Thursday, August 31, 2017

"The Bonobo and the Atheist"

(In Search of Humanism Among the Primates)
-by franz de waal
Primatologist de waal has given us a beautiful, thoughtful, measured book...with a canny title. Bonobos are very much in vogue in the scientific and progressive communities, with polyamorous hippies embracing them as proof that humans are naturally happy, peace-loving fuckmonkeys (this author has been guilty of that himself). But franz points out that bonobos are not compulsively peaceful with no sexual boundaries - indeed, their copious sexuality is largely about softening social conflicts. And at the end (or beginning or middle) of the day, a female bonobo still has to be willing to mate, which isn't an automatic given. De waal isn't swayed by the hype, saying that the most compelling comparison is still between humyn and chimp males, with collective hunting and defending, coalitions against rivals, all while competing for status and females.
But none of that is what the book is about! De waal has bigger begonias to fry - he's in search of the roots of morality itself, and more specifically a refutation of veneer theory, which holds that humans are by nature selfish and nasty. Without an artificially constructed morality to keep us in check, so the theory goes, we'd kill and steal and fuck whenever and whatever we please.
Poppycock, says franz! He shows us the social origins of morality in all mammals, and the advanced levels found in elephants, apes, dolphins, and others. Monkeys have a clear sense of fairness, as shown when they refuse to eat a treat if they see another monkey given a better one. Infant human studies show this sense of inborn fairness, too. Apes go further, refusing to partake when they see another ape treated unfairly. They also show more advanced group morality, spending often considerable effort to maintain the peace when there's no personal reward for themselves. The only difference between us and other apes is degree - because human society has grown far beyond the intimacy of tribal life, we've needed to invent larger and more abstract forms of control - hence, "god".
But de waal has no interest in religious debate, and indeed does much to dissuade agitated atheists from militant stances. This book is for two groups - those who think humans naturally "evil", and those who blame religion for all the world's problems. Both groups are deftly redirected.
My only criticism? I wish he would say "other apes" instead of "apes". But, just like a spirited game of badminton between humans and bonobos, that's a relative quibble.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Pacifism as Pathology"

(Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America)
-by ward churchill with mike ryan
1998, 2007
Is pacifism the worst thing that could have happened to civil disobedience in the 20th century? Has non-violence played right into the hands of the global corporations who have steered humanity into endless cycles of poverty, exploitation, and genocide? Is the seemingly irreversible destruction of our ecosphere at the hands of capitalism (which seems patently incapable of self-correction) made doubly inevitable by devotion to pacifistic ideals in those who would save us from ourselves?
Ward churchill makes a starkly convincing case, by deconstructing the supposed triumphs of non-violence. Were gandhi's gains made possible only by a century's worth of violent revolt plus the bankruptcy of the british empire after WWII? Was indian freedom an illusion, as western capitalism never lost control of India's economic fate? Would martin luther king's victories have happened without the threat of the Black Panthers? And whether or not you accept the contention that jewish religious leaders steered jews into not resisting the stars, ghettos, or concentration camps, it's hard to disagree with the contention that if those nazi door knocks had been met with bullets instead of bleats, millions might not have died. Certainly the present israeli posture on militarization reveals a (chilling?) determination to never be caught unarmed again.
Churchill's point is that pacifism is of limited use once violence has begun...and the violence committed against "people of color" all over this world (and in America's backyard) shows no sign of abating (to say nothing of poverty's violence perpetrated against "people of no color?"). In response, western protesters offer only parades by permit and temporary arrests that become peacenik status symbols...while the displacement, death, and devastation goes unchecked. A war against humanity and our very planet is being waged, and these feeble protests have amounted to nothing.
This book can be unsettling...especially for someone (like myself) who has spent a lifetime making non-violence a sacred covenant. "Pacifism as Pathology" can make a pacifist want to grab a firearm and head for the barricades. Of course, there is a great difference between passive and active resistance, and ward isn't suggesting that armed revolt is the only solution. In active resistance, direct action is taken against the machinery of oppression - with real (even dire) risks involved. It is the absence of active resistance in America, that ward sees as the disastrous by-product of the deification of non-violence. He speaks of the necessity to incorporate different resistance strategies, to achieve real victories.
A challenging, necessary book.

Friday, August 18, 2017


-created by tom kapinos
This show, about "bad boy" novelist hank moody (david duchovny - KALIFORNIA, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW) bursts out of the gate with hip, bawdy hilarity. By the fourth season, that thrust peters out...but they muddle on. I would say the high point is the moment when the eighteen year-old who was sixteen when she seduced him, gets in bed with hank and the woman who plays her in the movie version of their affair, and they both reach into his pants together...but truth be told, the show's moralizing cracks are already beginning to show by that point. The show's fatal flaw is that the lead character would never watch this crap, especially when all that's left is the realization that hank is in no way actually subversive. Instead of articulately defending his libertine ways, he embraces all the judeo-christian-muslim morality being dumped on him, and becomes that most loathsome creature of all - a hypocrite. A damn shame, too - the dialogue and acting in the racier parts are often delightful (the intimate scenes less well-written). It all makes you wish they'd had one more writer on staff, someone like...well, hank as he originally almost was. Watch the first few seasons, then get out before the Hallmark era descends.

Monday, August 14, 2017

free spirit seeks asian marriage for...

(the following is an ad i placed on Craigslist, with the above title)

...humanitarian reasons? Mutual enrichment? Friendship and love?
I've never been married, by choice. It's a barbaric institution, all about possessiveness, sexual jealousy, and hoarding resources in a world of poverty. Marriage was born in a time when men literally bought and sold women. I never want to be a part of that.
But i know that in this bizarre world, marriage can open doors. There might be someone reading this for whom marriage would be the key to a world of dreams that seems otherwise unreachable.
Why asian? Partly because of population demographics here in the San Francisco area, and partly because i've always been an asiophile. But your skin or culture matter not, if the message of this note touches some need in you, and your spirit touches me.
Why would i do this? Aside from lifting someone else's life, i could use a lift too. I'm a non-materialist, choosing to live without the security of excess money. Having someone to lighten life's burdens might be lovely. But as you've perhaps guessed, i don't have a specific idea in mind here. Just opening up a thought to the universe.

(My first foray into an online personal ad in years...well, i have returned to a large metropolitan center. Can a renaissance for my moribund southern bible belt love life be far behind? This ad is more playfully platonic than serious, but since i'll never marry for conventional reasons, the idea of "helping" a woman fulfill her dreams has always been bouncing around some corner of my mind. Especially if she's asian. What - i can dream, can't i?)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Speaking Freely"

(Unlearning the Lies of the Fathers' Tongue)
-by julia penelope
As a student, penelope was expelled from two home-state colleges (FSU and UM) within one year, for suspected lesbianism and lesbianism...though curiously, not in that order (i'd make an accuse/suspect Clue joke, if it all weren't so vomitously shameful). She persevered and got a doctorate, but her teaching career was slow-tracked because of her "too narrow" focus on lesbian studies. "Speaking Freely", one of her twelve books, deconstructs all the grammatical tricks of the english language which demean, marginalize, or render women invisible, plus those structures which serve to conceal the male exploitations and brutalities perpetrated against them. Misdirecting modifiers, vague pronouns, euphemisms, agentless passives...for example, if a newscaster were to cite a rape statistic, he or she might say, "There were seventy-three cases of rape in Berks County today". But that construction completely conceals the rapists and victims. A more honest syntax might give us "Men raped seventy-three women in Berks County today". The first version doesn't hurt or bleed, and it makes the events feel like rain, something that just happened to happen. Or think about the assumptions and roles revealed in the difference between "to mother" and "to father" - always, men are active agents and women passive tools of male initiation. Or take the verb cuckold - there's no female equivalent. Eggs are therefore less important than sperm, no? Or why do we have "emasculate", but not "effeminate"? Because there is no quality or measure of womanhood that has relevance in languages constructed by men.
Julia owns up to the fact that by writing in english, she's committing many of the offenses she's trying to out. She talks about laadan, a woman's language constructed in the 70s, completely free of patriarchal assumptions and biases. She talks about the feministly-correct changes in our language since the 70s, some of which have merit, but none of which get near the core of the problem. Absent a total woman's revolution, she talks about attitudes and tactics that can better this world, for women and men - above all, the need to reshape language so that women are allowed to be active agents, free of the motherhood/sex object boundaries.
I wish i could tell you this amazing book has lost its relevance twenty-five years later. It's a challenging read. And worth it.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

dear pam 2

Dear pamela mammala,
Stop peering into the depths of my spirit.
I look back on a life of conspicuous gentleness and consideration, and know that i might have had forty or fifty lovers by now, had that not been other words, had i been more "normal". The insanity of that sometimes pushes me to the edge. And then i meet a new woman, and i know if i let out the predator in me, i could have her. As the years of loneliness pile up, i feel less and less proud of having been able to conquer my predator so well.
I think about you, and the thought that i might bring you a kind of carnal healing you've never experienced. It wouldn't bother me, if i knew there were other men who could offer you the same. There probably are...but statistically, the odds of you meeting one of them are iffy at best.
In any kind of rational world, we'd already be lovers. And on some level, we are. But of course we'll think all these things through, and easily come up with practical reasons why not being lovers makes sense.
But at a certain point, i feel like the ultimate theme of my life will be "all this useless wisdom" (to appropriate an elvis costello title). We all should be able to just be alive and human in the moment, but it almost never happens.
And sure, we might not even have great sexual chemistry! But when i think about the confluences in our spirits, and striking similarities in our sexual tastes...
You asked whether i were ever tempted to fuck out of hopelessness. Stop being so perceptive! It gets harder and harder for me to keep those demons at bay. With us, it's not just that though. It's easy to imagine being your deep friend for the rest of my time on this planet. It's also easy to imagine spending thousands of hours in beautiful sexual communion.
But don't make too much of my ramblings. I know too well how out of balance i am. If you'd like a metaphor for where i am at this point in my life, imagine a bloody, pulpy body on the road. But one hand is lifting off the ground, and the whispered words emerge, "I will save this world, you hopeless fuckers..."
Are you done making babies, or can you imagine more?
About back-patting...i spent many years cultivating humility. When i thought i'd reached it, i dug for deeper levels on which i might be full of shit. Trying to never put myself above anyone. Trying to eliminate all thoughts of entitlement. Starting with the concept "Everything i know and believe is probably wrong". It was only after twenty or so years of doing that, that i'm finally acknowledging the notion of "false modesty". It can be a disservice to yourself and the world to pretend to be less than you are, so i'm starting to own the notion that maybe, just maybe, i have wisdom and understanding that stretches beyond the average person. Maybe even beyond the average intelligent person. Maybe even...
I try not to picture my life playing out. Part of my spiritual striving is to be fully present and alive in the moment. I have ideas which i pursue, but i try not to project my ego into the future. Put another way, we all spend our lives creating and maintaining our own personal mythologies...just as we may not really ever "know" another person (only our "idea" of them), you could argue that all we know about ourselves is our idea of who "we" are. And in this world of individualism gone steroidal, we all keep one eye on the "story" of our life, so we can impress others (and ourselves).
Besides, the more i can detach from my own ego, the more likely a candidate i might be for alien abduction (or rescue, hopefully).
Have you an answer to your own lifetime question? And have you ever fucked out of a sense of hopelessness? The way you asked, i suspect the answer is yes.