the real politics of war. On September 14th, 2001, Barbara Lee was the only Congressperson to vote against Afghanistan War, receiving thousands of death threats as a result of her vote. The entire war, from the beginning, was a deliberate siphoning of domestic wealth into the coffers of defense contractors and their rubble-cathedrals abroad. Since WWII, our intervention has never been good. Clinton said his biggest regret of his precedency was not intervening in Rwanda. That seems fair, but who knows what the result would have been if we did. That’s the problem with only knowing the results of our actions now, in this exact weave of reality: we have no alternative to compare it to. These types of exercises merely comprise encyclopedias of hypotheses. The state of our present-day horror, however, demonstrates a complete failure in military and political prudence.

There is a lot of talk about women and girls, and how they will now be treated under Taliban rule. Just the other day, a report came out that a Taliban leader pleaded with women to stay indoors because his men hadn’t been trained on how to treat women and girls. The Taliban just killed a pregnant policewoman. These shouldn’t be brushed off, of course. But you have to ask yourself why everyone cares all of a sudden. What about the night raids and drone strikes we conducted that killed countless innocent civilians? When U.S. and Afghan forces conducted night raids, in one remote village after another, capturing and killing whoever they deemed guilty, they turned entire villages against them in a matter of moments. Jeremy Scahill’s book and subsequent documentary Dirty Wars, covers these night raids extensively, highlighting a family celebration in a small village when American forces conducted a night raid, killing young men, pregnant women, young girls. Admiral William McRaven returned later to the village, offering the family a goat as an apology.

When the military whistleblower Daniel Hale revealed that ninety percent of deaths from drone strikes are deemed collateral damage, thus innocent civilians or noncombatants, no one seemed to care then. Or at least, it wasn’t covered on the nightly news. In fact, Daniel Hale was recently sentenced to four years in prison for leaking these classified documents. So, yes, I too fear the future for women and girls under a Taliban rule. But I’m not convinced that the nightly chorus of pundits trembling about their well-being is at all genuine. They never seemed to care before. It’s our war that we failed to stop, and it’s our war that we will all be involved in, in some way, for the rest of our lives.

Elem Kilmov’s masterpiece Come and See, which is far and away the best war film ever made, is about a boy in a Belarusian village, conscripted to join the Soviet partisan forces and fight against the Nazi German occupation. He is a bright-eyed, blonde-haired boy who thinks he’s headed out for a great adventure. But as he experiences the murderous reality, the piles of bodies surrounding him, the rape and torture and defeating bombs, he deteriorates into a withered shell of himself—an adolescence cannibalized by trauma and revolt, irreversible decay as the horror swells all around. We’re entering a new era impregnated by a similar horror. Though most of us have not seen war up close, we all are affected by the collective madness that has conquered us all. 

The young actor had to be hypnotized in order to perform the roll, as the director knew no one could realistically play someone who had seen such profane quantities of evil. This is true for the whole lot of us. Most of us can look back at our hazy origins of innocence, when swimming pools and backyard barbecues would progress without too many ripples. There’s footage of British teenagers marching off to fight WWI, believing it would be merely a patriotic duty of a couple or few weeks. And it’s sad in a way, because you know many of them will soon be crawling around the muddy, blood-filled trenches, crying for their mothers. The first twenty years of this millennium has been entirely consumed by this same ruptured innocence, a generation cursed by illiterate trauma that coats every normal interaction.

It’s always there, wherever you go. At backyard barbecues, the air is choked with knowing there’s fires in Siberia and Greece and Algeria and Canada and California, and hurricanes and floods, and it’s only going to get more histrionic and hellish as the years go on. At beach parties, when you should be relaxing, drinking a piña colada, looking at the women in bikinis from behind your sunglasses, you know this is an ephemeral and illusory frame less meaningful than a cozy dream. We spent $2 trillion—or $300 million a day, every day for twenty years—on a war that should never have been waged, shoveled off into the volcanoes of misery. It’s impossible to emphasize how much we actually wasted: how much human life we mutilated, the massive defense contracts, this twenty year machine consuming and killing everything in its wake. And then the Taliban took everything back in two fucking weeks. This ontological a priori death drive is more expansive than a singular private momentum that Freud went on about. Our death drive is wholly collective and entropic, consuming us en masse until we’re all out there in the desert together, gnawing at the last turds of existence.

Tragedy, Here We Come!

by Guy Walker

On May 21st, 2020, just two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, with incredible economic devastation still to come, the Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill to give Israel a minimum of $38 billion over the next ten years, about $10 million per day, shuffled out of our coffers like piñata confetti. Most of us were still hiding behind drawn curtains, mixing antidepressants with wine, holding Lysol cans with both hands, ready to spray anything that came near us. It didn’t matter though, there was a conflict to fund. In the 1948 expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs — about half their population at the time — and the destruction of between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages, their Nakba (“disaster” or “catastrophe” in Arabaic) was solidified and ensured. So, when news came out that the Biden administration approved the sale of $735 million of precision-guided weapons to Israel, and Netanyahu has continued this bombing campaign that’s killed more than 200 Palestinians this current round, more than a quarter of which have been children, trying to take control of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, it was no wonder people lost their minds.

The broad conversation about the conflict has come a long way. Even the most recent major escalation, in 2014, didn’t garner nearly this much public support for the Palestinian people. People have taken to the streets, marching in solidarity, in numbers never before seen. A hundred thousand marched in London; twenty thousand marched in Chicago; ten thousand in D.C. They’re doing it all over the world, with obvious cultural parallels to the George Floyd protests, and it might just help nudge the tone and tenor of international diplomacy, perhaps even how much military aid the US is willing to give Israel in the future. But you can almost hear the stammering replies wherever you go. But what about the rockets? Are you willing to condemn Hamas? Doesn’t Israel have the right to defend itself? Some iterations of these have been repeated into the echoing eternity, with vast cauldrons of dead Palestinian children all stamped and numbered and categorized that they were killed in self-defense. Excusing an apartheid state in the shoal depths of disbelief. If you hear someone explain why it’s both sides that are fault, why both sides need to come to the table for peace, why both sides have attacked and killed innocent civilians, be wary of what they’re trying to accomplish. Of course we don’t support Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately at centers of large civilian populations. Of course we don’t support the deafening nescience of antisemitism that has materialized. Even having to say this is the fault of political speak, an obligatory platitude that produces squeamishness in all who are around to hear it. Of course both sides have committed unconscionable acts of horror, and dismantled families forever. But the clean and convenient determination of both sides, as if you can now dust your hands clean of the confrontation, and not have to pick a side, as if you were perfectly balancing horror on one of those antique brass balance scales, looked at it through your pince-nez glasses, and determined yes, yes, both sides are indeed at fault. It just isn’t that kind of scale.

As Jeremy Scahill notes in his piece in The Intercept, this is an “asymmetric campaign of terror waged by a nuclear power against a people who have no state, no army, no air force, no navy, and an almost nonexistent civilian infrastructure.” They live in what amounts to an open air prison, as Scahill notes, continuously bombarded and encroached upon, in an eight decade long Nabka. Stories have been published about families in Gaza coming together under the same roof, simply so they can die together. Ethno-nationalist mobs are storming through the streets of Israel, terrorizing and beating Arab civilians, organizing themselves in over a hundred WhatsApp groups. So, when Hamas fires rockets, it is a desperate ditch effort of bringing a stone to a gunfight. In addition, Hamas’ rockets are virtually ineffective. The Iron Dome air defense system intercepts almost all rocket attempts from Hamas. During the Operation Pillar of Defense, in November of 2012, Iron Dome determined two-thirds of the rockets fired were not a threat, and intercepted ninety percent of the remaining 300. Only three Israelis were killed in this attack, due to what was determined a malfunction in the Iron Dome system. So, this is not a balancing-act-of-blame when one side is backed by a blank check military apparatus from the United States, a policy that has long been the status quo by both Democrats and Republicans. From 1995 to 2005, for example, Israel and the United States developed the Nautilus laser defense system, spending $600 million, only to scrap it altogether, concluding it wasn’t feasible after all. This is what the people of Palestine are up against, trapped in their claustrophobic cage of death and sodden misery as a nuclear power is funded from the other end. So while Hamas is far from a gleaming, functioning democracy, it’s unfortunately the only armed resistance that’s willing to fight back. The shimmering horrors of desperation breeds madness, and madness breeds more desperation, like an entropic feedback loop that only produces more misery.

Both the Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capitol. Israel took control of the eastern end of the city in 1967, after the Six Day War, formally annexing it in the 80’s. In the Old City of Jerusalem is the Temple Mount, a holy site to both Muslims and Jews. Known to Muslims as Haram ash-Sharif, it’s one of three of the holiest sites, the third holiest amongst Sunni Muslims, as the place where Muhammed ascended to heaven. According to Jewish theology, the third and final Temple will be built when the Messiah comes. The first was built by King Solomon in 957 BCE, and destroyed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire nearly four hundred years later. Zerubbabel, governor of the Achaemenid Empire’s province Yehud Medinata, built the second, which was then destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. And so they’re waiting around for the Messiah to come and build the final one. So, if it’s the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf who controls it, the Israeli police or military, or some combination of the two, banning one another access or open prayer at the site, the clashing will continue into its disarray. The Israeli settlements are about ensuring dominance in the area, and therefore exclusivity to their holy site.

In one sense, the absurdity of these ancient cartoon horrors seem like just another footnote in our never-ending lineage of tribal and religious wars. Different broods of antiquated beliefs throwing war-bloated tantrums over who control the shiny dome. There’s an impulse to scoff the whole thing away, the way Christopher Hitchens did in his later years, and say if religions want to bomb each other for having such stupid beliefs, let them do what they want. But Hitchens became insipid and callous in his later years. It’s too important and heart-wrenching to follow that impulse, to lose our empathy across nations, to lose that a priori understanding of ourselves as a product of one another. Too many innocent people are dying and losing their homes, and everything they know. I grew up religious, in a pious and reserved Christian Science family. I went to a Christian Science liberal arts college, and read enough Nietzsche and Baudrillard, Foucault and Derrida, Dawkins and Sagan, to quickly turn me into a predictably pompous, intellectually-entitled atheist. I don’t know what I am now, but I do know there is a danger in monocultures of vast secularism — it breeds religious ignorance, and therefore historical ignorance. And civilizations that don’t know their history are doomed. There’s probably never going to be a happy medium, never going to be a common plateau of scientific literacy that just replaces the void where the stories of religion once dominated. I sense that Dawkins and other famous atheists believed it would. But we do what we can, to be tolerable of the truths that tend to waver.

Or, maybe Hobbes was correct, in that this is the hell we’ve created for ourselves by realizing the truth all too late. The oppressed become the oppressors. All too often this is the cyclical pattern of our bilious hellscape. Torch and torture the Other, corral them into bitter opprobriums, tighten the paddocks of rubble and chewed rebar, see how pathetic and barbarous they’ll become, what profanities they’ll stoop to. Why do we do this? Are we not less brutes than when we crawled from the muck of sulphuric pits? Has our wealth and modernity only succeeded in distancing ourselves from the scorched perdition we send elsewhere? Years ago, I would just quote something by Schopenhauer or someone, who said religions are like fireflies because they need darkness to shine. But it’s not satisfying to blame religion anymore. If you blame the banners of strange belief, you again dust your hands clean of anything further; you say, it’s tribal warfare way over there, and you move on. Chomsky has spent the better part of his life criticizing American foreign policy not because it’s a voguish contrarian thing to do; but because we are, in effect, partly responsible for it, and have the obligation to try to change it in whatever infinitesimally small way we can. So you stand on the streets with others, in solidarity protests, you donate to the causes you see fit, because it’s adding in some way to the collective psyche that our legacy of death and colonization needs to end.

And things are changing in some ways. It’s daunting to imagine a collective response from our ill-equipped peasantry against a $38 billion siphon into a rightwing colonial apartheid state, and then an additional $735 million military bonus like is was a casual gift basket; but mass movements operate like an immune system within our defective species, pushing like pleading armies for things to autocorrect. Will things get worse before they get better? Almost certainly. But I feel like people have been saying that for centuries. I do believe we’re caught in a cyclone of self-made entropy, our ejaculatory ennui smearing the whole world with an unraveling foment like it was a slug trail of despair, most of our wealth going to more advanced ways of killing ourselves and the planet. But we still try to nudge our quaint and adorable hopes forward. Because maybe, against all odds, we’ll win once or twice. And those will start to add up.

Trump’s Final Farewell

DUSTY: What does that mean, “in-famous”?

NED: Ohh Dusty. “In-famous” is when you’re more than famous. This man, El Guapo, is not just famous, he’s in-famous.

-Three Amigos!

What would it be like to be rich and famous, you wonder. Or rather, what does it mean? If in their final fleeting moments of life, what if the richest amongst us thought soberly and somberly for the first time about all the vacuous horrors they committed? If during those last short and punctured breaths through their dry gaping anus of a mouth, and that dormant tongue of perverse fortune, if they saw the light, as it were, even for the shortest of moments. When David Koch died in the summer of 2019, he had successfully corralled unnumbered billions of dollars for himself and his brother, and funded so much deliberate junk science and misinformation around environmental and climate science. He did his damndest to singularly kill the planet for the rest of us. And I wonder if he died confidently, convinced that his cause was righteous, or in quiet unacknowledged despair. Or when the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson slowly rotted down that final stretch of his miserable life, was there any deeper reflection into what it was all actually for in the end? I would like to imagine some well-dressed ushers of the Utilitarian Theatre greet you moments before you die, and ask you bluntly how well you achieved the task of delivering the greatest good for the greatest quantity. They greet you politely, and reach out with one of their white cotton gloves, and you take each of their hands, and see the fortune of your meandering decisions that constituted your life. And then you step forward, and then you die.

There is Donald Trump. It’s the first days after his presidency, and he is laying down slouched on a kingsize bed, the ironed and neatly folded white sheets tucked under his ass and arms. He breathes heavily, and looks out the window of his residential suite at Mar-a-Lago, the long lace curtains blowing softly in the Palm Beach breeze. A storm front is coming. The neatly scattered palm trees gently sway like slender poems, and a seagull screams, shitting a little shit as it flies by. He stares indifferently at the few golf carts that roam the low hills of the course. There’s some shredded iceberg lettuce caught in his chest hair like seaweed, and a half-eaten BigMac discarded on the hardwood floor. His toes are long and pale, like two bundles of micro penises sprouting from his flat rectangles of feet. He’s never had a drink in his life, but this hangover is excruciating. He can’t move. He can’t imagine speaking another word.

There are six bulky box televisions stacked three across and two levels high on the mantle of other assorted accruements. One is tuned predictably to CNN—Don Lemon is anchoring, in the middle of his show, but something is wrong. He has unbuttoned his shirt, and is sticking his tummy out so it looks like he’s pregnant, then sucks it back in again. He repeats this over and over, and is laughing enthusiastically at the success of this trick. Another television is turned to Fox and Friends—Brian Kilmeade is drunk, staggering aimlessly on the sound stage with a Louisiana Slugger thrown over one shoulder. He starts swinging in every direction, and hits one of the cameras, smashing it to pieces, and screams more menacingly than when Howard Dean did in 2004. Another television is turned to a late night infomercial of hands wearing jewelry, the man and woman enthusiastically conversing about the diamonds. Another to an 80’s porno of a man with a dark mustache and a woman with frizzy bleach blonde hair and plastic tits fucking to disco. Another television is turned to the movie Top Gun, in the middle of a dog fight scene. And the last television is just the blizzard static. They are all turned up to full volume, a deafening chorus of incoherence. The CIA used to use that Meow Mix song from the commercials to break terrorists at black sites—this geometric aberration would have been far more effective, as the line between the real and the dismally chimeric is truly at a crossroads these days. But Trump watches them all at the same time, including the television static, taking it all in as one screen, one grand narrative of the current condition of the world beaming itself through invisible space. He could fall asleep at any moment and the sound wouldn’t bother him.

For a second, his hand moves impulsively to get his phone, but remembers he is forever locked out of his Twitter. And so his hand just hangs off the edge of the bed, its limp slumber without any further autonomous desire to move. There’s no point anyways, he thinks to himself, they’re all imbeciles on there anyways, dueling it out in the imaginary squalor of that online arena. Parlor is even worse—the only residents of its platform were shivering loners, seething at the worst of reactionary politics. Good riddance, he assures himself.

Twitter is, by definition, a massive middle-school chorus of mental illness. And Trump was the conductor, waving his arms frantically with no musical direction. There’s already an obvious void of the usually gleeful madness on Twitter, as everyone tries to carry on as before, but their central magnifying force has abandoned them; the most convenient and amusing villain has left the stage, and very soon his most outspoken opponents and critics will be lost at sea, illiterate destitutes unsure of what to say about anything. If your political identity is summarily being for or against the dementia gameshow host, and he suddenly disappears, where do you wander now? They are like scattered fans hanging around the sprawling parking lot after a concert, the tumbleweeds of red beer cups and other trash slowly blows by, as they’re all left standing there in speechless stupor, their brains so clogged with bong resin that they’re still laughing mutedly at their own farts.

So Trump just drops his head back into his pillow. Don Junior and Eric Trump come stumbling in. Eric looks somehow even more inbred and grotesque than usual. His gum-to-teeth ratio is further out of balance. In fact, his gums have almost entirely enveloped his teeth, so they are just mustard-stained pearls gleaming at the tips of his glossy baboon mouth. He tries to speak, but saliva drips down from the corners of his mouth like a newly tapped spring. He smiles nervously at his father for no apparent reason. Don Junior is wearing one of those Statue of Liberty crowns from a gift shop. He’s pissed himself again. His face is shaped like a melted globe—he has no jawline, but has carved himself one through his bearded stubble with a nine-inch hunting knife that he keeps tied under his trousers. “Daddy,” he blurts out, “daddy, what are we going to do?” “….Yahhh,” Eric somehow manages to say through his complication of lips and boney gums. Trump stares at them both with heavy eyelids, and tries to say something but it just emits as a wordless exhale. “Daddy?” Don Junior says again, “It’s okay, what are you trying to say?” Trump wets his lips with his tongue the way very old people do when about to eat pie, and closes his eyes for a moment to collect himself. “You’re disgusting,” he whispers, barely audibly, with eyes still closed. “You’re filth.”

A songbird smacks into the double-pane window, and drops dead like a fly. “Wh-Wh-Wha do you mean?” Don Junior splutters through quivering lips. Trump ignores his whimpers. “Have I ever had a pet?” he says now with eyes open. “Like a doggy.” “Do you have a doggy?” Don Junior repeats. “What do you mean? You’ve never had a dog.” Trump exhales, annoyed. He moves now, trying to shimmy his legs off the bed so they can fall to the floor—the first step of many as he gets up from bed. The movements of his body make the viscous glugging sound of warm jelly being stirred on the stovetop. His legs hang off the edge. “Get your daddy a doggy,” Trump says menacingly. “I’m going for a walk.” He puts on his robe, and slips on his slippers, and manages to stand up. Going out the back way, he wouldn’t have to interact with any of the guests or supporters who painfully stalked him.

Trump has always hated his supporters. At least the ones who always showed up to his rallies, maniacal and wild-eyed, dressed in burlaps of American flags and Trump-branded costumes, raving lunatics chanting “U-S-A-!!! I’m not gay!!” at pigeons sitting peacefully on telephone wires. A manatee was discovered swimming with TRUMP carved into its back. Henry Thoreau was sadly naive when he declared, “Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Because Trump would paint his name permanently across the sky if he could. He would smear all myriad constellations of stars with his turds if he could, and his most frenzied fans would carry each other on their shoulders, trying desperately to touch the Trump-turd stars. Where back in mainstream politics, ten thousand op-eds were written about how fashionable and chic Biden’s inauguration was. Everyone posted a meme about Bernie and his mittens. I guess we’re back to normal. Nothing changed.

Trump pulls open a sliding glass door that opens straight out to the golf course, a delirium of oblong deserts under a patchwork of heavy clouds. This weather system has smothered the entire country, and everyone has stepped out into their front or back yards to watch it. The brooding thunderclouds across the American plains, a faint lightning bolt off in the distance as the tall prairie grasses sway in unison to one side, and then stammer, sending them all into opposing directions. The red rock arches of Utah are cast in deep shadow, as a peregrine folds back its wings for the evening under the branches of a dead tree, and a ground squirrel stands watch on its back two legs. The first heavy snowflakes begin to fall in the high desert of California. The skies are full, like an unadulterated aura of calm and storm all at once. And back in Palm Beach, circling above Trump and his expensive sprawl of grass lawn like it was beard stubble, seagulls roam, looking down in search of a discarded bag of potato chips, or a French fry, some debris in this pristine and custodial wasteland. Trump is staggering across the seventeenth green now, in his underwear and a long untied robe. A gust billows under his gown like a parachute, and sends his long neon-tubed hair twirling like a wild predator’s frill in the wind, he could almost be mistaken for a monstrous Marilyn Monroe. The gusts turn to gales. He staggers forward now, leaning forward with all his might, headed straight for the white sand beach as umbrellas toss like tumbleweeds across the dimpled plateau, and clumps of sea foam burst along the edges of the sea. He’s been without social media for some weeks now, and while we proudly scoff at his dismay, we deny in wonder if we could do the same. The waves crash in every direction, breaking like the white manes of stampeding horses, the boundary between sea and sky is a blur with mist and storm.

Eric and Don Junior can be seen squinting through the sliding glass doors. Mexican maids and landscapers stand with feathered dusters and lawn clippers in hand, and mouths agape, watching the ex-President fight the storm with his entombed fantasy of replete squalor. A child stands in the hotel lobby, holding his mother’s hand with one hand, and a melting ice cream cone with another, with a frozen stare ahead. Donald Trump has unleashed his robe, and it flies like a tattered flag, soon indecipherable from all the white seagulls clamoring for a hold in the storm. Winds are only visible when there’s an object that shows their currents and direction and strength. Without an object—even a single leaf—they are unprojectable holograms. Trump’s cheeks and bovine tits were just that object, rippling under the commands from invisible gods. He leans full steam into the glaring fangs of the storm, scaling the last green dune of the golf course, and steps onto the soggy white sand like it were a doormat before entering the next frontier of vast ocean.

At this, the winds erupt with their angriest force yet, sending shock waves inland, shattering car windows. Dogs that were once barking madly at the sky are now huddled, whimpering under bedsheets. The frothing edges where sea meets lands sinks lower into the depths of the ocean, pulling everything into one violently colossal wave moving in slow motion at the helpless outcropping of marbled grandiosity cowering in its shadow. Whatever great empires man has built, they last like an erection in the cold and drunk winds of winter. Nature will devour us, is the motto of all our lives. The wave peaks at over a hundred stories high, making Trump and his castle of grass lawns nearly invisible. Trump throws his arms up one last time, screaming one last scream. Probably the most famous word in film history is Charles Kane whispering “Rosebud” on his deathbed. Not Trump. His face contorts to his usual menacing way as he speaks. “Vic-tory!!!” he screams, stabbing his pointing finger forward like he enjoys doing. And the ocean hurls over him. And just like that, he is gone.

George Floyd: Bringing the War Home

All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being, goddammit. My life has value.” So I want you to get up now…I want you to go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell. I want you to yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” -Howard Beale (Network)

violent-protest

by Guy Walker

Finally, people are angry enough to do something about it. Amid the swirling chaos of the peremptory and prompt revolt against the murder of George Floyd and so many countless others within the black community, they’ve deployed the National Guard to protect the mall. And doctors are still wearing trash bags to perform surgeries and save those dying from the virus. So what are we supposed to do? The divide of power has long been slipping away, including during this pandemic, especially during this pandemic, which Naomi Klein has long described as the shock doctrine of power. America’s billionaire class has profited insurmountably in the last couple months, as we’re left to steal dresses from Forever 21. So, now what?

 

Look at you, now, reading this. Hunched over your phone, tapping away with your greasy fingers, smearing the virus across the void like a slug. Or are you still laying in bed with your laptop pulled up to your chest, your eyeballs scrolling, competing against thirty other tabs littering the top of the screen? In reality, you pendulum madly between early Chomsky interviews or this great documentary you just found on James Baldwin, and a Riley Reid POV video, passively wondering what the vertical Japanese tattoo down her spine actually says. You want to share with the world this really great quote from Desmond Tutu. You want others to know that you have Malcom X’s autobiography sitting on your bookshelf. It’s waiting there, like a deactivated bomb, and now a tombstone of brittle dust, that you rearrange with other books from time to time. You found this cool meme. (Actually, you found a hundred and fifty.) It’s ever so revolutionary—or, it’s in solidarity with the revolution. You are on the right side of history. And by the right side, you mean the left; and by his story, you mean her story. This is your baby Simba you will hold proudly over the virtual masses, the beaming chorus of enlightenment shining down through our hapless skulls.

 

In the midst of the protests here where I live in Los Angeles, where the raw wounds of the Rodney King beating and consequential riots still pervade, the scenes are almost identical. Maybe worse. It’s worse because people are getting angrier, because it’s been nearly three decades since Rodney King, and nothing’s gotten better. So, the looting is everywhere. It is of course impossible to have a democratized board of protest in regard to looting: it’s good to loot the Gucci stores, the Supreme stores, Louis Vuitton, Apple, Target. (And why aren’t there more fucking Amazon stores we can rob and then burn? Send a cackling Jeff Bezos and his gleaming bald head like a botched circumcision straddling his rocket to Mars. Get off our rock. Join Richard Branson and Elon Musk to burn faraway astral bonfires of hundred dollar bills. Let your ejaculate spread like glitter amongst the stars.) But how do you tell the mob to be shrewd and act in accordance to barracked nuance? There’s a resurrected video from the 1992 LA riots that has since gone viral: a black man is screaming on the street to straggling protestors, crying, pleading that he too came from the ghetto, and now his whole store and business that he built is looted down to the empty shelves. His life, to him in that moment, was over.

 

A mob has its own autonomy, its own desperate volition, tantamount to the individuals who comprise the mob. Like a school of fish or flock of birds that buzz around uniformly like a swarm of gnats. It’s tickling the dirty taint of our collective consciousness. So mobs aren’t sensible enough to work with—they muddy the starlit sky of our crying innocence. And yet, we humans are scrotum-wrapped mobs of conflict and autonomy, our being humming along on its own volition. You, there, are an animated civil war of peace and contradiction.

 

So where does violence fit in, in all of this? Without violence, power runs amuck. Journalist activist, Chris Hedges, often uses this adage of history as an example: in Henry Kissinger’s memoirs he recounts a terrified President Nixon during the monumental Vietnam War protests outside the White House gates. Nixon pleaded for reassurance from Kissinger, that the protestors wouldn’t hurdle the iron gates and hang him upside like Mussolini, as they should have. And this wasn’t even a credible threat of violence; it was merely Nixon, a petrified goon, peering from behind his lace curtains at the teenagers tossing t.p. in his oak trees, screaming for the police to save his life. Now, juxtapose this with the Iraq War protests of 2003. They were, in a way, distinctively historic because of their size and energy without an impending draft; but where they failed was inducing even the slightest filament of fear into the minds of the death cult that is the US government. When George W. Bush was asked what he thought about them, he tactfully smirked that the protests demonstrated exactly why they were invading Iraq—to give the people the same freedoms of expression and assembly as we enjoy here. Of course, today, seeing so many peaceful protestors get mauled with batons and rubber bullets from the police for protesting the public execution of George Floyd, it’s easy to scoff at the brash ineptitude of such a position.

 

Freedom of expression isn’t enough when all you’re given is a dirty rectangular paddock to stomp your feet and punch at the sun. Here you go, they say, throw your tantrum in this parcel, in this park. Get it out of your system, and then get back in line. Burning cop cars and their stations is not simply the opening-night-Broadway-play of justified rage; it’s also a celebration of our humanity. It says we are indeed brothers, and we reject your incrimination of the black and brown communities; we reject your surveillance and your evangelical frenzy to protect the banks and the malls and the corporate establishments. It says, we need opportunities for the poor and homeless; we need to end the for-profit industry of incarceration; we need to decarbonize our economy rather than militarize those who are supposed to protect and serve the community at large. And beyond the burning down of the bad and broken, we need to know what we want, drawing a map of our newer better world with your finger through the beds of ash.

 

We are running frantically on the rat wheel of history, churning out landmark events as we go. Today is its own textbook. But the sixties flagged a few stories of its own. The Weather Underground, for example, was a militarized faction that was birthed from the chaotic 1969 Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) convention. They acted in alliance with the Black Panther Party, vowing to “bring the war home” by bombing the US Capitol and Pentagon buildings, amongst myriad other targeted attacks against the implements of American imperialism. The LSD surf gang, Brotherhood of Eternal Love, enlisted them to break Timothy Leary out of prison, and snuck him into Algeria. And although they rooted themselves in a sort of purist naiveté that only the young can bolster, it never transfused into the political revolution they sought. A few of the founding members incidentally blew themselves up and their entire Greenwich apartment up while making a stockpile of incendiary devices.

 

Or in the nineties, the Earth Liberation Front burned down a Hummer dealership just down the road from where I grew up. Environmental activist and writer, Derrick Jensen, often notes that only two percent of those active in the Underground Railroad actually carried munitions. The vast majority involved were the very critical mass that made the operation run so effectively. Because peaceful protest only works in one of two ways: if the opposition is sensible enough to hear your cries, or if there is a violent drumbeat beneath its genteel hand.

 

When the FBI assassinated Black Panther Party chairman, Fred Hampton, they knew they could get away with it. Many of the founding members of Black Lives Matters activists that came out of Ferguson, Missouri, have died under similarly scandalous circumstances. On the day of my writing this, it is the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre that left up to three hundred dead and ten thousand black Oklahomans homeless. And it wasn’t just a white mob who did this; it was the National Guard. The same National Guard who killed protestors at Kent State. The same National Guard who has now been deployed across the country to keep the peace and enforce curfew. So, the effectiveness of violence isn’t disputed; it’s the evidentiary tenor of who is now at risk.

 

The United States is a big festering dumpster of rot and disease. But I’m in love with it now more than ever. The abolishment of our passivity is enough for celebration. Sure, Trump is barracked behind his fortress, jacking off into heavily bleached and ironed socks, covering his sweaty dew-dropped chest hairs in a tangle of shredded Big Mac lettuce. He’s slurping Diet Cokes with more contempt than when Jules Winnfield drank the rest of the Sprite in Pulp Fiction before killing all the scared and stammering bastards. But the emperor has no clothes, and he is the four-hundred pound troll he warned the world about, trolling from the fortified gates, seeing if he can get a rise out of the oh so politically correct left.

 

Because this has little to nothing to do with him, and he wants to bring the attention back, back from the swirling infernos of heartache. But it’s already progressed so far beyond. Out there, amidst the foreboding storm clouds of tear gas and sirens is an atmosphere of pervading idealism. There’s a collective consciousness buzzing into some banners of materiality. And it’s designated forever in the throes of justice.

Let The Sons Debate

johann-eleazar-schenau-peasants-fighting

by Guy Walker

If this world could be only a little more perfect, Hunter Biden would join the debate stage, opposing the awkward tandem of Eric Trump and Donald Junior. Let us dream.

 

It won’t be long now before the undeniable perfumes from Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s rotting corpses billow from their basements. Joe Biden is an undead mummy, injected with enough emulsified glue to hold him together just long enough. He mistakes his wife for his sister, reads directly from his staff-written notes while giving television interviews, and still stumbles through it, forgetting most of what he was supposed to say, hacking his way through a simple point about FDR’s New Deal with a weed wacker, tangled in a thicket of lost words. The Democratic Party dragged its corpse across the finish line, so give us his son—the direct bloodline of Biden’s diplomatic wit and charisma—a chance at saving the world.

 

While many tens of thousands of Americans are now dying from the virus, Trump is advocating for armed riots. His external decay resembles more a clumpy scab, breaded chicken singed lightly with a military-grade flame thrower. He’s telling people to inject bleach.

 

Happily for us, these three failed sons are teeming , their blistered progeny summoning the call for redemption. Hunter Biden crawls out of a ramshackled fortress of blue tarps, wood crates, and shopping carts, and a webwork of gnarled twine. He was held at gunpoint to his head in order to score more crack—the self conscious embodiment of the American condition, as we are trying our best to kill the planet to drag on the muted high just a little longer. But he was also appointed an enormously high paying job on a Ukrainian gas company he had no qualification for—another personified metaphor for the upper crusts of the world, and their brooding nepotistic glee only mocking us from their mother-of-pearl thrones. In effect, he is the perfect all-American candidate, squabbling in the cascading limelight for our attention.

 

Eric Trump, the foulest inbred mistake, lurches from his customized leaden trunk, wrapped in garlands of heavy chains like a gimp. His lips are pulled back, exposing his gluey lacquered teeth and gums like a baboon, the glistening fangs shivering in moonlight. But his ugliness—this considerable repulsive complexion—is the rot of familial neglect. It’s merely a symptom of his self-hatred, the years self-immolation and abuse rotting his skin into a tundra of unrecovered acne scars, the red scars traveling like a map of slow moving locusts across the globe of his misshapen head.

 

Donald Junior has grown a beard, and manufactured a jawline with scissors and an entire pack of razors, carving his way through a charred field of needle-sized cabbages, like trying to perform some credible landscaping, mowing the lawn of a recently burned town. His legs flap when he walks, wearing his pants the way only a slobbering drunk would, riding awkwardly up the crack of his ass, as he stares aimlessly at the squirrels in the courtyard, tripping on Baron’s discarded toys.

 

The three of them meet across stage, the plateau of a bombed out city lays between them, the charred ruins smoking against the semblance of a Charles Dickens misery. A gaunt and shivering silhouette of a coyote or feral dog tramples across the frontier, as dust devils made entirely of pulverized concrete and newspapers soiled in grease churn pointlessly under a low and brooding sky.

 

Don Junior opens his mouth first, but he only mimics the moanings of a pregnant cow. He’s drunk again. He was known as Diaper Don through college because he often pissed himself when drunk. These days, he wears a suit, and kills big animals for fun. We mock those Chinese tales of men buying rhino horns to get their dicks hard; but then there’s the Don Junior types, who blunder their way through barren wastelands in their safari-beige jumpsuits, to kill a rhino from behind a fortified steel barrier, his cock now like a blood sausage at the sight of so much butchered charismatic megafauna strewn across the bespectacled plains, everything warmly saturated with evening sun and the spilled guts of a giraffe.

 

Eric Trump leans into the microphone, drool and encrusted pudding scaling the corners of his mouth; it is impossible to tell if he is smiling, as in happy, or just deformed. He spits when he speaks: “Uh yes, hi, haha, what my brother is trying to say is he has always believed in this country, you know, he’s always believed if you vote for us—my brother and I, I mean—we will make this country better for everybody, you know, [nervous laughter]…look, my dad is not a sexual deviant okay? He’s a warrior. Okay, sorry, can I start over? Fuck.”

 

Don Junior moans again. A circle darkens on his pinstriped trousers around his crotch. “Daw-dee,” he drools, looking desperately to his father who’s sitting in the front row, pouting over his dropped ice cream cone. “Daw-dee,” Don Junior repeats, pointing at the puddle forming around his feet. And Father Trump just swears under his breath, and sinks lower into his seat, his polished shoes paralyzed in its own puddle of melted ice cream.

 

Hunter Biden dusts off lint from his shoulder that was never there, and clears his throat. He wears a wrinkled brown suede blazer, like something directly off the rack at Goodwill, and a Hermés Nantucket rose gold watch. He traded the last one—a Jaeger LeCoultre—for a baggie of crack cocaine last week, and got this one in the mail from an anonymous admirer. He is mildly handsome, roughened by the storms of private agony, resembling something akin to a well-dressed and trimmed Iggy Pop. He checks the time. “Look, I can’t be here long, I have many pressing appointments,” he admits, wiping a line of sweat from his brow.

 

“Pressing appointments?” Eric interrupts, stammering through spittle. “This is the debate for the presidency of the United States, Kids Edition. What pressing appointments you have are more urgent than debating my brother and I? Daddy got you running errands in Ukraine again?” At this absolute bodyslam of a remark, a posse of MAGA chuds in the audience with uniform bowl haircuts and bucked teeth victoriously yelp like elephant seals, their tits like heavy waterskins filled with curdled milk under a windless sky.

 

Hunter rolls up the sleeves of his blazer into awkwardly bunched scrunchies around his forearms. ”You know why the two of you are imbeciles? Huh? Do you? I’ll tell you why. From an obvious marketing strategy, KAG doesn’t have the same ring as MAGA. MAGA sounds so similar to Mega, and therefore to the hallmark American phenomenons of Big Gulps and Supersized Happy Meals, the heart and soul of the grotesque American psyche, a psychoanalytical anchor to Donald Trump’s support. This is it actually, the fucking ineptitude of your fucking illiterate acronym might just actually lose you the election. That matters more than all the other volcanoes of raw-dog insanity your father has committed—a fucking advertising mistake. And besides which, killing big animals is so passé. I have seen the two of you jack off over the corpses of animals, thinking you’re the progeny of Hemingway or something, and not that human-sized fried chicken mascot of a father. Fuck off! Now listen, I’m late for a very important appointment, but I wish you all adieu [he gestures charismatically with a bow.]

 

Hunter then looks to the crowd for acknowledgement, a customary glance that tells his supporters it’s their turn to roar in victorious applause. But there’s nobody there—no popular support anyways. Some discarded Cracker Jack boxes, and a toddler walking astray still in his harness and leash. Jill Biden is spoon-feeding her husband applesauce, mimicking a train choo-chooing its way into his warm gaping hole of a mouth, like an inactive volcano steaming at the edges. She dips the spoon back into the trough of his bib to try again after the liquid gruel falls from his mouth. Tom Perez and Hillary Clinton are at the merchandise booth, accosting children to buy “It’s Muller Time” t-shirts. Clinton does that thing she used to do on stage when she was a contender, where points and smiles insanely at somebody who isn’t there. But she does this over and over rapidly, a glitch in her programing until a circuit breaks and wires and sparks explode from her neck.

 

At this, a moderator jumps up on the stage. He has slicked his hair back with Crisco—giant clumps of white grease cook under the dark sulfuric sky. He lights a match, and puts it to his hair, setting it ablaze. With this final theatrical act, the jiggling mass of Trump supporters, and the handful of Democratic establishment figures watch ghoulishly as the man’s head burns. “We’ll see you all back here in four years,” he gleefully screams under flames, “with Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton in an MTV sponsored Celebrity Death Match series event! Now stay safe everyone.”

 

“Stay safe.” “Hey, stay safe.” “Good to see you. Stay safe.” Everyone utters the obligatory gesture in the time of the coronavirus as they exit the scenes of rubble and decay, back to their cubbies of claustrophobia and burnt out dreams, waiting drearily until they can post their “I Voted” sticker selfies on Instagram. Soon enough, the area clears. Hunter ducks under the blue tarp of a homeless tent encampment; and the Trump sons are seen pulling their noses up with Scotch tape, and laughing with their mouths agape. And all that’s left is a heap of smoldering ashes in the middle of the stage; and the first drops of rain begin to patter the ground.


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Coronavirus Against the Day

Egon Schiele Photo 1

by Guy Walker

There’s a famous photo of a man mowing his lawn with an enormous tornado looming in the background. It’s inanity in its rawest form, but also a biblical representation of our own broader calamity as a species. I went surfing a couple mornings ago, fraternizing with friends on the bluff’s edge, smoking weed together, laughing about the skyrocketing divorce rates now that couples have to spend time with one another amidst this global lockdown from coronavirus. But our collective scenery was hued with the grim residue of history’s past epidemics. We all knew, without acknowledging it seriously, that everything was up in the air.

 

Slavoj Žižek called the panic surrounding coronavirus a “Kill Bill”-esque blow to capitalism. Populations are now realizing directly that insurmountable debt, rent payments, and meaningless jobs were just made-up hobbies for the rich and powerful to keep us dithering in the sludge of tomorrow. And it might be more difficult to pack us all back into the paddocks of servitude once this blows over. Suddenly all of Bernie’s ideas and Andrew Yang’s ideas aren’t so crazy after all, and the economic survival of a people is tantamount to global riots. At least for a shotgun-fart of a moment, some politicians seem to be prioritizing the decency and welfare of its electorate over the riches of war. I’m not being cynical. There are real fragments of governance that deliver the morning fog of optimism.

 

But the universal hope now seems to be for things to go back to normal as quickly as possible. We’ve seen it in the Democratic primary race that has all but dwindled into the rearview of reality tv reruns. Joe Biden’s entire presidential campaign is resting on the belief of the return to normalcy. He doesn’t believe in anything—except for immaculate gleaming fangs for dentures, and pocketed hair plugs that camouflages the emulsified rot of his skull, and aviator sunglasses that promote some vague sense of youth, he has never shown us through policy that he cares about the betterment of the people. Now this fiendish poetry of hell actually makes Joe Biden the best candidate for president: we can all return to normal, whatever our pallid impression of that is.

 

The implication of this taxpayer bailout, mortgage and eviction suspension, free medical treatment, etcetera, is that this is only temporary. Those of us who survive the virus (and more concerning, the panic around the virus), will have to return to our obligatory suffering once this is all over, scrambling to collect money to pay rent on time, stressing into our own cauldrons of disease because the banks are demanding their loans back. A return to normalcy is a return to self-immolating idiocy. Wading knee-deep through the binary fusion of human filth, our excrement killing everything in its frothy wake. Most certainly, things should not go back to normal. This experiment of killing the planet for a fucking smashing good party wasn’t a good one.

 

Rahm Emanuel, in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, is credited with saying you shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste. (Obviously he did let it go to waste. Or whatever. The bankers never went to jail, they only got richer.) But he didn’t coin the phrase anyways. It was Winston Churchill amid the second World War, and the collective mobilization for a greater good. Franklin Roosevelt used the Great Depression to deliver a massive overhaul of our economic and social systems for the better. It may sound trite, but this is indeed our opportunity to rework so much that has been broken for so long.

 

There will always be a humanity, a decency, out there in the streets, however feral it becomes. I walked by a homeless man early this morning standing in the same place that I walked by him last night. It was still dark and he was shivering uncontrollably, and still had the decency to say “How’s it goin’ brother.” I went back to my apartment and gave him a huge warm coat and a thermos of tea. And for one reason or another, his bedraggled state made me emotional. There’s sixty thousand homeless people here in Los Angeles, and this guy moved me. But now I ask myself if I unwittingly gave him the virus that will eventually kill him in the cold. I surely didn’t, but the pandemic of fear has seeded that thought.

 

I am a young single healthy male living at the base of the Hollywood hills, so I inadvertently speak about this arrogantly. But this is good for us Americans. The terrible swine flu that swept through China months ago; the charred blizzard of locusts ravaging many parts of Africa; the flooding of distant island nations—these are all things that happen to strange people in stranger lands. Our gaudy celebration of rose-scented farts was make-believe all this time. It’s good for us to remember firsthand we are bags of rotting infectious meat scurrying frantically on this flooded rock, spiraling around an enormous fireball.

 

Someone on the Internet tweeted something about the need to eat some peyote and speak to the pangolin in these strange times. This is that time, for all of us. Eat peyote, and speak to the pangolin will become my mantra. This isn’t working for any of us. I don’t believe we have to always be the saboteurs of all life. There’s something beautiful inside us somewhere. When we are free from our quarantine, we should have sex in the tall prairies, drink whiskey by the bottle with our grandmother, kiss one another’s cheeks like the French do, swim in the sea, rub ourselves with handfuls of moss and soil, drive motorcycles out to the desert, fall madly and briefly in love.

 

For now though, Žižek believes we should look to the five stages of trauma while dealing with this crisis: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. But in the final stage of acceptance, he notes, we should look to the social uprisings in France and Hong Kong for a more conclusive trajectory: “they don’t explode and then pass away; rather, they stay here and just persist, bringing permanent fear and fragility to our lives.” This, I believe, is most necessary. We should accept we are being presently dragged through the mud into this new reality, and move forward with collective solidarity. Not the fear, but the new reality. Žižek continued that when we are being ravaged by one of nature’s vast reservoir of viruses, it’s “sending our own message back to us.” A virus just reproduces itself stupidly, without reason, identical to the way we humans do. We have barbecued the green terrariums and waterfalls and loamy beds of mushrooms and mosses into a bubbling scab, like a frat party that left half the town dead. It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Charles Baudelaire wrote a great deal about the existential gore of our species. Flowers of Evil is a masterpiece of our collective sin of being bored amid this blaze of life.

 

At my side the Demon writhes forever,

Swimming around me like impalpable air;

As I breathe, he burns my lungs like fever

And fills me with an eternal guilty desire.

 

After all this panic, we might compulsively return to the “wilderness of Ennui”. Because we’ll think that’s how it always was—we had a few good years in this viral circle jerk of modernity, driven by a maniacal lust for more bricks and concrete and plastic toys, our swollen genitals releasing like the last rains of winter. But we believed this movie was the sharply bordered tapestry of life, that this is just how the whole fucking thing hummed along and would continue to hum along. Baudelaire said he wanted to write poetry that would fire a cannonball into the future; and somewhere under our panoply of barbarism, we’re all poets, and can do the same.

 

The internet isn’t real. A whole culture industry structured around going viral, groping at the melancholy storm above to magically deliver our drooling, spluttering ego across the globe. We want to be seen; we want strangers we didn’t even know existed to catch the disease of our personalities. Now, some bat in some market in some village in China, gave this virus to another animal, and then to a human, and then to all of us, killing scores of the old and weak, sending the stock market into free fall, directing everyone home to sit behind their screens to make ironic quarantine-themed Tik Tok videos that will go viral. The toilet paper hysteria is purely viral, snowballing on its own momentum.

 

Richard Dawkins popularized the word “meme,” to mean “viruses of the mind,” in which cultural frames inhabit themselves in our minds, only to infest on the emulsified rot of our habits. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer wrote at length about what they termed the culture industry, in Dialectic of Enlightenment. The factory production of popular culture is now facing a burden in this virus. Normal popular culture will survive, of course, but hopefully morph into something more meaningful.

 

As far as social isolation is concerned, the virus hasn’t really achieved anything out of the ordinary. Quarantine, self-isolation, a chronic loneliness that has blanketed the frontier. British journalist, Sam Kriss, notes that it’s only amplified what we were already practicing en masse anyways. Stay home; binge watch made-for-television series until your eyeballs rot from their stems; post clever memes on the internet, and then scroll frantically to tally who saw it, who might be impressed now by your isolated wit and sheltered charisma during these dark times; watch porn; smoke weed, eat edibles, eat food; shelter yourself behind childhood forts of toilet paper, lather your genitals in Purell disinfectant; buy things from Amazon you don’t need. Young people who say they love to read, but the only writers they can name are Bukowski and Hunter Thompson.

 

Adorno wrote elsewhere that “Distance is not a safety-zone but a field of tension. It is manifested not in relaxing the claim of ideas to truth, but in delicacy and fragility of thinking.” The technology of today allows us to not really reap the benefits of this isolation. I want to believe we are collectively introspecting on the acute parochialism of this haphazard arena-of-gore we’ve made for ourselves, and how we will design a better one. But until the power and wifi goes out on all of us, and we can’t take refuge in Youtube self-help tutorials, or FaceTime our ex-girlfriends from a decade ago, we won’t be joining any mass meditations. “Only at a remove from life can the mental life exist, and truly engage the empirical.” We have tethered ourselves to life with evangelical fury. There’s no escape.

 

What about the prisons? The homeless? The nursing homes? More people are dying by the day from climate change, and yet something about the immediacy of coronavirus makes it more of a threat than the growing severity of flood and fire, or storm clouds of locusts ravaging through entire continents. And as bad as this pandemic is, it’s going to be remembered as incredibly tame compared to the next one. Many public intellectuals have called it a dress rehearsal for the next one. Or, what it could be, what another pandemic inevitably will be at one time or another. There is already a great deal of concern when some super-predatory anthrax melts out of the carcass of a woolly mammoth from under the permafrost. This will happen. And coronavirus will be remembered as another era of quaint naiveté.

 

I couldn’t imagine having children who are dependent on me, with bills to pay, and no money coming in sight. Yet still, things aren’t that bad comparatively to what could be. Imagine the so-called Big One—the earthquake, not the frozen pizza company—hits Los Angeles tomorrow. Or up in the Pacific Northwest. It’s entirely possible—we’re something like a hundred years overdue. Or, this panic and virus carries on through to fire season, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing from their homes like diseased roaches.

 

The canals in Venice, Italy have already been returned with swans, dolphins, and fish, as the murky death-blended smoothie of canal has cleansed itself to a pristine shimmering postcard; reports estimate the lockdown in China likely saved 77,000 lives just from the reduction in pollution alone; oil stocks have plummeted to possible unrecoverable lows. An invisible lifeless bug did in a few days what us environmentalists have been trying to achieve for decades. There’s part of me that wants to believe this is only one of a multitude of nature’s self-correcting mechanisms to get back on course. SARS, like corona, came from the wild animal trade—from a civet, the enigmatic wild quadruped. AIDS came from eating wild bushmeat. Lyme disease comes from our disruption of New England forests. Maybe it’s only metaphor, and therefore not real, but sometimes I think nature’s trying to say something. English scientist James Lovelock introduced his Gaia hypothesis to the scientific and popular world, in that the earth functions like a single living organism. Or rather, more mundanely, like a self-regulating system. It was initially mocked as hippie science, but it’s since evolved into widely accepted scientific theories, now known as earth systems science.

 

Whatever the case, this will of course go far beyond coronavirus. When we open our curtains and unlock the deadbolt from our doors for the first time since this quarantine, pale and naked, squinting into the feral daybreak, we’ll scan if everything’s back to normal. The clouds will darken. A butterfly will land on a man’s balls. Stock markets will crawl upwards. And we’ll drink whiskey with our grandmothers.


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The Bloomberg and Trump Debate

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by Guy Walker

[MICHAEL BLOOMBERG and DONALD TRUMP lumber onto a sprawl of twenty asphalt basketball courts all packed neatly together, the summer sun rotting into its lava crest until black tumors split open and hiss like miniature volcanoes. Hundreds of folding chairs tossed haphazardly on the ground. The supporters of DONALD TRUMP are only furries without their costumes; they stand around in their underwear, the festering scars of their deep belly-buttons throb in the heat. MICHAEL BLOOMBERG’s supporters consist of a few rodents rummaging through a garbage heap of fast food to-go bags. A opossum waddles by with a slice of pickle still on its forehead. BLOOMBERG has wrapped his face in Saran Wrap in an attempted facelift, and wears a hammer in his trousers, displaying an uncomfortable outline to all who look at his crotch. TRUMP is wearing his long trademark red tie that hangs like a dog’s tongue dead from exhaustion. But no shirt, and no blazer. His meaty, porcine tits and face are painted in some indecipherable team colors like he was a drunken fan at a football game. They are both sweating profusely.]

MODERATOR: Thank you. Yes, thank you, please take your seats everyone, this isn’t a casual gathering. I’m very pleased to announce this debate between two distinguished professionals. On my right is Donald Trump, famed celebrity host of the game shows How Many Turds Is Too Many, Do These Pants Make Me Look Like A Man, and of course, The All-You-Can-Eat Mac ’n Cheese Eating Contest. And Michael Bloomberg, who narrowly won the Democratic nomination after Bernie Sanders was stopped and frisked, and discovered to not have marbles in his coat pocket, thus proving that the old geezer really lost his marbles this time. Congratulations Mr. Bloomberg.

[BLOOMBERG flashes some gang signs with his hands, and forces a smile.]

MODERATOR: We’ll begin with you, Mr. Trump. This election has been criticized as being too absurd, as a kind of malevolent degeneration of American politics. How do you respond?

TRUMP: I simply don’t agree.

[At this, one of the human furries has started humping a raccoon, rubbing the length of its prickly unconditioned fur across his genitals.}

BLOOMBERG: [pointing to the profane bestiality] This is what I’m talking about. My opponent just attacks, attacks, attacks. We need to unite the American people as these two magnificent beings have. Because we are all Americans, in need of the same thing.

TRUMP: Sir, my supporters are literally fucking yours to death. You are roadkill. This is what Adorno meant in Minima Moralia, when he wrote, “Domination delegates the physical violence on which it rests to the dominated.” You should no longer resist this obvious truth.

BLOOMBERG: Now look, let’s not get carried away with this who’s-fucking-who business. I’m a business man, and this is no business for us to get tangled up in. I started the practice young, raised by my father, taught me how to write my first check. And so forth. You see, my very first business, I sold cheese balls. I rolled up these little balls, and you would have about fifteen or twenty of these white cheese balls floating around in a bag of water, you see, and the water gets almost a milky hue to it, from the balls. It’s just amazing the things a kid learns. My opponent here, has he ever made cheese balls? I bet you he couldn’t tell you the first thing about cheese balls. I do. You roll them around between the palms of your hands, very gently like this, you see.

TRUMP: What Mr. Bloomberg is trying to insinuate, is that he’s a pervert. Now, as we all know, Kierkegaard wrote a great deal about the Absurd, especially in his journals. You have asked about the absurdity of a game show host being your president. This is not at all the point, and completely robs the Danish philosopher and his successors of their original intent. But this is of course a truly sisyphian nightmare, is it not? To explain the point of something in a meaningless world? Kierkegaard, as you all know, believed the interpretable pre-Socratic paganism was as correct as Jewish idolatry, in that, we are all indistinguishable beings brought into form by the eternal truth. We act in accordance to the absurd, meaning we act upon faith. When Kierkegaard correctly noted the example in the Old Testament, when Abraham is told by God to kill his son Isaac, and he did not because an angel interfered, this action of inaction was by virtue of the absurd. Now I ask you, when the Son of Sam was told by his neighbor’s dog to kill all those people in New York in that scalding hot summer, where the heck was his angel? I’ll tell you where: there was no angel, because it was hotter than hell! Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! Oh boy, I really crack myself up. Excuse me, really. But no, seriously folks, this is exactly why, when you get to the voting booth, and have to decide between that monstrous scoundrel and I, you could very well choose one or the other, it doesn’t at all matter. But you will be at a standstill if you reflect upon it too much. We are the same. But it is in this godly bestowed faith, by virtue of the absurd, that you will vote for me. It’s not the reasonable choice because this is a completely unreasonable world, and therein lies the beauty.

BLOOMBERG: Now wait just a minute. We are not the same, and that is completely unfair to assert we are. He only had two phone numbers in Jeffery Epstein’s black book. You know how many I had? Four. When he hires a prostitute, he invites them over to watch Shark Week in his bathrobe. Like a fucking eight-year-old. When I hire a prosty, I tie a chain around her neck and toss it over the rafters. I have eaten the corpses of children. When he watches porn, he only watches the initial build-up storyline—plumber-coming-over-to-fix-the-pipes type of thing. And then he closes his laptop before their clothes come off, and cums into a dirty sock. Don’t believe his dithering crap about Kierkegaard and the absurd. I have eaten hot dogs from street vendors in order to look relatable, goddamnit! You want some fucking philosophy? R.L. Stine, in his esteemed classic Say Cheese and Die!, wrote, “The next day, Greg is so large that he cannot even ride the car to school because he can’t fit in the car.” Close quote. I would drop the mic if there was one. But there’s just these bendable antenna ones. But you get the idea.

[TRUMP has started eating a taco bowl. Strands of shredded iceberg lettuce are getting caught in his blonde chest hairs. A few granules of burger meat sprinkle the melting crust of asphalt, and the naked furries and rodents scramble on all fours, snarling for their share. Trump smiles, and gives the deserted tarmac a thumbs up.]

TRUMP: Look at them. They love me, I can’t help it. This is exactly what Beckett had intentioned when writing Endgame and Waiting For Godot. His servant characters, Clov and Lucky, in their respective plays, symbolize the inevitable and irrational devotion we have for others. These are, of course, absurdist plays. But now we are speaking of a different kind of absurd. When Lucky is writhing in the tangle of an imaginary net, it is of course a nod at Vladimir and Estragon who are trapped in their own imaginations of the Godot character. Godot is not coming. He’s not going to save them of their own boredom. We know that, but it wouldn’t be a play if they suddenly realized it on the first page of dialogue. Is this not analogous to our own situation here? Between Bloomberg and I saving this present hellscape? Are you not all writhing in invisible mania, hoping some fictional savior will lift you from your daily peasantry.

BLOOMBERG: Oh fuck off. I’ve seen you play tennis in shorts.

TRUMP: Look, in Godot, Lucky cannot think or speak without his bowler hat. Estragon keeps taking on and off his shoes, and Vladimir his hat. The point is, we are condemned to our meaningless props. It’s why people smoke cigarettes outside of bars—they don’t know what to do with their hands. You have turned Mr. Bloomberg and I into props, like dirty siphons for your chronic turrets, because you’re all animals, you don’t know what to do with yourselves. You’ve committed yourselves to this delirium where you simply cannot speak about anything unless you’re speaking about us.

BLOOMBERG: Let me be frank. Well, let me be Michael, but as the expression goes, let me be frank. I’m still a pretty hip guy. I still put potato chips in my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because as I like to say, “it provides a little crunch in my lunch.” Ha ha! You should try it. In fact, within my first one hundred days in office, I will pass a mandate that all sandwiches will have potato chips in them. It will be fun, and we are fun goddamnit! I will get all you fucking bloodsuckers—I mean, excuse me, my apologies, I mean, I will bestow the good fortune of crunchier Wednesdays for everyone.

MODERATOR: We have just a couple minutes for closing remarks.

TRUMP: What do you think my red tie is all about? It’s not a sexual noose, I promise you. I swear to god, it’s not. I use props just like all of you imbeciles. You disgust me. Vote for me, Donald Trump, and your problems will dry out like a scab in this heat.

MODERATOR: Thank you Mr. Trump. Mr. Bloomberg, any closing remarks?

BLOOMBERG: Look, I would never brag. But I have a Coachella sticker on my Jeep Wrangler. I started an Instagram account for my cat, Mr. Fickle Feet. Because sometimes they run, but sometimes they sleep. My opponent on the other hand, is a coward. You can see it, it’s written all over his loose baggy face. Ned Beatty has more of a jawline than him. His face looks like the fried chicken he eats straight from the bucket. How can you trust a man who eats fried chicken? I’ve always said we should lock up anyone and everyone who eats fried chicken. And watermelon of course. Is that too much? Nevermind. But a man who has turned into a fried chicken, my god, what do we do? We elect him as our Commander in Chief? I make the promise to you today, if you elect me as your president, I’ll lock all of you up and brush my teeth with your blood. Bloomberg: fight for me and die!

[BLOOMBERG’s face is melting under the wrapped plastic. TRUMP’s face and body paint drip from his nipples. His neck sags like a blood-packed gizzard. Visible steam rises from the garbage heap, where the entire audience is now spreading it about with their snouts, looking for the last edible crumbs. TRUMP and BLOOMBERG join in, snarling on all fours, the sun burning their skin to a boiling crisp. At last in unison, under the same sky, after the same dream.]


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Why Stephen Miller Hates the World

by Guy Walker

stephen-miller

Stephen Miller has an obsession he knows he’ll never be able to satisfy. It’s not his contorting hatred of immigrants—leading him to send around nine hundred emails to a Breitbart editor containing stories from the white-supremacist publication American Renaissance and the anti-immigrant website VDARE, promoting the narrative of a white genocide. It’s not his cinematic gloating of villainry, casting himself as some sort of advocate of cruelty. It’s not gaining the political power he has worked tirelessly to achieve.

No. Stephen Miller’s obsession is his own self-hatred. People like him come around every now and then—spluttering fuckless teenagers who are breastfed on slurries of American cheese and Froot Loops, who despise their localized worlds for reasons indiscernible to ordinary people. It’s not difficult to spot. You meet these people all the time. They’re usually just mildly grotesque against the humdrum of other forgettable personalities. Their contrarian evocations are contrived, as you can predict exactly what they’re going to say under each topic of discussion. But Stephen Miller has to campaign for others to hate him. His lifelong mission is to get mobs of people so terrified and enraged that he’ll finally be taken seriously.

Before being Trump’s primary speech writer and senior policy advisor—where he helped design the child-separation policy, as well as pressed to shut down the government in order to force Congress to pay for southern border wall—before he worked for Jeff Sessions when still a Senator, before being a spokesman for Michele Bachmann, before fundraising alongside Richard Spencer at Duke University (or, according to Spencer, being mentored by him), before flailing in a high school speech that janitors should pick up his garbage, there was the pale paralyzed slime of Stephen Miller. Wheezing like the thing in Eraserhead, he drags his tail netted with exterior veins across the cold concrete floor. Bubbling out of the sulphuric pits where the first microbes of life formed, he was there, with contempt for that first form of life. Because, similarly to the Bret Easton Ellis character of cultish lore, there is an idea of a Stephen Miller, some kind of abstraction that behaves willfully on its own. You can shake his hand, and stare into his cold gaze, but he doesn’t really exist in the way you think.

He knows he doesn’t have the countenance to be in front of the public. His leaden scowl is not patronizing enough to hold our attention. So he fashions himself as the hemorrhaging brains of the operation—writing the speeches, designing the policy—the champion ideologue who will set the agenda. But he’s not smart enough to be even notably controversial. His speeches for the President read like an alcoholic paranoid’s Letter to the Editor of some remote Town Crier newspaper. He wants to be viewed, more than anything, as a serious ideologue.

There’s a general public fear around Miller’s nobbled ideology—of kicking all the brown people out, of separating their families, of leaving infants in soiled diapers in frigid chainlinked paddocks, of banning Muslims—in that, he’s often viewed as being serious about what he purports to believe. In what reads like a congratulatory think piece on political villainry, The Atlantic described it a difficult task to outsmart “a provocateur as skilled as Miller.” The consensus seems to be that he’s not just some ordinary troll, that he is elevated from the squabbling carnies inside the White House, and severely focused on spreading his vitriol like it was the diseased gravy poured from a punctured tumor. The New Yorker reported officials describing him as a “savvy operator” who was cunning enough to manipulate a broken system to his advantage. Perhaps. But this determined ‘seriousness’ is wrong. Whatever ulcers of psychopathy slowly ooze from his various holes, he doesn’t believe any of it.

When the story emerged that Stephen Miller’s girlfriend is Mike Pence’s press secretary, and that they are in fact engaged, there was a momentary flurry of callow gossip at how gross it must be that Miller participates in any sort of act that could be called sexual, however balmy and profane it must be. And I guess there’s point there. It seems more likely he greases himself up in a full-body mask of Crisco, and watches hours of grainy 1970’s porn reels in the dark without doing anything himself—just sitting stone still and staring straight ahead until his eyes bleed. But none of it is right.

It’s not that it’s unfair to want to pry into the private life of someone so cretinous; rather, Stephen Miller conducts his fetishes and kinks out in the open for everyone to see. His normal self-flagellation as a teenager curdled like spoiled milk into what makes him a man today, getting off at the sight of mothers crying over their kidnapped children, climaxing to the horror stories of families fleeing gang violence in Honduras, punching the air with victory at the prospect of some poor kid stumbling up to an impenetrable thirty foot wall after crossing the desert. But most of all, his fetish is being hated by anybody. At least he’s something. Some men get off by going to a dungeon to get whipped by a dominatrix; Stephen Miller entered politics.

Then there is the issue of looking presentable. A year ago on Face the Nation, he didn’t even attempt to get a decent hairpiece. His hairline returned one day, sprayed on from an aerosol canister. Whatever the method—polluting his glistening bald head with a crop duster, crude oil thrown at his it through a window screen—it doesn’t matter. You can imagine in the beaming despair of Stephen Miller’s subjectivity as he performed this task himself, in the bathroom mirror, the way a five-year old cuts their own bangs with the kitchen scissors, or a teenager bleaches their hair in the middle of the night, realizing after it’s too late that they seriously fucked it up. So Miller revoked the stenciled blotch of graffiti on his head, and returned to being bald. But it’s in this strangely unskilled attempt to look normal that Miller’s paralyzing insecurity is exposed.

Through his smirks and half-attempts at looking relatably human, he can’t lift his eyelids above the threshold of indifference. He adds hair from a spray can; he gets engaged; he writes speeches; he performs the ordinary tasks of normal politicians and their chronic banality. But he’s so bad at trying to come across as a wicked mastermind. The whole act is a poorly groomed deflection of one’s self-hating idiocy, keenly aware that this routine won’t work much longer, trying desperately to appoint himself the patron saint of an intellectual famine before he’s thrown to the gallows.

Because there is something even more miserable ahead, and he knows it: in a couple years’ time when his tenure of wretchedness is over, and he disappears into the void of history like a background movie extra, he’ll do his anticipated episode of Dancing With the Stars. He’ll pirouette in a permed neon predator’s frill, sweating under the spotlights, smiling with feigned cinematic desperation, and twirl and twirl until the crescendo hits and his act is finally over. After the obligatory smattering applause, he will crawl away to join the other discarded Trump officials, left only to gloat about how serious people used to take him.


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