can I break in front of you?

this is a placeholder post.

it is sunday morning for me so I have all day but it will only be the last day in November for a couple more hours in my time zone so this is the last post of November but I am not sure yet what it is going to consist of.

there may be a picture of the undercarriage of the California Zephyr on display in Missoula MT. there may be a picture of something else. chances are it won’t look much like what I say it is.

accompanying this theoretical image might be something about how walking across the street in the crosswalk sometimes makes me feel like I am untouchable but at other times it occurs to me that the painted lines on the pavement would be no match for a driver who just decided to run over me for whatever reason or it might be something about how it is that people often do not understand the experiences of others until you get them to push a little past their own personal knowledge regarding an assumption that they always thought was natural and normal or it might have something to do with the question of choice and freedom when it comes to the socially mediated signs in which we find our bodily experience embedded: the idea that “socially constructed” is equivalent to or even implies “chosen voluntarily by ourselves as free agents” has no ground in the arguments about social construction themselves but is the result of an assumption one brings to those arguments.

or it might be something entirely new whose subject or at least vocabulary I have not yet dreamed up.

in any case, it probably won’t be formulated until sometime after the end of the month occurs calendarwise, so here is its placeholder in time, sitting back in November even after this November is over for good.


A short treatise on religious rhetoric

Because I am nobody sitting here in a deserted corner of the intarwebs, my post on the subject is not in this list, but bloggers all over the place are still talking about the racism inherent in blaming California African Americans for passing Proposition 8 on Tuesday. Alas, a blog has posted a list of a number of them and it all makes for instructive reading. I still think that homophobia is by and large a white institution and that the Religious Right bears the blame for keeping it alive in America. The Religious Right is overwhelmingly white but certainly not completely so; however the fact is that race does not matter particularly when talking about Mormon and conservative Christian efforts to amend the California State Constitution to enshrine discrimination against anyone who has relationships that cannot be defined as involving one man and one woman. Religion is the culprit here, and has been since day one, whenever that was: when Christian missionaries whipped the natives of this continent for daring to commit “unnatural acts”? Probably one could pin the blame on conservative Christianity starting a good 500 years ago, yes. And interestingly enough in this context, it appears as the handmaiden of white colonial power.

I am not actually going to write a whole lot more about the topic of Proposition 8 and racism, but I am going to write about conservative Christianity–or more accurately, fundamentalist Christianity. What got me to thinking this evening was an especially revealing look at the Phelps family, provided by this short feature on Nate Phelps, one of that family’s “prodigals” who left both the abusive family and the abusive religion that was the family’s alibi for egregious physical and psychological torture–or Fred Phelps’ alibi, more likely, given that he also beat his wife into submission. My LiveJournal friend altamira16 posted this link for me, knowing that I share a little of Nate’s personal history; although I was never physically beaten, I did fear burning in Hell from the time that I could understand it as a concept, probably around age 7 or so. It was startling news, and it took some time for me to get it straight, because up until then we had sung songs like “God is Love” in Sunday School. But the older you got, the more Hell you were threatened with.

After reading Nate’s story, short as it is, I found myself wishing that he would write a book. And then it occurred to me that I am trying to write a book, but not one that exists solely to expose fundamentalism for the child abuse that it is when taught to young children in the way it was taught to me–I am writing an autobiography that attempts to say a little about Everything, which is probably why I am not yet finished with it. Be that as it may, whether or not I ever get a book published, and whether or not Nate ever gets a book published, one of the things that I am committed to as a writer is to shining some worldly light into the sanctuaries and family devotionals of fundamentalist Christianity.

In fact, the passing of Proposition 8 and the simple incredulity of many of my friends at the failure of the campaign to defeat it has made even more clear to me that many who have not been personally acquainted with it do not understand the power of fundamentalism itself, nor the power of its fear-based rhetoric. California is not an overwhelmingly religious state, but there are plenty of “conventional” families and individuals who are not particularly well-acquainted with queer culture or who believe that they do not know anyone who is not straight (but of course they do). The Religious Right persuaded many of them that this amendment needed to pass in order to “protect” their relationships–which makes no rational sense. But very little of what passes for “reasoning” in fundamentalism would stand up to any rational inquiry.

But that is precisely its charm. Here’s an example. One of the most popular rhetorical moves within conservative Christian doctrine, and one of the most abusive when wielded against young children, is the double-bind, which can be explained briefly by the following construction: if you agree with what I say, that means I must be right; if you disagree with what I say, that is also a sign that I am right. Anyone employing the double-bind places themselves in a win-win position over their mark, who will lose no matter what argument they make or what reaction they have, and no matter how absurd the proposition to which they object.

A concrete–and ubiquitous–double-bind employed by fundamentalist preachers, parents, and proselytizers everywhere runs something like this: “You know, if what I am saying makes you so angry, then I must have hit a nerve,” or “If you have any doubts at all about your position, that is a sign from god that you are wrong.” A short version of this is “The truth hurts,” and thus it follows that anyone speaking out against injury is implicitly agreeing that the injury was deserved and/or that they understand the righteousness of the blow. This is a particularly ugly power play when a child is involved, because the younger you are, the fewer rational strategies you have to defend yourself against this sort of “argument.” All that children put in this position know is that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: the result can often be an inability to act or a persistent feeling that those around you are going to demand something of you that you cannot deliver and then tell you that your inability to deliver is a sign of your own shame and guilt.

It has taken me most of my life to free myself of the influence of double-bind thinking. Or, that is, it has taken this much of my life to be however free of it I am so far; I did internalize a huge library of this and similar persuasive strategies and they can be reactivated at the drop of the most innocent discourse. I have spent days and weeks and even months under fire of the most ludicrous arguments from the voices in my head, concerning everything from whether I should continue to see someone to why it is I have lost so many games of computer solitaire in a row. It sounds funny now–or maybe it does not–but it is during those times that I would most like to find a gun and discharge it into my skull, where those voices reside and thus are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, this is not the sort of move I would be likely to survive. So I work at various cognitive strategies and I take certain chemical enhancers for my neurochemistry and I hope, as the days pass and I have fewer run-ins with the preachers that live in my head, that they are dwindling for good or at least running out of whatever life force it was that got attached to them.

So then this is part of what consumes my energy now: keeping the voices under control. It takes less effort than it used to. The main thing I want to say is not so much that I Hate Fundamentalism, but that it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as it were, and not the positive force for change that religion is so often characterized as. I did not suffer the physical beatings that Nate Phelps did, but the mind-control so evident in his sister’s comment, the first one following the article, is a very real and very dangerous institution in fundamentalist organizations and families. Many do not even realize they are using it; my parents thought they were giving me a gift by giving me the “secret” to not burning in Hell. But first they had to create within me a fear of Hell sufficient to get me to stand up in front of the entire church and say that I had accepted Jesus into my heart.

Given that I was more introverted as a child than I am now, and given that I never score a single “extrovert” point on any test ever devised to measure sociability, I think perhaps you can imagine to what lengths that had to go.

It was hell, I think I can say fairly accurately.


I have moved moved my blog to wordpress for the time being which means until that happy day in the remote recesses of the future when I have time to learn everything I want to learn including php enough to quickly and deftly write spam filters to keep the spamobots from filling my database with garbage. oh I suppose I probably could have found a set of filters somewhere out there in php land but I always feel like the time I spend figuring out somebody else’s code would be better spent writing my own. the difficult thing for me to do, of course, is decide exactly which I should do and so first I will spend several days waffling.

I’m trying not to do that anymore.

for now I’m going to migrate the last few blogbound posts from livejournal but depending on the status of my free time in the next coupla days I’ll move all the old posts over here too but that will take some work, most of it of the tedious copy/pasting sort, so it might not go very quickly. in the meantime the old blog is still available for viewing at of course, there are no comments over there, but you can still look at the pretty pictures, which I will also eventually migrate over here. it took me all day just to tweak the style sheet so that things looked halfway integrated with the rest of my site.

who knows. maybe I’ll get more readers now. you know, like more than two.

deYoung the narrative

So what happened when I went to see the New Guinea art at the deYoung is not easy to describe other than that from outside someone would have seen a bald medium sized man walking from piece to piece taking pictures by holding his breath and trying to stand very still for the tenth of a second and slower shutter speeds the very scanty light was giving him.

The pieces are encased in glass so you can’t get too familiar but still standing next to them and looking into the shell eyes of the one skull one could say a presence but that would be entirely the wrong word because it is also an absence insofar as these pieces are a raw confrontation with death and its relationship to life. It’s hard to explain but the energy with which the works were obviously produced seems to pulse right there on their surfaces and in their intricate forms and I don’t know if you have to be especially attentive but this was the first time that aboriginal art really got me in a way that outpaced thoughts about the political and moral conundrums behind their simply being there. They speak but they are silent and tell you things that on their surface are as legible as any heiroglyph and yet you cannot figure out what they are saying.

It’s as though the arbitrariness and beauty and intricacy of a certain animal culture (ours, that is) stands out in its arbitrariness and beauty and intricacy when one confronts artifacts of another arbitrary, beautiful, intricate but unknown and yet very human culture.

Use “I” statements, Erik.

I felt something similar at the Anasazi ruins in Canyon de Chelly in the Navajo Nation–as though I could almost imagine but not even begin to understand the life that went on there: a kind of deep mystery that was oddly and sometimes uncomfortably familiar precisely because in order to even contemplate it one has to take death into account. These people are gone, after all. They cannot talk to you. The New Guinea pieces especially speak and don’t speak that mute witness of death that ends at death and yet goes on as life in general.

The fact that these pieces were all drenched with spiritual significance and that that significance derives from the thin line between life and death that is the organism itself also made me reflect on our distanced, intellectual relationship to “art” in our own culture and how much we have lost by disintegrating it from daily life as though it were just another analyzable but largely irrelevant object. Life is lived artfully from the very moment one imagines a world, but in the US especially we have no acknowledgment of that and indeed art is disparaged at the popular level if it tries to do anything adventurous.

And yet culture itself is a sublime and ridiculous but daring work of art that knows death to the extent that it is knowable which is to say not at all and so one dreams spirits in its place. The fact that the most powerful nation on earth has completely forgotten this is one of the reasons why we keep fucking things up.