“The horror! The horror!”

I find I cannot help but think of this famous, chilling line from Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. (A novel which I greatly admire.) Specifically, its connotations of being overwhelmed to the point of a sort of semi-dumb stupor, robbed of all eloquence or power to elaborate, by the sheer horrificness of something. It is like one’s very soul is gasping for air, having been punched in the gut by the world being so heinously unlike how it should be.

When the news broke several days ago about the massacre at two mosques in New Zealand, I… found I just couldn’t bring myself to read about it in depth. The news sites I frequent had already divulged enough in their blunt, formal headlinese: Dozens Dead. Shooter Live-streamed Killing Spree. Racist Manifesto Discovered. Those kind of summations, alone, sufficed to give me a sense of how unbelievably awful this tragedy was, how especially twisted and monstrous the plan behind it was, how stomach-turningly sick its perpetrator was. And I could not will myself to seek out and absorb any further details. For even the outline of the story was so dire, so depressing. Such a large number of innocent people attacked in such a nightmarishly brutal and callous way. I believe that the current count stands at fifty killed, fifty injured. (And the youngest victim was just… two years old.) Good god. But, of course, it doesn’t even end there. One ought to spare a thought for their families too. Who must be going through nigh-unbearable grief and sorrow.

It occurs to me that words cannot properly capture or convey the sheer evilness of such a thing. And there would be an absurdity in even trying to make them do so. Nor does the mind fare much better. It reflexively recoils in disgust and fear and abhorrence, failing to grapple with the true extent of the crime’s hideousness. This limitation is, perhaps, a small mercy. Even if the universe should have cared more about allotting merciful treatment to the victims instead.

In point of fact, I usually do click on these sort of news stories and, unpleasant though it is, make myself read about what happened. Half because I think it’s important to stay apprised of what the fuck is going on in the world; half because of — I’ll be totally candid here — an irrepressible morbid curiosity. That’s why this choice not to was significant. I’m not quite sure why I made it. I guess I just finally felt like I could imbibe no more of the horror. It might be that it was just a gradual wearing down of the mental fortitude needed to read such things and not let them destroy your day, or even a few days in a row, with vicarious sadness. As there is undoubtedly no shortage of these grisly stories to perpetuate that chipping-away effect. Just today, it’s being reported that there was an attack in the Netherlands, where multiple people were shot whilst riding a tram. And it seems that, at the very least, several times a month one wakes up to find just such a story dominating the news. “Oh look,” you say to yourself, “some unbelievably vicious act of unbelievably idiotic violence has claimed yet more lives.” This grim internal-monologue remark has become a continual presence in modern life. It is the only thing which springs to mind anymore. And its matter-of-factness is jarring, yes. But remember that that’s born from the self-reproaching apathy of compassion-fatigue.

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Y’know, I think you may miss the Social Media Monopolies if they’re Dismantled…

Elizabeth Warren recently pledged to break up tech and online companies which have a monopolistic chokehold on their particular space. (She named Facebook, Amazon, Google and, later, Apple as some examples.) I read the written version of her proposal, which is much more detailed than the talk she gave at SXSW.

I have three comments I want to get out of the way initially:

Firstly, I was kinda surprised by it. In a positive way, I mean. I expected that it would probably just be a salad of lazy populist-fawning and empty stick-it-to-the-data-barons grandstanding. [Look, hyphens were on sale at the punctuation store. What am I supposed to do? Not buy in bulk?!] And… sure… there are a few requisite sprinkles of both. Politics is still politics after all. And cheap emotive rhetoric remains the gold standard. But those exceptions notwithstanding, I found it to be a fairly substantive, soberly-written proposal with, regardless of my opinion on them, some well-considered points. It shows a certain respect for the reader (i.e. the potential voter) which I think is creditable. In relative terms at least. Most politicians — by which I of course mean their speechwriters — talk to their audiences as though they’re drooling simpletons who will likely need painstaking instruction on how to insert the ballot into the ballot-box. This causes any discourse which dares to rise above a third-grade reading level to suddenly seem like fucking ‘War and Peace’. Go figure.

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Getting your kicks from mocking ‘Bad Writing’ is a shitty thing to do

Maybe I’m just a pedantic stickler — hey now, you don’t all have to pipe up in a heartfelt chorus of ‘fuck yes you are’ — but when people try to redefine a word or phrase to let themselves off the hook for something, it bugs me. It really does. Maybe it’s because I have a degree in ‘English Literature and Creative Writing’. (For the low, low price of fifty thousand pounds in student loans, you could have this lucrative-opportunity-flypaper too! *jazz hands* Be careful you don’t trip over sprinting to your local university’s enrollment office! Please! Form an orderly line!) Now, I know most people wouldn’t trot out an undergraduate degree, let alone in the dreaded… humanities, as a justification for anything at all. I must admit, I see the self-aware wisdom in that reluctance. But bear with me for a second here. Because I want to tell you that getting that diploma was kinda like going to a seminary for three years. Where instead of worshipping some absentee-dad in the sky, you learn to worship meaning-laden squiggles on a page or screen. And one of the tenets of that reverence concerns the permissible and impermissible ways in which one may abuse the words themselves. Maybe you previously looked at that line in the sand askance. Well, no longer. You’ll gain a quaint sort of squeamishness when it comes to any flagrant disregard for it.

With all this in mind, let me start by saying that a ‘guilty pleasure’ ought to be essentially innocuous. Here are some examples which fit the bill:

  • Waking up in the middle of the night and blearily traipsing over to the kitchen to snarf down chocolate whilst half-naked, half-asleep and bathed in that harsh refrigerator light. (I can cop to this one. Hard.)
  • Rewatching Friends on Netflix for the 78th time. You now not only know it word-for-word — such that you could nearly stage a one-man table reading of any given episode’s script from memory — but you also know the notable mannerisms each actor performs in each scene. (My girlfriend has to raise her hand for this one.)
  • Begrudgingly listening to pop songs you don’t even like, because they’re so precisely and expertly engineered to be earworms that you just can’t help but give into the craving to hear them again. (Unless a species-wide firmware patch is someday applied, fixing this exploitable bug in human psychology, I think everyone is unfortunately stuck with this one…)

You’ll notice that in these cases, and all other applicable ones, ‘guilty pleasure’ is really somewhat of an exaggeration. You don’t really need to feel bad about doing these things. They’re not ideal, perhaps. And you may wish that you made smarter or healthier or more productive choices in their place. But they’re still not anything which reflects poorly on you as a person.

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Some Thoughts on Joe Rogan & Alex Jones

So… Alex Jones was on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ podcast again several days ago, for an almost five hour long episode. (Which is, by the by, easily the longest podcast episode I’ve ever come across in my life.) I must admit, when I saw this pop up in my new-podcasts feed, I was very intrigued to hear it. For reasons I’ll expound upon in just a moment. I hope you won’t mind being a little patient here. Besides, isn’t that one of the components of enlightenment which the Headspace™ meditation app has granted you? (Of course, I was taught how to meditate during an ultra exclusive nine-year silent retreat hosted by transhumanist half-cyborg monks on the dark side of the moon. But, hey, I’m sure that learning from an… app… is just as good. ˢᶜʳᵉʷ ʸᵒᵘ ᵖᵒˢᵉʳ)

First off, let me say that I have somewhat mixed feelings about Joe Rogan. I’ve been listening to his podcast, albeit very much on and off, since close to when it first started. And obviously its place, in the public consciousness, on the Mount Rushmore of long-running quality podcasts is well-deserved. There have been some truly excellent episodes, featuring really in-depth conversations with fascinating thinkers and personalities. I feel I’ve learned quite a lot from it. And I’ve always liked his unapologetically long-form, one-on-one conversational podcast format (though he’s also branched out into other setups). It has been widely influential in the podcast space and with good reason. I’d even say it was one of the inspirations for the form my own podcast takes.

The evolution of Rogan as a person and of his opinions over the years has been both stark and fairly admirable. Not to mention, very interesting to watch. In his current form, I have heard him say many astute or thoughtful or compassionate things. Many things I have agreed with and respected that he said. But I have also heard him say (flippantly or otherwise) some very stupid and even repugnant things. Listing them all would perhaps be gratuitous. In recent memory though, I’ve heard him make comments about fat people which clearly betray a deep-seated form of disdain or disgust for them and their fatness. And some of the ridiculing, dismissive things he has said about being transgender do not exactly redound to his credit either. Far from it. Likewise, his knee-jerk tendency to, when the subject enters a discussion, bring up things like the outlier cases of unethical doctors carelessly prescribing very young children hormone-therapy drugs is revealing and unsettling. And it summons something else to mind. This is in no way a direct analogy, but it is somewhat reminiscent of how a few decades ago anti-gay campaigners would make the bad faith misdirect of bringing up the tiny percentage of homosexual predators or pedophiles in response to the question of whether homosexuality should be normalized in society.

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‘Beware The Twin Neurotoxins of Jealousy and Insecurity,’ said I to Myself

Sometimes I feel very strongly that I truly cannot rest easy until I have… oh, I don’t know… a couple million words-written to my name. To know that I was able to do it. And not bullshit graphomaniac word vomit either; but rather, creditable efforts I can be proud of. Such will be the exorbitant price of admission for a moment where I can finally just breathe and be content. Because I’ll be able to point to that body of work and say: look at that! that proves I’m worth a damn! that retroactively gives my life some meaning!

(Out of curiosity, I looked it up. That moment has five out of five stars on Yelp. But that’s sourced from relatively few reviews. And the reviewers kind of seem like a mix of bots and fakers. Hmm. Weird. Oh look, a moment called ‘the strangely comforting victory of learning to be okay with what you already have’ only has three stars but it does have a shit-ton of reviews. From what seem to be nice, normal, well-adjusted people. Its popularity is enticing, I have to say. Damn it. Choices, choices.)

Okay, so… my motivation for this goal sounds insane, I know. And in a sense it very much is. But stick with me. I’ll try to explain. Hopefully it may make infinitesimally more sense by the time I’m done.

I suffer from jealousy way, way more than I’d like. To an unseemly and humiliating degree really. I feel it in many aspects of my life, but most often and most especially when it comes to the craft of writing.

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Thoughts on the Jussie Smollett fiasco

Let me just say a few things up front. Before this whole scandal unfolded, I did not know who the actor Jussie Smollett was. And, moreover, I obviously do not know whether he truly did fake the assault upon himself. I have not seen the evidence amassed against him. So I will be talking from the hermetically-sealed chamber of hypotheticals at various points throughout this post. (Shit. I hope I remembered to turn on the oxygen valve in there.)

To be completely honest, I must admit that when I first heard the lurid details of the attack, there was just something about them which did strike me as… well, I’m not sure quite how to articulate it. A little too on the nose? A little too perfectly despicable? A little too… theatrical? (I know I am far from the only person to feel that.) But, of course, I also knew that faint hint of weirdness doesn’t mean anything at all really. It was certainly no reason to doubt it genuinely happened. I mean, so what if it seemed oddly theatrical? When deranged individuals decide to attack celebrities, they do sometimes plan it out for quite a while beforehand, sweating the little details. Trying to get everything just right to convey the intended message, to achieve the intended emotional effect. Because they’re hoping to get into the news, to spawn eye-catchingly fucked-up headlines. They’re hoping to make some kind of disturbing statement with the nature of the act itself. In that sense, the attack itself almost becomes half violence, half utterly depraved spectacle.

However, now that Smollett has been charged with making a false police report — a felony, by the way — it’s officially alleged by prosecutors that this event was just a twisted attention-seeking performance. On the one hand, I believe wholeheartedly in the virtue of the presumption of innocence (and not just in the stuffy confines of a court of law either.) And it must be noted that Smollett is still insisting that he is not guilty. But on the other hand, if the prosecutors do indeed have the wide range of conclusive evidence they claim to have, I’ve got to imagine that this will be an open-and-shut trial in their favour. Like, we’re talking a total cakewalk here. Don’t even bother showing up, defense attorneys. Treat yourself to a vacation.

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The Labour MPs who just left their Party should not retain their seats in Parliament

So, seven eight MPs — this updated count may well be added to further in the coming weeks — have just made a big grandstanding to-do about leaving the Labour Party. Whether their stated motivations for doing so are valid is an interesting question, but I’m going to put that to one side for now.

Because I just find it absolutely astonishing that they presume they ought to still keep their elected office.

Now, lest you think that this reaction is merely a partisan tantrum — as though I might just be a rabid Labour and/or Jeremy Corbyn devotee who’s feeling wounded by this ‘betrayal’ — I’ll preface with a few things. I do not support any political party, nor any political figure, and never have done. Yet it goes far, far deeper than that. Let me put my cards on the table. In point of fact, I deeply abhor the entire system of representative democracy itself. Even in theory. It is a fundamentally and profoundly and irredeemably flawed setup. Its chief effect is to placate people with the illusion of control whilst distancing them from any power to directly alter the way in which they are governed. (If you care to, you can hear me talk about my reasoning for this stance at greater length here.)

That being said, I also think that given that representative democracy is the system which happens to be in place, the people should at least get what little it’s supposed to grant them. Which is the right to choose who represents them in Parliament, based on that person’s political affiliation and stated intentions.

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First of all: some things to know, some things to click

Okay, look, I’ll be straight with you. It’s simple, this site is where I’m gonna post the things I write. They’ll be non-fiction, of varying lengths, and about anything and everything. Like, sometimes just blog posts about my life, sometimes thoughts on politics, etc.

Hmm. I nearly just made some hackneyed quip about that pairing being appropriate because ‘the personal is political’ and whatnot. But then I stopped myself. Because, as we all know, you’re entitled to vomit copiously onto anyone who says that unironically, as if it’s some notable insight. And *this*? This coat right here? It’s mink. Not just any old mink-fur either; my one is made solely from little minks that really, really wanted to escape being skinned and made into coats. This added note of tragedy, for still poorly understood scientific reasons, renders the resulting garment especially soft and delicate. It will, therefore, definitely not pair well with stomach acid. And I don’t know exactly what ‘dry cleaners’ are or how to use them. I think they may only exist in movies. Just like those weird white open-top boxes which Chinese takeout comes in.

Now, it may almost seem patronizing to even explain the purpose of this site to you, given the URL, but I know that you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt here, negating that potential faux pas. Strangers on the internet are inherently kind like that, right? I sure hope so. Otherwise perhaps that down on his luck king-in-exile who emailed me asking for a loan in order to reclaim his throne and confer honors and riches upon me as reward is… actually not who he says he is?…

No. Impossible. I mean, I’ve already done the requested bank transfer. And so I will be a wealthy prince of Madeuplandia — strange name, an etymological relic from the original, umm, Dutch settlers there I imagine? — in thirty to forty business days. (The well-known standard waiting time for overthrowing usurpers and restoring order, of course.) Don’t worry, I won’t forget the little people when that happens. Probably. Depends on your littleness I suppose. My memory can only retain six-footers and over. It’s a very, very rare neurological condition. I tried to create a GoFundMe page to crowdfund money for treatment, but the error page it gave me just said ‘Fuck You’. Which is… fair. I guess. From a certain point of view.

We’re getting off track here. Let’s focus. Why am I making this blog? Because I have what one might call a manic-depressive relationship to writing. As in, during times where I’m not writing, it makes me depressed. I feel hopeless and insecure and sad. But when I am habitually doing it, I feel elated and fulfilled. Writing makes me feel worthwhile. Writing makes me feel real. Life is better with it, and better when processed through it. Many things are very complicated; this core truth of my self is not. It could not be more simple. And it’s taken me a gallingly long time to just accept that.

I’ve never had my own actual website before. So I’m probably going to be crappy at this for quite some time before I even get okay at it. I do not know how long that length of time will turn out to be. I’d say I hope it’s not too long, but the universe has a way of feeding you your hopes back in their maliciously inverse form. So I’ll just say that I’ll continually be trying to figure this shit out and get better. And we’ll see how it goes.

One last note. Maybe you sometimes prefer absorbing words through your eardrums rather than your eyeballs. Variety is allegedly the spice of life, after all. If so, you can find the podcast I do with my absolutely darling girlfriend here: After Reading This And That (EDIT 09/4/19: Name change! In the interest of greater upfront honesty, the podcast is now called After Rambling Through All That…) It’s super fun, I swear. It’s even been described by an avid listener as “a series of working mp3 files downloadable via an RSS feed”. More effusive praise, you will not find. At least, if you’re asking low-grade androids which you were too cheap to buy the personality-upgrade for. Also, you can find some audiobook recordings I made here and here. You may enjoy them, you may not. Like, I’m not psychic, so just chillax with those expectations of psychicness or whatever. It’s 2019. I don’t owe you anything.