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.

Joan Rivers, Death Stalker in the Moonless Night

(Originally published on http://www.paradiseofstorm.tumblr.com on September 2, 2014)

by Guy Walker

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You, who like a dagger ploughed 
Into my heart with deadly thrill:
You who, stronger than a crowd
Of demons, mad, and dressed to kill.

Baudelaire, The Vampire

The year is 2034, and it’s another thick sudoric Sunday morning in Griffith Park. The sun hasn’t even risen above all those frantic cheerless steel erections; instead, it parts into several different begging golden rays of light, each of them shining onto the remains of the park, onto a limping pigeon or a patch of tall dead grass or a bald and frozen oak tree standing alone. There are so many seagulls, thousands of them, crazed and screaming and flying between the shadows from the buildings and the pouring stuffed morning light. They’re flying in every direction and then back to do it again; it’s like watching the old ones in the asylums run their circles. One gull with a spasm in its neck lands on a stoplight that’s all blacked out in front of Capitol Records. The seagull looks down the long soundless streets; no movement in sight except for an occasional rabid dog running across. The seagull stands there, twitching his neck, trying to remember: what the fuck is wrong with Los Angeles?He remembers there was something, and it wasn’t just the enormous buildings and the long waiting streets and the ubiquitous scent of piss. There was some sort of commotion, some big deal that went on here. He scans his memory for a second as the sun rises enough to crest the top of his head.

Birds typically have remarkable memories, many of them return to where they stored seeds months prior. Even pigeons are congratulated with modest degrees of intelligence—psychologist B.F. Skinner, along with R.P. Epstein and Robert Lanza argued in 1981 that the pigeon shows levels of self-awareness, as demonstrated in a series of mirror tests. But the seagull; the seagull has survived this Last Collapse, this human orgy of death that turned the sky all red  .  .  .  and it doesn’t even know it; it’s always been destined to survive on other’s misery, like a Dostoyevskian hero as it parades in the dying morning sky. Gulls exhibit highly complex communication systems; they are one of the only species of bird to drink salt water; they are monogamous as well as faithful; and they are single-minded kleptomaniacs, making them more human than all other winged warm-blooded vertebrates.

The gull then saw the entry of a now-abandoned convenience store it had stolen from many times before. It all came back, the memories. All the thick entropic mass of human flesh and their cars and horns and stinking teenage farts. In a flash, he saw his last nineteen years of unadulterated vapidness. All the desperate neon light buzzing in the night, all the garbage and soiled panties he’d picked through, all the women with their Botox lips shooing him away. He looked down the miles of empty hot asphalt with a sickening nostalgia for humans. How could it all have ended like this? he thought. How could they have all died so fast?

Then he glanced across the road into Griffith Park, into the deserted anhydrous landscape. He thought about all the dog owners who used to come here to walk their dogs, and bring their little doggie bags, and talk to each other about each other’s dogs and how handsome or pretty they looked. The gull knew he would miss the dog people the most—they were so rational and levelheaded.

Suddenly the gull saw a movement where the chess players used to play. A shadow leaning over one of the tables. There were two figures in total. The last two humans, the only one’s he’d seen in years, and they were playing chess in the 110 degree morning. He flew closer, careful not to be seen. There was a little boy in a chair, his feet not even reaching the ground, and he was crying. The chess game was going awful for him, it was over with for the most part, just a tragic finale was left. Across the table from him was nothing less than a female villain, a volcanic perverted form of Anahita, her nostrils flaring orange napalm, her face completely embalmed by a hundred plastic surgeons who she later killed by chopping off their penises fluttering in the silver moonlight, saving them in a mason jar to perform magic tricks with. She was skinnier than the rotting corpse of Heidi Fleiss—every time she shifted in her chair she broke another bone, but it never caused her pain, it only made her more evil, more awful and smelly. The seagull felt the inhuman chill even from this far away, but he still couldn’t tell whothe woman was, her face was down in shadow, her white acicular eyes gleaming from the dark. Then she sat up, smiling a deathless smile, the baking sun shining on her cheeks, almost melting her plastic cheeks away. And the gull finally saw who she was. It was Joan Rivers, immortal and evil as ever.

“Holy shit,” the gull said to himself. “The legend is true after all: Joan Rivers still prowls, and she must kill to stay alive.” The gull had heard about Ms. Rivers many times before, as he flew among those high chariots of madness, the other seagulls screaming that they had seen her squatting on all fours, her face plunged in the open ribcage of an old celebrity, as once was Demi Moore screaming for her mercy. Joan was never actually funny! one of the seagulls yelled as the golden light poured under his wings. She hated everything! Once she screamed that my feathers were not white enough! she threw rocks at me, her legs spread in that stained fur coat of hers!

Joan Rivers still writhes for fragments of attention, like a star-nosed mole groping blindly in the tunnels of China, trying to claim some biological purpose. Ugly creatures who roam the earth are typically pardoned because of their unwitting importance to sustain life itself. They may not be the prettiest things in the world, a reasoned biologist purports, but the rainforest couldn’t survive without it. The helmeted hornbill, the blobfish, the aye-aye, the monkfish—they may all suffer under curses of hate and deformity, but at least they plead humbly for a better more fertile world. But no one knows why Joan Rivers was created. Why? a young lascivious Pan asks himself, Why the fuck did I create this contorting monster? Not only is she uglier than the worst I made on my drunken diabolical parades of madness, she is spewing commands about yellow-speckled dresses and bombing the Gaza Strip.

Every time a Jewish woman wears an unflattering dress, Joan Rivers has night tremors. She moans in her sleep, alone, a damp wind blowing in her long white curtains, a cockroach turns and scurries the other way. “NO!” she screams as she claws her wrinkled tits, “Wear the purple one, you bitch! How! How could you do this to us!” Then she whimpers away quietly, “It’s all Mohammed’s fault. Kill them, kill them all.” Every time a barefoot Palestinian boy is blown to bits while playing on the beach, Joan Rivers gets another nose job. Every time Israel makes an advance, Joan writes a holy scripture on the bathroom mirror with her lipstick. But Joan doesn’t just hate the Palestinians, she’s after Beauty itself. She pulls down a vampire bat hanging from the shower ceiling, and bites its neck, sucking out all the blood, her bloody portal of lips and porcelain fangs gasping for more. She limps down the creaking stairs to the basement, her bulging swelling knees quivering each step she takes, her varicose veins frigid and painful and fabulous; she flips on the light, the blue florescent lights buzzing and crackling. There are hundreds of them, maybe more, younger more beautiful women than her sitting there chained together, naked, with red ball gags pulled halfway down their throats, their mascara running down their smooth bright cheeks. “Hello ladies,” she smiles and rubs her nose feverishly. “I need a new nose.” All the girls’ eyes open wide, their muffled screams try to articulate that they disagree with her. “You have all been very bad girls,” she says as she limps nearer, “Your shoes have not been matching your underwear.” Then she rips the ball gag off a shivering Jennifer Lawrence. She begs, “Ohhh! Mommy dearest! Forgive us! We did not know what you know so well! We will all be better! O please! O please don’t. Not the nose!”

What Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t know is that it’s all an illusion. None of this is actually happening to her. If she had only read a little more Descartes, she could have slept in peace. Rene Descartes wasn’t actually right about anything. His adolescent inquiries into the Cartesian cogs and springs of interstellar dust even offended the Protestants. As his students were cutting open the stomachs of live dogs, the dogs mysteriously howling in pain, Descartes told his students to “ignore their screams, it’s merely the creakings of the machine.” But Descartes was still right about one thing: his dieu trompeur, his evil demon who is “as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me.” It’s the evil demon who has orchestrated all this lusting waking reality, all our dreams and romances and penetrative scripture. All the fond religions, all the drunken nights, all the Einsteinian measures of intellectual progress—they all pay their debts to thedieu trompeur, the Mephistopheles of intellectualism, for it was She who made us think this life was real. She came to Descartes in a dream, a horrible Caucasian batlike woman, and she whispered in his ear, “I am Joan Rivers, therefore you are.” And Descartes woke, trembling, and began writing, scribing his famous scripture, “I think, therefore I am.” All those who think freely, she hates. Freewill is simply a demonic puppeteer with the face of a clown. It’s easier to give up now.

Back in the dusty shriveling park, the little boy has been locked in checkmate. Joan Rivers stands and metamorphoses into a human-sized bat. She spreads her wings and wraps the boy into them. The seagull knows he must fly away as fast as he can. He flies madly, nearing the golden light, the other seagulls looking at him, screaming. Suddenly, he feels a jerk, his feet are caught. Suddenly, his world turns black forever again.